Bolton Genealogy

British Army Sergeant 1807

John Brierley in India

Although I have spent more than the last ten years researching the Dutch and British ancestors in India of my son-in-law, who were all wealthy Madras merchants, HEICo. Civil servants, Indian army officers or missionaries, I had no idea that my own family had any connection with the sub-continent other than the tantalising information that my maternal great great grandfather, John Henry Brierley (or Brearly) of Bolton in Lancashire gave his date and place of birth in the UK censuses from 1841 to 1881 as 1821, Bombay, East Indies.

From his age in the various censuses, I presumed John Henry had been born around 1818. No searches of FIBIS, the India Office Family Records or the IGI produced any record of his birth, although through his 1840 marriage certificate I found his father was named John Brierley & his occupation was “Weaver”. Using that information, and with the help of members of the Bolton Surname List, I discovered his possible parents in the 1841 Bolton census, John Brierley, a weaver and wife “Jonah” (I presumed a mis-spelling of Joanna or Johanna – in the 1861 census her name is written as Joe Hannah) living a few doors away from the newly married John Henry Brierley in Bolton-le-Moors. As the subsequent descendants of the Brierley family were mainly semi-skilled iron foundry or cotton mill workers in Bolton, I knew it was very unlikely John Henry's father, John Brierley had been anything other than an ordinary soldier in India, and so was hardly to be found recorded in East India Registers or Military Lists.

I had almost given up hope of ever finding anything more about him, or discovering why he had been in India until began providing searchable Chelsea Pensioners' records online. Although I could find nothing on a John BRIERLEY in the records, by experimenting with different spellings of his surname I found the discharge papers for a John BREARLY, which fitted roughly with the age and exactly with the occupation of John Henry's father listed in the 1841 census.

DISCHARGE PAPERS (Chelsea Pensioners -

John BREARLY b. 1779, Walmsley, Manchester Enlisted : on 5th April 1797 aged 18 years.
Served with the 86th (Royal County Down) Regiment of Foot, (formerly the 86th Leinster Regt of Foot)
Discharged : 6 Jun 1820, having served 23 years, most of them in India.
Rank at discharge : Quarter Master Sergeant
Conduct : Very Good
Description : Brown hair, grey eyes, fair complexion Height : 5ft 11 inches
Occupation : Weaver
Age at discharge : 41 years
Reason for discharge : “Has sickness of his extremities, particularly his left leg. Is also nearly worn out from lengthy service in India” Signed Regimental surgeon.

I then went to the (then) newly available IGI website, and tried looking for variants of the surname BRIERLEY and was delighted to find the following marriage to a Johanna, and three births to the couple in India, including the birth of my great great grandfather, John Henry Brierley.
John BEARLY [sic] married Johanna O'Day on 1st May 1814, Masulipatam, Madras (IGI M000573)
Carolina Brearly [sic] born 22 Jun 1815 - chr. 16 Jul 1815 at Masulipatam (C000673)
Elizabeth Brearly [sic] born 11 Aug 1816, chr. 11 Sep 1816 Masulipatam (C000669) Buried 11 Aug 1817 aged 1 year, Masulipatam, ( B002001)
John Henry Brearly [sic] born 22 Jun 1818, chr. 13 Sep 1818 at St. Thomas Mount, Madras.

Clearly, from this, John Henry was born in the Madras Presidency rather than Bombay, and left India as a baby, his older sister Elizabeth having died in infancy, his elder sister Carolina too probably, as I can find no further trace of her. The next child of John and Joanna, Sarah Brierley was christened on 11 March 1821, at St. Peter, Bolton le Moors, Lancs (IGI: P007154) where the family settled after they returned to England and John Brierley left the army in 1820.

This birth was the first instance of the name being spelled BRIERLEY, which it remained from then on. John Henry's mother, Johanna O'Day Brierley gave her place of birth as Liverpool, Lancs in the 1861 census, but I have found it impossible to trace her, as I am not sure whether or not O'Day was her actual birth surname, whether she was one of the few women who travelled to India with a soldier husband, or was the daughter of another soldier serving with the 86th Regiment of Foot. However, one thing is sure – she was born in Britain.

Reading “Poor Relations – The Making of a Eurasian Community in British India 1773-1833” by C J Hawes, the author states that no Eurasian or Indian born wives or children were allowed to accompany their soldier husbands when their British regiments returned to the UK, only wives born in Britain. Joanna & John Henry went back to UK with John Brierley, so both must have been classed as British by birth.

In 1841 John Brierley's age is given as 55 and Joanna's as 45, but as census enumerators were told to round down to the nearest 5 years the ages of all adults over the age of 15, the ages in that census are not reliable. From his birthdate in 1779, John Brierley was actually 62 years of age in 1841.

In 1861, his widow Joanna Brierley again states her birthplace as Liverpool and gives her age as 70, suggesting her birth was around 1791, making her about 12 years younger than her husband, and aged about 23 at their 1814 marriage, when John was about 35. I found another birth on the IGI (C00066-8) on 11th April 1814 at Masulipatam, Madras, that of a male child to James O'Day and wife Johanna or Joannah. This made me wonder if Johanna was perhaps the widow of a fellow soldier of John Brierley. The timing is rather short – baby O'Day born in early April and marriage to John Brierley on 1st May, with, presumably, the rapid demise of her first husband James O'Day in the intervening three weeks, but evidence shows that soldier's widows married again very quickly on the death of a husband, as they were paid a pension for only one month after the death of a spouse.

The famous, if perhaps apocryphal story of the weeping widow being consoled after her soldier husband's funeral, and explaining to the concerned friend that she was weeping not from grief, but because she had foolishly, and far too quickly, accepted an offer of marriage from a corporal at her husband's graveside, only to have to turn down a second, much better offer from a Sergeant Major a few hours later, was probably very true to life for regimental widows of that period.

Marriage for soldiers in most infantry regiments was limited to a very small percentage of the men and dependent on the permission of their Commanding Officer, which was given to only a few, mainly NCO's with a record of good conduct and savings in the bank. Women “married with permission” were listed as being “on the Strength” of the regiment and were granted a small sum of money as pay and some rations. Many of them worked as cooks, washerwomen or seamstresses, or as maids and nurse-maids in the homes of officers. There was no accommodation provided, so they lived in the barracks with the men, usually in a curtained off corner. Sergeants and other senior NCO's sometimes had a room for themselves, but it was still hardly congenial accommodation for bringing up a family.

Life in the British Army 1760-1913 ( Marriage was discouraged as it was seen as a distraction from duty but six women were allowed per 100 men by the first half of the nineteenth century. This ratio was strictly enforced for foreign assignments. These women would comprise selected wives of the soldiers and would live usually in a tented-off area at the back of the barracks in return for doing chores.

I checked the FIBwiki site for details of the 86th Regt. of Foot, and discovered it was the third regiment of that name raised in Shropshire, Lancashire, and the West Riding by Colonel Cornelius Cuyler. It served first as a marine corps, and after many naval engagements was sent to Madras in 1799. In 1881 it was amalgamated (along with several other regiments) into the Royal Irish Rifles, which later became the Royal Ulster Rifles. In an attempt to find if there were any records that might have Muster Rolls or names of married soldiers for the regiment in the early 1800's, I contacted the Royal Ulster Rifles Museum in Belfast, but unfortunately they had no such information available.

86th Regt. Of Foot 1793 -raised as Sir Cornelius Cuyler's Shropshire Volunteers at Shrewsbury from men of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire as a volunteer corps.

1794 - became the 86th (the Shropshire Volunteers) Regiment of Foot

1795 - absorbed personnel of 118th Regiment of Foot

1806 - became the 86th (The Leinster) Regiment of Foot

1812 - became the 86th (Royal County Down) Regiment of Foot.

However, again using FIBwiki, I was able to read and search the Historical Record of the 86th or The Royal County Down Regiment of Foot, 1793 to 1842, and discovered that John Brierley was mentioned twice in the account, albeit very briefly, on pages 23 and 26.

Service in British India - information taken from the Historical Record of the 86 th (Fibis)
1799 17 May, landed at Madras upward of 1,300 men, but stayed there only 1 month.

Page 13“ a splendid body of men whose appearance excited much admiration.”
1799 22 July - arrived in Bombay
1800 Ceylon - 3 companies sailed for Ceylon, but returned almost immediately to join the force going to Egypt.
1801 Egypt
1802 Bombay 
1803 2nd Maratha War, Page 26 “ Captain Maclaurin....was wounded and made prisoner, but he was rescued from the Arabs by Private John Brierly.” Page 23 “....and Private Brierly was promoted corporal, and afterwards serjeant.”
1806 Bombay and Goa
1810 Mauritius Campaign and Madras
1819 England – 23 Oct Regiment landed at Gravesend after an absence of 23 years, 4 months. John Brierley, who had reached the rank of Quarter Master Sergeant resigned from the army on 6 June 1820. He spent the rest of his life in Bolton.
Web page kindly submitted by Liz Wilde, descendant of John Brierley.