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C/Sjt John Rutledge, WM, MSGM

By Tom Routledge

In the shadow of Elgin Cathedral lies John Rutledge who was born in Ayrshire in 1792 and died in Elgin on 30th December 1861 having governed its prison for thirty years and previously been a soldier during the Napoleonic war.

Nothing of his forgotten grave stone will tell you of where he came from or what he did in the army. It does however name his wife Isabel Gilzean who he married on settling in Elgin. John’s story begins by quoting his obituary that was published in Elgin and Morayshire Courier on 3 January 1862.

 

“Death of Mr Rutledge, One of the Peninsular Heroes”

“Our obituary of today records the death of another of our aged citizens – Mr John Rutledge, governor of the Elgin Prison. Mr Rutledge was a native of Ayr, and at an early age adopted the profession of arms by enlisting into the Rifle Brigade, in which his intelligent and prudent conduct soon raised him to the position of a non-commissioned officer. While with his regiment he witnessed a good deal of service, and from the severe engagements at which he was present, he passed though perhaps as fiery an ordeal as any of the peninsular heroes. On more than one occasion he bore with him from the bloody field “deepspeaking” evidence of his courage. He was present at the ever-memorable battle of Corunna, and at Barossa, where he was wounded, at Vittoria, though engaged, he came scatheless from the fight; but in what was perhaps one of the keenest of the peninsular struggles – the Pyrenees – he was again wounded. He was also present at the engagements of Nivelle, Nive, Orthes and Toulouse, from all of which he escaped without injury. From such as catalogue of battles, one would have thought the veteran might have well retired and contented himself with the honours he had won: but he had yet a greater fight before him, and more wounds to receive. He had to come to “the crowing carnage, Waterloo,” where he was twice wounded,, and his Waterloo medal was one of his most highly-prized honours. In 1849, Mr Rutledge, along with other peninsular heroes, received a medal with eight clasps, bearing the names of several engagements in which he took part. As governor of the Elgin prison, and office he filled for thirty years, he was much respected, and the inspector invariably had a good report on the state of the Elgin prison under Mr Rutledge. He was on recruiting service in Elgin some thirtyfive or forty years ago, for six or seven years. In 1826, he married a daughter of the late John Gilzean, cabinetmaker, Elgin, by who he had a family of nine children. His eldest son, John, is now governor of Linlithgow prison; his second son, William, was some time ago appointed depute-governor at Elgin; and his son-in-law, Mr McCulloch, is governor of the prison at Banff”

 

Without doubt it is certainly one of the most extensive obituaries you will ever encounter outside of celebrities or a sporting heroes. John’s death certificate gives his mother’s name as Margaret, but it was not required to give his father’s name, and with no records of any Rutledges being born, marrying or dying in Ayrshire from 1750-1810 doubt is thrown over his origin. John’s military career was selectively described and not all nine of his children can be identified. Those children that can were Margaret, John, William, James, Georgina, Isabella and a second James.

The Grave of John Rutledge and his Wife, Isabella Gilzean
Elgin Cathedral

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John’s military career seems to be reflective of the pages of one of Bernard Cornwall’s ‘Sharpe’ novels and you cannot help but visualise a Scottish Sgt Harper in his dark green uniform of the 95th Rifles.. John’s discharge papers tell the full story. He was born on 17th June 1790 in, according to his army records, St Quivox Ayrshire. We are able to be so accurate with his date of birth because when he joined the 2nd Battalion of the 95th rifles on 17th June 1807 he is described as being under age, but his career starts to count from the 17th June 1808. The papers state that he was 17 years old when he joined the Rifles.

 

John’s rise through the ranks was not the Victorian slope that the obituary paints the picture of but rather a yo-yo like career due to poor behaviour or regimental necessity. He was first promoted to Corporal on 25th March 1813 and soon after promoted to the rank of Sergeant on 18th June 1814. This means he would have been a Sergeant at Waterloo. John would go on to remain a Sergeant for nearly five years before being demoted to Corporal on 19th April 1819 and to a Private on the 28th Feb 1820. For whatever reason John had risen and fallen in a space of 13 years.

It would be over two years before he was promoted back to Corporal on 13th November 1822 and the same again until he was promoted back to Sergeant on 26th April 1825. After only seven months John was promoted to Colour Sergeant on the 25th November 1825 and, apart from a spell back at Sergeant from 25th September 1827 to 25th March 1830, Colour Sergeant would be the rank at which he would finally leave the army on 21 January 1832. Out of his 25 year career he spent two years as a Corporal, eight as a Sergeant, three as a Colour Sergeant and the balance as a private.

During his time John travelled a lot, his career took him to Copenhagen, Spain, France, Portugal, back to Spain and Waterloo before leaving at his own request. Two further things about him can be noted from his discharge paperwork; he could write (as he signed his own name); and he had been a Collier before he joined the Army.

 

Despite his long service and wounds, neither seemed to ail John as he lived to the impressive age of 70 years old, dying in his Governors House at Elgin prison. John was succeeded by his son William Rutledge. It’s not often a Waterloo soldiers grave is found who wasn’t an officer or of fame, but there in Elgin Cathedral Cemetery lies Colour Sergeant John Rutledge of the 95th Rifles.

 

On a final note, his medals survive to this day and their last know location was an auction house in Ipswich, England in 2007 when the Military General Service Medal was sold to a private collection for an impressive £3500, never to be seen again.

During his time John travelled a lot, his career took him to Copenhagen, Spain, France, Portugal, back to Spain and Waterloo before leaving at his own request. Two further things about him can be noted from his discharge paperwork; he could write (as he signed his own name); and he had been a Collier before he joined the Army.

 

Despite his long service and wounds, neither seemed to ail John as he lived to the impressive age of 70 years old, dying in his Governors House at Elgin prison. John was succeeded by his son William Rutledge. It’s not often a Waterloo soldiers grave is found who wasn’t an officer or of fame, but there in Elgin Cathedral Cemetery lies Colour Sergeant John Rutledge of the 95th Rifles.

 

On a final note, his medals survive to this day and their last know location was an auction house in Ipswich, England in 2007 when the Military General Service Medal was sold to a private collection for an impressive £3500, never to be seen again.

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