Born December 18, 1789 near Manchester, Lancashire, England, in January 1807, at the age of 18, William Henry Horricks enlisted in the British Army as a Private in the 6th Regiment of Foot. In army records his surname is also spelled Horrocks and Horrax. From April of that year through June 1808 he served garrison duty at Gibraltar then, that summer, became part of a force landed at Mondego Bay, Portugal, joining the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley (later Duke of Wellington).
Private Horricks fought in the opening battles of the Peninsular War at Rolica and Vimeiro (1808), being wounded by a shell splinter in the leg at Rolica.
The 6th Foot then followed Sir John Moore into Spain in October 1808, among a force of 30,000 men sent in support of the Spanish army. In the same month Napoleon took his Grande Arm across the Pyrenees and Moore moved to cut the French line of communications. Before he could do so, however, Napoleon captured Madrid and turned his full force of 80,000 men on Moore. With no alternative but retreat, on Christmas Eve 1808 the British army began to fall back on the port city of Corunna.
Disappointed at having never come to grips with the French, and finding themselves in retreat without having fought a battle let alone lost one, the rank and file, and many officers, were in foul humor. The result was a drunken orgy of burning and looting visited upon every village they passed. They robbed churches of sacramental wine and then tore down the doors and shutters and ripped up the floors of convents, monasteries and houses to fuel fires lit against the bitter cold, rain, sleet and snow.
As the retreat crossed the Cantabrian Mountains not only the drunks and ill fell out and gave themselves up, but many of the most conscientious soldiers could no longer keep up. They stumbled, fell and froze stiff. Stragglers, including hundreds of women and children, were overrun by French cavalry, raped and killed by saber. So many soldiers were now barefoot that the road was marked by bloody footprints in the snow, lined with the dead and dying on each side. Twice the hungry troops plundered their own Commissariat wagons.
On January 11 the retreating army finally marched into Corunna but the transport vessels did not make port until three days later. As stores were burned and men, horses and guns embarked, the French attacked on January 16. They were turned back by Fraser’s Division, which included Private Horricks and the 6th Foot, serving as rearguard. This 19th century Dunkirk was finally achieved when the rescue fleet put to sea the following morning as French guns continued to shell the harbor.
The horrors of the retreat were not yet over, however. Struck by a gale in the Bay of Biscay the convoy was driven off course and dispersed. Most of the fleet finally reached England between January 29 and 31, 1809 with ships putting in at every port between Falmouth and Dover. Muster rolls of the 6th Foot show that Private Horricks did not land in England until February 14. Moore had led an army of 35,000 across the Spanish frontier, 8,000 of them did not return. The 6th Regiment of Foot lost 300 men, a third of its strength.
Five months later the 6th Foot was among 44,000 troops embarked on the Walcheren (Netherlands) Expedition. Private William Horricks survived but “Walcheren Fever” nearly destroyed his regiment; on its return to England in December 1809 only 93 men were fit for duty out of what had been a strength of nearly 1,000. As a result the regiment was posted at Dover, England, (1809-1810) and Kinsale and Cork, Ireland (1810-1812).
Restored to strength the 6th Foot returned to the Iberian Peninsula in October 1812. In 1813 Private Horricks crossed back into Spain where he and his regiment helped defeat the French at Vitoria in June and the Battle of the Pyrenees in July. In the Pyrenees Private Horricks fought at Maya Pass, the heights of Echelar and the Battle of Sourauren. In August he suffered a bayonet wound to the neck when the 6th Foot fought again at Echelar clearing French forces from the high ground in a charge that Wellington called “the most gallant and the finest thing” he ever witnessed.
In November Horricks and the 6th Foot were heavily engaged at the crossing of the Nivelle, where they helped break the French center at St. Pee.
The winter of 1813-1814 was spent in the area of St. Jean de Luz, France, and then the 6th Foot fought its last major action of the Peninsular War at Orthez in February 1814. Once again Private Horricks was among the wounded, sustaining injuries to his shoulder. In March 1814 the regiment entered Bordeaux and was posted there when news arrived of Napoleon’s abdication in April. Private William Horricks’ Military General Service Medal awarded in 1848 carries seven bars; Vimeiro, Rolica, Corunna, Vitoria, Pyrenees, Nivelle and Orthez.
In May 1814 Private Horricks and the 6th Foot boarded the ships Harbinger and Sultana for transport directly to Canada. They arrived at Quebec City in July 1814 and were quickly sent onward to Kingston. Supply shortages delayed their arrival at Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond’s Fort Erie siege lines until early September where they reinforced his army after the failed assault on the fort of August 15 had resulted in more than 900 casualties.
The 6th Foot’s first taste of combat in North America came on the evening of September 6, when a company of the regiment took part in routing an American piquet. On September 15 a 1,600 man American force staged a sortie outflanking the British siege line, capturing all three gun batteries.
Two days later General Drummond ordered an assault to re-take the guns. Elements of the 6th Foot joined the attack and Horricks was wounded yet again; struck by a “rifle ball in the head” that apparently entered one eye and went out the back of his skull. While Horricks was still in hospital in October the 6th Foot withdrew to Chippawa, where they remained until the end of the war. By February 1815 Private Horricks was “on the march to [the] Lower Province, to be discharged, service expired”.
At the time Horricks reached Quebec City in early 1815 the Glengarry Light Infantry were recruiting among discharged soldiers awaiting transport back to England. On May 25 he re-enlisted, joining the Glengarry’s at the rank of Private. In January 1816 he was promoted to Corporal and, just five days later, promoted to Sergeant. In March 1816 the Glengarry Light Infantry was ordered disbanded; Horricks was reduced in rank to Private and discharged effective June 24, 1816.
Three weeks later William Horricks arrived at the Perth Military Settlement; one of about 1,280 discharged soldiers who, in 1816-1819, established the Townships of Bathurst, Drummond, Beckwith and Elmsley, and the Town of Perth. He took up a 100 acre allotment of land at Drummond Township C-9/L-12(NE) on July 16, 1816.
After seven years establishing his farm, in May 1823, 34 year old William Horricks married his housekeeper 17 year old Christina Esther Forsythe (1806-1891). They would have 14 children, all but one of whom would live to adulthood and produce descendants.
Within a few years Horricks was once again in the ranks, this time serving as a citizen soldier at the rank of Private, in the 7th Company of the 2nd Regiment Lanark Militia.
Blinded in one eye at Fort Erie in 1814, in his later years Horricks also lost sight in his remaining eye. Age brought on increasing physical handicap from his three other war wounds and he also suffered flashbacks during which he would hurl eggs and other objects about his cabin in an attempt to drive off attacks by phantom French and American soldiers.
William Henry Horricks died 2 March 1880 at the age of 91 years, and was buried in the Prestonvale Cemetery (Lanark County, Drummond Township C-10/L-13).
[Graveside Team ed — Cemetery GPS coordinates approximate as no definitive location given.]
Veteran SummaryWilliam Horricks
Sergeant, 6th (1st Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot
Place of Birth
Manchester, Lancashire, England
Place of Death
Prestonvale, ON, CAN
Died on: 02 MAR 1880
Reason: Old Age
Location of Grave
Prestonvale, Lot 13, Conc 10, Drummond
Perth, ON, CAN
Latitude: 44.899332N Longitude: -76.246144