John Sullivan – My Great Grandmothers Grandfather – serving Monarch & Country

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As part of my genealogy research, I have looked beyond Elizabeth McIntosh, my great grandmother, who emigrated from Scotland to Australia in the early 20th Century, to her parents and then grandparents, and found a relative who deserves his own story. The below records have been gleaned from various sources, including distant relatives I have connected with, however information prior to 1864 comes from Church Records, and are hard to find, and/or difficult to read.

John Sullivan was baptised Roman Catholic on 22 July 1823 in Kinsale, Cork, Ireland with sponsors (godparents) ‘James Forrest and Judy Barrett’. John was second child to Vincent and Margaret nee McCarthy, who were both born late 1700’s, and unfortunately, I have been unable to locate their birth records, so this may be the end of the line for this side of the family tree.

John had three siblings, older brother Vincent, which followed the norm of the oldest son being named after the father, then John, also following custom being named after a grandfather, then two younger siblings, Mary and Richard. I believe Mary ventured to the United States in her early 20’s to start her own adventure.

Dad Vincent is shown in various registers as a ’10 Pound Householder’, meaning he paid rent higher than £10, so he was entitled to vote from 1837 to 1852 at least, so I believe John’s household may have been considered ‘middle class’.

John must have been keen to see the world, as he enlisted in the armed forces on 7 September 1840 stating that he was 18 years 6 months, when he was only just over 17 years of age going by his baptism records – am sure this was a common occurence.

His enlistment started as a Private in Cork, Ireland, with the 40th Foot Regiment, before transferring in 1841 to the 17th Foot Regiment, where he stayed for almost 6 years’ service.

On 1 February 1847 he transferred to the 78th Foot Regiment as a Private, until he requested discharge, effective 12 September 1861 as a Corporal, having served 18 years 2 months of his 21 years total military service overseas in the East Indies. This discharge was granted the day prior to the birth of his first child, Elizabeth, which I am sure would have been two reasons for celebration. John’s military service covered the period 8 September 1840 to 12 September 1861.

The 78th Foot Regiment, also known as ‘The 78th Highlanders or Ross-Shire Buffs’ was a distinguished regiment. Here is an extract (covering the period John was enlisted) from

“After service in India and Aden, the 78th moved to Persia in January 1857, and took part in the Battle of Khushab in February 1857 during the brief Anglo-Persian War.

Alum Bagh Gate – Re Indian Mutiny – defence of Lucknow

The regiment returned to India in May 1857 to help suppress the Indian Rebellion. It took part in the recapture of Cawnpore in July 1857 and then took part in the reinforcement of Lucknow, strongly defending the residency until it was relieved in November 1857. The regiment won eight Victoria Crosses during the campaign and was hailed as the ‘saviour of British India’ and feted for its conduct at Lucknow. This included being commemorated by poets such as John Greenleaf Whittier and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The regiment returned home in September 1859.”

Extracts from

‘The medals for the Persian campaign were received in February 1860, and on the 18th of that month were issued to the regiment.’ ‘……The regiment as a body was feted by the inhabitants of the town and county of Nairn….’

This appears to have been after June 1859 and before February 1860, and assume it is during this period that he met his future wife, Elizabeth who was born in Nairn. Records show Elizabeth had a baby boy, William, in June 1859, however he does not appear to have lived with Elizabeth, nor when married with John. Initially William lived with his grandparents, but then records disappear until his marriage in 1881 – John Sullivan is not listed as William’s Dad……so that’s another Branch to research.

The records of the proceedings of a regimental board to consider John’s discharge request noted that he would receive a pension upon completion of 21 years’ service.

It was also noted in his character and conduct section –

 …….medals, one from service in Persia and one for service in India – Granted a silver medal with gratuity for long service and good conduct. Never tried by a court martial. Twice entered in the Draught Defaulters’ book since 24th May 1857. Record previous to the above date lost but it appears from the 2nd page that he had an entry in March 1848.

The final page of this document shows that he was discharged in Aberdeen, on 12 September 1861, aged 39 years 6 months, height 5’ 5 ½”, fresh complexion, grey eyes, no trade, and no scars or marks.

Indian Service Medal

On 9 January 1860, John married Elizabeth Ross, who was born 15 January 1836 in Nairn, Scotland from a farming family. They married a year before John discharged from the army. At that time John held the rank of Lance Corporal in the 78th Regiment. Elizabeth was aged 24 and John was aged 36 years – the age different is not surprising given his lengthy military service.

At Census time in 1861, John and Elizabeth were lodgers at Smiths Court, Castle Street, St Nicholas, Aberdeen, which makes sense as, after their marriage and around the time of being discharged from the military, they were yet to have settled into married life and found their own home. This may also be why Elizabeth’s first child William did not live with them.

From various documents, including children birth certificates and census records, John was receiving his pension, and also labouring, however his authoritative bearing appears to have led him into the Constabulary from 1866 until mid 1870’s.

20 Haugh Road, Inverness – John’s address in 1871

In an 1873 Inverness Street Directory listing of householders there is a listing of ‘Sullivan, John, burgh police, 3 Inglis court, Haugh’ (Haugh being a suburb of Inverness).

Inglis Court seems to have been a high-density tenement type of house – similar to above photo of Haugh Road – just down from the Castle, and convenient for the town centre (The Burgh Police Office was in Castle Wynd, below the Castle and directly opposite the Town Hall.) Valuation Rolls show John was paying £3 6s in rent in Inglis Court in 1874 to 1876, and his occupation as Police Constable.

Inverness Castle (Castle Wynd)

It appears that the constabulary did not suit as John’s ongoing occupation, and he moved into working for the Railway, as a Porter, until his passing….and likely after so many years in an authoritative role, I cannot blame him for wanting what I am sure would have been a simpler life.

I attempted to research John’s service in the constabulary with a local historian and his advice was in part ‘Unfortunately the records of the Inverness Burgh Police do not appear to have survived. To explain, each police force was required to keep a register of their officers – and to keep the information of each man’s service after he left, in case he later applied to join another force. The way this was done was to record the information in a fancy ledger……. Generally, the ledger was leather-bound, and it contained basic information of the officer, details of any commendations and disciplinary cases he received, pay rate increases, and periods of ill-health, along with promotion information. Over time there were many officers joining and leaving, and the ledger soon became unwieldy with many pages of former officers. Eventually, in many forces a decision was taken (usually at a change of Chief) to re-write the ledger to include only those officers then serving. ……….The surviving Burgh Police ledger dates to the 1920s, so its predecessor(s) likely were destroyed many years ago.’ 

John and Elizabeth had four daughters, being Elizabeth# (of note, being born the day after John was officially discharged from the military), Maryanne, Harriet, and Margaret between 1861 and 1870. Elizabeth Sullivan# is my ancestor, being my Great Grandmother Elizabeth Macintosh’s mother.

John Sullivan’s granddaughter Elizabeth – my great grandmother

During this time of growing their family, sadly they lost three of their four parents. John’s parents Vincent and Margt passed away in 1864 and 1865 in Ireland, as did Elizabeth’s Mum Mary in 1867. I wonder if John had ever returned to Ireland once he left in 1840 – did he see his parents and siblings again?

By 1885 the family had moved to Castle Street, and rent had increased to £6 pa……..I assume this would have been significant on a Labourer wage, which was his occupation listed in the Valuation Roll for that year.

Sadly, Elizabeth passed away on 27 December 1887, aged only 51 years. They had been married for 27 years.

It is not surprising to discover that John remarried. I expect that coming from living with his parents, then straight into military, then married for 27 years, plus a house full of females, John would have enjoyed being ‘cared for/looked after’, so am sure he would not have enjoyed the single life.

On 18 October 1889, at the age of 66 John remarried to Isabella, who was also widowed, and 30 years his junior. The 1891 Census showed him living with Isabella, her four children with surname of MacDonald, along with his youngest daughter Margaret and her husband Frederick (Knight), who had been married the year prior in 1890.

Sadly, there may have been a parting of the way for John and Isabella between the census in 1891 and John’s death in 1892, as his death certificate was signed off by his son-in-law Edward Chilcott, and daughter Maryanne was the executor of her father’s estate, as John died ‘intestate’. John passed away at the home with his daughter Maryanne in Pilrig, Leith on 30 December 1892 – Isabella’s only mention was on John’s Death Certificate as having been married to her. John passed away from ‘apoplexy’ being ‘unconsciousness or incapacity resulting from a cerebral haemorrhage or stroke’, so I like to think he passed away peacefully in his sleep, with family beside him. Of interest is that John’s son in law Edward was a coachman later in life, so as he means of transport likely that he and Maryanne would have travelled to visit John near his end and brought him home to be with them.

My second cousin once removed Liz, sourced John’s obituary as below. I love the turn of phrases from this time such as ‘dashing bravery’ and ‘genial and kindly manner soon gained for him many friends’ – he was obviously a well-respected man.

As John passed away ‘intestate’, it appears that Maryanne had to attend Court and provide an Inventory and value of Estate, which she did in February 1893. This was recorded in the National Probate Index (Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories) as below.

The handwritten notes from this attendance also shows John’s estate valued at £14 – “£1. 10s (ten shillings) at death with a further £12 and 10 shillings owed to him by the Friendly Society in connection with the Highland Railway Company.” Online research found ‘Before the Welfare State, friendly societies offerings were often the only way a working person could receive financial help in times of sickness or injury.’, so assume John had an account set up, which would be able to cover costs of his funeral/burial that had already occurred – a way to not be a burden on his family upon his passing.

It is noted that this document does not mention any family other than Maryanne, but also not surprising as John did not leave a formal will, where other members of his family may have been mentioned.

So, it appears that John led a full and interesting life, all of his 69 years, serving his country, growing a family, and also am sure caring for his adoptive family, until the end. Born in Ireland, died in Scotland, but oh so many travels in between during his military service. Thank you for your life.

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