The Congreves are a noble family of Staffordshire whose lineage can be traced as far back as the early 14th century to Simon of Congreve. When speaking of the dramatist William Congreve (my first cousin 8 x removed), Dr Samuel Johnson said that he was:
descended of a family of so great antiquity that it claims a place among the few that extend their line beyond the Norman Conquest.
Whether the Congreves were of Saxon or Norman origin is unclear. My own research has traced the line no further than Simon de Congreve who was born prior to 1315. The Rowsells and Congreves are connected through Sri Lanka and India where both were involved in tea planting. Norman Rowsell married Florence Henrietta Congreve (1857-1942), the daughter of Richard Jones Congreve (1806-1879) of Carlingwark, and they had two children in Sri Lanka. Her nephew Richard John Congreve (1881-1945) also worked as a planter in Sri Lanka. Florence’s second child Maud Esme Rowsell (1891-1932) lived in India. She was married to her second cousin Cecil Ralph Townshend Congreve (1876-1952) on February 28, 1911 in India.
There is a memorial to Florence Congreve’s grandparents, Richard Congreve (1778-1857) and Mary Ann Birch (1776-1820) in the nave of St Nicholas church, Burton (see images above).
Some of the most famous Congreves have made their name through the military. General Sir Walter Norris Congreve (1862 –1927) and his son Major Billy Congreve (1891 –1916) are one of only three father and son pairings to have both won a Victoria Cross. The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour in the face of the enemy to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and British Empire territories. It takes precedence over all other orders, decorations, and medals, including the Order of the Garter.
Walter “Squibs” was Cecil Congreve‘s brother and is my 2nd cousin 3x removed. He won his VC at the Battle of Colenso, South Africa in 1899. He and several others tried to save the guns of the 14th and 66th Batteries, Royal Field Artillery, when the detachments serving the guns had all become casualties or been driven from their guns. Some of the horses and drivers were sheltering in a gully about 500 yards behind the guns and the intervening space was swept with shell and rifle fire. Walter and two other officers and one corporal, retrieved two of the guns. All four received the VC for this action. Then, although wounded himself, seeing one of the officers fall, Walter went out and brought in the wounded man. Walter was shot through the leg, through the toe of his boot, grazed on the elbow and the shoulder, and his horse was shot in three places.
His son William (Billy) won his VC as a result of his actions in July 1916, at Longueval during WWI. Major Congreve constantly inspired those around him by numerous acts of gallantry. As Brigade Major he not only conducted battalions up to their positions but when the Brigade headquarters was heavily shelled he went out with the medical officer to rescue the wounded, although he himself was suffering from gas and other shell effects. He went out again on a subsequent occasion tending the wounded under heavy shell fire. Finally, on returning to the front line to ascertain the position after an unsuccessful attack, he was shot and died instantly.
Florence’s uncle who is my 4th great uncle Major General George Congreve C.B (1806-1861) was a worshipful brother of the Glittering Star Lodge who commanded the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment from February 1846 to February 1855.
Major General George John CONGREVE, C.B.
Promoted to the rank of Lieut.-Colonel on the 11th February 1846, he also commanded the 29th (Worcestershire) Regiment for the next 9 years. He was present at the battles of Chiliánwálá, Gujrát, and the pursuit of the Sikhs to the Jhelam. On the 22nd May 1847 he was awarded C.B. On the 28th November 1854 he was appointed Quartermaster General to H.M. Forces serving in the East Indies, and in 1857 officiated as Adjutant General of Forces India.
He was also present with the Force which proceeded under the commander-in-chief against the mutineers at Delhi, at the battle of Budi-ki-Serai, and the heights of Delhi on the 6th June 1857; also the subsequent siege operations until the end of July 1857. He was given the rank of Major General in 1860 and died the following year. He is buried in North India