Category Archives: rifles

“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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Some thoughts on the King’s German Legion

My overwhelming interest, as posts here show, is in the auxiliary forces of the Georgian period, but recent discoveries have sparked a new interest in the dress of the King’s German Legion.

I’m in the process of laying out some aspects of this in a set of pages here, beginning with some thoughts on sources, then moving on to look at elements of the dress of the Legion in the light of those.

It seems to me that it’s a matter of unravelling some of the received wisdom, revisiting some primary sources and trying to take a fresh look. If and when new information comes along, the pages will be amended. And I’m always happy to be proved wrong!

So far, ten pages: on sources, the Line Battalions, the 1st and 2nd Light Battalions, the early Light Dragoons, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Hussars, the “Heavy” Dragoons and the later Light Dragoons. Artillery and Engineers to come in due course.

Links are just to your right, at the top of the side bar, under “Pages”, or use these:

page1: some sources

page 2: Line Battalions

page 3: 1st Light Battalion

page 4: 2nd Light Battalion

page 5: Light Dragoons 1803-7

page 6: 1st Hussars 1808-16

page 7: 2nd Hussars 1808-16

page 8: 3rd Hussars 1808-16

page 9: ‘Heavy’ Dragoons 1803-13

page 10: Light Dragoons 1813-16


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?


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:-

FIRST MATCH

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.

SECOND MATCH

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.


Bad tempered shooting matches (1)

Shooting competitions among the volunteers of the early 19th century were not always the convivial and gentlemanly events more typical of the rifle volunteer movement of the 1860’s. Here’s an example of one in Gloucestershire, involving two rifle companies, that got a little put of hand – not so much in the matter of the shooting, but as a consequence of the post-match celebrations. This is from Paul Hawkins Fisher’s Notes and Recollections of Stroud, Gloucestershire, of 1871:

There were, likewise, two rifle corps. One of these, the Severn Rifle Corps, consisting of three companies, numbering 180 men, was under the command of Major Samuel Wathen, of Newhouse, in this parish; and the other, called the King Stanley Riflemen, was commanded by Captain Nathaniel Peach Wathen, of Stanley House, in this county. The uniform of the former was a bottle-green jacket and pantaloons, with black velvet cuffs and collar, a black velvet stock, a helmeted cap with upright blue feather, black leather cross belts and pouch, with horn powder-flask, a short rifle, and sword; and the uniform, &c, of the latter corps very much resembled it.

"... resting their rifles on their caps": from J Jones, 'The Rifle Manual and Firing', 1804

“… resting their rifles on their caps”: from J Jones, ‘The Rifle Manual and Firing’, 1804

On the 19th of April, 1804, there was a shooting match on Broad-barrow Green between these two corps, which led to unpleasant consequences. It had been agreed that ten men of each corps should fire 30 shots at 150 yards, and 30 at 200 yards distance, and that the unsuccessful one should give the winners a dinner at the King’s Arms Inn (now the George Hotel) in Stroud. At the trial of skill, the Stanley riflemen, (all of whom, except one, fired standing) put into the target 11 shots at 150, and two at 200 yards ; and the Severn riflemen, (who lay down and fired, resting their rifles on their caps) put in 16 shots at 150, and 7 at 200 yards ; the latter being, of course, the victors. Modern riflemen may well smile at the target practice of that day.

The twenty sharp-shooters, and a few others of each corps, with their respective officers, dined at the King’s Arms, at the expense of the officers of the Stanley riflemen; the dinner passing off with great hilarity and satisfaction to all present. A somewhat incorrect report of the day’s proceedings, and especially of one of the toasts given after dinner, was written by James Burden, a private in the Severn rifle corps, and appeared in the next Gloucester Herald. This report gave such offence to the Stanley riflemen that, after several unsuccessful attempts to prevail on Burden to publish an apology for the obnoxious report, he was challenged to fight a duel with Joseph Cam, a private of that corps.

Upon this, Burden moved the Court of King’s Bench for a rule to show cause why a criminal information should not be filed against Captain N P Wathen, Joseph Cam, and Lieutenant Henry Perry, for a conspiracy to provoke him to fight a duel, in breach of the peace, &c.

A rule was granted, and on June the 16th, 1804, it was argued by Garrow and Wigley, on the part of the defendants, and by Erskine on the part of the prosecutor, – before Ellenborough, C J, and Le Blanc and Lawrence, J J – and was made absolute. A criminal prosecution was accordingly filed against Wathen, Cam and Perry, which was set down for hearing at the Spring Assizes for Gloucestershire, in 1805. A verdict of acquittal was entered by consent, the matter having been left to the arbitration of Milles and Dauncey, two leading barristers of the Oxford Circuit, – these gentlemen made their award during the same assizes; in which they certified their opinion – “That the publication in the Gloucester Herald was not intended to convey any imputation or reflection upon the whole or upon any member of the King Stanley riflemen, and that the consequences which followed such publication arose entirely from misapprehension”; concluding with – “We are therefore of opinion, under such circumstances, that further explanation is unnecessary.” Thus a foolish affair was terminated; though at the cost to the defendants of nearly five hundred pounds.