James Duff 1819 - 1891

A Brief History of James 1819 - 1891
(and wife Sarah Huston 1820? - 1887)

According to four censuses taken in Kingston, Surrey, in the 1861 census James is recorded as being born in Scotland, 1871 Ireland, 1881 Scotland and 1891 County Down, Ireland. Renfrewshire in Scotland is also mentioned elsewhere. His army discharge papers (held in The National Archives) state he was born in the parish of Neilston, Paisley, Renfrewshire.

However, we are still not totally convinced James was born in Scotland. Because of poorer education questioning was not so precise, records of the time were not so accurate and matters such as place of birth were not of such great import to an individual. A question like "where do you come from?" does not necessarily equate to "place of birth". Neilston may merely have been where he was working and living at the time he joined the army.

His trade prior to joining the army is recorded as being a "block cutter". A block cutter is a skilled manual worker producing wooden blocks for printing purposes - i.e. carving wooden printing plates - principally for printing on textiles. The largest, but not only, cotton mill in the Neilston area was Crofthead Mill , which was a major employer in the vicinity. However, the textile industry in this part of Scotland had a close association with the similar industry in the north of Ireland - notably County Down, one of the places of birth recorded for James - and workers migrated between the two. The 1841 census was the first in which individuals were recorded. This was five years after James left Neilston, however it is conceivable that family still remained in the area. All Duffs, contemporary to James (though we have no proof they were related), in the Neilston area in the 1841 census were recorded as being born in Ireland. So we think Ireland as his place of birth cannot be ruled out.

James joined the army - The Fifth Regiment of Foot - at Glasgow on the 18th November 1836, aged 17 years 6 months. This makes his date of birth around May 1819. However, when he was discharged from the regiment on 28th September 1858 he is recorded as being 39 years 6 months old, which would put his birthday around March 1819.

His service number was 1143.

The Fifth Regiment of Foot was founded in 1674 as The Irish Regiment, at that time specifically to fight the French in Holland. In 1685 the regiment was transferred to British Service, becoming the 5th Regiment. The regiment was involved around the globe expanding and policing the British Empire, including helping to lose the American colonies. Later in the regiment's history it became the Fifth Regiment of Fusiliers and then the Northumberland Fusiliers.

James was promoted to Corporal on 15th January 1842 but was imprisoned on 18th April 1842 and then Court Marshaled on the 20th April for being drunk whilst on a Tattoo Parade. As a result he was reduced to the rank of a Private.

Only service abroad is specifically recorded in James's discharge papers. He initially served in the Ionian Islands for 25 months and Gibraltar for 13 months.

Various sources of the history of the 5th of Foot record the regiment was posted to Ireland between 1843 and 1847. Ireland would, of course, in those days been considered a home posting.

The presence of the British Army at this time was a combination of a policing operation (at least prior to the establishment of the Irish Constabulary in 1836) - basically to suppress revolts by the native Irish population - and as a base to recruit and train troops for service overseas. The exhibition Soldiers and Chiefs - The Irish at War at Home and Abroad from 1550 at the National Museum of Ireland Collins Barracks site in Dublin is particularly useful and interesting in providing background. This exhibition shows that conditions for the ordinary soldier in Ireland were very harsh but it was considered a stable rung above poverty, that fraternisation with the local population was common and a British soldier was considered to be a "catch" for a local girl.

We know from family records that the important town of Ballyshannon, County Donegal features. At the time Ballyshannon hosted a major garrison, being in the Northern Division of the Army in Ireland whose HQ was in Armagh.

Extract from the Ballyshannon Herald 1844:
11th July - the arrival of a detachment of the 5th Fusiliers in Belleek under Captain Spencer and Lieutenant Hamilton. The soldiers were billeted in the Market House and in Rose Isle House. (The latter, home of the Dowager Lady Caldwell, is where Belleek Pottery now stands, which is overlooked by a fortified emplacement. See the Belleek Pottery Rose Isle Garden page.)

Various histories of the British Army indicate it was common for regiments on home service to be billeted out rather than housed in barracks, a fact that made the army unpopular in the country and a reason why regiments were regularly posted overseas.

On 12th November 1845 James married a Sarah Huston in, we think in Belleek, County Fermanagh.

A transcript of the Civil Marriage Record (source Irish Family History Foundation for Counties Tyrone and Fermanagh) for James and Sarah reads:
Date of Marriage: 12/11/1845
Parish/District: Enniskillen
County: Fermanagh
Husband: James Duff
Address: Belleek
Occupation: Soldier
Age: 27
(note this is incompatible with being born in 1819)
Status: Batchelor (previously unmarried)
Wife: illegible Huston
Address: Belleek
Occupation: not stated
Age: 26
(note this is incompatible with being born in 1820)
Status:Spinster (previously unmarried)
No details of Husband's father and mother
Wife's father: John Austin, Occupation: Servant
Wife's Mother: (Christian name not stated) Austin, Occupation: not stated
Witness 1: Walter Thompson, Witness 2: Robert Austin

The witness Walter Thompson is shown in local records as being a tithe holder in the Townland of Lowry Johnston, Co. Fermanagh.

Notes on the transcript read: Ballyshannon C.O.I. (Church of Ireland) Parish of Belleek.

The C.O.I. church in Ballyshannon at the time would have been (built only four years previously) St. Annes, featured on our Ballyshannon pages, whilst we have not yet identified a church in Belleek at that time. So were they actually married in Belleek or Ballyshannon? No doubt ecclesiastical boundaries did not (still do not?) conform to county boundaries, however this item of information appears on the surface to be contradictory.

That Sarah's father's and mother's surname is different perhaps indicates that at the time of Sarah's marriage her mother had re-married. Purely speculation, but maybe Sarah's stepfather was a servant in Rose Isle House and James was billeted there and this led to them meeting?

Other than the fact she is recorded in censuses in England as being born in Ireland, in the 1881 census recorded as being born in Ballyshannon, and details on the Civil Marriage Record, so far we know nothing else definitively about Sarah's background. However, from the Civil Marriage Record - despite its contradiction about James' age, can we perhaps deduce that she was born in 1820? However, the 1861 census records an age differential of three years between James and Sarah (but is compatible with James being born in 1819), so this could put her date of birth as late as 1822?

We have recently found via the Irish Family History Foundation a record of a baptism of a Sarah Huston in County Donegal in 1824, however we have yet to establish whether it is "our " Sarah". Sarah seems to have been between two and four years old in 1824, which seems rather late for a baptism during the early part of the 19th century, and the recorded parish was a fair distance from Ballyshannon, somewhat the other end of County Donegal. However, displaying this with reservations, these records state:
Name: Sarah Huston
Address: Muntertinney
Baptism: 20th March 1824
Parish: Raphoe, Co Donegal, Church of Ireland
Parents: Samuel Huston, Esther

Huston is recorded as being a Scottish surname, originating from Renfrewshire. Were the Hustons a Scots-Irish family? (Note also that there are several records of Huston marriages recorded in the first half of the nineteenth century in the Clogher Diocese Church of Ireland Marriage Bonds.)

In 1846 Sarah gave birth to Robert James in Ballyshannon, County Donegal.

Ballyshannon is known in Ireland for a number of things: it is one of the oldest habitations in Ireland , it has long been the biggest fishing port on the west coast of Ireland , it has (note present tense) a long-established military reservation and finally for its Gaelic Football team. Note Robert James was born during the Great Potato Famine (published dates vary, but from 1845 for up to ten years). It is assumed that being in the army the family were relatively well catered for. Plus history records that whilst the Ballyshannon area was not immune from the famine and there was death and hardship, the local economy being fish (and military) based the town did not suffer as badly as many other areas.

On 29th December 1846 James was again promoted to Corporal.

In 1847 the regiment was posted to Mauritius to consolidate the take over of the Island by the British from the French. The regiment was stationed in Mauritius until 1857. James's military record indicates he served on the island for 9 years 7 months. The family obviously accompanied James because around 1850 Sarah is recorded as giving birth to John in Port Louis Mauritius , followed around 1852 to Andrew, on the 17 th March 1854 to Elizabeth and around 1857 to James. Whilst the majority of soldiers' wives were left at home when the regiment deployed abroad it is known that the army did employ some spouses to undertake domestic duties for the regiment. This could explain why Sarah accompanied James to Mauritius.

On 1st October 1848 James was further promoted to the rank of Serjeant, however this did not last long because on 19th December of that year he was again imprisoned and Court Marshaled two days later for being in possession of a bottle of spirits whilst parading for escort duty. He was again reduced to a Private.

We have so far been unable to establish exactly what actually happened to James and the family immediately after Mauritius. On 1st November 1857 he is recorded as being posted to the second battalion of the Fifth Regiment of Fusiliers (whilst the first battalion had been sent to the Crimea and then India). On 27th November 1857 he was again promoted to Corporal and on 1st March 1858 back to Serjeant. This was again short-lived because on 3rd July 1858 a regimental board was convened to discharge James as being totally unfit for further service. The medical officer's report attributes this to varicose veins in both legs, an ulcer on his left leg and the effects of length of service both overseas and at home, his disability not exagerated by intemperance. James was finally discharged from the regiment at Chatham on the 28th September 1858, having served for 21 years 190 days.

At his discharge he is described as being five foot ten and a half inches tall, of "fresh" complexion, with blue eyes and brown hair.

James's days of military service were not completely over because he then joined the 3rd Royal Surrey Militia (which became the 4th battalion of the East Surrey Regiment - a regiment associated with the family in later generations).

Sarah and James then had two further children, William circa 1860 and Charles circa 1861, both being born in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey. In the 1861 census the family are recorded as being at the Militia Barracks, Kingston (then on the Fairfield), James aged 42, Sarah 39, Robert 14, John 11, Andrew 9, Elizabeth 7, James 4, William 2 and Charles 4 months.

In the 1871 census the family are shown living at 28 Cambridge Grove Road, Kingston-upon-Thames. James was recorded as being a Bailiff's Man, Sarah a Seamstress, William and Charles as Scholars.

Ten years later just James and Sarah are recorded as living at 28 Cambridge Grove Road, Kingston-upon-Thames, James being noted as a Labourer.

Sarah died on 1 st May 1887 at 2 Railway Terrace, Canbury Park Road, Kingston-upon-Thames. Her death certificate records her dying of heart disease but also that she was widow of James Duff - Army Pensioner. Which is strange because in the 1891 census James is recorded *alive!* aged 72 as a widow and army pensioner, living with his son Andrew in Wandsworth.

James died on 25 th April 1891 at 12 Bective Road Wandsworth, i.e. still with his son Andrew, the cause of death being senile debility and bronchitis.


This page was last updated on 16th June 2011.