Catherine Cavenaugh - the first female Chelsea Pensioner?Catherine Cavanaugh was born in 1667. Despite attending one of the best schools in the City, she had no interest in continuing her education and began work on her Mother's farm as a labourer.
After attacking a Jacobite Sergeant, Catherine had to leave home and moved to her Aunt's Pub in Dublin. Here she met and married Richard Welch and they eventually became Landlord and Landlady of the establishment.
One day Richard was given £50 to pay the brewery and he never returned. 12 months later, having assumed that he was dead, she received a letter from Richard telling her that he had met an old school friend on the way to the brewery who was an Ensign in the Army and had decided to go to a local Tavern for a drink.... when he 'came to' he was on a recruit ship on his way to Holland with the Army!
Totally devastated by the loss of her husband, she gave her children to her Mother, cut her hair, changed her name to Christopher Welch and joined a Regiment commanded by The Marquess de Pisau. It can only be assumed that the entrance medical was either not carried out or was pretty non-existent as her sex was not discovered.
She fought in many campaigns and was first injured by a musket ball, only leaving the field under the express orders of Lord Chomondeley. She remained in hospital for two months as the injury was so severe. Still her true sex was undiscovered.
On returning to duty she has an altercation with a Sergeant which involved a sword fight in which the Sergeant came off worse. Although she was pardoned of any wrong doing, she was no longer able to serve in this Regiment in case the Sergeant took revenge upon her. At this point she transferred to Stair's Dragoons as a Private.
|The 2nd Earl of Stair|
She remained a Dragoon right up until the Battle of Ramilies, fighting in all conflicts until she received a fractured skull from an Artillery round. It was at this point that her sex was discovered. She was discharged and re-married Richard, becoming a 'Camp Follower', scavenging for food and looking after Richard and the other men. She was still an amazingly brave lady and used to bring beer to him on the front line!
|The Battle of Ramilies|
During the Battle of Malplaquet her Husband was killed. Catherine turned over ~200 bodies so that she could bury him.
|The Battle of Malplaquet|
After returning to England, she worked for The Duke of Hamilton and met Queen Anne. This meeting (and the help of the Duke of Hamilton) resulted in Christine receiving £50 and a pension of a shilling a day for life.
Along with other Out-Pensioners (the term for army veterans who chose not to live at the Royal Hospital Chelsea), she would have collected her pension from the Royal Hospital. Records from the admission book in 1717 have her recorded as 'a fatt, jolly breasted woman, received several wounds in services in the habit of a man'.
She finally died of a cold and was buried in the Royal Hospital Chelsea's Burial Ground with full Military Honours on the 7th July 1739.
To find out more about the history of the Royal Hospital Chelsea or to make a donation to the Appeal, you can visit our website.