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Thomas Stretch was born in Norwich in 1763, joined the army, eventually retired in Nottingham and died there in 1851. His Chelsea Pension Discharge record (PDF) from 1807 states 33 years 9 months served, in the 76th Regiment of Foot ("the Hindoostan Regiment"). A drummer (and private) for the first 27 years of his career, Thomas attained the rank of sergeant for the final 7. After all that, he was "completely worn out". 27 years is a lot of drumming, after all.

Thomas Stretch discharge from 76th Regiment of Foot, 1807

His discharge record also states his age as 49 in 1807, giving a birth date of 1758, but that doesn't match his other records - his birth/baptism, 1841 census, 1851 census and death records yield birth years of 1763, 1766, 1764 and 1763 respectively (the death cert confirms his regiment and rank too). His stated parish (St James) matches his baptism in St James with Pockthorpe, Norwich.

The discharge gives 33y 9 m of service in Dec 1807, so he enlisted around Mar 1774. That puts his age at about 11! I guess he claimed to be 15, hence the 1758 birth date. It sounds absurd, but drummers of that age weren't unheard of back then. If you were old enough to carry the drum, you were old enough to bang the drum.

But something else doesn't quite add up.

The 76th had four incarnations:
1. 1745 - 1746 (Lord Harcourt's Regiment)
2. 1756 - 1763 (raised as 61st then renamed 76th in 1758)
3. 1777 - 1784 (Macdonald's Highlanders, raised in west Scotland)
4. 1787 - 1881 (Hindoostan Regiment)

Thomas was discharged from that final "Hindoostan" incarnation, originally raised for the East India Company in 1787. They had sailed to India that year, remained there for nearly two decades, then left in 1806, and that's consistent with Thomas' discharge the following year in Jersey, where the 76th was then stationed. During that 20 year period, however, Thomas managed to marry (1791, Northampton) and have numerous children (1793 onwards), mostly in Nottingham. Assuming that the regiment wasn't providing a conjugal shuttle service, he must, therefore, have stayed in England. So I presume that Thomas was a drummer in the single Company of the 76th that Wikipedia notes remained in the UK to continue raising forces by Beat of Drum. The birth of his first child was registered in Norwich, and another in Chatham, also a military base. That's consistent with his movement around Britain, but would families normally have accompanied soldiers at such times?

(The transcription of this same record on FindMyPast states the regiment as "Duke of Wellington's (West Riding Regiment) - 33rd & 76th Foot". That must be wrong - from Wikipedia on that regiment, the 33rd didn't merge with the 76th until 1881, and it contradicts the clear identification of the 76th in the document.)

The thing is, in 1807 the 76th had then only existed for 20 years in that incarnation, and Thomas had served nearly 34. The 76th did not exist in any incarnation when he enlisted in 1774. Even if there was a gap in his service period, the first two incarnations of the 76th are far too early for Thomas.

So unless the service lengths are very wrong (and they're written quite clearly on both sides of the document), Thomas must have served in another regiment (as a drummer boy) and transferred to the 76th Foot, probably in 1787. The 76th was raised (Wiki again) largely in the Midlands, including Nottingham, where Thomas spent much of his life. That city housed several regiments over the years, so it's plausible that Thomas' earlier regiment took him there. According to the Nottinghamshire History page on the Nottingham Barracks, there wasn't a full barracks there until 1792, before which soldiers were mostly billeted at inns.

I've looked at Wikipedia's List of Regiments of Foot for candidates that may have disbanded in 1787, or a few years either side. There are several, mostly Scottish, and I'm not sure how to find out where they disbanded. None were formed in 1774, though. It's quite possible that Thomas was in more than one regiment prior to the 76th, in which case there won't be a clear pattern match. I'd like to find regiments that recruited in Norwich around 1774, but that doesn't look like a simple search.

The only other Chelsea pension record I've looked at in detail was from my 5th GGF Matthew Stretch (likely Thomas' cousin), and that (PDF) was annotated with the four different regiments in which he served, as a table hand-written on one margin. The next record after Thomas' (also from the 76th) doesn't have any regiment history either, but that could be because it

Was it normal for a discharge/pension document to only note the last regiment served, and yet declare the entire service length? Or is a fuller record expected? There's no dedicated space for it, and Matthew's was hand-drawn, so it clearly wasn't a standard part of the document. Is there anywhere I could seek more information on Thomas' earlier military career? I have found no attestation papers for him as yet. I'm aware of the musty old muster rolls, and I'm sure I’ll visit the National Archives one day, but is there anything more readily available?

So which regiment took in this little boy?

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    So far as I understand there will be no attestation form if it's not with the pension stuff. I've not seen enough early 1800s papers to know how often attestation papers were enclosed with the discharge to pension stuff. Or when they started to do that. – AdrianB38 Jun 6 '16 at 22:53
  • Unless I'm mistaken there really is nothing generally available earlier than sort of the latter part of the Napoleonic wars, other than the muster books and pay lists. If he'd served in the War of 1812, then Ancestry should have him in their collection, which seemed to contain Description Books. Even if he didn't serve, he might be in because Ancestry selected all Books for all regiments that had any battalion in Canada - even the books for the battalions that never left the UK. However the year selection seems much tighter so Thomas seems to miss it by miles. – AdrianB38 Jun 6 '16 at 23:06
  • @AdrianB38 - thanks very much for the comments, that clarifies things for me. I'm aware it's unlikely that any more records will crop up, but it's always worth asking. As it is, I'll probably aim to visit the National Archives at some point and this may be on the task list. Feel free to turn your comments into an answer, as I doubt there will be any others. – AndyW Jun 7 '16 at 10:36
  • Done @AndyW - and added a few more comments not least because finding your guy's muster lists might not be simple... See below. – AdrianB38 Jun 7 '16 at 11:35
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The best quick summary for what is available is the TNA Research Guide on British Army Muster Rolls & Pay Lists and other similar topics on the same sub-site such as British Army soldiers up to 1913. NB - all the Muster Rolls & Pay Lists that I've seen are one combined document.

So far as I understand, there will be no attestation form if it's not with the pension stuff. I've not seen enough early 1800s papers to know how often attestation papers were enclosed with the discharge to pension stuff, or when they started to do that. And even when they were supposed to be, they might have been lost - I found a relative (later than this era) who was discharged to pension - his discharge documents should have contained his attestation form, but he'd been in two regiments and the first had contrived to lose the papers.

Unless I'm mistaken, there is nothing generally available earlier than roughly the latter part of the Napoleonic wars, other than the Muster Rolls and Pay Lists. The TNA Guide mentions that some Description Books earlier than this date can also be found but my impression is that they are few and far between. (Description Books exist to provide descriptions of soldiers in case of things like desertion - though all the ones I've seen are basic one-liners)

The third major source for soldiers not discharged to pension are the Casualty Returns, which list when soldiers had to be taken off the strength of the unit through death, discharge, desertion or transfer.

Ancestry have many Muster Rolls and Pay Lists online for the years around the Battle of Waterloo in collection UK, British Army Muster Books and Pay Lists, 1812-1817. (NB - on the battalion I worked with, it was clear that Ancestry had filmed several years worth of books but indexed only the first and final).

If and when you do start with Muster Rolls and Pay Lists at Kew, start with the 76th and work backwards as, with luck, the first list with him in the 76th will state which unit he came from. The documents will normally state where the unit is based. You may have a complication - if he was in the company that stayed in the UK (a reasonable deduction), then the main musters for the 76th probably refer to the overseas unit and I'm not sure where the home-based company's musters might be. You might find them in a set of lists for a Depot where they were based.

If he'd served in the War of 1812 (which clearly the subject didn't), then Ancestry should have him in their collection Canada, British Regimental Registers of Service, 1756-1900, which seemed to contain Description Books. The scope is more than might be thought - if a regiment served in Canada, then you may find images from all battalions of the regiment even though those battalions went nowhere near Canada.

None of the above should be taken to imply that no records will turn up for individuals outside what I've said - just that for most soldiers, there won't be any more.

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    Thank you - that's very helpful. In particular, the notes on the existence (or otherwise) of papers other than the discharge records. I've no idea if/when a TNA search will happen, but if it does, you've given me a good starting point here. – AndyW Jun 7 '16 at 12:42
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There is a Private Thomas Stretch listed in a 'Perth Military Settlers War of 1812 Veterans' which lists veterans of the War of 1812-1814 who received settlement tickets for land in Ontario, Canada. According to this document, Thomas Stretch was in the 4th Royal Veterans Battalion, which I understand from what I have read, was the 10th Royal Veterans Battalion prior to 1815. Apparently the battalion was comprised of veteran soldiers with an average age of 47 (although, I am not sure what year that was in...assuming 1812, I would conclude my Thomas Stretch may have been born about 1812 -47 = 1765 with about +-10 year uncertainty). I believe this Thomas Stretch is the father of John T. Stretch who lists his birth place as England in 1801. If things are not quite 'adding up' for your Thomas Stretch...it could be that you are coming across some records for the Thomas Stretch who ended up in Canada, but was in England about 1801 I believe (although I have not tracked down the birth record for John T. Stretch who I believe is his son and most definitely my GGGF). This Thomas Stretch appears to have a similar birth date to your Thomas Stretch.

The answer to your question about which British regiment Thomas Stretch joined as a drummer boy should be a search that always is thinking that there is another Private Thomas Stretch of similar age. Each piece of evidence you have must consider whether it may apply to the other Thomas Stretch.

  • Welcome to G&FH.SE, and thank you for the helpful answer! That's an interesting bit of information - I hadn't come across your Thomas Stretch before, or at least I didn't think so. But there are a few records I'll have to re-examine in the light of this. Your Thomas must have served in at least one other regiment before joining the veterans' battalion, so it's certainly a possible source of confusion. – AndyW Oct 3 '16 at 11:26
  • Incidentally, do you have any idea where in England your Stretch ancestors came from? The name is most common around Cheshire and Lancashire, with other substantial groups in London and Wiltshire (and Ireland), while mine (including Thomas) are one of the smaller branches, from Norfolk. – AndyW Oct 3 '16 at 11:27
  • I only found my Thomas Stretch about two years ago. My GGGF is John T. Stretch who married Mary Cook in Ontario,Canada in 1828. They had 15 (or perhaps 16) children. This family is fairly well documented. However, as well documented as their family is, no one seemed to be able to find the previous ancestor to John T. Stretch! – C. Stretch Oct 4 '16 at 20:32
  • I knew Mary Cook's father and grandfather had both been soldiers...so one day I was googling 'Thomas Cook soldier 1812' and found the 'Perth Military Settlers War of 1812 Veterans' and was very excited as I glanced down the list of the '4th Royal Veterans Battalion' to see Thomas Cook and further down ''Stretch/Stritch, Thomas, Pvt' These names show up again in a 1922 census for the area where they received land. The eldest son of John T. and Mary was named Thomas Cook Stretch. I now conclude that the eldest son was named after both grandfathers who I guess were both 'Thomas'. – C. Stretch Oct 4 '16 at 20:34
  • Little idea where John T.'s ancestors came from! A valid guess is that 'Thomas Stretch' was his father..if your confusing birth date of 1758 and 33 years - in 1807 - of military service applies to my Thomas..then that would make him about 16 when he joined the military, and about age 42 when my GGGF John T. Stretch was born in England. There is a family story about two Stretch brothers training as doctors and got in trouble..one went N (soldier ending up in Ontario?), the other S (New Jersey. US?). We know the Philadelphia Stretch family of 1755 donated half the capital for Penn. hospital.. – C. Stretch Oct 4 '16 at 21:10

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