One of the great fascinations of genealogy is the way that personal stories sometimes leap off the page of what might – were it not for microfilm and digitisation – have been a dry and dusty pile of official documents. Wills – particularly the older ones – can vibrate with personal feeling, centuries after they were written. Occasionally, a less formal document finds its way into the probate registries. Among the records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, the letter of an officer to his brother, written during the Crimean War as he awaited orders to join the Siege of Sebastopol, is preserved. The letter replaced the will that Major Edward Rooper, at the age of 36, had not got round to making, and so what happened next is all too painfully obvious. Hindsight adds poignancy to Rooper’s anticipation of ‘a few casualties’ at Sebastopol and to his wistful pleasure to think that at home ‘the quail are just coming in’:
Letter of Edward Rooper to George Rooper of Lincoln’s Inn
Camp nr Beicos, Aug 29 
There is no doubt of the melancholy fact that we have got to go and take Sebastobol [sic] and considering they have 90,000 and we 50,000 I fear the operation will not be over easy. I much fear the Authorities are driven in to the attempt by the attacks made on them by the Press, in fact the ravages of the Cholera have been fearful not so much in loss of life, though there has been enough of that, as in the weak state the slightest attacks of it reduce the men to. The Duke of Cambridge says the Army at Varna is almost annihilated for the present and that we look healthier and better than any Regt there. At the same time we had about 12 per Cent sick. Our loss to now is twenty two. Our doctors have not shone in the matter much only now adopting the measures found efficacious by now experienced men. We expect to go every day as they say the Expedition is to sail on the 2nd from Varna.
Even for a pleasanter place than the Crimea is likely to be at present I should be sorry to leave this beautiful view of the Bospheros which we command up and down from our lofty Camp. I have laid on a fresh Servant too and speak Romain to any amount. I was just beginning to inquire about the shooting of which I think we should get some good if we remained here. It is pleasant to know the quail are just coming in. I have not been very often to Stamboul but enjoy the place the more the better I know it.
Of course you will go to the Turkish Bazaar Show in London – as they are not loquacious or energetic it must be almost as good as the real live article – I rather singularly met the other day Hussey Pasha whose acquaintance I made at Yannina years ago. He was very civil to me but I did not remember him until we parted when I heard his name. I have written to B. to say they must not expect to hear regularly now but repeat the warning when you write If any accident happens to me and I expect there will be a few casualties I wish you and John to divide anything I may have I owe nothing to anyone hoping to date my next however safely from Sebastobol …
Yours ever E.R.
Appeared personally George Rooper of 68 Lincolns Inn Fields, Alfred Malins and Henry William Birch…
George Rooper is a brother of the above named Edward Rooper late a Major in HM Rifle Brigade at the Crimea in the Empire of Russia deceased that on or about the thirteenth day of July 1854 the said deceased sailed from England with his Regiment for the Crimea where they arrived 20 September 1854… On 10 September he received a letter from his brother … his brother was wounded in action at Inkerman in Russia on 5 November 1854 and died on 15 November in consequence of his wounds on board the Tranport ship Golden Fleece at sea on his passage to the hospital at Scutari.
Probate granted 17 May 1855 to George Rooper Esq.
The Crimean War
The Siege of Sebastopol, which gave a horrific foretaste of the trench warfare of the First World War, began on 25 September 1854 and ended on 8 September 1855. The Allies lost nearly 10,000 men and the Russians, nearly 13,000, on the last day of the siege alone.
The Battle of Inkerman, in which Edward Rooper lost his life, took place on 5 November 1854 when the Russian Imperial Army took the offensive against the besieging British and French troops, whom they greatly outnumbered. Rooper was one of 6 officers and 144 men from his regiment who died; in total, the British suffered 2,357 casualties, the French 929 and the Russians, 12,000. There was no decisive victory, but the Russians ultimately withdrew.
The Rooper family
Edward Rooper was the youngest son of the Reverend Thomas Richard Rooper and Persis, née Standly, who married in 1806 at Little Paxton in Huntingdonshire. Edward was baptised in Abbots Ripton, Huntingdonshire, on 27 January 1818 and Hart’s Army List shows that he was already serving in the Rifle Brigade in 1840. From 1841 until at least 1861, the family lived at Wick House in Hove, Sussex, where his father was a ‘clergyman without care of souls’ and commanded a large establishment of servants. Another older brother, John, was also an army officer.
Edward’s father survived him; his brother George lived to a great age, and the 1901 census found him living in Paddington ‘on means’, a widower of 89.
George, 2nd Duke of Cambridge (1819–1904), commanded the first division of the army to serve in the Crimea. Aged 35 and inexperienced, he joined the battle of the Alma on 20 September 1854 at which 622 men out of 1361 were lost. He was invalided home on 27 December 1854 (Edward M. Spiers, ‘George, Prince, second duke of Cambridge (1819–1904)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009).
For a detailed, fully illustrated account of the Battle of Inkerman and the Siege of Sevastopol visit British Battles.com.