One of the most exciting discoveries in our 2021 Finds Programme has been the story of James Callum - the ancestor of one of our participants.  James fought at Waterloo, where he was a Private in the 71st Highland Light Infantry, positioned near Hougoumont for most of the battle. Through their research, our participants have rediscovered the story of James' life...

EARLY LIFE

James was born in Elgin in Moray, Scotland on the 5th of January 1787, to May Skeen and James Callum. He apprenticed as a dyer in Montrose, Forfarshire, but left the trade when he accepted a £40 bounty to serve with the Forfarshire Militia at the age of 19. 

In documents from his admission to the army, he is described as having a round face with a fresh complexion, grey eyes and brown hair, and standing 5 ft and 6 1/2 inches tall.

MILITARY SERVICE

When James joined the regular army in 1808, he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion of the 71st Regiment of Foot, before being posted to Glasgow with the 1st Battalion.

In 1809, James' battalion was assigned to the Walcheren Expedition in the Netherlands. This expedition, which attempted to open another front in the Austrian Empire's fight against France, ultimately failed and is widely considered to be a disaster.

In the spring of 1810, the battalion returned to British shores to their depot in Deal, Kent, and by September they had been ordered off to Portugal as part of the expeditionary force under Lieutenant-General Arthur Wellesley (later Lord Wellington).

During the Peninsular War, James fought through Arroyo dos Molinos, Almaraz, Vittoria, the Pyrenees, Nivelle, Nive, Orthez and Toulouse, before arriving at Waterloo. He was at one point taken prisoner in the Peninsula and it has been claimed that he fought through eighteen battles in Portugal, Spain, France, the Netherlands and Belgium without a scar.

At Waterloo, James served in the 9th Company of the 71st Regiment, under Lt. Col. Thomas Randles. Following victory at Waterloo, the 71st moved on to Paris, before returning to Deal in England. James was honourably discharged shortly after the battle.

"James Callum served in the 9th Company of the 71st Regiment at the Battle of Waterloo under my command, and I have reason to know that he participated in all the services that all the corps engaged at Walcheren, Portugal, Spain, and France. James Callum beats the best possible character from the captain of his company, and I believe him to be a well-conducted man and excellent soldier"
James Callum's discharge papers, by Lt. Col. Thomas Randles, 1815
"James Callum served in the 9th Company of the 71st Regiment at the Battle of Waterloo under my command, and I have reason to know that he participated in all the services that all the corps engaged at Walcheren, Portugal, Spain, and France. James Callum beats the best possible character from the captain of his company, and I believe him to be a well-conducted man and excellent soldier"
James Callum's discharge papers, by Lt. Col. Thomas Randles, 1815

CIVILIAN LIFE

Following his time in the army, James worked as a house carpenter and squarewright (a furniture maker) until his retirement. Returning to Elgin, James married Margaret Young in 1822, with whom he had five children: Margaret, Ann, James, Isabella and John. 

Tragically, 4 of his 5 children died young. Ann died in infancy in 1825, Margaret died in 1841 aged 18, John died in 1859 aged 24, and James Jr died in 1860 aged 32. His wife Margaret also passed away in 1862 aged 62. Isabella was the only member of the family that outlived James. She married a blacksmith named Alexander Russell, with whom she had 9 children.

LATER YEARS

James lived in Elgin for the remainder of his life, where he was well known and well liked, often telling stories of his narrow escapes in battle, including one incident at Almaraz where he claims grapeshot hit his bayonet and made him "spin round like a top”, but left him uninjured.

In 1866, James attended the funeral of Sir Cumming, where he acted as a pallbearer despite being 79 years old and stooped with old age, out of respect, as the Cumming family had been instrumental in influencing the decision to grant an annuity (a yearly payment) of £20 to James in 1838. He was also awarded a Chelsea pension of 6 pence per week in 1856, for injuries to the fingers of both hands due to frostbite in the Pyrenees. This was later increased to a shilling per week.

In his final years, his daughter Isabella, her husband Alexander and 7 of their children moved in with James, to care for him in his old age. James died in Elgin on the 18th of May 1872 at the age of 85, significantly older than the life expectancy of this period. He was described in his obituary in the Elgin Courant as "quiet, modest, and of a very cheerful disposition; sober in his habits, and serious in his religious convictions, which
made him highly respected by all who knew him".

James Callum was laid to rest in Elgin Cathedral, alongside his wife Margaret, and four of their children. He was survived by his daughter Isabella, who died in 1910, at the age of 80. 

"Old James Callum is dead. How are younger citizens may have seen an old man occasionally walking on the north side of the street, near the Parish Church stooping much under the infirmities of age, but always neat and clean in his dress, and free in his manner to all at the pleasure of personally knowing him. Though bowed in decrepitude, that old man was once a smart soldier, and took part in many battles, and was, as far as we know, the last Waterloo hero in town"
Obituary for James Callum in the Elgin Courant, May 1872
"Old James Callum is dead. How are younger citizens may have seen an old man occasionally walking on the north side of the street, near the Parish Church stooping much under the infirmities of age, but always neat and clean in his dress, and free in his manner to all at the pleasure of personally knowing him. Though bowed in decrepitude, that old man was once a smart soldier, and took part in many battles, and was, as far as we know, the last Waterloo hero in town"
Obituary for James Callum by Lt. Col. Thomas Randles in the Elgin Courant, May 1872
A close up of the etching from James Callum's snuff box
A close up of the etched pattern from James' Snuff Box

Snuff Box



This silver ornamental box was used to hold snuff (a scented, powdered type of tobacco) which became popular in Britain in the 17th century, and was sniffed or inhaled.

The intricately inscribed silver snuff box, still in the possession of James Callum's ancestors, was presented to James Callum by his son, also named James, at some point before his son's death in 1860.

Snuff boxes were common, valuable gifts from the 17th century onwards, and were often inscribed with messages to the receiver, just as James' is. They were small enough to fit in a coat pocket, and it is likely that James would have carried such a sentimental gift around with him.

James Callum's silver snuff box, with an engraving that reads Presented to James Callum by his son James
James' silver engraved snuff box
James Callum's silver snuff box, with an engraving that reads Presented to James Callum by his son James
James' silver engraved snuff box
When I first saw James Callum’s snuff box it presented me with a tangible link to him. It was truly a pleasure uncovering long forgotten details of his life in the service of his country
Nicola, Finds Programme Participant
When I first saw James Callum’s snuff box it presented me with a tangible link to him. It was truly a pleasure uncovering long forgotten details of his life in the service of his country
Nicola, Finds Programme Participant
Image
When I first saw James Callum’s snuff box it presented me with a tangible link to him. It was truly a pleasure uncovering long forgotten details of his life in the service of his country.

Nicola, Finds Programme Participant
A Waterloo medal
A Waterloo medal

The Missing Medals



James Callum was awarded the general service medal, as well as the Waterloo medal for his service during the battle - however, both medals was sold at auction several decades ago, and its current location is unknown.

The first of the two medals we know James Callum was awarded was the General Service 1793-1814 medal, equipped with 6 clasps, representing his service in Vittoria, Pyrenees, Nivelle, Nive, Orthes, Toulouse.

The second of his medals was the Waterloo medal, fitted with original steel clip and ring suspension, the described as having two small edge bruises and both with very light contact marks.

These medals appeared on the London market in 1912, along with his original discharge papers and an obituary from a Scottish newspaper. They reappeared in November 1985, when they were sold at Christies for £626. In April 2001, they were sold by Dix Noonan Webb, for £2,500. The purchaser of the medals was the London Medal Company - however, it is unknown where the medals ended up after that.

The front and back view of a 1793-1814 General Service medal
A 1793-1814 General Service Medal, with similar clasps to James'

The first of the two medals we know James Callum was awarded was the General Service 1793-1814 medal, equipped with 6 clasps, representing his service in Vittoria, Pyrenees, Nivelle, Nive, Orthes, Toulouse.

The second of his medals was the Waterloo medal, fitted with original steel clip and ring suspension, and described as having two small edge bruises and very light contact marks.

These medals appeared on the London market in 1912, along with his original discharge papers and an obituary from a Scottish newspaper. They reappeared in 2011, when both medals were sold at auction for a total price of £2,500, although the buyer is unknown, and we have been unable to trace them since then.

The front and back view of a 1793-1814 General Service medal
A 1793-1814 General Service Medal, with similar clasps to James'

Can you reunite James' ancestors with his medals?
If you have any information that could help us locate James Callum's medals, please email info@waterloouncovered.com

Can you reunite James' ancestors with his medals?
If you have any information that could help us locate James Callum's medals, please email info@waterloouncovered.com

MacLeod tartan, worn by 71st Highlanders
MacLeod tartan, worn by 71st Highlanders

71st Highlanders



James belonged to the 71st Highland Regiment of Foot, a Scottish regiment in the British Army raised in 1777.

The 71st Highland Regiment of Foot, also known as MacLeod's Highlanders after Lord MacLeod (Major-General John Mackenzie), was initially formed largely from members of Highland clans in and around Elgin, where James Callum was born. When raised in December 1777, it was known as the 73rd Regiment of Foot, before being redesignated as the 71st Regiment of Foot in 1786. In 1808 the regiment was renamed the 71st Glasgow Highland Regiment of Foot, before being renamed the 71st Highland Regiment of Foot (Light Infantry) in 1810. Their uniform included MacLeod tartan, a variation of the Black Watch tartan.

The regiment saw action across the world, in India, Portugal, Gibraltar, South Africa, Argentina, the Netherlands, Spain, France and Belgium.

The Highlanders later took part in the Crimean War, during which the regiment participated in the siege of Sevastopol in 1854, before being called to suppress the Indian Rebellion in 1868. In 1881, as part of the Childers Reforms, the regiment was combined with the 74th Highland Regiment of Foot to form the Highland Light Infantry.

A painting of 71st Highlanders by Manskirch
Anecdote of the bravery of the Scotch piper of the 71st Highland Regiment, at the Battle of Vimiero, by Manskirch, Clark & Dubourg, 1816. Held by the National Army Museum
A painting of 71st Highlanders by Manskirch
Anecdote of the bravery of the Scotch piper of the 71st Highland Regiment, at the Battle of Vimiero, by Manskirch, Clark & Dubourg, 1816. Held by the National Army Museum


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