Samuel Lister

1793 - 1813

Lynn ShoulsPublished on 1 November, 2023 · Last updated on 1 November, 2023
Cover image:  Roberto Catarinicchia   

Samuel (Sam) Lister was Anne Lister’s younger brother. From childhood, the two were close, and they enjoyed a loving friendship. Fate dealt Sam a premature blow, and his life and his early death had a profound impact on those who loved him. 

Trigger warning: death, dying.

Note :“SH:7 …” reference numbers are of documents held by West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale. For ease of reading, square brackets have been removed from transcriptions of abbreviated words, whilst original spellings and punctuation have been retained. Journal quotes typed in italics are of text written by Anne Lister in her crypthand, or code. 

Who Was Sam Lister?

Samuel Jeremiah¹ Lister was the second son, and third child, of Captain Jeremy Lister (1752-1836) and Rebecca Lister (née Battle) (1770-1817). Sam was born in Halifax on 21 May 1793, and was baptised at Halifax Parish Church, now Halifax Minster, on 26 June of the same year. 

Section notes
  1. Jeremiah was the name of Sam’s paternal grandfather. (Oliveira 2022)

Sam at a glance

Birth: 21 May 1793, Halifax, West Yorkshire

Baptism:  26 June 1793, Halifax, West Yorkshire

Death: 19 June 1813, Fermoy, Ireland

Burial: 23 June 1813, Fermoy Churchyard, Ireland

Also known as: Sam

Physical Attributes

Eye color: Unknown

Hair color: Brown

Height: At least 5 feet, 5 inches (1.65 metres)

Sam's likes and dislikes

Likes

Dislikes

an artistic depiction of the Lister coat of arms showing the stags head, the red square, the ermine fur, and the 3 stars in a navy blue sash.
Artistic depiction of the Lister coat of arms. Created by Biljana Popóvic.

What Did Sam Look Like?

Sam’s physical characteristics will probably remain largely unknown. His father, Jeremy, was 5 feet, 9 inches (1.75 metres) tall (Armitage 1966), and Sam may have been of a similar height. He was likely at least 5 feet, 5 inches (1.65 metres) tall - in the early 19th century this was the statutory height requirement to join the British Army (Divall 2011, 6). Being physically active, he may have been slim, although in a December 1812 letter to Anne, he wrote “I am quite happy and every one tells me that I am grown fatter much than I was” (23 December 1812 - SH:7/ML/50). 

Sam’s hair colour can be described with some certainty. A lock of Sam’s hair, “which your dear deceased brother gave me”² was enclosed with a letter sent by Eliza Raine to Anne Lister after Sam’s death (3 August 1813 - SH:7/ML/A/75). A carefully preserved lock of hair, kept away from the light, will not decay or fade. The lock of hair enclosed with Eliza’s letter is mid-brown in shade, so it is reasonable to assume that Sam’s hair was this colour during his lifetime. 

Section notes
2. Although the giving of a lock of hair may have indicated a love interest, it was also used as a token of affection or friendship before photographs were available for this purpose (Iglikowski-Broad 2015). Sam’s correspondence with Anne suggests a sentiment of brotherly friendship towards Eliza Raine.

Sam’s Character

The style and content of a letter may be governed by what the writer thinks the recipient will want to read, or by an image the writer wants to present. Nevertheless, from his and others’ writings, it is possible to gain a picture of Sam’s character and the things he liked and was interested in. Sam seems to have been serious-minded, interested in the world around him, ambitious, and popular.

In early letters, Sam expressed an interest in nature, for example in both wild and domesticated animals. In 1806, he wrote to Anne about “a collection of wild beasts” shown in Pickering (14 February 1806 - SH:7/ML/14); and in 1810, he painted a vivid picture of creatures he saw in Halifax: 

“There was a crowded fair at Halifax this year, and the largest and best collection of beasts and birds that have been in the town for many years; we all went to see them in the day after the fair; there was an Elephant; a sea lion; a very large Tiger, two Ouran-Otangs, Leopards, Panthers, and a great number of Monkeys etc. Some of the birds were very beautiful, the keeper gave my Aunt some feathers from a bird, called the Cassawary” 

(3 July 1810 - SH:7/ML/24

In the same year, he wrote to Anne about some foals belonging to his Uncles Joseph and James Lister (1810 - SH:7/ML/21), and about riding out on a horse most days (3 and 14 July 1810 - SH:7/ML/24 and SH:7/ML/25). His journal of army life shows that he felt lucky to be left in charge of a visiting regiment’s horses while the other men went out on a march (24 March 1813 - SH:3/AB/22). 

As for flora, Sam took enough pleasure in growing a flower to write to Anne in 1810, “I have got a very pretty Auricula just coming into flower” (1810 - SH:7/ML/21). And he seems to have appreciated the countryside around him: 

“My Uncle and Aunt are very well, we make long perambulations in an afternoon and evening amongst the neighbouring hills and dales, woods and groves, through flowery meads and by purling streams, which we all enjoy very much; we frequently find birds nests” 

(11 June 1810 - SH:7/ML/23)

a dark red and yellow flower with vibrant green leaves
An example of an Auricula. Photo by Lynn Shouls. 

Socially, Sam expressed himself to be reserved with people until he got to know them: “some of the officers are … I think … with the exception of a few a good set – I however keep aloof till I can know them better” (15 October 1812 - SH:7/ML/45). In an earlier letter to Anne, Sam had described a growing confidence in company: “my Uncle and my Father had a deal of conversation with Mr Rhodes about farming, I listened, but did not say much, though I talk more than when you went, and begin to like visiting very well” (3 July 1810 - SH:7/ML/24). 

Letters between Anne and Sam during his time in the army reveal him to have been sober and abstemious where others were tempted:

“I have never hurt my constitution by whine and those infernal women who are the bane of most young men who enter into the army, … [I] have already seen those who confined to their beds drag on a miserable existence, which only long care, or death can alleviate” 

(23 December 1812 - SH:7/ML/50)

In a letter to Anne in October 1812, he observed, “O my dear I see the dire effects of [women] in 2 or 3 of our officers which if nothing else would frighten me into my senses   one of them is confined to his room and can hardly stir out” (15 October 1812 - SH:7/ML/45). Although rarely mentioned on discharge papers, venereal disease was widespread among both men and officers (Divall 2011, 196).

Other letters to Anne suggest that Sam was ambitious, eager to serve overseas, and even anxious to fight:

“my only wish now, is to be sent on service but I fear we shall remain some time in Ireland as we have not yet heard any thing of our destination; … as to my lieutenancy I must give up all hopes of that for some time, as there are some above me who will purchase³” 

(5 April 1813 - SH:7/ML/53)

In May 1813, he was frustrated at still being in Fermoy: 

“we are yet at Fermoy, and how long we shall remain God knows, for there seems just as much chance of our leaving … as there was three months ago … they do not seem to be in want of troops either in Spain, or America” 

(15 May 1813 - SH:7/ML/55

Despite these frustrations, Sam appears to have liked his chosen career, and he reflected on this more than once: “I am as happy as I can be, and like the Army life” (5 April 1813 - SH:7/ML/53). 

Sam was loved by family and friends, who wished only to see him, in the words of Mr and Mrs Duffin⁴, in “good health and good fortune” (9 September 1812 - SH: 7/ML/44). A letter from Anne in April 1813 reveals that Sam was popular with colleagues: 

“I cannot however conclude without mentioning the Captain’s⁵ having told them all at home, that you are a great and universal favourite with the regiment” 

(12 April 1813 - SH:7/ML/54)

From Aunt Anne’s letters to Sam we see that he was often in the family’s thoughts: 

“We very often think, and talk of you, and never omit drinking your good health on a Sunday, and on new years day you were one of the chief subjects of our conversation, … your father has been here since I began writing, he commissioned me to give all their kind Love, in which I sincerely join,” 

(16 January 1813 - SH:7/LL/358)

It is apparent that Sam was universally liked and well regarded.

Section notes
3. See “Sam’s Role”.4. William Duffin had been a medical colleague of Eliza Raine’s father in India. It is probably through Eliza that Anne came to know Duffin and his wife, who lived in York (Green 1992, 19).5. Captain Rowe, a family friend and fellow officer of Sam’s. Letter of Aunt Anne Lister to Sam Lister dated 18 April 1813 (SH:7/LL/360).

Sam’s Relationship with Anne

According to Muriel Green⁶, Sam was “Anne’s favourite relative” (Green 1992, 7). Miss Green was an experienced librarian and archivist, and an early Lister scholar. When the Shibden estate came into the ownership of Halifax Corporation in 1933, Miss Green was tasked with cataloguing the enormous quantities of manuscripts, letters, and other papers found at the Hall.

Letters shared between Anne and Sam both before and after he joined the army support Miss Green’s opinion. In a letter of April 1811, Anne alluded to their very earliest days together:

“Brought up from our earliest infancy together, nursed as it were in the same cradle an affection has grown in my heart which time and absence cannot change” 

(13 April 1811 - SH:7/ML/41) 

In many letters, Anne expressed her love and affection for Sam, her good opinion of him, and her pride in his achievements: “My high opinion of you, my dear Samuel, is as unbounded as my affection for you” (13 April 1811 - SH:7/ML/41). She knew that she would miss him when he left home, and “when the moment of your departure arrives, it must bring with it a sensation of painful regret which the knowledge only of your welfare can alleviate” (Ibid.). Anne wanted only to know that Sam was well and happy, in a way that she felt he deserved: “may Heaven bestow on you the happiness and success you merit” (9 September 1812 - SH:7/ML/44).

Anne’s love and affection for her brother are summed up in just a few of her own words:

Extract from correspondence reading "my dear dear Sam"
Extract from Anne Lister’s letter to Sam Lister dated 24 April 1813. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/54). 

Throughout her letters, Anne, “the most affectionate of sisters and most sincere of friends” (13 April 1811 - SH:7/ML/41), counselled Sam on how to conduct himself and how to occupy his time. Notably, she encouraged him to 

“keep a  journal – Whatever trouble this plan may give you at first, count it as nothing, when compared with the delight, and satisfaction, which it will always afford your friends, and at some future period, yourself – Though writing is irksome, and perhaps difficult, [the] practice will … amply compensate the trouble, and satisfaction of acquiring [the skill]” 

(9 September 1812 - SH:7/ML/44)

Anne cautioned him, “be not dazzled with the brightness, that may appear to surround you” (9 September 1812 - SH:7/ML/44), and to “take every possible care of your health and every possible precaution against cold - beware of late hours, and of robbing yourself of that portion of sleep and rest so necessary to your constitution” (24 April 1813 - SH:7/ML/54).

Supposing that Sam would be posted overseas, she advised him to keep up with his Latin, for “After knowing Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish will be so easy to you … and you may soon perhaps be, where they are commonly spoken” (9 September 1812 - SH:7/ML/44).

Although less expansive than Anne in his letters, it is evident that Sam reciprocated her love and affection. When just thirteen, Sam expressed himself “your most affectionate brother” (14 February 1806 - SH:7/ML/14). In many letters he used the words “my dear Anne”, and her happiness contributed to his own: “to know that you are [happy] is a great step towards mine” (15 October 1812 - SH:7/ML/45). 

It is evident that the siblings were close.

Valediction in Sam Lister’s letter to Anne Lister dated 11 June 1810.
Valediction in Sam Lister’s letter to Anne Lister dated 11 June 1810. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/23
Section notes
6. Author of “Miss Lister of Shibden Hall - Selected Letters 1800 - 1840”. 

Why Did Sam Go Into the Army?

Some of the letters written by Sam and his correspondents reveal a level of enthusiasm and ambition once he was in his first post. However, there is no clear explanation of why he joined up.

A letter from Eliza Raine to Anne Lister, of May 1811, reveals that Anne’s family was in a state of some concern about Sam, and Eliza opined that 

“the Lad will be resolute I am afraid   a little refractory, and if his Friends contest it with him I fear the result; you will think me rather rude to your Brother but I really wish he were gone, either for his own good or another or others” 

(May 1811 - SH:7/ML/A/28)

In Eliza’s view, Sam was being stubborn and unmanageable about something, and her wish that “he were gone” may have referred to his leaving for the military service on which he appears to have set his heart. 

In the early 19th century, the reputation of the British Army was poor (Divall 2011, 33), and soldiers were not highly regarded (Ibid., 32). Despite this, young men enlisted for a range of reasons, such as a sense of patriotism (Divall 2011, 35) or a sense of adventure (Ibid., 36). Professional recruiters travelled the country, and spoke of the glory and honour of fighting for king and country (Ibid., 70). 

In 1811, by which time Sam had been offered his post in the army, the Shibden estate belonged to his Uncle James (1748-1826), and Sam and his immediate family lived modestly on the outskirts of Halifax (Liddington 2019, 10). Sam’s father had been an army man, reaching the rank of captain, but most notably serving as an ensign “with some distinction in the American War of Independence” (Green 1992, 20), and specifically in the action of Concord and Lexington (Lister 1931, 4). In the early 19th century, sons of comfortable families often entered into a career of public service, such as the civil service, the church, or the armed forces (Mortimer 2020, 70). Likely in need or want of some paid occupation, Sam may have felt that following in his father’s footsteps would be an appropriate step, and he may have heard tales of his father’s adventures as he grew up. 

In an intriguing but perhaps waspish diary note of June of 1813, Miss Caroline Wivell Walker (1774-1831)⁷ observed that Sam “was a young man very unfit for the army as he had very little spirit, and appeared very dull but his family encouraged him to enter it” (28 June 1813 - SH:3/AB/22). Miss Wivell Walker’s opinion of Sam’s character is at odds with the personality that emerges from other journals and letters, but if her note is correct it may explain that Sam was steered towards an army career. 

Section notes
7. Caroline Wivell Walker was a descendant of the Walkers of Walterclough, and thus a distant cousin of Ann Walker (1803-1854).

What Part of the Army Did Sam Join?

Sam enlisted in the 84th (York & Lancaster) Regiment of Foot of the British Army. This regiment was first raised at York in 1793 following the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars (1793-1802)⁸. A second battalion was raised at Hull in 1794, and the regiment was further developed with a new battalion, raised at Preston, in 1808⁹. 

The words “of Foot” denote that this was an infantry regiment¹⁰. Although the infantry was considered less prestigious than the cavalry and the artillery, it was often recognised as playing a major role in winning battles (Divall 2011, 13). 

Section notes
8. National Army Museum: https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/84th-york-and-lancaster-regiment-foot 9. Ibid. 10. Some cavalry regiments were denoted as “of horse” (from private correspondence with an army historian).

Sam’s Role

Sam became an “ensign by purchase” on 29 August 1812¹¹. The post of ensign was the most junior officer rank, and becoming an ensign by purchase meant that the commission was bought, most likely from another officer, for example one who was retiring from the army or was himself buying a more senior commission. At the time, “the purchase” was the method by which a man of sufficient means could buy his way up the officer ranks (Divall 2011, 103). 

Section notes
11. As advised by the York and Lancaster Regiment Museum. Contact: https://www.armymuseums.org.uk/listing/york-lancaster-regiment-museum/.

Where Was Sam Stationed?

Sam’s journal entries from 6th to 12th October 1812 detail his journey to Liverpool, and from there across the Irish Sea on the Duke of Richmond packet to Dublin; and thence via Carlow, Kilkenny, and Clonmel, to Fermoy, near Cork, his final destination. 

Sam gave a colourful description of his experiences on the sea in a letter to Anne shortly after he arrived in Fermoy: 

“I was very sick nearly all the way, and obliged for some time to stay on deck, as the cabin was so very Close but it began to rain which forced me down where I lay on the sofa half dead from the evening till morning when I was a little better, but obliged to lay still as the least motion made me sick again” 

(15 October 1812 - SH:7/ML/45)

His letter also contains a description of some of the countryside that he saw: 

“As I left Dublin at so late an hour I saw little of the country till I came to Carlow betwixt which place Kilkenny it is a pretty country interspersed here and there with the ruins of old castles … in a very ruinous state owing to the civil wars in Oliver Cromwells time” 

(15 October 1812 - SH:7/ML/45)

Sam reached Fermoy at about 8 p.m. on 12 October 1812. 

Fermoy did not exist as a town before the British built a garrison¹² there. In 1796, the British government was greatly concerned by an attempt by France to invade Ireland. They sought appropriate locations in which to establish military bases, and the land at Fermoy, in a good position on the river Blackwater, was offered to the army by a Scottish businessman, John Anderson (O'Keeffe 2017).

As shown on the map below, the barracks were built on the north side of the river - the east barracks between 1801 and 1806, and the west barracks and the hospital in 1809¹³. Sam would have known all of these buildings. The town itself grew to around two thousand people by 1807, with a similar number of soldiers stationed there (O'Keeffe 2017). 

Map showing location of barracks relative to Blackwater River, Fermoy.C. Cork - Sheet 35, OS Six-inch Ireland, 1829-1969.  Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland (CC BY 4.0 DEED).

The quality of British army barracks accommodation varied widely, some being hastily constructed with timber and poor-quality materials and becoming quickly dilapidated. A number of the barracks in Ireland were brick-built to endure what the British army may have considered as a period of occupation (Divall 2011, 38).

In a letter of September 1812, Anne shared Mr Duffin’s thoughts on Fermoy and the barracks there: 

“Fermoy … is a beautiful little town on the river Blackwater, about twenty miles from Cork – The barracks are among the best in Ireland, most delightfully situated, and as comfortable as modern architecture and no want of money could make them” 

(9 September 1812 - SH:7/ML/44)

The photograph below was taken in the early 20th century - the buildings were torched after the British departed from Fermoy in 1922 (O'Keeffe 2017).

A black and white photo of a building with a group of men standing in front
Fermoy barracks, early 20th century. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain 
Section notes
12. A group of troops stationed in a military base or town.13. Wikipedia 2019.

Sam’s Working Life

After reaching Fermoy on 12 October, Sam spent a couple of days settling in to his accommodation: 

“we looked out for a barrack room which I was lucky enough to fit into the same night which saved me the expenses of [an inn]  – This day has been spent in furnishing my barrack room” 

(13 October 1812 - SH:3/AB/22)

On his third day he met the drill sergeant¹⁴, who taught Sam to “to face to the right and left etc etc” and drilled him “in the barrack-yard amongst the recruits”, and by the end of his first week he was “in the Regimentals¹⁵, for the first time” (18 October 1812 - SH:3/AB/22). 

In his journal and letters, Sam noted no complaints, but the living quarters would have been far from luxurious: there was limited privacy, the latrines were shared amongst many men, and often the “lights out” order came at 9 p.m. (Divall 2011, 40-42). Remaining healthy was a challenge, as eye disease, lung infections such as tuberculosis, rheumatism, dysentery, and ulcers were common (Ibid., 195). Serious injury could be fatal, as there were no antibiotics, and no anaesthetic (Ibid., 177). If you were unfortunate enough to require surgery, you may not have received the best treatment - the army was considered a good place for surgeons to get early-career practice (Ibid., 185).

Sam’s journal gives a lively description of his daily working life. In the early weeks and months, he “carried the Colours”¹⁶; “was drilled with a squad in the barrack yard”; “had a short march into the country”; saw a duel; “dined at the mess”; spent time on guard and on parade; took part in field days¹⁷; and underwent, with colleagues, an inspection by a visiting senior officer, “who seemed pleazed with our appearance” (7 May 1813 - SH:3/AB/22). All of these activities were considered the basic necessary proficiencies for service (Divall 2011, 119). Sam also submitted to a vaccination programme, “as the small pox were prevalent in the Barracks, and I was not sure whether I had had them or not” (3 January 1813 - SH:3/AB/22). 

The cover of a blue notebook
Front cover of Sam’s Journal. Photo by Lynn Shouls. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/AB/22). 
Section notes
14. Responsible for training new recruits to become combat-ready soldiers.
15. Military uniform.
16.  The regimental flag.17.  Military exercises, particularly in manoeuvring. 

What Sam Wore

Sam would have worn a regimental uniform similar in style to that depicted in the image below:

Officer’s uniform, 14th Foot, 1815 Image credit: Stephen Luscombe - The Brish Empire.

The uniform of Sam’s particular regiment, the 84th (York & Lancaster) Regiment of Foot, was as follows¹⁸: 

From 1812, the shako, a cylindrical hat made of felt, replaced the cocked hat formerly worn by officers (Fosten 1993, 40). The shako bore the royal cypher and, usually, the regimental number. Different regiments’ headwear was distinguished by variation in the coloured cords, tassels and plumes (Ibid., 40).

From 1811, the short, scarlet jacket replaced the officers’ long-skirted coat. Regiments’ jackets were differentiated by colour and number of buttons, facings, and buttonhole loops (Fosten 1993, 39). 

White gloves were standard, and commonly grey trousers were worn day-to-day. 

The coatee of an officer from the 84th, from around 1810, is shown below:

A yellow and green coat, with white cuffs and golden buttons
Officer’s Coatee from the 84th  c.1810. Image courtesy of Rotherham Archives and Local Studies Service.
Section notes
18. Information kindly provided by the York & Lancaster regimental Museum.

Sam’s Leisure Time

In the early 19th century, typical entertainments and pastimes included going for walks, attending dances with local women, going hunting, and gambling, reading and writing (Divall 2011, 124-129). Sam’s journal demonstrates that his leisure activities were typical of the time. A few weeks after arrival at Fermoy, he “went to a Fermoy Ball; a miserable attempt”, and he often “dined at the mess¹⁹”. He sometimes went for walks with his friends, including “on the banks of the BlackWater”, where on another day he “with three or four others rowed on the river” (19 April 1813 - SH:3/AB/22). He also went shooting, and on another occasion “Went with Captain Rowe to set traps for Otters²⁰ and having our accustomed luck caught a Rat’s tail” (27 April 1813 - SH:3/AB/22). He even had a night away - after strolling around Cork, he “left it at 7 Oclock in the afternoon and marched as far as Water Grass Hill where I slept till next morning” (6 May 1813 -  SH:3/AB/22).

In a letter²¹ to Anne of May 1813, Sam described a typical rest day: 

“I must now tell you how I spend my time, I get up I am ashamed to say not till eight Oclock, after which I get my Breakfast, and am ready for parade a little after nine … - after parade I walk into the Country, or the Town, or else play Rackets, or which is often the case, retire to my Room and read a little Latin or English; after which as the time presses on, the Bugle sounds for Evening parade, after which I play at Chess, or stroll about the Barrack yard and talk scandal till the Dinner Drum beats, when I dress for the mess /6 Oclock/” 

(15 May 1813 - SH:7/ML/55)

He continued about one of his friends, “we have begun to read Caesar together, of which we read 200 lines or more every Morning after which … we play 2 or 3 games at Chess or walk out” (15 May 1813 - SH:7/ML/55).

Many days were rounded off dining in the mess and socialising with senior officers and their wives. 

Section notes
19. An area where military personnel eat, socialise, and, sometimes, live.20. Otters were abundant. They were considered a pest by those who wanted to fish, and their pelts were put to practical use.21. To read about wax seals that Sam used on his letters, see the end note, “Sam’s Wax Seals”.

Sam’s Death

Sam’s popularity, his liking for time spent outdoors, and, perhaps, the refractory nature of which Eliza Raine wrote in May 1811, may all have contributed to his early death. 

According to notes made by Uncle James Lister after Sam’s death, a short while before the fateful day Sam had got into difficulty in the river: “a few days before he was near losing his life in the same River, but was saved by Mr Inglish the Surgeon’s Mate, and was cautioned by Captain Lane not to get out of his depth” (1813 - SH:7/ML/B/30). Yet Sam ventured into the water again.

On 19 June 1813, aged just twenty years and twenty-nine days, Sam was out with friends and died by drowning in the River Blackwater, Fermoy. Several sources, including the notes of Uncle James and John Lister, M.A. (1847-1933), and several newspaper accounts, record the tragic events. The narrative left by Uncle James is stirring - it contains a description of what happened, and alludes to a certain fatality about the incident which may reflect other mentions of Sam’s headstrong nature. 

Uncle James wrote: 

“Samuel Lister second son of my Brother Jeremy Lister died on Saturday afternoon June 19th 1813 … on that afternoon he went to bathe with some other of his Brother Officers in the River Blackwater, when most unfortunately he almost instantly got out off his depth, was taken away by the current²², and sunk to rise no more, in the sight of his friends, who made every endeavour, with the assistance of Boats &c to save him, but it was five oclock before he was got, and having been more than two hours in the water, every means was made use of … and every exertion made for several hours to restore suspended animation but alas without the wished for effect -  … [three] black men dived in the River for near two hours, and it was by accident they found the body, in a half erect posture, perhaps his feet might get intangled in a quick sand; … there seemed such a fatality about it, that no precautions could prevent, or exertions of his friends &c, could save him”

(1813 - SH:7/ML/B/30)

The River Blackwater remains dangerous today, and claims a life every couple of years - there are deep holes in which people still get stuck²³. 

The Regiment in which Sam served was effectively disbanded in 1947²⁴. A stained glass window memorial to the regiment, which includes the regiment’s old badge²⁵, is located in St George’s Chapel of Sheffield Cathedral. 

Detail of memorial window, Sheffield Cathedral. Photo by Lynn Shouls.
Section notes
22. Anne Lister’s journal of 7 September 1823 makes mention of a whirlpool (SH:7/ML/E/7/0064 and SH:7/ML/E/7/0065).23. Information kindly provided by San Ní Ríocain.
24. Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council: http://archives.rotherham.gov.uk 
25. Sheffield Catherdal https://www.sheffieldcathedral.org/st-georges-chapel

 Sam’s Burial

Sam was buried four days after his death, on June 23rd 1813 in Fermoy Churchyard, close by Richard Horton Esq. late Major of the 84th (York & Lancaster) Regiment of Foot (Oliveira et al. 2021). To identify more specifically “Fermoy Churchyard”, we can turn to Sam’s journal, in which he notes, “ToDay the late Major Horton was buried at Castle Hyde” (23 April 1813 -  SH:3/AB/22). Transcription records²⁶ confirm that both Sam and his superior, Major Horton, were interred at Castlehyde cemetery:

photocopy of Samuel Lister's burial record from Ireland
Burial record, Sam Lister.© 2023 Copyright Mallow Heritage Centre (CORK North & East).
photocopy of Major Horton's burial record from Ireland
Burial record, Major Horton© 2023 Copyright Mallow Heritage Centre (CORK North & East).

Castlehyde Church is a disused Church of Ireland (protestant) church. Built in 1809, it was remodelled in around 1830²⁷. Castlehyde cemetery is also known as “Litter”, the name of the townland in which the church and cemetery are located²⁸. No records of headstones for Sam or Major Horton have yet been unearthed.  

Castle Hyde Church (Litter Parish Church).
Image courtesy of Jonathan Thacker and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)
Section notes
26. Kindly provided by San Ní Ríocain.
27. National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.
28. Information kindly provided by San Ní Ríocain.

The Grief of Family and Friends

One of the most moving accounts of the grief of family, colleagues, and friends is to be found in a draft letter prepared by Aunt Anne Lister to send to Eliza Raine. As well as relating how the tragedy unfolded, Aunt Anne recounted the torment suffered by those who loved Sam when they heard the news. 

“... I enter upon the truly painful task of communicating particulars of this most lamentable event, which has plunged our family into the extremity of affliction - Oh, my dear, you, who so well knew the fond affection we all bore towards the dear departed Samuel, may have some faint idea of what are our present sufferings … he was beloved and respected by the whole regiment whilst living, and as sincerely bewailed and lamented since dead; if such are the feelings of strangers, what must his friends and relations endure, his poor Father is indeed quite overwhelmed with grief, his Mother has more fortitude … when Anne came yesterday, her Mother received her alone, and broke the dreadful tidings to her by degrees, but when the worst was told, her sorrow and anguish of mind was extreme, my Brother and I went to her and after our feeble endeavours to console along with those of her Mother she at length became sufficiently collected to go upstairs to her father, who, with dear Marian was waiting in a state of mind I cannot describe   no one witnessed their meeting, but, after continuing half an hour together, they joined us below stairs, and we were all tolerably composed and prevailed upon your poor afflicted friend to lay down in the afternoon, I sat by her till tea … I know not how we are to endure this trouble, but, time may, and, I hope, will, with the assistance of that all wise Being who orders all things for the best alleviate our distress, and reconcile us to our irreparable Loss” 

(Draft dated 1 July 1813 - SH:7/ML/A/70)

Eliza expressed her feelings in a letter to Anne Lister: 

“My Welly my feelings will not allow me to be silent. I must write to her for whom my whole heart is opened, I must tell her that I am indeed sincerely deeply the sad partner of her griefs! … The occasion is awful to us all! I look up to Heaven and implore of that hand which has afflicted us so sorely to assuage and comfort thee, and to bless you all with his most peculiar pity!” 

(25th October 1812 - SH:7/ML/A/55

In her reply to Anne Aunt’s letter, Eliza described the pain she felt, both her own and for the family's loss. Beginning her letter as a “sympathising friend [who mourns] for the sad loss you have all sustained”, she recalled Sam’s “early worth and goodness”, and noted “how at his departure I feel indeed all the sorrows of a sister, and shall long very long respect the memory [of] so amiable a friend” (2nd July 1813 - SH:7/ML/A/71).

A less compassionate note is struck by Miss Caroline Wivell Walker in her journal: 

“This morning we heard that young Lister had got drowned in a pleasure boat, he lately entered the 84th regiment and went to Ireland, … his family encouraged him to enter [the army], and now I think they must blame themselves very much” 

(28 June 1813 - SH:3/AB/22

A few days later, Miss Wivell Walker noted that: 

“Miss Lister has said that she would not have regretted her brother’s death so much if he had died in the field of battle.”

 (7 July 1813 - SH:3/AB/22)

Yet it appears that Sam was held in universal affection and respect. Ten years after Sam’s death, Anne recorded in her journal the words of a letter from Isabella Norcliffe, who described the recollections of a Mr Slyfield²⁹, “formerly in the 84th and but a yard of from poor Samuel when he sank …  never did I hear so fine a character as he gave him   He said he was beloved by every officer in the regiment and was one of the best young men he ever knew .... he never in his life was so affected as at his funeral” (18 December 1823 - SH:7/ML/E/7/0090).

Anne Lister was to set down some of her own recollections from time to time in the coming years. 

Section notes
29. Sam mentioned Slyfield in his journal, as a friend with whom he spent leisure time. 

Anne’s Journals in Later Years

The references to Sam in Anne’s journals are infrequent and intermittent, but usually she recalls Sam with sadness. In June 1817, she noted putting on “poor Sams old black waistcoat”, along with some gentlemen’s braces (2nd June 1817 - SH:7/ML/E/1/0003); and in October 1822, in her journal index, she noted “10 years today since Samuel went”³⁰ (6 June 1822 - SH:7/ML/E/6/0124). 

On 7 September 1823, Anne was overcome with memories of Sam. Mr Duffin had recounted a talk with a recruiting officer who knew Sam and was present as he drowned. This conversation

“overcame me so thoroughly, I could scarce sit at table till breakfast was over … went into the garden — then came upstairs till church time — Composed myself as well as I could — but could not throw the thing off all the day — my head was hot and heavy — I know not when I have felt more low — I seemed powerless to divert my mind from those distressful images that crowded on it in spite of me” 

(7 September 1823 - SH:7/ML/E/7/0064-0065)

Being so emotionally overwhelmed seems to have stirred Anne’s resolve to bring her feelings into check. The next day, she wrote: 

“Poor Sam! my heart is heavy — But this is weakness — it shall be shaken off … my mind shall rebrace itself” 

(8 September 1823 - SH:7/ML/E/7/0065

This determination to be strong, as she saw it, may explain the infrequent and sometimes detached mentions of Sam in later years³¹. 

Section notes
30. i.e. departed for his first posting in Fermoy.
31. In Paris in November 1827, she traded in Sam’s gold watch towards the cost of a chronometer (SH:7/ML/E/10/0015).

Sam’s Death, and Anne’s Life

At the time of Sam’s death, the Shibden estate was in the ownership of James Lister, Sam’s uncle. Sam had exchanged affectionate correspondence with Uncle James, both as a boy and, later, when in military service in Fermoy.

As the eldest surviving son of Jeremiah Lister (1713-1788), James Lister inherited the majority of the deceased’s estate (Liddington 2019, 8). James was unmarried and had no children. For some years, Anne Lister discussed with James how he might bequeath his estate. Aunt Anne had told her in 1819

 “about my uncles making a will   he does not know how to entail his property   it seems there has been a question in his mind about letting it end with me or carrying on to the Listers in Wales” 

(24 December 1819 - SH:7/ML/E/4/0016

However, by 1822 James was minded to “leave my father only a life income and me the estate with the power of disposing of it” (22 March 1822 - SH:7/ML/E/5/0111). When the will was finally executed, the estate was bequeathed to Anne, with life interests in income bequeathed to her father and her aunt, and Anne took ownership when James died in 1826 (Shouls 2022).

Anne’s character, both before and after she inherited, was partly defined by her relationship with Shibden. She spent happy childhood days at Shibden Hall (Whitbread 2010, xxi), and in 1815 she went to live there permanently. From a young age, she was interested in her pedigree (Shouls 2022) and her connection with the line of Listers who had owned the ancient estate since 1619. As her Uncle James deteriorated with age, Anne took charge of running the estate and managing contractors and tenants - she behaved in a manner befitting her rank, as landlord and employer (Choma 2019, 11-12). She knew that her family’s centuries-long ownership of Shibden, and the income that it generated, afforded her a substantial social advantage over friends and acquaintances who had become prosperous through industry or practising in a profession such as medicine (Shouls 2022). The Shibden estate played a significant and visible role in shoring up Anne’s certainties about herself and her status (Choma 2019, 12) - it afforded her considerable power, status, and self-regard.

Anne Lister’s life would likely have taken a very different course had Sam Lister lived. In the early 19th century, in the vast majority of cases a man of the landowning class left the bulk of his landed property to the eldest living son (English and Saville 1983, 24). Furthermore, it was not unusual for a land-owning man with only daughters to prioritise nephews when making bequests (McDonagh 2018, 16). 

Therefore, unless James Lister had for some reason considered Sam an unsuitable beneficiary (for example, if he had turned to drink or gambling - which, by Sam’s own account, seems unlikely), it is probable that Sam would have been James’s main beneficiary. This would have rendered Anne a dependent unmarried sister - she might have been reliant on Sam for the roof over her head and for money (Choma 2019, vii). Whilst the siblings were demonstrably close and Anne was evidently extremely fond of Sam, a subordinate role in the family may not have suited her well. Her independent spirit was bolstered by the confidence afforded by the Shibden estate, particularly once it became hers. Furthermore, the income generated by the estate gave Anne the means to travel extensively overseas.

Sam’s short life touched many - family, friends, and colleagues. As related by John Lister, M.A.³², Sam was described in the Leeds Intelligencer of July 5th, 1813, as a “truly excellent young man,” and “one of the best of sons, brothers, and of friends”. The Blackwater River robbed the Lister family of a fine and much loved young man - yet it opened up for Anne Lister a world of opportunity. 

Section notes
32. Halifax Guardian, 11 June 1887.

Wax Seals

In the early nineteenth century, wax seals were used to close a letter or document - at that time, envelopes had not come into common use. The wax seal was a good means to prevent tampering by persons other than the intended recipient, as it was difficult to open a letter without breaking the seal.

To some people, the stamp used to seal the wax was a highly personal object, perhaps having been received as a token of esteem or affection. To others, however, the stamp was merely a practical object, and someone sending off a letter in haste may have used whatever seal happened to be readily to hand. (Gallaway 2023)

Sam used a number of different seals, and the two shown are just examples. The first example, a coat of arms, appears also to have been used by, for example, James and Aunt Anne Lister in a joint letter to Sam dated 16 January 1813. The coat of arms seal is interesting because although it bears some resemblance to the coat of arms of this branch of the Lister family, it is not, in fact, their coat of arms. (Shouls 2022)

a black coat of arms showing an imprint of the Lister coat of arms
Wax seal used by Sam Lister on letter to Anne Lister 14 July 1810Photo by Lynn Shouls. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/ML/25). 
a red wax seal showing the imprint of the head of a person
Wax seal used by Sam Lister on letter to James Lister 7 November 1812Photo by Lynn Shouls. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale (SH:7/LL/356

Archival Material

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale

National Army Museum

York & Lancaster Regimental Museum

References

Acknowledgements

Particular thanks are owed to: David Glover and Diane Halford for sharing Lister- and Walker-related knowledge; Alan Jones for advising me on suitable literature relating to the British Arms in the early 1800s; Jessica Lowther-Payne and Kat Williams for sharing some of their transcription work; Marlene Oliveira for reviewing the article and for transferring it onto a web page; Helen Parkins for reviewing the article; San Ní Ríocain for providing information about Fermoy barracks and the River Blackwater, and help with uncovering Sam’s (and his colleague’s) burial records; the National Army Museum and the York & Lancaster Regimental Museum; and the Calderdale team of the West Yorkshire Archive Service for their permission to publish extracts from documents in the Lister catalogue.