The Autobiography of Private Thomas Jeremiah of the 23rd Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers

Reference: NLW MS 22102A

NLW MS 22102A contains the autobiography of Private Thomas Jeremiah of the 23rd Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers, written around 1837. It describes his experiences of military life in England and Belgium, 1812-15, including the preparations for the battle of Waterloo and the battle itself.

 

The manuscript is a small leather-bound notebook written in pencil in Jeremiah’s hand. His stated aim is to give, in ‘humble plain and unassuming stile the outlines of his own adventures so far as it fell under his own observation’. It is not a complete record of his life and military career, but a brief account of some of the most memorable incidents. The narrative begins with information about his family and background, followed by his enlistment with the Royal Welch Fusiliers and details of his service with the Regiment. The highlight is an account of the Grand Review of allied troops on the 23rd of May, and the ensuing Battle of Waterloo on the 18th of June 1815. He gives an honest picture of the life of a private in the regiment, and is frank in expressing his opinions of his fellow soldiers and officers. Several pages of the manuscript describe the cruel flogging of soldiers, and in one instance the flogging of a soldier’s wife, at the hand of the ‘Tyrant, Major Lee (Major John Thomas Leahy), ‘a man of extraordinary severity and glutton[y], always fond of corporal punishment’. The manuscript continues with details of his army training and service, including his first venture abroad as part of the Anglo-allied army during the Waterloo campaign. The 23rd Regiment fought on the front line at Waterloo, and Jeremiah describes the battle from the viewpoint of an ordinary soldier.

The manuscript was sold at Sotheby’s on 23 July 1985, and bought for the Library. Copies of documents relating to Thomas Jeremiah, including an abstract of his will were acquired with the autobiography, and are now filed separately, as NLW ex 803.

Thomas Jeremiah (1797-1868)

Thomas Jeremiah was born on the 21st of May 1797 on his father’s farm in the parish of Goytre in Monmouthshire. He was one of 12 children of ‘poor honest parents’ who ‘held a little farm of about 180 acres under Squire Lee of Pontypool in Monmouthshire’. According to ‘Cenydd’ who is researching the family history on the ancestry website, he was the son of Richard Jeremiah (b.1749 of Mamhilad parish, Monmouthshire) and his wife Mary Phillips (b.1744). From the manuscript, it is obvious that he had been well educated. He describes himself as a rebellious and unsettled youth, who worked on several farms before joining the Royal Welch Fusiliers on 27 November 1812 at the age of 16 (a copy of the enlistment certificate is in NLW ex 803, the original is held at Caernarfon Castle). He spent the next few years in various barracks, before going to the continent on 23 March 1815, and taking part in the Waterloo campaign.  His Waterloo Medal is held at the Regimental Museum at Caernarfon Castle, along with his discharge or Parchment Certificate, a testimonial written by Captain J. Enoch, adjutant of the Royal Welch Fusiliers at Waterloo. According to Neil Carey’s information on the Ancestry website ('Jeremiahs from Goetre Monmouthshire in Wales'), he was wounded in action three times. He served with the Royal Welch Fusiliers for 25 years and 210 days, but he does not appear to have risen above the rank of private, before being discharged on 26 June 1837 after being found medically ‘unfit for service’ - on a pension at Kilkenny, Ireland, with an additional pension for gallantry. In his testimonial Captain Enoch describes him as ‘a steady, sober, and well behaved soldier’. After leaving the Army he was appointed Superintendent of Police at Brynmawr in Breconshire in November 1847. He was attacked ‘by local thugs’ in March 1856, and as a result, became lame for the remainder of his life (NLW ex 803 - letter from RWF Curator, Caernarfon Castle, 12 June 1970). He then became Inspector of Weights and Measures for Breconshire, and held that post until he died in 1868.

By 1841, he was married to Elizabeth (possibly Richard,born c.1816)., They lived at Brynmawr, in the parish of Llanelly, where they raised five children: Alonso Edwin, born c.1844, Thomas William, born c.1847, Elizabeth Jane, born c.1849, Laura Maria, born c.1853 and Augusta Eugenia, born c.1855. His wife Elizabeth died between 1855 and 1861, possibly in 1856. His will (transcript in NLW ex 803) was written on 24 May 1867 and proved (PCC) on 13 April 1875, and notes his date of death as 10 April 1868. His five children are named, along with his substantial property, which included eight houses. This was divided between his children, although his son Thomas William was apparently missing, as the will states that all bequests to Thomas William are ‘in the event of his coming home

Bibliography and further reading

NLW ex 803: Copies of documents (including abstract of will) relating to Thomas Jeremiah (1797-1868);

Glover, Gareth (ed.), A short account of the life and adventures of Private Thomas Jeremiah, 23rd or Royal Welch Fusiliers 1812-1837, including his experiences at the Battle of Waterloo, Ken Trotman Publishing, 2008;

Graves, Donald E., Dragon Rampant: The Royal Welch Fusiliers at War, 1793-1815, London, 2010;

Cary, A.D.L and McCance, Stouppe, Regimental records of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, 1689-1918 (Formerly 23rd Foot), Royal Welch Fusiliers, 1995.