James Backshall was born at Fulling Mill in 1835 and christened on 15 Nov 1835 in St Peter’s Church. His parents are recorded as David and Mildred. In the census of 1841 the family are recorded at Fulling Mill, his father David as an Agricultural Labourer aged 30. David’s wife, Amelia, is also 30yrs (Note that in 1841 adults only reported their age to the nearest 5yrs.) James is 5yrs old and his siblings include Benjamin, 11yrs, Ann, 9yrs, William, 7yrs, Jesse, 3yrs and Jasper, 4 months.
There is a marriage recorded between David Backshall and Amelia Marchant on 3 Oct 1829 in Ardingly. David and Amelia are recorded in the 1851 census at Hapstead Farm with their children Jesse, 12yrs, Jasper, 9yrs, David, 7yrs, Milly, 5yrs and John aged 2. The confusion between Mildred and Amelia is unresolved currently.
In the 1851 census James, now aged 16yrs, is found living at Rivers Farm and working as a Farm Servant. The Head of the family is Thomas Tester, aged 44, a farmer of 170 acres employing 20 labourers.
James enlisted with the 4th Light Dragoons in Brighton on 18 Jan 1854. He was 17yrs 6mnths old and 5ft 6in tall. On 25 Oct 1854, the day of the Charge of the Light Brigade, James [Bagshaw] was reported as being a prisoner of the Russian Army. On 26 Oct 1855 James was returned to his regiment, having been conveyed from Odessa by the steam ship Columbo, and on 4 Nov imprisoned under sentence of Court Marshal, recorded on 9 Nov 1855 at the Cavalry Depot, Scutari.
James’ statement to the Court Marshal reads as follows.
“I was with the 4th Light Dragoons in the Charge at the Action of Balaclava on the 25th Octr. 1854, and on the return of the Regt. my horse was shot under me.
I was at once surrounded and taken prisoner, conducted to the Russian camp and a few days after sent into Russia with some other prisoners.
We remained in Russia until the 22nd August, when we were sent to Odessa and later forwarded from thence to Balaclava, which was reached on the 26th Octr. 1855.”
Whilst still serving with the regiment in Newbridge, Ireland, Bagshaw became involved with the Cardigan v Calthorpe libel suit. An affidavit James swore on 29 May 1863 reads:
“I have been in the regiment 9 years. l remember the charge of the light cavalry brigade at Balaclava on 25 October 1854. l was on the right of the right squadron in the rear rank. When within about 40 yards of the guns my horse was killed and l was taken prisoner by the Russian lancers. A Russian officer came up to me and asked me in English, “Who was that English officer who rode back on the chestnut horse with white heels?” l said I did not know. l afterwards heard from several other prisoners that his Lordship (Cardigan) rode a chestnut horse with white heels during the charge”
In the census of 1861 James is recorded at Cuckfield Park House working as a Groom for Warden Geo Sergison. James is 25yrs old and his regiment is recorded in the census. Also recorded is the son of the house, Warden Sergison, 25, a Captain in the same regiment, 4th Light Dragoons.
James was discharged from the army “by purchase” (£10) on 16 Aug 1864 at Dundalk having served 10yrs 29dys with good conduct and character.
He was awarded two medals, described by the auctioneer as:
Crimea 1854-56, three clasps, Alma, Balaklava, Sebastopol (J. Bagshaw. 4th Lt. Dragns.), officially impressed, pawn broker’s marks in obverse field;
Turkish Crimea, Sardinian die (Pt. J. Bagshaw. 4th Lt. Dns.), contemporarily engraved in upright serif capitals, pierced for ring suspension as issued, contact marks overall, generally very fine (2)
Dutton in Forgotten Heroes, The Charge of the Light Brigade gives Bagshaw as a three clasp medal, but ‘Not recorded on Sebastopol Roll (AS149)’Spink & Son – Auction: 16001 – Orders, Decorations, Campaign Medals and Militaria – Lot: 171
James married possibly in 1867 and is recorded in the 1871 census living with Ann at Knowles Farm. He is 35yrs old and working as Groom. Ann is recorded as 40yrs old, Domestic Servant and was born in Arundel. He died on 11 Mar 1872 aged 36 and buried on 16 Mar. His grave is no 130 in the Churchyard. The Parish Register records that he was, “One of the survivors in the Charge at Balaklava.” (List of survivors.)