Skip to main content
Caroline Gerard’s excellent article on William Crokat, who for five years commanded the guard on St Helena during Napoleon Bonaparte’s imprisonment there, was a reminder of the wide Scottish contribution to British military power.  Crockat was not however the only Scottish presence on St Helena.

William Warden (1777-1849) was a Royal Navy surgeon, serving on HMS Northumberland in 1815, when it conveyed Napoleon to St Helena.  Warden then remained with the exiled Emperor for some months on St Helena.  He published in 1816, with the aid of two professional writers, his memoir of that period.[i]  When originally published, it faced a barrage of criticism by an establishment which saw it as presenting a far too positive picture of Bonaparte.

William Warden was born in Alyth, Perthshire in 1777, in modest circumstances.  He was the son of Adam Warden and Charlet Barron, who had at least nine children.  Adam Warden, Innkeeper in Alyth, is variously described as a brewer, vintner and feuar.  He was also a property developer who built at least one tenement, including an inn and several properties, in Alyth which was sold for £403 in 1823 by the Trustees of his grandson, Edward Warden.[ii]  Adam Warden, in turn, was the son of Hugh Warden, a tanner in Alyth, and Janet Mitchell.  Hugh Warden was the brother of James Warden, schoolmaster in Alyth, and the son of Adam Warden, who preceded his son James as schoolmaster and who died in early 1737.

The Alyth OPRs are patchy, although interestingly there are several pages of Alyth baptisms and deaths noted in the Alyth Session minute books and not indexed by Scotland’s People.[iii]  The preface to Warden’s reminiscences of Napoleon, offers however some hard information on Warden’s family.  Unfortunately it also contains some of the fanciful material which can too easily muddy genealogical waters.  ‘His family were Jacobites out in the rising of 1745.  His mother, whose maiden name was Barrow, was born at Kirriemuir just after Charles Edward had passed through the town, and after him she was christened “Charles Edward,” changed in later years to Charlotte.’

His mother was Charlotte Barron, not Barrow.  She was born in Kirriemuir in 1749 and the baptismal register is clear: she was baptised Charlet, not Charles Edward.[iv]  There is no evidence of connections between the Wardens and the Jacobites.  William Warden’s uncle, James Warden, throughout the period of the 1745 rebellion, as well as being the Session Clerk of Alyth, was a Parish Schoolmaster, appointed by the Church of Scotland.  For that reason alone, he would not have supported the Jacobites.

Such family tales however, frequently create issues for the genealogist.  Much of the evidence on the Warden family comes from the diaries of Hugh Warden[v], a son of William’s uncle James, the schoolmaster.  Hugh Warden’s Dairies also however contain a family myth of the origin of the name Warden: ‘My father draws his descent from Sir William Wallace, and says that Sir Williams Heir, on the captivity of that Hero, fearing the persecution of his enemies, shifted his place of abode and took the name of Warden from Sir Wm having been Warden of the Scottish Marches.’  Unfortunately that cannot be the origin of the name: William Wallace was not Warden of the Scottish Marches, a title not instituted until 1356, 51 years after Wallace’s execution.

To return however to William Warden, the most comprehensive review of his life is John Knox Laughton’s contribution to the Dictionary of National Biography.[vi]  Laughton tells us that from the parish school, in Alyth, he was sent to Montrose, where he served some years with a surgeon.  He studied also for some time at Edinburgh, and in 1795 entered the navy as surgeon’s mate on board the Melpomene.  (It is worth noting that he was 18 at this point.)  In December 1811 he graduated  M.A., M.D. from the University of St. Andrews.  In 1812-1813 he served in the American campaign, one of Britain’s most unsuccessful wars.  After the publication of his 1816 book, there was an unsuccessful attempt to end his naval career.  In 1817 he married Elizabeth Hutt, by whom he had one son and two daughters.  Warden graduated M.D. from Edinburgh in 1824 and was appointed surgeon at Sheerness Dockyard in 1842 and at Chatham Dockyard in 1847.  He died at Chatham on 23 April 1849.

Warden’s is a fascinating tale, not least because it illustrates the professional routes which were open to young Scots from relatively modest backgrounds, when, on the one hand, Scottish education had created a significantly larger educated cohort of young men from the poorer and middling ranks of society than had English education, and when on the other hand, the expansion of Empire required precisely a skilled and educated administrative and professional class.

The above article was first published in the Scottish Genealogist, March 2020



[i] Shorter, Clement.  (1908)  Napoleon and his Fellow Travellers; Being a Reprint of Certain Narratives of the Voyages of the Dethroned Emperor on the Bellerophon and the Northumberland to Exile in St. Helena.  London: Cassell and Company.

[ii] Legal Papers.  Articles and Conditions of Roup of the subjects within mentioned exposed by Sale by the Trustees of the Deceased Edward Warden 1823.  NRS Data: CD16/29/179

[iii] Church Records, Scotland.  Alyth, Perthshire.  Session Records.  Deaths.  NRS Data: CH2/912/3/314 & 318

[iv] Baptisms  (OPR)  Scotland.  Kirriemuir, Forfarshire.  25 January 1749.  BARRON, Charlet.  GROS Data: 299/10  119.

[v] Warden, Hugh.  (1782)  Diaries.  University of North Carolina. : accessed 12 December 2019.

[vi] Laughton, John Knox.  (1885)  Dictionary of National Biography: William Warden.,_William_(DNB00) : accessed 12 December 2019

Leave a Reply