John Alexander Caldecott 1835 – 1924 – Hero or Villain – Probably a Bit of Both!


John Alexander Caldecott was an interesting character whose descriptions and actions portray a complex man who had a distinguished army career, but it was conflict within his family which shrouded his later life.

John Alexander Caldecott was born on the 10 December 1835 to Charles Marriott Caldecott and Margaret Smith and was the grandson of Abraham Caldecott, Lord of Rugby Manor, and Elizabeth Marriott. John Alexander was born in Cawnpore, India whilst his father was there working for the civil service as a Magistrate.

He was baptised on the 3 January 1836 at Cawnpore and was the couple’s second son, younger brother to Margaret Elizabeth, Charles Thomas, and Caroline Selina. The couple then went on to have seven more children upon their return to England – Francis James, Sophia Catherine, Randolph, Merriel, Sidney Arthur, Everard Garfoot, and Eleanor.

John Alexander Caldecott

John Alexander was educated at Bradfield College and then began his military career when he entered the 38th Foot Regiment as an Ensign in March 1855, aged 19.

His first theatre of war was in Crimea and through the Siege of Sevastopol (in the featured image at the top of this biography).

Shortly after the Crimean War, John Alexander was promoted to Lieutenant and served for a short while in Ireland.

He was then sent to be part of the British reprisals against the rebels of the Indian Mutiny as a Lieutenant during 1857 and 1858, when he was present at the relief of Lucknow. However, he went on sick leave from 26 April 1858. This must have been a battle close to his heart, having been born in India and as both his father and grandfather worked as British colonials in India for a significant part of their young adult lives.

Indian Mutiny 1857

In January 1865, John Alexander was promoted from Lieutenant to Captain before retiring from the British Army in 1871, aged 35. However, his service is likely to have left some scars, both emotionally and physically. In the war of the Indian Mutiny violence, which sometimes betrayed exceptional cruelty, was inflicted on both sides; on British officers and civilians (including women and children) by the rebels, and on the rebels and their supporters (sometimes including entire villages) by British reprisals. The cities of Delhi and Lucknow were laid waste in the fighting and during the British retaliation.

Not only this, but later in life, John Alexander is quoted referring to deafness he suffered and it is likely that this was from the constant cannon and gunfire he was subjected to during his military service.

What did you say? You and I are both deaf, and we cannot hear very well. Were you speaking to me?

John Alexander Caldecott during a court hearing in Rugby, Rugby Advertiser Wednesday 5th January 1887 P4

Upon retirement, John Alexander settled in Long Lawford, boarding with Charles Hutchins Garratt, baker and his family. This was local to his family who were living in the family home of Holbook Grange, in nearby Little Lawford. In 1883, Charles Marriott, John’s father died and John’s eldest brother, Charles Thomas took over managing the family estate.

Family life, however, took a rather sour turn, which, had their father still been alive, would have caused him great shame and embarassment, particularly as he was a local Justice for the Peace.

On Christmas Day of 1886, there was an altercation between John Alexander and his brother, Charles Thomas, as the latter and his family were leaving church.

St Botolph's Church, Newbold on Avon. 1910s
St Botolph’s Church, Newbold on Avon. 1910s

John Alexander is said to have started to threaten his brother, putting his fist to his face on more than one occasion during the heated exchange that then ensued outside the church.

This was a culmination of acrimony between the brothers that had been going on for some time and resulted in Charles Thomas bringing John Alexander before a court to drive him to swear sureties of the peace against him. The court case was held at Rugby Police Court on Monday 3rd January 1887. The hearing was before Allesley Boughton-Leigh, whom John Alexander felt would be biased towards Charles Thomas due to his relationship with him but this was dismissed.

During the trial, John Alexander is requested several times to cease from interrupting and to stick purely to the matters pertaining to this particular incident.

However, Charles Thomas testified that his brother had been behaving in a menacing manner towards him and their mother and sisters for some time. He accused him of sending vile post-cards to the family, posting offensive notices written in red chalk to represent blood on the gates of Holbrook Grange, and inserting “absurd” advertisements in the local newspapers.

Throughout the case, John Alexander pleaded that he had grounds for provocation and that the main reason for this was that in 1881 his family were responsible for

the torture and degradation of being placed in a madhouse without being put upon his trial

Gloucestershire Echo, Tuesday 4th January 1887, P4

Was John Alexander indeed suffering from mental illness?

Had his military service left him with emotional scars that he found it hard to overcome?

Was the threatening behaviour he engaged in towards his family revenge for his unfair committal to the asylum or proof that he indeed had emotional difficulties?

The magistrates found no grounds for provocation, having dismissed his case as it was too long ago to be relevant. They looked upon the assault as a serious one and fined John Alexander £5, and required him to enter into sureties to keep the peace for six months, himself in £300 and two sureties in £50 each.

John Alexander continued to live in Long Lawford until his death on the 6th March 1924. His obituary which appeared in The Rugby Advertiser recognised his distinguished military career and described him as a gentleman who

was generally loved by reason of his kindly disposition and readiness to help all in need.

Rugby Advertiser, Tuesday 15th March 1949, P2 Feature on 25 years ago today

As can be seen from his picture, featured earlier in this article, John Alexander also made significant donations to the public library of Rugby. This complex character clearly had two sides to him, maybe the damage of war and lack of understanding of his family meant he was misunderstood and maligned unfairly by those closest to him.

See also

Abraham Caldecott – Lord of the Manor at Rugby – 1763 – 1829

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