Lancashire: Liverpool volunteer infantry and artillery of 1803

On this page are notes on the organisational basics, dress and equipage of the infantry and artillery volunteer corps of Liverpool formed or re-formed in the second wave of volunteering from 1803: First and Second Regiments (Boulton’s and Williams’s); Liverpool Fuzileers; Customs House; Rifle Corps and Artillery. These corps disbanded in 1808, many volunteers transferring to the Liverpool Local Militia.

Picking apart the 1803 corps can be difficult, with two First and two Second Regiments at different points in time, and references to unidentified “Liverpool Volunteers”; in addition, the volunteers of this phase were successors to those of 1797-8, namely, the Liverpool Independent Companies (later amalgamated as the First Regiment), Second Regiment and Artillery. These ambiguities make it difficult at times to allot buttons and plates with confidence.

The majority of Lancashire volunteer infantry of the period adhered in their dress to the current essentials of their county militia regiments – dark blue facings, gold officers’ metal, buttons spaced either in pairs (1st Regiment) or singly (2nd and 3rd Regiments). (Further details on the Local Militia page.) With variations, this basic scheme was used by most Liverpool corps, excepting the Fuzileers and Rifles. The use of dark blue facings in imitation of county Militia to whom the “Royal” title had been granted, allowed some of the 1803 Liverpool corps to style themselves as “Royal”, as had their predecessors, though I’ve seen no authorisation for this; even corps not faced blue (the Fuzileers and Rifles) are sometimes found tagged as “Royal”.

The listing of corps and their commanding officers is largely from the House of Commons return of December 1803, Stockdale’s list of 1804 based on the return, the War Office volunteer list of 1805, and Willson’s chart of 1806. I’ve also referred throughout to several 19th century local histories, detailed below, and also to the very useful recent articles by Dennis Reeves, though these do not identify the primary sources used.

The evidence compiled and reviewed here is largely limited to brief uniform descriptions, and to surviving plates and buttons. It’s really only a framework; much could be clarified and added, and further information will be included as and when it arrives. Click to enlarge images.

[Volunteers of the United Kingdom1803, House of Commons, December 1803; List of the Volunteer and Yeomanry Corps of the United Kingdom … , John Stockdale, London, 1804; A List of the Officers of the Militia, Gentlemen & Yeomanry Cavalry and Volunteer Infantry of the United Kingdom, 11th Edition, War Office, October 1805; James Willson, A View of the Volunteer Army of Great Britain in the Year 1806. Thomas Kaye, The Stranger in Liverpool. An historical and descriptive view …, 1833. Thomas Baines, History of the Commerce and Town of Liverpool, 1852. J P Earwaker, Local Gleanings Relating to Lancashire and Cheshire, Vol 1, 1875-6. Dennis Reeves, “Military Formations in Liverpool” Part 2, MHS Bulletin 140, May 1985. Dennis Reeves, “The Liverpool Volunteers”, MHS Bulletin 269, 272, August 2017, May 2018.]


First Battalion, Liverpool Volunteers / First Regiment, Royal Liverpool Volunteers

Lieut Col John Bolton.  Initially proposed at 600 strong. Ten companies.

Following changes by government to volunteer conditions of service, which Bolton’s men declined to accept, the corps tendered its resignation to government; it was disbanded on 26 August 1806, and its arms delivered to the commanding officer.  (One source ascribes the disbandment to the creation of the Local Militia, but this is a clear error.)

Bolton proposed to clothe the regiment at his own expence. Willson’s chart gives red faced blue, no officer’s lace, white legwear. By 1805 the regiment wore pantaloons (presumably white, and with short gaiters), as revealed by the court martial in January that year of a permanent sergeant who had pawned ten pairs entrusted to his care. (He was sentenced to 100 lashes and to be drummed out, but when he was tied to the halberts, Bolton humanely remitted the first part of the sentence.)

An equestrian portrait of Bolton by Charles Towne, now at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, confirms these colours. (It is titled on the ArtUK site as Colonel Bolton Reviewing Volunteers and dated to 1828-30; these dates are clearly wrong, and there are no other volunteers in sight.) Bolton wears a scarlet coat faced dark blue (appearing virtually black), with gilt buttons singly spaced on front and cuffs, and a single button visible on the collar. Epaulettes are gilt, as is some form of turnback ornament. His hat plume, white over red, is tall and straight.

An unidentified light company officer’s jacket sold recently is compatible with this. This is scarlet with dark blue collar and cuffs. The collar has a small button and twist hole at each side, and apparently small buttons at the lower collar edge for epaulettes. The front has two rows of eight large buttons, the cuffs four buttons each with twist holes. I do not know if the inside lapels have twist holes. The slash pocket flaps have four large buttons and twist holes each, with two large buttons at the rear waist and one in each pleat. The white turnbacks are narrowly edged in dark blue and have as ornaments gilt bugles on dark blue cloth. The buttons on this jacket are gilt, slightly convex, and have a raised design of script “LV” within a beaded circular border on a crowned eight rayed star. An identical gilt button, not attributed, is in the Gaunt collection at Birmingham Museum.

The initials on these buttons might suggest that the jacket could have belonged to any corps beginning with “L”, except that P W Reynolds’s V&A Lancashire notebook (thanks to Ben Townsend for an image) shows a similar belt plate identified to Liverpool volunteers. This oval plate, described as brass with a gilt “cypher”, shows a crown over script “LV” as on the buttons just discussed. It is said to have been found in Crosby, near Liverpool, to be “exactly the same as one in the Liverpool Museum,” and to have been exhibited as from Liverpool. These factors have some force, but the identification of this plate, and the jacket above, have to be tentative for now.

Reeves illustrates a different button, showing a crowned garter inscribed “PRO ● ARIS ● ET ● FOCIS ●” in Roman capitals, enclosing the “GR” cypher, above “1st LIVERPOOL”; this is identified to this corps and period, and its design fits with the belt plate shown below. However, a belt plate of the Liverpool Independent Volunteers of 1797, later amalgamated as that regiment, also uses this motto, so I am not entirely confident about the dating.

The belt plate attributed by Reeves to this regiment is different to that shown by Reynolds. The design of the oval plate (presumably gilt or brass) is identical to that of the Fuzileers (see below), except for the inscription: a circular crowned garter inscribed “LIVERPOOL + REGIMENT”, enclosing the “GR” cypher.

Reeves illustrates a Tarleton helmet badge (below left) identified to this regiment and inscribed “Pro Aris et Focis”, but without evidence that either the light company or the entire regiment wore Tarletons in this period, which seems improbable, this must surely be attributed to the previous First Regiment?

Tarleton badge

The drum-major’s staff was presented to the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire in the early 1870’s, but I do not know if it has survived, or if so, where. It is described as five feet in length, “banded” and tasselled with silk. The upper part, including a “semi-globular” head, is engraved silver, a “medallion” on the top bearing a crown over the “GR” cipher, and inscribed “Royal Liverpool Volunteers”.

The regiment was presented with its colours by Prince William, Duke of Gloucester on 15 January 1804.

“Faithful Service” medals of the regiment given at the disbandment in 1806 feature the arms of Lieut Col Bolton (right), on a rococo escutcheon in the form of a shell; it’s only my speculation, but perhaps these arms may have featured on the regimental colour.

[Lancaster Gazette, 21 January 1804, 2 February 1805. Chester Chronicle, 1 February 1805. Chester Courant, 26 August, 2 September 1806. Staffordshire Advertiser, 4 June 1803. Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire Vol XIII, Liverpool, 1873.]


Second Regiment, Liverpool Volunteers / Third Regiment, Liverpool Volunteers / Second Regiment, Royal Liverpool Volunteers / First Regiment, Royal Liverpool Volunteers

Lieut Col Comm George Williams. Ten companies, including flank companies, in 1803. Reported as nearly 700 strong in late November. By the close of that year the regiment included an eleventh, artillery, company under Capt Andrew Todd Paterson. On the disbandment of Bolton’s First Regiment in August 1806, this corps was re-numbered as the First. It disbanded in 1808.

In late November 1803 the corps was re[ported as “all completely clothed and equipped”. Willson’s chart gives red faced blue with silver officer’s lace, and blue pantaloons. Among the crowd in Robert Salmon’s painting, at the Walker Art Gallery, of Liverpool Town Hall illuminated in 1806 for the visit of the Prince of Wales, is a small figure in cap, scarlet jacket, white sabre belt and dark blue pantaloons, which could be intended for a light company officer of this regiment.

Reeves illustrates a distinctive plate for the 1800 cap, 108 mm high, the embossed design showing a crowned Union wreath and trophy of arms etc, enclosing an oval escutcheon showing a Liver bird, above ribbons inscribed “LIVERPOOL / VOLUNTEERS” in Roman capitals.

Two “silver badges” of “the Liverpool Volunteers” were donated to Liverpool Museum in 1910, which were presumably of this corps, since the First Regiment wore gold metal. A silvered version of the design attributed to the First Regiment (see above) is a possibility, but I can’t confirm that.

Lieut Col Hollinshead, second in command, raised at his colliery, and clothed, a company of pioneers to serve with the regiment.

The “musical amateurs of the Music-hall” in Liverpool were reported to have offered themselves as a regimental band, and a report of August 1803 confirms that “A military band [for this regiment] had been raised by the musical amateurs of the Choral Society.” The Liverpool Music Hall had opened in Bold Street in 1785, intended for triennial music concerts, with a capacity of thirteen hundred. (My thanks to Eamonn O’Keeffe for his help on this aspect.)

Reeves states that the artillery company inherited two six-pounder “Parish” guns from a previous volunteer corps; these would have been one of the pairs presented in 1799 by the Parish of Liverpool to the then First and Second Volunteer Regiments. (These are presumably the same two brass guns that were, according to Gomer Williams, presented to this regiment by a Mr Ford North “completely equipped for service”. The other pair was now manned by the Fuzileers – see below.) Willson’s chart gives the artillery uniform as blue, faced red, gold officer’s lace, with blue legwear, presumably pantaloons as the infantry.

The regiment’s colours were later presented to the Corporation by Williams’ sons, and were kept in the Town Hall. In 1910 these colours (“Flag, 2nd Regiment” and “Silk Union Jack”) were passed to Liverpool Museum. The cap plate shown above includes simple renditions of two colours, one Union, the other showing a five-petalled Lancashire rose; both are shown with fringes. They may perhaps be intended to represent to some degree the colours of the corps.

[Staffordshire Advertiser, Saturday 04 June 1803. Chester Courant, 29 November 1803. Fifty-eighth Annual Report to the Libraries, Museums, Arts Committee, of the City of Liverpool … , Liverpool, 1911. Gomer Williams, History of the Liverpool Privateers and Letters of Marque, 1897. Fifty-eighth Annual Report to the Libraries, Museums, Arts Committee, of the City of Liverpool … , Liverpool, 1911.]


Liverpool Fuzileers / Royal Liverpool Fuzileers / Second Battalion, Liverpool Volunteers

Lieut Col William Earle. The six company battalion included grenadier and light companies, and by the close of 1803 its artillery section had been expanded to a company under Capt Francis Jordan. The corps disbanded in 1808, Earle becoming commanding officer of the Liverpool Local Militia.

Willson’s chart gives the uniform colours as red, faced yellow, with no officer’s lace and white legwear. (Reeves states that the legwear was white breeches with black gaiters, as opposed to pantaloons, though this may be an assumption.) The yellow facings hardly justified a “Royal” title.

Silvered buttons are known, 18 mm in diameter. The raised design shows a garter with beaded edges inscribed “LIVERPOOL FUZILEERS” in Roman capitals, enclosing a crown.

Battalion company belt plates have been recorded by P W Reynolds and Reeves and sold by Dix Noonan Webb. The incised design matches that shown above for the First Regiment, but with the inscription “LIVERPOOL + FUZILEERS” in Roman capitals. The DNW example was described as cast brass but seems to show remains of silvering; Reynolds says “engraved silver”.

Reynolds and Reeves also illustrate a distinctive light company plate; this is oval, described by Reynolds as gilt brass, but “all orn[ament]s in silver and mounted on”. The design is an oval crowned garter inscribed “LIVERPOOL ● FUSILEERS” (with an “S”) in sans serif capitals, enclosing a bugle. There are slight differences in the two drawings, Reeves showing the inscription as on the battalion company plate. Reynolds correctly points out that the gilt of this plate is hardly compatible with the silver of the buttons and first plate, but Reeves notes elsewhere, from an unidentified source, a belt plate for this corps being described as “brass with a silver nameplate”. We may have to live with these anomalies.

The artillery company, according to Reeves, manned two of the “Parish guns” originally presented in 1799 by the Parish of Liverpool to the then First and Second Volunteer Regiments, the other pair now belonging to Williams’ Second Regiment. Willson’s chart gives the artillery uniform as blue faced red, with gold officer’s lace and blue legwear.


Custom House Volunteers / Liverpool Independent Company / Royal Custom House Infantry

Capt Arthur Onslow (see Ind below) Raised independently by by Edmund (wrongly, Edward) Rigby (wrongly, Rigley) within the Customs service. One company, subsequently two. Disbanded in 1808.

Willson’s chart gives red, faced blue, no officer’s lace, with light blue pantaloons.


Liverpool Independent Rifle Corps / Liverpool Riflemen / Royal Liverpool Rifle Corps

Captain Comm Lieut D O’Donoghue (on half pay from 22nd Light Dragoons), Capt Comm Hamer Gaskell (Gaskill). Two companies. Reeves states that the corps “disappeared c 1806”.

Willson’s chart gives green faced black, black officer’s lace, green pantaloons. Reeves states that the uniform was rifle green with black collar and cuffs, black velvet stock, rifle green pantaloons, black cloth half-gaiters and shoes. Officers’ jackets were trimmed with black braid and they wore sashes. An undress jacket (for officers or all ranks?) had white metal buttons. The greatcoat (for all ranks?) was dark green.

Reeves states that the buttons were “bronze” with the monogram “L.I.R.C.” beneath a crown. Given the “Royal” title sometimes used, another possibility may be an unidentified convex silvered button with the design of script “RLRV” beneath a crown, perhaps for “Royal Liverpool Rifle Volunteers”, but this is only my speculation.

In late December 1803 the corps was reported as “properly armed and accoutred with knapsacks, canteens, &c.” Reeves states that the rifles of the corps were produced by Jeremiah Patrick, a well known Liverpool maker.

[Lancaster Gazette, 31 December 1803.]


Liverpool Volunteer Artillery / Royal Liverpool Artillery

Major Comm Peter Whitfield Brancker (wrongly, Branker). This battalion originated in a meeting in May 1803, at which Mersey boatmen, secured from impressment, offered to assist in working the guns at the forts. The four “Parish guns” used by the earlier volunteers were now in service with the Second Regiment and Fuzileers (see above). Reeves states that it was proposed to provide six other field pieces to form a brigade (or battery) of “Flying Artillery”, and that an estimate of the required strength of 600 men for the battalion allowed for manning 29 guns “in different batteries”, ten guns “in the port”, ten “artillery guns” (presumably counting also the “Parish guns” mentioned above) and two gun-boats.

Willson’s chart gives blue faced red, gold officer’s lace, blue legwear. Two different buttons are known which might be of this corps, but that lettered “L I A V” for “Independent Artillery Volunteers” should perhaps be attributed to the corps of 1798. The better bet is a flat button, copper or gilt, showing the Ordnance shield within “LIVERPOOL VOLTR ARTILLERY” in Roman capitals; an example is on display at Birmingham Museum.

An oval belt plate donated to Liverpool Museum in 1910, as drawn by Reynolds, shows a crown over “LAV” in script with the Liver bird below, but its similarity to that of the Independent Volunteers of 1797 means that it should probably be attributed to the Artillery of the First Battalion of 1798.

[Fifty-eighth Annual Report to the Libraries, Museums, Arts Committee, of the City of Liverpool … , Liverpool, 1911.]

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