Monthly Archives: June 2015

Bad tempered shooting matches (2)

notts riflemenA few posts back, I chronicled an acrimonious target match of 1804 between two Gloucestershire volunteer rifle companies. Here, from 1811, is another instance of sharp shooting becoming sharp practice, this time pitting the metrosexual beaux of the Duke of Cumberland’s Sharpshooters and the Yagers of the prestigious Honourable Artillery Company against the stoutly rural Nottinghamshire Riflemen, a volunteer rifle club founded in 1810, and the issuers of an “all England challenge”.

The Cumberlands put in considerable practice for the match. A press report of this (my italics) is significant:

“The Duke of Cumberland’s Sharpshooters having accepted the challenge to all England from the Nottinghamshire Riflemen, to fire with ball at 200 yards, without a rest, have had two days’ practice, when much excellent shooting was exhibited, but none equalled the performance of Adjutant De Berenger, who out of seven successive shots, at 200 yards, without a rest, hit the bull’s eye six times, five of them in succession.”

A Duke of Cumberland's Sharpshooter [National Army Museum]

A Duke of Cumberland’s Sharpshooter [National Army Museum]

By the day of the match, held at Stamford race course, the stipulation to fire without the use of a rest had mysteriously slipped, at least on the part of the Cumberlands. Curiously, Adjutant De Berenger, who was given a handsome medal by the corps for his feat of marksmanship on August 18th, was not at the competition on the 24th, on which the Sporting Magazine of 1811 ran a full report:

“The Riflemen of Nottinghamshire having challenged all England to fire at a target, the same was accepted by the Yagers of the Honourable Artillery Company, and the Duke of Cumberland’s Sharp Shooters, for a stake of fifty guineas a side. The stipulations on the part of the Nottinghamshire Riflemen were – to fire from the shoulder, at the distance of two hundred yards.

The contending parties arrived in Stamford on Saturday, the 24th ult. and some excellent specimens of firing were exhibited during their practice on that day. Soon after ten o’clock on the following Monday morning, the combatants marched to the field (the race-ground near Stamford), in ‘battle array’; and the targets were fixed shortly after their arrival there. The firing (each man fired twelve shots) was not over until nearly six o’clock. The following is a correct statement of it:-


The Nottinghamshire Riflemen.
Colonel Kirke    3 Shots
Mr Sharpe         5 do.
Mr Clarke          6 do.
Mr Habbijam     5 do.
Mr Thornton      2 do.
21 shots

The Artillery Company’s Yagers.
Mr Baumer        6 Shots
Mr Broadhurst   5 Shots
Lieutenant Davis 3 do.
Mr Garth           5 do.
Mr Waller          5 do.
Total                 23 Shots
Majority for the Yagers, 2.


The Nottinghamshire Riflemen.
Colonel Kirke    3 Shots
Mr Sharpe         4 do.
Mr Clark            4 do.
Mr Habbijam     3 do.
Mr Thornton      4 do.
Total                    18 Shots.

The Duke of Cumberland’s Sharp Shooters
Total number of Shots   31
Majority for the Sharp Shooters, 13.

The members of the Duke of Cumberland’s Sharp Shooters who fired, were Messrs. Henderson, Bell, Charlton, Lynch, and Fenton.

The latter match is not to be considered as decided at present, inasmuch as the Duke of Cumberland’s Sharp Shooters made use of a rest from the body, contrary to the signed agreement, which stipulated that each man should ‘stand in an erect position, and fire fairly from the shoulder.’ The decision is to be referred to some persons competent to judge between the parties.”

The post-match booze-up in Stamford seems to have reflected this falling out. The Sharpshooters kept their own company at the Crown Inn, where they “spent the day with conviviality.” Down the road at The George, the Yagers and the Nottinghamshires shared a “sumptuous entertainment” of their own, culminating in the presentation of a silver medal by the former to the latter.

brit mus cumberland triumph
The assumed victory was celebrated in a satirical print, aggressively in support of the “victors”, published the following month by S W Fores, and titled: “The Challengers of All England Chopfallen, or the Cumberland Triumph.” (A copy is in the British Museum collection.)

Here the Sharpshooters look trim and dandyish in full dress, the Nottinghams dumpy and disconsolate in their round hats and trousers. The only appearance of the HAC Yagers seems to be the figure in the foreground who chases away a dog. A superscription notes that “The Notts took 2 hours and 40 minutes to fire their shots, in order to drive the Cumberland into the night, the Cumberland fired theirs in 43 minutes begining [sic] at a 1/4 past Five.”

A spectator comments: “Those queer looking Chaps are Robin Hoods Men, as they call themselves!” His wife replies: “Well I always thought Robin Hood and his Men had been Gentlemen!” A pie vendor cries: “Excellent Sharp Shooters Pyes! and Cumberland Nuts. I can’t recommend the Nottingham Cakes, the company says they are rather sour!” His customer replies: “Why Master Pyeman your a Wag, you had better take care what you say, the Colonels a Magistrate!”

The said Colonel Kirke complains: “It certainly must be oweing to the Belly Ache that I fired so bad. I never had such a belly ache in my life before. Gripe’d all night I assure you.” His companion says: “Why I say Coll! that man’s fireing with a rest damme if thats fair they shant have the stakes.” Rather enigmatically, a Sharpshooter comments: “Twigg the two Slings to their Guns!”

I’ve not been able to discover the nature of the “rest from the body” used by the Cumberlands, nor in what sense the Nottinghams’ guns may have had “two slings”. Can anyone advise?

The sharpshooting Adjutant Berenger of the Cumberlands was, of course, the fantasist and indefatigable self-publicist Charles Random, or “Charles Random de Berenger, Baron de Beaufain”, imprisoned for his part in the notorious Stock Exchange fraud of 1814. That same year the Sharpshooters morphed into a rifle club, resurfacing with the rifle volunteer movement of 1859 as the Victoria Rifles. Despite the Nottinghams’ “Robin Hood” tag, I’ve found nothing to suggest that the Robin Hood Rifles of 1859 traced their lineage to them. By the way, I do feel that “chopfallen” (crestfallen, dejected) is an old English term well worthy of revival.

Whether a “competent person” ever finally settled the dispute does not seem to be recorded.

‘Cavilling about trifles’: anarchy in the Yeomanry

“That there are persons so wofully ignorant, or so wilfully blind, as to seek an exchange from the ascertained and established blessing of clearly defined and limited monarchy, for the wild and visionary speculations of republican anarchy, the added experience of every hour but too clearly proves, but who shall assert that they will not hide their guilty heads, and sink into their original obscurity, when they see the respectable and independent Yeomanry of the kingdom stepping forth, with undaunted courage, in defence of their beloved Sovereign and of that Constitution, which the test of time has proved to be without an equal, and which has secured to their ancestors and to themselves every enjoyment rational and moderate mind can wish for?”

Francis Perceval Eliot

Francis Perceval Eliot

So asserted, a little breathlessly, Major Francis Perceval Eliot of the Staffordshire Yeomanry in his Letters on the subject of the arm’d Yeomanry of 1794, the year of the regiment’s raising. But his own stout yeomanry had not, in truth, proved themselves entirely “respectable”, with some “wild and visionary speculations of republican anarchy” surfacing at the very heart of the regimental committee, particularly in regard to that eternal stimulus to controversy among volunteer soldiers – uniform. Disaffection among the auxiliary military during the wars against France is the stuff of countless theses, but the role of clothing in this has perhaps not been recognised.

In his British Military Uniforms of 1948, the fashion historian James Laver identifies three scales of definition that apply to all costume: Seduction, Utility and Hierarchy. A faction within the Staffordshire committee would have pushed the latter to its lowest extreme by eliminating all visible marks of rank, and bitter disputes over officers’ distinctions took on a clear political dimension. In October 1794 Captain William Tennant of the Walsall troop wrote to Eliot:

“Those men who are capable of cavilling about trifles, when so great a stake is pending, are not, cannot be judged hearty in the cause they have undertaken to support; they who can disapprove the distinction due to the King’s Commission, would not scruple to wrest the sceptre from that monarch ‘who is the breath of our nostrils’ & demolish that constitution which our ancestors formed with their wisdom & maintained with their blood.”

Eliot's Staffordshire Yeoman, from his 'Letters'

Eliot’s Staffordshire Yeoman, from his ‘Letters’

An impending resolution to exclude officers entirely from the committee was clear evidence of republicanism and levelling. Tennant tried to finish on a more practical note, but his emotions got the better of him:

“The spurs, spur leathers, field epaulets, stirrups and stirrup leathers, girths & surcingles will, I hope, reach you in the course of the ensuing week; & in a little more than a fortnight, your proportion of Pistols will also wait on you. That G-d may send their contents into the heart of every democrat existing is the sincerest wish of, Dear Sir, Yr’s Truly, Wm. Tennant.”

When matters came to a head the following month, Eliot wrote to his Colonel, Lord Sutherland, to resign his majority (a step later rescinded):

“I am well convinc’d that those who would wish to degrade and vilify the bearers of his Majesty’s commission, want nothing but the power to attack the throne itself. I have said before my Lord that it is not the form of an epaulette or the gilding of an ornament to the helmet, which gives me a moment’s concern, it is not the particular question, it is the general principle which I resist – so far from it that I should be very glad to have the common field helmet to save my better one for the evening …”

“Democratic” resolutions would eliminate the authority of the Colonel, and oblige officers to take orders from the ranks. Why, he himself had even been called a “martinet”!

“I even said that I thought Officers ought to be distinguish’d in the whole of their dress, & that tho’ I was perfectly contented to wear the same uniform as the private gentlemen I was well convinc’d that those who objected to whatever distinction the Officers chose among themselves to put on did not mean to serve their Country … they [his troop] ask’d me if it was not Shaw the Schoolmaster who was at the bottom of it & that they were well aware of his character as a known enemy to the King & Constitution …

The Serpent is no longer contented with creeping in the grass, but is beginning to rear his crest & dart his venom abroad – we were told that the giving up the first question of the superfine cloth would suffice & that nothing further would be ask’d – to this succeeded the bridles then the epaulettes – the sashes were next attacked & now the helmets – & vires acquirit eundo [It gathers strength as it goes].”

“Superfine” cloth was a usual distinction of officers. In the event, officers’ sashes probably survived, and epaulettes of some sort are itemised in the regimental accounts of the following year. Unfortunately, I can find nothing more on Shaw the Schoolmaster and his levelling agenda, but his influence cannot have lasted long.

A pleasingly naive image of a Staffordshire Yeoman, drawn by Eliot himself, forms the frontispiece to his Letters, as shown above. As there is no indication of rank, the engraving appears to show a private. Webster’s 1870 regimental history has a plate derived directly from this, but captioned “An Officer in Review Order 1794”. Quite why this image, 75 years later, should have come to be seen as an officer is not at all clear, but given the controversies of 1794 it’s a nice irony. Shaw the Schoolmaster would certainly have approved.

‘In their best Turbans’: black musicians in the Militia and Volunteers

The presence of black musicians in the British Army of the later 18th and early 19th centuries is well documented. The craze for “Turkish” or “Janissary” music brought percussion instruments into regimental bands – bass drum or kettledrum, cymbals, tambourine, triangle, crescent or “Jingling Johnnie” – and black percussionists to play them, perhaps chosen for perceived exotic value as well as for percussive ability. Though band uniforms were already extravagant products of regimental vanity, these musicians were even further distinguished by their fantastical and pseudo-oriental costumes, often involving ornamented turbans and Turkish-style “shells”.

This rather interesting thesis outline notes that 41 line regiments of foot are known to have employed black musicians (the actual number was perhaps much higher), but observes that their novelty and visibility rather eclipsed the honourable record of ordinary black soldiers who served in the ranks, who were often overlooked in contemporary accounts and imagery.

Cymbalist, Buckinghamshire Militia, 1793, Anne S K Brown collection

Cymbalist, Buckinghamshire Militia, 1793, Anne S K Brown collection

Tambourine player, Buckinghamshire Militia, 1793, Anne S K Brown collection

Tambourine player, Buckinghamshire Militia, 1793, Anne S K Brown collection













Less widely recognised, perhaps, are the black musicians who served as frequently with the Militia, so here are a few examples. The watercolours by Captain Sir William Young of the Buckinghamshire Militia of 1793 include a “cymbalist” and a “tamborin”. (The originals, in the British Museum collection, are not available online, but copies are in the Anne S K Brown collection.)

A regimental order of June 1797 of the Staffordshire Militia required “Grenadiers, Light Infantry & Drummers [to parade] in their respective dress caps. Musick in jackets. The Blacks in their best Turbans.”

Service in a regimental band must have been an attractive option for those fallen on hard times. In November 1807 Adjutant Butterfield of the 1st West Yorkshire Militia wrote to his Colonel that “Major Dearden has this moment directed me to express his wish to have a Black, taken from the Prison here, as a Tamboreen in the Band to complete our number.”

That number might be as many as five percussionists. Among the clothing supplied to the Shropshire Militia for 1811 were five “Cymbol &c dress Jackets, Shells, Pantaloons and Waistcoats”; in 1813 the same five musicians were supplied with “Fancy Caps” with “Ornaments” and “long feathers”.

ng shell pearse

“Music jacket & Shell” for the North Gloucestershire Militia, 1796, from the Pearse tailor’s books, Canadian War Museum collection

A 1796 tailor’s drawing for the North Gloucestershire Militia gives some idea of the construction of such garments. One element of the many curious and fossilised features of military musicians’ dress of the era was a fringe around the elbow or wrist, and the drawing shows a scarlet long sleeved “waistcoat” (or jacket) worn under an open white “jacket” (or shell) with short, elbow length sleeves to which this fringe was attached.

The Bishop Blaize procession from Walker's 'Costume of Yorkshire'

The Bishop Blaize procession from Walker’s ‘Costume of Yorkshire’

There is some evidence that showier or better heeled volunteer regiments may also have employed black musicians. The print of John Hopkins’ painting of the 1796 “Grand Review of the Gentleman Volunteers” at Wakefield seems to indicate white turbaned percussionists among the bands of the Bradford, Leeds and Royal Wakefield Volunteers. A plate from Walker’s Costume of Yorkshire (1814) shows the Bishop Blaise procession in Bradford, held in 1804 and 1811. If the original sketch was made in 1804 the military in the procession would be the Bradford Volunteers. (If in 1811, their successors in the Morley Local Militia.) Prominent in the relatively small band are a black bass drummer and cymbal player, in red sleeveless shells over yellow jackets, yellow pantaloons, red fezzes and white turbans.

The movements of the cymbal player suggest that, in contrast to the formal composure of the brass and wind players, free expression was the norm. Period accounts of regular infantry bands mention black players’ “contortions and evolutions” – “throwing up a bass drum-stick into the air after the beat, and catching it with the other hand in time for the next, shaking the ‘Jingling Johnnie’ under their arms, over their heads, and even under their legs, and clashing the cymbals at every point they could reach.”