One of the many benefits encountered whilst transcribing the Foundling Hospital documents has been the piecing together of information, relating to individual Foundling pupils, in order to catch a glimpse of a life otherwise forgotten.

Volunteer transcriber Joyce Elena Gibbons recently wrote a blog shining the spotlight on some of the children treated in the Infirmary. Having myself taken part in transcribing the Infirmary Records late last year I was delighted to see that Joyce had written about one of my ‘favourites’ – James Butler, Foundling pupil number #16335. James had been in and out of the Infirmary on numerous occasions and had endured a lot.

Joyce’s blog concludes ‘We can only hope that his absence from subsequent infirmary records means that, after a tough childhood, he eventually recovered full health.’

Fast forward a few months and our next transcription challenge was the General Registers. Thanks to the transcriber @oldmanbarber who shared information from the General Register on our transcription forum, I am able to add a little more to James’ interesting story and to shed light on his future with some glimpses into his childhood before becoming a Foundling pupil as well.

Prior to 1760 only infants had been received at the Hospital. However, between 1760 and 1763 the orphans of military fathers were now the only children being accepted. Along with two other ‘military’ children, James, aged seven, was received by the Hospital on 8 October 1761.

Due to his age James would have retained his birth name, but a search of online birth records has only yielded one possible candidate to date, one James Butler baptised in Calne, Wiltshire on 4 March 1754, the son of William Butler*. Without further evidence from the Foundling Hospital records, such as a petition letter or relevant Committee minutes, this information needs to be put on hold.

However, being received in 1761 and with evidence from the General Register entry, we can establish that James’ father was indeed a soldier who had been either killed, wounded or taken sick. Furthermore, his father served with the Kingsley Regiment.

At this period in time the British were engaged in the Seven Years War, fighting in a colonial struggle against France. The 20th Regiment of Foot was named the Kingsley Regiment after their Colonel, Major General William Kingsley. They won honours at the Battle of Minden in 1759, standing fast and breaking a French Cavalry charge, resulting in six officers and eighty men killed, with eleven officers and two hundred and twenty-four men wounded**. It is quite possible that James’ father was amongst them. Whether killed, wounded or sick, hardship amongst the Butler family would have necessitated James’ removal to the Foundling Hospital in 1761.

The ray of hope amidst James Butler’s Foundling story is that despite being taken from his birth family and subsequently enduring ongoing ill-health, he did indeed recover full health and was able to be apprenticed on 31 March 1771. He was seventeen.

There are tantalising threads online suggesting to whom James may have been apprenticed – a Drury Lane coachmaker, an attorney in Pudding Lane or maybe to a cook in St. James.

These could well be red herrings and like the Wiltshire baptismal record will need further investigation once the relevant archives are made available.

Until then we can only speculate as to the completion of James’ Foundling journey.

* Wiltshire, England, Church of England Baptism, Marriage and Burials, 1588 – 1812 for James Butler.
** ; Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kingsley,William