Category Archives: Napoleonic

George Smart’s Infernal Machine

The brief but startling report below appeared in the Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal for Friday 3 February 1804, appended to reports of storms and so forth from the paper’s correspondent in Frant, near Tunbridge Wells, clearly an enthusiast for italics. It re-appeared in a number of papers for that month – the Chester Courant, the Lancaster Gazette, the Staffordshire Advertiser and probably others, since column-filling copy was freely filched in those days, and soon went viral (or as viral as anything could be in 1804), arriving by April almost word for word in The Balance and Columbian Repository of Hudson, New York, and no doubt elsewhere.

INFERNAL MACHINE

A very ingenious young man of the name of Smart, a journeymen taylor in this parish, has invented an infernal machine, which, when placed in any point of contact against an invading force, is capable of destroying a thousand men in a minute. The expence, I am told, will be small when compared with its utility. He leaves this [place] on Monday morning to explain to the Duke of Richmond, the Lord Lieutenant of the County, of[sic] the model of his machine, &c.; it has met the general approbation of all the Gentlemen Volunteer Officers in that neighbourhood; the inventor is a volunteer himself, though a tailor. Should it meet the approbation of the Duke of Richmond, Smart will undertake to conduct it himself into the center of the enemy’s legions; the great merit in the construction of this machine is, that he can remain in perfect safety in the center, while he deals death and destruction to all around him, and he is capable of re-charging in ten minutes; and it can be moved with one horse, with the greatest facility, at the rate of eight miles an hour.

In the British Library copy of this paper the original owner, a compulsive annotator, has noted beneath in wobbly copperplate: “Remark the above”, as well he might.

So far, I’ve been unable to discover the Duke’s reaction, on which the papers seem silent. Not very enthusiastic, one suspects. Nor does there seem to be any image of Smart’s model of his invention, but the description may give some clues. “Any point of contact” suggests something circular, on a turret principle, while “a thousand men in a minute” surely implies a primitive machine gun; note that “re-charging” would take a full ten minutes. And for the operator to “remain in perfect safety in the centre” must have required some sort of protective plating. What comes to mind is a one-man, horse-drawn version of Leonardo’s celebrated armoured vehicle of 1487, or maybe a covered version of James Sadler’s “moving battery”, or “curricle flying artillery” discussed in this post. (Though Sadler’s vehicle required one man to load and one to fire, plus a driver.) I’m left wondering how Smart’s machine would have gone on if and when the horse was shot, which seems the obvious weakness.

If we know no more about the infernal machine itself, we know quite a lot about its inventor, although, beyond his time in the Pevensey Legion, this seems to have been his single military moment. The Tunbridge Wells tailor George Smart (1775-1846) has become something of a rediscovered hero of English folk art, on account of his quirky cloth collage portraits, sold from his cottage, branded as “Smart’s Repository”. An 1830 view of Frant, with the tiny figure of Smart outside the Repository (right of the carriage) seems to be the only image we have of him. The “artist in cloth and velvet figures” was a tireless self-publicist, often in verse:

Come here, I say, come here ye quizzers,
Who laugh at Taylors and at scissors,
And see how Smart makes that utensil
Out-do the Chisel, Brush and Pencil.
With Genius Quick, and true to nature,
He makes a suit for every creature;
And fits alike the whole creations,
In newest style the latest Fashion …

And so on. In his later years, Smart cultivated a conspicuously eccentric character, but his notoriety and affluence faded, and on his death in 1846 he was given a pauper’s burial. A useful outline of his life and career by James Gregory is available here, and a full length study by Hector Medora, focused mainly on the folk art, is downloadable here. A Smart blog, promoting the art book by Jonathan Christie, is here.

Finally, my favourite Smart collage, a version of his Earth Stopper. The effect of the “apparition” on the gent on horseback must be akin to that anticipated by Smart of the appearance of his infernal machine among the enemy legions.

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The trouble with Cecil

Cecil C P Lawson’s five volumes of A History of the Uniforms of the British Army: it’s where I started, back as a kid in the local reference library, hunched over the vast wooden table before the high, glass fronted shelves on a summer afternoon, carefully studying each page of each volume. So I’m quite fond of the reactionary old buffer.

And yet … Nowadays, when I look at the murky, scratchy drawings of the later volumes, I’m painfully aware of the imperfections in Lawson’s work. But it’s not just the haziness of some of the specifics; sometimes there are odd, unaccountable errors of detail too.

A few previous posts on this blog have looked at the cavalry-influenced styles adopted by some light company officers of volunteers and militia. In a bid to find models for these among the regular regiments, I’ve recently been trawling period images, with near zero success. But I did come across one. In William Loftie’s album of eyewitness images appears an officer of the 21st Foot or Royal North British Fuziliers in 1801. [Left below. Click to enlarge.] Given the wings and Tarleton (as opposed to a fur cap), this must be an officer of the light company. His jacket bears two rows of closely spaced buttons, extending well towards the shoulders – a good match for that of the Berkeley Volunteers shown here, and a confirmation that such styling was not confined to the auxiliary forces.

At some point Lawson was commissioned by Anne S K Brown to copy the Loftie watercolours for her own collection, now at Brown University; some of these “copies” were reproduced and described by René Chartrand in 1993-4 in Military Illustrated. Versions also appear in Lawson’s Volume V. Now Loftie’s Fuzilier clearly has at least thirteen buttons showing in each row above his sash, but in the Brown copy Lawson has reduced these to the regulation ten, reverting the jacket to a bog standard officer’s pattern. (If this were so, the buttons would be in twos, this regiment wearing them paired on their regulation coats.)

Look closer and there are other discrepancies: Loftie shows the collar, cuffs and facings edged with a narrow white cord or feathering, but Lawson has changed this to a broad gold lace. The Tarleton has all gilt furniture, but Lawson seems to give it a silver band, and Chartrand describes it thus. Lawson also heightens the shape of the pointed cuffs and adds fringes to the wings. In Loftie the breeches are properly white, but the gloves are buff; Lawson shows buff breeches and white gloves. Why? I’ve no idea.

Similar glitches affect other figures in the album. For example, Loftie shows the light company officer’s cap of the 38th with a green band around the base, a silver cord and tassels, and a two-part silver plate with a crown over some sort of rayed star. Lawson’s copy for Brown adds a silver band around the top edge, while his version in Volume V of A History of the Uniforms changes cord and tassels to green and omits the plate. (The confusion passes through to the Fostens’ Thin Red Line, where the same cap – “after Loftie” – has a green cord, silver bands top and bottom and a plate with no star.)

Details, details, I hear you say. There are more important things in life to get upset about, and so there are, and no doubt uniformology is not an exact science. But how inexact can we afford to be?


Still more light company style

Tracking back to previous posts (here and here) on the topic of cavalry styled jackets worn by light infantry officers of militia regiments, here’s a rather remarkable jacket (currently for sale online) that confirms the trend, and with a whole lot of braiding as an extra delight. This is for an officer of the light company of Col John Silvester’s 1st Manchester Local Militia of 1808-16. The three rows of 17 buttons are braided and looped with scarlet twist, the top rows ending over the shoulder in whorls. The dark blue collar also has self coloured braid edging and loops. Though the overall cut is orthodox, these details very much give an impression of cavalry or rifles. [Click to enlarge.]

As they accumulate, these examples prompt the question of what exactly the militia was imitating here. Is it possible that officers of some light infantry regiments and companies of the line wore similar jackets? There are the famous red or grey pelisses of the 43rd of course, but the Napier portrait shows a pelisse worn with the regulation jacket. It seems unlikely that militia regiments would have had the temerity to initiate this styling, but at the moment I can’t spot any model among the regulars that they might have been following.

 


More light company style

Some posts back – here’s a link – I dug out my vintage sketch of the multi-buttoned jacket of Captain John Brown of the Sheffield Local Militia post 1808, at one time (still??) in the Weston Park Museum in Sheffield, and compared that little known item with the Royal Collection’s much more familiar Dighton painting of a light infantry officer of the South Gloucestershire Militia circa 1804. Here’s something similar, just because I like it – the light infantry style jacket of Captain John Cornock of the Berkeley Volunteers of Gloucestershire, post 1803. The zig zag wings are styled like the militia jacket, but this garment is double breasted, with two rows of buttons only, so a tad short of the full “cavalry” effect.

The jacket is on show in the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum at Gloucester Docks, where I snapped it recently – well worth a visit, with a good smattering of stuff from other Napoleonic period auxiliary units of the county. Curiously, the jacket is currently on show buttoned in reverse, while on the Museum’s website it’s been shown buttoned correctly, and with a triangle of the inside facing colour thrown open on the lapel. (At present, getting up images on the Museum’s site seems problematic, but that may just be me.)

The jacket has white cord trim throughout. The braid and fringe on the wings looks silverish now, but I’m assuming it’s gold, given the gilt buttons, which show “ByV” in intertwined script. The cuffs are split at the rear, and it’s interesting to see how the lower edges of the sloping false pockets are lined up with the turnbacks, which are in the facing colour, with a tiny loop of cord at the point. The pictures should make things clear – click to enlarge – but please excuse the reflections from the display case. A great item.

A complementary full tailed coat in orthodox style with buttons in pairs, also Cornock’s, is also held by the Museum, but is not on display. The two garments were documented way back in JSAHR Vol XXXIX.


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.

sadlers
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.

war chariot
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.

sadler

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?


“… a White Lace both for NCOs and the Privates”

Continuing with the theme of deviations, it’s easy to assume that if an infantry regiment of this era was not granted a distinctive coloured lace, then its coats or jackets would bear none, so that it would be by default an “unlaced” regiment. But it wasn’t necessarily so.

2nd & 4th Battalions, Lancashire Supplementary Militia

2nd & 4th Battalions, Lancashire Supplementary Militia

3 lancs supp m

3rd Battalion, Lancashire Supplementary Militia

When Supplementary Militia battalions were created in the late 1790s they did not share the lace pattern of their parent county regiment. Drawings in one of the Pearse tailor books show that the lapelled and tailed coats of the 1st Lancashire Supplementary Battalion (subsequently the 2nd Regiment) were unlaced, but that the 2nd and 4th Supplementaries (later 3rd and 5th Regiments) had the singly spaced buttons on their “New Fashion” jackets laced with plain white braid in “bastion” loops. The 3rd Supplementary (later 4th Regiment) also wore jackets with white pointed loops to their buttons, set in threes. The jacket patterns are interesting in that they show the early transitional style with proper skirts with double turnbacks.

As these battalions were expanded and renumbered as regiments they borrowed the proper coloured lace of the 1st Lancashire Militia. But the option of white lace loops remained on the pattern books, and found a new lease of life when offered to the volunteer movement.

When the Shropshire Volunteers (an unwieldy 18 company regiment) were due for new clothing at the start of 1806, it was felt that their unadorned red jackets of 1803 had looked a little plain, so the Committee opted for “Jacket No 2” of those now offered by its clothier. Colonel John Kynaston Powell noted that this had “a White Lace, and consequently a White Button, both for Non-Commission Officers (Staff Sergeants excepted) and the Privates.” This would provide “a sufficient Smartness,” and despite the extra cost of the lace would still be within the government’s allowance. (The unusual artillery pieces of the Shropshire Volunteers are discussed in my post here.)

Leek Volunteers

Leek Volunteers

This was not the only volunteer unit to opt for this style, and such jackets survive. In the Staffordshire Regiment Museum is a fine jacket of the Loyal Leek Volunteers with buttons in five pairs and laced in plain white. In addition the jacket edges, turnbacks, collar, shoulder straps, cuffs and pockets are all edged with the same white braid. The loops show a decent “window” of red, and the buttons here are of yellow metal.

Lancaster Volunteers

Lancaster Volunteers

Lancaster City Museum has held for many years a jacket of the Lancaster Volunteers, sketched by P W Reynolds and photographed for Volume 2 of Bryan Fosten’s Osprey Wellington’s Infantry. This also has white lace and paired white buttons, but in four pairs and with pointed lace. Here only the collar, straps and turnbacks are edged. (It’s instructive to compare Reynolds’s version with the photo; given the ambiguous spacing on the jacket front he can be forgiven for having seen the buttons as single – but what about the cuffs and pockets?)

The Lancaster Volunteers sketched as drawn by Reynolds. Photo by Ben Townsend

The Lancaster Volunteers sketched as drawn by Reynolds. Photo by Ben Townsend

These are just three examples, but there may well be others. The touch of showiness provided by plain white lacing would be calculated to appeal to a committee or commanding officer considering a re-clothing, and the splash of braid across the jacket would have given the volunteers something of the look of regulars.


One weird militia cap

This blog has been grievously neglected for several months. Family stuff; my apologies.

The more you look at the uniforms of a particular regiment in this era, the more you appreciate the deviations from the greater uniformity. Where colonels were allowed licence, such as in the clothing of musicians, this is especially so. Drummers are a particular headache, and faced with the arcane and variant complexities of drummers’ lacing, one begins to doubt the detail of many artists’ reconstructions.

Image8
Here’s an extremely weird drummer’s cap of the Royal Lancashire Militia from the notebooks of P W Reynolds in the V&A. (Many thanks to  Ben Townsend for the photo.) It’s a “Belgic”, or at least a sort of Belgic, attributed to the First Regiment of Lancs Militia around 1814, and Reynolds’s sketch is based on a previous sketch by “JCL”, whoever he or she was – Charles Lyall, maybe?

Reynolds’s assumption is that the cap was of black felt. The front is said to be 9 inches high, so about the norm, but the “pole”, which I understand to mean the cap part, though I’ve never seen that term used elsewhere, is just over 5 inches deep, so more shallow than usual – perhaps scaled down to fit a boy. The front is steeply arched – quite different to the squareish front of the standard Belgic, and so more reminiscent of the shape of the pre-1802 drummer’s fur cap. In place of the usual folding flap at rear is a drum badge, as previously used on the rear of drummers’ fur caps, measuring 2⅛ by 1½ inches and presumably in brass.

The circular plate at front is 3 inches in diameter, again presumably of brass, and Reynolds notes correctly that the elements of the design – “LANCASTER”, rose and wreath – correspond to those of the known Belgic cap plates of the regiment, which are of the standard size and shape. The peak is narrower than the norm at 1½ inches, though that is a feature seen on some officers’ and volunteer caps. JCL had noted that a “festoon” had been worn on the cap and that there was a small hole “in upper part of front”, presumably to take a tuft and cockade, but exactly where was not marked in his sketch.

The cap is said to have been seen at Hawkes’s, the military outfitters. Where is it now?  A search of the NAM inventory throws up nothing, though that’s not to be wondered at.

This cap raises all kinds of questions. Why the odd shape, and does it have any relation to drummers’ fur caps or to the tall fronted light infantry caps discussed in this post? Why the small plate when the front was tall enough to take the standard pattern? Does it actually date to circa 1814? Was it a regimental one-off? Or did other regiments adopt similarly mutant forms? And how much can we trust modern illustrations that show drummers of the period wearing the same caps and plates as everyone else?