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In March 2009, we were contacted by Barbara Leith who is a direct descendent of the Reverend Edward Harston mentioned below. Our first paragraph refers to a collection of papers which had belonged to his father, Samuel Richard Harston. We are most grateful for an extract she has sent us from what she believes the Rev. Harston intended to be his autobiography, had he lived to complete it. This is how he introduces John Kibby to his potential readers -  spelling, grammar and punctuation are as in the original manuscript:


"There was at this time a well known character in Tiverton, named Kibby. It was said that he had been a soldier and had served through the Peninsular War - also that he had a silver plate in his scull, after trespassing, in consequence of a musket wound. Anyhow the poor fellow was as mad as a March hare, at the full of the moon, or when excited by drink, which injudicious friends often gave him. He was a fine looking fellow, with a noble head, and had a pension from the Government. He was a botanist with a considerable knowledge of plants, and a devourer of Poetry. His manners were so quiet and respectful that my Mother struck up a great friendship with him: and he would sometimes come to her and say – “Madam - I am going on an excursion to Exmoor Forest (or elsewhere) for a few days, and if you would like a root or two of Osmunda, or a few specimens of rare mosses, and will do me the honour of entrusting me with a basket and a knife, I shall be proud of the commission to bring you some”. (He was addicted to a Johnsonian form of speech!) Then he would disappear from the Town, and return after a few days’ absence with a basket of curious plants and mosses. It was during one of these rambles that he narrowly escaped getting into trouble. A farmer saw a light in a linhay one night, and suspecting a thief, rushed in upon poor Kibby, who having collected an enormous supply of glow worms, had read himself asleep by their light, and woke to find himself a prisoner, though only for a few minutes, as the farmer was soon satisfied.


Kibby was fond of strolling in the old Churchyard, and from my window in Clare House I heard him apostrophizing the moon at midnight. He had a fine voice, but I only heard the conclusion of his address on this occasion, which however had nothing to do with the moon but appeared to be an exhortation to his fellow townsmen to discharge their various duties faithfully. “A good character?” - he exclaimed “Yes - a good character - if you never tarnish it - will stick to you - like - like - like Mr Govett’s sticking plaster!” Mrs Govett in her nightcap was listening to him at the window, and of course he turned the plaister for which her husband was rather famed, to good account."


Material  from the Rev. Edward Harston's papers © Barbara M Leith - March 2009


(Our original first paragraph):

In 1867,  the Reverend Edward Harston, at that time Vicar of Sherborne in Dorset, went through a collection of papers which had belonged to his father, Samuel Richard Harston of Tiverton and discovered some documents in another hand. All were beautifully written and included copies of verses and extracts from religious books but what really caught the attention of Edward Harston were pages forming an account of the life of the writer who turned out to be a Tiverton man - John Kibby.


From The Chronicles of Twyford (1)

by Frederick John Snell. Published 1892.

"There are hundreds of adults in Tiverton who well recollect "Old Kibby" as he was always called and there are doubtless scores of the rising generation who have heard their parents mention him.

John Kibby was an old soldier who seems to have retired on a pension and lived in Frog Street. During the latter years of his life, his mind at time wandered, and he used to harangue the public in the streets. In front of an old-fashioned house in Bampton Street, he would sometimes stop and address himself to some quaint carved figures, sculptured on the front. St. Peter's churchyard was also a usual place for Kibby to take his stand and hold forth. He was the terror of the school boys who used to tease him. The  boys had a story that he had been shot with a silver bullet, and the bullet was still in  his head - which fully accounted for his eccentricities. Yet Kibby was not without his good qualities and many instances are known of his kindness of heart, He was much noticed by Mr and Mrs. Harston, formerly of Bampton Street. When Kibby went out for one of his long rambles, sometimes extending over a week or more, they would lend him a basket and a knife or trowel, and on his return he would bring back wild flowers and splendid specimens of cup-moss and lichen from the woods."


John Kibby was baptised in Tiverton 26 March 1780. He was the son of Benjamin and Mary Kibby and had seven brothers and sisters - Mary, Benjamin, Judith, Thomas, Samuel, Joseph and Sarah.

The following extract is from papers given to Edward Harston's father by John Kibby. It is a remarkable document to find in an age when education for the lower classes was virtually non-existent and the Reverend Harston tells us that the handwriting and care given to setting down these details are even more remarkable. 

(Grammar and spellings are those used by Kibby - many reflect the usage of his times.)



"Those warlike recollections or the Beauties of a Soldier, is most humbly dedicated to the Worshipful George Barne, Esquire (2) by his most humble and devoted servant





Sir: I became a Soldier in His Majesty's 40th Regiment of Foot (commanded by General Sir George Osbourn) in Taunton on the 18th of July 1799 (3). Immediately we received the Rout to march to Canterbury, in order to encamp on Durham Down with the Grand Army. On the Ground, we was reviewed by the Royal Dukes and Princes &c. And we entertained them with a sham fight. Instantly, we received orders to embark at the Downs, on board the Men of War, and sailed for Holland. We were commanded by the Duke of York, the Soldier's Dearling, the Prince William of Gloucester and General Abercrombie. Admiral Mitchell had the command of the Fleet, We set sail and landed at the Helder (4). We had four Actions there: two of them were General engagements, and indeed the fourth and the last that we fought there on a Sunday was almost a General one. I don't mean to say anything about killing one another, but I saw some very droll customs and very, very, comical manners amongst the fair ones.


When we came to our next destination, I was entertained with many beautyful sights on the passage such as the Peak of Tenerif, the Sword Fish, the Grampuses, the flying fish, the Dolphins, the White Squalls &c. But under, and near the equinoctial line, there was such dreadfull Thunderings, Lightnings and Rains, but it soon passed, much like a soldiers troubles. Then we was obliged to put into Riogenario the capital of Braziels, in order to get our riggen mended, and to water the Fleet. I think this is the finest Harbour that I ever saw, but it is dreadfull hot here, and very unheathfull. Then we sailed for Monte Video in the River of Plate (5).


We made our landing good on the 16th of January 1807. After we had our great guns on shore we advanced and drove the enemy into the city in the action; we took two or three Indians and they were very conducive in getting horses for our Light Dragoons, for the voyage was so far we could not take any horses there. On the morning of the 20th the enemy sallied out and gave us battle but we gave them a sweet brushing and drove them into the town again. We threw up Batteries against them, both for great Guns, and Morters to throw Bombshells with. On a Sunday, about two o'clock in the afternoon just as the people were going to Mass, our shipping was drawn up so nigh to the Town as possible. We opened a tremendous fire on them, and the sun did shine on us most gloriously. We Bombarded them both day and night untill the morning of the third of February. Then we stormed them, and took their city from them and made them all Prisoners of War.


But when it was light enough, the Ladies came out to look for their Husbands, their Fathers and their Brothers. Indeed, the sun was up a long time before the enemy would give up the Castle. At last they let down their flag. And one of their Peace Officers brought some bread and wine on a white plate and presented it to their Governor and to our Commander: and they ate, drank, in each other's presence. Then all hands ahoy, to bury our dead, to liberate the slaves and to march the prisoners on board. We had strict orders not to drink too much. But we could not help disobaing the orders because the Ladies, even on the day we took the city, did give to us eat and drink. And indeed, for all the time that we were there, there was not one Murder committed, neither by them nor us. Indeed they are a people I dearly love. The ladies do dress very neat, very so in the morning, they are all in black silk, they have no caps, nor hats, nor Bonnets, but their hair is dressed in a most delightfull manner, they have no parasols, only a fan. And the combs on their lovely heads, is very rich, being embossed with precious gems. I saw something very singular in this city, that was a very black woman with bright red hair.


I was in good Quarters in the City of Seville (6). Lord Holland the Embassador was with us. This place was in a good state of defence. Then we marched to the City of Sherry. The Nobility and gentry did kindly entertain us, both the officers and men. The ladies solicited the favour of seeing the English exercise. We fell in, in the afternoon to Parade and the Gentry was highly pleased with us. We could not stop long in this dear City. Then our Rout was for Fort St. Mary. Here I had the pleasure to see the Holy Virgins, or what we call the Nuns. they walked through the streets of the city on a Sunday afternoon, the oldest of the sweet Ladies went before, bearing a Flag, and the youngest behind. But we was shocking disappointed for when we was even very nigh with them, we could not see their Beauty, for their Faces was covered with a black veil. But was our English Women to see the Manners of the women in general, in Spain and Portugal.


We then embarked at  Cadiz and set sail for Lisbon, landed and marched for the City of Placentia and at Talavera we got up with the Enemy that was commanded by General Massena, on the line of march we formed junction with General Cuesta that commanded the Spanish Army.  On the 27th of July 1809 (7), at it we went hammer and tongs but we had the good honour to be their Masters. It was the pleasure and the goodly wisdom of our Commander in Chief, to call a counsil of war.


Then we took a fresh Rout and came to Bajados. Here we lay in cantoonments some time. Sir Arthur Wellesley went h ome to England, leaving the command of the army to General Sherbrook. And both Wellsley's and Sherbrook's valour met King George the Third's approbation. But General Cuesta, in chief of the Spaniards, was put to death (8). Our bold Commander joined us again in this city, and our dear old King George the Third planted a star on our commander's Breast and called him Lord Wellington. 


Then we marched through Portugal, and took up our winter quarters in a city called Guardo, and here was a place, and a very large place too, full of those Holy Virgins. Whilst we lay at this place, the French advanced and took the City of Almeida. We was obliged to set at liberty all those sweet ladies or the French would have had them.


I was sent to London, and there I passed the Board. And General Sir David Dundas said to me, "Kibby, you are wanted no more." I then went to Lynn's office, had my instructions and off I started for Tiverton. And here I am at present.

Sir, your most gratefull Servant,

John Kibby

Frog Street, Tiverton


N.B. This is not the Hundredth part of the recollections of what I experienced in the different expeditions in the last wars.

I wish I had not wrote in such haste and so very briefly. But should it be your good pleasure, I will write the Recollections beautifully, and more at large."


(1)  Twyford is an old name for Tiverton and refers to the two fords or river crossings which the town once had.

(2)  Landowner and banker. George Barne died 21 July 1842 in Tiverton. He was a leading figure in Tiverton life and maybe it was through his patronage that Kibby was encouraged to write down his recollections. This does seem to be hinted at in Kibby's postscript. 

(3)  Also referred to as the Second Somersetshire Regiment.

(4)  A Campaign which formed part of the French & Napoleonic Wars 1793 - 1815.The Battle referred to took place 19 September 1799.

(5)   For more information about this battle, visit


(6)  It is now 1808. France has just invaded Spain and Kibby is  taking part in the Peninsular War.

(7) For more information about the Battle of Talavera visit


(8)  Not true. General Cuesto suffered a stroke in 1810 and died the following year.


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