Coffey’s civilian experiment

The Mutiny was finally at an end, and a state of peace was officially declared on 8 July 1859. Coffey had come through his second conflict alive and unwounded. He was eventually joined at Fyzabad by his wife - they were now together in India, just as they had expected to be when they married over five years before. When Coffey left for India, Margaret had taken up residence in Broad Street, Stirling, a stone’s throw from St John Street. There on 6 January 1858 she had given birth to their eldest child, while William himself was preparing to fight at Lucknow. Mary Joana was evidently named after her grandmothers, Mary Linch and Johanna Coffey. However, after her birth, there seems to be no further trace of Coffey’s eldest daughter - most likely she died on the way to Fyzabad.

In time the Coffeys decided to attempt a life in India but outside the army. In October 1860, with Margaret six months pregnant, they began their journey from Fyzabad to Calcutta, where William was granted a free discharge on 21 December. He had given a total of 13 years 332 days pensionable service - the figure McCrery mistakenly gives for his entire army service to 1868 - and his conduct was deemed to have been ‘very good’. This early discharge meant losing his right to the pension to which his service would have counted, leaving him his VC annuity of £10 and the £5 gratuity owed from the award of his DCM.

Ex-soldiers often found work in the service of the utilities - railways, roads, bridges and the like - and Coffey found employment at Calcutta on the staff of the Railway Department. Now a few railway lines had been built in the years before the Mutiny, but the early 1860s saw the beginning of the expansion of the railways by various private companies under the watchful eye of the government. The government was advised in these matters by its Consulting Engineer, in whose office - the ‘Railway Department’ - Coffey now took his place.

McCrery has Coffey return for a time to England, but it is clear that he remained at Calcutta. His second daughter, Emma Emilie, was born on 20 January 1861. For her baptism the Coffeys went not to any of the local Catholic churches, but to the chapel maintained by the Church in Fort William, the military citadel of Calcutta. Their daughter was baptised there on 2 February by the chaplain, Fr. Lewis Deynoodt, a Jesuit priest who taught at St Xavier’s College in the city.

Having spent some months outside the army, Coffey cannot have found such civilian life preferable, because he decided for whatever reason to re-enlist. This he did on 19 June 1861. He was now in his third regiment, the 75th Regiment of Foot (later the Stirlingshire regiment and then the 1st Battalion The Gordon Highlanders). This was the regiment in which Timothy Coffey had first enlisted, and it was now based at Calcutta in Fort William.