John Fishbourne from Dublin Ireland 1864-1917 A Soldier's tale

by Sylvia Chaplin

St. Lambert Soldiers Memorial circa 1960

St. Lambert Soldiers Memorial circa 1960

A Memorial to Fallen Soldiers

In a ceremony on the afternoon of Sunday 9th July 1922 General Sir Arthur Currie unveiled the City of St Lambert's Soldiers Memorial. Among the names of the ‘fallen’, the men of St Lambert who made the supreme sacrifice in the Great War, is that of John Fishbourne.

John Fishbourne's Origins

John Fishbourne was born in Dublin in the parish of St Mary’s on July 5th 1864, the first child of Robert Henry Fishbourne and Elizabeth Wilmot who had married on the 29th September 1862 at St Catherine’s Anglican Church, Dublin. On the marriage record, Elizabeth was a ‘minor’ (under 21) and the daughter of William Wilmot, a printer. Robert was of full age, a bachelor and a coach painter. The records of Irish Business Directories reveal the extent of the Fishbourne family’s estates and their substantial coaching business in Carlow, Dublin and Cork. The family’s origins probably lie within the Protestant force that accompanied Oliver Cromwell in his campaign in Ireland in the 17th Century.

When John was just three years old in March 1867, his mother Elizabeth died shortly after giving birth to John’s sister, Frances. Four months later on the 28th July 1867, his father married Margaret Jane McManus at St Paul’s Anglican Church, Dublin. John’s first half-brother, Peter Henry, was born on 3rd July 1868 and his second half-brother, William Charles, on 8th October 1871. On Christmas Day 1871, Robert Henry Fishbourne died: he was a victim of one of the last major epidemics of smallpox in Ireland. How Margaret coped under these circumstances is not documented but the children were not lodged in an institution. For certain, John and his half-brother Peter Henry worked in the family coaching business in Dublin before they sought careers in the army. Their wealth of experience with horses through the family coaching business provided all three brothers with skills in riding, driving and horse husbandry that opened careers for John and Peter Henry in the army (horse artillery) and after discharge in occupations such as coachman and groom and in William Charles’s case as farrier.

John Fishbourne's Military Experience

On the 4th March 1879, in Dublin John enlisted in the Royal Artillery at the age of 15 years 7 months. He was described as being 5 feet 53/4 inches tall, with a fresh complexion, light grey eyes, brown hair with an anchor tattooed on his left forearm and a sword on his right forearm. He stated his religious denomination was Church of Ireland. His army papers in the National Archives at Kew, England reveal that in March 1883 he boarded HMS Serapis en route to India where he was stationed in Bangalore. For the next 10 years he served in India at various stations including St Thomas’s Mount, Madras (Chinnai) where on the 11th December 1890 he was reengaged to complete 21 years. In 1891 he was based in Kamptee (Kampthi) and in 1893 he boarded HMS Euphrates for the passage home. He was discharged from the 20 Field Royal Artillary, in Sheffield, England on the 14th July 1893 after 14 years 132 days service. During this period Peter Henry followed in John’s footsteps by enlisting in the Royal Artillery at the age of 18 years and being posted to India whilst William Charles emigrated to Montreal, Canada on the 28th September 1889 aboard the SS Polynesian.

Fishbourne Marriages

On November 15th 1894, John, (aged 30) married Mary Elizabeth Buckby (aged 29) in her home village of Mowsley, Leicestershire. The marriage certificate records John’s occupation as a ‘coachbuilder’. No records exist to show how the couple met. However, from an early age Mary Elizabeth worked away from home in service so it is quite possible that the couple met at a place where she was serving as a maid and he as groom. Four years later, in Mowsley, John is a witness at the marriage of his half-brother Peter Henry to his wife’s younger sister Martha Buckby.

The last official record of John living with his wife in England is the English 1901 census which records the couple as living in Mowsley, in the house of Mary Elizabeth’s parents. The other people present in the house are John’s sister-in-law Martha Fishbourne and her children. In the same year, the Canadian census records William Charles Fishbourne (aged 29) working as a farrier living in the sub-district of Sault-au-Recollet in the Laval District of Montreal with Margaret Fishbourne, nee Doyle (born in Scotland in 1880, emigrated in 1884) who William married in 1899.

Traveling to Canada

On August 17th 1905, John, aged 40, is recorded as a passenger aboard HMS Kensington, travelling from Liverpool to Montreal, Quebec: ‘Army’ is his stated occupation. John and Mary Elizabeth had no children. No family or official records have been found so far that give a reason for his leaving other than the supposition that it was to find employment and that his wife would follow when he was established. Similarly there are no records of his life or occupation when he first arrived in Canada however the assumption is that he joined his half brother, William, and that they remained in close contact. This assumption is borne out by evidence contained within his Canadian army records. In 1908 Peter Henry followed John by travelling to Canada. Peter Henry settled in Toronto but died of TB and a brain haemorrhage in June 1911.

No family records or correspondence exists to show what contact existed between husbands in Canada and wives in England at this time. After the death of Peter Henry, Mary Elizabeth set up a home with Martha and her children in Twickenham, Middlesex and this is recorded in the 1911 English census. In Canada at this time the 1911 census records William C and Margaret living in the district of St Antoine with their children William Albert aged 11; Thomas Amos aged 5 ; Grace aged 3 and Norman M aged 9 months. No census records have been found for John.

Military Service in The Great War

On August 21st 1916 John joined many men from St Lambert by volunteering for the Canadian Expeditionary Force. In his Attestation Paper his address is recorded as 461 Merton Avenue, Saint-Lambert, Montreal. This was the address of his declared next of kin, his half-brother William Charles Fishbourne. His occupation is recorded as shipping clerk. His date of birth is recorded as July 5th 1873, making him 42, but his true age was 52 years making him one of the oldest men to fight on the front line. His height was recorded as being 5ft 6¾ inches, his girth as 37 inches, his complexion medium, his eyes blue grey and his hair black. He had a coat of arms tattooed on his right forearm and on his left forearm an anchor and heart. His medical examination declared him fit for army service. In his service records he leaves, in the event of his death, all his pay to his brother and his nephew William Albert. He is shipped to England, to Shorncliffe Camp in November 1916 and to the ‘field’ in May 1917. He is posted to 5th Brigade C.F.A at the front on the 23rd September 1917.

On the 1st November 1917, at No.17 Casualty Clearing Station No 349279 Gunner John Fishbourne of the 5th Brigade Canadian Field Artillery “C” battery died of wounds received in action. The ‘nature of casualty’ report within his service records identifies his wound as ‘S W Rt leg’. He was admitted on the 1st November and died the same day.

5th Canadian Field Artillery at Passchendaele

The action of the men at the front during the 3rd Battle of Ypres, The Battle of Passchendaele, can be traced through the War Diary (Volume 22) of the 5th Canadian Field Artillery (CFA) Brigade. www.data2.collectionscanada.gc/ca. The fatal action that John was involved in on the 31st October and possibly the 1st November is described graphically in the 5th Brigade’s entries for these dates. He was evacuated to the No 17 Casualty Clearing Station at Remy Sidings (Lijssenthoek). The War Diaries of the Medical Corps document the treatment of casualties first at regimental first aid posts then at advanced dressing stations serving sections of the front line. Field ambulances brought the wounded from the advance dressing stations to Casualty Clearing Stations for more advanced treatment and, if they showed improvement, dispatch them by rail to base hospitals in the evacuation zone.

John Fishbourne is buried in the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium. His grave is XXI.CC.13.

A Widow's Pension

Following John’s death, his wife Mary Elizabeth was awarded a pension from the Canadian Government. Mary Elizabeth died on the 15th March 1932. She is buried in Twickenham Cemetery and her headstone is a Cornish Grey Maltese Cross similar to the artefact held in the family archives that is the Canadian Memorial Cross sent to her after his death.

The only other artefact that was in the possession of the family was John's WW1 Memorial Plaque. The family donated this plaque in 2012 to the museum at Talbot House, Poperinghe, Belgium a short distance from the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery together with all the documentary evidence assimilated through research so that his army service and ultimate sacrifice will be remembered by future generations.

Comments for John Fishbourne from Dublin Ireland 1864-1917 A Soldier's tale

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May 20, 2020
by: Anonymous

I am interested in the Wilmot connection as my great great grandmother was Fanny Maria who I believe was a sister of Robert's first wife and thus an aunt of John and Eliza. Have you any more information of that?

Jun 24, 2017
Joshiua Fishbourne
by: Don Rosendale

I am looking for a link between these Fishbournes and Joshua Fishbourne who came to Mew York via Montreal in the middle of the 19th Century. Like this branch of the family, Joshua came originally from St. Mary's. He had a half brother,William, and his some (my grandfather) had a horse dran trucking business in NYC before 1918.

Mar 17, 2016
The Protestant Orphan Society and its role in the life of John Fishbourne and his siblings.
by: Sylvia Chaplin

The challenge and excitement of ancestral research is that one is always uncovering new sources of evidence. As you can read in my original text, I had assumed that on the death of his father in December 1871, John Fishbourne and his siblings were taken in by other members of the family. However, this assumption was thrown into doubt in 2015 on the publication of ‘The Protestant Orphan Society and its social significance in Ireland, 1828-1940’ (Manchester University Press 2015). The Protestant Orphan Society was founded in Dublin in 1828 to care for orphan children many of whom had lost their parents in epidemics that were rife at that time such as cholera and smallpox. The Society managed a carefully regulated boarding out and apprenticeship scheme and the importance of its work in Dublin and Ireland though the development of local Protestant Orphan Societies is the subject of book. June Cooper, the author, draws extensively upon records of the Society held in the National Archives of Ireland, Dublin. A search into these archives (by the Archivist as they are not available in a digital format) revealed that in January 1872 John and his three siblings were all admitted into the care of the Society. The records give details of where and to whom they were boarded out and their apprenticeships. In addition copies of family documents, attached to the children’s records in the archives, provided ‘missing’ links and amendments to previous documentation. To summarise:
John (born 5th July 1863) and his sister (born 3rd September 1864 not 1867 and whose birth name was Eliza Anne, not Fanny), were boarded out together, to the same nurse in January 1872. In 1876 they were separated. Eliza Anne was sent to the Belvedere Institution in Tyrells Pass, where girls were housed in small ‘family’ units and trained in housekeeping. John entered an apprentice class and in 1877, was apprenticed, at a cost to the Society of £15 to a coach maker in Dublin. Peter Henry and William Charles whose birth date was confirmed as the 8th October 1870, were boarded out together, but to a different nurse several miles away from their half brother and sister. In 1882 Peter Henry was apprenticed to a tailor in Clones. This apprenticeship was not successful due to his poor behaviour, and within 7 months he was brought before a magistrate, his Indentures cancelled, and on December 28th 1882 he was ‘sent to sea’. The Society arranged for him to be escorted from Dublin to Liverpool where he was found a berth as an Engineer’s boy aboard "SS Doura" a ship of the Leyland line at a weekly wage of 15/-. They then severed all assistance. William Charles was more successful. He was apprenticed in 1884 to a blacksmith in Omagh. He did so well that on completion of his 5 year apprenticeship in September 1889, the Society records that, at his request, they would fund his passage to Canada aboard the "SS Polynesian". William’s successful life and career in Canada was grounded in the innovative and enterprising work of the Protestant Orphan Society. John and Peter Henry did not continue in the work to which they were apprenticed, choosing instead to take the opportunities offered to them by army life. Further research is needed to trace the subsequent life of Eliza Anne. However it appears that despite their separation from one another the siblings maintained links to one another as each appears on Army Attestation Papers as next of kin.

Jun 21, 2015
Evidence for PH Fishbourne pre Canada
by: Chaplin

Family archive and evidence at and www.ancestry. of Peter Henry Fishbourne’s life before he left for Canada: baptism certificate: DoB 3 July 1868; parents Robert and Margaret Fishbourne; father’s occupation coach painter. Royal Artillery service: attestation June 1886; service as driver/groom; India postings from 1888 to 1896. Army Reserve 7 June 1898; 29 August marries Martha Buckby in Mowsley, Leics; occupation, groom; father Robert, coachbuilder. Birth certificates for 1st 1899 and 2nd child 1900. Recalled 1902 for Second Boer War (campaign medals on line). Family in South Africa 1903 to 1905; 3rd child 1904. Army discharge 1905; works at a brewery; 4th 1907 and 5th child 1908. October 1909 aboard SS Canada. Information in list accurate except for W for ‘widower’. 6 June 1911: DoD on certificate issued to Martha; marital status: blank. I am aware of the Canadian records; if you wish to ‘compare notes’ please contact me direct on

May 28, 2015
by: Anonymous

Info I have shows Peter Henry Fishbourne, born approx. 1874, died June 6, 1911 in York. He was married to my great grandmother May nee Shepherd who was born in England. I have info that shows they said they were married in Feb. 1908 in England and a copy of a marriage certificate that shows they were married Nov. 8, 1910 in York; info on this certificate shows Peter Henry's father as Robert and his profession as a carriage builder, mother, Margaret McManus. Not sure what is correct. Other info shows that Peter Henry may have arrived in Canada Oct. 1909 with May following in 1910.

May 13, 2015
by: Sylvia

Evidence of statements
John Fishbourne was born in Dublin in the parish of St Mary’s on July 5th 1864, the first child of Robert Henry Fishbourne and Elizabeth Wilmot who had married on the 29th September 1862 at St Catherine’s Anglican Church, Dublin. (church records)
1. Baptism record for John Fishbourne Church of Ireland (COI)Parish of St Mary 24th July 1863: image file number d-277-2-9-072
2. Marriage record for Robert Henry Fishbourne to Elizabeth Wilmot. COI Parish of St Catherine 29th September: image d-273-4-6-0101
When John was just three years old in March 1867, his mother Elizabeth died ……. Four months later on the 28th July 1867, his father married Margaret Jane McManus at St Paul’s Anglican Church, Dublin.
3. Burial record Elizabeth Fishbourne 13th March 1867. Parish of St Catherine. Aged 22 years. Not digitized. Book No 11 Page 18. Entry 142
4. Marriage record Robert Henry to Margaret Jane McManus Parish St Catherine. Image number. d-273-4-6-010 28th July 1867
John’s first half-brother, Peter Henry, was born on 3rd July 1868 and his second half-brother, William Charles, on 2nd October 1871. On Christmas Day 1871, Robert Henry Fishbourne died: he was a victim of one of the last major epidemics of smallpox in Ireland.
5. Copy of Baptism Certificate for Peter Henry Fishbourne Parish St Thomas 1868. Descendents family archives. Not on Church records but in Civil Records .
6. Burial record 25th Dec 1871 Parish of St Catherine Robert Henry Fishbourne. Aged 29 years. Book No 11. Page 33. Entry 260.
6. Baptism record 7th Jan.1872 for William Charles Fishbourne Records date of birth as 8th October 1871. Parish of St John COI. Not digitized. Book no 5 Page 42 Entry 329.
7. Using Ancestry passenger record 1890 for Wlm C Fishbourne aboard SS"Polynesian’ from Liverpool to Montreal. Age given as 19 which would concur with baptism record.
Conflicting evidence
8. marriage records gives William Charles father’s name as John and does not record his mother’s name. This is incorrect as all previous evidence demonstrates.
Explanation for this error.
Lack of knowledge and estrangement from his parents. His father had died of smallpox in 1871. The family would have been quarantined (note William’s baptism certificate is 2 months after the birth and Peter Henry’s was officially copied by the authorities in 1872 for some unknown reason) Margaret Jane was left as a single mother and it is possible that the children were raised by other family members particularly as the brothers occupations as adults were all connected with coaching and horses. By the time of William’s marriage he was separated from all of his siblings and there are no records to show when he had his last contact with his mother. The use of the name John may have arisen through confusion with his brother’s name. He also appears to have not known his birth date accurately as his headstone shows. Under the circumstances of William’s childhood this is not uncommon. There is no doubt that he is the brother of John and Peter Henry as both brothers’ army service records (British and in the case of John, Canadian records) name William Charles as their brother.

May 06, 2015
by: Anonymous

Discrepancies in marriage and birth dates! Wm Charles Fishbourne married 1899 father listed as John- should this not be Robert? Please advise

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