Category Archives: paintings

“Applicable to any emergency”: the forgotten infantry volunteers of the 1820’s

With the renewal of hostilities in 1803, the yeomanry, volunteers and armed associations of the 1790’s were revived, a little more tightly regulated. In 1808 most of the volunteers converted to local militia on the institution of that force, and in 1816 local militia and surviving volunteers alike were wound up. Or at least, that’s the standard narrative. In fact, a handful of new, postwar infantry volunteer units were raised at the end of the decade, though, like their ancestors of 1759 and 1782, they have largely escaped our attention.

In Ireland, unsettled by nationalist dissent, the volunteers had never been disbanded, and a host of loyalist corps, some founded in the 1790’s, continued to parade into the 1820’s. In Scotland and England, where economic disaster fuelled political unrest, the Peterloo events prompted a revival of the volunteer movement, but for internal policing rather than for defence against invasion. The bulk of these corps was formed in Scotland – more than twenty altogether, ranging from single companies and undersized battalions to the full regiment of Glasgow Sharpshooters. Raised in 1819 and 1820, many had faltered and disbanded by the mid twenties.

In London the Honourable Artillery Company continued its peculiarly privileged existence, but was joined in 1820 by a reformed regiment of Royal East India Volunteers, “upon the plan of the regiments maintained by the Company during the late war.” The field officers of the new formation were drawn from the Directors, company officers from officers and clerks, and the NCO’s and privates from the warehouse establishment. By Royal consent, they were to wear an updated version of “the same uniform as was fixed upon by his late Majesty” for the three earlier regiments of EIC volunteers, with Royal facings of blue, the officers’ edged with gold lace.  The regiment was expected to be “particularly valuable as a local force, applicable to any emergency in the metropolis,” but also, maybe more importantly, for “the protection of the valuable property deposited in the extensive warehouses of the Company.”

Its expenses were entirely defrayed by the EIC; by the turn of the ‘thirties these amounted to well over three thousand pounds a year, about the same as the Directors’ gratuities. With the reform of the Company’s affairs in 1834, these payments were stopped, and in March of that year the regiment was disembodied, though as a Royal favour, officers were permitted to retain their ranks and honours.

Beyond the metropolis, the other half dozen new English volunteer units were neither so prestigious nor so long lived. In Somerset, the Bath Riflemen seem to have been the first to form in 1815, surviving for at least ten years as a single company. Another company at Retford in Nottinghamshire may have been attached to the Retford Yeomanry, but was defunct by 1825. In Cheshire a similar arrangement saw a small battalion of infantry in 1819 attached to the yeomanry as the King’s Cheshire Volunteer Legion; this lasted a little longer. In Staffordshire a battalion was raised in Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1819, comprising four battalion companies and one of rifles, the uniform of the former “similar to that of Soldiers of the Line”. The Newcastle Volunteers lasted until August 1823.

Something more like a cluster of volunteers was established in West Yorkshire, where the Leeds Volunteers, in a “handsome” uniform, were organised in January 1820, consisting initially of three battalion companies, one grenadier and one light infantry. In April they were joined by the neighbouring Huddersfield Independent Association, or Huddersfield Riflemen, dressed in rifle green with black facings and green epaulettes. Colours were presented to the Leeds Volunteers in July 1821, but the Leeds Light Infantry, as it was later known, was dormant by 1824. The Huddersfield companies survived a while longer.

The King’s Cheshire Volunteers fire a blank volley on the beach

Not surprisingly, very little visual evidence survives for these sparse and short lived units. The silvered officer’s button of the Leeds Volunteers (above) was drawn by Denis Darmanin in 2009 for the Bulletin of the Military Historical Society. In an exaggeratedly romantic canvas of 1824 by James Ward (go here for the full painting), an ageing Sir John Leicester exercises the Cheshire yeomanry on the sands at Liverpool; in the distance, under a suitably dramatic sky, the tiny ranks of the King’s Cheshire Volunteer Infantry, colours proudly flying, engage the passing dragoons and lancers. They are very much in the background.

In the event, the yeomanry proved more adequate than these new infantry units to the task of policing a discontented populace. With the collapse of this postwar wavelet, the volunteer movement rather subsided; not until the early 1850’s did the rifle and drill clubs emerge that would generate the volunteer explosion of 1859.

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An unremembered loss

As it’s Remembrance Sunday, here’s an image from the Anne S K Brown collection that rather startled me while browsing. This unsigned watercolour is attributed to Robert Dighton junior, and certainly has the look of his style. The collection’s cataloguer has tagged it as a staff officer in undress uniform circa 1805, which may or may not be right; at any rate, we no longer know who he was.

Dighton junior is better known for the light cavalry officers whose dandyism he details with almost homoerotic enthusiasm, but here the elegant white pantaloons terminate in an artificial leg whose inelegant form insults its living partner. Military images of the period avoid showing dismemberment; the dead and dying tend to fall gracefully and unbloodied, often in classical positions. Dighton’s matter-of-fact portrait is unusual. One wonders how an officer missing half a leg managed to continue in service, unless in an invalid battalion, but the alternative, I suppose, would have been the misery of half-pay.

It would be better if the world had found a way to enjoy the dandyism and avoid the dismemberment, but so far it hasn’t, and that’s a fact. In the final analysis, there’s nothing good about war.


A bit of glory but no death: the Warrington Bluebacks

There can’t be too many surviving blue coats from the armed associations of 1798, so it’s nice to know that the Lancashire Infantry Museum has an example, previously in Warrington Museum, worn by the Loyal Warrington Volunteers of Lancashire. Their site’s image [click to enlarge all images] doesn’t quite show the whole thing, but the skirts were full length and lined dark blue, the turnbacks held by pairs of red hearts. As the “Bluebacks”, under their Captain Commandant Edward Dakin, managed to stretch themselves to an almost regimental panoply of one battalion and two flank companies, the light company would surely have worn a jacket version; headwear was a fur crested round hat, though the grenadier company wore something more “cumbrous” – presumably a fur cap.

The terms of their acceptance at first restricted their services to the defence of the streets of Warrington alone. When, at the Lord Lieutenant’s request, the battalion was consulted on extending this to an entire five mile radius of the town, the men were assembled to do an Alamo, and a chalk line was drawn on the floor. First to cross was intrepid James Ashton of the light company, crying “Come along, lads – death or glory!” To a man, they followed him, and Ashton was for evermore known by his peers as “Old Death or Glory”. In the event, the supreme sacrifice was not demanded within the prescribed ten miles.

The anecdote is told in James Kendrick’s sketch of the volunteers in the Proceedings and Papers of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire for 1854, along with much else of a florid, rhetorical and italicised nature; Doctor Kendrick concludes with a strange diatribe against teetotalism and vegetarianism (“now so rife amongst us”), presumably exemplifying the “refinement” that then threatened to sap the vitality of the youth of England. As a medical man, Kendrick should have known his onions, and perhaps the rifle volunteer movement of five years later would prove his point.


On disbandment in 1801 the colours of the Volunteers, inscribed “Pro Rege et Patria”, were placed over the altar of the parish church, but by Kendrick’s time had “disappeared”. However, some record of them must have been preserved, for they feature, along with the drums, in the background of a fine retrospective portrait of James “Death or Glory” Ashton himself, painted in 1852 by a W Taylor, now in Warrington Museum and online at the Art UK site. An aged Ashton peers grimly out at the viewer from beneath a superimposed and mildly inaccurate reconstruction of the uniform; the colours and drums, however, have a slightly more authentic look to them.


When is an Estorff’s not a Lüneburg?

(This post expanded November 2017)

Here’s another King’s German Legion uniform spin-off, and a good example of the sort of existential nightmare we have to tackle when available primary sources are few.

Among the newly raised Hanoverian units with Wallmoden’s Corps in the war in Northern Germany in 1813 was the Lüneburg Hussar regiment, also known as Estorff’s after its commander, also known, in a nod to HRH, as the Prince Regent’s. Among the von Röder paintings of Wallmoden’s forces in the Anne S K Brown collection is an officer of “Estorfsche Husaren” (below left); he wears a scarlet jacket with dark blue collar and cuffs, a scarlet pelisse, both with silver lace, grey overalls and a fur cap with a dark blue bag. The von Röder images are a bit quirky, and don’t always show quite what we might expect, but they do seem to be faithful attempts at an eyewitness record. [Click to enlarge images.]

Left to right: von Röder, Elberfeld, Vernet – a measure of agreement

Roughly compatible with this is an image dated to March 1814, from the Elberfeld Manuscript (“Darstellung … durch Elberfeld passierten Truppen”) in the Lipperheide collection at the Kunstbibliothek Berlin – or at least, from José Maria Bueno’s re-drawing of it, as I don’t have the original handy (above centre). Plus a third primary image of an Estorff, similar but with a dark blue jacket, by Antoine Charles Horace Vernet (Carle for short) from the Royal Collection (above right); the lace should be silver or white, but otherwise it’s a fit. (For a long time, this was catalogued as the King’s German Legion 3rd Hussars, which it certainly isn’t. We’ll revisit that particular confusion in a moment …) Yes, the red/blue jacket issue is a problem, but at least we have a measure of agreement between these three.

Added Nov 2107:

Since posting these three sources, I’ve come across a number of 20th century images by Winand Aerts, based on  primary sources, that confirm this picture, showing the blue cap bag, blue jacket and red or scarlet pelisse, with reversed colours for a trumpeter. One image, in an album at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, is a copy of a period sketch by J B Rubens  in the Bibliothèque Royale in Brussels; the hussar wears overalls strapped, cuffed and patched. It’s a fair copy of the original (not reproducible here), though Aerts reduces the number of front loops for no reason other, I suppose, than carelessness. The remaining six are from Aerts’s album of Hanoverians at Paris; these are based on Rubens (supposedly), the Elberfeld Manuscript, a portrait of a veteran, and the recollections of an unnamed officer. Aerts’s work is not invariably watertight, and the second figure here, allegedly based on Rubens, shows inexplicable differences to the cap, collar, cuffs, sash and overalls. It’s also noticeable that one of his Elberfeld figures shows obvious differences (plume, pelisse trim) to the equivalent figure as re-drawn (above) by Bueno, though both have directly copied the same source. These are the sort of annoyances that plague research mediated by secondary sources …

So far, so good. Now let’s see what a more celebrated eyewitness source makes of the same regiment. Here (below left) is the Suhr brothers’ quite different take on the Estorffs (an officer, judging by the sash) – all dark blue with yellow facings and silver lace, including a light between the overall stripes; most surprising perhaps is the cap, maybe an unrolling mirliton type or, perhaps more likely, just peakless with cords. (I’ve borrowed this image from the very useful Napoleon Online site, from the copy at the Kunstbibliothek Berlin.) This startling difference requires modern commentators to posit two quite separate Estorff uniform styles – the “early” uniform as in Suhr and the “later” uniform as in von Röder, Elberfeld and Vernet. Or, as Achard and Bueno suggest in their edition of Suhr: “Possibly, we have here one of the first uniforms of the regiment, which had to wear garments and equipment from various regiments, before the regulation uniform was created.” Well, yes, possibly. And then again, possibly not.

Suhr’s “Estorff” plus Hamilton Smith’s 3rd Hussar equals Neumann’s “Estorff”

Move on a century or so, and we have a plate on the Estorff/Lüneburg Hussars (above right) from the watercolours by Friedrich Neumann known as “Landwehr und Freiwillige Truppen”, also in the Lipperheide collection at Berlin. (Borrowed from Napoleon Online again.) Apparently a private, but broadly similar, despite the grey overalls and the very different headgear and horse furniture. In fact the pose of the figure, and even the background foliage and fencing, seem so similar to Suhr that the derivation is obvious. But wait a minute – haven’t we seen this figure somewhere else? Those overalls, the sheepskin with the yellow scalloped edge, other smaller details – yes, it’s Charles Hamilton Smith’s 3rd Hussar of the King’s German Legion (above centre)! Neumann has borrowed it directly, but curiously, has replaced Suhr’s peakless cap and Hamilton Smith’s dragoon cap with the peaked fur cap associated with the 2nd and 3rd KGL Hussars. What’s going on?

The Elberfeld 3rd Hussar, via Bueno

Though Neumann’s work is sometimes mentioned today with reverence, something has clearly gone adrift here. As a possible solution to the puzzle, I’d suggest that both Suhr’s and Neumann’s figures in fact portray, with more or less accuracy, the 3rd Hussars, who after all were brigaded with the Estorffs/Lüneburgs at the time; either Suhr’s original identification was mistaken, or else at some point along the centuries both attributions have slipped. In support of this, we can point to another figure in the Elberfeld book, labelled as a “Hanoverian hussar”, which, despite some obvious discrepancies of detail, is a close relative to Suhr’s image. Since Elberfeld already contains an identified Estorff Hussar, as seen above, this one can only be intended as the 3rd Hussars. (Again, the version here is that re-drawn by Bueno.) The date of the original sketch, January 1816, would have been a month before the Third was disbanded.

So, I think both blue “Estorffs” – Suhr and Neumann – should be properly understood as records of the 3rd Hussars of the KGL, like their Elberfeld cousin; and on that basis the trio will be added in due course to my page on that regiment, though Neumann’s version, as a much later synthesis from conflicting sources, has to be considered the most artificial and the least valuable of the three.

Incidentally, isn’t Bueno’s drawing admirably stylish? So economically crisp, so fluent and animated; I’ve always liked it, and have always envied his prolific energy. But in this game the devil is in the detail, and such economy of style by its nature tends to eclipse detail …


King’s German Legion revisions

My KGL cavalry pages have seen some fairly extensive revision, correction and expansion lately – particularly those for the Hussar regiments and the Light Dragoons of 1813, which, though I say it myself, are now looking fairly comprehensive. Or as comprehensive as the evidence allows. If more information arrives, it will be added. The menu for these pages is in the sidebar to your right, or up the top and drop down.

As pages here in WordPress Land are not tagged, this post is just a way to throw some tags and images at Google, hopefully to allow searchers to discover the pages in question. Otherwise, please ignore this and carry on …


Where are the Warwickshires?

After all the gunners and Germans, back to the auxiliaries for a quick post, just in the hope that it might spark a response from somewhere …

The evidence trails left by Georgian county militia regiments are sometimes quite generous – prints, portraits, uniforms, unit histories … Odd then, that so little seems to be left, at least in the public domain beyond the archive bundles, of the Warwickshire Militia. Charles Lethbridge Kingsford’s The Story of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment (1921) has a couple of pages – the usual dates of embodiment and disembodiment, names of forgotten colonels and so forth, but it’s not much. Lawson’s History of the Uniforms of the British Army cites a single inspection report, while maps of militia encampments of the 1778 to 1783 embodiment suggest that the regiment’s green facings were of a mid shade, with a bluish tinge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here then, judging by the facings and silver lace, must be a Warwickshire officer. (Click to enlarge.) The subjects of this 1763 portrait by Arthur Devis are Francis Vincent, barrister, and his wife and daughter at Weddington Hall in Warwickshire. (The painting is now at Preston, and also viewable on the Art UK site, here.)  The composition is a little strained, and Vincent, who clearly posed separately for Devis, seems detached, even a little out of scale. The date, if accurate, would correspond with the end of the regiment’s first period of embodiment and Vincent’s return to his family. The papers in his hand and on the floor clearly tell a story, but his arrival with the good(?) news has an odd solemnity, as does the gaze of Mrs Vincent as it meets the viewer.

It’s a strangely compelling image. But can it be a sole survivor? Where are there other images of the Georgian Warwickshires?


A “strangely organized corps”: the Gunner Drivers

A new page on this site (go here, or use the menu at the right, bottom of ‘Pages’) is my imperfect attempt to sort out something of the dress of that rather odd affair, the Royal Artillery’s Corps of Gunner Drivers, aka Corps of Royal Artillery Drivers, aka Corps of Captain Commissaries. If not exhaustive, it’s maybe a bit exhausting, and better as a page than a post, so this is just a plug for it and a way to attach some tags.

It’s another of those the-more-you-stare-at-it-the-less-you-find-you-actually-know topics. But I hope it helps to make sense of the different jacket styles, and to throw a little light on the officer’s dress in particular, which is also picked apart on the corresponding page in the King’s German Legion series (on the Pages menu on the right).

Reviewing the state of knowledge of a topic like this brings out the sceptic in me. Modern illustrators and retailers of uniformology have sometimes borrowed and embroidered shamelessly, whipping up castles in thin air from the same pitifully few sources. But then, even at the time, Regency painters and purveyors of military prints cheerfully pirated each other’s “observations”. Maybe the least we can hope for is not to add to the sum total of misinformation in our turn.

Enough philosophy. And now, the Gunner Drivers