BECKWITH, JOHN CHARLES, British army officer and missionary; b. 2 Oct. 1789 at Halifax, N.S., the son of John Beckwith and Mary (Polly) Halliburton, sister of Brenton Halliburton*; d. 19 July 1862 at his home, La Torre, near Turin (Italy).
John Charles Beckwith’s father had been an officer in the British army but he resigned his commission and settled in Nova Scotia where he served as adjutant-general and lieutenant-colonel in the provincial militia. On 2 June 1803 in England John Charles entered the British army as an ensign in the 50th or West Kent Regiment of Foot; on 29 Aug. 1804 he became a lieutenant in the 95th or Rifle Regiment of which his uncle, Sir Thomas Beckwith, was lieutenant-colonel. He rose to 1st lieutenant (13 June 1805) and captain (28 July 1808), and served in Hanover (1805–6), Denmark (1807), Sweden (1808), and in Portugal (1808–9) where he participated in Sir John Moore’s retreat to Corunna, Spain. The regiment was in Walcheren (Netherlands) in 1809, but returned, in the winter of 1810, to Portugal where Beckwith took part in engagements against Masséna’s retiring French army in the spring of 1811. In 1812 Beckwith became brigade-major to the 1st brigade of the light division and deputy assistant quartermaster-general. He received the Toulouse medal and rose to major (3 March 1814). In 1815 he served with Sir Thomas Picton’s division at the battles of Quatre-Bras and Waterloo, where he lost his leg after it was shattered by a cannonball. He was rewarded with the Waterloo medal, promotion to lieutenant-colonel on 18 June 1815, and nomination as cb on 22 June. John Charles Beckwith was 25 years old and he had been in the army for 12 years fighting against Napoleon.
On 27 Jan. 1820 Beckwith was placed on half-pay as a member of the Rifle Brigade which had replaced the 95th; on 10 Jan. 1837 he was raised to colonel and on 7 Nov. 1846 to major-general.
After his injury Beckwith had returned to his parents in Halifax where he became a founder and patron of the town’s first Sunday school established in connection with St George’s Church. After 1825 this Sunday school continued under the direction of the rector Robert Fitzgerald Uniacke. Beckwith also took an interest in the Royal Acadian School founded by Captain Walter Bromley* for poor children.
In 1826 Beckwith was invited to visit the Duke of Wellington at Apsley House in London; there he read Dr William Stephen Gilly’s Narrative of an excursion to the mountains of Piemont . . . (London, 1824). This book led him to become concerned with the plight of a small group of Protestants known as Waldensians or Vaudois who lived in the Piedmont valleys near Pinerolo. Beckwith visited the Waldensians for several years, then decided to make his headquarters near Turin and devote the rest of his life to assisting them. Drawing on his experience in Halifax, he worked to improve Waldensian schools some of which were as “ill-built as barns, as dirty as stables.” He collected money from friends in England, visited the schools, urged building of new schools by the community, sent teachers to Lausanne and Florence for training, and encouraged the education of women. In all he opened or restored 120 district schools. When King Charles Albert of Sardinia adopted a more liberal policy and allowed Italian to be spoken, Beckwith sent young pastors and teachers to Florence to facilitate the process of substituting Italian for French. In 1848, in recognition of his labours with the Waldensians, Beckwith received the cross of St Maurice and St Lazarius from the king. In 1850 he married a Waldensian, Anne Susanne Caroline Valle.
Somerset House (London), Probate Dept., will of John Charles Beckwith proved at London, 17 Sept. 1862. St Paul’s Anglican Church (Halifax), registers of burials, baptisms, and marriages, 1785–92 (mfm. at PANS). Church Times (Halifax), 31 Dec. 1853. Colonial Standard (Pictou, N.S.), 16 Sept. 1862. Illustrated London News, 11 Oct. 1862. DNB. G.B., WO, Army list, 1804–39. Hart’s army list, 1840–64. G. W. Hill, Nova Scotia and Nova Scotians . . . (Halifax, 1858), 36–38. F. E. Crowell, “Halliburton family,” Yarmouth Herald (Yarmouth, N.S.), 12 Jan. 1932. A. W. H. Eaton, “Chapters in the history of Halifax, Nova Scotia,” Americana (New York and Somerville, N.J.), XIII (1919), 37–38.