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Added 30.4.11. Minor edits 18.2.2014.

1176, Sergeant Joseph PRIESTLEY — 13th Light Dragoons

Birth & early life

Born in Wakefield, Yorkshire.


Enlisted at Hounslow on the 16th of October 1843.

Age: 19.

Height: 5' 10.

Trade: Clerk.

Appearance: Fair complexion. Hazel eyes. Dk. brown hair.


From Private to Corporal: 30th of June 1846.

Corporal to Sergeant: 17th of October 1852.

The muster roll for the period shows him as "Acting Paymaster's Clerk His leg was shot off at the Bulganak, September 19th and he was sent to the General Hospital at Scutari". This was on the same day and is being shown as there from the 24th.

Invalided to England from Scutari on the 16th of December 1854 aboard the "Talavera", no date of arrival at Chatham Invalid Depot being recorded, but others who were sent from Scutari in the same ship are shown as arriving on the 16th of January 1855.

Discharge & pension

Discharged from Chatham Invalid Depot on the 2nd of October 1855 in consequence of being "Disabled by amputation of left leg at lower third after canister shot wound of foot on the day before the battle of the Alma."

Served 11 years 313 days. Conduct and character: "Unexceptionable".

He was awarded a pension of 1/8d. per day.

To live in Norwich after discharge.

Medals & commemorations

Entitled to the Crimean medal without clasp, and the Turkish medal.

Awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, having been recommended for it on the 13th of February 1855, and for which he received an annuity of £20, "for distinguished service in the field". This could only have been for the action before the Bulganak river.

Life after service

Marriage registered

Joseph Priestley married Emma Laxon, September Quarter 1861, Norwich.

1871 Census

Queen's Arms, Blackfriars Road, Nelson, Yarmouth.

Joseph Priestley, aged 46, Innkeeper, Wakefield.

Emma, 36, Yarmouth.

Three children shown: Victoria 9, Albert 6, and Alfred 2.

Marriage registered

Emma Priestley married John Wade, March Quarter 1874, Norwich.

1881 Census

Queens Arms, Queens Road, Nelson, Gt Yarmouth.

John Wade, aged 37, Licensed Victualler.

Emma, 39.

Four children shown: Victoria Priestley, 19, step-daughter; Albert, 16, son; Alfred, 12; Ellen Wade, 6, daughter.

Also sister-in-law, mother-in-law, and Servant.

Death & burial

Committed suicide at Yarmouth on 14th of April 1871.

Further information

Albert Mitchell, of the 13th LD, states in his "Memoirs":

"We claim to have the first casualty of the war, Sergeant Priestly, of ours, was allowed to be the first British soldier to be wounded in the Crimea."

Captain Percy Smith's account of the incident:

"In consequence of Captain Jenyns's illness I had the Troop, and was of course covering Sergeant Priestley when the squadron retired. So the shell that killed his horse must have missed me by a few inches. It hit the horse just under the dock and burst at the same moment and the first thing I saw was the horse falling on its head with the belly so completely emptied out that I could see the joints of its spine. As the man was the Paymaster-Sergeant, he had no right to be under fire."

A Yorkshire Library reference card to him states:

"He had been a private in a troop of cavalry and was one of the first men who landed in the Crimea. Being immediately sent on outpost duty, he was engaged in reconnoitring the position of the Russians when he had his left foot smashed by a round shot from one of the enemy's batteries, and was one of the first wounded of the invading force."

Extract from the Army and Navy Gazette for the 27th of April 1855:

"13th Hussars — A few days since, the Depot (presumably the Chatham Invalid) was assembled to witness the presentation of a silver medal for distinguished conduct to one of its Sergeants (Priestley, by name) for his distinguished bravery at the battle of the Alma. The Sergeant, who lost one of his legs, succeeded in a desperate effort in saving the life of his commanding officer."


Lummis and Wynn show him as "Entitled to the Crimean medal. (No clasps)", and this could be covered by his name appearing on the 13th LD medal roll made out in December of 1855. This shows the names of all ranks of the regiment of the regiment entitled to receive a medal for their service in the Crimea, but with the addition for the Alma and Inkerman clasps. In this particular instance there is only an entry in the "Remarks" column showing the date of his being invalided to England. Being engraved naming and not impressed, it could be that he later had named it himself, after, it is believed, to have been presented by Queen Victoria, most probably when she visited the Chatham Invalid Depot in March of 1855.

The following came from his grandson, Mr. William Pickard of Thorpe End, Norwich, in 1975:

"Actually my family is somewhat interesting in that I have been told we are all, in fact, Pickards, and originated from Wakefield in Yorkshire. My grandfather (perhaps from some family rumpus) left home and enlisted into the Army under the name of Priestley. (A "William Pickard," son of Richard Pickard and Elizabeth, nee Britton, of Buck Bottom, near Wakefield, was baptised on the 2nd of October 1824. This could well have been the man who later became known as "Joseph Priestley." No one by the name of Priestly appears as resident in the area at this time.) After his discharge from the Army he was furnished with a mechanical foot at the express wish of Queen Victoria.

From a copy of an edition of the "Yarmouth Independent" for the 22nd of April 1871 comes the following account, headed, "The Melancholy Suicide of Sergeant Joseph Priestley, his Death and Inquest." (He did in fact, die on the 14th of April by slashing his throat with a razor.) "Evidence was given that "on the following morning, finding he was not astir at his usual time, his bedroom was entered and the unhappy man was found stretched out on the bed, lifeless, from a deep wound in his throat."

It was stated that he had once been a private [sic] in a troop of cavalry and was struck by a round-shot fired by one of the Russian guns, which were entrenched on the heights of Alma. His left foot was amputated in the field, the operation being performed badly. He returned home, landing at Yarmouth and being sent to the hospital there. Apparently he then went back to the Invalid Depot at Chatham, where he was discharged from the Army. A witness at the inquest said that when he returned home from the Crimea he went to see Priestley at Chatham. He was then 'in a bad way, and had been given enough arsenic to kill half-a-dozen men.'

From Chatham he moved back to Yarmouth, where he took over the 'Queen's Arms', at the S.W. corner of Havelock Road, where it joins Queen's Road, and which directly faced the military hospital there. He had married a Miss Laxon, daughter of the proprietor of the public-house. He then joined the 6th Company of the East Norfolk Militia and was re-appointed to his former rank of Pay-Sergeant.

He had received an Army pension in addition to the annual grant of £20 given to him by Queen Victoria for the award of the D.C.M. Witnesses at the inquest believed that a combination of the work and the responsibility of this post and the pain he had with his leg led him to commit suicide. Shortly before his death he had expressed the thought that 'he wished he had nothing to do with the Militia, but could not give it up with honour.'

My grandfather had two sons, my uncles Alfred John and Albert Joseph. The latter remained a bachelor, but Alfred had four sons, the two eldest now being deceased, and the other two still living, one at Marham and the other at Bradford, Yorkshire. His only daughter, Victoria, was my mother. Due to the death of a relative the Yorkshire and Yarmouth sides had to meet to settle the estate. (Pickards and Priestleys) In consequence of this there were two marriages, those of my father and mother, first cousins, and my mother's brother, Alfred, and my father's sister. "My father was the eldest of ten — five boys and five girls. As a youngster he had worked as a 'part-timer' in a woollen-mill in Yorkshire and had died in 1954 at the age of 94 years.

My cousins on the Priestley side retained the name for a long time, then called themselves Priestley-Pickard, but eventually they dropped the name of Priestley. The suicide had been a very tragic one for the whole family and this occasioned a great sense of shame and great reluctance on the part of every body to refer to the affair. My mother always said that she did not know anything about it, and I could never worm anything out of her. But she must have known, being ten years old at the time it took place. A Mr. Alfred Lake [sic? John Wade is the name on the marriage registration and the 1881 Census] later married my grand-mother and took over the proprietorship of the public-house and was followed by Priestley's son, Albert."

References & acknowledgements

Registration of marriages, and Census information for 1871 & 1881, kindly provided by Chris Poole.

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