On the 25th 0f October 1854, a bleak grey morning, Bob was on parade with his horse early. Lord Raglan was in charge. The order to advance arrived. Lord Lucan seemed to question it, but nevertheless the brave 600 began to advance on the Russian army. They charged the guns. Cannon and musketry fire were soon cutting through the British lines, but they rode on.
Bob's horse was shot in the head and they were both down. So much of the poor animal's brains and blood covered Bob, that he wasn't sure if he was hurt or not. He did know his leg was trapped and a hard struggle he had to free himself. He did so and catching a riderless horse, remounted and rode on. By now smoke obscured much of the battlefield. They reached the guns, spiked them and wheeled round to return. Russian Lancers attempted to bar their way, but were brushed aside. Bob returned unscathed.
Later, back in England, he received an injury training horse and was invalided out of the army. He became a navvy on the railway and worked on the Settle to Carlisle line. Some time later he became a general labourer, and, in the absence of any pension from army or state, was still labouring in his 70th year for Watson and Sons wheelwrights in Dock Street.
The Truth Behind Robert Rigby's Claim
The correspondence between Thomas Shaw of The Blackburn Times and T.H. Roberts, founder of the “Balaclava Light Brigade Survivors Relief Fund” has recently been uncovered in Blackburn Library. The letters reveal that Thomas Shaw was making enquiries about Robert Rigby’s claim to have been part of the Charge of the Light Brigade. The letters which consist of the originals from Roberts and drafts from Shaw are all dated from October 1904.
Thomas Shaw’s first letter to T. H. Roberts (Roberts) tells how Rigby told him that he had enlisted into the 4th Light Dragoons under the name of “James Rigby”. The article above does not mention the name he used but the newspaper article of 1900 says that after getting drunk, he enlisted in the summer of 1853 using his brother’s name. “Bob” was 19 years old. However, Rigby’s obituary printed in the “Blackburn Weekly Telegraph” on February 17th, 1917 (Rigby died on the 12th February 1917) states He; “enlisted in the 4th Light Dragoons in 1854 and after three months training left Portsmouth for the Crimea.” Mention is also made of an interview the paper had with Rigby some years before but I have been unable to find this particular article.
Thomas Shaw noted in his letters that some doubt had been cast on Rigby’s story and asked if Roberts could help to “settle the matter.” There is no indication of what these doubts might have been. Roberts reply to Shaw contained a letter from H. Herbert, who had also been in the 4th Light Dragoons and had took part in the Charge. Herbert had also, for 10 years, been the President of the “Balaclava Light Brigade Survivors Relief Fund. The letter reads;
T.H. Roberts Esq.
19th October 1904
In answer to your letter to a Mr. Rigby being a survivor of the Charge [of the Light Brigade 25 October 1854].
I never knew the man myself during the eleven years I was president. He never applied to me to have his name put on the list, or neither did he in the time of others who occupied the chair before me.
It is to say the least, extraordinary for men to spring up after 50 years to claim to have been at the Charge.
Where has he been? Or what has he been doing? You may depend if he had any claim, he would have tried to enforce it before. All these years had passed over. “Balaclava day” has been celebrated now for 29 to 30 years, but I will consult five or six old comrades on Balaclava Day about him—He says he joined at Manchester in 1853, I should like to ask where the regiment was stationed when he joined, also what were the names of the officers who led his troop or squadron in the charge. What were the names of his right and left men who rode beside him in the charge? Does he recollect one episode that happened? How many medals and clasps has he? Has he the Balaclava clasp? Is his name engraved round the rim of the medals? Can he produce name of any of the survivors who knew him and can identify him?
I am sure dear sir that you would put him on the list if he can convince you of being a genuine man and not an imposter like so many that have sprung up all over the country. I have my doubts whether he could have had time to learn his drill before the date of the charge he says he joined in 1853, the war was commenced in 1854. It takes 12 to 18 months and in some cases 2 years to train such a good cavalry soldier fit to take the field, lads not properly trained, would be of no use in a horse regiment as in any other regiment. He ought to have reason for not applying to have is name put on the list, he must have known that we were celebrating the anniversary of the charge yearly. My own opinion is that he was not in the Charge. Of course, if he is a genuine survivor, it is his own fault that he is not on the list.
I am Dear Sir
Yours truly H. Herbert
Late 4th Light Dragoons (Now Hussars)
PS I do not say he was not in, but I do not remember him
And then on the 23rd October 1904;
T.H. Roberts Esq.
I send you a few more facts concerning a man named Rigby which you received from an edition of a Blackburn paper. I had a chat with one or two of my Comrades of the 4th and I find that we had a man named Rigby in the regiment, but as he himself admitted he joined the regiment in 1853, I now find, he came out in the first draft, this was some considerable time after Balaclava was fought. Therefore, he could not have been in the Charge. I mentioned in my last letter that I thought he was too young to be in the charge as they would never put a soldier in the cavalry until he had been about 2 years.
I leave it to your discretion sir, whether you will forward it to the Blackburn paper or not.
I am Sir
A letter was also sent to Thomas Shaw from the War Office, dated 28th October 1904. This reads;
With reference to your letters dated 17th and 26th inst. respectively, relative to Robert Rigby, I am directed to inform you that the only man of the name “Rigby” that can be traced as having served in the 4th Light Dragoons at the period quoted, is a No: 1670 Private James Rigby who was awarded the Crimean Medal with clasp “Sebastopol” only.
I am to add that this man did not land in the Crimea until the 1st June 1855, and therefore could not have been in the Charge of Balaclava.
The Director of Recruiting and Organisation.
The signature is indecipherable.
Letter from the War Office to Thomas Shaw
of The Blackburn Times
So, there we have it. These letters seem to suggest that “Bob” Rigby did not ride in the Charge. So, does it also mean that he was not in the cavalry at all? Most certainly not!
Robert states that he joined the 4th Light Dragoons in 1853 (1854 according to the Blackburn Weekly Telegraph) using the name of his brother James. He admits to being so drunk that by the morning both he and his mate had forgotten they had enlisted and continued on their journey to London only to be overtaken by two mounted policemen. With no other choice they accepted their fate.
We know from the War Office letter that there was a James Rigby in the 4th Light Dragoons. Had Robert Rigby been a complete fake, he had made a very good guess at picking a name. I think it is safe to say that Robert Rigby enlisted at Manchester for the 4th Light Dragoons under the name of James. Whether he enlisted in the summer of 1853 or 1854 is open to debate. Which ever date is right, Henry Herbert does not think he would have had enough training to have taken part in the charge, and additionally, the War Office letter states that he did not reach the Crimea until the 1st of June 1855.
However, there is still a problem with this. In his obituary printed by The Blackburn Weekly Telegraph on February 17th, 1917 (Rigby died on the 12th February 1917) it says; “He enlisted in the 4th Light Dragoons in 1854 and after three months training left Portsmouth for the Crimea.” The same paper also mentions an interview they had with Rigby some years before but I have been unable to find the article. If we are to believe the Telegraph, he had only 3 months training as a cavalry man so he must have had, depending when he sailed, at the most between 6 to 9 months experience as a cavalry man before partaking in the Charge which, according to Herbert would not or could not have happened.
We do have proof that James Rigby received the Crimea medal and the Sebastopol clasp. (WO/100/24/05). He would also have received the Turkish Medal. But, as the letter from the War Office records, he did not reach the Crimea until June 1855 therefore it is impossible for him to have been at Balaclava.
The Muster Roll gives this information about James Rigby
Regiment No: 1670
Enlisted: 13/11/1854, aged 20
Height: 5ft 6½in.
Rank: 1854-1855 Private, 1859 Private
Embarkation: 20/05/1855 England
Disembarkation: 20/05/1855 Crimea. [This date is obviously a mistake]
Discharged to Out Pension: 24/11/1859, Invalid Depot
Admitted to out Pension: 22/11/1859, Preston
Pension District: 1859
If we are assuming that this is Robert Rigby, then this must be the information he gave on enlistment. The date of his enlistment tallies with that given by the Blackburn Weekly Telegraph and not with what he told the The Blackburn Times.
It is worth telling how Robert died and of his funeral.
On the 13th of January 1917, while crossing the dining room at the “Model Lodging House, Larkhill” a loose clog iron caused him to fall against the corner of a table. After being examined by the doctor he was removed the Workhouse Infirmary where he died on the 12th February 1917, at the age of 86 years (Blackburn Times, 88 years in the Blackburn Weekly Telegraph). At his inquest, cause of death was given as exhaustion and bronchial pneumonia.
His funeral was held at Blackburn Cemetery, Whalley Old Road with him being accorded full military honours. A firing part of thirteen men of the 10th Battalion of the Lancashire Volunteer Regiment under the command of Company Sergeant Major Ginger escorted the coffin, which was draped with the Union Jack, from the home of his nephew at Mayson Street to the cemetery where they fired a volley of three shots over the coffin. Sergeant Vity then sounded the last post.
The grave of Robert Rigby at Blackburn old cemetery.
only his parents James and Elizabeth are mentioned
on the stone. Other buried in this grave are;
Burns, James; 22 Dec. 1871
Rigby, James; 31 Mar. 1881
Rigby, Betty; 27Mar. 1885
Rigby, Samuel; 30 Mar. 1905
Rigby, Robert; 16 Feb 1917
the dates given are the burial dates
My Conclusion is that Robert Rigby enlisted into the 4th light Dragoons under the name of James Rigby in 1853 or 54. That he was involved with the fighting at Sebastopol, but was not one of the 600 who took part in the Charge of the Light Brigade.
The last survivor of the Charge of the Light Brigade was Edwin Hughes, Private, No. 1506, late of the 13th Light Dragoons, who died 18th May 1927, aged 96.
Blackburn Times, 10th February 1910; 17th February 1917.
Blackburn Weekly Telegraph, February 17th 1917
Honour the Light Brigade, William M. Lummis and Kenneth G. Wynn 1973.
Documents from the P.R.O.
1854-55, W.O. 12/659
1855-56, W.O. 12/660
1856-57, W.O. 12/661
Article compiled by Stephen Smith, Community History Volunteer, Blackburn Central Library, September 2021
Photograph of Robert Rigby's grave by Philip Crompton, Community History Volunteer, 2021.