George Giles (1821-1896)

 

George Giles (1821 - 1896)

  • Born Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, England
  • Died Liverpool, Lancashire, England
  • Married:
    • Mary Ann Wilson, Templemore, Tipperary, Ireland, 1848
    • Sarah Wright, Wilton, Somerset, England, 1856
    • Martha Short Young, Liverpool, Lancashire, England, 1867

Mary Ann Wilson (1826 - abt. 1854)

  • Born Ireland
  • Died Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, England
  • One child

Sarah Wright (1824 - 1866)

  • Born Callington, Cornwall, England
  • Died Liverpool, Lancashire, England
  • Four children

Martha Short Young (1839 - 1907)

  • Born Bath, Somerset
  • Died Liverpool, Lancashire, England
  • Six children
Map - Giles, George

Opposite: Reproduction of nail shop at Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, England.

Of the five children of  William and Ann Giles who survived to adulthood, George would have by far the most varied and eventful life. He joined the army at age 16 and served his country for nearly 40 years, spending time on the far side of the world in China and the East Indies, as well as the Mediterranean and Ireland. He was three times cited for good behavior and promoted to sergeant, but also demoted and incarcerated for striking a color sergeant while drunk. A few years later, he regained his sergeant's stripes. During his life of 75 years, he married three times after losing two wives to premature death.

Photo: Michael Otterson
Photo: Michael Otterson
Photo: Michael Otterson
Photo: Michael Otterson

BORN IN THE TOWN OF BROMSGROVE, near Birmingham in the English Midlands, George Giles started his working life by helping his father in the nail making industry that was one of the largest sources of area employment in the 1800s. 

About a quarter of Bromsgrove's working population at this time were nail makers. It was a cottage-based industry. Families would work together, often in a nail shop attached to their house, and even young children were put to work, usually managing the bellows to keep the fires going.

But even before he was 17, George had had enough of that hot and dirty work, in which he could have seen no promising future. He joined the British Army where he was assigned to the 59th Regiment of Foot. Whether it was with or without his father's permission is not known.

Credit: Encyclopedia Britannica
Credit: Encyclopedia Britannica
Burr, David H., A New Universal Atlas; believed to be in the public domain by virtue of 1835 date.
Burr, David H., A New Universal Atlas; believed to be in the public domain by virtue of 1835 date.

Top:  British and Chinese infantry clash during the Opium Wars of the mid-1800s. George Giles 59th Regiment of Foot was one of the regiments of the British Army to be deployed.
Above:  The area known as the East Indies included the islands of today's Indonesia, flanked by the Malaysian peninsula and the Philippines.  George Giles was stationed in this area for three years, though his military papers don't specify his exact location.

Photo: Michael Otterson
Photo: Michael Otterson
Public domain.
Public domain.
Photo: Michael Otterson
Photo: Michael Otterson

Above, top:  County Tipperary countryside near Templemore.
Above, center:  Templemore military barracks where George Giles was stationed when in Ireland.  Today the buildings and grounds are a national police and defence forces facility.
Above:  Templemore parish Church, where George Giles and Mary Ann Wilson were married.

George's army papers in the National Archives list his overseas service, but  dates are not given. Periods and places of service have to be deduced from where and when he was married and where his children were born. According to the army records, George served in Hong Kong for almost six years, and in the "East Indies" for nearly three. By also looking at the regimental history of the 59th Regiment of Foot - and later the 10th Regiment of Foot - we can make an educated guess as to where he was at which times, particularly when matched with the known history of what was happening in various parts of the world.

Most likely his first posting soon after he joined up was to the Far East. In 1841 British troops occupied Hong Kong in the prelude to the First Opium War. Hong Kong was then merely a collection of scattered fishing villages that were home to about 3,000 people. Later, the 59th Regiment, which had been on garrison duties in England for most of the past 20 years, sailed to China to become part of a small force enforcing the terms of the Treaty of Nanking, part of which formally ceded the island to the British in 1842.  It seems likely, therefore, that George Giles' Hong Kong service was in the early 1840s, possibly followed by a three-year stretch in the East Indies, where the British had settlements along the Malayan coast. The 59th regimental history makes no special mention of the East Indies, so this remains speculative. But at some point, around 1848, George was posted to Ireland, at the army base at Templemore, Tipperary. 

By September of that year, George had been in the army for nine years, and at age 27 was ready to marry. His bride was an Irish girl, Mary Ann Wilson, the 22-year-old daughter of a mother who reported "father unknown" on the marriage document. George’s posting to Ireland was more than a half-century before the Irish Civil War that led to the partitioning of the country along religious lines. In the 1840s, with Ireland part of the British Empire, many Irish men were serving in the British Army, and it was common for Irish girls to marry British soldiers. On the first day of September, 1848, George was promoted from private to corporal, and 12 days later he and Mary were married in the Protestant parish of the United Church of England and Ireland, in Templemore. The parish registers for the time show two similar regimental marriages within the prior three months. 

Just over a year later, George was promoted again, to sergeant. His posting to Ireland lasted long enough for Mary to have their first child there. A son, Henry, was born two years after their marriage.

In 1851, according to the English census, Mary (she appears on the census as Maria) is living with George’s parents in their home in Redditch, Worcestershire. But George is not there - and neither is one-year-old Henry, though their son does show up at age 11 in the next census. It’s possible that George was serving at Corfu in the Mediterranean, because his army records say he was there for just four months. Possibly, it was intended for Mary and the baby to join him later. But in June of 1854, Mary died at the age of 28. George could have been sent back to England on compassionate grounds. We have so far been unable to determine what happened to baby Henry. He does appear as an 11-year old on the 1861 census, but has not been found beyond then.

We do know precisely where George was between 21st April 1856 and 22nd of June, 1856.  For whatever reason, he got drunk and, in an altercation with a color sergeant, he struck the other soldier. That disorderly conduct would cost George his sergeant's stripes, and he faced a summary court marshal, being demoted to private and given 56 days confinement with hard labor. This seems out of character since his army discharge papers on retirement refer to three separate commendations for good behavior. He did eventually earn his stripes back, being promoted to corporal by the end of the following year, and once again to sergeant six months after that.

Second marriage

George probably got to know Sarah Wright Barrow when he was assigned to the army post in Taunton, Somerset, England. Like him, she had lost her spouse. The pair were married in the attractive parish church of Wilton, a quiet suburb of Taunton in Somerset, in the late autumn of 1856. She was working as a laundress, the daughter of a shoemaker whose ancestry on her mother’s side has been traced to the early 1500s. It was a new beginning for both of them - George was a widower at 35, and Sarah was a widow at 31.

There was a significant and long-standing British Army presence in Taunton.  But the stay in rural Somerset would not be a long one. On 30th April 1857, George was transferred to the 10th Regiment of Foot and posted to Liverpool. It was George’s first posting to a big city, and Liverpool was in its heyday, approaching its prime as the great Atlantic seaport of Britain. In 1860, he completed his 21 years service in the regular army, and became a recruiter for the territorial reserve.

Now once again promoted to staff sergeant, George and his family were not immediately housed in an army barracks. They lived in a house at 5 Byrom Terrace, on the edge of the city center and on a steady slope rising south from the River Mersey. Close to his home, a magnificent museum had opened in 1860. Later the area would be a site for a series of stately public buildings.

It was here in Byrom Terrace that Francis was born in 1858. Second son Alfred was born to George and Sarah in 1860 - the progenitor of the line that would eventually connect with the Berrys and Ottersons a century later. Sons Frederick Wright Giles and Edwin Giles were the next to be born, in 1863 and 1864, making four sons in all. Two sons joined the services - Alfred chose the navy early in his life, while Frederick saw a distinguished military career in the army.

There would never be a daughter. In the early summer of 1866, Sarah died of a uterine hemorrhage that lasted six days, presumably as a result of a miscarriage. George was present when his wife died in the store room of the military barracks in St. Domingo Road, Everton - a Liverpool suburb.

Over the next few years, George’s life would again change dramatically. He would marry for a third time, have a new crop of six more children, leave the army and go into the coal business.

Third marriage

Following the death of Sarah, George Giles married Martha Short Young, a widow 18 years his junior but who had also lost her spouse and was raising a seven-year-old daughter on her own. The partnership would have suited them both. George was a sergeant in a military barracks with four children to look after, including those aged 2, 3 and 6. His four sons needed a mother, and he found her in Martha. It's possible that the couple knew each other previously, because Martha was from Bath, Somerset - the same county where he married Sarah. 

Martha was young enough to have six more children with George over the next 13 years - three sons and three daughters. After 18 years in the reserve, George's health failed and he was discharged at his own request. He had served for almost 40 years in the army.

By the time of the 1881 census, George describes himself as a coal dealer. Coal had transformed the face of Britain by this time. Factory chimneys belched out black smoke and buildings accumulated layers of soot and grime. But unlike the miner who had to extract coal from underground, those involved as merchants could make a good living. Together with his army pension, whatever George earned from his new job would have left them fairly comfortable in their home at 131 Netherfield Road, Everton - a fairly respectable location. 

Most of the Giles children - 11 in all - grew to adulthood, though Samuel Giles, his youngest with Martha, died before his second birthday. George himself live until his mid-70s and, as far as we know, continued to work as a coal dealer. Martha survived him and lived until 1907.

Photo: Michael Otterson
Photo: Michael Otterson
Believed to be in the public domain.
Believed to be in the public domain.
Origin unknown. Believed to be in the public domain.
Origin unknown. Believed to be in the public domain.
Photo: Michael Otterson
Photo: Michael Otterson

Top:  Parish church at Wilton, Somerset, the place of marriage of George Giles and Sarah Wright Barrow.
Center: Liverpool's busy George's Dock about 1860, when the Giles family moved to the port city, and the new museum that opened that year. George and Sara's home was close by.
Above:  Roman city of Bath, where Martha Short Young, George's third wife,  was born.

Below:  In 2009, the exact location of George Giles' grave was identified in Kirkdale Cemetery, Liverpool. There is no headstone.  Cathy Otterson, George's 2nd great granddaughter, laid flowers.

Photo: Michael Otterson
Photo: Michael Otterson