Wordless Wednesday – Wilburton school children circa 1919

Wordless Wednesday – this week shows a photograph of the children from Wilburton village school, Cambridgeshire, in about 1919-1921.

Wilburton Village School
Wilburton village school c.1919-21

From beer to an Indian Mutiny

The story of Thomas Yarrow (1832-1914) who went from being a Beer Seller in a small Cambridgeshire village, to being a Sergeant in the Indian Mutiny, and then into poverty in London.

A long-standing puzzle quickly and suddenly unravels to reveal a story of a beer seller from a Cambridgeshire village, who became a Sergeant for his role in the Indian Mutiny.

Thomas Yarrow, born circa 1832, was the youngest of the two children of John Yarrow, a farmer of Little Thetford, Cambridgeshire, and his first wife Ann Whiten. His older brother Owen, was born just two years earlier.

Little Thetford, Cambridgeshire in 1906.
Little Thetford in 1906. The Three Horseshoes on the left, and the Yarrow home in the foreground (right) until it burnt down in 1930.

When Thomas was about 11 years old, his mother Ann died in 1843 at the age of 34 years old. This left her widower John with two growing boys to care for. It was a little over a year later that John re-married to Miss Elizabeth Jeffery of Ely and the couple soon found that they had a baby on the way. Together John and Elizabeth had four children – James, William, Albert and Maria, until John died in 1858 at the age of 52.

By this time, the 1851 census had already shown the Yarrow family holding a number of business in the village, and the family are shown as living at ‘The Wheat Sheaf’ – long since closed. It was here that a 19 year old Thomas Yarrow, beer retailer, was to make what seemed like his final census appearance.

Missing presumed…….?

By the time of the 1861 census, there’s no sign of Thomas, yet his siblings including his older brother Owen could all be found. All of the usual alternative spellings revealed no trace of him in the census, leaving me to assume that he’d either died, or that he’d moved to Ely where a data black-hole was hiding him (the 1861 census for Ely was destroyed in flooding and therefore leaves a hole in most of my family branches).

I checked the 1871 census, in case he had been missed or had indeed been ‘hiding’ in Ely, but there was no sign of him. So then I checked for a death and found one in 1853 in the right district. Ordering the certificate, it arrived a few days later….

Rather than seeing a 20-something Thomas Yarrow, it was a certificate for a 3 day old premature baby Thomas Yarrow from a nearby village.

With Thomas not indexed as dying, and not appearing on the 1871 census it led me to start thinking that maybe he had gone overseas. A quick check on familysearch.org soon found some records that seemed to match, spanning 1867 to 1874 (an explanation why he didn’t appear on the 1871 UK census) and that’s when I noticed the mention of Allahabad.

This came as a surprise as the rest of the Yarrow had stayed local to Little Thetford or at least within the UK. After a few more searches, I found that Thomas was married with at least four children. This was swiftly backed up by the Families In British India Society (FIBIS) who had online records of Thomas and his marriage to Catherine O’Keefe (née Lambert) in Bengal.

Thomas and Catherine Yarrow and family
Above: Thomas Yarrow (2nd from left) with his wife Catherine (4th from left). Catherine's daughter from her first marriage stands between them, third from left.

The FIBIS site also revealed that Thomas was part of the 35th Foot (Royal Sussex) regiment and was made a Sergeant during the 1857-1859 campaign, and received The Indian Mutiny Medal.

Indian Mutiny Medal
An Indian Mutiny Medal.

I soon located discharge papers dated from 10th March 1875 where it describes Thomas’ conduct.

“his conduct has been very good and he was when promoted in possession of two good conduct badges and would had he not been promoted have been now in possession of five good conduct badges. He is in possession of the Silver Medal for long service and good conduct with our gratuity” – Gen. Hon. A Upton

The papers also describe Thomas as being just 5ft 7″ tall, with a dark complexion, grey eyes, dark hair and fit. The documents also state that he would return to Little Thetford to work as a Labourer.

Coming home

By the time of the UK 1881 census, Thomas and the surviving children of his family have returned to England. A daughter, Frances Maud Yarrow, is listed in 1881 as having been born in 1877, in the village Little Downham, Cambridgeshire. However, at the time of this 1881 census, the family have moved to number 6 Georgina Gardens, Columbia Road, Hackney, London. The youngest child of the family, John, was born in 1879 in Bethnal Green.

Leopold Buildings
Leopold Buildings in 2007 where Thomas lived in 1891 was built on land leased by 'Queen of the Poor' Angela Burdett-Coutts.

By the time of the 1891 census, Thomas is living alone with his youngest son John. Catherine had died and they are living in Leopold Buildings – a block of densely populated tenement flats built by The Improved Industrial Dwellings Company on land leased by the wealthy ‘Queen of the Poor’ Angela Burdett-Coutts . Just 20 years earlier, Bethnal Green was the poorest parish in the whole of London – conditions must have been harsh.

Thomas remarried by 1901 to a woman called Edith Emily Rawlings, who was much younger than himself, and they appear in 1901 in Soho, London.

Thomas also outlived his second wife, and appears to have ended his days in 1914 at about 82 years, living in Forton, Gosport, Hampshire.

John Yarrow
Thomas' son, John Yarrow (1879-?)

Whilst Thomas’ children seem to vanish, just as he had in 1861, it’s only his youngest son John (pictured right) who seems to stick around, appearing in Portland, Dorset as an attendant at a Special Naval Hospital, Castletown.

The Little Thetford Yarrow family are not known to have made contact with Thomas after his departure to the Indian Mutiny. Whether there was a feud, or they didn’t agree with his choice of army career, or simply just lost contact – it will remain lost in time. There was certainly no reference made to his existence by his siblings’ descendants.

Surely a story of a sergeant in the family and the battles he fought in would have been handed down, regardless of how people felt towards it?