Peter FINK & Elizabeth WASH

An introduction to their lives

It seems quite uncanny, that once you start to unearth a little of your family history, that your own names, traits, places, birthdays, occupations and interests mirror those of one or more of your ancestors. This certainly seems to be the case as regards those of us who are descended from Peter and Elizabeth Fink and are involved with this website.  Peter and Elizabeth however, came from very different backgrounds.

Elizabeth’s family, the Wash’s, had been master bakers for at least two generations and she and many earlier generations of her family, all non-conformists, were from Colchester in Essex. She was born in 1840 in Colchester, Essex, England, the daughter of a master baker, James Wash and Rachel Wash (nee Clark).

Peter was, one assumes, a little more “worldly wise” than Elizabeth. We don’t know what attracted him to come to Britain to enlist with the British German Legion to fight in the Crimean War but whether he was a baker or a soldier in Germany it was certainly a very different background to that of the young English maiden.

Peter’s family were armourers and metal workers in Kiedrich in Germany (not far from Frankfurt).  Peter Fink was born in 1828 and was the sixth-born of ten children  to Valentin Fink and Dorothea Fink (nee Kempernich).  A phrase from a family letter infers that he (or his parents) hints that he was planned to have a futurein the church, i.e.  “. . but he had no disposition to study theologian.” He certainly gave his occupation on attestation as “Baker”.  Although we do not know for sure, Peter was probably a Catholic as he came from a Catholic area – the local church choir’s website stated at the time that the choir still sing the mass in Latin.

As regards the British German Legion, we know from documents sighted at the National Archives by Barbara and Sharon that Peter’s regiment number was 663 and that he was in the 4th Light Infantry of the BGL,  He enlisted on the 17th January 1856, and gave his age as 27. The documents also show bounty paid to Peter was £6, and to the Baron Von Stutterheim for levying as £9.15s, total of levy allowance =£15.15s.  The papers also state that Peter Finck was Born at Nassan, Kiedrich, Occupation Baker, that he had no disabilities, his limbs were fit for ordinary labour and that he was willing to serve in the BGL. He was described as having a fair complexion, brown eyes and hair, his height is given as 5 ft 5 ins and he had no distinguishing marks.

Pay Lists show him being paid from the date he joined (17th January 1856) to 31st March 1856 and again from 1st April 1856 to 30th June 1856 (91 days pay plus 1 hot meal!), 1st July 1856 to 30th September 1856 (92 days pay – 30 days in regimental / general hospital) and 1st October 1856 to 30th October 1856 (30 days – 4 days in regimental / general hospital) and then discharged. The papers also show address of nearest relation: Valentin Fink in Kiedrich.

The first German legionaries landed at Dover in May & June 1855 and went to Shorncliff Camp, Kent. They then proceeded to Aldershot for their training on the 10th July 1855 which was not extensive. The Queen (Victoria) and Prince Consort Albert visited the camp at Shorncliff on the 10th August 1855 where there were 3,048 German recruits. She took exception to them being called ‘Foreign Legion’ and pressed successfully for them to be called the “British German Legion”. In the course of the summer Cholera declared itself and was blamed on the troops themselves who threw filth into the wells from which they drew drinking water. The loss of life was limited to two officers and eleven men.

The formal termination of the Crimean war was by the peace of Paris on the 30th March 1856, so Peter just got in by the skin of his teeth!. By the 10th March they had increased the height regulations from 5 ft 2 ins to 5 ft 7 ins which immediately dropped the recruits by one half.  Five days later they stopped recruiting entirely ‘on some pretext or another‘. On the 11th/14th March 1856 the Queen “urged Panmure to treat the legionaries with generosity”. In April 1856 the German legion presented a petition asking for compensation on the premature disbandment as they had enlisted for five years. By 19th April 1856 it was announced that any legionary who would accept half a years pay, instead of the full years pay could be discharged at once.

The media at that time stated that there had been lots of fighting within the camps of Shorncliff and Colchester with many injuries because of them being idle on the streets and also in the barracks themselves between the Swiss and the German legions.  This behaviour is confirmed in a reminiscence Elizabeth made to a reported from her local paper on the occasion  of her 90th birthday.

Peter and Elizabeth were married in Colchester in 1857 and during their married life, had eleven children. The family lived mainly in and around the greater London area, although Elizabeth lived the last few years of her life in her home town of Colchester.

Peter and Elizabeth, it seems, were separated and lived apart from at the latest 5th April 1891, as by the census of that year, Peter is shown as living-in as a “Bakery Assistant” to Charles Horwood at 2 Bolsover Street, Marylebone.

On the same census, Elizabeth is shown at 15 Henry Street in Clerkenwell, “wife” of James Henderson, Confectioner. After Peter’s death at the Marylebone Infirmary in June 1913, Elizabeth married James Henderson; at the time she was 73 years old.

Elizabeth died in 1936 at Colchester, at the age of 96. An article in a Colchester newspaper written on the occasion of her 90th birthday is in the Photo Album section.

Over the last 150 years, their descendents have settled in many parts of England, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and there are most likely descendants on just about every continent, and we would like to get to know a lot more of them!

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