Research Subjects: Biographies

Not One in Ten Thousand Know Your Name: the Officers of the British 1st Battalion of Detachments in 1809 -- Lieutenant John Falconer Briggs 28th Foot

By Robert Burnham and Ron McGuigan

John Falconer Briggs was born on 7 June 1788 at Strathairly and Over Carnbee, Fife.[1]  He was commissioned as an ensign on 9 July 1803 probably in a newly formed Battalion of Reserve, which were generally raised from 9 July 1803.  Ensign Briggs initially served at Pendennis Castle, near Falmouth.[2]  Battalions of Reserve were re-designated as Garrison Battalions in 1804.  It was likely that this was the 6th Garrison Battalion, which was stationed in Guernsey, which was not far from Pendennis Castle.  The 6th Garrison Battalion was disbanded on 23 February 1805 and three days later, on 26 February 1805, he was posted as an ensign to the newly named 3rd Garrison Battalion.[3] He was promoted to lieutenant in the 28th Foot without purchase with a date of rank of 31 October 1805.[4]   As a lieutenant he would participate in the Baltic Campaign of 1807 and would be part of Sir John Moore’s expedition to Sweden in 1808.  He served with the 1st Battalion 28th Foot in the Peninsula from July 1808 to January 1809.  The 28th Foot had over 200 men in the hospital at Lisbon, and Lieutenant Briggs and six other officers, were left behind with them, and thus missed the Corunna Campaign.  In February 1809, this group of soldiers would join the 1st Battalion of Detachments.  Lieutenant Briggs would stay with the battalion until October 1809, when the battalion was disbanded and he returned to the regimental depot at Berry Head, Devon. During his time with the 1st Battalion of Detachments, he fought at Douro and at Talavera.  Lieutenant Briggs would return to the Peninsula and serve with the 2nd Battalion 28th Foot.  In 1810, he purchased his captaincy with a date of rank of 18 January 1810[5] and would fight with the battalion at Bussaco, the 1st Siege of Badajoz, and Albuera.  He would go back to England in September 1811.  He returned to the Peninsula and served with the 1st Battalion  from September 1813 to April 1814.  While with the 1st Battalion, he was at the battles of Nivelle, Nive, Garris, Orthez, Aire, and Toulouse. 

During the battle of Aire (18 March 1814), Captain Carroll, the commander of the Light Company of the 28th Foot, was mortally wounded.  He was the third light company commander to fall leading the company since the campaign began.  “. . . the command of the company was eagerly taken by Captain (now Major) Briggs, who gallantly led it through the remainder of the campaign until he was promoted.”[6]   Captain Briggs purchased his rank of major on 8 December 1814.[7]  Although he was senior to two other captains in the 1st Battalion, he did not go with it to Belgium in 1815.[8]  He went on half-pay as a major in the 28th Foot on 25 December 1814.[9]  The most likely reason he went on half-pay was because he was the junior major and the 2nd Battalion had been disbanded.  Major Briggs  retired to the family estate at Strathairly.   He occupied his time running the family estate and serving as a county magistrate.  He was promoted to brevet lieutenant colonel on 10 January 1837.[10]  On 24 December 1837, he was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Fife County.[11]  He would remain on half-pay with the 28th Foot until he died.

John Briggs received the Military General Service Medal (Silver Medal) with clasps for Talavera, Bussaco, Albuera, Nivelle, Nive, Orthez, and Toulouse.[12]  He was also a Knight of the Royal Guelphic Order which he received in 1837.[13]

“He was frequently consulted and ever ready to give advice and render assistance tothe villagers at Largo and his tenants and cottagers.  He was a zealous advocate for civil and religious liberty and firmly attached to those constitutional principles which were established at the Revolution.  For a long time previous to his death Colonel Briggs’ health had been visibly declining, but his mental faculties continued unimpaired to the last.”[14]

John Briggs married Margaret Walker, who was twelve years younger than him and the only daughter of Colonel Patrick Walker of the East India Company Madras Cavalry, at Clayton on 24 June 1823.[15]  However, at least one source states that he was married at Leuchars.[16]  Over the next ten years they would have four sons and two daughters.[17]  Two of his sons, David and William, would go on to be general officers in the Bengal Army.  The family home was at Strathairly and Over Carnbee, Fife where he lived until he died in 1850.[18]

In the Largo Church in East Fife, there is a memorial to John Falconer Briggs:

"In memory of Col. John Falconer Briggs K.H of Strathairly and Over Carnbee who died lamented on the 27th of March 1850 aged 61 years. He entered early in the service of his country in H.M 28th foot and fought under her banners at Copenhagen, Sweden and Holland, and nearly all the glorious action of the Peninsular war, won the esteem of his companions in arms, and distinguished share in the rewards assigned to valour by a greatfull country. This monument was erected by his sorrowing widow and children to record their love for an affectionate husband, a fond father, a sincere Christian, a true patriot and a gallant soldier. Also Margaret his wife, daughter of Col. Patrick Walker, Madras Cavalry. She was born 4th Dec 1800 and died 26th May 1876."[19]

Notes:

[1] Officers

[2] Conolly; p. 76

[3] London Gazette: 23 February 1805; White: p. 159

[4] London Gazette: 29 October 1805

[5] London Gazette: 20 January 1810

[6] Cadell; pp. 216 - 217

[7] London Gazette: 13 December 1814

[8] Dalton; p. 135

[9] Mullen; p. 240

[10] London Gazette: 10 January 1837

[11] London Gazette: 2 January 1838

[12] Ibid; p. 241

[13] Hart: 1841; Shaw Vol 1, p. 479

[14] Connolly; pp. 76 - 77

[15] Blackwood. vol. XIV p. 119; Officers

[16] “John Falconer Briggs”

[17] Ibid

[18] Wood; p. 96

[19] Officers


Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2009

Not One in Ten Thousand Know Your Name: the Officers of the British 1st Battalion of Detachments in 1809 ]



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