• Stephen Callaghan

The service of Colonel John Henry Graham Holroyd-Smyth


Colonel Holroyd-Smyth

120 years ago today, the 3rd (Militia) Battalion, Leinster Regiment returned home to Birr after two long years of service in South Africa, during the Second Boer War. Colonel John Henry Graham Holroyd-Smyth volunteered this battalion for service, but who was he? In this post we’ll examine the life of this officer.


John Henry Graham Holroyd was born in Colchester, Essex, England on 5 April 1846. He was the son of Reverend James John Holroyd and Sophia Holroyd (née Tyssen). He was baptised at Abberton, Essex on 12 July 1846.


John was commissioned into the 65th Regiment as an Ensign by purchase on 2 July 1864, after having been a cadet at the Royal Military College. He could speak French, German and Italian. He was further commissioned, by purchase, to Lieutenant on 6 July 1867 and Captain on 23 March 1870. Between 28 May 1864 and 21 December 1865, the regiment had been in New Zealand during the Maori Wars. For his service he received the New Zealand medal.


Captain Holroyd married Harriette Gertrude Isabella Smyth on 17 October 1872, at Templemichael, County Waterford. Harriette was the eldest daughter of Earl Mount Cashell and she had inherited Ballinatray House upon his death in 1890.


Captain Smyth having received the full value of his commission on 12 February 1873 resigned from the army, though was later commissioned into the 4th Battalion, Duke of Wellingtons (West Riding Regiment). He later also resigned this commission in August 1884.


During the war in Egypt 1882, Smyth served with the Egyptian Constabulary and was awarded the 3rd Class, Order of the Medjidie for his service.


On 10 May 1892, Major Holroyd was appointed to the 3rd (Militia) Battalion, Leinster Regiment, with his three sons also serving as officers in the battalion He was further promoted to Colonel and was the commanding officer of the battalion. The same year by Royal warrant took the surname Holroyd-Smyth.


With the outbreak of the Second Anglo Boer War, and the urgent need for troops to go to South Africa, he volunteered the 3rd (Militia) Battalion, Leinster Regiment for active service. At the time militia units had to volunteer for active service as they could not be ordered. In June 1901, at Kimberley, Colonel Smyth became ill, and was brought to hospital where he improved. Despite making a good recovery the medical authorises thought it would be best for him to return home on sick leave. His departure was a great blow to all in the battalion.


The 3rd Leinsters remained in South Africa for just under a year, returning home to Birr on 26 May 1902. For his service Colonel Smyth received the Queen’s South Africa medal with the clasps “Cape Colony” and “Orange Free State”, and in October 1902 he was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George.


In 1902 he became High Sheriff for County Waterford, previously having served as Deputy Lieutenant and Justice of the Peace for County Cork and County Waterford. Colonel Holroyd-Smyth died on 29 October 1904 at his home, Ballynatray House, County Waterford, having never fully recovered from his service in South Africa.


Memorial to Colonel Holroyd-Smyth in Youghal. Image courtesy of Mick O'Farrell.

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