Telephone +44 (0)1305 264066 - email@example.com
by Jeremy Archer
The lives of ordinary people frequently become entangled with the great issues of the day, as happened to the Newport family of Waterford during the first half of the nineteenth century, sometimes with unfortunate consequences. The Newport family all served in the 39th Regiment of Foot
On 5 February 1801 William Pitt resigned as Prime Minister and his successor, Henry Addington, soon entered negotiations with Republican France. A preliminary treaty was signed in London at the beginning of October and the so-called 'Peace of Amiens' was ratified on 25 March the following year. It promised 'peace, friendship and good understanding' between Britain and France and prisoners were duly exchanged. In reality it was a sham and no more significant than Neville Chamberlain's 'peace in our time'. Nevertheless, in contrast with the bellicose Pitt, Addington felt that he had achieved a lasting peace and acted accordingly: Pitt's hated income tax was abolished, the naval estimates were reduced by £2 million, the number of ships of the line was reduced from 100 to just 40, the volunteers were disbanded and the army was halved in strength. Such optimism was hopelessly misplaced since Napoleon refused to accept some of the terms of the treaty while Britain declined to give up Malta. Hostilities were resumed on 18 May 1803 and, four days later, Napoleon ordered the imprisonment of all British civilians who happened to be travelling though France - many were not to see their homes again for almost a dozen years. What Elizabeth Longford referred to as 'a curious entr'acte' was over. On 6 July 1803 the Army of Reserve Act for England and Wales was passed: more than 300,000 volunteered to join the colours as Muster Rolls, or Militia Lists, were compiled of all men between the ages of 17 and 55. A similar Act was passed in Ireland five days later. The Commander-in-Chief was kept extremely busy and his memoranda at the National Archives are bulging with commissions ratified that summer.
The Newport Family
In 1670 the Duke of Ormonde established a woollen factory at Carrick-on-Suir, bringing over from England a number of families who had previously been driven out of the Netherlands because of their Protestant beliefs. One of the Dutch émigrés was John Newport, whose family subsequently prospered in and around Waterford. In the mid-18th century his grandson Simon founded the principal bank of Waterford, Simon Newport and Sons. By 1803 the bank of 'William Newport, Samuel Newport and John Newport' had 36,600 notes in circulation under three guineas, 6,500 under ten pounds and 3,500 under fifty pounds. Five years later notes in public circulation at Newport's Bank totalled some £150,000. In those halcyon days there was an expression in Waterford, 'as good as Newport's notes'. Another measure of their influence is that ten members of the Newport family held the office of Mayor of Waterford between 1727 and 1840. Simon Newport, whose uncle Samuel was a partner in Newport's Bank, was born on 1 November 1788, the only son of Sir Simon Newport, Mayor of Waterford in 1792 and 1824, and his wife Jane, daughter of the Venerable Alexander Alcock, Archdeacon of Lismore. On 9 July 1803 he was appointed Ensign in the 58th Regiment, just two days before the passing of the Army of Reserve Act for Ireland. He was only 14 years-old. The 58th Foot (the Rutlandshire Regiment) were raising a second battalion, one of nineteen raised that summer 'for limited service in Great Britain and Ireland', of which four were specifically raised in Ireland.
Political unrest at home may also have influenced Simon Newport's decision to join the Army. In October 1802 Robert Emmet, whose brother Thomas was one of the leaders of the 1798 rebellion, had an audience in Paris with Napoleon, during which he was led to believe that the French had plans to invade England the following August. Just two weeks after confirmation of Ensign Simon Newport's commission, Robert Emmet appeared in a green and white military-style uniform in Dublin, as leader of a short-lived rebellion that hoped to capitalise on the fact that Britain was once again distracted by French territorial ambitions. On his way to a meeting of the Privy Council, the Chief Justice, Lord Kilwarden, was dragged from his carriage and brutally murdered, together with his nephew. Realising that his 'rising' was doomed as his followers turned into a drunken rabble, Robert Emmet went into hiding: he was apprehended, hastily tried, and then executed in Dublin on 20 September 1803.
On 5 January 1805 Simon Newport was appointed Lieutenant in the 58th Regiment of Foot, vice Lieutenant William Cowell. On 3 July 1806, he exchanged into the 39th Regiment of Foot and joined the 2nd Battalion, which had arrived in Cork from Guernsey on 15 March that year. According to the Historical Record of the 39th Foot: 'On the 29th of October 1807, His Majesty King George III was pleased to direct that the county title of the Thirty-Ninth regiment should be changed from East Middlesex to Dorsetshire.' Having been stripped of men to provide reinforcements for the 1st Battalion, then stationed in Malta, the 2nd Battalion spent the next eighteen months recruiting from the Militia and other sources in Liverpool, the Midlands, Herefordshire, Devon and Ireland - in fact just about anywhere except Dorsetshire! Manning was still a struggle: the 1st Battalion had priority and regular drafts were still required to be sent to Malta. Nevertheless, having arrived significantly under strength in Guernsey on 24 May 1808, the Lieutenant-Governor was 'so pleased with the general appearance of the corps as to express his entire satisfaction with it, and to report the battalion fit for immediate foreign service' by 6 May the following year.
The Peninsular War
On 22 June 1809 Lieutenant Simon Newport accompanied the 2nd Battalion, 39th Regiment of Foot when it embarked for Lisbon as reinforcements for Sir Arthur Wellesley's Army in the Peninsula. Having landed on 2 July 1809, they narrowly missed taking part in the battle of Talavera on 27/28 July, for which victory Wellesley was raised to the peerage as Viscount Wellington. For the next fourteen months the 2nd Battalion formed part of Major-General Rowland (later Viscount) Hill's Second Division, manoeuvring in Portugal and on the frontiers of Spain. During this phase of the campaign, and during the battle of Busaco, Simon Newport was adjutant of the Division's Light Brigade. Hill's Division finally joined Wellington's force on 27 September 1810, forming the right flank of the Army on the ridge at Busaco, which dominated the vital road from Almeida to Coimbra. Maréchal André Masséna launched a series of furious assaults, out of the early morning fog, on the famous ridge. The main French effort was concentrated against the centre and left of the Allied line and, by the time Hill moved his Division north, albeit at a 'steady double quick', Reynier's Corps had already been repulsed. With Ney's Corps threatening the Convent further up the ridge, Wellington left with the words: 'If they attempt this point again, Hill, you will give them a volley, and charge bayonets; but don't let your people follow them too far down the hill.' Although 'a few shells flew harmlessly over our line' and the advanced picquets spent the night amongst the French dead, the 39th Foot was not engaged that day. Once again, Allied line had triumphed over French column, while Wellington fought on chosen ground with good lateral communications and French reconnaissance had proved quite inadequate.
According to his 'Statement of Services' written in 1854, Lieutenant Simon Newport 'on the heights of Busaco was permanently appointed Adjutant of the 39th Regiment by His Grace the Duke of Wellington in consequence of his promptness and decision in saving two pieces of Portuguese Artillery, on the retreat from Castel Branco when moving to the memorable junction with the main Army at Busaco'. This appointment, effective from 4 October 1810, gave him the important role of acting as personal staff officer to the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel George Wilson. After the battle of Busaco Wellington put into effect a 'scorched earth' policy and retreated to the Lines of Torres Vedras, from behind which he and his Army observed Masséna for the next six months. While Wellington fought Masséna once again at Fuentes de Onõro on 3 and 5 May 1811, Allied troops under the command of Sir William Beresford took the fortresses of Campo Major on 25 March and Olivença on 14 April, before laying siege to Badajoz on 5 May, in accordance with Wellington's orders. For the next week the 2nd Battalion, 39th Foot was engaged in constructing parallels and batteries around the city. On the 13 Beresford learned that a French force under Maréchal Nicolas Soult was marching to the relief of Badajoz and, trying to anticipate French movements, attempted to cut him off, reaching the town of Albuhera at 2 p.m. on 15 May. The following day battle was joined between some 35,000 British, Portuguese, Spanish and Germans straddling the Badajoz road on the west side of the river Albuhera, and 24,000 Frenchmen, supported by Polish cavalry, hoping to relieve the besieged city. The stage was set for the bloodiest set-piece battle of the Peninsular War.
The Battle of Albuhera - 16 May 1811
The French began by launching the largest single attack of the campaign, advancing with two divisions of 8,400 men on four Spanish battalions on the right of the line, before striking the British brigade under Colborne. After resisting strongly, the latter brigade was effectively destroyed by two regiments of Polish lancers, losing 1,300 out of 1,600 men, together with five colours. Two more British brigades, under Hoghton and Abercrombie, then moved forward to engage the French in what Jac Weller, doyen of Peninsular War historians, described as 'a fire fight at close range perhaps never equalled in military history'. The 2nd Battalion, 39th Foot, just four hundred strong, was one of seven British battalions to take part in this dreadful slogging match, which lasted almost an hour. Moyles Sherer, 34th Foot, on the left of the 39th Foot, which formed the centre of Abercrombie's brigade, wrote: 'We were the whole time advancing upon and shaking the enemy; at about 20 yards from them we received orders to charge: we had ceased firing, cheered and had our bayonets in the charging position when a body of the enemy's horse was discovered under the shoulder of a rising ground, ready to take advantage of our impetuousity.' The British then recommenced firing and 'the slaughter was now, for a few minutes, dreadful; every shot told: their officers in vain attempted to rally them: they would make no effort'.
With all their ammunition expended, Abercrombie's brigade 'retired in the most perfect order, to a spot sheltered from their guns, and lay down in line, ready to repulse any fresh attack with the bayonet'. At that crucial juncture Colonel Henry Hardinge, an officer on Beresford's staff, acting on his own initiative, changed the course of the battle. He urged Major-General Lowry Cole to bring his Fourth Division from the centre of the British line in order to engage and overlap the French left wing. With the French now caught in crossfire, Cole's Fusilier brigade charged, leading to panic amongst the French across the whole front. Sir William Napier, the contemporary historian of the Peninsular War, wrote that 'eighteen hundred unwounded men, the remnant of six thousand unconquerable British soldiers, stood triumphant on the fatal hill'. In a letter to Viscount Hardinge, Simon Newport later described the enemy as having been driven 'in confusion and dismay from the hard fought field'. The battle ended in something close to stalemate as the two armies faced one another, totally exhausted, across the river Albuhera, having suffered a total of 14,000 casualties. From the Allied angle, these had fallen disproportionately on the British infantry. The 39th Foot had lost one officer, two sergeants, four corporals and eighteen privates killed in action, while two corporals and eight private soldiers were to die of their wounds during the next three weeks. A further four officers (of whom two were invalided home) and sixty-seven NCOs and men were wounded. These casualties comprised around one-quarter of the 2nd Battalion's strength that day.
Two days later Soult withdrew, leaving the field to Beresford, to whom Wellington sent a despatch on 19 May from Elvas: 'Your loss, by all accounts, has been very large; but I hope that it will not prove so large as was at first supposed. You could not be successful in such an action without a large loss; and we must make up our minds to affairs of this kind sometimes, or give up the game.' Nevertheless Beresford subsequently produced such a downbeat account of the battle that Wellington said to Colonel Thomas Arbuthnot, who brought it in: 'This won't do. Write me down a victory.' On 2 July 1811 he wrote to W. Wellesley-Pole that Beresford's despatch 'would have driven the people in England mad.' Visiting the wounded, Wellington remarked: 'Men of the 29th [sic], I am sorry to see so many of you here.' A sergeant replied: 'If you had commanded us, my Lord, there would not be so many of us here.' Forty-two years later Simon Newport's wife wrote to her husband's nephew (and future son-in-law), William Clark: '... your uncle says he can from experience fully concur in the late Duke of Wellington's Maxim that to do business well one ought to superintend it themselves ...' Perhaps they both had Albuhera in mind. The historian, Sir Charles Oman, described Albuhera as 'the most honourable of all Peninsular blazons' while Byron wrote: 'Oh, Albuhera! glorious field of grief!' On 8 April 1812 Corporal William Wheeler of the 51st Light Infantry was in camp near the battlefield and wrote: 'Albuhera still presents visible traces of the late bloody conflict between the army under Marshal Beresford and Soult. In some places large fires had been made, no doubt to burn the dead, again in other places are long ridges or Burrows where some have been buried - of this there can be no doubt for here and there is visible an arm or leg projecting out of the earth. The place is completely strewn with broken shells, breast plates, pouches, scabbards and caps, both of French and English.'
Later Peninsular Actions
A reinforced and reorganised French Army of Portugal forced Wellington to retreat from Badajoz and the 39th Foot were left in the south, still in the Second Division under Hill. On 27 September, the first anniversary of the battle of Busaco, the officers dined together for the first time since leaving Guernsey. The following day there were pony and foot races for the men and horse-racing for the officers. General Hill had even brought a pack of foxhounds out from England; according to Lieutenant Benjamin Ball, 39th Foot, these were calculated to 'make the natives stare' more than 'our races'. On 28 October 1811 the 2nd Battalion, 39th Foot saw its last action in the Peninsula, at Arroyo dos Molinos. A French division was taken by surprise and more than 1,300 hundred prisoners were taken, including General of Cavalry Brun, as well as four guns and the divisional baggage, all at a cost of just seven men killed, one missing and 64 wounded. Just a dozen of the wounded came from the 39th Foot. Soldiers who had risen at two in the morning pursued Général Girard and about 500 men into the Sierra de Montanches until six that evening but the French, through the skilful use of ground, an aggressive rearguard, and by throwing away their haversacks, managed to escape into the plain beyond. With Colonel Wilson promoted to command the brigade, Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Lindsay, commanding the 2nd Battalion, described Arroyo dos Molinos as 'the severest service we have had in the Peninsula'. In his despatch General Hill wrote: 'No praise of mine can do justice to their admirable conduct, the patience and the good-will shown by all ranks during forced marches in the worst weather'.
The 1st Battalion, which was to replace the 2nd Battalion, arrived at Lisbon on 18 October 1811. Having drafted 380 men - or nearly all its effectives - to the 1st Battalion, a 'skeleton' 2nd Battalion finally embarked from Lisbon on 27 January 1812, arriving at Weymouth on 2 March. Thus ended Lieutenant and Adjutant Simon Newport's active service. Major-General Sir Patrick Lindsay, K.C.B., de jure 8th Earl of Lindsay, later warote in a testimonial: 'I beg leave to state that he served in the 39th Regiment with me for upwards of twenty years, several of which he was Adjutant of the 2nd Battalion under my Command in Spain and Portugal when belonging to the Army of His Grace the Duke of Wellington and for which situation he shewed himself an active, zealous, and most intelligent officer.' By a General Order dated 1 June 1847, those who had fought in the campaigns against France and her allies between 1801 and 1814 were invited to apply for the Military General Service Medal. This was so long after the events themselves that at least one old officer had to resort to the official records in order to establish his presence at a particular action, 'having been in so many at such a distant date'. Captain Simon Newport applied and, the following year, received a medal engraved S. NEWPORT, ADJT 39TH FOOT, with clasps for BUSACO and ALBUHERA.
Back to England and then Home to Ireland
For the next three years the 2nd Battalion assumed the role for which it had originally been intended: based in Weymouth its task was to satisfy the constant demand for drafts of reinforcements for the 1st Battalion, which remained on active serve in Portugal and France until leaving for Canada in June 1814. Simon Newport served for a period as Brigade Major to the cavalry at Weymouth under the command of Major-General Orlando Jones. In addition to that appointment, he remained Adjutant of the 2nd Battalion, 39th Foot until 27 October 1814. The final reduction of the 2nd Battalion took place on 25 February 1816 - a year earlier Simon Newport had joined the 1st Battalion as part of the Allied Army of Occupation, remaining in France until 30 October 1818. He had evidently requested - and been permitted - to remain in the Army at a time when many of his contemporaries went on to half-pay. Simon Newport must have been pleased to return to home soil when the 39th Foot arrived in Ireland on 26 December 1818. The next six-and-a-half years were spent in various places in Ireland - Castlebar, Dublin, Cork, Tralee, Limerick and Buttevant in Co. Cork - frequently split into small detachments of between 12 and 30 men, 'acting in aid of the civil power', a role with which the British Army was to become only too familiar 150 years later.
In 1822 Simon Newport was stationed with the Light Company of 39th Foot at Knocknagree in Co. Cork 'during the insurrectionary proceedings' (led by Patrick Dillane, aka 'Captain Rock'). According to his Statement of Services, 'on 24 December made a midnight march on the town of Millstreet, which had been attacked and surrounded by several thousand insurgents - by this timely assistance saved the town from destruction and held the insurgents in check until the arrival of the 22nd Regiment, 800 strong under command of Colonel Sir Hugh (later Field Marshal Viscount) Gough. For this prompt movement Captain Newport received the full approbation of Major-General Sir John Lambert, K.C.B., commander of the District and the warm expression of thanks from the inhabitants of Millstreet and the Magistrates of the Counties of Kerry and Cork'. There is a family tradition that Simon Newport saved Colonel Gough's life.
Captain Simon Newport's Marriage and the Sale of his Commission
There were some compensations for the invidious role of policing his homeland: on 8 July 1822 Lieutenant Simon Newport, 39th Foot, married by licence at the church of St. Nicholas, Kill, Co. Waterford, Marianne, third daughter of John Wallis of Drishane Castle, Co. Cork, by his second wife, Marianne, daughter of John Carleton of Woodside, Co. Cork. They soon had a son, Simon George (known as Sim), who was born at Ballyglan, the home of Sir Joshua Paul, his mother's uncle, and baptised at St. Nicholas, Kill on 14 July 1823. In March 1825 the establishment of the 1st Battalion, 39th Foot was augmented by two companies and the newly-promoted Captain Simon Newport finally 'got his Company' on 7 April. On 10 July 1825 the 39th Foot received orders to move to Chatham, prior to embarking for New South Wales. Newly-married and living in his homeland with a young family, Simon Newport was understandably unenthusiastic about a posting to the other side of the world. Furthermore he now had a valuable captaincy to sell, which he duly did on 14 July 1825.
It may have been the proceeds of the sale of his commission that he was discussing when he wrote, on 30 April 1826, from St. John's Hill Villa, Waterford to his 'kinsman' (more precisely, his first cousin, once removed) Sir John Newport, Bt, of New Park, Co. Kilkenny, formerly Chancellor of the Exchequer for Ireland: 'Now permit me to say, that as I have the command at present of two thousand pounds under 4 corporation seals, I shall leave these entirely at your disposal, that is to say, should you at any period consider it a convenience to yourself, you have only to apprize me, & I shall feel most happy to transfer either a part, or the whole to your security [on both 15 August and 31 December 1828 Simon Newport acknowledges the receipt of £45 interest, each being half a year's interest on the sum of £1,800 - implying a rate of 5% gross per annum]. Mrs Newport & my little Boy are well, and at present on a visit at her sister's about a mile from Cloyne [Kilcrone, the home of Marianne's half-sister Patience, who was married to James Hanning], where I propose returning tomorrow, & remain about ten days or a fortnight longer. You will judge that I have converted my Sword into a tolerably good Ploughshare when I tell you that I have in front of this house an acre of Potatoes already earthed, and expect to have them ready for the Citizens latter end of May.'
Financial worries were never far from Captain Simon Newport's mind. In a letter of 3 July 1854 to Viscount Hardinge, Commander-in-Chief, in which he was seeking a commission without purchase for his son Henry Bolton, he sets the scene: 'Your memorialist having passed 22 years in the Army had no opportunity of acquiring wealth ...' It seems likely that the family lost most of its assets in June 1820, when the family bank had suffered a catastrophic collapse and the senior partner, his uncle William, committed suicide. The Reverend W. P. Burke wrote 'how strong men lost their reason, and steady men drank themselves to death; how ladies living on a slender income were reduced to absolute beggary; how country folk used to come into town, Newports' notes tied in a handkerchief in their hats quite unable to realise how by a stroke, as if of the magician's wand, these notes had been turned into mere paper'. In the final analysis Newports Bank paid just 5/3 in the pound to its creditors. By way of employment after leaving the Army Captain Simon Newport was agent to both to Lord Carew at Woodstown and also to Sir Joshua Paul, his wife's uncle, at Paulville, Tinora and Ballyglan. On 19 December 1830 he wrote to Sir John Newport: 'I was desirous of seeing you in respect of your bond, the date of which expired on 11th Nov 1830, and to say, that as your nephew Willm (shd he survive you) will become yr representative, & Legatee, it may not be too much to ask him to join with you in a new bond for the amt. There wd be no probability of his being called on for it for several years, as I have disposed of it by Will to my Boys [his second son, John Wallis, had been born on 9th March that year] as they come of age. I'm sure you will believe I have no desire whatever to put you to the slightest inconvenience or trouble in the Matter. My sole object being to have the sum (tho' small yet forming a large proportion of provision for my children) placed in as secure a position, and free from any possible litigation hereafter as I can.'
Use of 'interest'
Three more children were to follow: Marianne Elizabeth Paul, baptised on 22 June 1832, Jane Penelope, baptised on 30 April 1834 and, lastly, Henry Bolton, born on 8 July 1837. In 1840, Alderman Simon Newport JP became Mayor of Waterford and in 1848 he was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for Co. Waterford. Given his straightened circumstances, Simon Newport was shameless in using 'interest' in attempting to further the careers of his three sons. On 8 April 1839 he wrote to General Viscount Hill, Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, seeking a commission without purchase for his eldest son, Sim. He also wrote to Sir Francis Baring (later Lord Northbrook), First Lord of the Admiralty, on behalf of his second son, John Wallis. On 3 July 1854 he begged the same favour from Field Marshal Viscount Hardinge, Commander-in-Chief, on behalf of his youngest son, Henry Bolton, pleading that he 'had the honour of serving in the same field with the Lordship at the ever memorable Battle of Albuhera'. All three requests were looked upon favourably.
Sim Newport Follows his Father into the 39th Foot
On 3 August 1841, not much more than two years after his father's letter to Viscount Hill - and a polite reminder dated 10 November 1840 - Sim Newport was appointed ensign in the 39th Foot, at the age of eighteen. He joined his Regiment at Kamptee in India that autumn, just in time to march to Agra, and then on to Ferozepore, where the 39th Foot remained until January 1843. On 23 March 1843 the Governor-General of India, Lord Ellenborough, presented the 39th Foot with a new stand of Colours, addressing them with the words: "These Colours have already inscribed on them the names of many victories, wherein those who have preceded you in the 39th, and some amongst yourselves, have borne part. There is yet space for more inscriptions to commemorate other victories; and be assured that, if the necessity for action should occur, I shall afford you the opportunity of acquiring distinctions similar to those which have been obtained by your predecessors, with the conviction that you will display courage like that which distinguished them upon the field of battle, that these Colours will never retreat before the enemy, but that every one of you would give his life to bear them on to victory."
The Battle of Maharajpoor - 29 December 1843
The "opportunity" presented itself sooner than anyone had expected. On 25 November 1843 the 39th Foot assembled at Agra as part of the 5th Brigade of the euphemistically titled 'Army of Opportunity', which had been brought together as a result of unrest in the state of Gwalior. The Governor-General accompanied the army, under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Hugh Gough, which halted 20 miles from Gwalior while talks took place. When it became apparent that the sole purpose of the Mahrattas was to gain time to concentrate their forces, Lord Ellenborough decided to act. On the morning of 29 December 1843 General Gough crossed the Koharee river with his army of 14,000 men and forty guns. Without proper reconnaissance, three straggling columns advanced on the village of Maharajpoor, led - rather unusually - by four ladies on elephants, hoping to avoid the dust stirred up by an army on the march. The ladies were Lady Gough; her youngest daughter; Juana, the Spanish wife of Adjutant-General Harry Smith, who had 'liberated' her after the siege of Badajoz in 1812, and the wife of the Sub-Assistant Commissary-General.
Unbeknownst to them, there were 18,000 Mahrattas, including 3,000 cavalry and 100 artillery pieces, drawn up in a well-entrenched position in front of the village of Maharajpoor, with a secondary position further back. Suddenly the ladies found that 'there were cannon balls bowling towards them and between the elephants' legs'. Fortunately they were led to safety by Juana Smith, the only casualty being an elephant, which lost part of an ear. Harry Smith wrote in his autobiography: 'Juana had this command of Amazons, and as she was experienced and they young, her command was anything but satisfactory.' The British continued to advance across difficult country, criss-crossed by gullies and ravines, halting briefly for breakfast a mile short of the objective, while the rival artillery batteries blazed away. After receiving some sustenance the 39th Foot, without firing a shot, advanced steadily - under a hail of cannon balls, grapeshot, canister and, finally, when ammunition was running out, old horseshoes - on the Mahrattas' positions. Sir Hugh Gough wrote in his despatch: 'Her Majesty's Thirty-ninth foot, with their accustomed dash, ably supported by the Fifty-sixth Native infantry, drove the enemy from their guns in the village, bayoneting the gunners at their posts.' The 39th Foot then regrouped and moved on the main enemy force at Chonda. Here they were fired upon by snipers concealed in stooks of corn, but these too were flushed out at the point of the bayonet. Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Wright commanded a brigade that day and the acting Commanding Officer of the 39th, Major Edward William Bray, 'was desperately wounded by the blowing up of one of the enemy's tumbrels in the midst of the corps', while his son, Ensign Theodore David Bray, was killed while carrying the Queen's Colour [his torn tunic is in the Military Museum of Devon and Dorset in Dorchester]. According to his obituary, Ensign Sim Newport 'was wounded by grapeshot while carrying the Colours of his Regiment at the battle of Maharajpoor'.
The two British battalions suffered nearly half the total of 800 casualties suffered by Gough's army that day, with the 39th Foot losing one officer, two sergeants and 25 rank and file killed in action while 11 officers, 17 sergeants and 157 rank and file wounded, of whom 12 subsequently died. Exactly half of the Regimental dead were originally from Ireland; before taking the Queen's shilling, seventeen of them were labourers and there was also one bricklayer, a groom and a cabinetmaker. The Governor-General subsequently proclaimed: "Her Majesty's Thirty-ninth Regiment had the peculiar fortune of adding to the honour of having won at Plassey the first great battle which laid the foundation, the further honour of thus nobly contributing to this, as it may be hoped, the last and crowning victory by which that empire has been secured." He continued: "The Government of India will, as a mark of its grateful sense of their distinguished merit, present to every general and other officer, and to every soldier engaged in the battles of Maharajpoor and Punniar, an Indian Star of bronze, made out of the guns taken in these battles; and all officers and soldiers in the service of the Government of India will be permitted to wear the Star with their uniforms." This was the first battle for which all ranks of the 39th Foot had received a medal; the survivors also received an additional six months' batta, or supplementary allowance. The four ladies received diamond-studded medals specially commissioned, and paid for, by Lord Ellenborough. The latter was particularly fond of commemorative items and also presented a large silver cup to the 39th Foot: 'Edward Lord Ellenborough Governor-General of India to Col T. Wright CB and the Officers of the 39th Regiment in commemoration of the Victory of Maharajpoor gained on the 29th December 1843.' The Mahrattas were punished accordingly, as W.H.G. Kingston wrote in Our Soldiers: 'The Mahratta troops were disbanded, and a British contingent was formed, to be maintained at the cost of the Gwalior Government, which was compelled to pay forthwith the expenses of the campaign.' Sir Charles Napier wrote to Sir Harry Smith, who had been knighted after the battle: 'I congratulate you on your feats of arms. You had a tough job of it: these Asiatics hit hard, methinks. How came all the ladies to be in the fight? I suppose you all wanted to be gloriously rid of your wives? Well, there is something in that; but I wonder the women stand so atrocious an attempt. Poor things! I dare say they too had their hopes. They talk of our immoral conduct in Scinde! I am sure there never was any so bad as this. God forgive you all. Read your Bible, and wear your laurels.'
Sim Newport was promoted lieutenant on 2 July 1844. The next three years passed quietly at Dinapore in Bengal and the 39th Foot returned to England, after an absence of 22 years, in mid-1847. During three years in England the 39th Foot was kept on the move, from Canterbury, to Gosport, to Yorkshire and finally to Preston. In 1850 the Regiment moved to Ireland, where it once again moved from place to place: first Belfast, then Newry, then Dublin, then Cork, then Clonmel, finally back to Cork again, its role once again being in aid of the civil authorities, 'though the establishment of the Royal Irish Constabulary had relieved them of much unpleasant work'.
At Waterford Cathedral on 18 June 1853 the Newport's elder daughter, Marianne, married her first cousin, William Clark, a prosperous linen manufacturer from Co. Londonderry. While they were courting, she wrote to him from her parent's home, Suirville, Waterford on 28 January 1853, commenting on each of her three brothers: 'So Jane remembers Johnny as been [sic] a great favourite of hers, indeed he is a general one with every one of his friends, and the circumstances of his very quick promotion, and removal to the Flag Ship Cumberland confirms us more & more of the high opinion his superiors in the Navy must have of his conduct ever since he entered the Service. Henry is improving, but sometimes requires a little advice, he is really a very well intentioned fellow & always speaks well of his friends when not pressed, tho' I must confess he requires a little politeness very often. Sim will not pay us a visit until the day before the Ball, or perhaps not before the day of it, we long to see him in his uniform.' William Clark built a new home for his bride, Ampertain House, Upperlands, Co. Londonderry. On 29 September 1853 his future mother-in-law wrote: 'We are all glad to hear of the rapid progress of your housebuilding, the weather hitherto has been much in your favour, but this is a sad wet day however we must be satisfied with whatever the Lord sends, either gloom or sunshine.' Sadly there was to be rather more gloom than sunshine in the story of the Newport family.
The Crimean War - Two Brothers Serve Together
On 19 April 1854 the 39th Foot embarked for Gibraltar and, on 6 June that year, Lieutenant Sim Newport was advanced to captain. Following the approach to Lord Hardinge, Henry Bolton Newport was appointed ensign in the 39th Foot on 1 September 1854, just in time for campaign service. Initially excluded from the Crimean War by the move to Gibraltar, the 'ravages of disease' soon led the 39th Foot to be ordered to the war zone: the two brothers arrived at Balaklava in the screw steamer Golden Fleece on New Year's Day 1855.
After the major set-piece battles of the Alma, Balaklava and Inkerman, the British, French and Turkish armies were now laying siege to the city of Sebastopol, the major Russian naval base on the Black Sea. Although 'the work in the trenches was heavy and most exhausting', the Third Division, to which the 39th Foot belonged, was held in reserve when the great assaults of 18 June and 8 September 1855 took place. When not taking their turn in the trenches, the Regiment was housed in huts, with the result that deaths from disease dropped off sharply. Just one officer and ten NCOs and men were killed in action and forty wounded during the campaign. Both Newport brothers received the British Crimea medal with bar SEBASTOPOL, together with the Turkish Crimea medal.
Untimely Death of Captain Sim Newport
On 1 May 1856 the 39th Foot left the Crimea for Canada, where they spent the next three years, first at Montreal and then at Quebec. On 4 February 1859 Captain Sim Newport exchanged with Captain Francis Charles Turner and joined the 79th Highlanders. Sadly it proved to be an unwise decision: he never actually joined his new regiment, dying of cholera at Dum Dum, near Calcutta (the ordnance depot that lends its name to the infamous bullets) on 5 December 1859. Sim Newport was buried in Dum Dum Old Cemetery, where his (somewhat inaccurate) memorial tablet reads:
Sacred to the memory of Captain Simon George Newport, H.M. 78th Highlanders [sic], with which regiment he served at the battle of Maharajpore and the siege of Sebastopol, and greatly beloved by his brother officers
Died on the 5th December 1859, aged 38 years
Erected by an old comrade as a small tribute of respect and esteem to his memory
According to the obituary notice, the 'old comrade' in question was Captain William de Wilton Roche Thackwell, who became Colonel of The Dorsetshire Regiment in 1910. For those at home Sim Newport's death was reported in the Cork Examiner on 20 January 1860 while there is also a memorial in the church at Maghera in Co. Londonderry. Cholera was a major killer in India during the nineteenth century. In August 1843, when stationed at Agra, the 39th Foot lost their second lieutenant-colonel, their surgeon, two sergeants, two corporals and 48 privates, women and children within the space of just one month. As Richard Holmes wrote in Sahib: 'Callwell was right to identify cholera morbus - 'Corporal Forbes' in soldiers' slang - as the major killer of Britons, soldiers and civilians. A water-borne disease long endemic in India, it was usually contracted by drinking infected water or eating fruit or vegetables washed in it, the water itself having been contaminated by the bodily fluids of those infected; flies too could spread the disease.' In 1863 the 70,000 British soldiers in India filled 5,880 hospital beds. Captain Sim Newport was one of the unlucky ones: the officer he exchanged with, Francis Turner, died at Staines on 30 March 1905.
Sim Newport's Younger Siblings Enjoy Mixed Fortunes
The case of Henry Bolton Newport is equally tragic. Although promoted to lieutenant on 9 February 1855, while serving in the Crimea, he made no further progress in the Army and resigned from the 39th Foot on 18 November 1862. On the 18 June following his father wrote to his son-in-law, William Clark, that: 'We have not had a line from Henry, consequently ignorant of his whereabouts - but we apprehend he is gone to seek further medical advice in Dublin, or London - tho' he has been desirous of seeking it from Dr Jacob at his Retreat at Maryborough, who receives patients under similar circumstances. The poor fellow took a deep-rooted dislike to this House, and Waterford in general, in short having no occupation for his mind because dissatisfied with everything around him, but when his present funds become exhausted, about £25, we think he will return to us. I am informed at the Bank here that he has a credit of £230, on deposit receipts which happily he cannot attempt take up by cheques - otherwise he might through assigning People be inclined to attempt. At one time we thought he might have gone to Ampertain, but as he did not take his fishing rod &c. with him we now fear he is gone on to Dublin on route as he said at Maryborough to London. May he providentially be protected from falling into bad hands there. Dr Joe Mackey tells me he never will be well in his own fancy until he obtains some occupation to divert his mind from the sad loss of his military position, which constantly preys in him.' It seems that Henry Bolton Newport never recovered his 'position': he didn't marry and died at Richmond District Lunatic Asylum, Dublin on 5 May 1900.
Captain Simon Newport's later years were equally troubled. In 1845 his marriage settlement was significantly reduced when Lord Carew paid £1,200 to extract his eldest son Sim from 'various heavy debts he had unhappily contracted', probably from gambling in India. In 1854 he applied for the post of Paymaster of the Waterford Militia, writing that 'having been accustomed to a good deal of penmanship to accounts I would gladly avail myself of an opportunity to resume a military life in the civil department and I consider that I might afford additional service to a newly formed Regiment in many other respects'. The application was looked upon favourably and he served as Paymaster of the Wexford Militia into his seventieth year.
On 31 July 1861 Simon Newport wrote to his Trustees: 'In case of my death, which I apprehend cannot be distant, I wish my Burial to be as private as possible - without any kind of parade, & taken to the Grave on a single Horse, open Hearse - the same used by the Society of Friends. As to Burial Ground, the proposed New Cemetery, on the lands of Grange if attainable where I have marked out a spot by Mackey, but if not, then to the least expensive place. I have for some time past been under affliction, and my Finances in a decayed state from causes, over which have not had control or even knowledge of how became so. All these matters press with more weight and anxiety on me, than I feel able to bear against - and consequently I feel very fast declining in health & strength - and therefore express my wishes as above, to be carried out by my Cousins, & Trustees, Charles & Robert Newport.' Some time after 1865 Captain Simon Newport and his wife Marianne left Waterford and went to live with their daughter and son-in-law at Ampertain. On 28 February 1867 Minnie Clark recorded in her diary: 'Dearest Papa died. His end was peaceful. He was in his 79th year'. On 21 May, less than three months later, Minnie's newborn son was named Simon Newport Clark in his memory. Mrs Marianne Clark died at Ampertain, at the age of 77, on 4 January 1876.
Lieutenant John Wallis Newport's Naval Career
The family tradition is that Johnny Newport's 'very quick promotion' to lieutenant came about as a result of the capture of a slave trader and the release of the slaves. He later saw service on HMS Archer as part of the Baltic Fleet, blockading Latvian ports during the Crimean War. His fast track career came to a sudden end on 23 December 1856, when he was court-martialled on board HMS Copack at Grey Town for 'contemptuous and disrespectful conduct towards Captain Heathcote', and 'placed at the bottom of the List of Lieutenants', forfeiting six years' seniority from 12 Nov 1850 to 23 Dec 1856. Then there was an unexplained interlude when he went to India in 1858 to take up a new appointment, fell ill, was treated in the EG Hospital in Bombay for some months, and then returned to Portsmouth only to find that his appointment 'had ceased as of the 6th instant [December]'. On 28 June 1859 he was appointed to HMS Queen Charlotte, the flagship at Sheerness, and then to HMS Monarch at Portsmouth four months later. Johnny Newport retired from the Navy as a lieutenant on half-pay of 5/- a day ('which is not to be increased', according to his Royal Navy records) on 29 January 1861, was promoted to commander on 20 December 1871 and died, unmarried, at Farnham House, a private hospital in Finglas, now part of the northern suburbs of Dublin, on 27 October 1876, at the age of 46.
Having produced a large family and looked after her parents during their declining years, Marianne Clark died on 12 December 1891; her husband William survived her by over a decade, dying on 10 December 1904. Marianne's younger sister, Jane Penelope, was the last surviving child: she had remained a spinster and died of 'senile decay' on 30 January 1919 at Maryville, Finglas, part of the same 'private asylum' where her middle brother had died over forty-two years earlier. As one of Captain Simon Newport's descendants wrote, 'there seems to be some predisposition to 'drink or the devil' or gambling in each of the three sons. There is no similar history in my knowledge of the Newports or Clarks. Why, why, why?'