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Martin Concar’s youth

Back in 2015 I outlined the troubled history of the Concar family in nineteenth century Stafford.[1] One person to whom that adjective certainly applied was Martin Concar who was born in Stafford in 1859, the third son of Patrick and Bridget Concar née Kenney. Despite contact with some of Martin’s descendants during this research, no photographs of Martin or indeed any of the nineteenth century Concars had come to light – until now. This photograph of Martin Concar has now been found through the index of the Stafford Gaol Photograph collection in the Staffordshire Record Office.[2]  It was taken on 27 September 1879 around the time of his release from a nine-month sentence in Stafford Gaol.

Concar Martin 031FED97C0C743B0B4F4B9A923438699

Martin Concar, aged 20. Photograph taken at Stafford Gaol, 27 September 1879 at the time of his release.

Martin Concar was a troubled teenager. His father, Patrick, had been a seasonal farm worker in the area before the Famine and he had been arrested in Ireland in 1845 for helping others to carry guns back to Co. Galway from Staffordshire.[3] He finally settled in Stafford during the Famine and in 1854 married Bridget Kenney. They proceeded to have nine children but life was a struggle. They were poor and always lived in a miserable house at 61 New Street in the north end of Stafford. Patrick ultimately gave up farm work and got a job on the railway but tragedy struck when he was run down and killed by a train in May 1874.[4] Bridget was left with a growing family to support and life at the New Street house became difficult. Within a year of his father’s death Martin was in court for assaulting ‘a little girl’ named Elizabeth Reddish. He was then nearly sixteen and described in the newspaper as ‘a disreputable-looking youth from New Street’, a classic form of press stigmatisation. No other details were given although Martin got a 5s. fine or 14 days in prison for the offence.[5]

Martin seems to have subsequently left home for a time and he continued to get into trouble. In late 1877 he was lodging at the Bull’s Head pub in Gaolgate Street. One of the other lodgers was a Martin Connelly and he misguidedly left his money – thirty shillings – in his waistcoat under his pillow. The next morning it was gone, stolen by Martin Concar who had done a bunk. He was quickly arrested and admitted the theft at the magistrates’ court. They gave him three months in prison with hard labour.[6] Six months later he was back in court, charged with being drunk and disorderly. The fine was five shillings plus costs.[7] Six months later again he was charged with the theft of a pair of boots from the slaughterhouse in Gaol Square where it seems he was then working. It was a pathetic crime, indicative of his poverty. The boots were found in his house – he seems to have been back in New Street – and he again admitted his guilt. He was, nevertheless, sent to the Staffordshire Quarter Sessions and because of his previous conviction he was given nine months imprisonment with hard labour.[8] Before he was released the prison authorities took the picture of him that has come down to us.

Martin Concar was clearly a difficult teenager who appears to have committed silly crimes with no thought of the consequences. It was probably inevitable that he would get involved in one of Stafford’s violent elections. In the 1880 general election campaign unruly mobs marauded round the town – there were reportedly 600-700 people in the Broad Eye alone. This election violence was irresistible to Stafford’s youths and Martin Concar was among them. He was one of twelve men subsequently charged with throwing stones on election day (2 April 1880) but, intriguingly, he also appeared in court as a police witness against the others. Martin was, of course, of Irish descent; all the other miscreants were clearly native Staffordians. Because of his past record, and perhaps his perceived ethnicity, the police probably leaned on him to accuse the others. It was reported, however, that ‘his evidence was unreliable’ and the cases were withdrawn against both him and six of the other accused. Even so, Martin must have made himself unpopular with others in his peer group and he decided it was time to get out of the town.

Martin joins the Army

Martin’s elder brother John Concar had already joined the army in 1876 and that was the inspiration Martine needed to escape from a hopeless life in Stafford.[9] It was common for young working class men with few prospects to join the forces. Their role in seizing and policing the expanding British empire (and holding Ireland) meant the army was always short of recruits and would take on pretty well anybody, no questions asked. Martin’s service record was unfortunately destroyed in the 1940 Blitz but we know from the Census in April 1881 that by then he had joined the 23rd Foot Regiment, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He was listed as a private in the 2nd Battalion stationed at Millbay Barracks in Devonport. Interestingly, he – or the soldier making the return to the enumerator – said he was born in Ireland. That could be because Martin wanted to cover his tracks from Stafford or was expressing pride in his Irish family origin. The memory of his father’s gun-running might still have lingered in the family.[10] We shall never know. We do know, however, that he carried on some of his old habits in the army because on 9 December 1881 he was up before a court-martial at the barracks. I do not have details of either the offence or the sentence (if any) because they are currently concealed by a paywall but it wasn’t an auspicious start to his army career.[11]

The 2nd Battalion remained in Plymouth until it was posted to Templemore, Co. Tipperary, in 1883. It may have been at that point that Martin was drafted into the 1st Battalion of the Regiment which was then serving in India.[12] Perhaps, as a identified Irishman, his loyalties were considered too suspect for a posting in Ireland. All we definitely know is that in late 1885 he and his battalion became part of the first wave of troops involved in the Third Burma War.[13] Martin Concar was therefore directly involved in the short but fairly squalid conflict that finally destroyed Burmese independence and brought that country under imperial rule.

The British had annexed what became Lower Burma in the wars of 1824 and 1852 but in 1885 the largest land area of the country was still in the hands of the independent Burmese monarchy. It was, however, subject to outside pressures from China and particularly France as well as from Britain. In the early 1880s the current monarch, Thibaw, actively favoured the French and sought to undermine, or even confiscate, the assets of the British-owned Bombay-Burma Trading Corporation which was exploiting teak wood resources in the kingdom. That was just the excuse the British needed to bring Burma to heal. On 22 November 1885 they issued an ultimatum demanding that the king suspend action against the trading company, accept more British representation in Mandalay and allow Britain to control the country’s foreign relations. The king ignored the ultimatum and the British invaded.

Blog - Martin Concar Burma map contrast

Burma from an atlas map dating from 1893, the immediate aftermath of the Third Burma War

Martin’s Burma War

Although it is now impossible to follow Martin Concar’s precise actions day-by-day in the Burma War, we can follow the Royal Welsh Fusiliers’ involvement in the Britain’s takeover of Burma and hence his likely involvement there. His battalion had been based at Dum Dum near Calcutta since 1881 and around 21 October 1885 he was among 3000 British and 6000 Indian troops who embarked at Calcutta (and Madras) for the sea voyage to Rangoon. The Royal Welsh Fusiliers formed part of the 3rd Infantry Brigade along with two units of Bengal Infantry. On 8 November 1885 his battalion boarded the steamer Aloung Pya and the two barges (‘flats’) it was to tow. They were part of an invasion flotilla of 57 craft which set off up the River Irrawaddy. Their objective was ‘a coup to paralyse national resistance in Upper Burma by the capture of Mandalay and the deportation of King Thibaw, rather than a regular invasion.’[14] It was a week before the cooped up and sweating troops on the vessels actually crossed the frontier into Upper Burma. The only significant resistance occurred at Minhla and the British rapidly subdued it. 150 Burmese troops were killed and 276 taken prisoner, with unknown others being drowned in the river trying to escape. Many of the survivors headed off into the jungle with their weapons and they were to cause the British many subsequent problems. The town of Minhla was burnt to the ground, the blaze supposedly started by a stray shell.

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Dead Burmese troops with British forces looking on after the attack on the Minhla battery, November 1885. Photo: Wikimedia Commons 

The capital of Upper Burma, Mandalay, was reached on 28 November 1885. Martin’s brigade marched up from the river and secured the northern and western gates of the city and then the gates of the Royal Palace. There was no resistance. Next day the formal surrender took place and the Royal Welsh Fusiliers closed the rear of the procession which then escorted King Thibaw and his queen down to the river and into exile. The independent Burmese kingdom was annexed by Britain as from 1 January 1886.[15]

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The British arrival at Mandalay, 28 November 1885. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Martin’s battalion remained in Mandalay for the initial phase of British rule and Martin would have seen, and perhaps participated in, a wave of officially organised theft that must have made his own petty crimes seem insignificant. The British carried out organised looting of both the royal palace and the city of Mandalay and set up a ‘Prize Committee Mandalay’ to dispose of government possessions either by auction or by straight confiscation back to Britain. Many valuable metal items were destroyed.[16]

Britain’s swift military victory did not end resistance to the imperial takeover, however, and Martin was among the troops sent to deal with the aftermath of insurgency (or ‘dacoitry’). In Mandalay itself disorder and looting broke out once the Burmese population realised the old royal government had ceased to exist. Then the Chinese threatened to seize the town of Bhamo on Burma’s north-eastern border and half of Martin’s battalion was sent to occupy that town. It meant a further boat journey of over 200 miles up the higher reaches of the Irrawaddy River. The rest of the battalion was then sent to occupy the town of Shwebo near Bhamo and in January 1886 they put down an uprising in that district. The battalion then spent the rest of the year in this hill-forested area which stretched north to Myitkyina and the jungles of the Kachin territory. It was later to become a strategic area in the Burma campaign of the Second World War as the gateway to north-east India and China. Small garrisons of Fusiliers were quickly left to defend occupied settlements but by April 1886 insurgency was breaking out all over Upper Burma. Martin’s battalion was involved in at least nine engagements between then and July.[17]  The British continued to pour reinforcements into the country and by July 1886 there were 32,720 troops and police on the ground, although the field force only averaged about 13,000. [18]  The jungle fighting was arduous against elusive foes and, as a result, the British resorted to collective punishments of Burmese inhabitants’ villages, something not recorded in the official history.[19]

For a young recruit like Martin Concar, conditions in Burma must have been a shocking contrast with those at home but may well have encouraged his tendency to drinking, violence and petty crime. He had to cope with the heat, the humidity, the strange and sporadic food and the mysterious and often hostile people. Early on it was reported that ‘boots became perished in mud and water and fell to pieces after a few weeks’ wear.’[20]   They often had to make do and mend because supplies didn’t get through. The biggest danger Martin faced was not, however, leaky boots or dacoits but disease. It was reported that in July 1886, out of 13,000 field troops, 3053 were ‘ravaged by disease’, mainly malaria, cholera, dysentery and ‘heat apoplexy’.[21] The longer Martin and his comrades stayed, the more likely they were to die. In the end his battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers was withdrawn back to Lucknow in India around December 1886. They had been in Burma just over a year.

Concar Martin medal front

A Burma 1885-7 medal, the one that Martin Concar received after his army service.

For their sacrifices the troops who fought in the Third Burma War were awarded a campaign medal and clasp. The detailed list of recipients survives and it shows that there were 1023 decorated troops in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and among them was Martin Concar.[22]  His entry also shows that by September 1887 he had served out his contracted seven year term in the army and already been discharged. His address was noted as 61 New Street, Stafford. He had gone back home.

What happened to Martin Concar after his return to Stafford will be described in my next post.


[1] Blog posts of 29 September and 13 October 2015.

[2] Index to the Stafford Gaol Photograph Albums, 1877-1916, part of the online Staffordshire Name Indexes project. I am indebted to Robert Walker, a Concar descendant, for drawing my attention to Martin’s photo. The image is reproduced with permission of Staffordshire Record Office and the Staffordshire Name Indexes website can be found at https://www.staffsnameindexes.org.uk and main website at: https://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/Heritage-and-archives/homepage.aspx

[3] See my blog on 3 March 2015.

[4] Stafford Borough Burial Record 03/4839, Patrick Concar, killed Madeley Station, LNWR.

[5] Staffordshire Advertiser (SA), 13 February 1875.

[6] SA, 5 and 12 January 1878.

[7] SA, 29 June 1878.

[8] SA, 21 December 1878 and 4 January 1879 and Calendar of Prisoners tried at the General Quarter Sessions of the Peace, Stafford, 30 December 1878, HO140, Piece no. 48, Ancestry.

[9] John Concar, service record, FindMyPast, accessed 29 February 2015. John was in the 64th (North Staffordshire) Regiment for twelve years and after being pensioned off he returned to Stafford, worked at the Asylum and was active in the sporting life of the town.

[10] It could also reflect the prejudiced attribution of Irish ethnicity by an outsider, but overall the entries for the Battalion seem conscientious and accurate and so the birthplace information is probably that which Martin gave.

[11] UK Naval and Military Courts Martial Registers 1806-1930, Martin Concar, Trial Date: 9 December 1881, Place: Devonport, Regt.: 23rd Foot, Ref.: WO86/29, Ancestry.

[12] British Armed Forces and National Service website (britisharmedforces.org), Royal Welsh Fusiliers’ deployments, accessed 9 April 2020.

[13] Families in British India website (FIBIS)(wiki.fibis.org/w/3rd_burma_war): Upper Burma Field Force, accessed 9 April 2020.

[14] Intelligence Branch of the Division of the Chief of Staff, Army HQ, India, Frontier and Overseas Expeditions from India, (Simla, Govt. Monotype Press, 1907), (‘Intelligence’), p146.

[15] Intelligence, pp. 147-162.

[16] Wikipedia, Third Anglo-Burmese War, (Wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Anglo_Burmese_War), accessed 5 April 2020). This source is incompletely referenced but nevertheless comprehensive and apparently knowledgeable. It is critical of the British role.

[17] Intelligence, pp. 202-215.

[18] Intelligence, p. 230.

[19] Wikipedia, Third Anglo-Burmese War.

[20] Intelligence, p. 149.

[21] Intelligence, p. 228.

[22] National Archives, WO100/70, First Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, Medal Roll, Operations in Burma, 1885-7, certified at Lucknow on 14 September 1887 and 27 March 1888, Ancestry, UK Military Campaign Medals and Award Rolls, 1793-1949, accessed 20 April 2020. Of the 1023 troops, 33 were officers and the rest NCOs and privates. Martin Concar remained a private at the end of his term in the army.