LOOKING BACK: John Lawrence Harrison was just three years old when he witnessed the Battle of Waterloo.
LOOKING BACK: John Lawrence Harrison was just three years old when he witnessed the Battle of Waterloo. HASTINGS LISMORE

Just three years old when he witnessed Battle of Waterloo

DESCENDANTS of the last surviving witness to the great Battle of Waterloo have gathered at the man's grave in North Lismore to remember their relative and see the headstone recently restored for future generations.

John Lawrence Harrison, born August 12, 1811, was just three years old when he witnessed the French military leader and emperor Napoleon's defeat on the Belgium battlefield on June 18, 1815.

In a Sydney newspaper printed in 1904, Mr Harrison was quoted saying he "distinctly remembers" his step-father being shot in the back during the great battle.

He also remembered the firing and general turmoil of the "glorious 18th of June" and had a clear recollection of the camps outside Paris and at Valenciennes.

Mr Harrison's father, John William Harrison, was a master tailor serving under the Duke of Wellington, however his mother, Sarah Brown, was forced to remarry when she returned to the front line to discover her husband was "dead or missing".

She remarried John Hitchcock, a master tailor in the same regiment, and accompanied him to the frontline.

Descendants from as far afield as South Australia drove three days to pay their respects to their relative and see the new headstone.

Malcolm Gray, a fifth generation descendant, said he decided to replace the decrepit headstone after he discovered his family's link to the Battle of Waterloo while researching the family tree.

"It's just recently when I got a bit interested in trying to find a cousin in Sydney, it snowballed from there," he said.

"It was a real surprise and certainly interesting.

"I found a picture of this old headstone on the internet under cemeteries and I thought it looks very mouldy and you can't read the inscription and it went from there and I got the names of some monumental masons."

The new headstone, commissioned by Mr Gray, was placed in front of the original with the same inscription, which could not be removed due its "historical significance".

Lismore local Bob Trevan, a fourth generation descendant, said he remembered the story of Waterloo Jack - the last survivor of the Battle of Waterloo who lived in a place called Lismore - being published around the world, but at the time he didn't realised he was a descendant.

Mr Trevan said he has spent 50 years researching the 'Trevan' family tree but has only just started researching his mother's 'Harrison' side.

"My god, I thought the present day person wouldn't even know the Battle of Waterloo," he said.

"It was the biggest loss of human (lives) in history."


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