A Tale of Two British Soldiers: The Woods and The Wilsons

The Woods Family
Albert Woods
Albert Woods
The Woods family in India descended from Roger Woods who was born in 1812 in Tipperary, Ireland. He was a labourer and married Mary Quinn in 1834 in Dublin. He enlisted as a Gunner Royal in the Royal Artillery at Dublin, 1836. He arrived in India that year, on the “Repulse”, and was promoted over the ensuing years to “Serjt. Sub-Conductor”. (From FIBIS records OR/L/MIL/10/123).

I have the following from a fellow researcher: “Roger died at Lucknow from wounds inflicted from a couple days before while trying to defend the Baillie Guard Gate during the Siege of Lucknow. As part of the records of people fleeing Lucknow after the Siege there was a Mrs Woods (widower of Sgt Woods) and three children listed (no names) and one child deceased (unfortunately many children died during the Siege)”.

Roger’s surviving son, Albert Woods (1851 - 1920), who was my paternal grandmother’s father, had an interesting story to tell:

FROM: Dy File: Master A. W. Woods Bankipore
TO: The Telegraph Master in Charge Bankipore
Dated: 26 Septr 93

I have the honor to state that My Father Roger Woods and my mother Mary Woods were both from Tipperary (Ireland). My Father came out to India in the Royal Artillery and after a time he joined the D. P. W. During the Mutiny of 1857 my Father was a Conductor and Supervisor at Lucknow. During the Siege at Lucknow there was Battery called the Cawnpore Battery and it so happened that the enemy knocked this battery down and my Father was ordered to put it up again.

In doing this a round shot from the enemy shattered his right arm, just as the battery had been finished which had to be amputated, and owing to the want of proper nourishing food he lived 7 days after the operation.

My Mother drew a pension of 80 Rupees a month after we arrived at Calcutta from Lucknow and each child 10 Rupees a month.

My only Sister is in England and has settled down at Croydon. My Uncle Bartlett Quinn is in America and other relatives in England. I have no relatives now in India.

Your obdtly
A W Woods

The book, Personal narrative of the Siege of Lucknowby Sir Colin Campbell (available as a free Ebook from Google), lists: “Woods, widow of Serjeant Woods, and three children (one child dead)”.

Family lore has it that, during the siege of Lucknow, Albert, then about 5 years old, carried water for the troops. He was “quite a rake and a Roman Catholic until he met Sarah Emmeline Newberry, whereupon he immediately reformed and also became a Baptist”. Albert’s birth and baptism records are missing, but I have found the baptisms of 3 siblings in Jullunder.

Sarah Woods
Sarah Woods
Albert’s wife Sarah, born in Tamil Nadu in 1865, was “very beautiful and studied medicine in Calcutta in the early 1900s and had a clientele of petty Nawabs wives”, again from family lore. Sarah was the daughter of a soldier, William Newberry, a drum major in the Native Infantry. She died in 1944 in Jubbulpore, where many of the Woods and Wilson families had lived. Albert and Sarah had a son Albert and 4 daughters: Hilda Myrtle, Violet Iris, Daisy Muriel and Hyacinth Noreen. Violet (1893 - 1981) was my grandmother; she married Denis Wilson, an army NCO, in 1915 in Jubbulpore. I remember her on visits to Portslade and Hove as a little old lady, very gracious and very deaf.

Violet’s sisters also married: Daisy to Leslie Thomas; she died at the age of 47 in 1941, in Calcutta. Hilda married Henry Richardson. One of their daughters, Sheila, my cousin once removed, lived for many years in Zimbabwe where I met her several times (I lived in Zambia). I was then only dimly aware of our connections. After Henry’s death, Hilda remarried in 1918, to George Grover in Jubbulpore. She died in Kenya in 1952. Hyacinth married Ernest Bellamy, a “mercantile assistant”, in 1923 in Jubbulpore.

Albert and Sarah’s son, Albert Mervern (1908 1942), was a Police inspector in Bombay, and he married Marjorie Constance Mace (1918 - ). I haven’t yet found much more of their details - they seem to be thin on the ground!

The Wilsons
My paternal great grandfather was John Clement Wilson, a railway engine driver. He and 14 other siblings were born to Archibald Wilson. Only 8 survived childhood.

Like Roger Woods on my granny’s side, Archibald came to India as a soldier. He was born in Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1825 and arrived in Lahore, India on the “Duke of Cornwall” in 1843. A lot of this information was found on his pension certificate, issued on his discharge from “Her Majesty’s H[orse]. Arty” in 1862, having served them for 21 years. Archibald married Mary Anne MacKenzie (born 1835) at Iaulnah in 1850. Like Albert Woods’ wife, she was the daughter of a soldier, Alexander. He was a farrier in the Horse Brigade; his wife was Sophia Scott. Archibald died in 1885. At her death in 1900, from “copper poisoning” Mary Anne was described as “waiting room servant GIPR”.

John and Sarah Wilson
John and Sarah Wilson
John Clement Wilson, my grandfather, left us a family Bible in which the family had written many records - some of which I haven’t been able to verify elsewhere. A sad note in the Bible is from his mother, Mary Anne, at the death of her youngest child, Richard Scott Wilson aged 6:

“My Beloved Richard died on the morning of the 12th October [1883] at 3 A. M. after a painful and violent attack of spasms. God have mercy on him and prepare his all for that great change & May God of his great mercy bring his all together to... his... at the great and glorious day, where the hearts of all hearts shall be open”

None of John’s male siblings was a soldier. Twins Edward and Robert were on the railways like John. Henry Archibald was a Police Inspector.

Of the female siblings that I’ve been able to trace, Grace Louisa is most interesting. She married William Clarke, a railwayman. One of their grandchildren took the Wilson surname, rather than Clarke, in the form Scott-Wilson.

John C Wilson married Isabell Toomey and she gave birth to 6 children, the second of which was my grandfather Denis. It was Denis who married a Woods - my grandmother Violet Iris. My father, their first-born, left India in 1935 to study at the Royal School of Mines in Camborne. In 1938 he travelled by ship and train to the then Northern Rhodesia to work in the Roan Antelope Mine. After a spell in Burma during WW2, he returned and met and married my mother (a teacher fresh out from England). My sisters and I lived in Zambia (as it is now) until 1967.

The “other” Woods child
Recollect that my great grandfather mentioned in his letter of 1893 that “my only Sister is in ... Croydon”.

I have recently followed that up and discovered a whole network of Woods descendants in several countries. The lady in question was Margaret Alice Helena Woods, often going by just Alice Helena. She turns out to have been a remarkable woman: she married twice, bore 13 children over 25 years, and lived on three continents!

She first married, in 1868 (aged just 15), one Thomas Price Williams, a Telegraph department employee, in Dacca. A witness was her brother, Albert Woods - I guess he also worked in that department in Comilla. The poor man died from dysentery at the age of just 33. They had 4 sons, one bearing the unusual name of Elphinstone. The name is of Scottish origin, and appears in British India a few times, including Mountstuart Elphinstone, a former governor of Mumbai.

After the death of her first husband, Margaret married William Norman Morris in Agra. He was a Bristol-born soldier in the 10th Hussars. They raised 9 children, 3 born in India and the remainder in England. The penchant for unusual names continued: Fidelia Alice, Isoline Lucy, and Geraldine Isoline.

The parents and surviving children appear in the UK 1891 and 1901 censuses - except for her husband William, who in 1900 secured a Short Service Commission in the Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa. This was during the 2nd Boer War, and he ended up in Kimberley (which was besieged by the Boers in 1899) where Margaret and many of the children joined him in about 1901. It looks like Margaret narrowly avoided living through another siege!

I then set about tracing descendants in South Africa. On the way I found that a grandson by her first marriage had emigrated to New Zealand and has descendants living there and in Canada.

South Africa
Finding records in South Africa wasn’t easy - certainly the LDS (familysearch.org) is a great help. I found that locating a deceased person’s estate (or probate) papers in South Africa is a key move. It can contain a lot of information on their past life including children and marriages. There are free databases such as NASA (National Archives of South Africa) provided by the government. I did employ a local researcher who was a great help in bringing local knowledge to the quest.

Fidelia & Benjamin Louw
Fidelia & Benjamin Louw
The most fascinating family was that of Fidelia Alice Morris. She married in 1907 in Beaconsfield, a town near Kimberley, to Hubert Fisher. He was from Birmingham, an engineer. They had a child in 1912 but she died 4 months later. Now something odd happened - the next record I can find is of a son, Ronald Fisher, being born in 1915 in Sydney, Australia! Then 2 years later she remarries in Sydney, to one Benjamin Louw, a South African. A few months later Ronald is baptised and given the surname Louw. The three of them return to South Africa where a daughter is born in 1926.

What became of the first husband, Hubert Fisher? I found a story on a Facebook group, from the book Kimberley Murders Most Foul True Tales Of Murder Between 1870 To 1950 From The Diamond Capital Of The World by Steve Lunderstedt (ISBN 9780620277990). It appears that Fidelia “ left him in 1914 to go to Australia with another man. He initiated divorce proceedings in 1916, and divorce was granted that same year”. Hubert became infatuated with Mary, the daughter of the household he was boarding with. One evening in 1920 he came across Mary and her boyfriend in a park. He “fired two shots from a pistol”, mortally wounding Herbert Wright and wounding young Mary. He was tried for murder and attempted murder and sentenced to death. He was buried in a cemetery in Cape Town.

I have managed to track down the ship on which Fidelia (and Benjamin, it turns out) travelled to Australia. It was the “Borda” and it arrived in June 1914. Shortly afterwards it became a WW1 troop ship. Fidelia’s second husband had the wonderful given names of Benjamin Francois Duminy, which made tracing his ancestors quite straightforward - the names strongly indicate French origins.

Back to Ronald Fisher/Louw. He married into a strong Jewish family: the patriarch Harry Landsberg changed his name to Landon, around the time of the Great War. Ronald’s bride was Harry’s youngest daughter Joyce, and they raised four daughters in the Cape - to whom I am indebted for so much of this part of the story.

map of campaign
1857 Map of India
1857 Map of Northern India
Crutchley's Map of the Indian Mutiny
1812 Roger Woods born in Tipperary
1825 Archibald Wilson born in Berwick-upon-Tweed
1834 Roger Woods married Mary Quinn
1836 Roger Woods arrives in India
1843 Archibald Wilson arrives in India
1850 Archibald Wilson marries Mary Anne MacKenzie
1857 Indian Mutiny
1865 Sarah Woods born in Tamil Nadu
1885 Archibald Wilson dies
1893 Violet Woods born
1850 Mary Anne Wilson dies
1915 Violet Woods marries Denis Wilson
1938 John C Wilson moves to Northern Rhodesia
1944 Sarah Woods dies in Jubbulpore,
Rob Wilson


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by Stephen Luscombe