William Williams was born about 1789 in the village of Llangennech, which stands approximately four miles from Llanelli. A contemporary publication (1811) describes the hamlet...
largest property in the village at the time was Llangennech Park, a large mansion and estate owned by various entrepreneurs that included John Symmons, John Vancouver and much later, Richard Janion Nevill. As well as being an agricultural village there was a budding coal industry springing up in the vicinity where there were mines already located at the Allt, Brynsheffre and Glanmwrwg. There was also a canal and a number of shipping places on the adjacent River Loughor. [b] Despite the growing industrial revolution that was then affecting the district we find that young William travelled the eleven miles to Swansea and joined the British Army on the 25th March 1807, by signing up with the 90th Regiment of Foot. He was eighteen years of age when he took the King's shilling and was described as a Labourer, being five foot six and a quarter of an inch in height. His hair was dark and he had hazel eyes with a fresh complexion. [c]
LLAN GENNYCH, in the Cwmwd of Carnwyllion, Cantref of Eginog (now called the Hundred of Carnwyllion), Co of Caermarthen, South Wales: a Chapel, not in charge, to the V. of Llan Elly, of the certified value of £6..13..4: Patron, John Symmons, Esq.: Chapel ded. To St Gwynog. The Resident Population of this Parish, in 1801, was 338. The Money raised by the Parish Rates, in 1803, was £97.1.0, at 11s in the pound. It is 4 m. N.E. from Llan Elly, and 11m. N.W. from Swansea, in the County of Glamorgan, which is its, Post-Office Town. The Fairs are holden on the 16th of June, and 23rd of October. The Parish contains about 1740 acres of inclosed Land, and about 250 uniclosed. According to the Diocesan Report, in 1809, the yearly value of this Benefice, arising from Augmentation, fixed Stipend, and Surplice fees, was £60..14..4. It is situated on the banks of the Morlas, a tributary stream to the Llychwyr. (sic) [a]
What motivated the young Welsh lad to sign up as a soldier? Being employed in Llangennech as a labourer probably meant he had been working in farming or in the mining of coal. Did the impending Act for enclosing the lands in Llanelly have a detrimental effect on the future employment of agricultural workers in the district, or was army life more attractive to young William in comparison to coal-mining? Perhaps the attraction of a large bounty and full employment in the British Army was the reason for him to venture out of Carmarthenshire. [d]
By the 25th June 1808 he had been posted to the warmer climes of the West Indies, probably on the island of St Vincent where the 90th Regiment were garrisoned and kept up to strength. In 1809 Great Britain was at war with France, it was decided to invade the neighbouring island of Martinique and wrest it from the French...
On the 28th of January, the army, formed in two divisions, commanded respectively by Lieutenant-General Sir George Prevost and Major-General Maitland, sailed from Carlisle Bay and landed on the Island of Martinique on the 30th. The first division, consisting of between six and seven thousand men, landed at Bay Robert on the windward coast, without opposition, and, notwithstanding the difficulties of the country, occupied a position on the banks of the Grande Lezard River before daybreak on the 31st. The second division, in which was the 90th Regiment, disembarked near St. Luce and Point Solomon, on the morning of the 30th, meeting with no resistance, and marched at once to Anse Ceron, and on the following day to Riviere Sallee. On the 2nd of February, the division moved to Lamantin, where the main body of the enemy's militia was overtaken, and where it surrendered, the men agreeing to disperse and return to their plantations. From Lamantin, General Maitland advanced, on the 3rd, to within gun-shot of Fort Dessaix. Batteries were at once constructed, and opened fire that night on Pigeon Island, which surrendered on the 4th. On the 5th, the troops arched to La Coste, and, uniting with the first division, completed the investment of Fort Royal on the west side.[e]
In a letter from their commander, Major General Frederick Maitland the conduct of the troops was described as follows...
I have every reason to be highly satisfied with the troops I have the honour to command; neither officers nor soldiers have failed in exertion, and in bearing the great fatigues of the march with exemplary fortitude. (8th February1809 Camp la Coste). [e]
On the 5th May 1814 the 90th embarked from the Caribbean Islands having being sent to the much colder climate of North America and Canada. It was catching up with the “War of 1812”, the war that saw the burning of Washington and the White House in 1814. Arriving at Quebec on the 20th June the regiment marched on to Montreal and Kingston where it stayed for three months. It then headed for Upper Canada and Fort George crossing the border into the United States to occupy Fort Niagara which it held until 22nd May 1815. Then in the June of that year the Regiment headed home and sailed for Great Britain without incident...
In fact, the 90th Regiment, like a number of others brought across the Atlantic, spent the war entirely without incident. [f]
Upon its arrival at Spithead, the regiment received orders to sail for France along with the news that HRH the Prince Regent had conferred on the 90th, the distinction of 'Light Infantry'. The 90th remained in quarters at Garches near Paris as an army of occupation, until it returned to England at the end of June, 1816. [e]
In 1820 William Williams and the 90th was heading for the Mediterranean because the 90th were sent to the Ionian Islands which had been a British protectorate since 1815 and where there had been disturbances - disturbances which were put down without any bloodshed. The regiment was divided between Cephelonia and Zante...
For some time one wing of the regiment was stationed in Cephalonia, where Colonel Charles Napier was commandant (afterwards Sir Charles Napier, the conqueror of Scinde), the other wing being quartered in Zante. While the regiment was thus separated an event took place which tended greatly to enliven the dullness of garrison routine. A Greek pirate had for some time been hovering about Zante and had captured several small coasting vessels, when it was determined to put an end to its mischievous career. A small detachment of the 90th, under the command of Lieutenant Wilson, formerly a midshipman in the Royal Navy, was placed on board one of the country vessels. The men wore their white fatigue dresses and were hidden under sails, canvass, etc. After cruising about for some time the pirate was at last sighted, and soon after bore down upon his, seemingly helpless, prey. At the word of command the men rose up and poured in a volley at close quarters with such deadly effect that a second was not required. The regiment remained in the Ionian islands until 1830, for the greater part of the time under the command of Lt.-Colonel Sir Frederick Stovin, K.C.B. Nothing occurred during its stay in the Mediterranean to disturb its quiet enjoyment of these charming stations, which it quitted, after a sojourn of nine years, regretted by all. [g]
After arriving back in Great Britain the Regiment was posted to Edinburgh and hence to Ireland but William was finally heading home, he was retiring from the regiment and the army. He signed out on the 31 May 1831, with his Mark. Evidently he could not write, which could explain the fact that he had not been promoted out of the rank of 'Private', despite his conduct being described as a very good and well behaved soldier. [c]
Two years later in 1833 we find the marriage in the Parish of Llangennech of William Williams and Mary Thomas on the 31 of December of that year. William was back home for good with an army pension. By 1841 both he and Mary had raised a family which included Anne, John and William. At this time his home in the village was near to the Allt Colliery and the little hillside chapel of Salem.
Ten years on and the Army Pensioner, William Williams and his family moved home to Brynsheffre. It is possible that he supplemented his pension as a 'colliery labourer' because the census returns for that place list a William Williams as such in 1861. In the latter years of his life William and his wife Mary lived at 2 New Cottage, Llangennech. [h] Interestingly in 1873, the Secretary of the friendly society known as The Ivorites, was a certain William Williams. The Emrys Lodge of True Ivorites met in the village pub known as The Coasting Pilot. Had William learnt to read and write in the 40 years since leaving the army or was this merely a namesake. [i]
The old soldier from Llangennech passed away on the 16th of February 1880, his obituary sums up all the research that is written about him...
Death of an Old Pensioner
One of the almost forgotten heroes of our century joined the majority on Monday last in his 91st year. Deceased, whose name was William Williams, enlisted in Swansea to the 90th Regiment of Light Infantry on the 25 March, 1807 he being then 18 years of age. He served 24 years 11 days, six out of which he served in the West Indies, one in America, one in France, and ten in the Mediterranean. He was in America the same time as the late gallant member for the Borough of Carmarthen and Llanelli, Lieutenant Colonel Sir John Stepney,* Bart. At his own request Williams obtained his discharge with a good character and pension. [j]
For his service in the capture of Martinique, William Williams was awarded the Peninsular Medal (The Military General Service Medal) [c]
In concluding, it is worth pondering if Private Williams William ever rubbed shoulders with Edward Parry, another Llanelli soldier who had served in the same regiment whilst they were both in the West Indies, North America and France. We often underestimate how 'travelled' some of the people from the remote villages and hamlets of Wales were, so long ago.
*Sir John Cowell-Stepney is listed as having received the Waterloo Medal [k]
Acknowledgement to Alan Phillips of Llangennech Historical Society for directing our attention to Private Williams.
Image of Llangennech House courtesy of Carmarthenshire Museum Services
[a] Topographical Dictionary of The Dominion of Wales by Nicholas Carlisle 1811.
[b] Coal Mining in the Llanelli Area Vol I. by M.V.Symons.
[c] Regimental Records of the 90th Foot, Attestation Papers.
[d] The Cambrian 14 march 1808 'Carmarthenshire - Llanelly Inclosure' p3. Llanelli Library LC (A) 7.
[e] Records of the 90th Regiment by Alexander Martin Delavoye 1880 p 63- 85
[f] 1812 The War With America Jon Latimer p343
[g] Records of the 90th Regiment by Alexander Martin Delavoye 1880 p 86,87
[h] Census Returns See; 1841,1851, 1861, 1871
[i] The Emrys Lodge of True Ivorites – Appointment of Trustees. Llanelli Library Collection (LC2327)
[j] Llanelly and County Guardian 19 Feb 1880
[k] Waterloo Medal Roll p142 Naval & Military Press (1992)