Date added: 2 Apr 2015
I was lucky enough to inherit my Great Uncle’s handwritten autobiography. In this book I was fascinated to read about my Great, Great, Great Grandfather, Stephen Thomas Jenkins. I was also handed down family anecdotes about Stephen from my parents and, in addition, have carried out my own research into his life.
Stephen Thomas Jenkins was born in Bristol in 1766. Stephen was a Master Farrier. He married Jane (née Randall, from Kintbury, Berkshire) around 1798. I have only been able to trace 5 of their children, although I believe there would have been more. His sons seem to have followed in their father’s footsteps as Farriers.
Stephen was reputed to be a wonderful horseman and a formidable character.
In March 1806 Stephen signed up with the 2nd North of England Dragoons (Scots Greys) and held the rank of Farrier Sergeant Major. He appears, at that time, to be stationed near Lyminster, Sussex – probably at the Crossbush barracks. Many troops were billeted in the Sussex area, in readiness for an expected invasion by Napoleon. One of Stephen’s sons, my Great, Great Grandfather, John Jenkins, was born and baptised in Lyminster. (He, too, became a Master Farrier, and was famed for his concoctions of medicine for sick animals, a gift which I believe he inherited from his father).
Some time between 1806 and 1815, Stephen’s talents appear to have caught the eye of the Duke of Wellington and he was transferred into his service. In April 1815, he travelled to Waterloo with his wife, Jane. Jane was heavily pregnant at the time.
The plight of the horse at the Battle of Waterloo was shocking. The carnage was dreadful and beyond imagination. In his Military Dispatches, the Duke of Wellington states that 1,495 of the British and Hanoverian horses were killed, 891 were wounded and 773 were missing (not including Quatre Bras) but these numbers are only the British and Hanoverian horses. Thousands of others were killed and wounded. Mangled and dying horses were strewn across the battlefield and injured, panicking horses ran amok amid the thick smoke which had lingered. Stephen, being a Farrier, had a special axe with a large spike on one side and a sharp axe blade on the other. Family anecdote states that it was Stephen’s task to destroy severely wounded horses with his axe. They say it is a difficult and skilled job to poleaxe a horse. It is dangerous too because a reflex action in a newly destroyed horse enables it to kick out even though dead. (I believe that a hoof, with an identifying code, would also have been removed with the sharp axe blade, to account for the numbers of horses lost).
I don’t know if Jane had any role to play whilst at Waterloo, other than to look after her husband. However, when it was time for Stephen and Jane to return to England, poor Jane then gave birth on the boat.
I do not know if Stephen left his job immediately after Waterloo. However, when he did leave, he was not short of money. It seems that he had enough money to purchase a stage coaching company based at the George Hotel, Trowbridge, Wiltshire, with stagecoaches travelling from Trowbridge to Bristol and from Trowbridge to London. His sons worked as Farriers in the yard.
The fact that Stephen could afford to buy a business when he came out of the Army is interesting because he certainly was not well-off when he joined up. I have read that the Duke of Wellington paid his Farriers handsomely (they may have had to finance the care and procurement of the horses in the stable). It is also a well-known fact that a blind eye was turned when many of the soldiers plundered the dead and dying bodies at Waterloo. Naturally, I don’t want to believe Stephen was one of the latter!
In my Great Uncle’s autobiography, he describes Stephen at this stage of his life as a wealthy and successful man. However, family anecdote states that Stephen had a friend who was in some sort of financial trouble and, without knowing the full extent of the trouble, he signed a promissory note to pay his friend’s debt. It then transpired that this “friend” was bankrupt and Stephen became liable for the monies owed. Stephen was financially ruined. He had to sell his horses and coaches and his devastated family dispersed. Saddest of all, they say that Jane, aged 48, dropped down dead with shock. Records show that she died on 28 December 1823 and was buried four days later. Stephen, although destitute, paid to have the bells of the church of St James, Trowbridge, tolled in her honour – the “passing bell” was a custom in Trowbridge whereby the hearers would pray for the soul of the deceased.
Whilst Stephen’s personal and professional life was a wreck in 1824, he was still, by necessity, practising as a Farrier. Some time between 1824 and 1830 he arrived in Aylesbury. There he met a young widow by the name of Rebecca de Fraine (née Curren). Rebecca was 34 years his junior. They married on 23 May 1830. Rebecca quickly provided him with 5 more children. There were many sad events during their marriage (not relevant to be described here). Amazingly, Stephen’s last child was born when he was 73 years old! Rebecca died in 1850, aged 49, but Stephen carried on to outlive even the Duke of Wellington. He died on 8 February 1856 in his ninetieth year. On his death certificate he is described as a Veterinary Surgeon, the cause of death being natural decay. He was buried in a pauper’s grave in the cemetery at Trowbridge.
I wish I could find his medal.
Submitted by Gill Haskins