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Private Joseph Steel

Waterloo 200


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Submitted by: Philip Parker

Date added: 6 May 2015

Joseph Steel was born in 1789 in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, to William Steel. By his late teens, he had become a butcher. He stood 6 foot 1 inch tall, had brown hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion. He married Mary Botteril in Northampton in 1809, aged 20.

The following year, 1810, Joseph enlisted in the Life Guards in Rochdale, Lancashire. He was enlisted by Lt Jagger, was posted to A Troop, 1st Life Guards, and took up his duties in London. His first daughter Ann was born there in 1811.

In 1812 he sailed with the Life Guards to Portugal and took part in the Peninsula campaign against the French, including at the battles of Vittoria and Toulouse. After Napoleon’s abdication in 1814, Joseph was promoted to corporal in July at Boulogne, and a week later crossed the Channel to England and returned to Knightsbridge barracks.

Less than a year later, in May 1815, Joseph embarked with the Life Guards for the continent again. The Life Guards took part in the rearguard holding action at Genappe on 17 June, after the battle of Quatre Bras, and in the main battle of Waterloo on 18 June. After the battle the Life Guards followed the defeated French forces and were stationed in Paris. Joseph was promoted to serjeant in Paris in August 1815. The Life Guards finally returned to England in January 1816, and Joseph received the Waterloo medal the next year.

Joseph enjoyed a further 15 years in the Life Guards, a total of 20 years of service. He and Mary had three more children in that time, William (born 1817), Lucy (1822) and Charlotte (1829). In 1826 he was promoted to quarter master for free (at a time when it was possible to purchase the rank). His oldest daughter Ann was married in 1830 to Thomas Coulson, a corporal in the 1st Life Guards.

Joseph Steel retired from the military life in January 1831, aged 42. In 1839 he and Mary were elected to the positions of master (or governor) and matron of the New Winchester Union Workhouse, Hampshire. They worked there, with daughter Lucy living with them, until about 1848. By 1846, son William was working as a shoemaker in Andover, Hampshire and married a National School teacher. In 1848, Joseph also received the Military General Service Medal 1793-1814 (the medal for the Peninsula War) with clasps VITTORIA and TOULOUSE.

Joseph lived another 20 years of retirement in south London with his wife and daughter Lucy, living on his half-pay pension. They resided at 3 Manley Place on the east side of Kennington Common in Lambeth. Joseph died on 31 August 1868, aged 78, and was buried in All Saints Cemetery, Nunhead. His death certificate recorded him as “a Gentleman”.  Mary and Lucy died a few years later, and son William had pre-deceased him. 

Joseph’s story was completely lost to his family. I discovered the illustrious military history of my 4th great grandfather by chance when researching my family tree, and I’m proud to add Joseph’s record to the Waterloo 200 project. Much of his timeline was pieced together from public census, birth, marriage and death records.  Thanks to the Household Cavalry Museum and Hampshire Records Office for helping my research. Philip Parker, Thaxted, Essex.

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