Monday, 29 August 2016

Robert Stove and the Serjeant's House


Time for another blog from the Balfour Blogger:

There is a house in Deerness which has been called The Sergeant’s for as long as anyone can remember. You’ll not find that name on any map but ask and you’ll be directed to a single storey, traditional house on the left about half-way through the parish.

Ask why it’s called The Sergeant’s and you might hear of  WW1, the Boer War, or the Crimea, but its pedigree is older than that, going back to Napoleon and the retirement in 1817 of Quartermaster Sergeant Robert Stove of the British Army who came home then to Deerness and his house and family.

And what has all of this to do with the Balfour papers?

Thomas Balfour was one of the three sons of William and Elizabeth Balfour. The French Revolution raised fears of revolt across Europe and Fencible regiments were set up throughout mainland Britain, including the Orkney and Shetland Fencibles – akin to the Home Guard of WW2. The Orkney and Shetland regiment was raised in April 1793, led by Tom Balfour, Colonel Thomas Balfour. It was potentially a lucrative role, and realistically, in Orkney or Shetland, not a dangerous one. However as matters heated up in Europe, and particularly as rebellion threatened in Ireland, the North Lowland Fencibles were formed in November 1794 and the Regiment shipped to Ireland to deal with insurrection and possible French invasion there. Tom Balfour became the Colonel of the regiment and took with him, men who had originally enlisted with the local Fencibles in 1793.

One of these men was Robert Stove from Deerness. He was born in 1768 or 69, 5’8’’ tall, brown hair and brown eyes, a fair complexion and well-built according to his enlistment records. He described himself as a labourer and was married, although this is not stated in his army record. His wife was Isabel Meal and they were married in Kirkwall on 3 September 1791. The Reverend Barry officiated and Peter Laughton and John Voy witnessed the marriage.
Orkney Archive Reference D2/16/6

Robert and Isobel had a son, James, born on 6 February 1794, when the Orkney and Shetland Fencibles were still in Orkney. Their second child, Margaret, was born on 1 July 1795 by which time his new Regiment, the North Lowland Fencibles, had shipped out to Ireland, based at Monaghan.
Orkney Archive Reference D2/16/6

In amongst the Balfour boxes, there are many papers relating to both the Orkney & Shetland Fencibles and to the North Lowland Fencibles. Many relate to attempts to bring order to regimental financial matters after Colonel Tom Balfour’s early death in 1799, but amongst the repetitive correspondence surrounding this muddle, there are papers relating to the men of the regiments and these are a rich vein for anyone with an ancestor who might have disappeared into the British Army at this time. Army service was a means of earning money, as was naval service (although the Press Gang was a scourge to be avoided) and the Balfour papers contain the oaths of attestation for many men who joined up in Orkney, Shetland, Caithness and elsewhere, along with paymaster lists and correspondence, many with fascinating snippets about a period when it’s hard to find records for ancestors. Orkney Family History Society will ultimately hold details of the men on the pay lists etc, and in addition, the catalogue of the Balfour papers will detail correspondence and other documents relating to the Regiments.

So what of Robert? He appears as the signatory of a letter dated 23 July 1800, from Downpatrick, Ireland about some money matter probably part of the legacy of confusion following his Colonel’s death.  He was Quartermaster Sergeant of the North Lowland Fencibles, a non-commissioned officer responsible for supplies. He was able to read and write, and signs the letter in a clear hand. Many of the men of the Regiment were illiterate – lots of their enlistment papers are marked simply with X. There are records of a schoolmaster in Deerness, George Louttit, contemporary with Robert growing up so whilst education was not compulsory, it was available and that ability to read and write undoubtedly saw Robert reach the level he did in the Army.


Orkney Archive Reference D2./22/2
Robert was with the North Lowland Fencibles until 1802 when the Regiment was disbanded as were many other Fencible regiments, as a result of the Peace of Amiens. Robert returned to the British Army in 1804, this time to the 36th Regiment of Foot having presumably spent the intervening 2 years home in Orkney. There is no record of whether he was able to come on home on leave between 1794 and 1802. He then remains in the Army until 1817 when he is discharged ‘being worn out’, aged 48 having served throughout the European struggle culminating in Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815. The 36th did not fight at Waterloo but formed part of the army of occupation until December 1815. They then returned to England and it is at Portsmouth on 15 March 1817 that he leaves the Army.

Back home in Deerness...

Robert and Isobel are recorded in the 1821 census of Deerness along with Margaret, their daughter. It is possible that James, their son, had followed his father into the British Army – a record exists on-line of  the marriage of a James Stove of the 36th Regiment of Foot to Maria Sophia Wood in Malta, where the Regiment was stationed, in 1819.

In 1831 Robert was 62 and on 12th March that year he married Isabella Matches. She was 37 and in 1832 a son, Robert, their only child, was born. Isobel Meal had clearly died between 1821 and 1831. Robert had a British Army pension and perhaps it was one of the attractions to Isabella, who at 37 didn’t have much in prospect before her as she grew older, still unmarried. In the 1851 census he is 82 years old and described as a Chelsea pensioner and their house is called Little Millhouse, the ‘’proper’’ name it still has. Robert died aged 89 in 1858 – 41 years a British Army pensioner, a remarkable record for the times.

The outline events of Robert Stove’s life are recorded in Deerness parish records, in Kirkwall records, national census records, variously in the Balfour Archive and even the National Archives. Other lives are similarly recorded, a snippet here, a snippet there -- a case of looking in the obvious places and then the less likely, such as papers in local archives. There are treasures to be found! Out of such treasure, we can weave the story of the life of a soldier, of modest rank and background, who was born almost 250 years ago and who was the namesake of a house which is still remembered for him---- even if a lot of folk don’t realise it.

Thank you to Judy Stove, New South Wales, Australia, great, great grand-daughter of Robert Stove for allowing me to dip into her research into his life.


(Posted by Archiver on behalf of the Balfour Blogger.)

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