Thomas Samuel Soldier of the 9th Regiment of Foot
Thomas Samuel is listed in the local census returns as being born in the parish of Llanelli. The church in the nearby village of Llangennech records the baptism in 1790, of a Thomas, son of Elizabeth and Thomas Samuel on the 17th October. [a]
Llangennech is a village situated approximately four miles from Llanelli and close to the western banks of the River Loughor. In the early part of the 19th century Llangennech was an agricultural and coal-mining hamlet with a canal and a number of tramways and shipping places on the Loughor, from where the black diamonds were exported to the outside world. It also stood on the main thoroughfare linking Llanelli to Pontardulais and the rest of the country. [a]
As well as the parish church, the other dominant building in the area at that time was the mansion house known as Llangennech Park, which along with the Llangennech Estate, was occupied or owned by a list of people including Sir John Stepney, The Earl of Warwick, John Vancouver, John Symmons, and much later, the industrialist Richard Janion Nevill [b]
In 1807 Great Britain was at odds with Denmark, the United States and France. Locally, the Cambrian newspaper was advertising that...
Charles Hassall of Eastwood and William Hopkin the Parish of Llangenech were intended to carry into execution an act of Parliament for inclosing Lands in Llanelly. [c]
The common land was to be enclosed and leased out to tenants. It was about this time, the young Thomas Samuel enlisted for service in the 9th Regiment of Foot. Why he would leave the area when it appeared to be a growing part of the Industrial Revolution, is not clear. Did he leave in search of adventure and a better life promised by a passing army recruiting sergeant at Pontardulias? Whatever the reason, the young lad of about seventeen was to leave the village and travel to parts of the world he could never have imagined.
Private Samuel joined the 9th (East Norfolk) Regiment of Foot early in 1807. There is no record of Private Samuel in the 1st Battalion’s records until 1813 and it is assumed that he joined the 2nd Battalion. This Battalion was at a very low strength of 248 rank and file on the 1st of May 1807 but by the 1st of December it had recruited significantly and had 780 rank and file with the colours [d]. The Battalion was then recruited to its full establishment of 10 companies made up of Grenadier, Light and 8 centre companies. The Battalion was stationed in Burton-on-Trent, moving to Chelmsford in July 1807 and thence to Canterbury in May 1808.
On the 17th of July 1808, the Battalion marched to Ramsgate and embarked for Portugal arriving on the 19th of August. The Battalion marched directly inland where it took part in the Battle of Vimiero under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington). This was the only time in the Peninsular War where both Battalions of the 9th fought in the same battle although be it in different Brigades. The Battle was a resounding victory for the British and led to the expulsion of the French from Portugal. The Battalion marched from the battlefield to Lisbon where it formed part of the garrison being stationed at the Fort of Belem. One of the mysteries surrounding Private Samuel is that he did not claim a clasp to his Military General Service Medal (MGSM) for Vimiero. This means he could not have been present at the battle for some unexplained reason. Perhaps he was one of the 63 other ranks left at Canterbury when the Battalion embarked for Portugal.
In January 1809, the French had again invaded Portugal and Sir Arthur Wellesley re-joined the British Army in Portugal as commander. In March 1809, the Battalion took part in an abortive landing at Cadiz in support of the Spanish and returned to Lisbon. Then in May 1809, the Battalion formed part of the force that advanced against the French. There were two small battles with the French which led once again to the withdrawal of the French Army from Portugal. The Battalion was not heavily engaged in either battle. The Battalion was stationed at Tancos and took no part in the Talavera campaign.
The Battalion returned to Lisbon and on the 18th of June 1809 left for Gibraltar arriving on the 2nd of July. The Battalion remained stationed at Gibraltar as part of the garrison until early in 1813 when it returned to the UK. During this period the Battalion sent its Grenadier and Light Companies as part of a force commanded by General Graham to support the Spanish forces in Cadiz. This force defeated the French at the Battle of Barossa in 1811. As Private Samuel did not claim a clasp to his MGSM for Barossa then we must assume he was not in the Grenadier or Light Companies. The Battalion also took part in abortive raids on Malaga in 1809 and Tarragona in 1811 as well as providing men for the defence of Tarifa.
On its return to the UK in early 1813 the 2nd Battalion sent a draft of 400 men to fill up the ranks of the 1st Battalion. In April, the 2nd Battalion sent a further 141 men to the 1st battalion. Private Samuel must have been in one of these drafts as he now starts to appear in the records of the 1st Battalion. The 1st Battalion was stationed at Lamego until it advanced once again in May 1813. This advance resulted in the French Army being defeated at the Battle of Vittoria on the 22nd of June. The Battalion was heavily involved in the fighting but only suffered the loss of one officer and 9 men killed and 15 men wounded. The Battle of Vittoria resulted in the French starting to withdraw from Spain. It was a great victory which was celebrated throughout Europe so much so that Beethoven wrote his Opus 91 Wellington’s Victory to celebrate the victory.
The Battalion then advanced into northern Spain arriving in front of the Fortress of San Sebastian on the 6th of July. The attack on the Fortress was to prove the most difficult and costly operation that the Battalion undertook during the war. The first action for the Battalion was to lead the 5th Division attack on the Convent of San Bartolomeo which commanded a large field of fire on attacking units. The Battalion and other units of the 5th Division cleared the Convent on the 17th of July. By the 23rd of July the artillery had made a practicable breach in the town's defences and the 5th Division were ordered to assault the breach. The Division had to cross an open area of 300 yards to reach the breach which included crossing a river at low tide. The attack failed through mismanagement with heavy losses being suffered by the attacking Battalions. Casualty figures for the 9th are not clearly stated but the Division lost 8 officers and 121 men killed, 30 officers and 142 men wounded and 6 officers and 118 men taken prisoner – a total of 425 of approximately 2,000 men who took part in the attack. On the 27th of August 100 men of the 9th captured the Island of St Clara thus allowing a further British Battery to be erected to enfilade the town. The town was assaulted again the 31st of August and captured. In this attack the Battalion suffered 178 casualties of all ranks of which four officers, five sergeants and forty-two men were killed.
It was at San Sebastian that Private Samuel was wounded. He is shown as being in Captain Siborn’s Company but for the year ending the 24th of December 1813 is listed as sick at Passages [e]. On the 24th of June 1814, Private Samuel was transferred back to the 2nd Battalion who were at that time stationed at Chatham[f]. The 1st Battalion had left for Canada to fight the Americans earlier in June and it is likely the transfer was to help Private Samuel obtain his discharge. He was discharged on the 16th of November 1814 whence he became a Chelsea Hospital Out-pensioner [g]. Thus ended Private Samuel’s service with the 9th (East Norfolk) Regiment who during the Peninsular War had gained the nickname of the Holyboys. It is said that this was because the Spanish peasants mistook the Britannia on the regimental belt plate and backpack for a depiction of the Virgin Mary and paid their due respects to the Regiment on that basis.
In 1847 Private Samuel applied for the MGSM. This medal was not presented for individual battles instead it was awarded for service in the Peninsular War and was supplemented with clasps which had on them the names of the battles a recipient served in. In the Medal return for the 9th Regiment a Private Samwell is awarded the clasps for Vittoria and San Sebastian. However, as a there is no evidence that a Private Samwell ever served with the 1st Battalion then it is safe to assume that this MGSM with clasps for Vittoria and San Sebastian was awarded to Private Samuel.
1815 saw the victory at Waterloo and later that year we find that Thomas Samuel married Phoebe Bowen on 20th November in the Parish of Llanelli. It was a Llanelli that was growing in population and it was an important industrial and coal producing town of South Wales. The largest employer was the Llanelly Copperworks, which was begun in 1805. As well as employing copper-men, the company also employed many of the colliers in the district as it also owned or operated most of the collieries in the area.
In 1841 Thomas Samuel's home was at Union Buildings, in the Mount Pleasant area of Llanelli. [h] Union Buildings are a group of houses built on the high ground above the town adjacent to the main Felinfoel Road. Described in 1850...
Mount Pleasant cottages, though higher up the hill, are by no means in such good order. The ground behind is higher than the floors, and renders the houses damp. The windows are small and close; many of them will not open. Union-buildings stand in an excellent position, and admit an easy drainage... [h]
He was listed as living with his wife Phoebe and his family and was employed in the occupation of an Engine Hand. [i] Presumably this was a person attending to and maintaining a steam engine at a local or colliery or works. He may have been given this job as he was physically unable to carry out the heavy and laborious work normally associated with working men in the local industry of the time for he was listed as a Chelsea Pensioner having received and injury to his left leg and foot. [j] Interestingly his 15 year old son, John Samuel is listed as engineer, probably serving an apprenticeship.
In his later years we know that Thomas Samuel was employed in the Llanelli Copperworks in a task likely to be connected with the engineering of the company. [k] The works by this time was managed by Richard Janinon Nevill of Llangennech Park.
In 1854 the Chelsea Pensions Book records the death of our old soldier on the 27th December of that year, to date no record has been found of an obituary or burial locally. He may have been laid to rest in the nearby graveyard of Capel Newydd which is less than 100 yards from his home at Union Buildings, unfortunately the records are no longer to be found .
The town of Llanelli has at least three streets named after battles fought during the Napoleonic and Peninsular Wars, namely Waterloo Street and Vittoria Street (latterly, Heol Siloh) and Salamanca Road (now the north part of Station Road).
Notes and Citations
[a] Baptismal records Llangennech Parish Church
[b] History of Llangennech. Alwyn C. Charles 1997
[c] The Cambrian newspaper. 29th August 1807.
[d] History of the Norfolk Regiment Volume 1 F. Loraine Petre 1926
[e]Page 159 of the 1st/9th Clothing Book 1805 to 21
[f] Page 181 of the 1st/9th Clothing Book 1805 to 21
[g] Register of Pensioners 9th Foot
[h] Report to the General Board of Health of the Borough of Llanelly. G T Clark 1850 LC1886.
[i] 1841 Census
[j] Records of 9th Regiment of Foot.
[k] 1871 Census Phoebe Samuel - 'copper man's widow'.
Article by Lyn John with a Military contribution by Martyn Monks, Unit Commander 9th (East Norfolk) Regiment of Foot. A Napoleonic Re-enactment Unit.