Date added: 13 Jun 2015
John Wells, my Great-great-great-grandfather, was born in the small village of Pickworth in Lincolnshire, where he was baptised on the 14th of March, 1792. He joined the 1st Foot Guards in 1807 at the age of fifteen, and was attested on the 29th of December 1810. We believe that he was present at the Battle of Corunna as we are in possession of a General Service Medal, but this is marked J. WILLS rather than J. WELLS. An attempt has been made to change the ‘I’ into an ‘E’, so this is almost certainly John Wells’ medal. The 1st Foot Guards records place a John Wells (Private) at Corunna, but the ribbon and clasp are missing from the medal, and we do not have the bar that would confirm his presence at Corunna. However, my aunt knows this as ‘The Corunna Medal’, and my grandfather, William Wells, taught her the poem ‘The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna’ when she was a child. John Wells served in the 1st Foot Guards in Belgium, where he lost his left arm close to the shoulder during the battle. Research is on-going to discover whether he was injured at Quatre Bras or at Mont St. Jean. His Waterloo Medal is on display at Regimental Headquarters in London, and his Military General Service Medal will visit the battlefield for the 200th anniversary commemorations. On being invalided out of the Army, he returned to his home village where, in 1817, he married Elizabeth Sharpe, and they had nine children. The above information was discovered after seeing his occupation recorded as being a Pensioner in the Parish Record of his first child’s baptism. However, we were intrigued to discover that his pension was stopped for some years until 1833, when it was reinstated with no arrears. The last mention of him in Pickworth is in 1824 in the Parish Records. In 1831 his son was baptised in Aslackby, a nearby village, where the vicar gave John’s occupation as ‘Pauper’. So we had a small mystery to solve, as to why he lost his pension. While trying to find more information about Pickworth and John Wells, we came across what for us was quite a disturbing article in the Stamford Mercury newspaper of March 10th 1826. John Wells was in court accused of the theft of £10 from a Mr Skerrett, in Grantham.
Robbery at Grantham. John Wells aged 33, formerly a private in the 1st regiment of Guards, and who lost his left arm at the Battle of Waterloo, was indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 18 December last, at Grantham, a pocket book containing 10 one pound notes, the property of John Skerrett, of Barrowby. It appeared that the prosecutor was drinking at the Cross Swords public house at Grantham, on the evening of 17 December, where he was soon after joined by the prisoner and another man; on paying his reckoning the prosecutor took out a pound note to get changed, and exhibited the other 10 notes that he had in his pocket book. He was somewhat intoxicated, and when he left the house Wells and another person went with him, and enticed him to a brothel in Well Lane, where they prevailed upon him to give them half a crown to purchase some rum; they all stayed there until about two o'clock in the morning, when the prosecutor walked as far as Mr Stringer's, where the prisoner and his companion left him, and he went and sat on the steps at the back door of Mr Stringer's house: in about half an hour the prisoner came up to him with a knife in his hand and said 'Here he is. If he makes any resistance, I'll murder him, and immediately cut open his frock and took the pocket book out of his waistcoat side-pocket, the prosecutor all the time pretending to be asleep: the prisoner had a companion with him, but he remained at the corner of the house: the prosecutor did not call Stringers up until an hour and a half after. The prisoner was apprehended the next morning. The prosecutor underwent a severe cross examination, for the purpose of showing that he was so drunk he did not know what he was about, and that in all probability he had been robbed in the brothel: he however positively swore that, although intoxicated, he was perfectly capable of taking care of his property: that he was never in a situation at the brothel where he could be robbed; that he counted his money as he sat on the steps of Mr Stringer's door, when it was all right; and that the prisoner was the man who had robbed him. The prisoner protested his innocence, and declared that the prosecutor was so drunk that he and his companion were obliged to lead him. He called John Reeve Esq. Colonel of the Guards, who said that he had never heard any ill of the prisoner whilst at that regiment; Joseph Burrows, farmer, of Pickworth, near Falkingham, who said he had known him ever since he was a child, and that on one occasion when witness had lost a pocket full containing £31, the prisoner restored it to him; and William Banks, publican, Falkingham, who had employed the prisoner, and found him honest. The Jury, after a few minutes consultation, found the prisoner guilty. Seven years transportation.
However, further children continued to be born in Lincolnshire with John
Wells being recorded as the father, a strange situation if he had been
transported to a penal colony. Further research show that he was on the
prison hulk Justitia on 18th December 1826 awaiting transportation, but
at the very end of that record, where the details of the transportation would
have been written, the word Pardoned appears.
We are still trying to discover how and why he was pardoned. Was John
Wells innocent? Was he framed? Mistaken identity? Did his army career count in
his favour? Was he a thief? Was Mr Skerrett robbed in the brothel, a rather
obvious place for that to happen in those days one might think? Did the fact of
his only having one arm make him memorable to a drunken man, and so he became a
scapegoat for someone else? His pension was restored without paying any arrears
on the 8th of August, 1833, so despite being pardoned of the
offence, he suffered a loss of income for those seven years. Why?
Was he really a “One Armed Bandit”? We are still trying to find out.
Chris and Lesley Holden, Chester.