I suppose we all consult Wikipedia, and find it invaluable, even though we know it needs to be approached with a teeny bit of caution.
Notice, for example, the slightly facetious section at the end of its article on “The Charge of the Light Brigade”:
Years after the battle, James Bosworth, a station-master at Northam, aged 70, was run over and killed by a railway engine. In his younger days he was one of those who had fought at the Battle of Balaclava and sur vived. The English Illustrated Magazine states that he “surviv[ed] ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ at Balaclava”. His epitaph as listed below referenced both his presence at the battle and Lord Tennyson’s poem:
Though shot and shell flew around fast,
On Balaclava’s plain,
Unscathed he passed, to fall at last,
Run over by a train.
OK, the story may be mildly amusing – and it’s certainly been recycled by many a blogger looking for a laugh. (Google it and see for yourself, if you must.) But is it, er, true?
To start with, it’s worth noting that no “James Bosworth” has ever been listed has a Charger (or in the Light Brigade as a whole). That alone might be thought fatal to the story, but there’s more.
I’ve done my best to chart his career but with no success. I’ve even come to doubt that James Bosworth was ever a station-master at “Northam” (which was on the now-closed Bideford, Westward Ho! and Appledore Railway in North Devon). Neither is there any evidence (that I can find) that anybody with the name James Bosworth was ever run over and killed by a railway engine. Indeed, no “James Bosworth” can be found anywhere in any C19 Census living in Devon.
According to the Wikipedia article, the reference (to The English Illustrated Magazine, 1904-5) states that he “surviv[ed] ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ at Balaclava.”
Actually, it doesn’t. Even if you read only the linked clipping, it says he survived “The Charge of the Light Infantry Brigade at Balaclava.” Whatever that might have been, it wasn’t the rather-more-celebrated Cavalry Charge.
The Wiki article continues: “His epitaph… referenced both his presence at the battle and Lord Tennyson’s poem.”
Indeed it would have done, had there been such an epitaph. But sadly for “James Bosworth”, there is neither gravestone nor epitaph for him at Northam. (See David W. Gale’s magisterial “Northam Monumental Inscriptions” for confirmation, genuki.cs.ncl.ac.uk/DEV/Northam/MonumentalInscriptions/ (accessed 1.12.2015).)
In short, I’ve asked Wikipedia to drop the section. I’ll let you know if they do.
Do you know of any other examples of duff Crimea-related info online?
PS A further note for obsessionals:
Thanks to the Hathi Trust you can view the whole of the English Illustrated Magazine article, on “Quaint Epitaphs”, at hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015056059804;view=1up;seq=573.
However, I have not been able to consult the other reference, which is to the snappily titled Elegies and Epitaphs: A Comprehensive Review of the Origin, Design, and Character of Monumental Inscriptions and of Other Necrological Literature, Etc, to which are Appended Fully 300 Epitaphs Or Mottoes, Classified to Suit Exigencies of Different Times of Life; Also, Dissertations Upon Ancient and Modern Cemeteries … Elegies and Epitaphs on Celebrated Persons, Latin and Musical Epitaphs, &c, by the admirably named Charles Box ( 1899). This will have to await a visit to the British Library (though not by me).
It will be interesting to see how many other ‘stories’ come forward. Well done, Chris. /////
Really interesting research. And a very useful reminder of the limitations of Wikipedia. Thank you.