1840 – 1912
1855 – 1920
Birth date and place
To put it mildly, there is some doubt as to where and when Patrick was born. Indeed, that is a rather large understatement!
My father had evidently tried to find out some information as, amongst his papers, my brother and I found a letter from the Superintendent of Records of the Commonwealth Relations Office regarding Patrick’s army service. It gave Patrick’s birth as 11 February 1840, in Birmingham, Warwickshire. However, I can find no record of his birth on any of the English birth or baptism indexes available on the internet.
On the 1851 census, Patrick was staying with Francis and Sarah Wyer in Birmingham and was noted as Francis’ nephew. Taken on 31 March 1851, the census gave his place of birth as Ireland but did not indicate where in Ireland. [Note: As Ireland had not yet obtained home rule, the place of birth would not affect his decision to join the British Army when he was 18.]
The census gave his age as 10. If Patrick had been born in February 1840 he would actually have been 11 at the time of the census but, depending on who supplied the information, the censuses were not always totally correct, especially when it came to the ages and even places of birth.
There is a baptismal record for a Patrick Henry Wyer, born on 26th December 1843 in Birmingham but I was able to establish that this was the son of Francis and Sarah Wyer so was ‘our’ Patrick’s cousin.
Despite many hours spent searching the online records I have not yet found a baptism record for Patrick Wyer (with any spelling) born or baptised in early 1840. However, there is a record for a Patrick Wier baptised 1 March 1841, in Edenderry, County Offaly, Ireland. There is no date of birth given but his parents were Patrick Wier and Anne Kelly.
The discovery of the baptism in Edenderry was initially quite exciting as Edenderry is important to our story. Many years ago, Owen, one of Patrick’s sons, took his family to the area on holiday and told them that this was where the family came from.
However, I think that baptism was for a Patrick Wier who, on 1st June 1857, found himself committed to jail on suspicion of being an army deserter. He was aged 17, a factory boy in Edenderry. His physical description could fit our Patrick apart from the colour of his eyes: blue not grey. On 16 June he was discharged having been found not to be a deserter.
This was possibly the Pat Wier who married in a parish near Edenderry in 1861, when our Patrick was already in the army.
Not all baptism registers have survived or have yet been made available online so I will continue to search periodically for a baptism for Patrick Wyer.
Patrick and his parents were born before civil registration began in Ireland. Until we can trace Patrick’s birth place and find his baptismal record we will have no idea of his parents’ names.
My original assumption, before hearing of the legend, was that the unmarried 46 year old female, A Wyer, staying with her brother Francis and his family in 1851 was Patrick’s mother. He is shown staying there as Francis’ nephew, aged 10. So I looked for further details for this A Wyer.
There is a record on the 1841 census for an Ann Wyer, aged 35 and Mary Wyer aged 20, both born in Ireland and living as servants at the same address in Birmingham. We know that Francis’ brother James was with Francis in Birmingham in 1841 and that both of them were born in Ireland, so it is quite conceivable that Ann and Mary were their sisters.
Adult ages in the 1841 census should have been, but were not always, rounded down to the nearest five years so they are merely an indication and are not as helpful as the later censuses. As Ann Wyer was noted as 35 in 1841, she could have been anywhere between 35 and 39, so an age of 46 in 1851 fits.
The 1841 census was taken on 7 June, when Patrick would have been nearly 1 year 4 months old. If Ann was Patrick’s mother, where was Patrick? He is not shown as being at his uncle’s house and there is no Patrick Wyer of that age recorded anywhere on the English 1841 census. However, if he was in hospital or any other institution he would probably only show as an unnamed patient or resident.
Although there were some enlightened employers who did help their servants in such cases, it would have been unlikely for his mother to still be in service if she had an illegitimate son with her. So, with no sign of Patrick in England in 1841, either this A or Ann Wyer was not his mother and Patrick and his mother were both still in Ireland following his birth or she was his mother and Patrick was in hospital or in Ireland being cared for by his grandparents or other relatives.
Since Patrick’s eldest daughter was named Aileen, the Irish spelling of Eileen, it is quite possible that she was named after his mother. And that Ann and Mary were his aunts. Although I have not yet found a baptism record for Ann, I have found one for Mary Anne, baptised in 1820, the youngest of the children of Patrick Wyer and Catherine Healy and therefore, the sister of Francis.
The Ann Wyer and A Wyer of the 1841 and 1851 censuses would have 56 by 1861. I can find no likely candidate in the 1861 census. Of course, it is possible that she had married between 1851 and 1861 and therefore changed her name, had returned to Ireland or had died (though I haven‘t been able to find a likely death record in England). As A Wyer is definitely noted as Francis’ unmarried sister in 1851 I have chosen to show her on the family tree.
In 2009 I wrote: “Unfortunately, at this stage in proceedings, we are no further forward in establishing Patrick’s parents.” But then my cousin Cecilia, granddaughter of Owen, and great granddaughter of Patrick, told me of the story told within her branch of the family regarding Patrick’s birth.
At the time that Patrick was born, his father was home on leave from the army. The women assisting at the birth wanted him out of the way and he went out, presumably for a walk. He was not wearing his uniform and when he came upon a bad event a mob, thinking that he was one of the culprits, lynched him. Sadly, whether as a result of childbirth trauma or of the shock of her husband being killed, his mother died. And thus Patrick was orphaned at the time of his birth.
The story is not as far fetched as it may seem as, in those days, lynchings were a frequent occurrence in Ireland.
On Patrick’s death record, his father’s name was given as Captain Wyer, thus confirming that his father was in the army.
If the story is true, having been orphaned at birth, it makes Patrick’s career in the army all the more remarkable.
Given that Patrick’s place of birth, according to the 1851 census, was Ireland I assumed the event happened in Ireland but without knowing where his father was stationed it is difficult to track down the story. I have checked countless newspapers around that date but have not been able to verify the story.
And so we have no proof that Patrick was an orphan and must still look for his parents.
Patrick’s service papers are available at the British Library Asia and African Studies department. They are not available online but a colleague working with me on my mother’s family history was kind enough to go and photograph them and I now have 29 pages. Together with the letter from the Commonwealth Relations Office which my father obtained, we know that Patrick’s service number was 254 and that his career progressed in the following manner:
|1857, 24 October||Enrolled as volunteer in the 1st Staffordshire Regiment of Militia|
|1858, 11 Feb||Enlisted in Edinburgh, Her Majesties 96th Foot Regiment|
|1861||Private, stationed at the Curragh Camp, County Kildare, Ireland|
|1863, 9 Feb||Promoted to Corporal|
|1863, 14 Feb||Embarked for the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa|
|1863 – 1865||Served in South Africa for 2 years 9 months|
|1865, 25 Jan||Promoted to Sergeant|
|1865, 9 Nov||Embarked for the East Indies|
|1866 2 Jan||Arrived in Poona, India|
|1867, 11 Sept||Re-engaged at Poona for a further 11 years, 153 days|
|1867, Nov||Appointed Colour Sergeant|
|1871||Colour Sergeant, 96th Regiment HQ in Dinapore, India|
|1873, 7 Jan||Married Ellen Shannahan in Lhumar, Bengal|
|1873, 5 June||Transferred to Unattached List|
|1873, 1 Sept||Volunteered to 69th Sub District Brigade and posted to 1st battalion of the 8th Foot of the King’s Regiment|
|1877, 31 July||Transferred to Royal Irish Regiment|
|1878-1880||Served in the Second Afghan War and awarded the Afghan Medal|
|1879||Magazine Sergeant on Field Service|
|1879, 20 Jan||Sub conductor Ordnance Department|
|1881, 25 Aug||Conductor|
|1883, 16 Nov||Granted furlough for one year to Europe on medical certificate.|
|1885, 25 Mar||Joined Rawal Pindi Arsenal|
|1889, Sept||Passed an Invaliding Board at Ferozepore. The board recommended a years leave to Australia|
|1892, 13 Sept||Promoted to Hon. Lieut.|
|1895, 11 Feb||Retired as Hon. Capt., Bengal|