My great-grandfather Donald MUNRO (1832-88) was Colonel of this regiment at the time of his death, but hitherto no photograph of him, or fellow soldiers, has come down the years.
Then, back at the end of 2008, out of a clear blue sky, came an email from a gentleman in Devon who had found my website, and read in my family story the connection with the Tower Hamlets Rifles. Their history is relatively sparse; eventually, through successive amalgamations, they were absorbed into a series of TA divisions of the Rifle Brigade. Through amalgamations it was known, at the time of his death, as the 2nd Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteers. That title is stated on his Memorial in the City of London Cemetery. A Google search will produce some archive material.
I now possess not only a photograph of Donald, which was included in a Memorial Album presented by him to a fellow officer on 7 February 1878 , but more significantly for members of the East of London FHS, a group photograph taken some time after 1861 when the Volunteers were established. The album contains many photographs of individual members of the Regiment. I also now possess a scanned image of the Album Dedication in Donald’s hand. Some years ago I was privileged to see a Deed (dated 1863) in the Bancroft Road Library signed by Donald as given under seal. So I recognised the signature and handwriting. I say that is truly looking down into the well of family history.
In the Essex County Record Office is a photograph (included with 1920 Sale Particulars) of his house in Chigwell Row, where he lived from the 1870s. An earlier house in Chigwell had been purchased around 1860, but his children of the 1870s, including my grandfather, were born in the early family home, 138 Mile End Road
At some time since the group photograph was taken 3 soldiers (out of 14) have had names annotated.
and Lieut Robert Cooper WHAYMAN
Great- Grandfather Donald is standing, fourth from the left.
Given the distance in time, it stands as an important piece of social history. The owner of the album (a descendant of Robert Whayman, a Sergeant in 1860) deposited a copy in the Bethnal Green Library four years ago, but I am not aware of contact by researchers. Donald’s military service was honoured by a full turnout of the battalion at his funeral, nearly a 1000 men, as reported in the East London Advertiser obituary of 26 May 1888. Comment there on his politics, he chaired the Whitechapel Board of Works and served on the Metropolitan Board, refers to the Whig and Liberal parties, which is a political tradition continued in the family to this day.
My family history was published in the journal of the East of London FHS as long ago as 1980, and since then research has continued, if sporadically. My website is maintained on a fairly regular basis, however, and the serendipity of acquiring the photographs of great-grandfather confirms the benefit of so doing. Shown here are the photos from 1860 and 1878, and hopefully others may benefit in identifying ancestors in the group.
This website maintenance policy yielded a further dividend in December 2011. I was contacted by the great-great grandson of Robert Edward Swyer (1822-81), who was commissioned in the 7 THRV as Assistant Surgeon in 1865 , and was serving at the time of his death. His portrait was presented to him by Major Munro, it is believed, after 10 years service, latterly as Surgeon, in 1875. I include his portrait on my site wearing the shako, unlike in the other photos of great grandfather and the Volunteers, where officers were bare headed.. Born in Shaftesbury, his father Walter Swyer was a Brewer. Perhaps other Swyer family members will light upon this photograph when searching the Web, in which case I will be delighted to put them in touch with my informant.
Another turn in this tale is my email correspondence with a gentleman in Australia (originally from London) seeking to identify the weapons in the group photograph. He was a most helpful authority, and is certain that they are 1853 Pattern Enfields, a Rifle Musket. I can provide further and better particulars if military historians are interested. That same gentleman had an analysis on his website of a song my great-aunt, Marie Lloyd, made famous. “My old man said follow the van”.
The dedication in the best biography of Marie, written by Midge Gillies in 1999, was “To my old man”. An affectionate touch of Cockney humour.