Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Youngest Ensign?

Another mystery from our Balfour Blogger...

Box 22 of the Balfour papers contains many bundles of correspondence, tightly tied with old string, unopened for who knows how long.

They are on the whole dull: most relate to the sorting out of North Lowland Fencible regimental financial affairs after the death in August 1799 of Colonel Thomas Balfour. There is clearly much to be sorted and the debate goes back and fore for years and it is blatantly clear just how much Tom Balfour was in the British Army to make money: he argues every penny of bread money, of uniform costs, of lodgings; he is slow to pay his bills; he is quick to claim bounty on recruits. And he may even be the man who can lay claim to recruiting the youngest Ensign in the British Army…………….

Ray Fereday in The Orkney Balfours 1747 – 99 p156 tells of the purchase of commissions in 1794 for the 14 year old John Edward Balfour, son of Colonel Tom Balfour, by his wealthy uncle, John regardless of the fact that Edward was still a school boy at Harrow. Previously he had held the rank of Ensign in his father’s regiment, the Orkney & Shetland Fencibles. His father saw nothing wrong with the duplicity, there are many Ensigns in the service younger than he. (D2 17 Jan 1794, see Fereday Ch 6 footnote 47). An Ensign was the lowest ranking commissioned officer of the British Army of the day.

One explanation of the purchases/recruitment is that the Balfours were seeking to give young Edward a head start in terms of service and seniority, albeit fictitious, against the day when he actually joined the Army. But perhaps it was also to lay hands on his pay?

An even more startling example of the ‘recruitment’ of youthful ensigns emerges from the dustiness of Box 22, bundle no 9, with the story of Charles De Monti.

I have made many forays into the North Lowland Fencibles’ records over a number of years and was curious to see payments to an Ensign Charles De Monti, signed off by the Regiment’s Paymaster on 31 March 1796. It’s an unusual surname and a new one to me – someone worth keeping an eye out for and finding out more about. And why hadn’t I spotted him previously in many other Regimental records?

Next out of the bundle were 2 receipts, signed Edinburgh February 13th 1796, for subsistence to Ensign De Monti, and signed X Charles De Monti. The payments were for the periods 15 November 1794 to 11 September 1795, and 12 September 1795 to 28 February 1796. Interestingly, it was on 15 November 1794 that Tom Balfour was appointed Colonel of the North Lowland Fencibles.
Orkney Archive Reference D2/22/9

Curiouser and Curiouser. Why on earth would an Ensign, an officer, albeit the lowest rank of commissioned officer, be unable to sign his name?  Why too would that X be witnessed by 2 witnesses, being H de Monti and Anne B de Monti? Was he ill and unable to sign?

Next document in the mystery was a letter, also written in Edinburgh, dated February 13th 1796 from H de Monti to Colonel Thomas Balfour. He was now enclosing the two receipts for my Son’s subsistence, which you were so good as to promise you would order to be paid here after having received them.

Orkney Archive reference D2/22/9
Some delving into others of the Balfour and Baikie papers, into Ray Fereday’s most-valuable book and on-line, produce the following scenario.

Tom Balfour had three cousins, the daughters of his uncle Thomas Balfour of Huip. Elizabeth married Robert Nicolson, an Orkney- based trusted man of Tom Balfour’s. Mary married Robert Baikie of Tankerness. Ann married Hurka de Monti.

Hurka introduces himself to the Balfour/Baikie men in a letter of September 1792, explaining that he has come to Orkney to pursue Ann Balfour, who he believes is not averse to my wishes. He is, he writes, descended from a younger Brother of an ancient family of Germany. He served 8 years in Prince Esterhazy’s Regiment, and left it 4 years previously. He has inherited a small landed property in Italy from his mother, which is laden with debt and he has paid many of these debts but yet still I owe about 8 hundred pounds sterling.

It is an astonishing document particularly given that Hurka de Monti is a music teacher in Edinburgh, a profession in which he is forever unlikely to raise £800 (equivalent today £108800) and maintain the means of day to day living. He has made his way to Orkney, laid bare his financial extremity to men for whom every shilling is hostage, and asks for Tom Balfour’s cousin/ Robert Baikie’s sister in law as his wife. And he wins her!

Ann Balfour married Hurka de Monti on 14th May 1793 according to a document from the Baikie of Tankerness papers. In a draft affidavit of June 1801, Robert Baikie, Karen Christie and James Robertson state that Joseph Hurka De Monti and Ann Balfour were married according to the rite of the Roman Catholic Church in Edinburgh on 14 May 1793. Her cousin, the Edinburgh lawyer, and brother of Tom, David Balfour was horrified – but the imminent marriage had been kept from him. On 15 May 1793 David wrote (D2/11/1) to tell his mother of the marriage which had he known of it, he would have opposed … to the utmost of my power. It seems the Orkney men of the family had approved but it is the view of David’s wife, Marion, on 27 June 1793 that they will be a miserable pair. I think the chance is he will go off and leave her. (D2/11/1)

The Affidavit, Orkney Archive reference D24/11/100

In February 1794, Ann was pregnant. (Marion Balfour, D2/8/19). She is pregnant again in February 1795, as round as a ball (Frances Balfour, D2/8/19).

Her first child is Charles.  Given the dates above, he was born sometime between February and August 1794. On 15 November 1794 he was at best 9 months old; at worst 3 months.

Charles de Monti was unable to sign the receipt for his pay because he was unable to write, or even yet to speak or walk! His parents have been helped out by Tom Balfour, or, rather, the British taxpayer, in a breathtakingly, audacious manipulation of Regimental funds.

Hurka De Monti makes a few further appearances in the Balfour records, writing to Frances, widow of Tom Balfour. Ann Balfour de Monti, his wife, does not reappear and it may be that her marriage was not long-lasting, not because he left her but because she did not live long. Perhaps the affidavit in the Baikie papers, dated 1801, was drawn up on Ann’s death to confirm De Monti’s claims on her estate? David Balfour had made sure, after the marriage which so angered him, that any Balfour money was for her and her children, not for her husband. Somewhere in the Balfour and Baikie papers, or maybe with someone who reads this blog, we’ll establish what happened to Ann, but whatever ….  she could claim to be the mother of a remarkable prodigy, the baby recruited to protect Britain from the French.

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