Lieutenant John Thornton Of Nivelle Cottage, Liberton

Near the western side of the north wall of Liberton churchyard, stands a large headstone to the memory of Lieutenant John Thornton of the 94th Regiment of Foot. John was born at Wooler, Northumberland on 18th August 1789, the son of a merchant and sometime soldier. Soon after his birth, the family moved to Haddington, where six more of the family were born.

Headstone in Liberton Churchyard, Copyright GLHG Archives


He joined the army under the Duke of Wellington in 1807, aged then only eighteen, and was commissioned as a Lieutenant on 2nd August 1810. His military records show that he won at least seven campaign medals. During the Penisular War he fought in many battles, including a major engagement on the banks of the Nivelle River, when Wellington was pushing the French Army back from Spain, back across the border into France. During this battle on 10th November 1813, he was badly wounded. In the heat of the battle, he lost his gold watch, bearing his initials and regiment. Some time later, a fellow officer found the watch, and it was eventually returned to him.


He continued in the army, being present at the Battle of Waterloo, until 17th July 1817, when he retired with a pension equal to half his army pay, having been at some point transferred to the 42nd Foot (The Black Watch). He almost certainly returned to Haddington where his family were still living, until about 1825, when the family appear to have returned to Wooler. He for some reason did not return with them, but instead moved to Liberton where he built a house, and called it Nivelle Cottage. This building still stands today as part of Liberton Hospital, who purchased it in 1914.



John is mentioned in the census returns of 1841, 51 and 61, living at the cottage together with his manservant Thomas White and house keeper Isabella Anderson. He is mentioned in the Liberton Kirk Session records early in 1843, when he was considered as a possible elder, but was not elected to that position. His two servants remained with him until his death at Nivelle Cottage on the 18th November 1870, aged eight one years. His will makes interesting reading as he left £150 to each of his servants jointly together with all his furniture and linen.


Lieutenant Thornton with some of his family

The servants lived on in the cottage, using the land as a market garden, until Isabella died on 1st October 1875 and Thomas was still there with housekeeper Janet Crawford, at the time of the 1881 census. The valuation roll shows that from 1883 to some unknown date, the cottage was occupied by Robert and Elizabeth Samson who continued to use the land as a market garden. Amongst other beneficiaries of his will, were the Rev John Stewart of Liberton Kirk and George Davidson, the son of another minister, both of whom were related to him.



I am indebted to Barbara Rudoe, descendant of John’s family, who contacted me in October 2007, and visited Edinburgh a few months later. She gave me photos of the watch, and provided other information about the family. 


John Rennie, GLHG
August 2008