A Chelsea Pensioner in the family Back to the Main Historical Society page
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A Chelsea Pensioner in the family

Barwicker No.119
September 2015

Both my grandfathers were too old to serve in WWI and also had reserved occupations, one being a farmer and the other a grocer. Each year when the Festival of Remembrance was televised from the Royal Albert Hall every November I longed to find an ancestor who had played his part in WWI. Eventually I did find one albeit quite a distant one, but in my genealogical searching I found my 3xGreat Grandfather, Thomas Dalgleish, was a Chelsea Pensioner.

Thomas was born in Langholm, Scotland in 1794, the son of William Dalgleish and Janet Burges. He was a weaver by trade and had one brother, William. His mother died in 1804 and his father remarried a Jane Clinscales. Why Thomas joined the army I will probably never know as I have traced the family back to the late 1600s and nobody else appears to have had any connection with the military.

The army pensions commenced in 1689 during the reign of King William III and Queen Mary when the Royal Hospital at Chelsea was still being built. They were available to soldiers who had either been injured or served at least 20 years. It was found that there were more pensioners than vacant places by the time the hospital was finished and those who could lived in their own homes and were named out- pensioners. According to Wikipedia in 1703 there were 51 out- pensioners but over the years this number increased and in 1815 there were 36,757.

It was 1991 and the internet had hardly commenced so how did I go about finding more information about Thomas? Eventually I found a lady who would search the Kew records for me for £5. It was money well spent. She retrieved Thomas's discharge papers and they gave me a good description of him. 5 foot 1 inch tall, grey eyes, light hair and fair complexion. At that height I imagined he may have been a drummer boy but there was nothing to indicate such. He was in the 74th Regiment of Foot which was a Highland Regiment apparently made up of more lowlanders than highlanders. No information was given as to where he served but details of the event causing his discharge were shown. He lost two fingers on his left hand as a result of a shooting accident.

Following this serious accident, Thomas was invalided out of the army and was awarded his army pension of 6d per day which was quite an amount of money in those days.

So where did the injury take place? There are two possibilities one being Sunderland in Ontario, Canada and the other being Sunderland in northern England. He did go with the regiment to Canada and it is likely that he was injured over there. Thomas joined the army in 1811 in Carlisle and served approximately 2¾ years being 18½ years in 1814 when he was discharged. Within a few years he married Christiana Macalester at the local Church at St Bees in Cumberland and their first two children were born there. They lived on Mount Pleasant in Whitehaven which was one of the slum areas of the town. The family eventually left Whitehaven and moved to Wigton further inland. From the mid-1800s until circa 1900 every Dalgleish in Wigton was descended from this couple. Thomas managed to continue weaving despite his missing fingers. He and Christiana had ten children but only six survived and what complicates this family is that they named the next child after one of the children who had died. Christiana died in 1855 but Thomas was well looked after by his numerous children and grandchildren - many of the latter were illegitimate. He died in 1875.
Mount Pleasant Steps at Whitehaven


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