Thomas Henry Neal was born in Fulham in 1791. During the 18th century, Fulham was in the borough of Hammersmith in the county of Middlesex. It was a rather seedy working class town with a bad reputation for gambling, crime and prostitution, so we can assume that Thomas did not come from a wealthy family and probably had a tough childhood. I have not yet been able to discover his parents, or anything about his schooling, if indeed he did go to school, but I do know that he was working as a cabinet makers apprentice in Fulham in 1808 when he was 18 years of age.
These were troubled times though. Napoleon Bonaparte and his French army had conquered most of mainland Europe. Thanks to Nelson's famous victory at Trafalgar in 1805, Britain had so far withstood the power of France, but the tide took another unexpected twist in 1808. Napoleon invaded Portugal in 1807 and within a few months he had deposed the Spanish monarchy and installed his brother Joseph as King of Spain. With these two actions Bonaparte had created a new enemy, and given Britain a new ally. The Spanish uprising encouraged Britain to send an expeditionary force to Portugal in 1808 and so began a new war against the French which would last for over 5 years. The British Army needed to recruit new soldiers and many were found in towns just like Fulham. Thomas would probably have seen the posters around his home town proclaiming...
"WANTED; Brisk Lads, light and straight, and by no means grummy: not under 5 feet 5 1/2inches, or over 5 feet 9 inches in height: Liberal bounty; good uniforms; generous pay! Step lively lads and come in while there is time." ....
...and so on the 3rd April 1809, Thomas Henry Neal enlisted in the 2nd Battalion of the 57th Regiment of Foot (West Middlesex) Regiment and began his military training at Portsmouth. The 2nd Battalion had been raised in 1803 as part of the army of reserve, so while the 1st Battalion were pursuing Napoleon's army out of Portugal, the 2nd Battalion remained on home soil. The Channel Islands were considered to be at risk from attack by Napoleon, so Thomas was one of those posted to defend the Channel Islands with 57th Foot and was based at Elizabeth Castle in St Helier in Jersey.
|Soldiers of the 57th Reg't of Foot|
|Elizabeth Castle, St Helier, Jersey.|
In late July 1811 Thomas Neal would have been told that he was leaving Jersey and going to Spain. In August a draft of men from the 2nd Battalion arrived in Spain and was used to supplement the survivors of the 1st Battalion. The reformed 1st Battalion of 57th Foot were reassigned to 2nd Brigade, which was part of William Stewart's 2nd Division, which in turn formed part of Sir Rowland Hill's right column of the British Army, commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesey, Marquis of Wellington. 2nd division became known as the "Observing Division", so Thomas Neal would not have been on the front line during his first few months in Spain. The division did get a reputation for launching surprise offensives though, which would have introduced the new recruits to a new style of "Guerrilla" type warfare.
After the winter camp of 1812, Major General John Byng takes command of the 2nd Division and the 57th march northwards until the French army halts and tuns to attack its pursuers at the Pueblo Heights, Vitoria in June 1813. Hill's column are on the right flank overlooking the main battlefield and are engaged in battle for most of the day. Eventually the French retreat and the 57th take stock of their casualties. 5 soldiers were killed at Vitoria and a further 23 injured. Following this decisive victory at Vitoria, Sir Arthur Wellesey is promoted to Field Marshall.
|Battle of Vitoria June 1813|
|Fighting in the Pyrenees during July and August 1813|
|Wellington's 2nd Division fight their way across the Nivelle river into France.|
|British soldiers storm into Toulouse in April 1814.|
In September 1824, 57th's garrison in Ireland comes to an end and their new posting is to to sail with the convict ships to New South Wales, Australia, but possibly due to his age (he was 33 now) and the injuries he had suffered in the Peninsular, Thomas is transferred to the Royal Veterans Company on September 25th.
|The Uniform of the Royal Newfoundland Veterans Company|
The first detachment of the Royal Veterans Company arrived in St John's, Newfoundland, Canada on November 19th 1824. The main duties of the garrison were usually ceremonial, but they could also be called upon for police duties or to break up riots in Newfoundland. Thomas was stationed at Fort Townsend in St Johns. In 1827 the company was renamed the Royal Newfoundland Veterans Company and Thomas was promoted back up to the rank of Sergeant again.
Thomas had taken his wife and young daughter to Canada with him and during their stay, four more children were born. George born in 1826, Margaret in 1831, Richard in 1833 and Thomas Jr in 1835. By this time Thomas's eyesight was beginning to fail. He must have returned to England as his medical examination was undertaken at Chatham in January 1835. The report reads ...
"I am of decision that Sgt Thomas Neal is unfit for service and that treatment in hospital is not likely to be of any advantage to his impaired vision, the effects of age".
On March 10th 1835, Thomas is officially pensioned out of the army on medical grounds. He was aged 43 and is described on his pension documents as 5 feet 6 inches in height, brown hair, grey eyes with a fresh complexion.
I have no record of the families movements after this date until they turn up in Jersey again on the 1841 census. The family are living on Regent Road, St Helier and Thomas is listed as an "Army Veteran". Eldest son George is now 15 and working as a smith's apprentice and eldest daughter Sophia (my 3x Gt Grandmother) has found work as a live-in domestic servant with a family in St Saviour. Looking through the 1841 census, it's quite clear that a large number of Chelsea Pensioners relocated to the Channel Islands following the Napoleonic wars, so I wonder what the connection is. Let's not forget though that Thomas had already been to Jersey early in his career and there were also very strong trading links between Newfoundland and Jersey, so I wonder what really brought him back to Jersey?
The family appear to have settled into their new surroundings and Sophia is married at St Helier Town Church on May 25th 1843 to Thomas Gallichan, a local shoemaker who later became the Harbour Policeman. On the 1851 census, the family have moved to Milbrook Place, Colombus Street in St Helier. Thomas is now listed as "Pensioner; late Sg't of Veterans Company". Sons Richard and Thomas are still living at home and interestingly, both are now working as "Apprentice Cabinetmakers", the same occupation Thomas had begun before he enlisted with the army 42 years earlier. There is also a grandaughter living at their home, Eleanor born in 1847.
This is the point where I lose track of some the family. Their son George was married to Susan Hinchcliffe in St Helier in 1846 and Richard married Elizabeth Davey in St Helier in 1852. Margaret married Peter Main in 1850 and were soon living in Alderney where peter was ablacksmith. They had 7 children all born in Alderney. Margaret and peter were still in Alderney on the 1901 census but by 1911 Peter was widowed and living with his daughter Margaret and her family back in Jersey. I have not been able to find any burial records for either Thomas or Eleanor and I have no further information about their son Thomas. I can confidently trace Sophia through to her burial in St Helier in the 1870s, but her story is a whole different tale to tell another day.
Discovering the army career of Thomas Neal has answered so many questions in my family history, but at the same time it has created even more questions.... Who were Thomas Neal's parents? What really brought the family to Jersey in the first place? As with every family history project, the quest for answers goes on.