Revisiting a Letter's Untold Story
This post was originally posted on the Offaly History Blog in April 2020, but in light of new research, I have added to the story.
Today it is all too easy to take modern technology and communication for granted. When was the last time you remember sitting down to attentively write an important letter with pen and paper? It might be fair to say that letter writing has become a dying art form. For Hugh Leonard 168 years ago this letter was important in the hope of claiming battle and prize money owned to his late son, William who had died in India in 1849. This blog post examines the contents of this letter.
Written in Birr on 10 February 1852, and posted the following day, the letter is addressed to the secretary of the military department of the East India House, London. The headquarters of the East India Company. The company was founded in 1600, it was a stock and trading company which ultimately gained control over large parts of India. Liquidation of company was called for with the Government of India act of 1858, which saw India become part of the British Empire. The letter states that Hugh had received 2 pounds, 14 shillings and 5 pence which had been in possession of his late son. William had served in the 1st Bombay (European) Fusiliers and from 1841 until his death in India on 14 August 1849. The regiment was raised in 1662 and had transferred command to the East India Company in 1668. Hugh states that he had not received any of the battle of prize money owed to his son, and explained that his son was present at the Storming of Mooltan on 2 January 1849, during the Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848-49). The war was fought between the East India Company and the Sikh Empire. The war ended with the collapse of the Sikh Empire and the annexation of Punjab to the East India Company. The letter contains note by a clerk of the East India House indicating that William’s Punjab medal was sent to Hugh on 11 February 1852.
Hugh goes on to ask that if any prize money is owed to his son it should be forwarded onto him in Birr. He said he would write to his son’s comrade Denis Cullen if his request was not answered. He would ask Cullen to pass on his request to the commanding officer.
The letter is signed ‘Hugh Leonard out pensioner, Inniskilling Dragoons’. Hugh was born in parish of Kilsaran, Drogheda. A weaver by trade, he joined the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons on 9 January 1813. Upon enlisting he was described as 24 years old, 5 foot 7 inches tall and having fair hair and grey eyes. The Inniskilling Dragoons were sent to France in April 1815. The unit was called into action on 16 June and then on 18 June for the Battle of Waterloo where the regiment charged French lines. The regiment suffered 86 officers and men killed and 107 officers and men wounded. Hugh was one of these wounded men, a French lance had passed through his lung and hip. He settled in Birr after being discharged from the army and seems to have spent the rest of his life here.
Hugh had a run in with the law in 1847, having accepted a stolen bank post bill, which belonged to Simpson Hackett Esq. This resulted in the suspension of his pension and a 12 month prison sentence for the felony. Griffiths Valuation of Ireland records Hugh as living on Barrack Street, Crinkill in 1854.
Hugh died in Crinkill on 14 June 1876, aged 90, from bronchitis. Hugh’s death was recorded in the local newspapers.
‘A WATERLOO VETERAN, - One of these heroes named High Leonard, died on Monday in the village of Crinkill, within a mile of Parsonstown, Our informant say Hugh was in the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons and wounded twice, one having been a bayonet and the other a gunshot. At 28 he was discharged on a pension of 6d. a-day which was increased afterwards to 1s. 6d., and dying at the age of ninety he must have been drawing a pension for a period of 62 years. Not the least strange point is the fact his wife, who survives him, followed him to the war as far as Flanders, where it seems she was cared by an officer’s lady. If rumour be correct the venerable female supposes that the Queen would like to get a letter from her; and on hearing of Hughey’s death will sympathies with the sorrowing aged widow of the old Inniskilling Dragoon. The remains of the last of the Inniskilling Dragoon. The remains of the last of the Inniskillings were interred in Drumbane graveyard (better known as Bully’s Acre) on Tuesday afternoon’.
As the newspaper article states, Hugh was interred in Drumbane, where he rests in the an unmarked grave. The decades the cemetery has been in a state of neglect, however current efforts are ensuring the cemetery will remain in a reasonable condition.