Category Archives: artillery

The Grand Review on Heath Common

Since prestige confers publicity, the iconography of the great volunteer movement of 1794-1808 is very London-centric. This is true not only of the uniform prints and portraits of obscure colonels, but also of commemorative prints of reviews, among which Hyde Park predominates.

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An exception is this coloured print of a painting by a Mr Hopkins (possibly William Hopkins, miniature painter) of the Grand Review of volunteers of West Yorkshire, held on Heath Common, Wakefield, in August 1796. In November 1798, almost two years after the event, an advert in the Leeds Intelligencer announced:

“GRAND REVIEW Of the GENTLEMEN VOLUNTEERS of Leeds, Wakefield, Halifax, Bradford, and Huddersfield, as commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Lloyd, and reviewed by Lieutenant-General Scott. MR. HOPKINS, Miniature-Painter, No. 27, King-street, Bloomsbury-square, London, begs to acquaint the Ladies and Gentlemen of the above-mentioned Places, and their Environs, that the PRINT of the GRAND REVIEW, from his PICTURE taken on the Spot, is now finished, and to be seen at Mr. Wright’s, Printer, and at Mr. Greenwood’s, Bookseller, Leeds; Mr. Meggitt’s and Mr. John Hurst’s, Booksellers, Wakefield; Mr. Brook’s. Huddersfield; and at Mr. Edward’s, Halifax; where Subscriptions are received.

The above Print contains several Hundred Figures, so richly coloured as to represent a Painting and the respective Corps in their full Uniforms; the Whole forming a grand and interesting Spectacle.”

The enterprising Mr Hopkins’ original painting may be lost, but a few prints survive. In 1976 I looked at the copy held by the Thoresby Society in Leeds, thickly varnished and a bit the worse for wear. Forty years on, this has been donated to Leeds Museum; despite conservation efforts, it has suffered further in the interval, but at least a nice big image is available online here.

Hopkins’ detached perspective means that the assembled ranks appear far smaller than the less interesting foreground figures, but there’s still plenty here to round out our otherwise patchy view of this 1794 generation of volunteers. From the left of the picture stand the Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield, Royal Wakefield and Halifax Volunteers in that order, all in scarlet faced respectively with blue, buff, blue, blue and black. The Bradford and Halifax “battalion guns” (two brass six pounders in each case) hold the ends of the line, while the West Riding Yeomanry keep the field and chase away stray dogs and naughty boys.

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The front ranks of the Halifax Volunteers – grenadiers at left, battalion company, band and regimental colour at right

The artillery detachments are in blue with round hats, while all the drummers except the Wakefield are in white. All in are short gaiters. The grenadier company of the Halifax are in fur caps, while all the light companies (at the viewer’s right of the rear echelons), and all ranks of the Huddersfield Fusiliers wear Tarleton helmets.

Not at the event (at too much of a distance, presumably) are the Loyal Independent Sheffield Volunteers, the Doncaster Volunteers, York Volunteers and Royal Knaresborough Foresters, all likewise raised in 1794.

Mr Hopkins’ advertisement doesn’t give a price for a copy of this grand and interesting Spectacle. These can’t have been cheap, though; the hand colouring must have been one heck of a chore.

The Yeomanry scares off two boys and a dog, while the Halifax gunners look on


Sadler’s chimerical Sharpshooters

As it happens, this blog takes its title from the dedication page of Loyal Volunteers, Ackermann and Rowlandson’s gigantic 1799 compendium of London armed associations. I’ve always thought one of the more interesting entries to be plate 46, which shows a member of Sadler’s Sharp Shooters – “a Light Infantry Man defending himself with [James] Sadler’s Patent Gun & long cutting Bayonet.” The figure is chic in a Tarleton and dark blue jacket and pantaloons with red trim. The “patent gun” appears rather short, but the bayonet is enormous.

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Some copies of Loyal Volunteers also contain an unnumbered and spectacular plate portraying “Sadler’s Flying Artillery” (high res image here) showing the nearest we get to Georgian tank warfare – two guns of Sadler’s own invention mounted on a light carriage drawn by two horses. In the text to the first plate this is described as “the celebrated War Chariot, in which two persons, advancing or retreating, can manage two pieces of Ordnance (three-pounders) with alacrity, and in safety, so as to do execution at the distance of two furlongs.” Options for “advancing or retreating” were enabled by setting the guns on a turret; to reverse their fire the gunners simply switched seats. As James Sadler had not got round to inventing armour plate, I’m uncertain about their “safety”, but you can’t have everything.

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The patent gun and the flying artillery were real enough, their virtues detailed by their inventor in his own Account of Various Improvements in Artillery, Fire-Arms, &c of 1798. According to Mark Davies’s biography of Sadler, both “musquet” and “moving battery”, or “curricle flying artillery”, were unveiled on June 4 1798, the King’s birthday. With the backing of Secretary at War William Windham, the latter was demonstrated successfully before royalty in 1798 and 1800, and may possibly have been shipped abroad with the army on the expedition to Holland in 1799 at the behest of the Duke of York and under the care of Sadler’s son, James junior.

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James Sadler

Equally real, perhaps even larger than life, was James Sadler himself – aeronaut, inventor, chemist, naval technologist, steam engineer, creator of “philosophical fireworks”, barracks master and confectioner. There is, not surprisingly, a good deal of information available online about this extraordinary man; much more could be said about him than I have space for here, and Google will soon find it for you.

But if the guns and their inventor were real, how actual were the Sharp Shooters? I have to own up to some big doubts. Rowlandson’s fine plate is dated September 1798, but its accompanying text of August 1799 admits tartly that the corps was, even one year on, “but inconsiderable in number” and “in so imperfect a state as not to admit of illustration satisfactory to the Public.” However, it was “intended to extend them to a degree of respectability,” after which they would hopefully “join with the Westminster Associations”. A tad dysfunctional, then!

The text lists no officers (included with every other plate), not even the “ingenious Machinist” himself, but blags quaintly that the corps “is shortly to be officered by the Honourable the Board of Ordnance.” I can find no officers for the Sharp Shooters in the Gazette, members of the Board of Ordnance or not, and according to Mark Davies both the patent rifles and the war chariot were used in 1798 by the Pimlico Volunteers, with whom Sadler had some sort of connection.

sadlers medal 2There exists, however, a medal for the Sharp Shooters, for “Best Shot at Ball Practice,” awarded to a Corporal William Staples, which was sold a few years back at a prestigious auction house. However, the figure on the medal is dressed in a round hat with a tall feather, while the award is dated September 30 1802 – a time at which the corps might be expected to have stood down, like every other volunteer unit, following the Treaty of Amiens earlier that year, rather than hold a shooting match. I’m no expert on volunteer medals, but I have read that some are known fakes, and it must be simple enough to engrave something feasible on a silver blank. In Irwin’s War Medals and Decorations of 1910 this actual medal is said to be then in the collection of a Colonel Gaskell, so if it’s a fake, it’s a vintage fake.

If genuine, it may be the single surviving piece of evidence to confirm the existence of Sadler’s corps as a functioning military outfit outside the pages of Rowlandson’s Loyal Volunteers. Or were the chimerical Sharp Shooters merely a good intention? Or an ingenious PR fiction created to publicise their director’s inventions?


The tiger guns of the Shropshire Volunteers

In the 18th century it was often the practice for British regular infantry and militia regiments to keep attached a pair of light artillery pieces or battalion guns. By the end of the century the practical disadvantages of this piecemeal method of deploying artillery had become so obvious that most were sent into storage, and, shorn of their artillery, many militia regiments took to the new fashion of incorporating a couple of companies of riflemen instead. But the practice of battalion guns lived on among a few volunteer regiments, which were happy to acquire the kudos of  their own artillery detachment.

Colonel John Kynaston Powell’s regiment of Shropshire Volunteer Infantry, raised in 1803 and covering much of the North of the county, was already something of an unwieldy monster (18 large companies – two flank and 16 battalion) when in July 1805 each company was reduced to 97 men to make room for an artillery detachment of 32 privates plus NCO’s, officers and a drummer. Often, volunteer battalion guns were purchased through subscriptions by local communities, but the “great guns” of the Shropshire Volunteers were a gift – or at least a loan – from Edward, 2nd Lord Clive and 1st Earl of Powis, the eldest son of Robert Clive, “Clive of India”. And the guns had a particularly interesting history.


From 1798 to 1803, between spells as Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire and Colonel of the Shropshire Militia, Clive was Governor of Madras. 1799 saw the second, and successful, siege of Seringapatam (Srirangapatna), the fortress of Tipu Sultan, Muslim ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore and Ally of Napoleon. The storming of the city resulted in the death of Tipu and the complete defeat of his forces. Among the huge quantities of trophies captured were 927 of Tipu’s cannon, almost 400 cast in bronze, and over 200 manufactured at his royal foundry. The disposal of this wealth of ordnance was the privilege of the East India Company, and two fine examples were given to Clive, who brought them home to England and passed them to Kynaston Powell’s volunteers.

The cannon arrived as loose barrels, so in October 1805 the regiment resolved to have “proper Harness” and a pair of shafts made for each. The guns were also painted in the British manner, and the green patination of the bronze was covered by a coat of pale artillery grey. At field days and reviews in the green fields of Shropshire, Powell’s tiger head artillery detachment must have created quite an impression.


With the demise of the volunteers, the two guns were returned to the Clive seat at Powis Castle, Welshpool. They were fired to celebrate the wedding of his younger son in 1818, and again as a royal salute when Princess Victoria visited Welshpool in 1832; after that they were reduced to the purely ornamental. Today they still stand at each side of the steps to the entrance to the castle, which is now owned by the National Trust.

The cannon are of 2¾ – 3 pounder calibre. They were cast in the Mawludi year 1219 (1790-91) and sport spectacular striped tiger head muzzles, trunnions and cascabel buttons, the tiger being the chosen symbol of Tipu, “Tiger of Mysore”. On the barrel is a talismanic device based on the letters HYDR, for Hyder Ali, father of Tipu, and the mark of the Royal foundry, with the inscription “La illah ul Allah” – there is no god but Allah. An almost identical piece was sold at Christie’s recently, while other similar examples can be found at the Leeds Royal Armouries, at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, and at Sandhurst.