Read CHAPTER XXVI of The Autobiography of Sergeant William Lawrence, free online book, by William Lawrence, on

Very shortly after this the army was reduced, and our regiment was made six hundred instead of a thousand strong. First all the old and disabled were discharged, and then lots were cast for the remainder, and the lot falling on me amongst the sergeants, at the end of about a month I and nine others were ordered to Chatham. We marched to Leith, where we embarked on the Leith packet, and after some very rough weather landed at Gravesend and proceeded to Chatham, remaining there six weeks while we were waiting to pass the board. Then we re-embarked on a small craft at Gravesend and went up the river to the Tower of London, whence we marched to Chelsea Hospital. The next morning, after we had been examined by the doctor, we were called up before the board one at a time. I was asked my age and time of service, and one of the gentlemen called out “Seven!” but the doctor immediately said “Nine!” as I had a wound in my knee; they evidently meaning that I should have ninepence a day as my pension, as that was what was settled on me for life. I then went to the office, where I received my expenses to Dorchester, to the amount of one and tenpence for myself, and three-halfpence for my wife for every ten miles; and with that we started off for Bryant’s Piddle again, and walked every step of the way, not, however, meeting any such kind gentleman this time as we had on our last route to the same place.

When we arrived we found them all as well as when we had left; but I did not want to stay there long, so on the following morning I took leave of them and proceeded with my wife to Studland, the place where I had been apprenticed, as I claimed that rightly as my parish. I put up at the public-house till I could procure a house and some furniture, which last took me about a week, and then my next undertaking was to try for work, for it may well be imagined that my wife and I could hardly live on my pension of ninepence a day. I soon obtained employment on a farm close by, for which I received ten shillings a week. I was only in the capacity of a labourer, and it certainly seemed to come very hard at first, but I soon got used to it, and I worked for this master for nine months. He had been formerly a captain in the navy, and I found him very sharp but very just.

My reason for leaving him was a sudden call I received to again join the army. I started on the fifth of November, 1819: I was ordered to Plymouth, where I joined the Third Veteran Battalion, which was about a thousand strong at the time, and from Plymouth we went on to Ireland, where we landed at the Cove of Cork and marched through Cork to Fermoy. We went on next day to Templemore, which took us two or three days, and after staying there about a month, three companies of the regiment, myself being one of the number, were ordered to Tralee in county Kerry. When we arrived at Tralee a detachment of a lieutenant, myself, a corporal, and seventeen men were ordered next day to go to Dingle, which is situated on a large tongue of land, and here we were again stationed in barracks for about a year, our principal duty being to guard the coast against the smuggling that was at that time being carried on to a very great extent.

We were chiefly under the command of the coastguard captain, whose name was Collis. It was astonishing to see the many manoeuvres which the inhabitants practised in this art of smuggling. I remember once being called out by the captain to search a house that he had received information about as containing a quantity of smuggled tobacco. I went with twelve men and the captain to the house, and at the door we were met by three ruffianly-looking Irishmen, whose conversation we could not understand at all: however, we passed on and searched the house, at one end of which were standing three cows, which did not seem to me at the time to be very homely guests. At first we could find nothing, so we were proceeding to search the outside, when I saw the three men laughing. Not feeling at all satisfied I turned the cows out and looked under the litter, where I discovered a trap-door, under which when I had opened it I found a flight of steps leading into a cellar, which contained upwards of twenty bales of tobacco. This made the men’s countenances change instantaneously. We brought this up, but still not being content we searched farther into the garden, and finding that ground had lately been moved, we disturbed it again and turned up about twelve bales more that were concealed there. These we conveyed in press-carts to the captain’s house, and received a good supper for our services and extra pay, mine amounting to half a crown and the privates’ less in proportion. On another occasion, when we were again out on the search, we passed what we thought was a funeral, to which we presented arms, but which we afterwards found was nothing but smuggled tobacco put into a box of the shape of a coffin with a pall over, and in this way conveyed into security. Such and similar transactions were frequent during our stay here, the inhabitants being of the very wildest sort. Once even a cotton-ship drove ashore, and we had the greatest difficulty in keeping them from plundering it.

At last, however, we were ordered back to Plymouth, so had to march to Waterford Harbour, whither after joining our other companions at Tralee we proceeded, and embarking on board a transport, arrived at Plymouth about June in the year 1821. Thus finally ended my military career, which had lasted seventeen years and seven months, the greater part of the time having been spent on active service. I was discharged on the same pension as before of ninepence a day, that having been stopped during my stay in the Third Veteran Battalion.

From Plymouth I and my wife marched back to Studland, where we took a house, and my master immediately took me back to work. I drifted about, however, between one or two trades, and finally took a little public-house, where I and my wife lived pretty prosperously till she died. I began to feel rather unwell, too, and thought it best to give up working and the public-house: so I wrote to the authorities at Chelsea, and obtained through the influence of a kind gentleman an addition of threepence a day to my pension, making a shilling in all; and with that I am now living in a house that was bequeathed to me for as long as I live by my late master, as comfortably as these circumstances and the interposition of a few friends can make me.

And to conclude I may add that I have striven here as well as my faculties will allow, though I know that is imperfectly, to sum up as it were in a small compass, so that they can be read over in a few hours by the residing populace, the leading scenes of my life, coupled as they have been with the various campaigns I served in; and though I am sorry that I cannot give the reader fuller details of the Peninsula and Waterloo, yet I think that if any even of my comrades themselves who went through the same campaigns, were to take up my work to examine it, they could not say that such information as I have been able to give has been wrong.