The memorial to Colour-Sergeant William Newell stands in an isolated position just inside the main gates (now lost). From here the drive climbs up to the chapel site.
The stone is scuffed and chipped, and sometimes difficult to read in the dappled shadow of the trees. Here is a transcription…
THE MEMORY OF
COLOUR SERGEANT M. COMPANY 2ND BATTALION
WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE MAY 16TH 1868
AGED 39 YEARS
THIS TABLET WAS ERECTED BY THE NON-COMMISSIONED
OFFICERS AND PRIVATES OF HIS COMPANY
AS A TOKEN OF RESPECT
This is not an area of graves. The sexton’s house and its garden separate this stone from all others on the site. So this is a carefully chosen spot. Colour-Sergeant Newell’s carved stone is the first meaningful symbol of remembrance passed by anyone entering the cemetery through the main gate. To the soldiers who had the stone inscribed to the memory of their lost comrade he might be thought of as a sentinel, or a sentry.
But is he buried there? Or anywhere in this cemetery? The evidence is not at all clear.
A death and a funeral
William Newell’s death is a matter of record…
The manner of his death may have dissuaded the press from covering the death and funeral of this popular soldier in detail. A short item appeared in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph four days later, reporting a funeral on May 18th.
Missing from the register
According to the burial register the only two interments that took place at Wardsend on May 18th (Monday) were those of a child called Benjamin HEWITT, and of John ARNOLD, a corporal in the same regiment as Newell.
A burial on the 19th May is listed between these two from the 18th, showing that the register was not brought up to date after each interment. This might allow for errors such as the omission of a burial, though I would think that this was rare.
I have searched the register pages for the whole of May in the hope of finding a misplaced entry for William Newell, but without success.
If these two soldiers were buried in the same cemetery on the same day you would think they would be buried at the same time, with the same escort and military ritual. Is it likely that the newspaper, even in a brief report, would fail to mention that two men were buried?
Both men are listed on the military obelisk at Wardsend…
However, inclusion on this memorial does not necessarily mean that an individual was buried in this cemetery. Investigation shows that at least six soldiers listed here are buried in other cemeteries.
I do not know of any ‘Woodside’ Cemetery in the Sheffield area. Could this be a mistake for Wardsend? Certainly, though Wardsend had been the centre of attention only a few years before, with bodies dug up from graves and the Vicar and sexton in prison. Reporters (and type-setters and proof-readers) would be expected to know of Wardsend, unless they were completely new to their jobs or from outside the town.
A Scottish Connection?
The only Woodside Cemetery I know to have existed at this time was in Paisley in Scotland. That might have some relevance, as a Scottish connection is suggested by the following brief notice:
Glasgow Herald (Friday 22 May 1868)
Noting his previous service, I think this may well be the same man in the Indian Mutiny Medal Roll (transcription from Find My Past):
Indian Mutiny Medal Roll 1857-1859
First name: William
Last name: Newell
Service number: 2987
Regiment: 79th Foot (Cameron Highlanders)
Medal type: Indian Mutiny Medal, 1857-1859
Taking each on its own merits, the two possible errors (omission from the Wardsend registers, ‘Woodside’ for ‘Wardsend’ in the newspaper) are certainly possible. It does seem a great coincidence if we consider them together. But I do not have another solution to suggest.
Just in case the newspaper was describing an event in Paisley I wrote to the Paisley Cemetery Company which now runs the Woodside Cemetery and Crematorium. They could not find William Newell in their registers.
Elusive in life as well as in death
I cannot positively identify William Newell in any census record. The newspaper report of the funeral implies that he enlisted before he was 20 and so may well have been overseas in both 1851 and 1861. There are a number of possible census entries in 1841, in Scotland and elsewhere.
A visitor to our recent 160th Anniversary event showed me a family tree which appeared to show that he was descended from William Newell. However, I found records to suggest that this was not the case. This was a disappointment as it would have given me names of other family members. Researching them might have suggested a burial location for William. As it is, I don’t even know if William Newell was married or had children.
Denouncing an impostor
An odd sideshow in the last few weeks of the life of William Newell is provided by the following news reports:
Sheffield Daily Telegraph (7 Apr 1868)
Sheffield Daily Telegraph (8 Apr 1868)
It was a long wait for the Assizes. The real Sergeant Newell was not around to know the outcome.
Sheffield Daily Telegraph (12 Aug 1868)
I do not know if William Newell is buried at Wardsend. If he is, I don’t know if the memorial by the gates marks his resting place. I have not considered here the possibility that the stone has been moved from an original location elsewhere, whether at Wardsend, or somewhere else entirely.
What is certain is that William Newell and the service he represents was important to those who caused the memorial to be made and then placed in such a prominent position.