Mary GARNER was born with her twin Joseph in August 1782. Her Presbyterian parents, John and Mary GARNER, baptized them in a Presbyterian chapel in Narborough. They later baptized a brother Richard in a similar chapel in Hinckley. Mary's future husband, John GARNER, was also baptized in the same Hinckley chapel, so the two GARNER families may have been connected through their church as well as potentials through family ties.
Mary married Corporal John GARNER of the First or Grenadier Guards Regiment in Feb 1802 having had banns read from Nov 1801. She would have been 19 years old. The ceremony was performed by the Rector I Dyke, as was recorded in the Regimental records.
Marrying a soldier was a risky proposition in the early 19th century, not only because of the risk of the husband's sudden, early death, but because if the soldier was posted abroad then the wife and children may be left destitute because the Army offered no help to soldiers' dependents while the soldier lived. As a result the bride's family would often threaten to cut the bride off, if she went ahead with the marriage. It is not clear what Mary's parents thought of the marriage, but if the families had known each other since their children were young they may have seen it coming.
Mary and John baptized four children in Burbage, although the baptism of John in 1806 is an assumed copying error made sometime in the 19th century where the name GRANGER was written instead of GARNER. (I believe that two baptisms involving John GARNER and a GRANGER child were merged when the copyist lost their place.)
- William on 3 Oct 1802 in Burbage
- John "GRANGER" on 19 Mar 1806 in Burbage
- Catherine in 1808 in Burbage
- Martha in 1810 in Burbage.
Mary probably lived with John as he moved around from one Army posting to another. She was living with him, with one child - probably their youngest, Martha - in 1821 when she was allowed "Marching money" to travel the 99 miles home to Burbage when her husband, newly Serjeant, John GARNER, was discharged in August 1821. This allowance was only available at discharge so how they funded they returns to Burbage for their children's christenings is unclear.
It was common for wives to travel with their husbands on campaign, so it is reasonably to believe that Mary went to Sicily in 1807 (where Catherine was perhaps conceived), Corunna, Spain in 1809, the Netherlands in 1809, Spain in 1811-14, France 1814 and on the Waterloo Campaign in 1815. If she did then she would have endured many of the privations that the soldiers endured.
As many as sixty wives of soldiers would follow a battalion (of approximately 800-1000 men) during the Peninsula War, but as a Serjeant's wife Mary might have been given priority. It is estimated that 1,500 soldier's wives were transported to Portugal in 1808 at public expense. After the retreat to Corunna in January 1809 the practice was stopped due to the harrowing march across mountains in winter that many of the camp followers would not have survived. But by 1813 the practise had restarted.
If Mary had been left behind then the scene may have been summed up by a contemporary witness as follows: "It was indeed most affecting to witness the distress of those whose fate it was to remain behind, and the despair that was pictured on the countenances of the unhappy creatures was truly pitiable. Many of them, young, helpless, and unprotected, were forced to wander back to their own country, pennyless, and broken-hearted, and to all intents and purposes left in a widowed state, for few of them were fated ever to behold their husbands again."
The Army took no responsibility for the dependents left behind by soldiers sent abroad, and work for Army wives with children, like Mary, would have been hard to find and wages would have been low. Unless their family took them in, then they would be left with a plea for parish poor relief or begging. Many returned to the regimental headquarters for the moral support network of the other wives, and where they might have existing employment. Some would have received mail from literate soldiers - as a Serjeant John must have learned to read and write - and the fortunate would receive some portion of their husband's pay. But travelling with a husband would have been a more attractive option if available.
While there was a prohibition against a woman with children being allowed to sail with regiments, it may have been an army preference, not a universal practice. There are many references to children of intermediate age accompanying their mothers, including in the 1808-9 campaigns.
The role of a wife on compaign would encompass foraging, cooking, delivering food and drink when the men on duty or in action, companionship, childcare and transport of the family's belongings but might include her husband's arms and equipment if the husband was sick or wounded. After an engagement they would locate and nurse a wounded husband, or have them buried. Wives walked with soldiers during marches, although that may not have been permitted in the First Regiment of Guards who were the standard bearers of martial rectitude. Two key attributes were expected of wives by their husbands: service and sexual fidelity; a failure to provide these could lead to a loss of protection and everything that entailed. A widowed wife or her children was not entitled to their rations so soldiers' widows would re-marry after a week, despite the stigma, to receive food and protection.
Camp followers were subject to the same martial law as soldiers, and were considered to be part of the army. The wife of a soldier would receive half-rations and the children quarter rations. The families were expected to keep up with the march, and many procured donkeys - they weren't allowed to ride on the baggage carts - not only to carry children and belongings, but to range into the countryside foraging for food. Travelling far from the army became essential when Wellington prohibited women from buying bread less than two leagues (i.e. 2 hours walk) from the commisariat depot. Official rations included a monotonous diet of biscuit and beef. Potatoes, olives, onions, cabbage, beans, maize, grapes, chickens, fish (salt and fresh), pigs, rabbits, and sausage were all non-ration items that would need to be foraged for around the line of march.
Hunger reached a low point at Talavera in summer of 1809 when promised provisions failed to arrive. Regimental funds were then used to buy local food at inflated rates instead of paying soldiers their wages. At a stroke the soldiers' wives had neither food not income to obtain it. It is perhaps not surprising that rumours of prostitution arose at this time, although this is unlikely to extend to a Serjeant's wife.
But worse had happened earlier in the year when the retreat to Corunna left many women and children dead from cold and exhaustion. Horrific stories of women lying by the road with whimpering, dying children are notable. While the men were issued with new clothes, shoes and had access to cobblers, no provision was made for the wives' and children's clothing which the women would need to procure, mend and wash themselves. By all accounts the whole of the Peninsula army and its followers looked like vagabonds by the time they reached France.
A Serjeant's wife was accorded the honorific of Mrs, so Mary would have been called Mrs. Garner, and would enjoyed improved status amongst the wives and other camp followers. Of course, when John was reduced to Private in February 1815 that would have also impacted on her standing in her community.
Whether Mary joined John on campaign or not, she was with him in London in the summer of 1821 when he was honorably discharged.
John left the army on 24 Aug 1821 as a Serjeant. Mary and a child, probably Martha who would be 11 years old, had been living with him in London and they were paid £1 12s 4 1/2d "Marching money", a travel allowance, for the 99 miles journey back to Hinckley as were all wives and children of honourably discharged soldiers.
Her husband died in 1830. Assuming she outlived him, she most likely stayed in Burbage, but no burial has been found in Burbage or Hinckley that fits her age from 1821 onwards. Alternatively she may have relocated to live with a family member. She hasn't been found in the 1841 or 1851 censuses.
The only locally registered deaths before the 1841 were all infants:
- Q2 1838 Leicester (age 0)
- Q1 1839 Hinckley (age 2 daughter of Timothy GARNER framesmith who died of "hooping" cough)
- Q1 1841 Leicester (age 1)