Research Subjects: Biographies

Not One in Ten Thousand Know Your Name: the Officers of the British 1st Battalion of Detachments in 1809 -- Assistant Surgeon John Williams 52nd Foot

By Robert Burnham and Ron McGuigan

 

John Williams was born in 1783 and became a hospital mate in the 52nd Foot on 5 May 1805.[1] Although a hospital mate was a commissioned officer, prior to 1796 no formal qualifications were needed to become a hospital mate.[2]  Less than two months later, John Williams was promoted to Assistant Surgeon in the regiment.[3] Surgeon Williams deployed with the 1st Battalion 52nd Foot to the Peninsula in August 1808 and would serve with them until December of that year.  He was left behind in Lisbon to tend to the sick soldiers of the 52nd Foot and thus missed the Corunna Campaign.  He was attached to the 1st Battalion of Detachments in February 1809 and would participate in the Douro Campaign.  He did not go with the battalion into Spain and missed the Talavera Campaign.  Surgeon Williams did not return to the 1st Battalion 52nd Foot until December 1809.  It is difficult to determine where he was, but it was most likely in a hospital tending the wounded.  He would serve continuously with the 1st Battalion 52nd Foot until 1812 and would be at Douro, the River Coa, Busaco, Fuentes d’Onoro, Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz, and Salamanca.  He was promoted to surgeon in the 52nd Foot on 3 September 1812.[4]  Shortly after awards he transferred to the 1st Battalion 9th Foot, with whom he served from October 1812 to July 1813.  Surgeon Williams did not stay long with the 9th Foot, transferring to the 10th Light Dragoons on 3 June 1813 and then into the 94th Foot on 28 October 1813.  He would stay with the 94th Foot until 26 May 1814, when he was appointed surgeon to the forces on 26 May 1814.[5]  He would serve with those regiments at Vitoria, San Sebastian, Orthez, Vic Bigorre, and Toulouse.  As a surgeon to the forces he was sent to Canada in October 1814 (along with Edmund O’Leary who had served with him in the 52nd Foot and the 1st Battalion of Detachments) and stayed there until February 1815, when he returned to England.  He would go on half-pay on 25 October 1815.[6] On 22 January 1818 he came off half-pay as a surgeon to the forces.[7] Sometime prior to 1840, he became a M.D.[8]

John Williams died in Florence on 15 February 1841 at the age of 58.  He is buried in the English Cemetery, which is also called the Protestant Cemetery.  His tombstone is inscribed with:


“IOANNI WILLIAMS LONDINENSI/ SANCTIS MORIBUS HUMANIS LITTERIS/ NATURA ET PHILOSOPHIA PRAETARO/ CUI AD MEDICAM ET CHIRUGIAM/ MILIT BRITANNIC /RELICTO MEDICA / DOCTOR XXXV ANNOS PERITUM . . . /. . . AL AD AMORE/ MORBIS RAPITOS/ HONESTA MISSIONI DONATVS FLORENTIAE/ VBI LENIRE COARCTATIONIS MAGNORUM CORDIS VASORUM/ INCREMENTVM PASSVS/ DIEM OBIIT EXTREMVM/ XV FEBRVARI ANNO MDCCCXXXX1 AET SVAE LVIII/ RESVRRECTIONEM A.D.J. CHRISTO PROMISSAM EXPECTANS/ CONIVGI DILECTISSIMO PAVLA VXOR CVM LACRYMIS”[9]

Despite having served in the Peninsula for 69 months, John Williams never received Army General Service Medal.  He died before it was authorized.

Notes:

[1] Hart’s: 1840; London Gazette: 22 June 1805

[2] Kaufamn; p. 7

[3] Hart’s: 1840; London Gazette: 22 June 1805

[4] London Gazette: 15 September 1812

[5] London Gazette: 31 May 14

[6] Sutherland: p. 191

[7] London Gazette: 13 February 1818.

[8] Hart’s 1840

[9] “Alphabetical”


Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2009

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



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