John Robert Meredith was unmarried. He was enumerated in the 1871 England census as a visitor in the household of his uncle in Dorset, Robert Fitzgerald Meredith, who was Vicar of Halstock.
John Robert’s father died when he was 11 and his mother when he was 18. A case brought before the Courts in 1864 gives a vivid picture of his late teens and early adulthood:
?Irish Examiner 1841-current, 09.06.1864, page 3
CURIOUS CASE — A DESERTER A WAR OF COURT.
In re Meredith minor; ex-parte Buckle.
The minor in this case is one of the Merediths of Dixgrove, county Kerry.
Mr. Brewster, Q.C., who, with Mr. White, appeared on behalf of the Rev. Mr. Burke, guardian of Mr. John Robt. Meredith, the minor, stated that in Nov., 1857, the minor had been made a ward of the Court with his eldest brother. On the 10th September, '58, the minor's mother, Rose H. Meredith, and the Rev. Mr. Buckle, both or whom had been appointed testamentary guardians were appointed guardians under the court. The mother desiring to keep the second son, the minor in this case, near her, undertook to clothe, maintain, and pay all other expenses in connexion with his support. She died, however, on the 26th of June, 1861, and the minor was in consequence, placed at the Devon School, kept in West Buckland, in that county, of which a Mr. Thompson was head master, the minor being then eighteen years of age.
On the 23rd May, 1862, the elder brother having attained his majority, he was discharged from his wardship, and entered into possession of the estate, which was charged with a sum of £5,000 for the present minor, and there was a question also as to whether or not the latter was entitled to £ 1,000 more. In the vacation of '62 the head master of the school, Mr. Thompson, was about to go to London to see the exhibition, and the minor's guardian, the Rev. Mr. Buckle, thinking it better that the lad, who was then nineteen years of age, should be with his master than with any one else, gave him money to go to London, also. Instead of going to London, however, he absconded and went to Bristol where he not only expended what money he bad with him, but went in debt at the inn where he was stopping. The innkeeper having communicated with his guardian, the latter wrote, directing that the boy should be sent back to school, and promising to pay the debts he had incurred. He requested the innkeeper to take the necessary precautions against the boy's escape, and the innkeeper, following those instructions, saw him safely started in the train, but he got out at one of the intermediate stations, and no one could tell what became of him.
He was put into the train on the 12th July, 1862, and on the 30th of the same month the guardian presented a petition to the Court of Chancery, detailing the facts. Next day the Chancellor made an order referring the matter to Master Brooke to enquire as to what steps should be taken, and desiring the guardian to follow the Master's directions whatever they should be. Master Brooke was not then sitting, and so the case went before Master Fitzgibbon, who, on the 9th of August, made a ruling that the guardian should be at liberty to continue his enquiries relative to the minor, and to employ such assistance as he might think proper. It was subsequently ascertained that the young man had enlisted in the Grenadier Guards, and that he was then at Croydon as a recruit.
The case came before Master Litton on the 9th September, and it being known that the military school at Croyden was a very good one, and that the minor wae attending it, the Master thinking that the restraint of military discipline would have a salutary effect on him, arranged that he should remain in the army until the 25th October, following. On the 13th Oct. the guardian wrote to the colonel of the regiment, with a view to ascertain how he could obtain the young man's discharge, and recived a reply from the adjutant, to the effect that the minor was conducting himself well at Croydon, and that an application might be made to purchase his discharge with his own consent. On its being known in the regiment that the minor was a gentleman, he was treated with much more consideration, and it it was under these circumstances that the case came before Master Brooke, who made a ruling that an application should be made for the purchase of the minor's discharge, and that he should again be placed at the school at West Buckland. The guardian thought it prudent not to have him discharged before the expiration of the vacation, so that he might he sent to school immediately ; but a few days after the vacation had expired — namely, on the 1st of January — he deserted.
He remained in concealment until the 12th of April following, when he wrote a letter to his guardian, dated 35, Nile-street, Cork, requesting his assistance and advice as to what he had better do. The guardian thought the best thing for him to do was to surrender, so that he might be purchased out after undergoing whatever punishment was to be inflicted on him. The minor accordingly surrendered, and on the 3rd August following the guardian put himself in communication with the adjutant of the regiment, and received a reply stating that Meredith had enlisted in a regiment of the line during his desertion, and would not be allowed to purchase his discharge at the expiration of his imprisonment. The minor had been brought to court-martial and sentenced to one hundred aud sixty-eight days' imprisonment. After some time had elapsed the guardian was again prepared for another application to purchase the minor's discharge, but unfortunately the minor's impatience was such, that arrangements could not be completed; he deserted a second time, and was still at large. The guardian on this consulted counsel, who advised him that it was his duty to bring the matter before the court, and accordingly the present petition was filed, praying for an order discharging the minor from his enlistment, on the ground that it was illegal, he being a ward of court when it took place, and restraining the military authorities or constabulary from arresting him. Counsel contended that the fact of the young man's desertion made no difference in the case, and that the power of the court to discharge him was not in the slightest degree impaired.
Sergeant Sullivan resisted the motion on behalf of tbo Crown. This young man was at present a deserter from his regiment, and as a consequence of that desertion, he was a criminal under the articles of war, which were to be taken judicial notice of by all judges and by all courts whatsoever. The articles of war prescribed an extreme punishmernt for desertion; in fact it was death if the court-martial choose to inflict it. The application now was to discharge him, he being at the same time subject to punishment by the criminal laws of the land, and so free him from the consequences of his own act. No one need fail to observe that the motion was to extricate him from the consequences of his desertion.
The Master of the Rolls said he was of opinion that he ought not, sitting as judge, to make an order the effect of which would be to extricate a person from the consequences of a criminal offence. He had a strong impression that to make an order discharging this man from the enlistment would have a restrictive operation ; it would make him cease to be a soldier, and if he was not now nor never had been a soldier, he might laugh at the mutiny act. He could not, therefore, make such an order, but he would write out a judgment for the guardian in which he would express his opinion that under the circumstances of the case the Horse Guards would probably feel justified in regarding the offence with a less strictness than they would, and that he (the Master), but for the desertion, would probably not have hesitated to discharge him.