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LIVES OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE
The E.J. Boys Archive

Further information added 28.9.12.

1498, Private William Llewellyn RHYS - 11th Hussars

Birth & early life

Born at Llantrisant, near Newbridge, South Wales.

His great-nephew, Lieut. Colonel D.L. Rhys, corresponded at length with EJB about WLR (see also Further information, below):

"He was the eldest son of the Revd. William Rhys, who was Vicar in Perpetuity of Pentre and Llantrisant, in South Glamorgan. The latter was the younger son of a farmer-squire in the district. Dying in the late 1840s he left his wife with eight children. The grandfather was still alive, and there were no financial difficulties...

His mother... described [William] as 'a man with a most violent temper, who was extremely quarrelsome and had ridden rough-shod over his brothers.'

When the boys reached the age of 15 they were all given axes by their grandfather, who was very keen on forestry; and it was with one of these axes that William, in the course of a violent quarrel, removed several fingers from the hand of his immediately younger brother, Thomas. He disappeared almost immediately, rather than face parental wrath, and was not heard of again until about 1853."

According to entries in Family Tree Maker, William was one of eight children born to William Rhys, vicar of Ystandyfodwg, and Margaret Lewellin.

Richard Rhys, born 1830, Trefenyg Cottage, near Llantrisant, died 1900.

Thomas Rhys.

William L Rhys.

David Rhys.

Maria Rhys.

Gwen Rhys.

Rice Rhys, emigrated to USA in 1865.

David Rhys.

[http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/e/a/s/Bronwen-E-Eastwood/WEBSITE-0001/UHP-0567.html, accessed 28.9.12. These entries have not been checked by the editors, but are included here in the hope that they may assist further research.]

Enlistment

Enlisted at Westminster on the 2nd of December 1850.

Age: 19.

Height: 5' 8".

Trade: Draper.

Appearance: Fresh complexion. Blue eyes. Dark brown hair.

Service

1851 Census

Pockthorpe Cavalry Barracks, Norwich

W.L.Rhys, aged 19, Soldier, Private, born Glamorgan, Wales.

Sent to Scutari on the 18th of December 1854 and invalided to England on the 16th of May 1855.

From Private to Corporal: 16th of April 1857.

From Corporal to Troop Sergeant Major: 11th of June 1857.

Reduced to Sergeant on the 23rd of July 1857.

Tried by a Regimental Court-martial and reduced to Private for "breaking out of barracks" on the 18th of September 1857.

Transferred to the 18th Hussars on the 13th of March 1858. Regimental No. 378.

Appointed to Troop Sergeant Major on the 1st of April 1858.

Tried by a Regimental Court-martial for "absence and disgraceful conduct" on the 28th of August 1858 and imprisoned until the 2nd of March 1859. Released (as a Private) on the 3rd of March 1859.

Discharge & pension

Discharged from Chatham Invalid Depot on the 6th of August 1861, as

"Found unfit for further service from ulceration of the left leg resulting from scurvy on the voyage to the Crimea in the spring of 1854, for which he was at Scutari for six months, and then invalided home. Since then he has been under treatment for recurring ulceration - is very inefficient- has done no duty for 18 months."

Served 8 years 276 days.

In Turkey and the Crimea: 1 year.

Conduct: "Indifferent".

Three times tried by Court-martial. Not in possession of any Good Conduct badges.

To live in Cardiff, Glamorgan.

Awarded a pension of 6d. per day for 2 years (to the 27th of August 1863.)

Medals & commemorations

Entitled to the Crimean medal with clasps for Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman, Sebastopol and the Turkish medal.

Documents confirm the award of the Crimean medal with four clasps.

EJB: The muster roll for the October-December quarter shows no reason for any possible absence before going to Scutari on the 18th of December, so he may have ridden in the Charge. Certainly a number of obituaries assert it.

Attended the first Balaclava Banquet in 1875.

His name was on the 1877 list of members of the Balaclava Commemoration Society, but not on the 1879 revised list.

Further detailed medal information archived.

Life after service

According to Lieut. Colonel Rhys (see Further information, below), he and his fourth brother, Rice:

"emigrated to America in the early 1860's, and he certainly fought in the American Civil War, where he finished as a Judge-Advocate. His brother was never heard of again, although there was a strong family belief that William had pushed his brother over the side before they reached America.

He returned to England after the Civil War and set up house in one of the more fashionable areas of Cardiff and joining the firm of Messrs Insole and Sons, then being one of the largest coal and ship-owning firms in business at the time. He was described as being their chief accountant."

1881 Census

22 Dumfries Place, Parish of St John's, Cardiff.

William Davies, aged 71, Head of household, born Swansea, Glamorgan.

Maria Davies, 73, born Swansea, Glamorgan.

William L. Rhys, 51, Bookkeeper

Jane G. Rhys, 44, born Swansea, Glamorgan.

Alice Davies, 5, visitor, born Newport, Monmouth.

Lilian Lloyd, 28, Servant, born Newport, Monmouth.

O.H. Riches, 38, boarder, Colliery Proprietor, born Norwich, Norfolk.

Death & burial

Deaths registered

William Lewellin Rhys, 51, June Quarter 1881, Bridgend.

Jane Thomas Rhys, 62, June Quarter 1901, Bridgend.

According to Lieut. Colonel Rhys (see Further information, below):

"He died at Porthcawl on the 5th of May 1881 and was buried in the old Cardiff Cemetery, now called the Roath Cemetery [Cathays Cemetery]...

[A]lthough William was said to be a bachelor, the grave also contained the remains of a lady who bore an entirely different name and had been buried there in 1904, some 23 years later. There is quite probably some simple explanation, such as she was either a house-keeper or the relation of someone who had looked after my great-uncle in later years.

Map of Cathays Park Cemetery, showing William Llewellyn Rhys's grave as number 31

Map showing location of William Llewellyn Rhys's grave (number 31). From the downloadable pdf guide to Cathays Cemetery Heritage Trail.

The grave is off the path leading from the church to Roath Park, being about 100 yards from the latter. There may be some difficulty about finding it, the easiest thing being to look for is a small tree within a few yards of the grave. The stone itself is pretty grubby. From the back it represents a pile of boulders; which are of a brownish colour.

From the front the boulder motif is continued and set in the middle is a tablet, which reads:

"William Llewellyn Rhys. Died at Porthcawl, May 5th 1881, aged 52.

When shall their glory fade. Honour the Charge they made,

O' the wild charge they made, Honour the Light Brigade.

All the world wondered, Noble Six Hundred.

Also Jane (Jennie) Wife of Alfred Thomas. 4th of April 1904, aged 63."

EJB: The woman buried with him was most probably his widow, as the grave-space was purchased by a Mrs. Jane Rhys, wife of William Rhys. She was shown as still residing at Dumfries Place, Cardiff, when she died. She was then shown as Jane Gribble Thomas, the wife of Alfred Thomas, Carriage builder, of the same address. No other interments took place in this grave.

There is a photograph of the gravestone in the 11th Hussar file.

Further information

In 1857-58, as a Troop Sergeant-Major, he gave evidence to the Committee enquiring into the "Sanitary Conditions of the Army, the Organisation of the Military Hospitals and the Treatment of the Sick and Wounded" Most of his evidence was given regarding messing and the purchase of food by soldiers out of their own money.

Extracts from the Royal Commission's Report, published in 1861:

"William Rhys, a Troop Sergeant Major in the 11th Hussars, under examination by the Sanitary Commissioners in 1858, described the situation in his regiment.

A trooper's messing cost him 8d. per day, of which 6d. per week was for the washing of his clothes. The Troop Sergeant Major was responsible for buying his troop's food, and for choosing the tradesmen from whom it was bought. The men themselves decided what it should be.

For breakfast they usually had coffee, milk and sugar, as well as bread. Asked whether they got anything else for breakfast, William Rhys said, "Oh, yes, They buy it themselves and pay for it out of their weekly pay." "Do they all generally buy it?" "Some of the men do. Most of them are under stoppages and so cannot afford it."

The mid-day meal consisted of a pint of meat soup per man, with mutton twice a week, and beef for the other days. Rhys also said that the quality of the meat was good, but the quantity too small."

"In the 11th Hussars, according to William Rhys, Thursdays and Sundays there was a "baked dinner." On those days the rations were sent out of barracks, it was noted in the Report, "to be dressed by a baker, " whom the men find means to pay by diminishing their allowance of vegetables, which according to the composition of the rations, may be prejudicial to health. For the third meal, the provision of which had been made compulsory in 1840, the men usually had tea, milk, sugar and bread."

A number of references have already been made to information that came from his great-nephew, Lieut. Colonel D.L. Rhys, O.B.E. M.C. D.L. [personal correspondence with EJB, unknown date]. The complete text is as follows:

"He was the eldest son of the Revd. William Rhys, who was Vicar in Perpetuity of Pentree and Llantrissant, in South Glamorgan. The latter was the younger son of a farmer-squire in the district. Dying in the late 1840s he left his wife with eight children. The grandfather was still alive, and there were no financial difficulties. The grandfather died in 1855, aged 99. (He was said to have hunted to the day of his death.)

My own father, and his mother, are the only two I have spoken to who knew him and as my father was only six when William L. Rhys died, had no personal knowledge of him. His mother, however, described him as "a man with a most violent temper, who was extremely quarrelsome and had ridden rough-shod over his brothers."

When the boys reached the age of 15 they were all given axes by their grand-father, who was very keen on forestry; and it was with one of these axes that William, in the course of a violent quarrel, removed several fingers from the hand of his immediately younger brother, Thomas. He disappeared almost immediately, rather than face parental wrath, and was not heard of again until about 1853.

His great-grandmother, who was one of the Llewellyns of Tremaine, heard from him that he was serving as a Private in the 11th Hussars and immediately sought a way to get him out of the Army. This was not proved possible, but Lord Tredegar (Captain Godfrey Morgan of the 17th Lancers) was asked to keep an eye on him. He advised her to buy him a good horse - but whether she did or not I do not know.

I have no idea what happened to him after he left the Crimea, but obviously there cannot have been a family reconciliation or he would have been bought out of the service. A note written by my father, under a newspaper cutting of his death, refers to him as having been a Riding-Master in the 17th Lancers. How this story arose I do not know, but I imagine he either spun his family a line, or else his mother had little idea of military affairs. There were various family legends of Uncle William's prowess and of his successes in various competitions such as assaults-at-arms, etc. I think it is quite clear that he was a fine horseman; his grandfather hunted his own hounds in the Vale of Glamorgan, amd all his family were skilful horsemen.

He was most certainly on good terms with at least one of his brothers (the fourth, Rice) as they both emigrated to America in the early 1860's, and he certainly fought in the American Civil War, where he finished as a Judge-Advocate. His brother was never heard of again, although there was a strong family belief that William had pushed his brother over the side before they reached America.

He returned to England after the Civil War and set up house in one of the more fashionable areas of Cardiff and joining the firm of Messrs. Insole and Sons, then being one of the largest coal and ship-owning firms in business at the time. He was described as being their chief accountant.

He died at Porthcawl on the 5th of May 1881 and was buried in the old Cardiff Cemetery, now called the Roath Cemetery. When my father died, about ten years ago, my brother and I walked around the various family graves to decide what we could do about preserving them.

We were surprised to find that, although William was said to be a bachelor, the grave also contained the remains of a lady who bore an entirely different name and had been buried there in 1904, some 23 years later. There is quite probably some simple explanation, such as she was either a house-keeper or the relation of someone who had looked after my great-uncle in later years.[See EJB note below.]

The grave is off the path leading from the church to Roath Park, being about 100 yards from the latter. There may be some difficulty about finding it, the easiest thing being to look for is a small tree within a few yards of the grave. The stone itself is pretty grubby. From the back it represents a pile of boulders; which are of a brownish colour. From the front the boulder motif is continued and set in the middle is a tablet, which reads:

"William Llewellyn Rhys. Died at Porthcawl, May 5th 1881, aged 52.

When shall their glory fade. Honour the Charge they made,

O' the wild charge they made, Honour the Light Brigade.

All the world wondered, Noble Six Hundred.

Also Jane (Jennie) Wife of Alfred Thomas. 4th of April 1904, aged 63."

I also possess a letter which he wrote from Scutari Hospital in February of 1855. My great-grandmother then passed it in to her daughter, the wife of Archdeacon Griffiths, who in turn passed it in to her daughter, Nancy Price, the actress. (She was a cousin of William's, as was also the actor, Owen Nares.)

EJB: The woman buried with him was most probably his widow, as the grave-space was purchased by a Mrs. Jane Rhys, wife of William Rhys. She was shown as still residing at Dumfries Place, Cardiff, when she died. She was then shown as Jane Gribble Thomas, and the wife of Alfred Thomas, Carriage builder, of the same address. No other interments took place in this grave. (There is a photograph of the gravestone in the 11th Hussar file.)

This letter was reprinted in the "Western Mail" on the 9th of March 1918:

"Crimean Memoirs - Cardiff Man's Letter in 1855."

"Was one of the Noble Six Hundred."

"Private W.L. Rhys, a Cardiff man, was one of the "Noble Six Hundred" who achieved immortal fame at Balaclava. He was a member of a well-known family in Charles Street, then the most aristocratic street in the small town of those days. After the Crimean War he and his brother both emigrated to America and both fought in the American Civil War in the early sixties."

There is a copy of this letter in the 11th Hussar file.

Obituary notice from the "Cardiff Times" for the 21st of May 1881:

"Rhys. May 15th, at Porthcawl, suddenly, William Llewellyn Rhys, of Dumfries Place, Cardiff, eldest son of the late William Rhys, incumbent of Ystra Fofwg, aged 51 years."

Extract from the "Western Mail" for the 6th of May 1881:

"Death of one of the Noble Six Hundred."

"Mr. William L. Rhys, the son of a well-known Monmouthshire clergyman [PB TO CHECK: EJB notes "this was not so: it was his brother who was a clergyman in Monmouthshire", but other evidence states he was indeed the son] and who took part in the celebrated charge at Balaclava, died somewhat suddenly at Porthcawl on Sunday. For some years past he had been the chief accountant in the firm of Messrs. Insole and Sons, and was highly respected by all with whom he came into contact.

His health had been somewhat impaired of late, and he was advised by his medical practitioner to visit Porthcawl. On Saturday he was quite hopeful that in a fortnight he would return home quite set up for work again. But during the Saturday night a change set in the worse and he died early on Sunday morning."

[Eds: Extracts from his account to be added - see photo file.

In September 2012, a blog by Cat Whiteaway on the subject of caring for Welsh graves on the BBC Wales website referred to Rhys, and showed a picture of his headstone:

"The headstone for William Llewellyn Rhys"

Headstone for William Llewellyn Rhys

"For a long time it was thought that William Llewellyn Rhys was a survivor from the Charge of the Light Brigade at the battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. This was a natural assumption based on the lengthy and expensive inscription on his headstone of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem, which reads:

"When can their glory fade?

Oh the wild charge they made!

All the world wonder'd

Honour the charge they made!

Honour the Light Brigade,

Noble six hundred!"

However, the Friends have found no evidence to support this assumption since Rhys' name does not appear on the list of survivors!*"

[http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/wales/posts/caring-for-welsh-graves, accessed 27.09.12.]

* Since no definitive list of survivors was made at the time, the Friends should not assume that he did not Charge. Given other information cited in the archive, it is possible - perhaps even likely - that he was indeed a Charger. [PB]

References & acknowledgements

Additional Census information for 1851, and registrations of deaths kindly provided by Chris Poole.


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