Margaret Tolmie – another ‘Waterloo Child’

The Battle of Waterloo was hard fought, and hard won by the Allied Forces. In the aftermath, as night fell, the men who were still able to answered the roll call of their names. The women travelling in the train of the army listened for news, desperately wanting to hear their loved ones listed as living.

The Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815 by Denis Dighton (painted in 1816) NT; (c) National Trust, Plas Newydd; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815 by Denis Dighton (painted in 1816)
NT; (c) National Trust, Plas Newydd; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

One such woman was young Mrs Tolmie: daughter of a corporal in the Royal North British Dragoons (the Scots Greys), she had travelled with the army, working as a nurse in Portugal and tending to the sick and injured. One man, whose life she had saved, married her in between battles. That man was Adam Tolmie, either a trooper in the same regiment as her father by the time of Waterloo or an infantryman in the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment of Foot. As the Scots Greys did not see action in Portugal during the Peninsular War, if Eliza was in Portugal and her father was serving in the Scots Greys, she had travelled independently: the Scots Greys were sent to Belgium following Napoléon Bonaparte’s escape from Elba in the February of 1815.

Scotland Forever! The charge of the Scots Greys by Lady Butler, 1881
Scotland Forever! The charge of the Scots Greys by Lady Butler, 1881

Later that year Eliza had followed her menfolk to Waterloo, a valiant effort as she was by this time heavily pregnant. The two men fought in the action at Quatre Bras on the 16th June, where her father, Corporal Woods, a veteran of the armed service, was thrown from his horse and trampled under the charge (but survived relatively unscathed) and her husband had his left shoulder ripped open by an enemy bayonet. Eliza spent the evening dressing her husband’s wound by the light of the campfire.

Black Watch at Quatre Bras, 1815, by William Barnes Wollen (1857 - 1936) - the 42nd Regiment was renamed Black Watch in 1881
Black Watch at Quatre Bras, 1815, by William Barnes Wollen (1857 – 1936) – the 42nd Regiment was renamed Black Watch in 1881

And so the army, under the command of the Duke of Wellington, progressed to the Battle of Waterloo on the 18th June 1815. As night fell on the battlefield Eliza, fearing she was both an orphan and a widow, took a lamp and set out to look for the two men, determined to bury them if they were dead or tend to them if they lived.

The Field of Waterloo by John Heaviside Clark (courtesy of the National Army Museum).
The Field of Waterloo by John Heaviside Clark (courtesy of the National Army Museum).

The majority of the wounded had already been taken off the field, but the dead still lay there. Eliza called out the names of her husband and father as she went, hoping for an answer in return. She passed a platoon of armed French grenadiers nestled in a hovel and forming a guard of honour to a dead general, but they let Eliza pass unmolested. Eliza searched throughout the night and by dawn had found the field where the Scottish regiments had fought, and where nearly 1,200 men had died. She began to recognise faces; finally a young drummer boy who had regained consciousness on the field told her that her husband and father had been on the front line, about 300m distant. Eliza hurried to the spot he pointed out.

There she found the body of her father who had been killed by shrapnel, but her husband, although he was badly injured, still clung to life. With the help of two other women she managed to move him to Mont Saint Jean where his wounds could be cleaned and bandaged and there, as a result of the stresses of the night, Eliza went into labour and gave birth to a daughter who was named Margaret. One version has the Duke of Wellington himself passing by shortly after the birth and, taking the babe in his arms, he kissed her forehead and told his staff officers, “Gentlemen, this is the child of Waterloo!”.

The Convalescent from Waterloo, Mulready, 1822 © Victoria and Albert Museum
The Convalescent from Waterloo, Mulready, 1822
© Victoria and Albert Museum

Adam Tolmie did recover, and he returned to his native Scotland shortly afterwards, having done with the army. The family settled first in Cockpen and then in Lasswade, Midlothian, where a further seven children were born to the couple (Jane 1817, Andrew 1819, James 1822, Eliza 1824, Isabella 1826, Mary Ann 1828 and William Edward in 1831).

On the 3rd June 1834, at Ceres in Fife, Margaret Tolmie (whose home parish was given as Lasswade) married James Thomson, a tailor from Ceres. Margaret, who was widowed between 1851 and 1861, followed in her mother’s footsteps and worked as a nurse, surviving in her old age on ‘private means’. By 1881 Margaret was living in Pathhead in Fife and, on the 22nd October 1901, she died there at 11 Commercial Street, aged 86 years, of old age and a fractured thigh. Her unmarried daughter Eliza, who had lived with her mother in her later years, had been present at the death.

The death certificate of Margaret Thomson, née Tolmie, names her parents as Adam Tolmie, a contractor, and his wife Eliza née Wood. Margaret’s death was reported as far away as New Zealand.

BORN ON THE FIELD OF WATERLOO.

Kirkcaldy has just lost one of its prideful possessions in the death of rare old Margaret Tolmie. She had the unique distinction of having been born on the famous field of Waterloo on the day following the historic battle, her mother having been a daughter of a corporal in the 2nd Royal North British Dragoons (Scots Greys) and her father a trooper in the same regiment. With other “daughters of the regiment” Margaret’s mother sallied out from Brussels to seek for the living among the dead, though the wounded had already been removed. “Home they brought her warrior dead;” but “Meg’s” mother would not have it so. She searched and searched. And at last she found him, buried beneath a heap of dead. He still lived, and helped by two other women she bore him to a place of succour. But the excitement of the day overcame her, and on the red field of Waterloo the baby “Meg” was born. Truly, Kirkcaldy had cause to be proud of Margaret Tolmie.

(New Zealand Herald, Volume XXXVIII, issue 11848, 28th December 1901, page 2)

Kirkcaldy is some distance away from Pathhead – could this be a clue as to where her parents originated from? Or is it referencing her marriage at Ceres in Fife, where she lived for many years?

The Village of Waterloo in 1815 by George Jones, 1821, courtesy of the National Army Museum
The Village of Waterloo in 1815 by George Jones, 1821, courtesy of the National Army Museum

Researching Margaret’s life has, however, raised many questions for which we have not found the answers, and we are hoping that someone reading this might be able to fill in the gaps for us. Most sources do not name Margaret’s parents, merely giving the story of her birth. In some, Margaret’s mother is also a Margaret, saying that the daughter was named for the mother, but one source references some French tourists talking to Margaret in her old age, and in that her mother is named as Kate Maborlan, not Eliza Woods. As Eliza is named as her mother on the official record of her death, we have chosen to go with that, but it is possible that her mother did not survive the battlefield birth in 1815, and that Adam Tolmie swiftly remarried and Eliza is therefore Margaret’s stepmother.

And if anyone more experienced than us in tracing military records could locate either Adam Tolmie or Corporal Woods or Wood we would be delighted to hear from you. We have drawn a total blank in trying to find any mention at all which fits the known facts, although Woods is a very common name and Tolmie could easily have been mistranscribed for something else.

So, over to our readers . . .

Sources:

Dundee Courier, 6th November 1901

 

Two ‘Waterloo Children’

The Battle of Waterloo by William Sadler II
The Battle of Waterloo by William Sadler II

On the 19th June 1815, the day after the battle of Waterloo, a daughter was born to a serving officer of the British army and his wife at Brussels, named in honour of the battle and the victory as Waterloo Deacon.

Her father was Ensign Thomas Deacon of the 2nd Battalion of the 73rd Foot; he had not been present at Waterloo having been injured at the battle of Quatre Bras on the 16th June. His wife, Martha, together with their three children, had accompanied her husband to war. Martha, formerly Martha Durand, daughter of John Hodson Durand whose own nabob father had acquired a large fortune in India, had married Thomas Deacon at St. George’s, Hanover Square, 31st August 1809.

St George's, Hanover Square by T. Malton, 1787
St George’s, Hanover Square by T. Malton, 1787

The following is taken from the account of Thomas Morris who served alongside Deacon at Quatre Bras.

Ensign Deacon, of our regiment, was on my right, close to me, when we were charging the enemy, and a private on my left being killed by a musket-ball, through the temple the officer said, “Who is that, Morris?” I replied, “Sam Shortly;” and, pointing to the officer’s arm, where a musket ball had passed through, taking with it a portion of the shirt-sleeve, I said, “You are wounded, Sir.” “God bless me! so I am,” said he, and dropping his sword, made the best of his way to the rear. After getting his wound dressed, he went in search of his wife, who, with her three children, he had left with the baggage guard. During the whole night, he sought her in vain; and the exertion he used was more than he could bear, and he was conveyed by the baggage-train to Brussels.

The poor wife, in the meantime, who had heard from some of the men that her husband was wounded, passed the whole night in searching for him among the wounded, as they passed. At length, she was informed that he had been conveyed to Brussels, and her chief anxiety then, was how to get there. Conveyances, there were none to be got; and she was in the last state of pregnancy; but, encouraged by the hope of finding her husband, she made the best of her way on foot, with her children, exposed to the violence of the terrific storm of thunder, lightning, and rain, which continued, unabated, for about ten hours. Faint, exhausted, and wet to the skin, having no other clothes than a black silk dress, and light shawl, yet, she happily surmounted all these difficulties; reached Brussels on the morning of the 18th, and found her husband in very comfortable quarters, where she also was accommodated; and the next day gave birth to a fine girl, which was afterwards christened “Waterloo Deacon.” He never joined us again, but went out with his family, to the first battalion, in the East Indies.

The full name of the little girl was Isabella Fleura Waterloo Deacon.

The Morning Post newspaper gave a list of the ‘State of the Wounded British Officers remaining at Brussels, July 12, 1815’.  On this list, we find, under the 73rd Regiment of Foot, Ensign Deacon, mentioned as recovering from wounds to his arm which bears out the above. The supplement to the London Gazette published on Saturday, July 1st had listed his wounds as ‘severe.’

The 28th Regiment at Quatre Bras by Elizabeth Thompson, 1875
The 28th Regiment at Quatre Bras by Elizabeth Thompson, 1875

Ensign Deacon, subsequently promoted to Lieutenant after his recovery, travelled with the 73rd Foot to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and there he was appointed Fort Adjutant, first at Trincomalee, 1819-23, and then at Colombo, 1824-25. Several of his children sadly perished there; in the cemetery at Trincomalee are the remains of Eliza Deacon who died 1st March 1818 aged 11 months and Anne Deacon who died 7th November 1820 aged 7 months, both recorded as the daughters of Lieutenant Deacon of the 73rd and in the Dutch cemetery at Galle on the island of Sri Lanka is the following tombstone:

Here lies the remains of MARGARET MARY DURAND DEACON, daughter of Lieut. THOMAS DEACON, Staff Officer at this Station, and of MARTHA ANN, his wife, who died Jany. 14th, 1831, aged 18 months and 12 days; also of EDWARD DURAND DEACON, son of the above, who died 18th July, 1832, aged 18 months; also of HENRY AUGUSTUS DURAND DEACON son of the above, who died 20th July, 1832, aged 2 months and 26 days.

In 1822 Thomas Deacon transferred to the 16th Foot and in 1824 into the Ceylon Rifles. By 1836 he was Captain in the 28th Foot and in 1847 of the 25th Foot. His daughter Louisa Maria Deacon, who must have been one of the children who made that walk to find their father amidst the mayhem of battle in 1815, married William Moir, Deputy Assistant Commissary-General at Kandy on the 17th October 1824.

The Field of Waterloo by John Heaviside Clark (courtesy of the National Army Museum).
The Field of Waterloo by John Heaviside Clark (courtesy of the National Army Museum).

Isabella Fleura Waterloo Deacon lived a long life and travelled far, possibly made of the same mettle as her parents.  She died at 14 St Andrew’s Road in Southsea, Hampshire, where she lived with her niece and her niece’s husband, Mary Elizabeth Isabella de Courcy and Alfred Malpas Tippetts, Surgeon Major General, aged 84 years on the 22nd February 1900. Mary Elizabeth Isabella de Courcy Tippetts was the daughter of Colonel Charles Clement Deacon who was born around 1811, brother of Isabella Fleura Waterloo and another of those three Deacon children who were present at the battle in 1815.

The Village of Waterloo in 1815 by George Jones, 1821, courtesy of the National Army Museum
The Village of Waterloo in 1815 by George Jones, 1821, courtesy of the National Army Museum

One further ‘Waterloo Child’ can also be mentioned, as recounted in 1818 just three years after the battle by Christopher Kelly, the father being an unnamed member of the 27th (Inniskilling) Foot, and present at Waterloo.

A private of the twenty-seventh regiment, who was severely wounded, was carried off the field by his wife, then far advanced in pregnancy: she also was severely wounded by a shell, and both of them remained a considerable time in one of the hospitals at Antwerp in a hopeless state. The poor man had lost both his arms, and the woman was extremely lame, and here gave birth to a daughter, to whom it is said the Duke of York has stood sponsor, and who has been baptized by the name of Frederica McMullen Waterloo.

The bravery of these two wives was certainly equal to that of their husbands.

The Battle of Waterloo: The British Squares Receiving the Charge of the French Cuirassiers by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux, 1874 (c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Battle of Waterloo: The British Squares Receiving the Charge of the French Cuirassiers by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux, 1874 (c) Paintings Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Sources used:

Recollections of Military Service, in 1813, 1814 & 1815, Through Germany, Holland, and France; including some details of the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo by Thomas Morris, late Sergeant of the 2nd Battalion of the 73rd Regiment of Foot, 1845

The memorable Battle of Waterloo by Christopher Kelly Esqr, 1818

List of Inscriptions on Tombstones and Monuments in Ceylon, of historical or local interest with an obituary of persons un-commemorated by J. Penry Lewis, C.M.G., Ceylon Civil Service, retired, 1913

The Morning Post, 1st July 1815 and 21st July 1815

Hampshire Advertiser, 28th February 1900