William Wills was my 3*great uncle he was deported for life for his part in the battle. He was Ann Wills brother, one report of a conversation between him and his brother in law John Foreman said “ you are following an impostor or a lunatic or both". There was also a Richard Foreman involved who was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for his part in the battle.
The battle of Bossenden wood took place on May 31st 1838 near Hernhill in Kent and has been called the last battle on English soil. Eleven men died in this battle, between a small army of labourers from the Hemhill, Dunkirk, Boughton area and a detachment of soldiers sent from Canterbury to arrest the marchers unhinged leader, the self-styled Sir William Courtenay, who was actually John Nicholas Thom a Truro wine merchant with a history of mental illness, who had disappeared whilst on a trip to Liverpool in 1832. A few months later he arrived in Canterbury, flamboyant in dress and disposition. He gave has name as Count Moses Rospchein Rothsthschild, and he put up at the Rose Inn. He stood as an independent candidate in two parliamentary elections in which he did creditably m the first and badly in the second. He became a defendant in two court cases, in the first, very serious, one was accused of perjury in a smuggling trial, in the second; a waiter at the Rose Inn accused him of failing to repay a loan. He appeared at Maidstone summer assizes, where he was sentenced to ten years transportation on the perjury charge, back in Truro, Mrs Thom heard, in reply to newspaper advertisements seeking news of her husband, that a man answering his description could be the man in the dock at Maidstone. She travelled to Kent with a brother-in-law and together they identified the prisoner at Maidstone jail. But Sir William would have none of it, he denied knowing either of them. Through their efforts, however, the sentence of transportation was rescinded. Sir William was found to be of unsound mind, and sent to Barming lunatic asylum. He was released after about five years, he then went to stay with George Francis, of Fairbrook farm, Boughton, an ardent supporter of the knight during his Canterbury days. Sir William moved out of Fairbrook in January 1838 into the nearby cottage of William Wills another fervent disciple, from there he continued to ride around the countryside, lecturing labourers on the inequalities of life.
The magistrates now decided that the time had come to arrest this rabble-rouser.
The man deputed to do the job was John Mears, village constable of Boughton and a
plumber by trade, who was a cousin of Thomas Mears. He set of as dawn was breaking with his brother Nicholas to carry out what would seem to be a routine task at Bossenden Farm, Dunkirk, where his quarry was staying with friends. But Sir William by this time was living in a world of his own (believing himself to be Jesus Christ, which some of his supporters accepted) and shot Nicholas Mears dead when he reached the gate. He then tried to do the same to John Mears, but he, with another companion, fled. The military were then called in, and the sad story of the vintner from Truro ended that afternoon in a bloodbath, with his body and those of his dead supporters laid out at the Red Lion, Dunkirk
In whatever light the battle in Bossenden Wood is viewed, as a major riot by disaffected labourers, as a foredoomed attempt at an uprising or as the inevitable consequence of weeks of Sir William's rhetoric on receptive minds it is difficult tounderstand why so much blood was shed. Of the rioter, only two had firearms - Sir William and William Wills. The rest fought fanatically with sticks and staves against the armed soldiers. Nine of the dead were rioters; the other two were an army lieutenant, and a Faversham publican who was helping the military.
Thomas Mears, William Price and William Wills were deported, leaving Sheerness on November 13th aboard the Pyramus bound for Hobart it seems none of them ever returned.
There are several books on this subject although not in print they can be found in seconhand bookshops (try abebooks.com). I have read Battle in Bossenden wood by P.G. Rodgers also I have been recomended one by Barry Reay.
As a footnote to this story the following article is from the Kent Messanger of the 17th December 1954. With thanks to Paul Hadlow.
an interesting addition to our last week's "Strange story of East Kent"
a rusted sword of about 2 feet long has been picked up by schoolboys not far
from where the imposter Thom fought his pitched battle with the military.
Mr Frank Higenbottam, curator of Canturbury public museum thinks the relic
may have been flung aside by one of the fleeing rioters, now has a report
from the British musuem upon it. They pronounced it to be of Indian origin
and over a hundred years old