Thomas was born in St. Cuthbert’s Parish, York. His identity is not easy to establish. Throughout his military life he gave his age on a number of documents. These ages are not consistent with each other, nor do they lead to a date of birth corresponding to any in the official record of births registrations.
However, it seems almost certain he was born on 5 Nov 1844 in Redeness Street, St. Cuthbert’s Parish, as the sixth child of Richard Tattersfield and his second wife Margaret née Littlewood. The child was named Thomas Littlewood Tattersfield on his Birth Certificate. The second name Littlewood does not, however, appear in any later records.
The Census of 1851 shows Richard, Margaret and five children, including “Tom”, said to be aged 4. This age is almost certainly in error, as his next younger sister, born about Nov 1846, was also recorded, correctly, as being 4. In the Census of 1861, Thomas was an errand boy, aged 16, leading to a birth year of about 1845.
Thomas began his military career by volunteering for the East & North York Arty Regiment of Militia, as No 605 Thomas Tattersfield. He was engaged by the Militia on 13 Nov 1865. No records have been seen of his service with the Militia, except that he applied to be discharged in order to enlist for “Her Majesty’s Regular Forces”. A discharge was granted by the Adjutant on 22 May 1866, conditional upon Thomas joining the army within 14 days from then. The expenses of his Enrolment of 18/6d were recovered from Thomas.
On the same day, 22 May 1866, he was enlisted by “48 Coy George Parker Corpl of Royal Marines Lt Infantry”. He was described as Thomas Tattersfields of the Parish of St. Cuthberts, and declared he was “eighteen years of age”, indicating a birth year of about 1848. His previous period with East & North York Artillery of Militia was declared. He enlisted for 12 years, and signed the Attestation very neatly as Thomas Tattersfields.
On 25 May he swore the Attestation Oath in Wakefield. He was passed as medically fit the next day in Woolwich, and formally added to the Divisional Register by the Officer Commanding, Woolwich.
On his Enlistment Paper, Thomas stated he was 18 years 1 month, was a Labourer and unmarried. He enlisted for a Bounty of “One pound and a free kit.” He was 5 feet 6 1/2 inches tall, complexion fair, eyes blue, hair light brown, and had no distinctive marks. He was “Church of England”.
The Bounty of one pound was paid on 26 May 1866, and the receipt signed by Thomas in his neat hand.
The records of Thomas’s service in the Royal Marines are probably incomplete, rather difficult to piece together, and certainly inglorious.
UK Courts Martial registers show that on 1st April 1868 Thomas, private Royal Marines, was tried by Court Martial. The charge was “For insubordination and violence, in having struck Corporal James Roberts, Royal marines, his superior Officer, whilst in the execution of his office.” “The Court found the Prisoner guilty, and sentenced him to be imprisoned with hard labour for seven hundred and thirty days.”
His “Record of Service” in 8 Coy states he was a “Private from 25 May 66 to 8 Mar 69”. These dates are followed by hand-written entries—“In Military Prison in Aldershot.
Imprisonment expired 31 Mar 1870.
Service forfeited for ? Service 342 days.
Service forfeited up to 8 Mar 69 361 days.
DP to Ports (Portsmouth?) 8 Mar 69.”
Later, a Descriptive Return describes how Thomas was apprehended on 17 Sept 1870 by Police Constable Henry Grant, and confined at Fenton Barracks, Gosport. He was said to be 21, indicating birth in 1849. The evidence brought against Thomas reads verbatim: “Police Constable Henry Grant being duly sworn-states-I saw the Prisoner at Horndean on Saturday evening 17th Inst. At 6 oclock P.M. I asked him if he had a pass. He said No-I told him I should take him into custody- he then said he was a discharged man and had lost the lot-will that do for you. I said it would not and took him into custody”.
Thomas was tried on 24 Nov 1870 at Forton on two charges. “1st Charge-Having deserted from the Royal Marine Infantry at Forton, on the 17th September 1870. 2nd Charge-Insubordination in having at the Royal Marines barracks, Forton, on the 23rd September 1870, when confined as a Prisoner in the Prisoners’ room, for the Offence stated in the 1st Charge–disobeyed the lawful command of 62 (?) George Parrott Corporal, R.M. Lt Infry., his superior Officer, by refusing to march out for exercise, and saying ‘I will not go, if I do go, you will have to carry me’.”
Thomas was found guilty on both charges, and sentenced “To be imprisoned with hard labour for 112 days”. The column “When Inflicted” states “To hospital 29 Nov 1870. Inflicted 28 Nov 1870.” (It is not clear what was inflicted. He was not sentenced to any lashes.)
Thomas told the Magistrate he was not a deserter.
Thomas does not seem to have learned his lesson. On 12 May 1872, he was again before a Court Martial. This is recorded both in the Morning Post of 13 May 1872, and in the Hampshire Advertiser of 18 May. The latter reads ” A ……. court afterwards assembled for the trial of Thomas Tattersfield, a private in the 8th Company Portsmouth Division Royal Marine Light Infantry serving on board the Minotaur, for insubordinate conduct and striking Sergeant Holmes. The prisoner was sentenced to be imprisoned for two years in Winchester gaol, the first seven days out of every twenty-eight to be passed in solitary confinement and the remainder in hard labour, and, at the expiration of this sentence to be dismissed the service with disgrace.”
Another hand-written paper reads “8 Coy Thomas Tattersfields Private.
Date of Attestation 25 May 1866.
Service allowed to reckon 2 yrs 174 days—16 May 71.
Age 23 1/12 years.
Is the Prisoner in possession of any decorations, or
other honorary awards – Nil
Former Convictions Two- 1 General 1/4/68-
1 Garr? 24/11/70.
Character Indis? (Indisciplined?)
Not under sentence.
D 1874 with Ignominy.”
Across the top of Thomas’s Attestation is written “D 9/5/74. With Ignominy”.
It is not known what Thomas did immediately after his ignominious discharge. However, his next application to the army described him as a “Waterman”.
The next record of Thomas is an application to join the Royal Regiment of Artillery. He signed Proceedings of Attestation in Scarborough, Yorkshire, on 4 June 1877, and joined the Royal regiment of Artillery at Woolwich on 13 June 1877 for twelve years. He declared himself to be aged 25 years and zero months, and born in the Parish of St. Cuthberts, York. In reality it seems his age was just over 33 years, showing a discrepancy of nearly 8 years.
Thomas’s next of kin was named as his brother John in York. This is consistent with him being Thomas Littlewood Tattersfield, whose father Richard had died in 1876, and whose eldest brother was called John. He was a Waterman by trade, and unmarried. His height was 68 inches, weight 140 lbs, chest 37 inches. His “Physical Development” was good, and he may have had smallpox marks on the face.
To the question “Have you ever served in the Army, Marines, Ordnance, Militia or Navy…?” he replied “Yes, in the East & North York Artillery Regiment of Militia.” No mention was made of his time with the Marines! The terms were no Bounty and a free kit. Again he signed his name very neatly.
Thomas was assigned initially to 2 Brigade, called Depot Brigade, but transferred at the end of June 1877 to 5 Brigade, where he stayed until 1 Jan 1882, when he went back to 2 Brigade. On 8 Nov 1882 he was placed in 1st Brigade, Cinque Ports.
He served two periods in India, as a Gunner, the first just over 2 years, and the second 343 days.
All was not well with Thomas. On 2 Oct 1877, four months after enlisting, he spent 18 days in hospital at Woolwich with orchitis. Not long after, on 29 Dec 1877, he was transferred to India, and arrived at Fyzabad (probably today’s Faizabad) on 13 Feb 1878. There he contracted conjunctivitis, particularly in the right eye, and spent periods of 26, 74 and 37 days in hospital. His medical notes for the 74 day hospital stay with conjunctivitis include “Very severe. Complete loss of vision in right eye.”
On 21 Mar 1880 he was sent back to England, and went straight into Woolwich Hospital for 3 days, where it was concluded that he had “No appreciable disease”.
On 4 June 1880 he transferred to Weedon Barracks in Northamptonshire. Five periods in hospital were to follow, the longest being for 51 days, resulting from conjunctivitis, bronchial catarrh and primary syphilis. He left Weedon on 14 Nov 1881. During the Census of April 1881, Thomas was recorded at Weedon Barracks. Strangely the Census calls him Henry Tattersfield. How can we know it was the same man? The Census states that he was “Handicapped. Blind in One Eye”.
Shortly after his last release from hospital, he was shipped back to India on the Serapis, which departed on 29 Dec 1881. Once again, the Embarkation List names him as Henry. He arrived at Allmuck(?) on 2 Feb 1882. A month later he spent 42 days in hospital with ague, brought on by the “severe climate”. Four more periods in hospital followed, from debility and ague, after which, on 12 Oct 1882, he was “Recommended for a change to England” by the Surgeon Major.
On 1st April 1882 THOMAS T Tattersfield, Gunner, Service Number 1940, Royal Artillery 5th Brigade Battery A, age 25 (error), “Became T/1 Bde.”
On 22 May 1882, Thomas had gained a Certificate of Education, 4th Class.
On 14 Dec 1882 a Medical Board at Herbert Hospital, Woolwich, decided that he be “recommended for discharge-disease-‘General Debility’”.
He was finally discharged from the Regiment, with Regimental Number 11180, and with “Pension Admission”, at Cinque Ports Dn, on 30 Jan 1883. He was aqed 30, and a Gunner. His physical appearance was repeated, The Disability or Cause of Discharge was “General Debility- also loss of power of vision Right Eye….caused directly by Service in India. Cannot earn for a considerable time.” His Place of Birth and Trade were given as York and Waterman. He stated that he was going to Mr. J. Stevenson, Piccadilly,York.
Of 5 years and 240 days in the Royal Artillery, Thomas had spent 386 days in various hospitals. Despite this, his conduct at different dates with the Regiment was recorded as “Habits Regular- temperate-conduct very good”. He clearly did not repeat his behaviour in the Marines!
After his discharge, no further reference has been found of Thomas in censuses, marriage or death records. Where do people disappear to?
The wretched career in the Artillery is a salutary reminder that soldiers in times past were as much in danger from disease as from any military enemy.
And what should we make of all the inconsistencies in Thomas’s age and date of birth? During his time in the Royal Marines, his age was understated by about 3-5 years. Was there an earlier period in his life he was trying to conceal? In the later Royal Artillery records his age was understated by about 7 1/2 years. We know that, by then, he had more to hide!
Header Image: Detail from the attestation paper that Thomas Tattersfield signed on 4th June, 1877. The wording is indicative of the serious commitment that he was making, and he, of all people, would have understood this! He appears to have signed twice in his clear neat hand, in the part of the document shown here.