Palmer Family British Military Careers
by John P. DuLong, Ph.D.
My wife, Patricia Anne (McGuinness) DuLong, has been kind enough to let me borrow her Palmer ancestors so I can research their military careers. To refresh the ancestral memory of my in-laws who read this page, you descend from the Palmers because James Hubert McGuinness married Emma Palmer, the daughter of Thomas Palmer and Margaret O'Toole around 1879 in Jackson, Jackson County, Michigan.
In the course of learning about the Palmers, I have come to find them a fascinating group of men who represent the best and worst of the British military during the nineteenth century. Without men like the Palmers in the militaryand the Anglican churchthe British empire could not have operated. For me this interest in them is somewhat awkward. My Gaelic-Irish, Acadian, and French Canadian ancestors were all victims of British imperialism. Likewise, the McGuinnesses were more likely to be supporters of Irish independence than believers in the value of the empire. After all, John Parnell McGuinness, the son of James Hubert McGuinness and Emma Palmer, was given his middle name to honor Charles Stewart Parnell the great Irish nationalist leader. Men like the Palmers were the enemies of Irish independence and supporters of the British empire. This is truely a case of one man's hero is another man's villan. For the Palmers would be seen as good examples of sturdy British officers who helped build an empire that stretched across the globe.
Clearly, the Palmer Letters (1841-1883) show that the Palmers were not a tolerant group towards Catholics and natives. Despite their limitations in our modern-day eyes, the Palmers are still an exciting group to investigate. We get an intimate peak into British history through their careers. They are worthy of study.
It is interesting to note that the Palmer name still lives on in the McGuinness family. David Bek McGuinness and Pauline Alberta (Curtis) McGuinness named one of their sons James Palmer McGuinness and he in turn gave the same name to his son.
This report is just a summary of my initial findings. Placing it here makes it convenient for me to review my notes anywhere I can connect to the web. It also gives others a chance to look at my findings to date and to assist in the investigation. In this regard, I want to thank Iain Kerr (2000) for his comments and suggestions regarding this web page. I hope to do more research on these men as time permits. In particular, I hope to do a special web page discussing the important role the Palmers and related families played in the Anglican Church of Ireland.
My area of expertise is tracing French military ancestors in New France, so the Palmers, the British army, and Anglo-Irish society are all new to me. Please forgive me if I misunderstand some points. I am still learning.
So, without further delay, welcome to the British military world of Major James Palmer, Sr., and his sons Lieutenant Colonel James Palmer, Jr., Thomas Palmer, and Major General Henry Wellington Palmer, C. B., , his grandson Lieutenant Henry Wellington Tuthill Palmer, and, lastly, his cousin Captain Henry Palmer. For a diagram showing the relationships between all these people just click on the chart button:
He was born about 1780-1781 in Ireland. We know his approximate birth year because he says he was 65 in a letter dated 14 August 1845 and 66 on 7 May 1847 (Palmer Letters 1841-1883). His age will be crucial when you see how young he was at certain events in his personal and military life. James was the son of Rev. Henry Palmer, M. A., Archdeacon of Ossory, and Eleanor Smyth. Until he joined the military, most of the Palmers had made their career in the Church of Ireland (Leslie 1933).
We know that James was married twice. He was first married to a mysterious Mrs. Moore, the widow of Judge Moore (Vesey Genealogy Late Eighteenth Century; Anonymous Letter 2000). This marriage posses several problems that so far have defied solution. We know that his son James Palmer, Jr., was born at sea in 1797, while James was serving in the Caribbean. This would make James only about 16 or 17 when he became a father! Very young for a man to marry in the past. He was also shouldering the responsibilities of a captain at a very young age as well. During this period it was not unusual for commissions to be purchased by a father for his son at a very young age (Farwell 1972, 25). However, it was not a wise career move for a young officer to marry. According to Farewell (1981, 233), "The rule of thumb was that subalterns may not marry, captains might marry, majors should marry, and lieutenant-colonels must marry." Given this background, it might be the case that he sired an illegitimate son, but this has yet to be verified. There is a marriage license for a James Palmer and Ellen Moore in 1800, Diocese of Dublin. This would make James 19 or 21, still young, but a more likely age for a marriage. Is this your James? If so, then what was Mrs. Moore's maiden name? Who was the mother of James, Jr.? Was he illegitimate? Was James married to another woman before Mrs. Moore? As you can see, more research is required.
James married for a second time to Eliza (or Elizabeth) Nash, daughter of Llewellyn Nash and Priscilla Deane Spread of County Cork (J. G. White [1905-1918] 1969, 3:105-112). Patricia and I had estimated that they were married around 1820. However, we found a marriage record for a James Palmer and Elizabeth Nash from the Diocese of Cork and Ross, County Cork, Ireland, with a year of 1827. This would be after the birth of Thomas William Palmer in 1822. We suspect that this is a transcription error and should read 1821. Internal evidence in the Palmer Letters (1841-1883) indicates that Thomas William Palmer, Henry Wellington Palmer, and Priscilla Palmer were siblings and that James Palmer, Jr., was a step-brother. We are in the process of verifying the date. Obviously, further research is required to clarify the structure of James's two families.
As the table below will show, the military career of James, Sr., was not brilliant. He only served on one active campaign in the West Indies. After that he served in reserve outfits in Ireland. Was his health ruined in the Caribbean? Did he damage his chances for advancement because of his relationship with Mrs. Moore?
After leaving the service in 1814, James, Sr., became an administrator in the Irish prison system in 1822. We have yet to learn what occupied his time from 1815 to 1821. Somehow during that period he managed to acquire enough money to purchase the former palace of the Anglican Archbishop of Dublin in Tallaght, outside of Dublin, in 1822 (Handcock 1899, 27, 32-33, 38). The entire property was valued at just over 202£. The palace was in a decayed condition and part of the purchase was the promise to tear it down in order to insure it never became a Catholic monastery. James, Sr., had the old building torn down and used the stones to make a new mansion called Tallaght House, a school-house, several cottages in the town, and repaired the neighborhood roads. The property was sold by 1835 when the Right Honorable Sir John Lentaigne repaired the surviving tower from the adjacent castle. The Rev. Henry Palmer, brother of James, Sr., saved the stone carved coat-of-arms from over the palace's fire place. According to his son, also named Rev. Henry Palmer, who wrote the following in a letter dated 21 October 1885, to Rev. C. T. McCready, D.D. (32 n. 1):
Ultimately, in 1842, the subsequent owner leased the mansion to some Catholic Dominicans who now own the building which still stands in what has now become a suburb of Dublin southwest of the city.
Late in life something happened to his fortunes. In a letter from Hungerford Hoskyns [brother of Edwin Bennet Hoskyns and a friend of the Palmers] to John Arkwright, dated 4 January 1843, Dublin (Hoskyn Letters 1832-1857), mentions: "You are indeed the only person from whom I have the least expectation now; for my friend Major Palmer has got into some scrape lately and lost his influence here--and I know he never will be able to do anything for me." Later, in another letter to Arkwright, dated 6 April 1843, Dublin, Hoskyns says "Yesterday a letter came from young [Thomas] Palmer whom I settled near my brother Edwyn's the summer before last, giving some particulars with respect to the sad castrophe [sic] to his father. But he evidently takes for granted that Chandos has written to us on the subject and consequently says but little of it." By the 1840s, James, Sr., was the Inspector General of Prisons and Lunatic Asylums. What happened? Could this situation be a result of the struggled with Dr. White about inspecting asylums (see the table below for details)? He would retire from his job in 1846. Was this planned or premature? We know from a letter he wrote to his son Thomas, dated 26 February 1848 (Palmer Letters 1841-1883), that he expected an income of 150£ a year and that he thought this would keep him and his wife well. However, in the same letter he mentions paying off some debts of at least 500£ and jokes about hitting on a lottery ticket.
James, Sr., was a strange mix. On one hand he advocated liberal reforms for prisons (Palmer 1832). On the other hand he had an extreme dislike for Catholics. In a letter to his friend James Buchanon, dated 14 August 1845 (Palmer Letters 1841-1883), he states: "In this land we have nothing but strife, Popery [Catholics], & follywell for us there is another beyond the Flood." To his son Thomas he wrote on 26 February 1848 (Palmer Letters 1841-1883) the following:
Clearly, when he wrote this last letter, he must not have known that his son Thomas was soon to marry, if not already married to, a Catholic woman!
James died on 1 May 1850, Hyde Park, London, England, and was formerly of Baggot St., Dublin, Ireland (Annual Register 1850). According to Henry Wellington Palmer, who wrote to his brother Thomas Palmer to announce the death of their father, James died with a poor estate (Palmer Letters 1841-1883):
The military and prison administration service for James Palmer, Sr., follows:
Note: While researching these men I have learned that officer absenteeism was a problem across the British army, but was particularly an issue of regiments assigned to the West Indies (Buckley 1979, 32-34). Officers would be assigned to a regiment and would not join it promptly. They would try and exchange their posting to an undesirable regiment with a different destination, something more to their liking. Also, it appears that some officers may have departed their regiments ahead of schedule. In some cases this was due to illness or other barely acceptable excuses. This seems to the be the case with some of the Palmer military appointments.
Very little is known about James, Jr., the son of Major James Palmer, Sr., and Mrs. Moore. His birth was at sea on 5 November 1797. If his parents did not marry until 1800, as suggested above, then he would have been illegitimate. He married Marie Wilkins on 19 November 1818 at White Hall Battingly (probably in County Wicklow), Ireland. He died after 13 August 1868 probably near Rathmines, Belgrave Square, Dublin, Ireland.
There is a remoteness in the relationship between James, Jr., and the rest of the family. His father says in a letter to his son Thomas, dated 26 February 1848 (Palmer Letters 1841-1883), that:
James, Jr., was stationed in West Africa with the 3rd West Indies in 1848. Why would a father, writing to a son, refer to another son as Captain P. and not as James or Jim? Moreover, why does he fail to mention James, Jr., in his other letters to Thomas but does mention Henry Wellington and Priscilla frequently?
His brother Henry Wellington, writing to Thomas, in a surviving fragment of an undated letter (probably written after 1850, Palmer Letters 1841-1883) says:
There does not appear to be much affection between Henry Wellington and James, Jr. Certainly, nothing like the relationship between Henry Wellington and Thomas as evident in other preserved letters. Nevertheless, we can be confident that James, Jr., is a brother of Thomas and Henry Wellington because of the following letter he wrote to William O'Toole, the brother of Margaret O'Toole, the widow of his brother (or more likely step-brother) Thomas:
Again, note the distance. He says he will tell Henry Wellington of "his brother's death" not our brother's death. Of course, he does he "one of the brothers of poor Mr. Thomas Palmer" and he refers to Thomas and Henry Wellington as his brothers and not his step-brothers. We do know that Henry Wellington was the step-brother of James, Jr., for sure. The letters do not provide clear proof that James, Jr., and Thomas were step-brothers, but the age between them and the fact that Major Palmer was married twice suggest that they were.
James, Jr., spent most of his military career in the West Indies and West Africa. According to Buckley (1998, xiii-xvi), the British army in the West Indies has been a neglected topic for military historians. The Caribbean was once an important area of colonial activity for the British with rich sugar islands, but it was a disliked assignment due to the prevalence of illness among the troops sent to the islands. Furthermore, an appointment to the West India regiments was not prestigious. According to Buckley (1979, 166 n. 66), "The stigma associated with these corps became self-perpetuating; even at the end of the nineteenth century, cadets who passed lowest out of Sandhurst [the British equivalent of West Point] were posted to the West India Regiments." One wonders if his father was instrumental in getting this appointment for his son to his former regiment? Was this the best James, Sr., could work out for his son?
I have flushed out the following table with some details regarding the West India regiments to help you understand the context of these amazing regiments consisting of slaves who served the British Crown faithfully and well. I have placed this information with James, Jr., because the connection that James, Sr., had with the 1st West India Regiment was tenuous.
Here is the most interesting Palmer of the lot. While his father's military career was relatively mediocre, Henry Wellington achieved the highest rank in the military among the Palmers and was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath (hence the C. B. after his name). Yet, he certainly ended his career under very interesting circumstances.
His middle name clearly shows the family's loyalty to one of the most important sons of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy, Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, the famous victor over Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo in 1815. Henry Wellington would make the Army his career, he was an Irishman who commanded Scottish soldiers in India and South Africa. And what is most striking is that he may have ended his days doubting his role in the military.
Major General Henry Wellington
Palmer and his wife
Henry Wellington was born on 18 June 1828 at Tallaght House, County Dublin, Ireland, the son of Major James Palmer, Sr., and Eliza Nash. His nickname in the family was "Hal." He did not marry until late in life. On 24 January 1885, at Dublin, he married Margaret Dartnell Tuthill. Henry Wellington died on 14 January 1891 at Ailesbury, County Dublin, Ireland, and was buried 17 January 1891 at Mount Jerome Cemetery.
To learn more about Henry Wellington's career I thought perhaps the memoirs of the man who took over his regiment in 1878 might be informative. I found more revealed here than I was prepared for, my hunch paid off in a surprising way. This person was Sir Henry Evelyn Wood, who eventually became a Field Marshal in the British army. Here I will quote excepts from Sir Henry's memoirs that refer to Henry Wellington. Please note that Sir Henry does not refer to him directly, but only indirectly as the Colonel (the Lieutenant Colonel would be in charge of the regiment in the field and would be called the Colonel):
The contempt Sir Henry held for Henry Wellington oozes from his text. How much can we rely on his statement. He certainly knew Henry Wellington, but he was also the second in command, eager to take over complete command of the regiment. This may have colored his comments.
The regimental history for the 90th does not say anything negative about Henry Wellington (Delavoue 1880). According to Chichester and Burges-Short (1900, 390), Henry Wellington "Served with the 74th Highlanders throughout the Kaffir war of 1851-1853. Commanded the regiment from April, 1873, took it to South Africa and commanded it in the Kaffir way of 1878three times thanked in General Orders for his conduct in command of the operations in the Fort Beaufort DistrictC.B. Retired full pay. Hon. Major-General, November 1878." It would be odd to have a man of the character outlined by Sir Henry promoted to Major General and made a Companion of the Order of the Bath at his retirement. Although this was a fairly typical award for high-ranking officers who satisfactorily completed their term of service and retired, why would honors be bestowed on a man voicing serious doubts about the military.
Sir Henry's writings makes it look like your Henry Wellington became a pacifist at the end of his career. What we lack is a statement from Henry Wellington denying this accusation. He certainly saw action in South Africa during his career, was probably often in harms way because of minor revolts in India, and there is no record of him being a coward. However, I think there is some truth in the idea that he had grown tired of the military. This seems to be the case when you read the following letter he wrote to his brother Thomas (Palmer Letters 1841-1883):
The theme of retiring and raising a family would appear in other letters as well. It is seriously doubtful that Henry Wellington Palmer was a pacifist at the end of his military career. It is more likely that he was just an old campaigner, tired of the military life, who wanted to get out before his number was up. But he did his duty as required and was rewarded upon retirement with promotion to Major General and by being made a Companion in the Order of the Bath. Sir Henry's comments were probably motivated by professional jealousy. He saw Henry Wellington Palmer as an obstacle that blocked his promotion to commander of the 90th.
Note: In the Army List there is an Henry W. Palmer who was made an Ensign with the 36th Herefordshire Regiment on 11 January 1839. He was made Lieutenant on 22 July 1842 and was senior Lieutenant on 20 January 1847. On 25 February 1848, he was made a Captain in the 36th. Initially, I thought this was Henry Wellington Palmer, however, none of this data corresponds with his service record.
He was the son of Major General Henry Wellington Palmer and Margaret Dartnell Tuthill and born around 1886. Until very recently, all that I knew about him was that he was Lieutenant in the Corps of Royal Engineers on 4 December 1908 when he registered his coat-of-arms with the Irish herald (Wilkerson 1908). I often wondered what became of young Henry Wellington. Did he die on the Somme? Is he buried in Flanders or Picardy?
Now I know, thanks to Debrett's Baronetage, Knightage, and Companionage (Hesilrige 1931, 1968), that he survived the war. He was born in 1886 and educated at Wellington College. According to Farwell (1981, 142), this college sent more students to Sandhurst than the other military school. Since he became an engineer, it is more likely that he went to Woolwich, the Royal Military Academy for the artillery and engineers, after leaving Wellington. By 1931, he was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Engineers. Moreover, during World War I he was mentioned in dispatches. As a result, he was made a companion of the Distinguished Service Order in 1918. In 1924, he married Cynthia Tugwell, the daughter of the late H. W. Tugwell, of Crowe Hall, near Bath, England.
This is a relative of your Palmers. His father was Rev. Arthur Palmer, son of Rev. Thomas Palmer, County Longford, Ireland, and thus brother of Rev. Henry Palmer, the father of your James Sr. Consequently, Henry Palmer and James, Sr., were first cousins. Henry was born around 1793 probably in Ireland. According to the Saunders' News Letter (quoted in Leslie 1933, 380):
On 11 Apr. 1811 he was a Captain in the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers (Army List 1817). He would have served under the Duke of Wellington in Portugal and Spain and fought with him against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.
There is a record of a Captain Henry Palmer, Prince of Wales Infantry, marrying on 23 October 1799 at St. Anne, Dublin, to Catherine Cullen ("Irish Records Extraction Database" 2000). However, this is unlikely to be your relative as he would be too young to marry in 1799.
The Palmers taken together put in more than 100 years of military service for the British Crown. They served in the West Indies, South Africa, and India as well as being stationed in England, Ireland, and Scotland between foreign stations. Although the military career of James Palmer, Sr., was not remarkable, he contributed in his own way to the defeat of Napoleon and gave to England two sons to help build an empire.
There is much more to learn about the Palmers. I would like to get a better idea of how they fit into general Anglo-Irish society. How did they interact with their relatives who served in the Church of Ireland? Were any Palmers in the government? Were there any other Palmers in the military? What role did Thomas Palmer play in the East India Company? If time permits, then perhaps I will make more progress on this crew. Moreover, I welcome others in the family to investigate the Palmers and let me know what you find. I will update this web page accordingly.
One last comment. For me, as an American of Irish and French ancestry, I have some difficulty appreciating the grandeur of the British empire. It is now gone. Only the shadow of the Commonwealth still holds on. Those men who died in the Australia, New Zealand, Canada, West Indies, South Africa, India, and all the other corners of the globe once held by the United Kingdom are slowly being forgotten. However, the Palmers were enthusiastic supporters of the British empire. James, Sr., wrote to his son Thomas, in a letter dated 4 April 1842 (Palmer Letters 1841-1883): "The India News is very bad--our troops murdered & beat in Afganistan--but 10,000 men are going out & England's Flag will wave over all India, & conquer wherever it is unfurled." Clearly, he had a heart felt attraction to the British empire that he, his sons, his cousins, and grandson served.
Annual Register. 1850. Death notice for Major James Palmer (15 May), p. 229. On microfilm at the University of Michigan, Hatcher Graduate Library.
Anonymous Letter. 2000. Sent to John P. DuLong (16 August). [For the time being, I believe this person would like to remain anonymous.]
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