3 January part 1: William Fraser of the Battle of Waterloo

My gggg grandfather William Fraser was born on this day 276 years ago, and he gets his own post as there is a great deal to say about him. Thank goodness old military records have been kept and have been digitised and put online.

3 January 1778

On this date, William Fraser was baptised in Cruden, Aberdeenshire and I strongly suspect he is my gggg grandfather. His baptism entry says his father was Donald Fraser, and his death certificate gives his parents as Donald Fraser soldier and Margaret Sharp. His army record says he was a labourer before enlistment, which probably means an agricultural labourer. In August 1804 – when he was 26 – he had a liaison with 21 year old Janet Sangster who came from Burnthill croft near Hatton, and as a result my ggg grandfather William Fraser was born illegitimate in May 1805. His baptismal entry is quite detailed and says “27 May 1805 John Sangster in Burnthill presented a child to baptism begot in fornication by William Fraser (as the mother Janet Sangster affirms). The child was baptised and named William. Witnesses John Davidson and William Sangster.” I’ve searched the Kirk Session Minutes and there is no record of Janet Sangster or William Fraser being brought before the session to explain themselves, which is a shame as it would have helped a great deal.

William Fraser was the son of a soldier, and in 1806 enlisted with the 92nd Regiment of Foot, which was raised in Aberdeenshire by the Duke of Gordon. In 1807, the regiment went to Copenhagen and then to Sweden in 1808, but was then re-routed to the Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). There are plenty of records from the Peninsula War available online, and two records are of particular interest as they refer to William Fraser.

Army diary of 10th November 1813 (at the line of the Nivelle): Lieutenants Duncan Macpherson and George Mitchell, Ensigns Allan McDonald, and 28 of the men are dead. Captains Holmes, Ronald Macdonald, Duncan Macpherson, Lieutenants John Cattanach, James Chisholm, George Mitchell and Robert Winchester, Ensign William Fraser and 143 men are wounded. (An ensign is a Scottish term for the most junior rank of commissioned officer who traditionally carried the ensign flag, also known as the colours. Today’s equivalent is a second lieutenant.)

Peninsula War Medal Roll for 92nd Regiment of Foot: William Fraser is marked A under Vittoria, Pyrennes, Nivelle, Nivel, Orthes, Toulouse and has Salamanca under the Remarks column. This means he was at several critical battles during Britain’s campaign in Spain and Portugal against the French forces of Napoleon.

The 92nd Regiment was in Ireland when Napoleon escaped from Elba, and was sent to fight at Quatre Brad and Waterloo in 1815. It was at Waterloo (Belguim) that William Fraser was again wounded in June 1815, this time quite severely – or at least severely enough to be discharged unfit.

Chelsea Pensioners Record – 92nd Regiment of Highlands: William Fraser Private Soldier in Capn. Angus Fraser’s company, born in the Parish of Cruden, was enlisted at the age of 24 and has served in said regiment for 10 years … in consequence of gun shot wound received in the left hip joint, right thigh and left arm, while in action with the enemy at Waterloo on the 16th & 18th June 1815 is rendered unfit for further service, and is hereby discharged. … the said William Fraser is about 33 years of age, 5ft 8ins, fair hair, grey eyes and fresh complexion, and by trade is a labourer. Statement of service: 92nd Foot 25 July 1806 to 24 July 1816 and served at Waterloo 2 years. (He was actually 38 but no one was very accurate about ages in those days.)

Perhaps I can forgive him for not marrying my pregnant gggg grandmother! Janet Sangster married someone else in 1812 and had more children, and lived at Nether Kinmundy, which although in Longside parish was close to its border with Cruden parish. It wasn’t far from Brunthill croft where her father John Sangster lived, and which was later taken over by Janet’s brother. What I don’t know is what William Fraser did after his discharge in 1816 and before his appearance in the 1841 census, but as he seemed to have received quite extensive war wounds and was granted a pension, he may not have been able to work. Nor do I know where his son with Janet Sangster, also called William Fraser, was brought up. William junior most probably was at Brunthill until old enough to work as a farm servant, then in 1828 he married Christian Hutcheon, both of Longside parish, but their children were baptised in Cruden parish and William was described as “of Hardslacks” on their baptismal records. He was the tenant of Mosside croft at Hardslacks, which was close to both Brunthill and Nether Kinmundy.

William Fraser senior, discharged from the army, must have returned to Cruden. In 1841 he is in the census at Brickwork, Peterhead parish (which is south of Peterhead itself and close to the border with Cruden parish)and is listed as an army pensioner in the household of his brother Andrew Fraser, who is an ag lab. In the same household is John Fraser age 78, also an army pensioner, who was Andrew and William’s brother. In 1851 William is still at Brickwork with brother Andrew. By 1861 Andrew has died and William is at South Turnpike, Seafield, Peterhead with his niece Elizabeth who is a crofter of 2.5 acres, and with them are two young relatives, a boarder and a visitor. This is probably the same place as they were at in the previous census – i.e. at Brickwork – as three years later William died at Brickwork. An old Ordnance Survey map shows Brickwork Bay south of Peterhead town and shows a farm called Seafield a bit south of the actual brick and tile works. It’s on the road to Aberdeen, so at one time must have been next to a turnpike, hence the small croft’s name of “South Turnpike”.

William Fraser died in 1864 and his death certificate reads “William Fraser pensioner 92nd Reg married to Isabella Fraser, died 22 March 1864 at Brickwork, Peterhead, age 79 years. Son of Donald Fraser soldier (dead) and Margaret Fraser ms Sharp (dead). Of general debility, no medical attendant. Informant Elizabeth Fraser X her mark niece, present.”

The death certificate introduces a mystery, as it says William Fraser was married to Isabella Fraser but does not say he was a widower, so it implies Isabella was still alive. There was a marriage in Peterhead on 21 August 1819 of William Fraser labourer and Isabel Fraser but there is no evidence of any children being born to then. William would have been 41 at the time of his marriage, so it may have been a second marrage for Isabella. The 1841 census has Isabella Fraser age 60 at Longate Street, Peterhead with occupation independent (i.e. she had a means of support other than employment – money from William’s pension?). With her is a 25 year old Isabella who could be her daughter, but the 1841 census does not detail relationships. The daughter has the surname Foot but there are also two children who are likely to have been her daughters with the surname Shand. Following this up, I found that one of the Shand children gave her parents names, on marriage, as Isabella Fraser and James Shand. I’ve no idea where the foot surname came from, but as Isabella Senior had the surname Fraser before she married William Fraser, it means I don’t known whether Isabella was his daughter or not as there is no baptism for her in the OPRs. She seems to have died before 1851, so no death certificate for her either. As ages in the 1841 census were rounded down, she would have been age between 25 and 1829, and therefore born between 1811 and 1816 – before William married Isabella and while he was away in the army. So she is probably not his daughter.

It therefore looks as if William junior might have been William’s only child, and for whatever reason William senior was not living with his wife during the last 20 or more years of his life. And there are indications that William junior was in contact with his father, or at least knew about him. Interestingly, the neighbouring croft to Mosside was occupied, from sometime after 1851, by Robert Fraser, who was the son of John Fraser and grandson of William Fraser senior’s brother John (the one who was living with Andrew and William Fraser in 1841). And when William junior died in 1877, his son James was the informant and was able to give a father’s name of William Fraser but could name the mother (Janet McWilliam nee Sangster had died in 1859).

So William Fraser soldier and Chelsea pensioner proved a very interesting ancestor to research, and was a real test of my research skills! I can’t say absolutely for sure that he’s the William Fraser who fathered my illegitimate ggg grandfather, but the circumstantial evidence does point to it being the right William.

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