Henry James Schooles was born in Brussels, then part of the Netherlands, on 10 October 1815, one of the three children of Peter Schooles, a surgeon in the 81st Foot (Loyal Lincoln Volunteers) and his wife Eliza, nee Pipon. The regiment’s second battalion, of which Peter was a part, had been stationed there since Napoleon’s escape from Elba earlier that year. The regiment did not take part in the Battle of Waterloo, but it is likely that Peter was drafted in to deal with the aftermath of hundreds of injured soldiers.
Brussels in 1815, full of British soldiers
The family were moved the next year to Ireland, where another son, Philip Alexander and a daughter Louisa, were born and where Peter endowed a medical facility in Bray, Co. Wicklow. He died in 1818.
Eliza remarried the following year but was soon widowed again and lost her younger son, too. She took Henry, his sister and her daughter by her second marriage to live in Jersey, her birthplace and died herself on the island aged only 46.
Henry’s early education is a mystery, but he graduated from the University of Glasgow with an M.D. in 1837, and enlisted in the British Army on 29 June 1839, joining his father’s old regiment as an Assistant Surgeon. Army Surgeons were required not only on the field of battle, but were employed at British garrisons across the Empire to attend soldiers, their wives and families when they contracted everyday – or more exotic – diseases. Although the medical officer was commissioned and wore the uniform of his regiment, he held no military rank and was entirely under the command of the Colonel of his regiment. He had no trained staff, just a few men detailed to him from the regiment, who usually had no medical knowledge or training.
Henry served at first in Gibraltar, but the regiment was then sent to the West Indies where on 23 February 1843, he married Catherine Louisa Mordaunt Semper in St Kitts. She was the daughter of Hugh Riley Semper, a plantation owner and his wife Caroline nee Fahie. She was one of at least three sisters.
Four years later, Henry became a fully-fledged surgeon and transferred to the 1st/69th Regiment of Foot. On 12 December 1847, he and Catherine arrived in Malta. It was a challenging time to be there. There had been many cases of what was called Common Continued Fever among the men and there was great debate among the army surgeons as to whether this was, or was not, a form of cholera. Henry, who attended an autopsy of one of the dead soon after his arrival, was convinced that it was. The average strength of the garrison was 2,534 men and in 1847-8 there were 29 deaths and on average only 1,550 men were fit and available for garrison duty.
The situation worsened in Autumn 1848 and the regiment was evacuated from its quarters while the rooms were fumigated and whitewashed following deaths there.
Malta in the mid-nineteenth century
The epidemic had run its course by the next year, when Catherine gave birth to her first child, a boy called Henry Rawlins Pipon Schooles. The garrison was not a healthy place for a child: of 220 sick children admitted to the garrison hospital that year, 34 died.
But little Henry survived and the regiment left Malta in 1850 for Barbados and in December 1853, Henry transferred to the King’s Royal Rifles, an infantry regiment that fought at most of the British Empire’s significant engagements during the nineteenth century. Henry served with the second battalion, and was sent to South Africa, where another son, Frederick, and a daughter, Kate were born and then on to India.
Henry and Catherine arrived in Delhi in time for the Indian Mutiny – or First War of Independence as it is known in India, and by the end of the insurrection, Henry had been promoted Surgeon Major.
One representation of the 1857 mutiny
Then it was off to China where the regiment fought in the Second Opium Wars and assisted in the capture of the Taku (or Dagu) forts and the occupation of Peking (now Beijing). The surgical work Henry would have done during these engagements would today be regarded as primitive. Without anaesthesia, surgeons could only amputate damaged limbs (which killed one in four patients), cut out embedded shrapnel, open skulls to remove blood clots, let blood (still popular as a ‘cure’) and splint fractures. Serious head, chest and abdominal injuries were untreatable. If an injured man developed an infection in his wounds, it meant almost certain death.
China was followed by the more peaceful Canada, where Henry exchanged to the Staff and was appointed to the Rifle Battalion Depot in even more peaceful Winchester. In September 1864, he retired on half-pay with the honorary rank of Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals, and took the post of Medical Officer at the School of Musketry in Hythe – perhaps the ultimate in peacefulness.
The School of Musketry in Hythe, 1853-1968
He and Catherine lived with Kate in Stade Street in the town. In 1868, Henry created something of a stir by refusing to pay a pavement rate of eleven shillings and sixpence to the Town Council, because, he said, his road was not drained and had never since he had lived there, been watered either (to keep down the dust). He was summoned to appear before the local magistrates who were not sympathetic and ordered him to pay up, with costs.
Presumably he did, and he also moved the family to the more salubrious Marine Parade, where he died suddenly on 12 May 1878.
Catherine remained in Hythe for some years after his death, but later moved to Kensington to live with a widowed sister. It was there that she died in 1907.
Henry James Schooles M.D/ surgeon general/born 10th October1815/died 12th May 1878
In loving memory of/Katherine Louisa Mordaunt
Peace perfect peace
The inscription on their grave is perhaps telling of how the years of warfare took their toll.
Their children prospered. Henry junior became a barrister, married and went to his mother’s home, the West Indies. There he became Attorney General first of the Leeward Islands and later of British Honduras, before returning to Europe He was knighted in 1905 and served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar until his death in 1913..
Frederick was educated at a small private school in Chepstow and later joined the army. In 1884, when a captain, he created a minor scandal by eloping with his Colonel’s wife. They were married after she had been divorced. After her death in 1902, Frederick married again and moved with his new wife to Hythe, which he remembered from his parent’s time there. They lived in Brockhill Road until at least 1939.
Kate married a few months after her father’s death to Walter Rupert Kenyon-Slaney in St Leonard’s church in Hythe. He was a lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade. The younger brother of a well-known MP, he had a distinguished military career before retiring to Berkshire. As a widow, Kate also moved to Hythe before her death in 1944. Her only son, Neville, died unmarried in 1963.