Joseph Egan was born in the Parish of Drumcullen, King’s County around 1843. He was the son of Thomas Egan, a farmer who worked land owned by Colonel Bernard of Bernard Castle (Kinnitty Castle).
Joseph enlisted in the King’s County Militia on 14 April 1860 at Birr. He was 17 years old and described as 5 foot, 2 inches tall and as having brown coloured eyes and hair. He gave his previous trade as a labourer and his employer as his father.
Joseph enlisted in the 21st Regiment of Foot at Birr on 31 December 1861, having received permission to transfer from the militia to regular army. He joined the 21st Foot as they were the regiment based in Birr Barracks at the time.
Private Egan was promoted to Corporal and later Sergeant. His service initially was at home until being posted to the East Indies in July 1863. After serving there for 9 years and 144 days, the regiment returned home until February 1879. While stationed in the Curragh Camp they received orders to proceed to South Africa, the Zulu War having started the previous month. The 2nd Battalion, 21st Regiment of Foot fought at the final major battle of the Zulu War, the Battle of Ulundi (4 July 1879), where the Zulu nation was defeated. For his service Joseph received the South Africa medal with the clasp ‘1879’.
After the defeat of the Zulu’s, the Boers, which initially had agreed to be annexed by the British were unhappy and declared independence, which resulted in the Frist Boer War. As the 21st Foot were already in South Africa, they were involved in the defence of Potchefstroom and Pretoria. Ultimately the British lost the First Boer War, it was also Britain's first defeat since the American revolutionary. Interestingly, no campaign medal was issued for the war.
The 21st Foot left Africa in January 1881 for the East Indies, where they stayed until February 1883, when they returned home. Under the Childers reforms the regiment was renamed the Royal Scots Fusiliers. After 21 years’ service, Sergeant Egan was discharged from the army on 13 March 1883 at Gosport, Hampshire. He additionally received the Long Service & Good Conduct medal.
Joseph’s pension records indicate he settled at 16 Pell Street, East End, London.