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Wicklow, Crimea, and the Last Frontier

Peter Conole

Western Ancestor, September 2019

Henry Stokes, a cabinetmaker from County Wicklow, married Mary Hopkins and moved to Baldoyle (near Dublin) by the 1830s. Their son John Stokes was born there on 21 May 1835. As a lad he became rather adventurous and went to sea at the age of 14. After his experiences as a young mariner he returned to Ireland, worked for some time as a labourer and then decided to ‘go for a soldier’ instead. 1

Enlistment in the 63rd

John crossed the sea to enlist in the 63rd Regiment of Foot at Liverpool on 22 October 1852. By 1854 Dublin was the regiment’s chief recruiting ground. The lower ranks were virtually devoid of military experience and included many teenagers like John Stokes. The 63rd “owed its main strength to lads newly and hastily recruited in Dublin ... and thus rawly constituted had never executed so much as even one march”. 2

The 63rd Regiment had originally been raised as a second battalion of the 8th Regiment of Foot, but was given a different number and separate identity under Colonel Robert Armiger in 1758. It received the additional designation West Suffolk Regiment in 1782 and distinguished itself in the conflicts of 1793-1815. The Crimean War meant additional honours, especially for the battle of Inkerman and the siege of Sevastopol.

The Crimea

The 63rd played a solid role around Sevastopol and won glory at the hellish battle of Inkerman in November 1854 when teamed up with the 21st Regiment. The two units, despite being grossly outnumbered, repulsed a massive Russian attack in a crucial stage of the fighting and then moved forward to rout their opponents.The 63rd lost a quarter of its available personnel, dead or wounded, in the process. Its officer in command, Lieutenant Colonel Exham Swyny (an Irishman), led from the front and lost his life at the height of the carnage. Private John Stokes of the 63rd was badly wounded in the right side of the chest and probably hospitalised at the Scutari base (he might have met Florence Nightingale there). The soldier took a long time to recover.

The young Irish soldiers suffered terribly from illness during the war. It is commonly known that cholera was a big issue for all armies, but the winter of 1854-1855 was very bad because of extreme chills, colds and pneumonia. Furthermore, a ship with huge supplies of blankets and coats for the troops sank in the Black Sea before delivering its cargo. Observers noted that the poor 63rd men and boys endured the worst. The regiment started the war at full strength: about 1080 officers and other ranks. Sickness and trench warfare knocked out half of them by the time of Inkerman. In January 1855 a shocked senior officer reported only seven soldiers as fit for duty. 3

But the lads were tough and resilient. Most of them recovered to fight bravely in the trenches and during an expedition leading to the capture of Kinburn (west of Sevastopol) in October 1855. As one proud officer noted after that victory “the fact remains that the Queen’s Colour of the 63rd Regiment was the first British flag on the soil of Russia proper”.


Private John Stokes of the 63rd, though far from being completely disabled, was not in a good physical state and received his discharge from the army at Chatham on 3 July 1855. He was awarded the Crimea Medal with various clasps and the Turkish Crimea Medal. Stokes returned to Ireland and became a military pensioner, his pension of one shilling per diem being paid in the 2nd Dublin district.

He remained in the vicinity of Dublin for medical reasons - the great Irish military hospital of Kilmainham near the city provided medical care and support for battered veterans. The bullet that struck down John Stokes in the Crimea remained in place until its removal decades later by Dr William Birmingham. 4

Pensioner Guard

John Stokes converted to the Catholic faith in 1856 and married Elizabeth Pynan at Howth, County Dublin in 1857. In 1865 he signed up to serve as a pensioner guard. That is, he joined the Enrolled Pensioner Force (EPF), detachments of which had been arriving in the colony of Western Australia since 1850. The British Army had for generations been granting pensions to soldiers who completed specified periods of service, or who suffered from disabilities contracted on military service. Organisations like the EPF, as special units of the army, were paid like regular soldiers out of army funds. They were particularly useful for garrison duty and the maintenance of public order.

The EPF was the bedrock of local defence planning, provided guards for convict ships coming from England and enhanced the local supply of artisans and skilled labour. The army encouraged married pensioners with families to join up for Western Australia - they were recognised as valuable settlers. It goes without saying that, as was the case with most British Army outfits of that era, a high proportion of the veterans were Irishmen. So was their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel John Bruce of Westmeath, later to be a de facto governor of Western Australia in the 1860s.


Private John Stokes and his wife and two children left Britain on 26 May 1865 on the Racehorse arriving in Fremantle on August 13. For his service as a pensioner John Stokes was obliged as per usual to remain in Western Australia for seven years, be available for duty as needed and attend Parade each Sunday. The service also eventually entitled him to a grant of land.

Broomhall records John Stokes as having purchased Fremantle Location S40 of 5 acres for one pound per acre in December 1867. In October of 1881 Stokes applied for North Fremantle Location 50, next to his own property. Four years later, in 1885, Stokes was granted Fremantle Location S41 of 5 acres. At some stage he built a cottage in what was later to become South Street, Beaconsfield. It is still standing, but not in good repair.

John Stokes was literate and by August 1880 held the rank of Lance Corporal, an indication the old soldier was well regarded by the staff of Lieutenant Colonel E.D. Harvest, another Crimean War veteran then serving as commandant of defence forces. There was one last hour of glory in June 1897. John Stokes of Fremantle, along with other surviving members of the Enrolled Pensioner Force, was invited to a Banquet held in St George’s Hall, Perth as part of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. He died at Fremantle on 3 March 1900. 6

Many descendants

John and Elizabeth had a large family, including two sons who were born in Ireland: Henry (born in Dublin, 20 July 1858) and James (born 1862, died in Western Australia, 1917). The other children of the union were all born in Fremantle, in order: William (1865), Elizabeth (1868), Mary (1870), Joseph (1873) and, lastly, Rose Ann in 1878. 7

The first son, Henry Stokes, had a full and interesting life to say the least. He worked as a farm labourer after leaving school in Fremantle and was appointed a constable in the Western Australian Police Force on 1 August 1879. Henry served at Guildford, Victoria Plains (Newcastle and Toodyay) and Bridgetown. He was promoted to corporal in 1892, then to sergeant in February 1894.

Officer Stokes had a couple of problems early in his Victoria Plains period, such as when prisoners escaped from his custody. He did not exercise his legal right to use extreme force in stopping their flight and had to accept a reprimand and fine. The incident did no serious harm to his reputation - he had 'been patted on the back' for earlier successful cases involving illegal Sunday trading and unlicensed wood logging. Promotion to sergeant came with a transfer to Coolgardie, where he was officer in charge of the local police station. 8

Sadly, things did not go all that well for Sergeant Stokes. He received severe dressing downs for accidentally leaving a box of gold behind at Southern Cross during Gold Escort duty (the box was recovered), then another for being ‘disrespectful’ to a very important man in March 1895. The VIP was none other than the famous Warden and Resident Magistrate John Michael Finnerty. The latter was the son of yet another Irish army officer and Crimean War veteran, Colonel Charles Finnerty.

Soon afterward Finnerty of the Goldfields had his revenge. Henry Stokes and four other police officers attended a boxing night at the Coolgardie Athletic Club to carry out official policing duty. They were ejected from the premises after what seems to have been a minor ‘donnybrook.’ Sergeant Stokes brought the matter to court, but Finnerty dismissed the business on a legal technicality. There is other evidence to suggest that Henry Stokes tended to be tactless and quarrelsome. He was later chided by another officer for arguing directly with the Commissioner of Police about the quality of his horse.

Henry was then posted to Albany and for a prolonged period (1898-1900) took charge not just of the police station but the whole Plantagenet (or Southern) District based on the town. Available records of his service there reveal he was hard working and very efficient. However, additional squabbles at Albany and with clerical staff in Perth about his entitlements (allowances and the like) pleased nobody in the police central offices and Inspector Robert Connell (also Irish) replaced him as the Albany senior officer in 1900. 9

On a more personal note, Henry Stokes married Mary Agnes Taylor in Perth in 1882. The couple became the parents of six children. Henry left Albany in 1902 and spent the rest of his policing years on the Goldfields, at Carnarvon and then Perth. He served in his actual home town of Fremantle for only the last few months of his career, from January 1918 onwards.

Sergeant Stokes was placed on the police retired list as of 30 June 1918. That was probably earlier than he would have liked, but he received a handsome gratuity of 737 pounds. The officer who formally thanked Stokes for his services was his former Albany senior colleague Robert Connell, now Commissioner of Police. Henry Stokes left Western Australia after the death of his wife Mary Agnes in 1928. He settled at Exeter in Devon, England and married Emily Grose in June 1929. Henry lived to a ripe old age and died in Devon during December 1950. 10

Numerous descendants of Enrolled Pensioner Force man John Stokes and his sons and daughters are members of the Western Australian community today. Mention has already been made of the second son, James. He married Harriet Cox in Fremantle in 1883 and ran a dairy business - in partnership with his father - in and around the port city for many years. During 1905 he took up farming near Rockingham. Harold John Stokes (1894-1974), the son of James and Harriet, served in the 1st AIF during World War One. So did his cousin Albert Stokes, a son of former policeman Henry Stokes.

William Stokes (1865-1952), third son of soldier John Stokes, was the first Fremantle born member of the family. His marriage to Annie McGuire in 1896 may have caused rueful discussion in some quarters. She was the daughter of a successful and respected Irish farming man, James McGuire, a Justice of the Peace and Chairman of the Dardanup Road Board. In his younger days, specifically the year 1876, ‘Big Jim’ McGuire had played a critical and very discrete role in helping Fenian political prisoners escape by sea from Western Australia to the United States.

Crimean warrior John’s short-lived daughter Elizabeth Stokes (1868-1898) married a widower named Elias Solomon in 1887, soon to become a very famous and influential Fremantle personality. Elias Solomon triumphed in business and politics and became the first Federal Member of Parliament for Fremantle after Federation in 1901. Sadly for John Stokes, another of his offspring also died before him. Joseph Stokes was a promising architect and building contractor who played a role in the early planning of Fremantle Hospital before 1897. He passed away in 1899, aged only 26 (11).


1 For a brief family history see Healy, R., The Stokes of Fremantle and addendum Elias Solomon, Battye Library Perth, 1978, pp. 1-7, PR Stack-Call Number 14514/STO/1-0/20.

2 The best source for Crimean War veterans in WA by far is an online site: (developed by Diane Oldman). For the impact of Dublin recruitment, see Kinglake, A.W., The Invasion of the Crimea, London, 1863, Vol. V, p. 354.

3 Barthorp, M., Heroes of the Crimea, Blandford, 1991, pp. 108; 113-114; 148. See also Cadogan, G. and Calthorpe, S. J. G., Cadogan's Crimea, Book Club Associates, London, 1979, pp. 130-131.

4 Fletcher, I and Ishenko, N., The Crimean War: a clash of empire, Spellmount Ltd, Staplehurst, 2004, pp. 517-518. See also https:// website.

5 Broomhall, F. H., The Veterans, Hesperian Press, 1989, B265. See also Healy, 1978, Folios 2-3.

6 Broomhall, 1989, pp. 129-130 and B265; Healy, 1978, Folio 3.

7 Healy, 1978 passim and Broomhall, 1989, B265-266.

8 WA Police Record of Service of Henry Stokes, Reg. No. 7, pp. 1-3.

9 Moran, K., Sand and Stone, Frickers International Publishing, 2000, Vol.l, p. 284 and Vol. 11, pp. 152-157. For Henry Stokes in Albany, see Conole, P. 'The Edge of Glory', Retired Police Officers Association Newsletter, Vol. 2, Mar-Apr, 2014, pp. 2-3.

10 WA Police Record of Service of Henry Stokes, Reg. No. 7, p. 2. Also Healy, 1978, Folios 5-6 and personal communication from a Stokes family member.

11 Brief biographical data on younger Stokes family members is in Healy, 1978. The role of James McGuire in the Fenian episode of 1876 was discussed recently in Fitzsimmons, P., The Catalpa Rescue, Hatchette Australia, 2019 - see especially pp.127-129.

References and Links

Conole, Peter 2019, 'Wicklow, Crimea, and the last Frontier', Western Ancestor, September: 214-216.

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