A Very Good Soldier, all but forgotten

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The Amity Replica at Albany

In the tourist season 2018/19, Albany, Western Australia received over 51,000 visitors. Most of them would have visited the ‘Amity’ replica … the ship that brought with it the first British soldiers to the West. On 26 Dec 1826 a mere 20 soldiers of the 39th Regiment arrived on detachment from New South Wales to declare this remote portion of the Australian Continent for the British Crown. Over the next four years or so, the soldiers, a handful of civilians and around two dozen convicts at any one time, endeavoured to establish a settlement at King George’s Sound. They were not always the same soldiers – 57 different troops came and went under the command of four different Commandants with orders from Army HQ in Sydney and the New South Wales Colonial Government.

Although Captain James Stirling had taken the reins of government upon arrival at the Swan River Colony in 1829, he said himself ‘I believe I am the first Governor who ever formed a settlement without Commission, Laws, Instructions and Salary’. This was rectified in March 1831 when Stirling was proclaimed the King’s representative in Western Australia. That was the death knell for the essentially New South Wales settlement at King George’s Sound. A detachment of the 63rd Regiment from Hobart arrived at the Sound on 27 Feb 1831. This party of one officer, a sergeant and 20 rank and file was to relieve the recalled 39th.

Of the original 20 to arrive in King George’s Sound in 1826, one had died (Private William Banks) and the remainder had returned to NSW by 1829. Except one; only one man who arrived on ‘Amity’ would return on ‘Isabella’.

As none of the 39th detachment had taken his discharge nor settled in Western Australia, I had not planned to profile any of the 39th detachment. Yet it seems strange not to acknowledge this body of men in some way. So, if I am to pick someone, I think it should be the last man standing who happened to be ……

A Very Good Soldier, all but forgotten

St Mary’s Parish Church

Family Background
Corporal John Shore was born in a locality called Cockhouses in Oldham, Lancashire, and baptised at St Mary’s Parish church on 10 Mar 1793. He was the eldest son of James and Sarah (nee Needham) Shore who had been married the previous year in the same church. John’s father was working as a gardener when John was born, but when John’s three brothers and three sisters came along, James was described as a sawyer. James died in 1832 aged 68; Sarah his widow died 20 years later aged 85 while living in the village of Austerlands, about two miles from Oldham, with her married daughter Ann.

Oldham, now part of Greater Manchester, rose to prominence in the 19th century as an international centre for textile manufacturing. It was a boomtown of the Industrial Revolution where cotton was king. But before that, felt was king, and Oldham was England’s centre for the hatting industry. Young John Shore had a trade before he became a career soldier. He could have started (or even finished) his apprenticeship as a hatter by the time he was 16 years old. Oldham was probably full of ‘Mad Hatters’ – the mercury used in the process led to mental instability. But however dangerous John’s soldiering might become, he was better off out of the hatting trade.

The King’s Shilling
John was ten years old when the Napoleonic Wars began; he would have been more impacted by the birth of his youngest sister Hannah than any war on foreign soil. Nevertheless, he enlisted in the 39th Regiment on 15 Feb 1809 at Manchester. The 16 year-old took ‘Mad’ King George’s shilling, but he was under-age and thus his first two years did not count towards his ‘reckoning’ in the service.

Battle of Toulouse by Richard Simkin

John Shore became Private #8 and for four years and four months was plunged into the Peninsular War; and to date the French and her allies were getting all the play. John was in a re-formed 2nd Battalion with the new name Dorsetshires, made up of new recruits and militia men. John was eased into the fray gently, arriving in Lisbon in June 1809. He was there when the Torres Vedras fortification lines ordered by Wellington were constructed. In September 1810 he was present at the Battle of Bussaco, an Anglo-Portuguese victory. In the new year he was at the First Siege of Badajoz (victory to the French). In May, he was with Allied forces engaging the French ‘Army of the South’ and won the Battle of Albuhera where, despite small numbers, the 39th distinguished itself. Thereafter he was at Arroyo Dos Molinos, Vittoria, and from 25-30 Jul 1813 he was at the Battle of Pyrenees. Now in the 1st Battalion, he took part in Nivelle, Nive, Bayonne, Garris, Orthez, Farbes and finally the Battle of Toulouse with a decisive victory by allies Britain, Spain and Portugal. It was considered to be the last battle of the Napoleonic Wars when Napoleon abdicated in April 1814 and was banished to the Island of Elba.

The Military General Service Medal was issued in 1848 to all those serving in the British Army present at specified battles during the period 1793 to 1840, who were still alive in 1847 and applied for the medal. There were 21 clasps available with the Medal for Service in the Peninsular War. John Shore would have been entitled to nine of them.

Hostilities in North America
At the end of the hostilities in Europe, the 1st Battalion was ordered to North America as a consequence of the trouble between Britain and the United States. They arrived in Quebec on 5 Aug 1814. After an unsuccessful engagement at Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain, they retired to Lower Canada, and returned to England arriving at Portsmouth in July 1815.

After the Wars Were Over
Meanwhile the Battle of Waterloo had been fought and won, and an Army of Occupation organised for France from 1815 to 1818. John and his Dorsetshires proceeded to Paris to join the rest of the British Army regiments involved in the occupation force. By December 1815 the 39th was camped at Pas-de-Calais, between the towns of Arras and St. Pol, moving each year to the camps of St. Omer and Valenciennes until the breaking up of the Army of Occupation in 1818.

Now to Ireland
On 30 Oct 1818 the regiment embarked at Calais, disembarked at Dover and marched to Portsmouth, where it arrived on 11 November. The following month the regiment embarked for Ireland arriving at Cork on 26 Dec 1818. The next six-and-a-half years were spent in various places in Ireland – Castlebar, Dublin, Cork, Tralee, Limerick and Buttevant – frequently split into small detachments of between 12 and 30 men.

It is apparent from later records that John probably married in Ireland – but at which of the many postings, I do not yet know. Nor whether his bride – Mary – accompanied him on his postings after his service in Ireland. But we know he was in Buttevant celebrating 14 years Army service in February 1825. He was then earning 1s. 6d. a day on his Corporal’s pay.

Guarding the Convicts
In mid 1825, the decision was made for the 39th Regiment to proceed to New South Wales, and ultimately to India.  Thus on 19 Jul 1825, it marched to Cork to embark for Chatham, from whence it was ordered to proceed to New South Wales, the troops to act as convict guards.  The Embarkation Returns show that detachments of the 39th boarded 14 convict ships during the years 1825 and 1826 – bound for either Van Diemen’s Land or New South Wales. The first of these was Woodman which sailed on 6 Dec 1825 for VDL.

Surgeon’s account of departure

John left Buttevant for Cork (about an eight-hour march) and he too embarked for Chatham on Duchess of York and waited it out until he was among those who left Deptford on 23 Mar 1826 on the convict ship Earl St. Vincent. With him were Captain Charles Smythe, Sergeant George Millwood, a fellow Corporal Henry McDonough and 27 rank and file, four women (one of whom was Captain Smythe’s wife) and six children. At this point the convicts had not yet boarded.

Convict Hulk Leviathan

The Long Voyage Begins
The voyage began at Deptford, sailing for Portsmouth on 1 Apr 1826. Upon arrival 160 male convicts embarked from two hulks sitting offshore at Portsmouth. Given the timeframe, they were probably HMS Racoon and HMS Leviathan [not verified]. The convicts had been tried and sentenced in courts all over England. If John did not already know his companions on this voyage, for reasons that will later become clear, he would be at sea with some of them again later: Privates William Banks, Thomas Cook, Michael Galvin, James Gambler, Michael Quinn and Stephen Thornton. Earl St. Vincent set sail on 25 Apr 1826.

As was the custom, a Royal Navy Surgeon was on board. This was James McKerrow’s first voyage as a Surgeon Superintendent on a convict transport. Throughout the journey he would treat those who reported sick and keep a Journal of detailed notes on their medical cases, statistics of the type of illnesses on board, a list of his patients and even a meteorological report which included weather, thermometer and barometer records together with latitude and longitude bearings from April to August 1826. His General Remarks are quite lengthy compared to other surgeons on other convict ships. He recorded that 55 passengers (convicts, crew and soldiers) reported in sick; 52 were treated and returned to duty; two were sent to the Colonial Hospital. John Shore was one of those treated and the Surgeon’s Case Notes can be found here.

Mrs Smythe gets pickled!

Undoubtedly soldiers on board would have been aware that their Captain’s wife (‘lady’) was sick for the entire journey. Mrs Smythe’s case notes take up several pages of McKerrow’s Journal and he was clearly very concerned about her from the outset of the voyage. He records after treating her for the entire journey:- Mrs Smyth, aged about 35; disease or hurt, her symptoms were entirely induced by the ship’s motion operating on a constitution previously debilitated from long continued illness. Mrs Smyth for several years suffered much from sickness which her medical attendants on Shore termed ‘bilious’. Embarked with her husband who was officer of the Guard on board the Earl St Vincent in hopes that the voyage and change of climate might tend to renovate her impaired constitution, but it proved sadly the reverse. The ship’s motion was so very inimical to her stomach that everything swallowed was almost immediately rejected. Put on sick list, 25 April 1826. Died 25 June 1826.  Although the Surgeon may have lamented the passing of Mrs Smythe, the soldiers may perhaps have chuckled about the contents of the newspaper article that ‘the Captain’s wife got herself pickled’!


A postscript – this time about the Surgeon – also appears in a Sydney newspaper. His name is spelt incorrectly, but it is undoubtedly James McKerrow. His journal suggests he was a kindly man that did not understand the nature of some of the men on board a convict ship. A second voyage on such a ship (John) may simply have proved too much for him. The Surgeon … in a supposed fit of lunacy, threw himself overboard … and was drowned .

One mystery remains about John Shore’s voyage. The Embarkation Returns indicate that the ship was bound for NSW, when in fact she arrived and disembarked convicts and soldiers alike in Hobart Town on 8 Aug 1826; all other sources relating to this voyage also indicate the terminus being Hobart, VDL. Undoubtedly Captain Smythe had his own set of orders that included yet another journey for the 39th Regiment detachment. Three weeks after arriving in Hobart, the 39th set sail on Portland and disembarked at Port Jackson, NSW on 12 Sep 1826 as recorded on the Embarkation Returns.

You’re in the Army Now!
If Corporal John Shore and Privates Banks, Boyle, Cook and Galvin (see above) wondered why, within little more than 12 months, they had just about circumnavigated the globe, then someone could have told them ‘you’re in the Army now’. They had left Cork, Ireland, had a short spell in Chatham, England then from Deptford, voyaged to Hobart, VDL, sailed only weeks later to Sydney, NSW and were now back on a ship leaving on 5 Nov 1826 for a place called King George’s Sound [KGS]. They could be forgiven for thinking they were in the Navy now!

Lockyer’s Memorial

Captain Joseph Wakefield who arrived in VDL in April on Woodman, the first convict ship guarded by 39th soldiers, was now second in charge of the detachment on board Amity bound for KGS. Wakefield was travelling with Sergeant John Hale, Corporals John Shore and John Smith, and 16 Privates, three women and three children. Overall commander of the detachment was Major Edmund Lockyer 57th Regiment; Ensign Edmund M Lockyer, also 57th Regiment (attached 39th), was temporary Storekeeper; Isaac Scott Nind, Surgeon; William and Thomas Wood, Convict Overseers; and John Browne, Gardener (died 27 May 1827). The twenty-three convicts on board seemed to have been well selected for their skills: Carpenters, Sawyers, Brickmakers, Labourers, Boatmen and many other useful trades. Amity arrived on 26 Dec 1826 with the ship’s Master Mr T Hanson and a naval party comprising (at least) Lieutenant Colson Festing and crew.


Establishing a Military Post
John Shore and the rest of the KGS contingent spent the next four years or so establishing a military post. The Musters and Pay Lists indicate that during this time the original 20 soldiers left at various intervals, to be replaced by others from Sydney. Fifty seven men passed through KGS military establishment.

Soldiers and convicts alike commenced building the necessary buildings of a military establishment. In the meantime they lived in tents. Progress was very slow. Imagine being in a place with absolutely nothing to start a settlement: no nails, no hammers, nothing unless it came in a ship as tiny as Amity that had to be shared with basic food stuffs and livestock.

But this is about Corporal Shore … ultimately more information will be available about the actual military posts’ locations and building programme elsewhere on this website.

Commandant Barker’s death

The Corporal served his time in KGS and, along with the 20 men serving at the military post in March 1831, left for Sydney on the ship Isabella on the orders of Lieutenant-Governor James Stirling. However, only 19 men arrived in Sydney on 21 May 1831. The journey East was protracted owing to a detour required for some exploration and scientific work by the Commandant Captain Collet Barker. He died at the end of April at the hands of natives. Among the men on board Isabella on the trip back to Sydney were Privates James Gambler, Michael Quinn and Stephen Thornton. They had arrived in KGS after John Shore, but they would have already known him because they were all guards together on Earl St. Vincent on the journey out to Australia from England in March to August 1826!

New colours had been presented to the 39th Regiment by Lieutenant-General Ralph Darling in the Barrack Square of Sydney on 16 May 1831 the anniversary of the Battle of Albuhera in which engagement the regiment, including John Shore, had twenty years before distinguished itself. He had just missed the occasion by a matter of days.

Kingston Barracks, Norfolk Island

Norfolk Island – The Second Settlement
My object was to hold out that settlement as a place of the extremist punishment, short of death [NSW Governor Ralph Darling].
It is commonly thought that recidivist convicts from NSW were sent to Norfolk Island after committing further crimes in the Colony; recent research has indicated that this was not the case and only about half the convict population sent to Norfolk Island had been reoffenders. Nonetheless, the second settlement was known for the harshness of its treatment and during the time of the 39th Regiment’s military posting (1829-1832) there was much trouble on the Island.

John had been back in HQ only four months when he was posted to Norfolk Island where he joined a detachment of three officers, three sergeants and six corporals along with other rank and file. He and Corporal Robert Richmond probably travelled on board Louisa. They left for Norfolk Island on 19 Sep 1831 and returned to NSW on 19 May 1832; they were both in hospital for a few days upon their return to HQ in Sydney.

On the Move Again
On 30 May 1831, a general order was issued, indicating the regiment was to proceed to India, upon relief by the 4th Regiment of Foot in NSW. Six companies of the regiment embarked at Sydney on 21 July 1832, in three divisions, and disembarked at Madras throughout September and October.  The remaining four companies embarked on the 3 Dec 1832 on Hercules, and arrived at Madras in February of the following year.

I had initially assumed that John Shore was among one of these companies. However, quite by luck I discovered a small item in an obscure Sydney newspaper, which indicated that Lieutenant Sleeman and Ensign Morris were to remain behind with those of the 39th who did not proceed on the Hercules for India. I had assumed that John had gone to Madras in the last embarkations in December 1832. But, there was an outside chance that he may have been picked to stay behind with George Sleeman who had been his Commandant in the KGS adventure.

The Pay Lists are very difficult to interpret when regiments leave a major posting such as Australia and transport soldiers in piecemeal fashion to another continent (although I am sure they made complete sense to the Army!). I decided to dive back into the Pay Lists and found a few pages jammed somewhere between Sydney, Chatham and Bangalore.

Lieutenant Sleeman’s Pay List

The records of Sleeman and Morris show that they were at HQ from January 1833 (after the main body of the regiment left for India), then boarded a ship on 11 Mar 1833 for 71 days to 20 May 1833. Then just two pages of a Pay List showed that a detachment of three sergeants, three corporals and 35 privates were under Lieutenant G Sleeman’s command for the same period. It transpired that Ensign Morris had been detained in NSW awaiting trial at a Court Martial, and some of the other men were detained in hospital.

The ship leaving in March 1833 for Madras was the Roslyn Castle and we assume John Shore was one of the three corporals on board. It seems that Lieutenant Sleeman had to leave NSW before a thief named Sullivan was brought to trial for breaking into Sleeman’s house, while Ensign Morris clearly was found not guilty at his Court Martial. Sleeman’s men were fortunate to be delayed in their passage to India … cholera broke out among the European troops at Bangalore and in the course of five weeks the regiment lost Captain Thomas Meyrick, four sergeants, forty-two rank and file, two women, and eleven children.  This was an all too familiar story for regiments leaving Australia to go to India.

I know nothing of Corporal Shore’s time in India … but he served for two years, seven months until 31 Dec 1835. His service on the way home from India was on half-period. He landed at Gravesend on 3 Oct 1836, was discharged on medical grounds, and admitted to pension on 14 Dec 1836.

Further Aspects of this Career Soldier
When John Shore finally left the Army in December 1836, his details of service were confirmed on his admission to pension document dated 14 Dec 1836. Prior to that, his discharge documents included the details of his years of service: 29 years, 3 months less the two years when he was under-age. His years of service would have qualified him for a Chelsea pension in any event, but his medical by the Principal Medical Officer at Chatham on 24 Oct 1836 and the letter (left) confirmed it: after examination at this General Hospital, I am of [the] opinion that John Shore is unfit for service and is likely to be permanently incapacitated for military duty by impaired vision of both eyes, the effect of chronic inflammation. It was further confirmed that this is a case of disability arising in and by the service without being attributable to neglect, design, vice, or intemperance.  John’s service and disability entitled him to 1s. 9d. per day pension.

We will never know how John’s physical characteristics were recorded on enlistment as a 16 year-old, but at the age of 43 years he was described as height: 6 ft. 1 in; hair: light brown; eyes: hazel; complexion: pale. This made John a tall man for his time; the average height of a British soldier in the 19th century was 5 ft. 5 ins.

He entered the service as an under-aged Private, but at the age of 20 he was promoted to Corporal. Two years later he was promoted to Sergeant and served in that capacity for two years , four months. With no explanation on his discharge to pension documents, he was ‘reduced’ to Private, a rank in which he served for over six years. At that time he was serving in his regiment with the Occupational Army in France (1817); perhaps the reduction was simply an operational decision by the Army, because there is no indication he was ever sentenced at Court Martial; nor did he lose pay or service days.  However, John was illiterate and the problem may have been that a Sergeant was required to keep records, which presumably John could not handle. His rank was restored to Corporal in October 1823. In his long career with the 39th Regiment, he served 13 years, 79 days as a Corporal and 2 years, 117 days as a Sergeant.

1861 Census Bow Street, Oldham

Back Home Again
After fulfilling the administrative necessities required by discharge from the Army, John seems to have returned to his birthplace (Oldham, Lancashire) to await confirmation of his admission to pension. His pension payment of 1s. 9d. was made from the 2nd Manchester District Pension Office. At the time of the 1841 census he was living with his wife Mary (35 years) and daughter Ann (15 years) at Bow Street in Oldham; Mary and Ann were recorded as being born in Ireland. Unfortunately this census records ’rounded down’ ages and fails to record relationships to the head of household. Thus ‘Ann’ may not necessarily be John’s daughter. John and Mary remain at the same address in 1851 and 1861 census returns, where John continues to be recorded as an Army or Chelsea Pensioner, ‘nearly blind’. An Ann Morris is recorded as a ‘visitor’, occupation servant, in the 1861 return and highly unlikely to be their daughter.

John Shore died on 13 Jan 1862 while living at Bow Street, Oldham.  He was buried at Greenacres Cemetery on 17 Jan 1862, Location No. DV11-191. No probate records have been identified. The maiden name, birthplace in Ireland and death of Mary remain a mystery, as do the birthdate and other details of Ann. Indeed John and Mary could have had other children in any part of the globe in which John was posted, but I have found no records of such.

Archival Sources
Baptisms, Marriages & Burials Registers, Oldham, Lancashire 1792-1862, Manchester Archives.
Royal Hospital Chelsea Soldiers Service Documents WO97-0557-150, National Archives, Kew.
Royal Hospital Chelsea Admission Books, Registers & Papers WO23, National Archives, Kew.
Musters & Pay Lists WO12-5263 to 5266 (Dec 1824 to May 1833), National Archives, Kew.
Embarkation Returns 39th Regiment WO25-3503-50, National Archives, Kew.
Journal of the Convict Ship Earl St. Vincent ADM101-21-9, National Archives, Kew.
Plan of Albany Military Post 1836 Cons. 3868-004, State Records Office, Western Australia.
England & Wales Census 1841, 1851, 1861, HO107-547, HO107-2240 & RG9-3011, National Archives, Kew.

Books and Articles
Historical record of the Thirty-ninth, or the Dorsetshire Regiment of Foot: containing an account of the formation of the regiment in 1702, and of its subsequent services to 1853, Richard Cannon, Parker, Furnivall, and Parker, 1853.
The 39th Regiment of Foot in Australia 1825-1832, The Keep Military Museum website.
The Military Establishment and Penal Settlement at King George Sound, John Sweetman, Hesperian Press, 1989.
Possessory Lien—the First European Settlement, King George’s Sound, New Holland (1826-1831), Robert Stephens, RWAHS Early Days, vol. 6, part 6: 23-59.

Hobart Town Gazette 19 Aug 1826.
The Australian 13 Sep 1826.
The (Sydney) Monitor 15 Sep 1826.
Sydney Gazette 26 Sep 1826.
The (Sydney) Monitor 10 Nov 1826.
Sydney Gazette 26 Nov 1827.
The (Sydney) Monitor 21 May 1831.
The Currency Lad 8 Dec 1832.
Sydney Gazette 19 Mar 1833.


© Diane Oldman 2021.