My methods of family history research have been spread over many years and I haven’t always been consistent either in saving original records, or keeping a trail of breadcrumbs so I would remember how I came by some particular information. I knew I remembered seeing a marriage record for Michael Ferris, but I couldn’t remember where. This evening, while looking through some documents that I thought pertained to another branch of my family history, I found the record.
I’d downloaded it years ago from the Galway Family History Society website (which I’d forgotten even existed) and it tells us that on February 3rd 1877, Michael Ferris(s) – a soldier with the 88th Regiment and resident of Castle Barracks in Galway – married Mary Griffin, a servant, of Furbo in Galway. From my cursory Google investigations Furbo remains to this day a ‘Gaeltacht’ area, ie. where Gaelic is spoken, but at this stage I know nothing at all about Furbo other than it is a coastal settlement. Likewise I know nothing about Castle Barracks other than that Renmore Barracks seems to have replaced it in 1880.
What’s useful about the marriage document is that it confirms the names of other family members, thereby making it easier to trace the family tree; Michael’s father is indeed Jeremiah Ferris (Dermot in Irish form), tallying with earlier documents. We also learn that Mary Griffin’s father was named Michael, and that there was another family member (a sister, perhaps?) named Peggy Griffin. I have had it handed down to me in very fragmented and semi-mythical form that some of our ancestors in Ireland drowned in the sea whilst cockle-picking; I don’t know who this might have been, or if it’s true; but it does seem that both Mary and Michael were from coastal areas. Otherwise, I know that Michael died in Wales in 1894, with pneumonia marked on his death certificate; he had been a foundry worker, living in Cardiff, described also as a Chelsea Pensioner. It seems to me likely that his lung problems might have been caused by inhaling steel particles – but this, of course, is only a guess. When I think of his life, from start to finish, it doesn’t seem to me to be a happy one. I hope he found some peace in the end. It seems to me important that his life is recognised in some way, even if only by acknowledging that he existed.
Michael Ferris’s career in the army lasted over two decades. There’s a lot more historical research that could be done around the edges, but for now I have to stick with what I know. Unfortunately, despite having obtained a copy of Michael’s army records, the handwriting is very difficult to read in places. What is apparent, though, is that Michael spent over 12 years in what was then called the East Indies, and 8 years at home in Ireland.
This period in the East Indies corresponds with what we know from history; that the 88th Regiment was deployed to India in 1857 to deal with the Indian Rebellion that took place that same year, and remained there until 1870. To put into context, until 1857 India had been run entirely by the East India Company – that’s right, a private company, run for profit – and was marshalled by private British armies. The rebellion of 1857 shook British society and meant that state armies were deployed to bring India back under British control. What exactly went through Michael’s mind is anyone’s guess, but we have to remember that Ireland too had been colonised and exploited by the British, and was effectively a British colony at the time – which is why an Irish regiment was able to be deployed as part of the British strike against the Indian rebels.
For all I know, Michael Ferris saw no fundamental conflict in terms of his loyalties. Maybe he didn’t even care. What I do know – because it’s written on his army record – is that his conduct throughout his service was described as ‘very bad’, and that he was frequently ‘addicted to drink’ – and another word which may either be ‘absent’ or ‘absinthe’. I suppose both amount to the same thing. His discharge notes add that ‘he is not in possession of any good conduct badges’, along with some other comments that are barely legible but, as far as I can decipher alongside historical records, may refer to an Indian Mutiny medal with clasp for Central India.
His detailed service record shows him being ‘re-engaged’ for 11 years in 1867 at Rawalpindi, a city now found in modern Pakistan but which, at that time, was the home of the Victoria Barracks. The rest of the service record is difficult to decipher, but it is possible to make out that he was repeatedly imprisoned or confined while awaiting trial, and twice is mentioned as being absent without leave. There is also a barely legible scrawl that seems to say: ‘his name appears eight times in the Regimental Defaulters’ Book, out of which two [illegible] are G [eneral] Courts Martial.’
Take a look at the neat signature: ‘M. Ferris’. We can assume that to be his own handwriting, in which case he was almost certainly taught to read and write during his army service.