We know that our Patrick enrolled in the 1st Staffordshire Regiment of Militia on 24 October 1857 and enlisted in the 96th Foot Regiment on 11 February 1858.
His life after 1858 is well documented here but the big question is: Can we discover anything about his early life?
At the beginning of the research, I had three documents with Patrick’s details:
1. A copy of a baptism record from the Cathedral in Birmingham giving a birth year of 1843, which my brother and I had found in our father’s papers.
2. The 1851 census which showed him at his uncle Francis’ home in Birmingham, aged 10, and born in Ireland,
3. A letter from the Commonwealth Relations Office to my father, giving a summary of Patrick’s army service, and stating that he was born 11 February 1840 in Birmingham (meaning that he enlisted on his 18th birthday).
The 1843 baptism was a red herring and quite easily removed from the scene. It was for our Patrick’s cousin, the son of Francis.
But quite clearly there was a disparity between the 1851 census and the letter from the CRO. Was Patrick born in 1840 as the letter said or in 1841 as the census implied? And was he born in Birmingham or Ireland?
The age difference, 10 or 11, was easily solved. The ages on censuses are often slightly incorrect as it depended on the accuracy of the knowledge of the person giving the information. When called upon to say how old the boy was, the person, presumably Patrick’s uncle Francis or aunt Sarah, could be forgiven for saying 10 instead of 11.
But that still leaves us with the question of whether he was born in England or Ireland.
My thoughts were that, whilst the person might have got Patrick’s age wrong, surely they would have known if he born in Ireland. This idea was confirmed by there being no civil registration or church baptism record for Patrick in England.
Civil registration in Ireland didn’t begin until 1864 and all the censuses were destroyed one way or another, so I looked for an entry in the baptism registers.
As we have seen, there was no standardised spelling of surnames in the parish registers and we have already found the name spelt in Dublin as Wyer, Wyre, Ware, Weir and even Waire. Throw in other possibilities such as Wier or Wire and the process of identifying the baptism of Patrick Wyer is not for the faint hearted family historian.
But despite searching using all the spelling variations, I have not found a baptism entry for Patrick.
The family legend is that Patrick was an orphan. If so, Patrick would have been brought up by family members, probably his aunts or uncles. So it is quite possible that he was sent to live with his uncle Francis Wyer in Birmingham at a very early age and that Birmingham was all he ever knew, all he remembered.
Family historians find many instances of people in later life giving their place of birth on the censuses as the place they grew up, not where they were actually born. So Patrick, when he enlisted, may have made a such a mistake, not an uncommon one.
On the other hand, in later years his son Owen knew about the connection with Edenderry. So was Patrick deliberately hiding his place of birth when he enlisted in the army?
Having joined the British army and served in India, Patrick chose to transfer to the Indian army so that he could remain in India rather than move on with his regiment. It has always seemed to me that this was because his wife Ellen, born and brought up in India, had family there. Perhaps it was because, with the army having only a small quota of wives who could travel with the regiment, it was a way of ensuring that they could stay together. Perhaps it was simply that the climate agreed with him although his medical records appear to indicate otherwise.
Recently, however, I think that there may have been another reason which, combined with the others, made Patrick decide to stay in India.
In 1851 Patrick was either visiting or living with his uncle Francis Egan Wyer and aunt Sarah in Birmingham. The connection between Francis and the Wyers of Dublin is explained here.
Two of Francis’ brothers were Patrick Ware baptised in December 1804 and Peter Waire baptised in 1812, both in Dublin. [The variations in the spelling were due to the non standardised spelling in the parish register.]
On Captain Patrick Wyer’s marriage in 1873 in India, he gave his father’s name as P. Wyer so it is quite possible that his father was either Patrick baptised in 1804 or Peter baptised in 1812.
Not only does the family legend imply that Patrick’s father was in the army as he was home on leave at the time of Patrick’s birth but, on Captain Patrick Wyer’s death record in Columbo, Ceylon, his father was given as Captain Wyer. (However, as we shall see, the rank of Captain for his father may have been Patrick being a bit economical with the truth.)
There is no army record for Peter but there is for Patrick Wyre.
According to his service records, Patrick Wyre, was born in Carbury, County of Kildare in 1803. He enlisted on 24 March 1822 aged 19, in the 1st Regiment of Foot, also known since 1821 as the the Royal Regiment of Foot.
He was in the 1st Battalion, stationed in Ireland but the battalion spent some time in Canada as Patrick Wire is listed amongst those serving there. The record describes him on enlistment as aged 19, 5 ft 6 3/4 inches tall, of sallow complexion, with hazel eyes, brown hair and a round face. He was born in Carbury, Kildare and was a labourer when he enlisted in Naas, Kildare.
We do not have a full set of Patrick’s service records. Apart from the page relating to his time in Canada, all that follows has been gleaned from 11 pages of his discharge and pension papers. They all spell his name as Patrick Wyre.
At some stage Patrick was transferred to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment of Foot, perhaps in a company of reinforcements, and found himself in India. He served in the First Anglo-Burmese War, March 1824 – February 1826.
In 1830 the 1st Battalion returned to Scotland but, after serving for eight years, on 1 October 1830 Patrick volunteered to transfer to the 13th regiment of Light Infantry and stayed in India. He completed a further 13 years, up to 30 Sept 1843. There is no indication that Patrick was ever promoted from the rank of private and certainly he was a private at the time of his discharge.
As an example of the conditions endured by the army, the regiment was in Dinapore between January 1827 and December 1831. In those four years they lost 448 soldiers, women and children through sickness or other non-combat related death. There was also a hard core of heavy drinkers who repeatedly offended and a high number of courts martial of those men for habitual drunkenness.
The regiment marched from Dinapore to Agra in December 1831. As we shall see, Patrick’s daughter Mary was born in Dinapore in 1831 and died in Agra in 1832. The regiment left Agra in December 1835 and reached Kurnaul in January 1836, where Patrick’s son James was born. He died in Kawnpore in 1841.
Between November 1838 and October 1842, the regiment was in Afghanistan, in the First Afghan War. It appears that Patrick’s regiment was in Afghanistan during the whole war so he would not have been able to return to England, Ireland or even India during those years. However, this was the time when wives and families were allowed to accompany their soldier husbands on campaigns or into war and there were certainly army wives present during the war in Afghanistan.
The story of the regiment’s part in the war can be found in the history of the 13th Regiment of Foot (1st Somersetshire). The extensive marching over thousands of miles, the harsh conditions, extreme cold and the lack of food suffered by the soldiers, wives and camp followers make very difficult reading. As if the conditions weren’t bad enough, on 19 February 1842 the regiment was hit by an earthquake whilst they were at Jellabad, with after shocks continuing for six weeks.
The regiment began its return to India in November 1842. By December they were in Ferozepore and in 1843 they arrived at Kasaulie, in the Simla Hills where they set about building barracks and roads. It was to become one of the hill depots where troops and their families could escape the hot weather of the plains.
In 1843 Patrick was hospitalised. The medical report found him to be suffering from infirmity due to age and long service which is not surprising after so many years in the climates and harsh conditions of India and Afghanistan. Unfortunately it happened to a great many British soldiers. The medical report also stated that his conduct in hospital had been good.
The Regimental Board held on 12th September 1843 ‘for the purpose of verifying and recording the Services, Conduct, Character and Cause of discharge of No 246, Private Patrick Wyre’ examined the Regimental Records, the Soldier’s Book and other documents. The Board proposed his discharge due to ‘Infirmity from age and long service’.
With regard to his character and conduct the Board reported that, ‘upon reference to the Defaulter’s Book, and by the Parole testimony that has been given, it appears that his conduct and character has been bad’. Frustratingly, we do not have copies of the Defaulter’s Book or any other documents which explain that verdict. Was he part of the hard core of heavy drinkers in Dinapore?
Patrick was discharged on 12 September 1843, aged 40 years and six months, at Kussowlie [Kasaulie].
He was awarded a pension. On the list of pensioners on which his name appears, the residences are given: Sydney, Montreal, Bengal x10, Canada x2, St Johns…., Calcutta x2 plus two at Kussowlie, Bengal. One of these was Patrick Wyre.
In total, Patrick Wyre served 21 years and 191 days, of which nineteen years were spent in India: Madras six years, Bengal six years, seven years elsewhere in India (illegible) and Afghanistan. The records include a long list of the action he saw, the campaigns in which he was involved and mention of the medals which he was awarded.
The regiment returned to England in 1845 after 23 years foreign service but Patrick remained in Kussowlie after his discharge and died there in November 1848.
Questions and Supposition
Was this Patrick Wyre our Captain Patrick Wyer’s father? He’s the only Patrick Wyer of any spelling who I have found at the right time in the army records published online so far.
Captain Patrick Wyer was born in February 1840 and conceived no earlier than June 1839. The regiment had started the long march to Afghanistan and by 26 April 1839 had reached Kandahar, after a 1,000 mile march. The advance to Kabul began on 27 June 1849 but the families remained in Kandahar until sometime in 1840 when they were taken forward to Kabul.
Clearly, for Patrick Wyre to be our Patrick’s father, his wife must have been amongst the families who took that long march to Kandahar.
In April 2019 I checked all the birth, marriage and death records then currently available on the internet, mainly on FamilySearch.org, the genealogical database run by the Church of the Latter Day Saints.
Patrick Wyre was married to someone named Rossy. Her maiden name, and the place and date of the marriage is unknown.
1829: Their daughter Ellen was born in India. She survived and, aged 16, married Patrick Barrett in Bengal in 1843. She was widowed and married James Boucher in 1856. One of her sons was named William Alfred Wyer Boucher. Ellen died in 1868 in Fort William, Bengal, India.
1830: Patrick’s wife Rossy died aged 26 and was buried on 6 June 1830 in Meerut, Bengal.
It appeared that, with the young Ellen to look after, Patrick remarried. These were the times when many unmarried women travelled to India to find a husband amongst the members of the British army. There were also women who found themselves widowed and stranded abroad when their soldier husbands were killed or died from disease. So it would have been fairly easy for Patrick to find himself another wife.
1831: Patrick’s daughter Mary was born in Dinapore, Bengal in 1831 but sadly died in Agra, Bengal, in 1832.
1833: Patrick’s son, named Patrick, was born in Agra.
1836: Patrick’s son James was born in Kernaul. He died in Cawnpore in 1841. Was James named after Patrick Wyre’s brother James?
Given the conditions in Agra, it is quite possible that the young Patrick, like his siblings Mary and James, also died in infancy and that another son was born in 1840 and named Patrick.
It was often the case that, when a child was born after its sibling had died, it was given the same name as the sibling. This was most often when it was the name of the parents or grandparents and the parents wanted that name carried on within the family.
Now we’re into the realms of supposition:
It is possible, even quite likely, that Patrick’s second wife died, like Rossy before her, perhaps in childbirth or afterwards, thus giving rise to the part of the family legend referring to the death of Patrick’s mother. The baby would have been in the care of other women on the base.
The baby Patrick remained in India until the regiment returned home, when he was about five. His father had already been invalided out and, perhaps too ill to sustain the voyage home, was staying in India. He would have arranged for his son to be taken back to England by one of his fellow soldiers and their wife and passed to his relatives.
This supposition hinges on the Patrick born in 1833 having died as his sister Mary and brother James had done and Patrick Wyre having had another son named Patrick, born in 1840, who, by 1851 was being brought up by his uncle Francis in Birmingham.
As we know, Captain Patrick Wyer decided to transfer from the British Army to the Indian Army and so remain in India. Perhaps it wasn’t just because his wife had been born and brought up in India and had family there but because he himself had been born there and had early memories of India. And because he knew it was where his father had served and died. And that his half sister, Ellen, was alive and living in India.
According to his army records, Patrick Wyre was born in Carbury, County Kildare in 1803. I haven’t found a suitable baptism record in Kildare so could he have been the Patrick Ware baptised in Dublin in December 1804, son of Patrick Weir and Catherine Healy and brother of Francis and James?
Patrick Weir married Catherine Healey in 1802 in the parish of St Michael and John’s, Dublin City, Ireland.
When we’re looking for a baptism we consider how old the person might have been when they married. For this Patrick, we consider that he might have been between 17 and 37 and so we’re looking for a baptism between 1765 and 1785.
In the records currently available, there is only one suitable candidate: Patrick Wyre, baptised in Dublin in December 1779, parents Hugh and Judith, mother’s surname un-recorded.
Was this Patrick Wyre the same Patrick who, aged 29, joined the 30th Regiment of Foot in 1808? His name was recorded as Patrick Wyer and his age indicates he was born c1779.
According to his army records, Patrick was born in Kilbride, in the county of Kings, which became known as Offaly.
In March 1809 the 2nd Battalion, 30th regiment of Foot, left Ireland for Portugal for service in the Peninsular War where it took part in many of the battles.
Patrick fought at the siege of Badajoz, on the Portugese-Spanish border, in 1812, under General the Earl of Wellington. It was one of the bloodiest actions of the Napoleonic Wars. The Anglo-Portugese Army won but at the price of 4,800 Allied soldiers killed or wounded in a few short hours of intense fighting. Patrick was awarded a clasp to his Military General Service Medal.
The battalion returned home in December 1812. Later it landed in Holland and fought at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815.
By the beginning of 1816 the 2nd Battalion was once more in Ireland. Many of the soldiers were worn out by service and in April 1817 the order was given for the disbandment of the Battalion.
Patrick had served 8 years and 201 days in the army, until 1 May 1817 when he was discharged aged 38, “worn out in the service”. At that time the regiment was in Jersey, recuperating.
Patrick was awarded a pension. The date of Admission to Out-Pension is given as 21st May 1817 but it is unclear if he received his pension immediately as records I’ve found so far start in 1848.
It seems all army pensions were handled by the Chelsea Hospital and those not actually at the hospital were called Out-Pensioners. There were administrative districts and pension records seem to have been transferred all over the place, regardless of where the pensioner was living.
There were monthly returns from each district: new pensioners, pensioners who had died, pensioners whose records were transferred including Liverpool, Manchester and Leicester, all of which are listed in Patrick’s records. But also mentioned is Tullamore, which is the main town in Offaly. I have 22 pages all pertaining to his pension records!
By October 1854, Patrick had been admitted to the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin. It is two years older than its sister hospital at Chelsea (though it no longer houses retired soldiers).
Patrick died in Dublin on 3 September 1855.
I am continuing to refer to him as Patrick Weir, not just because the first record I found was his marriage record in the name of Weir and so thought of him that way for quite some time but because, with three Patricks, it’s easier to keep track of them if they have three different surname spellings.
Piecing it all together
We have to remember that, whilst there are considerably more Irish parish registers and army records available online now than there were when I started looking at the family history in 2004, we may still not have everything. However, right now we have three Patrick Wyers of various spellings:
1. Patrick Weir was baptised in 1779, the son of Hugh Weir and Judith (Andrews?).
He appears to be the only candidate to have married Catherine Healey in Dublin in 1802. They had seven children baptised in Dublin, starting in 1803 with John and then Patrick in 1804. However, there is no baptism record for a son Francis, born c1800. Could Hugh have been a widower when he married Catherine Healey and Francis have been the son of his first marriage?
This Patrick is the only candidate to have been the Patrick Wyer, born in 1779 in Kilbride, who joined the army in 1808. He saw service in the Pensinsular War and at Waterloo. He was discharged in 1817 as ‘worn out’ after eight years, received a pension and died in 1855.
2. Patrick Wyre, born c1803 joined the army in March 1822. He served nearly 22 years in Afghanistan and India. Having been invalided out, he chose remain in India after the regiment had returned home. He died in 1848 aged 45.
His army records state that he was born in Carbury, Kildare in 1803. He would appear to be the only candidate to be the son of Patrick and Catherine Healey, baptised in Dublin in 1804.
3. Patrick Wyer, born in 1840, joined the army in 1858 and arrived in India in 1867. He married Ellen Margaret Shannahan and chose to transfer to the Indian army so he could stay in India. Starting as a private, he rose through the ranks and retired in 1895 as Captain Patrick Wyer.
The Family Legend and Hypothesis
Since Cousin Cecilia told me of the family legend it has nagged at me. Or should I say legends, as there are two separate but connected legends?
1. When Patrick Wyer’s mother was giving birth, his father was home on leave from the army. The women assisting at the birth wanted him out of the way and he left the house, perhaps to take a walk. He was not in uniform and when he witnessed a bad event, those taking part thought that he was one of the culprits and lynched him too. His wife, either through shock or after birth fever, died. And so Patrick was left an orphan from birth.
2. 18 years later, when Patrick Wyer enlisted in the army he was advised not to do so under his own name as memories of the scandal surrounding his birth were still in the army’s living memory. And so, when he added Egan to his sons’ surname, making it Egan-Wyer, it was to acknowledge the Egan surname at last.
As a new and naive family historian, I did not know that the role of the family historian is to prove or disprove such family legends or myths, not to take them at face value.
As I gained experience, I learnt that there is often a grain of truth in such legends but that, over the years and through the retelling by different generations, the facts become corrupted. Uncovering that grain is easier said than done. And sometimes, in order to do so, we need to view things from a different angle.
In January 2019 I was contacted by somebody through Ancestry.com. She had picked up that I had a tree on Ancestry with the name Patrick Wyer and wanted to know if he had anything to do with her distant ancestor, Ellen Wyre, born in India in 1829.
Oh no, said I rather dismissively, my ancestor was born in 1840 and in Ireland.
But then I started wondering…….
I checked out the birth of Ellen Wyre and found that her father had been married but had lost his wife and had presumably married again because he gone on to have other children, Mary, Patrick and James, all born in India. Mary and James had died in infancy.
I searched for Patrick Wyre and found his army records, not the full records but his discharge papers from which I’ve been able to construct his service details.
I found that he was invalided out of the army in 1843 and chose to stay in India when his regiment returned home in 1845. Interestingly, I also found that, throughout his years of service, Patrick Wyre was considered to be of bad character.
Family history research is generally very good at answering the questions: Who, Where and When? Sadly, it rarely answers those other questions: How and Why?
So we don’t know whether Patrick Wyre chose to stay in India because he was too ill to cope with a five to six month voyage or whether there was another reason.
I started to wonder what that reason might be and formulated the following hypothesis:
1. that Patrick Wyre’s son Patrick, b 1833, died in infancy, sometime after his brother James had died. So when the next son was born, in 1840, he was also named Patrick, following the tradition of a son being named after his father and, in this case, his grandfather.
2. that his mother, like so many women in India at that time, probably died in childbirth or during Patrick’s infancy or childhood and that he, like other children in such circumstances, was looked after by regimental wives.
This not only explains why there is no birth or baptism record for Patrick Wyer in England or Ireland but also provides a basis for the part of the legend which says that Patrick’s mother died in or after childbirth. And it confirms that Patrick’s father was in the army.
But what about the other element of the family legend, that his father was killed by a lynching mob and thus Patrick was an orphan?
Given that Patrick Wyre’s conduct and character had been so bad, could it have been that he himself had been involved in a bad event? That he had been either the instigator or part of a group which had inflicted bad things on other people? That it had become a notorious scandal and that was why he chose to stay in India?
Having decided to stay in India when the regiment returned home in 1845, and knowing that he was ill and likely to die within a few years, Patrick Wyre would have entrusted his son Patrick to the care of a fellow soldier and his wife for the voyage home and asked them to take him to his brother, young Patrick’s uncle Francis, in Birmingham.
Patrick Wyre could not write, not even by the time of his discharge when he signed his mark. Perhaps he had somebody in the regiment write a letter to his brother Francis, explaining that he was too ill to return home with the regiment and entrusting his son Patrick to Francis’ care.
When his fellow soldier and wife took young Patrick to Francis, they would not only have given him the letter but also given details of the scandal in which Patrick Wyre had been involved, a scandal so bad that it had to be hushed up in England. And so a story came about that Patrick was an orphan with his father killed by a lynching mob.
I don’t know why the story had to be so elaborate. It could easily have been ‘explained’ that his father had been killed in action in the Afghanistan war or died of illness in India.
The second legend is that there was such a scandal surrounding the supposed death of Patrick’s father at the hands of the lynching mob that it was still remembered and he was told not to enlist in the army in his proper name. So, when he added the name Egan to his sons’ surnames, making it Egan-Wyer, it was to rectify the situation.
However, if the story of how Patrick was orphaned at birth was true, it would have been a tragedy, not a scandal and therefore there would have been sympathy for Patrick.
Perhaps there was indeed a scandal which was still remembered in the army and so, because of his name, Patrick was advised not to enlist in his father’s 13th Regiment of Light Infantry. And so he enlisted in the 96th Regiment of Foot in 1858 using his actual surname, as shown on the 1851 census, the surname of his uncle Francis Wyer and his enrolment in the Staffordshire Militia in 1857 as Patrick Wyer.
And the inclusion of the name Egan, making the double barrelled surname, Egan-Wyer, was nothing more than Patrick Wyer wanting to improve the status and prospects for his sons, as told by his daughter Aileen Annie.
It remains a complete mystery to me as to why Patrick went to Edinburgh to enlist in the 96th Regiment of Foot as there would have been other regiments much closer to home. If not in Birmingham there surely would have been one in Manchester.
Patrick Weir, born in 1779 in Kilbride, in the county of Kings [now Offaly]. He served in the 30th Regiment of Foot in the Peninsular War and at the Battle of Waterloo. With many of his fellow soldiers he was discharged from the army in 1817, ‘worn out in service’ after nearly 9 years. He died in 1855 in Dublin aged 76.
Patrick Wyre, born in 1803 Carbury, County Kildare. He served in the 1st Regiment of Foot, in Canada and in the First Anglo-Burmese War. Whilst in India he transferred to the 13th Regiment of Foot and served in the First Anglo-Afghanistan War. Having completed nearly 22 years service he was invalided out of the army in 1843 and died in 1848 in India aged 45.
Patrick Wyer, born in 1840, no suitable birth or baptism records in England or Ireland so, absent any other evidence, quite possibly born in India. Enlisted in the 96th Regiment of Foot and served in South Africa and India. Married in India and transferred to the Indian Army so he could remain in India when his regiment moved on. He served in the Second Afghan War. Having enlisted as a private he progressed steadily through the ranks, achieving the rank of conductor, then the highest rank for a non commissioned officer in the British Army. He was made Honorary Lieutenant in 1892 and retired as Honorary Captain in 1895 after 37 years service. He died in Ceylon in 1912 aged 72.
Captain Patrick Wyer was my great grandfather, was Patrick Wyre his father, and Patrick Weir his grandfather?
The evidence is circumstantial but it I think it is worth pursuing and so research into the Patrick Wyers, regardless of the spelling, will continue.
When working without the benefit of civil registration and censuses and reliant on parish registers and, in our case, 19th century army records, family historians find ourselves out of our comfort zone and into the realms of piecing together circumstantial evidence and attempting to draw reasoned conclusions but invariably we are left with more questions than answers.
Sometimes it is all to easy to grumble about what we can’t find than to give thanks for the work of all the people who have managed to preserve records over the centuries and for those who now make them available to the public.
However, it is exceedingly frustrating when we can’t connect all the dots satisfactorily and, as a family historian, I am never satisfied. I want those dots connected. Like Oliver Twist, I want more.
And so this chapter is an attempt to draw both reasoned conclusions from the information available to date and a workable hypothesis regarding Patrick Wyer’s origins.
In the fullness of time information may become available which will prove or disprove, clarify or confuse, dispose of or add another layer to the conclusions or hypothesis, in which case they will be updated accordingly.
Until such time, given the various records and documents available to us now, I think this is a reasoned conclusion to the story of Captain Patrick Wyer, his possible father Patrick Wyre and probable grandfather Patrick Weir.
I am not a military historian but over the years I have had to research the military backgrounds of several of those who I have researched, primarily in the Boer or Crimean Wars or World War One. And have always ended up with respect for all those who took part.
Now, researching the army service of the three Patricks, I have great respect for them and am shocked at the conditions which they endured in the service of their country.
Next: Names and Places