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.