The Story of a Peninsular Veteran

Sergeant in the Forty-Third Light Infantry during the Peninsular War

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    • 17,99 €

Publisher Description

I  have the advantage of being an Irishman. My parents had also the felicity of first seeing the light of day as it shone upon the soil of the land which for ages has seemed to possess such passing interest in the eyes of Britain. Their family consisted of six children: four boys and two girls. I was the youngest of the whole, and, for reasons I do not profess to comprehend, was a special favourite. I was named Thomas; which, interpreted by parental love, was converted into Benjamin, with a double portion of all that substance so scanty as theirs could supply. I was born in the small townsland of Enneham, King’s County, in the province of Leinster, about the year 1790, be the same a little earlier 


or later. The exact period I cannot specify; as at that time and place, and in consequence of the culpable negligence generally prevalent in parochial registration, very little thought or care was shown in recording such events.

Those were the days of intestine broil and vengeance. The seeds of rebellion, which had been sown with an unsparing and remorseless hand, were just ready to produce their baneful first-fruit. Such was the jeopardy in which Protestants especially were placed, that no one who beheld the morning sun arise could safely calculate upon seeing it go down. ‘Domestic fury and fierce civil strife,’ kindled and mainly maintained by papal cupidity and violence, raged through the fairest portions of the country. No one had courage to trust his neighbours; for no one could tell who was worthy of trust. Mutual confidence, based upon moral principle, which alone can cement society, was blotted from the list of social virtues. Not many dared depend even upon former friends. The ties of relationship, and those arising from nearness of kin, were frequently forgotten. Natural affection, usually invincible, was unheeded; and under cover of night, or even in open day, the unwary traveller became frequently a prey to instantaneous death from the bullet of some skulking assassin, concealed behind the road-side bush or brake.

My parents, I regret to state, were Roman Catholics. They knew no better; for no other teaching had reached their minds. Their membership with that fallen community was their misfortune rather than their fault. I believe the profession they made was sincere; and that, though mingled with the dross of Popish superstition, they were possessors of at least some few grains of sterling piety. My mother, in particular, was remarkably constant and fervid in her devotions; and the earnest manner in which her beads were counted, though I could never detect the meritorious points of calculation, is to be numbered 


among the earliest and most powerful impressions I ever received. My father had for several years acted as steward to Archibald Nevens, Esq., a gentleman who, at that time, was the owner of considerable estates in the vicinity of Portarlington.

Ours was a happy family. My father, though a plain man, was excelled by few in attachment to his wife and children. ‘Hope springs eternal in the human breast;’ and we flattered ourselves that futurity offered to our notice lengthened years of comfort. But we soon found that our hold on earthly happiness was fragile as the spider’s thread. My father was taken ill and died. Even now the procession of his funeral is pictured on my memory. The gentleman already named as my father’s employer had fallen upon evil days. His property passed into other hands; and as the purchaser knew nothing of our family, no one cared for the widow and her orphan charge. A house with every needful convenience had been built for us by the original proprietor. This we were abruptly ordered to quit. Another king had arisen, who knew not Joseph or his father’s house. We went away, weeping at every step. I saw my mother’s tears, and to this day her low wailing strikes my ear. But though destitute, we were not forsaken; though in straits, we did not perish; and by the blessing of Almighty Providence upon the well-directed industry of my mother and my elder brothers, we were sustained with food convenient.

The desolate condition of the moneyless and unprotected widow was aggravated in no common degree by the political commotion already adverted to. Persons unacquainted with the approaching terrors of that era may imagine that an obscure and uninfluential family like ours had little to apprehend, that our poverty was protection enough, and that those who had nothing to lose had nothing to fear. Not so. The conflict then impending arose 


from the dark designs of men ‘cursed with a heart unknowing how to yield,’ and who were bent on havoc and rapine. Personal robbery might not be planned, but many were ready for that and a great deal more. Heresy and sedition were closely in league; the emissaries of each were in ceaseless motion; and the ultimate design was to burst forth from the unsuspected places of mischief, suddenly, and wide wasting as the simoon of the desert, and sweep with indiscriminating ire, from the abodes of their peaceful countrymen, every vestige of existing government and every temple devoted to the reformed religion, as by law and right reason established. Perfect secrecy on the part of the rebels was happily unattainable. Every now and then circumstances and facts transpired, the tendency of which could not be mistaken. Hair-brained but hot-headed men became the self-elected orators of secluded nocturnal assemblies. Liberty and equality and reason versus religion, neat as imported from the French directory at Paris, was the order of the day. Uproarious vociferation took the place of argument; and though the majority of these Hibernian gentry were as ignorant of jurisprudence as the more modern destructionist, nothing less than the dismemberment of the British empire, and the establishment of a republic, formed probably on the model of Citizen Robespierre, would suit their purpose.

All this was designed, and most of it was divulged. Experience has shown, that where numerous and unequally gifted agencies are employed, let the pursuit be good or evil, entire privacy is next to impossible. The parties may promise to be silent, or may bind themselves to be so by oath; but concealed knowledge is a treasure, of which the custody is to some communicative souls impracticable. They find themselves in the possession of a secret; it struggles to break away; but they remember their vow, and in order to hold it fast, they get a friend or two to 


help them. The sons of Irish misrule assumed several names: there were White-boys and Steel-boys, Oak-boys and Right-boys. Distinctions are, however, needless,—they were all bad boys; and at length the entire series were drawn into the wild and powerful vortex of United Irishmen; it being understood that this body consisted chiefly of persons professing the Roman Catholic religion.

The storm at length came down, and the consequences were awful. Although not quite nine years of age when our neighbourhood rang with war’s alarms, the scenes I was then compelled to witness cannot be forgotten. I distinctly remember the transactions of an eventful day which took place in a small town near my mother’s residence. The rebels had taken possession of the place, and had murdered a magistrate who attempted to oppose them. At that crisis a squadron of dragoons, stationed at Tullamore, received orders to march and endeavour to dislodge them. The cavalry rode into the main street with great gallantry, but were received by a tremendous fire of musketry from the windows of the houses on each side; so that, after sustaining a considerable loss, they were compelled to retreat. Several of the soldiers were killed; and a number of wounded men were afterwards conveyed on cars from the place of action to the military hospital.

My poor mother was in the midst of these dangers; and I well remember that she experienced great rudeness from the ruffian rabble. But the Almighty preserved her from serious injury. He can restrain at pleasure the wrath of man, as well as divert it into a new and unintended channel. That night we were afraid of entering into any house, lest we should attract the notice of the rebels, who were now flushed into insolence and inebriety by their recent victory: we therefore crept behind the foliage of some low trees, and passed the night in the open air. Our next precaution was to protect the little remaining household 


furniture from pillage. To effect this, we buried the most valuable articles in the earth, as nothing above ground appeared to offer the least protection. The property thus secreted was saved; but on raising it subsequently, almost everything was spoiled by the dampness of the soil in which it had been embedded.

One of my neighbours, John Tinkler, was singled out by these barbarians as a victim. He was a man of singular benevolence, and held in general esteem by the surrounding inhabitants; but he was a Protestant, and that had long been placed at the head of the list of unpardonable crimes. The house of this worthy man, whom I well knew, was beset by a horde of armed ruffians, who commenced an immediate attack. Tinkler, in the midst of his family, consisting of a wife and seven or eight children, though surprised, determined to defend himself to the last extremity. He fought desperately, though oppressed by numbers, until one of the villains posted outside the house, and guided by the sound of his voice, deliberately levelled his piece and fired. The bullet passed through the door, and struck Tinkler, who fell dead just within the threshold, valiantly defending his home and property; and I regret to add, that the widow and her helpless charge, ejected by some means from the farm and land, were obliged to seek shelter elsewhere.

These were but the beginning of sorrows. The spirit of ruinous anarchy spread far and wide. It was particularly observed, that the Roman Catholics were very much devoted to their chapels. Mass was celebrated every day throughout most parts of the country; whereas, formerly, it was chiefly observed only on the Sabbath-day. The chapel of Ballycanoe was attended by a very numerous congregation at both morning and evening prayers. Michael Murphy was officiating priest of that parish; a young man, strongly made, and of a dark complexion, who had been a 


few years resident in the place, and not long in holy orders. This person was master of profound dissimulation, and contrived to throw around himself the garb of saintly innocence at the very moment in which he was preparing to smite with the sword. This military saint actually took the oath of allegiance, in which he expressly declared himself ready to ‘be true and faithful to his majesty King George the Third, and to the succession of his family to the throne; and that he would prevent tumult and disorder by every means within his reach, and give up all sorts of arms in his possession,’ ‘All the above,’ quoth Michael, ‘I swear, so help me God and my Redeemer!’ Meantime, in the immediate vicinity and all around the residence of his reverence, timber was missing out of the gentlemen’s nurseries. It was observed that the woods and shrubberies were gleaned of such materials as would suit for the construction of offensive weapons. In fact, this genuine sample of Popish fidelity, who, had he lived, ought to have been rewarded with at least a cardinal’s hat,—this pretended pattern of all that is good and praiseworthy, went his way from the altar, put down the testament on which, after the perpetration of his delusive affidavit, his lips had been pressed, and straightway began to exemplify the inviolability of his oath to existing government by the manufacture of pike-handles and granting absolution to those who helped him.

Without going into the history of the Irish Rebellion, which is foreign from my present purpose, the fact is sufficiently evident, that the whole of that sanguinary struggle from first to last may be ascribed to the crafty domination of the Roman Catholic clergy. It is not a little singular, that three of the most daring military leaders, those I mean who were principally signalised in the wholesale butchery of their Protestant fellow subjects, were priests in that persecuting Church. One of these, 


named Roche, assumed the power of working miracles. Indeed, each of them, as occasion required, did a little business in that line. Roche declared that in battle his person was invulnerable, that no shot could hit or hurt him; and having picked up several bullets after an engagement at Ross, he assured his dupes that he caught them in his hand during the fight. The wily ecclesiastic, true worshipper as he was at the shrine of Mammon, conceived the idea of turning the thing to good account by the alternate practice of hypocrisy and theft, for either of which his hand was ready. He succeeded; and I hardly know which to admire most, the consummate impudence of the holy father, or the folly of his disciples. Roche procured slips of paper, each of which he termed a ‘protection, or gospel.’ In the centre was a figure of the Cross, with an inscription underneath, stating: ‘In the name of God and of the blessed Virgin, no gun, pistol, sword, or any other offensive weapon can hurt or otherwise injure the person who has this paper in his possession; and it is earnestly recommended to all women to carry it, as it will be found an infallible preservation against the fatality of child-bed.’ Anxious to secure customers in every rank, the price of these tickets to the better sort of people was half-a-crown. As the poor might haggle at parting with a coin so large, the vendor discreetly condescended to open a retail trade at sixpence each. The circulation of this trumpery, the value of which was equal to every other product of the Catholic Church, was immense; customers were to be computed by thousands.

Friar Murphy has already been noticed. His career, as has been related, commenced with daring perjury; and as the progress and end of such a man may be instructive, he shall have a parting glance. Like his iniquitous associate, he was disposed to do the wonderful. His campaign, however, with those of many other villains, was soon over. 


Bloody and deceitful men do not live out half their days. It was at the Battle of Arklow, in 1798, that Commander Murphy determined by a decisive movement to blast the hopes of the Protestant cause. On the morning of the 9th of June, the rebel army was observed, amounting to 34,000 men, with three pieces of artillery, advancing on the town. Had this formidable force arrived only two days earlier, it would in all probability have captured the place; but, providentially, reinforcements had been procured from Dublin, so that the garrison amounted in the whole to 1,500 men, under the command of Major-general Needham. Arklow, considered as a military position, presented no points susceptible of advantageous defence, and was altogether open and unprotected. About two o’clock p.m. advice was received that the enemy was approaching: this was so little credited that the garrison, which had been ordered under arms, was just going to be dismissed, when a dragoon came galloping into the town with intelligence that the rebels were at hand. The drums instantly beat to arms, the troops flew to their respective stations, and preparations were made to give the enemy a proper reception.


15 January
Rectory Print

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