Capt James Gammell
Capt James Gammell
James Gammell was the 4th child and 2nd son of Lt. General Andrew Gammell and Martha Stageldoir, and was born on 3 January 1797. We know nothing of his early life, nor any details of his education, and the first definite information we have is that he was gazetted as an Ensign in the 59th Foot on 29 July 1813 at the age of sixteen and a half. It is understood that this commission was presented to him by Prince Frederick, Duke of York, who, as mentioned elsewhere was a friend of his father's.
Immediately on being commissioned, James proceeded to the Peninsula War
and served in the Peninsula from December 1813 to the end of the war in
April 1814. He fought at the battles of Nive and at the siege of Bayonne in
1814 and received the Military General Service Medal 1793-1814, with a clasp
for Nive. He became a Lieutenant in 1815, saw service with various other
regiments including the 30th and 61st, and finally retired from the Army,
with the rank of Captain in September 1826, after the death of his
grandfather, James Gammell the Banker. He was then serving in the 92nd
Regiment, The Gordon Highlanders.
In 1816, when he was nineteen, and soon after his father's death, his
grandfather, James Gammell, the Banker, purchased for him the estate of
Ardiffery near Cruden Bay in North Aberdeenshire. The purchase was made
jointly, 'in life rent and fee respectively', which in fact meant that the income
and title were vested in James, and only reverted to his grandfather in the
event of the premature death of the young James. The estate of Ardiffery
had no residence attached to it, and consisted almost entirely of agricultural
A few years after he had bought Ardiffery for James, there was a serious quarrel between James and his grandfather on the subject of his marriage. His grandfather wished him to marry Charlotte, daughter of Lord Forbes, but it is reported that he flatly refused to do so, saying that the lady was ill-favoured, and that instead he intended to marry a beautiful Irish lady, Sydney Holmes whom he had met while serving in the Army in Ireland. Whether this was the reason why his younger brother inherited their grandfather's other landed properties rather than he, history does not relate, but it may be significant that he refrained from marrying Sydney Holmes during his grandfather's lifetime, although the wedding took place, either by accident or design, just exactly one week after his grandfather's death.
The marriage of James to Sydney Holmes, who was the daughter of Frederick Holmes Esq., merchant in Dublin, took place on 23 September 1825. It was conducted by the Revd. E. Coates at Donoghmore Church in County Down, Northern Ireland, and after their honeymoon, they took up residence at a house called Beech Hill, in the same parish of Donoghmore in which they had been married, and there the first six of their ten children were born:
James Stewart b. 21 September 1826 d. 2 November 1899
Frederick Ernest b. 3 September 1827 d. 23 February 1902
Harcourt Thomas b. 29 April 1829 d. 24 September 1904
John Holmes Houston b. 12 September 1830 d. 2 February 1902
Sydney Marion b. 12 November 1831 d. 6 February 1837
William b. 12 July 1833 d. 23 March 1882
In 1834, James and his family moved to Edinburgh, and took up residence at 52 Inverleith Row. Presumably the move had something to do with the education of their children, as immediately on arrival in Edinburgh, the eldest sons were sent to a preparatory school in Circus Place, and later to Edinburgh Academy. Their last four children were born in Edinburgh:
In 1856/7, when the education of his children at Edinburgh Academy had been
completed, James and his wife moved to Bath, where the climate was no doubt
more congenial, and took up residence at 16 Grosvenor Place.
Whilst in Bath there is some evidence that he had an illegitimate daughter with a
housemaid, Rebecca Rolston, who was working for the family living next door, at
17 Grosvenor Place. The child, Mary Jane Rolston was brought up by her
grandparents in Claycoton, Northants. Rebecca Rolston later married and became
Rebecca Dolby, who received £50 in James’ will. (Information from Mary Lawson)
James lived in Bath until he died on 23 September 1893, by which time he had
reached the venerable age of 96. He is buried at Locksbrook Cemetery in Bath.
His wife predeceased him by more that fifteen years, dying in Hampstead in 1878
At the time of his death, James' photograph appeared (full page) in the Admiralty
& Horse Guards Gazette of 14 October 1893, under the title of; 'Our Portrait
Gallery No. 19 - The late Captain James Gammell'. There were evidently two reasons for this special honour, as the following quotations from the Gazette show:
1) 'This grand old officer was reputed to be the last commissioned veteran survivor of the Peninsula War in the British Service', and
2) 'He served through all the Peninsula War . . . . It seems that never having received his medal for his share in these operations having been brought recently by H.R.H. The Duke of Cambridge to the notice of Her Majesty, she presented the veteran with her Jubilee Medal, in addition to the Peninsula decoration, accompanying the gift with an expression of warm appreciation of his worth, and the hope that he might long enjoy the consideration he merited'.
In his later years James is reputed to have become rather cantankerous, to have quarrelled with his wife, and even to have thrown her out of his house. He is also said to have thrown a fine miniature of his wife by Cosway, on to the floor and stamped on it.
Although he never resided in Aberdeenshire, he became a Deputy Lieutenant of that county in 1826, and retained this position until his death. It was bestowed on him presumably on account of his ownership of the estate of Ardiffery, and possibly through the influence of the Duke of York, who had presented him with his original commission in the Army. In his will, he left practically all his estate amounting to nearly £60,000 to his third son Harcourt. His eldest son James Stewart is not mentioned in the will, presumably as he automatically inherited the entailed property of Ardiffery, and because this son had already inherited the estates of Drumtochty and Countesswells from his uncle, Andrew. James left his nephew Sydney Albert the sum of £3,000, and instructions to his son Harcourt to pay out to his brother Frederick (James second son) the sum of £70 annually. Otherwise, apart from a few small legacies to servants etc. the residue, as has been stated, went to Harcourt absolutely.