Robert Sheffield was born in Durham in 1829 and died in Sheffield on 3rd of February 1914 aged 85, having led a varied and busy life.
Robert Sheffield joined the Navy at a very young age, but quickly decided it was not for him went AWOL. For the following years, Sheffield worked in mines and on docks. It is said however that in 1852, at the age of 23, while window shopping in London, he was approached by an enlisting officer and joined the army; this decision Sheffield immediately regretted and asked to be relieved the following day. His request was denied. His first deployment came soon after to Sevastopol, Crimean Peninsula, with the 13th Regiment of the Light Dragoon.
After serving in the Crimea, Sheffield returned to England in 1856, before being deployed again to Bombay and serving there for 2 years. After, in 1859, he was made Sergeant in the Army Hospital Corps. Sheffield ventured on the Abyssinia exhibition with the Corp and upon returning from this became the Hospital Steward in Hillsborough Barracks.
Sheffield remained in this position until his discharge from the Army in August of 1875 after 21 years of service. During his time in service Sheffield was awarded a Crimean Medal for service in Sebastopol, a Turkish Crimean Medal, and a medal recognising his long service and good conduct.
Sheffield was a well known figure among the Hillsborough Barracks, known for his varied experiences in service and often reflecting on past experiences his favourite being that he was once taken to the mortuary, as a dead man, during his time in the Crimea after being thrown off his horse and knocked unconscious!
When in England, Sheffield was also a member of the Hillsborough Baptist Church, and of the Lord Wharncliffe branch of the Sheffield Equalised Independent Order of Druids. This was not a religious organisation, but instead a group devoted to justice, benevolence and friendship, and aimed to help other members within the group with their financial welfare.
Sheffield’s funeral at Wardsend Cemetery received full coverage in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph. Thousands of people are said to have attended, lining the route from Nannington Road to the Cemetery. His service was held at the Taplin Road Baptist Church in Hillsborough, and in attendance was a firing party of eighteen men and a full band in performance, as well as a mounted team of sergeants and eight bearers. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph reporter specifically noted that the Crimean veterans who attended the funeral, ten of the remaining 24 residing in Sheffield, wore their sashes and medal from the deployment.
An attendant of the funeral reflected that “on leaving the church, around which dense crowds had assembled, the procession was reformed, headed by Chief Divisional Inspector Head and Inspector Oates, followed by the firing party, the band, the mounted gun-carriage bearing the coffin covered with the Union Jack, the Boys Life Brigade and members of the Brotherhood.”
Robert Sheffield married Ann Margaret Street in 1860, and upon his death left behind his widow, 3 sons, 6 daughters, 24 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren. He shares his grave with his wife Ann, after her death in 1921, as well as his son Fred who died at 10 months in 1882, granddaughter Ada Rutherford, who died aged 2 in 1893, and grandson Harry Harvey, who died aged 1 in 1895.
For more about Robert Sheffield and the Crimean War, including soldiers’ letters from Sebastapol, here is an excellent short film made by NOWnTHEN Heritage with readings by Joy and Chris Bullivant
Sheffield Telegraph, ‘A Crimean Veteran: Soldier’s Adventurous Career’ 4/2/1914
Profile Researched by Beth Keever
Profile Written by Miriam Emanuel