Tag Archives: Duke of Cumberland’s Sharpshooters

Sharpshooter boots and more new stuff

At the close of 1803 court reports in the British press noted the presentation to the King of:

A Duke of Cumberland’s Sharpshooter [National Army Museum]

Captain Barber, of the Duke of Cumberland’s Sharpshooters, or Rifle Corps … The Captain, although contrary to the etiquette of the Court, wore his cap, pantaloons, and boots, or high-laced shoes, for the inspection of his Majesty, who wished to see him in the full uniform of the corps.

A week later, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Hanson, of the Manchester Rifle Regiment, was also presented to GIIIR, dressed in exactly the same way, high-laced boots included. (For the Duke of Cumberland’s Sharpshooters see this post, and for Hanson and his Manchester regiment, this page.)

As Ben Townsend has astutely observed, here is a moment in British military fashion when the volunteer movement, particularly the rifle element of 1803, found itself on the curve of the avant-garde, able to set aspirations in military style that might influence the regular service. (Ben discusses this in the first volume of his thoroughly admirable and indispensable Fashioning Regulation, Regulating Fashion (of which a proper review will appear here soon, when the second volume appears).

6th Loyal London [Anne S K Brown collection]

But what exactly were these new “boots, or high laced shoes”, which the King wished to scrutinise? It’s surprisingly hard to say; period patterns and manuals for Georgian bootmakers seem remarkably elusive. An 1804 advert by Hickson, Boot-Maker, in the Strand, offers, among a vast range of desirable civilian and military boots in the highest style, “shooting shoes” and “backstrap lace boots for sharp shooters”. But other period sources seem to suggest that “strapped” and “laced” boots were not the same animal.

Contemporary accounts of the Cumberlands’ uniform mention “high shoes, laced in front”, while Henry Beaufoy, in Scloppetaria, his 1809 treatise on all things rifled, advocates the old fashioned low shoe and gaiter, deprecating the fashionable rifleman’s “laced half boot”:

It is not unusual with corps of government as well as volunteers, to reject the gaiter as being less neat, and adopt in its stead the small laced boot which was conceived to suit the uniform better! but surely it is a pity that neatness should be taken into consideration in preference to utility and convenience.

Not too hard, then, to imagine a half boot, or high shoe, laced up the front and tied at the top – but finding a clear image of it is another matter. The rather sleek watercolour of a Cumberland in the National Army Museum (detail left above) seems to suggest a line of lacing running in Xes up the front of the neat forward boot, but I don’t have a version with enough resolution to be sure. At top centre hangs what looks like the usual tassel, but must in fact be the ends of the lacing in some tasselled form. The Tomkins print of a rifleman of the 6th Loyal London Volunteers (detail right above) shows the tied laces hanging clearly, but doesn’t show any front lacing. Other images with dinky tasselled boots are plentiful but don’t solve the mystery.

And then, what’s a “backstrap lace boot”, and how does it differ from a strapped boot? Or a laced high shoe, for that matter? Guidance from those who know would be very welcome here!

While I have your attention, I’ll mention that since my last flagging up of new pages, I’ve added a few more:

Staffordshire Volunteer Infantry of 1803

East Yorkshire volunteer and association infantry and artillery of the 1790’s

– and the beginnings of what I hope will be a developing series on chosen county militias, from the revival of 1757 through to disembodiment at the close of the Napoleonic wars. The first being:

Staffordshire Militia 1776-1816

There’s also a very brief introductory page to the militia series here.

In the meantime, a few pages have been overhauled, with much new info on the Lancaster Volunteers of 1797 on this page, and on the Ulverston Light Infantry (Lancashire) of 1803 on this page. More to come, for sure.

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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.