In the froth of public excitement over the new volunteer corps of 1803, the novelty of riflemen bubbled large, with small units sometimes attracting disproportionate attention. The Yorkshire press provided a willing outlet for news of the doings of the Stockton Forest Riflemen of the North Riding, commanded, clothed and equipped by an enthusiastic clergyman (evidently with time and money on his hands), the formidable Reverend John Ware. (Further details of the corps on this page.) Risking hyperbole, the Leeds Intelligencer of 30 January 1804 found Captain Ware’s little company to be –
Perhaps … one of the best appointed corps in the kingdom … all active, spirited young men, ready to follow their commander into any danger.
At their inspection that month, their firing prone from cover attracted the particular attention of the Intelligencer’s correspondent, as the corps
… went through their various skirmishings with great accuracy and precision. The novelty of the scene was heightened by a party retiring, being concealed behind the ridge of a
land, commenced[sic] an independent firing as
they lay on the ground, turning on their backs
to load, and firing on their bellies.
At April’s inspection, the York Herald declared itself much impressed by the riflemen’s ambush of the inspecting officer, Lieutenant Colonel Skelly, –
on whose arrival at the ground the corps, being previously concealed among the bushes, commenced an independent firing, when nothing but the report had any tendency to show from whence the shots proceeded.
Two months later, Reverend Ware was able to keep his corps in the public gaze by undertaking a daring logistical trial. The Herald of 9 June announced:
We understand that an experiment will be made by a party of Captain Ware’s Rifle Corps, to ascertain the degree of expedition with which they could travel in case of emergency. They are to start on Wednesday next the 13th inst. from York at six o’clock in the morning to proceed to Hull, when they are to halt two hours, and return again to York, where it is supposed they will arrive about six o’clock the same evening. The excursion will be attended by several military gentlemen.
A rather posher Machine in use by the London & Westminster Light Horse Volunteers, in Thomas Rowlandson’s print ‘Expedition, or Military Fly’
At this point, volunteer corps were expected to supply themselves with vehicles, if only adapted farm waggons, in which their baggage or men might be swiftly moved in the event of mobilisation. Whatever the “Machine” was exactly on which Ware’s men embarked – a converted cart or carriage of some kind? – it was one of a number of similar contrivances tested and applauded nation wide at the time. The Herald of 16 June gave an account of the high speed trial:
On Wednesday morning at six o’clock, a Machine, built in this city for the purpose, started from the Tavern with 22 men fully armed and accoutred, &c. who, with the Machine, weighed 383 stone, or 2 ton 63 stone … The Machine was drawn by four horses, on which were two postilions.
They arrived at Hull within four hours, notwithstanding the traces of the horses broke twice, which caused a considerable delay; besides a further delay of waiting for the post-horses at Market-Weighton, owing to a mistake in the orders.
At Hull the exhausted riflemen paused for a couple of hours “for the purpose of taking refreshment, calling upon Gen McKenzie, &c.,” before returning to York at approximately the same speed, “notwithstanding a delay of 20 minutes by the accident of firing an axletree.” The 81 mile round journey (subtracting recovery time in Hull) was accomplished in eight and a quarter hours. The York Herald sounded a triumphant note:
We believe the above is the shortest time in which such a number of men have been conveyed so great a distance, and reflects much credit on Capt. Ware’s patriotic exertions; as it fully demonstrates in how short a period a number of men may be conveyed to any part of the kingdom, by having similar Machines in readiness at different places.
In an era when a respectable day’s infantry march might be reckoned at 15 miles, this demonstration of ten miles an hour by a horse-drawn personnel carrier over doubtful roads must indeed have seemed impressive, though it’s maybe as well that such “Machines” were never put to the test en masse in the event of invasion.