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Lieutenant Colonel Francis Skelly Tidy. (1775-1835)

by Colin Jones FINS.

‘The Sword wears out the Scabbard’

In June 1840 a series of articles appeared in the United Service Journal entitled ‘Recollections of anOld Soldier’ (1). A heart felt rendition of anecdotes by a daughter illustrating the traits and character of an anonymous veteran of 43 years service. The writer introduced her father under the fictitious name of ‘Colonel Fred Franklin’, and expected all who had fought under him would instantly recognise this fine old soldier from the Peninsular and Waterloo battlefields. There was indeed a cry from friends and comrades in arms alike, many deducing that the authoress of the work to be a Mrs Harriet Ward, whose father was actually a certain Lieutenant Colonel Francis Skelly Tidy, a Waterloo veteran who had recently passed away. Additional stories and tales of this highly respected man were sent and the encouraging response prompted her to compile a more regular memoir of her late father. Harriet could not oblige the inquisitive readers immediately, as her husband, Captain John Ward had been posted to the east coast of South Africa. She accompanied him and began writing about the conflicts she witnessed for the United Service Journal and in particular the 7th Frontier war (1846-1847). In turn, she authored many works concerning her five years residence in Kafirland and some even accredit her with being the first female war correspondent. Eventually, on her return, Harriet finally put pen to paper and ‘Recollections of an old soldier’ was published in book form in 1849. The small hardback was not meant to be a scholarly work, more in the caption of ‘reminiscences through affectionate memory of ‘Old Frank’, her beloved father’. Thus the stories and anecdotes within leaves the historian wanting of some further military detail. Harriet’s brief glimpses of Tidy’s father and siblings give enough clues to research a simple family tree of his close relatives.

An impressive list of service awaits one that wishes to delve into Lieutenant Colonel Francis Skelly Tidy’s military career, but space within the journal inhibits a full appraisal, and the writer finds it necessary to concentrate on more recent research, if solely to prolong his memory for Mrs Ward. At the tender age of 16, ‘young Frank’s’ first experience of military life was a sow one, enlisting in the 43rd Foot infantry in 1792, he was sent to the West Indies, being present at the Siege of Fort Bourbon, the campaigns on Martinque and Guadeloupe, was captured at Barville and imprisoned for 15 months aboard a hulk under the notorious regime of Victor Hughes (2). The POW’s were chained in pairs and deprived of water for 36 hours, with their shackled companions passing;

‘none were by to set the living free from the dead. Many hours he [Tidy] sat beside a dead friend, on board that horrible ship, and in that fearful climate’. (3)

Eventually, Tidy was sent to France and released on parole returning to England in 1795. In a short while he was back in the West Indies as an ADC to Sir George Beckwith, at that time Governor of Bermuda. Returning to England once more, he met the exiled Louis XIII in Edinburgh and struck a lasting relationship. Louis used to tell Tidy he should be glad to see him at some future and more prosperous time at the French court, Tidy replied that,

‘when he should have the honour of congratulating His Majesty on his restoration to the throne, he should not be in court trim; for he hoped to march into Paris at the head of a regiment, and would not wait to brush the dust from his jacket, before he paid his visit of congratulation at the Tuilleries. And Louis used to laugh and gave him full permission to redeem his pledge in his own way, hoping he might do so for both their sakes’. (4)

Little did either know, at the time, that the pledge would come to fruition in 1815. In 1802 he joined the 1st Royals as a captain and was sent to Gibralter to help the Duke of Kent’s forces quell the internal disturbances. One story tells us of an angry mob mistaking Tidy for the Duke himself, and was shot at and nearly killed. Another, confirms a grateful friendship when the Duke once told Tidy’s wife that her husband had ‘Saved his life’. There can be no doubt that these noble acquaintances helped our hero rise through the ranks without purchase. Returning for a third time to the West Indies, as a Brigade- Major on Dominica, yet another notable event, which seldom appears in history books; is Tidy’s two week voyage with Admiral Lord Nelson on board HMS Victory during the cat and mouse search for the French fleet, around the Caribbean islands in May and June of 1805. Nelson under the assumption that the enemy fleet were bound for Trinidad and Tobago, received on board his ships, a reinforcement of 2000 men, Francis Tidy being one officer who went aboard, unwittingly knowing the vessel was to become, four months later, England’s most famous flag ship. Having found that they had been deceived by the enemy’s whereabouts who were again sailing across the Atlantic, disembarked the troops in Antigua, Lord Nelson shook hands with each officer as they went over the side, Tidy looked back and said:  

‘My Lord, you have shaken hands with me as an officer of the Royal regiment, once more if you please, as Frank Tidy. Lord Nelson smiled, shook hands again, and my father, sitting in the boat, watched that pale and care-worn face to the last moment with uplifted cap’. (5)

In September of 1807 he became Major of the 14th (Buckinghamshire) regiment of Foot infantry and served as Assistant Adjutant-General in the expedition to Spain under Sir David Baird during the harrowing retreat to Corunna. He served again on the staff during Wellington’s passage of the Douro and fought at the action at Grijo in May 1809. Returning to England it was not long before he was ordered away again. This time serving in the Walcheren expedition, ‘Old Frank’ was lucky to come away from that campaign unscathed; the prevalent malaria illness dubbed the ‘Walcheren fever,’ claimed many thousands of lives for years following that dreadful expedition to the Netherlands. Receiving the Brevet of lieutenant-Colonel on the 4th June 1813, he joined the 2nd battalion of the 14th in Malta during the plague and in 1814 also served in Genoa. He was recalled back to England to take command of the newly raised 3rd battalion which was about to embark for North America. However, this war ended and another more pressing matter was on the horizon when Napoleon escaped his exile from the island of Elba and once again began hostilities. The 3/14th were one of the few battalions near to the south coast that could embark for Flanders at short notice.

Landing in Ostend in April 1815, the battalion by rights should never have been present at Waterloo, but for two fortunate turns of fate and Lt-Col Tidy’s stubborn persistence. Being a battalion of young raw recruits, they had been ordered to Antwerp for garrison duty, but the enraged Tidy beckoned permission from Lord Hill to join the main army for the oncoming campaign. Whilst in Brussels, both Lord Hill and the Duke of Wellington watched the battalion parade in the square and the Duke remarked;

'They are a very pretty little battalion – Tell them they may join the grand division as they wish'. (6)

Their place in history still not assured, another turn of fate would secure the 14th’s battle honour for all time. Tidy’s battalion were attached to Colonel Mitchell’s 4th brigade, in the 4th infantry division under the command of Lt-General Hon. Sir Charles Colville, who had been ordered to protect the extreme right flank of the allied army situated around the town of Hal. In turn, Colville’s two other brigades were too far away to take any part in the forthcoming battle, but by the retrograde movement of the second Corps marching from Nivelles, Mitchell’s brigade was swept up by Lord Hill, the Corps commander, on his way through to the field of Mont Saint Jean, and by the evening of the 17th June, Tidy’s battalion found itself in a position to the north-west of the Chateau de Goumont. It is for this reason that the 4th brigade temporarily became attached to Sir Henry Clinton’s 2nd Infantry Division. On the day of the great battle, Mitchell’s brigade, consisting of the 1/23rd foot,1/51st light infantry and the 3/14th who were positioned across the Nivelles road behind the Chateau on the far right of Wellington’s battle line.

‘Old Frank’ already inadvertently had a tenuous connection to the battle through his great grandfather’s lineage, Alexander the 4th Duke of Gordon. The Duke’s eldest child, by his first wife, was Lady Charlotte who eventually married Charles Lennox the 4th Duke of Richmond, and she was of course the hostess to the most famous ball in history on the evening of the 15th June 1815. Although Tidy’s battalion played little part in the principal actions of the day, being on the reverse side of the plateau, they still suffered quite significantly from cannon fire.

'The whole day we were exposed to the fire of several batteries of artillery, and particularly two pieces brought to bear upon us. I can well remember the interest I took in those pieces-an interest heightened by the consciousness that I formed part of that living target against which their practice was pointed'. (7)

The commander ordered ‘His Boys’ to lie down, and being in a Square formation, the recumbent position had the men Packed together like herrings in a barrel. It was during this moment when Skelly Tidy lost his favourite mare. Ensign Keppell continues the story;

'Not finding a vacant spot, I seated myself on a drum. Behind me was the Colonel’s charger, which, with his head pressed against mine, was mumbling my epaulette; while I patted his cheek. Suddenly my drum capsized and I was thrown prostrate, with the feeling of a blow on the right cheek. I put my hand to my head, thinking half my face was shot away, but the skin was not even abraded. A piece of shell had struck the horse on the nose exactly between my hand and my head, and killed him instantly. The blow I received was from the embossed crown on the horse’s bit'. (8)

Mrs Ward’s account of her father’s loss differs in one small detail to that of Ensign Keppell, she remarks;

The animal plunging into her agony, threw the square into great confusion, and her misery was speedily put an end to by the soldiers bayonets’. (9)

Francis Skelly Tidy’s mare ‘Dusky Maid’, killed at Waterloo. The horseshoe was made into an inkwell and was purchased by the author upon the sale of Derek Saunders Waterloo Museum, Broadstairs, Kent, by Wallis & Wallis in 1999. The engraved letters are of mid-19th century, suggesting the hoof was converted latter by a family member, perhaps even by Harriet herself.

The persistance of the barrage is again confirmed in a letter written on the 23rd by Lieutenant Henry Boldero, 14th Foot, to his mother;

'What a glorious battle! And what a lucky woman you are to have had two sons in it and neither of them touched. (10) Lonsdale  had three horses shot under him in two days and yet escaped – and I lay under the heaviest cannonade that ever was brought to bear in a Battle for seven hours – and yet had the same good fortune – you may depend upon it we are reserved for some more ignoble exit'. (11)

The steadfastness of the battalion was again put to the test around 4 o’clock in the afternoon when the French Marshal Ney launched his magnificent, 4000 strong cavalry charge, along the main Allied ridge. As Wellington’s entire line hurried into square formations to receive the onslaught, a menacing black mass of Heavy Cuirassiers emerged from the crest, stalling for a moment to settle on which battalion they would devote their attention. The alarm on the new recruits faces were widely apparent, Tidy had to steady his ‘Boys’ on more than one occasion. History tells us that fourteen officers and three hundred men of the 14th were under the age of twenty one. The commander would have to draw from his vast experience of nearly 24 years service to contain the apprehensions of his “Raw Johnny’s”. Harriet Ward quotes her father’s words;

'Now, my young tinkers, stand firm! While you remain in your present position, old Harry himself can’t touch you; but if one of you give way, he will have every mother’s son of you, as sure as you are born'. (12)

According to Cannon’s history of the 14th the Cuirassiers were intimidated by the steady and determined bearing of the battalion and instead chose to attack a Brunswick square to the left. Harriet continues;

‘after several attempts to break the square, they sounded the retreat, and retired in the utmost confusion. The attacked regiment waited only until the enemy was entirely clear of the 14th when they opened upon them with a most murderous fire, while at the same moment several guns on the side of my father’s corps, played upon them. For a minute or two, the smoke was so dense, that it was impossible to see a yard in advance; but when it cleared away, a scene of the greatest disorder presented itself. Numbers lay strewed about in all directions – dead, dying, and wounded, - Horses running here and there without their riders, and the riders encumbered with their heavy armour, scampered away as best they could, without their horses’.(13)

Despite having no physical bayonet contact with the enemy, a stationary target can sometimes be richpickings; from a field strength of some 649, casualties of the 14th on the day were 36 in total being, 3 officers wounded, with 7 killed and 26 wounded from the rank and file. A further five men would later die from their Waterloo wounds. Tidy’s near neighbours ie: the 23rd and 51st lost 104 and 42 respectively, all these mostly from artillery fire. (14) The young battalion were affectionately known as the ‘Johnny Raws’ following the battle, as many of the men had gathered up some of the spoils of the vanquished which lay around the fields in abundance. Cuirassier helmets, Hussar pelisses, Grenadier caps and bearskins were proudly worn as they marched away from the battle site the following day. The Peninsular veterans laughed and shook their heads in despair; these old hands would never have imposed such added weight and burden to their kit.

With the 4th brigade being temporarily detached, General Colville’s remaining part of the division stationed at Hal, had apparently heard nothing of the victory despite being only 12 miles away. At least that was the case until his A.Q.M.G. Lt – Col John Woodford, who had galloped off in the early hours of the 19th had delivered to him the grim news of the substantial loss of life. Woodford had been sent by his commander to Mont Saint Jean to obtain further instructions from Wellington. Arriving early on the morning of the 18th the Duke told him that the battle was imminent, and said that it was too late for the division at Hal to move up, but added,

“Now that you are here, keep with me” (15)

Compared to some of Wellington’s Regiments, Mitchell’s brigade had suffered relatively little during the battle, and probably for this reason, as the Allied Army followed Napoleon’s retreat through northern France, they were selected to attack the fortified town of Cambray. The brigade having rejoined General Colville’s infantry Division, met with pockets of resistance as they marched quickly onto the capital city. The Division halted at Cambray where the Governor of the place refused to surrender to any terms and had locked himself up in the citadel with a sizeable force. The town however, first had to be taken by escalade, and Wellington gave Colville two additional brigades of artillery for this purpose. At 8’Oclock on the evening of the 24th June, under cover of eighteen pieces of cannon, the 3/14th battalion debouched from their cover and made a rush for the horn-work of the Paris gate. Tidy describes the attack in a letter written two weeks after the event;

Two of the brigades were ordered to attack it one side, whilst ours, the 4th the only one engaged on the 18th were to make a feint on the other, which we did accordingly; but having got close to the wall with a few hay stack ladders tied together we resolved to our luck in a quick attack: my position happened to be on a bridge with a great part of the 51st and all of my own who were getting two at a time over the top of the gate; which being tedious we knock’d at the gate and an inhabitant or two actually let down the bridge and we walked in in sub-divisions. We marched onto the Grand Square and formed up in the most regular order of columns of battalions. Negotiations were set going for the surrender of the citadel a place of great strength and suspense agreed on 5 o’clock the day after tomorrow in the morning, but the fellow gave in and we started for Paris, encamping on the 1st july before Monte Matre. The convention of suspension agreed upon, you will see more of than we do, in fact we know nothing of what is going on. I hope Bull is satisfied. (16)

Despite Tidy’s modest description. Six men were wounded in the attack of which two later died of their wounds. Colville states that of the 3 brigades engaged, he had one officer killed and 40 rank and file killed or wounded. 20 of the enemy were taken prisoner at the Paris Horn-work and another 130 altogether in the town. (17) Following a short stay with the Army of occupation in France, the 3rd battalion was sent home and disbanded at Deal on 17th February 1816. The short life of the battalion had lasted barely two years. Colonel Tidy was nominated a Companion of the Bath and immediately embarked in command of the 2/ 14th for the Ionian Islands. Returning to England for a short leave, he sat for the English Portrait painter, James Ramsey (1786-1854). The portrait is currently held at the York Army Museum.

Colonel Francis Skelly Tidy Wearing his Companion of the Bath and Waterloo Medal.

Tidy then took command of the 1st Battalion, serving in Bengal and with whom he stayed as Deputy Adjutant General under Lt-Col Sir Archibald Campbell, from 1819 through to 1826; and a further two years as an unconfirmed Lieutenant - Colonel of the 59th Regiment. These nine years of war in India fighting the Burmese rebels and battling against the oppressive climate, took many of the soldiers lives. When the rainy season set in, so did the Cholera and Malaria. Camping beds made from blankets and propped up with sticks in marshlands above stagnant water; Colonel Tidy was one who suffered severely, only putting his survival down to a single fastidious routine:

‘We have a good deal of fever, in consequence of the constant dampness of the air. I had it slightly, and have kept myself well by having my Dobee (washerman),with his iron at my bedside at daylight every morning, to iron my clothes before putting them on- they are never dry otherwise’.

Before the termination of the war, the privations began to tell on his constitution and Tidy’s health never did fully recover from the ravages of the extreme heat and water-borne maladies of the East Indies. Doctors advised him that it would not be prudent to remain in residence in India and was sent home in 1828. Tidy now, as a commissioned Lieutenant – Colonel, took command of the 44th Regiment as Inspecting Field – Officer and was stationed in Glasgow until 1833. Even though the years of travel were beginning to tell on his physical appearance and general well being, he still yearned for active service and to be in full command of a Regiment. A near friend wished to persuade him against reentering any more active scenes of life and even perhaps retire. Tidy who was now 58 years old replied:

‘you do not take into account what a fine thing it is to have it in your power to make eight hundred people happy.’

Tidy’s Daughter Harriet, knew that truly, ‘the sword was wearing out the scabbard!’ On the 1st March, 1833, he exchanged from his position at Glasgow to the Lieutenant – Colonelcy of the 24th Regiment, who were then posted abroad. As soon as Harriet saw him gazetted in the newspapers her heart sank:

‘I looked upon his doom as sealed,- for his destination was Canada: a fearful climate to encounter after the sultry heat of India, and with a shattered constitution’.

Furthermore, once Tidy had disembarked on the shores of his final destination in the spring of 1833, he was greeted by an official letter stating that all his savings of nine years service in India had been lost. The banking house of Messrs. Ferguson and Co. in Calcutta, had gone bankrupt! A trifling dividend was to be paid to its creditors before the firm folded, and there was to be no appeal. Such a crisis at Tidy’s time of life was distressing to say the least – his entire fortune had vanished. Needless to say, the remaining nineteen months of his life were spent undertaking his military duties during the rebellion suppression at this time, and once more gaining the admiration of his men. Lieutenant Colonel Francis Skelly Tidy passed from this world on the 9th October 1835 aged 60, and was buried at the Kingston garrison in Canada. Harriet was convinced that the many years of disease ridden locations were the sole cause of his early demise. A fitting tribute was later affected by one singular occurrence; Sergeant major Maltby, being quartered in Canada, requested in his last moments, that he might be laid in a grave close to that of his old commanding officer. Having three rounds fired over the grave, the volleys served a dual-purpose, having been one of Tidy’s earnest wish; the firing party and the deceased, were all men of the 14th Regiment. Such was the career and life of a dedicated regimental officer of the old school. Serving his country with distinction during some of the most critical periods in history, and a veteran of merit who through devotion and loyalty to his country, raised himself beyond the limitations of most. Perhaps our hero should have followed in the footsteps of one of his ‘Waterloo Boys’, Mr Matthew John Marsh, one of the ‘Johnny Raws’ in the 14th Foot Regiment at Waterloo, who had also later served in the East Indies. With the prize money obtained in the war and a legacy he received at the time, he bought his discharge and returned to fairer shores. On his way back to England from India he passed through Paris and was present at the second burial of Napoleon, giving a profound conclusion to his military career. Matthew lived to the ripe old age of ninety-two. (18)

References:

1) United Service Journal and Naval and Military Magazine. Vol 33, part 2, June to Aug 1840. Pages 205-214, 353-359 & 474-481.

2) Victor Hughes appointed governer of Guadeloupe in 1794. Took horrifying revenge on any who supported the British cause.

3) USJ. Page 207.

4) Recollections of An Old Soldier: A biographical sketch of the Late Colonel Tidy, C.B. By Mrs Ward. London Richard Bentley 1849. Page 40.

5) Recollections. Page 57.

6) Probably the best recent study of the 3/14th is written by Steve Brown, for the Napoleon series web site, entitled ‘A very pretty little battalion’.

7) Keppell, George Thomas. Fifty Years of my Life. New York: Henry Holt & Company1877. Page 102.

8) Fifty Years of my Life. Page 103.

9) Recollections. Page 106.

10) Lt. Lonsdale Boldero. 1st Regt Foot Guards.

11) Brett-James, Antony. The Hundred Days. London Macmillan & Co. 1964. Page 205.

12) Recollections. Page 104.

13) Recollections. Page 105.

14) Bowden, Scott. Armies at Waterloo. Empire Press. 1983.

15) A Brief memoir of Major-Gen. Sir John Geo. Woodford, A paper read to the Keswick literary and scientific society on March 29th 1880. by J. Fisher Crosthwaite, F.S.A. London 1883. Page 23 & 29. Sir John Woodford was the brother of Sir Alexander Woodford.

16) Letter from Lt Col Francis Skelly Tidy, held by the Yorkshire regiment, at the York Army Museum. Headed: The camp in the Bois de Bologne, 8th July 1815. A copy of which was kindly lent to me by Paul F. Brunyee, Honorary Editor of The Waterloo Association.

17) A good description of the affairs at Cambray can be found in: The Battle of Waterloo, containing a series of accounts published by authority, British & Foreign with circumstantial details relative to the battle. By a near observer. 1816. Also Colville’s letters in, The Portrait of a General by John Colville. Michael Russell publishing. 1980.

18) Obituary of Mr Matthew John Marsh. Guardian. June 9, 1886.

 

Inscription

To
The Memory
OF
COLONEL F.S. TIDY C.B.
Who died whilst in Command of
His Majesty’s 24th Regiment of Foot
in this Garison
on the 9th October 1835
at the Age of
60 Years
This Tomb was Erected by
The Officers Non Commissioned Officer Brigade
of the above Corp
a Tribute
of
RESPECT AND ESTEEM
for
COLONEL AND OFFICER
who served his
KING AND COUNTRY
___hfully
for a period of
43 years

 

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