Z is for Zulu Blue Books

This is the Clermont Club which shared space with Annabel’s nightclub at 44 Berkeley Square. I have put it here because the only references I can find to my old friend Michael Hicks Beach on the internet are those concerning his meeting with Lord Lucan on the day before Lucan killed his nanny, Sandra Rivett, on 7th November 1974. According to James Fox in The Sunday Times, Michael claimed to be a literary agent in those days. I don’t believe a word of it – Michael was much too widely read. Anyway, after lunching, they spent the afternoon until about 4pm discussing an article Lucan had written about gambling. Discussing a bottle of wine more like. And there were few better ways to spend an afternoon when Michael was still alive. Then Lucan drove Michael home to his flat in Fulham making Michael the penultimate person to see Lucan before the murder. The last was Billy, the doorman at the Clermont, who told Lucan when he drove by at about 8pm that none of his friends were there. Read all about it all over the net.

The relevance of this is John Aspinall, who had founded the Clermont in 1962 and sold it on to Playboy in 1972. Michael was one of the many people who spent a convivial evening at the Clermont and came out of it owing Aspinall large sums of money. It wasn’t a loss on the scale of William Stirling’s but was still more than he was prepared to divulge to his parents. The delightful Aspers allowed him to pay it back in instalments, letting him play at the Clermont with his losses covered by the club and his winnings repaying the debt. While this arrangement wasn’t illegal, it would definitely have been of interest to other club members had they been aware of it.

Scroll on twenty odd years. Michael had invented a very succesful board game but the royalties were beginning to dry up. He elected to become a book dealer. And in a combined operation he and I ended up with a vast number of parliamentary papers. We hired a store room with trestle tables in it, and walked round and round them dealing out blue books into separate piles in the hope of finding sequences.

The whole process reminded me of constructing catalogues backs in the 1970s. First I typed the separate pages on stencils cutting holes for letters. Then I fed the stencils through a Gestetner duplicating machine to ink as many pages as I needed – two hundred was about the limit for each stencil. Finally I put the separate pages in piles around a large table which I circumnavigated collecting one of each page to form a catalogue that I then stapled together. Today it takes about thirty minutes today to run off a state of the art PDF. Then a short catalogue took three full days of hard work.

One of the things Michael and I found we owned was a complete sequence of the South Africa Papers from 1876 to 1885. Michael was sure he could sell this to Aspinall, now the owner of Howletts Zoo.

He must have sold it. Neither the Zulu papers nor the Zulu Civil War papers appear among the 198 entries on the joint list we issued, though I do have index cards for both in my catalogue boxes. This was in the days before anyone uploaded photographs to the internet so you’ll have to make do with a later picture of one of the component papers:

This is the seventh blue book in the South Africa series that begins with Correspondence Respecting the War between the Transvaal Republic and neighbouring native tribes, and generally with reference to native affairs in South Africa. Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty April 1877. C 1748. The formula ‘by command of Her Majesty’ indicates a paper containing information that government has chosen or has been compelled to bring to the attention of the House. The correct term is ‘sessional paper’, ‘blue book’ referring to the colour of the paper covers. Sometimes – The Death of Hintsa for example in X for Xhosa – a paper is not continued by further papers. Though, of course, the death of Hintsa by no means terminated British involvement with the Xhosas so that this one-off paper is frequently referred to in later, technically unrelated. Usually an initial paper recording an event which has attracted the attention of the House or an individual Member of Parliament is continued by other papers, the thread of continuity being supplied by the number of the paper which is displayed bottom left in square brackets and the formulation below the title “in continuation of C….” The paper illustrated above is of no great interest concerning mainly operations against the Xhosa in the Transkei.

The Zulu War series proper starts with the eleventh paper in the sequence, number 2222. Its final serials record the drift to war with the Zulus through Sir Bartle Frere’s despatches. One of these is pithily summarised by the indexer who lists its contents as “stating at much length, his conviction that war with Cetewayo is unavoidable, and that its best sequence would be annexation; points out that it is an utter impossibility for us to live side by side with savages unless we assert our authority in a very marked and decided manner.”

The paper everybody wants is the thirteenth in the series:

Further Correspondence Respecting the Affairs of South Africa in continuation of C 2242 of February 1879. Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty March 1879. C 2252.
97pp; 2 folding maps (Langeberg; rough sketch of Isandhlwana by Colonel Bray based on Mr Brickhill’s information). Folio, blue paper wrappers, good condition.
(Serial 1 is Colonel Warren’s final report on operations on the desert frontier of Griqualand West and includes a very large folding map to illustrate the action at Langeberg on 14 October 1878. Also irrelevant to Zululand are lengthy appendices on legal problems arising from the conversion of the frontier police units into mounted regiments. But the majority of entries at this point of crisis do refer to the Zulu War. Serial 19 prints correspondence with Bishop Colenso on the boundary question. Serial 21 is the official report on ‘the disaster at Indula, and the heroic defence of Rorke’s Drift’ and serial 22 is Lord Chelmsford’s 5 page despatch on the disaster.)

We decided to end what we called the Zulu War sequence with the twenty eighth in the series, C 2695, which has a very large folding map shewing the division of Zululand into thirteen independent kingdoms. After that, our attention – like that of the House of Commons – turned to the Transvaal and the events that built up into what is now called the First Anglo-Boer War. Predictably enough the division of Zululand into thirteen statelets did not result in peace and harmony ever after. More on the Zulu Civil War later.

Between 1969 and 1971 the Irish University Press printed nearly all 19th Century blue books in a series of about 1000 Folio volumes of about 400 pages each. Individual parliamentary papers were classified into subject areas with sub-classifications as required. The list below is adapted from the library catalogue of the University of California Los Angeles. Take the trouble to wade through it.


  • General, 1820 – 1897 (32 volumes)
  • Animal Health, 1866 – 1898 (4 volumes)


  • Aboriginees, 1834 – 1836 (3 volumes)


  • General, 1830 – 1899 (37 volumes)
  • Africa, 1801 – 1899 (70 volumes)
  • Australia, 1816 – 1899 (34 volumes)
  • Canada, 1802 – 1899 (33 volumes)
  • Canadian Boundary, 1831 – 1894 (3 volumes)
  • East India, 1805 – 1874 (22 volumes)
  • New Zealand, 1835 – 1896 (17 volumes)
  • West Indies, 1806 – 1899 (10 volumes)

Crime & Punishment

  • Civil Disorder, 1835 – 1887 (8 volumes)
  • Juvenile Offenders, 1847 – 1897 (6 volumes)
  • Penal Servitude, 1878 – 1879 (2 volumes)
  • Police, 1812 – 1892 (10 volumes)
  • Prisons, 1808 – 1899 (21 volumes)
  • Transportation, 1810 – 1869 (16 volumes)


  • General, 1847 – 1896 (46 volumes)
  • British Museum, 1835 – 1899 (4 volumes)
  • Fine Arts, 1841 – 1897 (6 volumes)
  • Poorer Classes, 1816 – 1896 (9 volumes)
  • Public Libraries, 1849 – 1852 (2 volumes)
  • Scientific and Technical, 1867 – 1884 (8 volumes)


  • Emigration, 1826 – 1899 (28 volumes)


  • Ireland, 1846 – 1853 (8 volumes)


  • Fisheries, 1805 – 1894 (7 volumes)

Fuel and Power

  • Coal Trade, 1830 – 1873 (5 volumes)
  • Gas, 1809 – 1899 (6 volumes)
  • Mining Accidents, 1835-1899 (12 volumes)
  • Mining Districts, 1839-1859 (2 volumes)
  • Mining Royalties, 1887 – 1894 (3 volumes)


  • Civil Service, 1837 – 1892 (12 volumes)
  • Diplomatic Service, 1835 – 1872 (4 volumes)
  • Elections, 1834 – 1898 (5 volumes)
  • Municipal Corporations, 1833 – 1839 (9 volumes)


  • General, 1837 – 1899 (17 volumes)
  • Food and Drugs, 1852 – 1896 (5 volumes)
  • Infectious Diseases, 1847 – 1896 (13 volumes)
  • Medical Profession, 1828 – 1882 (5 volumes)
  • Mental, 1807 – 1897 (8 volumes)

Industrial Relations

  • Industrial Relations, 1824 – 1899 (44 volumes)

Industrial Revolution

  • Children’s Employment, 1816 – 1867 (15 volumes)
  • Design, 1835 – 1853 (4 volumes)
  • Factories, 1835 – 1899 (31 volumes)
  • Textiles, 1802 – 1845 (10 volumes)
  • Trade, 1820 – 1833 (5 volumes)


  • Insurance, Friendly Societies, 1825 – 1899 (10 volumes)


  • Inventions, 1829 – 1872 (2 volumes)

Legal Administration

  • General, 1829 – 1887 (16 volumes)
  • Criminal Law, 1819 – 1879 (6 volumes)

Marriage and Divorce

  • Marriage and Divorce, 1830 – 1896 (3 volumes)

Military and Naval

  • Military and Naval, 1809 – 1900 (6 volumes)

Monetary Policy

  • General, 1793 – 1898 (12 volumes)
  • Commercial Distress, 1847 – 1858 (4 volumes)
  • Currency, 1837 – 1899 (8 volumes)
  • Decimal Coinage, 1852 – 1860 (2 volumes)
  • Joint Stock Banks, 1836 – 1838 (1 volume)
  • Savings Bank, 1849 – 1894 (4 volumes)

National Finance

  • General, 1840 – 1898  (8 volumes)
  • Income Tax, 1851 – 1861 (2 volumes)


  • Newspapers, 1814 – 1888 (2 volumes)

Poor Law

  • Poor Law, 1837 – 1900 (30 volumes)


  • Population, 1801 – 1891 (25 volumes)


  • Religion, 1867 – 1870 (3 volumes)

Shipping, Safety

  • Shipping, Safety, 1802 – 1889 (0 volumes)

Slave Trade

  • Slave Trade, 1801 – 1899 (95 volumes)

Social Problems

  • Drunkenness, 1872 – 1879 (4 volumes)
  • Gambling, 1808 – 1898 (2 volumes)
  • Sunday Observance, 1831 – 1890 (3 volumes)

Stage and Theatre

  • Stage and Theatre, 1831 – 1892 (3 volumes)

Trade and Industry

  • Depression, 1886 (3 volumes)
  • Explosives, 1802 – 1894 (2 volumes)
  • Navigation Laws, 1847 – 1848 (2 volumes)
  • Silver and Gold Wares, 1817 – 1894 (2 volumes)
  • Tobacco, 1806 – 1884 (2 volumes)

Transport & Communications

  • Post and Telegraphs, 1837 – 1898  (8 volumes)
  • Transport, 1817 – 1899 (22 volumes)

Urban Areas

  • Housing, 1881 – 1885 (3 volumes)
  • Planning, 1833 – 1894 (10 volumes)
  • Sanitation, 1823 – 1894 (7 volumes)
  • Water Supply, 1821 – 1900 (9 volumes)

This is a brilliant classification of 19th Century blue books. It’s worth studying because it demonstrates the subjects that interested the Houses of Parliament at the time. But the classification is not that of the House of Commons or Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. It is derived from T P O’Neill’s British Parliamentary Papers: a monograph of blue books. Unsurprisingly perhaps since T P O’Neill was editorial director of the IUP Library of Fundamental Source Books.

The disjunction between the IUP classification and the various attempts by HMSO to classify the papers creates problems. At the largest level the word ‘Anthropology’ doesn’t appear anywhere on the titlepage of the original report from the Select Committee on Aborigines. Indeed I’d be surprised if it even occurred to Buxton and his committee that their investigation of the treatment of native people by the British colonial authorities had anything to do with anthropology. Deeper problems still occur when papers from different sequences are contained in the same volume since these are ordered according to the demands of the IUP classification system. The result is that it is almost impossible to use the IUP series in conjunction with the HMSO guides.

Our Blue Books catalogue was filled with blue books that are difficult to classify. Paper 1997 of 1854 and its continuation Paper 2111 of 1855 concern Sierra Leone and two expeditions against the Moriah Chiefs. The second expedition ended in disaster when more than fifty men of the 1st and 3rd West India Regiments were killed in action at Malageah. The old HMSO general index to sessional papers 1801-1859 finesses the problem by bunging it in with everything else on Sierra Leone:

Lord knows what the IUP make of it. Is it under Slavery or British Colonies: Africa or both? And what about Paper 7708 of 1895 concerning Military Operations against Kabarega, King of Unyoro? In theory it stands alone. In practice Paper 7924 of 1896 obviously continues the earlier paper though it doesn’t actually say so on the titlepage. Once again the plodding HMSO index makes light of the problem. IUP miss it altogether.

And so to the Zulu Civil War sequence which Michael must also have sold. While Zululand collapsed into chaos, its erstwhile king Cetshwayo travelled to London to plead for his restoration. A new sequence of South Africa papers starts with Correspondence respecting the Affairs of Zululand and the Proposed Visit of Cetywayo to England. Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty June 1882. C 3247. The Zulu king’s visit was a triumph. The Queen received him at Osborne. Even Bright was impressed.

The fifth paper in the sequence, number 3616, includes Sir Theophilus Shepstone’s 20 page report on his expedition to re-establish Cetshwayo in a specially created Zulu Reserve and has reports from Henry Fynn, the newly appointed British Resident, on the king’s immediate attempts to reassert his authority outside the Reserve. The next paper, number 3705, records the increasing chaos and the sad realisation that the king never intended to return “to an inferior state of position, power and wealth to that which he had held before the war of 1879”. Cetshwayo was defeated by Zibhebhu kaMapitha at Ondini on 21st July 1883 and had to retreat to the Reserve where he died early in 1884. Amidst masterly inactivity by the British, the Usibebu and the Usuthu fought it out assisted by Boer mercenaries. There are 21 papers in all ending with 6070 of 1890. If anybody won, it was the Boers.

Thank you to everyone who has read this A to Z which has been a voyage of rediscovery so far as I’m concerned. But a time consuming one which is why I shall desist from blogging for a few weeks.

Y is for Frederick Duke of York

This spirited engraving is one of the illustrations in A Biographical Memoir of His Late Royal Highness Frederick Duke of York and Albany; commander-in-chief of the forces of Great Britain, &c.&c.&c. by John Watkins. You need to read the text to realise that the martial Duke is not cutting his way towards victory but is escaping while surrounded and in danger of being captured at the Battle of Tourcoing. Yes, it’s that Duke of York, whose second campaign in the Low Countries was no more successful than his first:

The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men.
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again.
And when they were up, they were up.
And when they were down, they were down.
And when they were only halfway up,
They were neither up nor down.

And whose portraits

generally give the appearance of an old buffer who has had at least one bottle too many

and lost a fortune at cards (both of which the duke did frequently). Even “the unerring hand and eye” of Sir Thomas Lawrence (above) can do little more than reveal a sensualist soon to die of dropsy. Add to this a full blown scandal involving the sale of commissions in the army and you could be forgiven for thinking there was little positive to say about the duke. You’d be wrong however. He was the best commander-in-chief Great Britain has ever had. Waterloo owed as much to the Duke of York as it did to the Duke of Wellington.

Frederick Augustus (1763-1827) was the second son of George III. At the age of six months he was appointed Prince Bishop of Osnabruck following the death of the previous Roman Catholic incumbent. At the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 it had been determined that the bishopric should alternate between Roman Catholics and Lutherans and that the Lutheran bishops should be chosen from the younger children of the Electors of Hanover. Opinions vary as to the income generated by Osnabruck which Frederick Augustus controlled from 1783 when he entered into possession. Ian Kelly in Beau Brummel puts it at £45,000. Dr Watkins states improbably that the Duke of York derived “no benefit” from Osnabruck because of the “dissensions” aroused by the circumstances of his election. A reasonable ball park figure is £20,000. This was to be significant in the years of George III’s mental instability since Frederick Augustus alone of all his children wasn’t dependent on the king’s manipulation of the civil list and the monarch’s hereditary income. It certainly cemented his friendship with his older brother who was increasingly at odds with his father. He benefited from this income until 1803 when Napoleon reformed the prince bishopric out of existence, incorporating it into Westphalia.

George III decided early that Frederick Augustus was to have a military career. The boy was gazetted colonel in November 1780. He left at the end of the following month for the University of Gottingen. He didn’t return to England until July 1786 by which time he’d been promoted to lieutenant general and created Duke of York and Albany. His want of experience as a regimental officer was to impact on his performance as an army commander.

In 1791 the duke married Princess Frederica Charlotte of Prussia. The duke was in debt as usual and Frederica’s money was her main attraction. The marriage was unhappy and produced little enthusiasm at home. Sometimes one can’t help but feel that Dr Watkins has his tongue in his cheek:

In 1793 the duke (as he now was) was promoted to full general and sent to Flanders to command the British contingent in the motley allied army under Coburg that intended to invade revolutionary France and restore the monarchy. The campaign began well. The French were defeated at Neerwinden and driven out of the Austrian Netherlands. Then Coburg set about taking French frontier fortresses. The newly arrived Duke of York was deputed to take Valenciennes. The duke had fully mastered the academic techniques of formal siege craft. After moving forward his batteries in the prescribed manner, the duke launched The Grand Attack on Valenciennes by the Combined Armies under the Command of His Royal Highness the Duke of York, 25 July 1793 depicted below by de Loutherbourg. By all accounts the duke behaved with great personal gallantry.

The success at Valenciennes was the high water mark of the duke’s active military career. In 1794 he suffered a notable defeat at Tourcoing (where we started) and in 1795 the British contingent was evacuated via Bremen. The duke’s second and last campaign was in 1799 when – now a field marshal – he commanded the British contingent in the Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland. It was a complicated campaign that included notable successes (such as the capture of the Dutch fleet) but that was doomed by a fundamental misconception, that the Dutch population would, like the Italian population, rebel against the French occupying forces and overturn the puppet Batavian Republic. The misconception was Pitt’s not the duke’s. The allied force was allowed to withdraw by the Convention of Alkmaar.

The immediate lesson the Duke of York learned from the 1799 campaign was the need to ensure that all field officers were adequately trained. He himself was an example of a man who had attained the rank of colonel without passing through any of the lower ranks. He wasn’t alone in this. Under the purchase system as it then operated it was open to anyone with the necessary means to purchase a lieutenant colonelcy. The duke put an immediate stop to the practice, ordering that no one should be appointed lieutenant colonel who hadn’t served in the army for at least six years. The duke had also been impressed by French riflemen. The creation of a Rifle Brigade under Coote Manningham was another immediate and easy reform.

Other necessary reforms required harder work. The duke instituted a system of monthly returns whereby all units were required to report ration strengths and other details. The regulations and orders of men like Marlborough and Cumberland were updated and simplified and published as General Regulations and Orders for the conduct of His Majesty’s forces in Great Britain. The commissariat “which from time immemorial had been an infinite source of fraud” was subjected to root and branch reform. Work got under way which was to culminate in the nineteen reports of the Commissioners of Military Enquiry.

All this required exceptionally hard work by the duke who, as commander in chief, shared the Horse Guards building with the Secretary of War. His work load intensified in 1804 when vast numbers of men joined various volunteer units in an Army of Reserve formed when French invasion was feared. The duke rarely visited his country house at Oatlands, preferring to spend his evenings gambling and his nights with Mrs Clarke.

Mary Anne Thompson (1776-1852) was briefly married to a stonemason called Clarke. She had a brief career on the stage, probably mainly so as to advertise her charms, though her Portia was much admired. She lived with various men before being picked up, apparently literally off the street, by the Duke of York.

Captain Gronow in his Reminiscences and Recollections dwells at length on Mary Anne, a lady “remarkable for her beauty and her fascinations” whose wit “was piquant and saucy”. After dismissing her own accounts in The Authentic and Impartial Life of Mrs. Mary Anne Clarke and The Authentic Memoirs of Mrs. Clarke (sold to different publishers) “as all her stories were considered apocryphal” the gallant captain gives us his own account of her capture of the duke, and continues:

“Mrs Mary Anne Clarke was soon reconciled to the thought of being the wife of a prince by the left hand, particularly as she found herself assiduously courted by persons of the highest rank, and more especially by military men. A large house in a fashionable street was taken for her, and an establishment on a magnificent scale gave her an opportunity of surrounding herself with persons of a sphere far beyond anything she could in her younger days have dreamt of; her father having been in an honourable trade, and her husband being only a captain in a marching regiment. The duke, delighted to see his fair friend so well received, constantly honoured her dinner-table with his presence, and willingly gratified any wish that she expressed; and he must have known (and for this he was afterwards highly censured) that her style of living was upon a scale of great expense, and that he himself contributed little towards it. The consequence was that the hospitable lady eventually became embarrassed, and knew not which way to turn to meet her outlay. It was suggested to her that she might obtain from the duke commissions in the army, which she could easily dispose of at a good price.”

Like all of Gronow this is as unreliable factually – Mary Anne’s father was a stonemason and her husband was never an officer – as it is spot on as social history. My edition of Gronow is that of 1892 which is illustrated by Joseph Grego. Its introductory chapter includes a description of Gronow himself taken from de Villemessant’s Memoires d’un Journalistie. The biter was bit as follows:

“Mr Gronow, when I knew him, was small, spare, and about fifty years of age.; his hair was thinning, and he wore a small moustache, of which the edge was daily shaved, which did not disguise the circumstance that the Captain’s latent vanity had recourse to a brown dye. He always wore a blue tight-fitting coat, closely buttoned, just allowing a narrow line of white waistcoat to be visible.”

Another Gronow story concerns the bankruptcy of Hamlet the jeweller who “had advanced money to the Duke of York, and had received as security property in Nova Scotia, consisting chiefly of mines, which, when he began to work them, turned out valueless, after entailing enormous expense.” From which we deduce that the duke was often strapped for cash. But keeping Mary Anne on short commons was very unwise. Apart from 20 servants, 10 horses, 2 coaches and 18 Gloucester Place itself, he provided her with only £100 a month (a miserly £8000 or thereabouts in today’s money). Barely enough to buy a fur muff.

Fortunately for Mary Anne – unfortunately for the duke – she had parted on friendly terms with William Dowler, an army agent, and other gentlemen with army connections with whom she had previously been intimate. They spread the word that Mary Anne could persuade the duke to gazette promotions for less than the rate laid down in the army regulations. The point being that the duke could arrange for a promotion to be granted gratis and for merit, leaving Mary Anne and her fellow conspirators to pocket the balance. Dr Watkins explains it thus:

On 27th January 1809 Gwyllym Lloyd Wardle MP presented to the House of Commons particulars of the charges against the Duke of York. The House went into committee on the subject. The duke was acquitted of taking bribes by a majority of 278 to 196. Thinking correctly that the paucity of the government majority made his position untenable the duke resigned. From then on the case against him unravelled. In July 1809 Francis Wright, a furniture manufacturer, brought a case against Wardle alleging non-payment of bills for the furnishing of Mary Anne’s house. During the course of the trial it became abundantly clear that Mary Anne and Wardle were good friends who had acted in collusion against the duke. Wardle made matters worse by suing someone for libel for saying as much and losing his case. On 29th May 1811 the duke was reinstated as commander in chief.

Why, you may ask, did the full weight of outraged authority not fall upon Mary Anne? As the duke well knew she had an ace up her sleeve that she hadn’t yet played. Neither of her Authentic Memoirs had quoted directly from the large number of letters the duke had sent to her. Apart from familiarities he is supposed to have expressed himself fully and frankly about various other members of the royal family. According to the old Dictionary of National Biography:

“Mrs. Clarke next proposed to publish the letters she had received from her princely lover. This had to be stopped at all risks, and Sir Herbert Taylor bought up the letters, and offered Mrs. Clarke 7,000l. down and a pension of 400l. a year, and for this consideration the printed edition was destroyed, with the exception of one copy deposited at Drummond’s bank. Her next publication, ‘A Letter to the Right Hon. William Fitzgerald,’ brought her into trouble, and she was condemned in 1813 to nine months’ imprisonment for libel.”

Stung by The Modern Circe and other unflattering cartoons, Mary Anne spent some of her £7000 having a bust made by the sculptor, Lawrence Gahagan. In this she is depicted as Clytie, deserted lover of Helios the sun god, transformed into a sunflower and following her lover as he travels though the sky. Not quite in the spirit of agreement perhaps.

Apart from this, both parties were true to the agreement. After her stay in jail, Mary Anne retired to France where she lived a quiet life, though, if Gronow is to be believed, the Marquess of Londonderry was a frequent visitor. Her pension continued until she died at Boulogne in 1852. It appears then to have been transferred to her daughter Ellen. Possibly this was because Prince Albert believed – as many other people did – that Ellen was the daughter of the Duke of York. The dates don’t in fact fit since Ellen was nearly six when the duke met Mary Anne. But Prince Albert won’t have inquired too closely. Ellen married L-M du Maurier, a failed inventor. Her son George was a cartoonist for Punch. His son Gerald du Maurier was a famous actor manager whose daughter was Daphne du Maurier the author. According to Daphne du Maurier in Mary Anne, her great great grandmother’s last words were, “It is high time we had another party.”

In 1811, after his older brother was appointed Prince Regent, the Duke of York was restored to the command of the army. Like other biographers of the duke, Dr Watkins gives little space to the final fifteen years of his life. Of just over a hundred pages in all, ten are taken up with the obsequies of Princess Frederica Charlotte who died at Oatlands on 6th August 1820. The duke, who had spent as little time as possible with her while she was alive, was punctilious in observing her wishes which included a desire to be buried in state at Weybridge parish church. Her main achievement was the construction of a grotto of shells costing upwards of £12,000. Like many eccentrics she was much loved by the locals. Dr Watkins attributes this to her love of dogs, remarking that “it was no uncommon thing to see her in the park surrounded by thirty or forty of these animals….”

Elizabeth Manners Duchess of Rutland was a lot more striking than Princess Frederica. She was the last pash of the duke’s life and who can blame him? She was famous for having rebuilt Belvoir Castle at a cost of £82,000 after a disastrous fire in 1818. The duke, who hadn’t previously displayed any great interest in architecture, went along with her when she suggested the building of York House at St James, the foundation stone of which she laid on 17th June 1825.

Neither she nor the Duke of York were to see the building finished. She died on 29th November 1825 aged 45. The duke hurried up to Belvoir to console her husband John. The two men remained good friends. The Duke of York died on 5th January 1827 at the Duke of Rutland’s London house on Arlington Street. He had lived there for some months in increasingly poor health requiring him to spend day and night in a specially designed chair

He was buried in state and lauded as “Our Nation’s Hope, the Father of the Army.”

X is for the Xhosa Wars

Which is a cheat because by my normal rules this post would be titled ‘H for Hintsa’. Hintsa kaKhawuta (c.1780-1835) was the fourth paramount chief of the Amaxhosa people. He was killed by the British in 1835 during “a desperate attempt to escape from the escort which he himself had requested to attend him”. So I could have used ‘X for X marks the spot’ as my title, X being enclosure number 17 in Sir Benjamin d’Urban’s third despatch. But the body would have had to be buried deeper than that to escape parliamentary scrutiny. There were Catos in the House of Commons who made it their business to read the small print.

This isn’t the easiest of posts to begin. It concerns the Xhosa and the Boers, two of the least attractive societies that mankind (gender fully intended) has yet invented. Holding the balance between them is the British colonists of 1820 and Colonel Henry Somerset, a man who encapsulates all the worst characteristics that many modern commentators attribute to the British Empire in general.

In 1686 the Dutch ship Stavenisse ran aground somewhere in Natal. Survivors of the shipwreck walked south towards the Cape and were helped on their way by the people they encountered. According to Noel Mostert in Frontiers, they reported “a people whose society was structured around vast cattle herds, who were hospitable, disposed to peace rather than war, suppressed violence between individuals and practised a fierce loyalty to their chiefs, who presided over democratic decision-making and judicial verdicts.” Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? And so it’s meant to. Frontiers is a great book and not only because it weighs in at 1355 pages. It’s a great piece of propaganda as well, written by a brilliant Canadian journalist. Since it ends in tragedy, it has to start somewhere else. A more nuanced account might have said something about the unequal division of labour – men cattle-herding, women doing everything else – the degradation of the landscape by the vast herds and the utter want of hygiene.

Mostert’s suggestion that Xhosa society was in some way democratic is the only example of suggestio falsi in the short extract above. There were elements of egalitarianism in the upbringing of Xhosa boys. Famously in the circumcision lodges, where groups of young men waited to be snipped, all decision-making was indeed taken in common. But the young men who made up each lodge were carefully selected and, in the case of those who were chosen to accompany future chiefs, they were picked from boys qualified to be his councillors in later life. The Greeks had a word for this. It was aristocracy, not democracy.

Mostert’s more commonly deployed device is suppressio veri. Rider Haggard wasn’t the only European to point to witch-doctoring or divination as a noticeable feature of the Xhosa way of life. The smelling out ceremonies he describes in King Solomon’s Mines are based more on Xhosa practice than on that of the Zulus. Mostert’s index has nothing under either witch-doctoring or divination. He contrives not to use either word even when writing about the Xhosa killing of their herds in the 1850s in the expectation that “a grand resurrection of the ancestors would be accompanied by herds of new cattle emerging from below the earth.” Likewise Mostert doesn’t have much to say about the lot of women.

© copyright John Mathew Smith 2001

Just in case you think I’m biased here is a modern-day saint. Nelson Mandela was descended from a line of Tembu chieftains. The Tembu were Xhosa speakers who lived close to the Xhosa themselves. Fortunately for the British they declined to be involved in the war of 1834. The other main group of Xhosa speakers were the Pondo who were settled yet further to the north and east. The map below shows Pondoland in 1911 when there was a scare that the Germans might acquire the deepwater Port St Johns. What we’re concerned with now is the area north of Graham’s Town at the bottom of the map.

Anyway, if I am biased, I’m certainly not biased in favour of the Boers. Cape Town was established by Jan van Riebeeck in 1652 as a resupply point for the ships of the Dutch East India Company. In 1687 French protestants, expelled after the Edict of Nantes, were encouraged by the Dutch to settle in and near Cape Town and to develop the agricultural resources of the region which were now used to resupply the ships of many European nations. Over the next hundred years the Dutch colony expanded to the north and east. The term ‘Boer’ has innocent origins. It derives from a Dutch word meaning nothing more outlandish than ‘farmer’. It is related to the final syllable of the English word ‘neighbour’ which is ironic since the last thing a South African Boer wanted was a neighbour.

Before the nineteenth century the word ‘Boer’ was used only to describe farmers and farming as an occupation. The earliest citation in OED for the Boers as a group of people is from Thomas Pringle’s African Sketches published in 1834 where he remarks on how “tall Dutch-African Boors were bawling in Colonial-Dutch.” I’m not sure that ‘bawling’ adequately conveys the grating qualities of Afrikaans but apart from that Pringle captures to a fault the self-confident rusticity of these loud-mouthed peasants. They never called themselves Boers. Instead – fantastically – they called themselves Christians. And they called the Xhosa kaffirs meaning heathens. They called the Khoikhoi and the San something worse: schepselen meaning creatures.

The picture above shows a representation in stone of a wagon laager that surrounds the Voortrekker Monument near Pretoria. The Battle of Blood River on 16th December 1838, when 464 Boer “pioneers” behind 64 wagons held off several thousand Zulus, was the defining event of the Great Trek. For the migrant Boers it established once and for all that God was on their side. It encouraged them to travel yet further away from government in Cape Town to the Transvaal where they established several independent states that later coalesced to form the South African Republic and the Orange Free State.

But the Boers who fought at Blood River were by no means pioneers. For at least sixty years previously, there had been Boers moving east and north to escape the feeble attempts of the Dutch government to regulate their way of life. And this is where the Boer perception of themselves as Christians comes into it. I take as my text Genesis chapter 9 verse 20

The frontier Boers took this text very literally. According to them, the descendants of Canaan included the Khoikhoi, the San and, when they encountered them, the Xhosa. Subjecting these people was more than permissible, it was a duty.

The most adventurous of the early Boer pioneers was Coenraad be Buys who was born in 1761 and last heard of in 1821 in Mozambique. In the 1780s de Buys had a farm on the Bushmans River somewhere near what is now Port Alfred where he lived with a Khoikhoi woman called Maria. For a while he interacted with the Xhosa, sometimes raiding their cattle, but eventually crossing the Fish River and becoming an adviser to the Xhosa chieftain Ngqika whose mother was his mistress. Later he moved further north, becoming in the words of Professor Mike de Jongh, “the progenitor of the Buys people of the far northern Limpopo Province. An exceptionally tall, formidable man of great resourcefulness and courage, Coenraad de Buys married or cohabited with several indigenous women, including the niece of the Matabele king, Mzilikazi.”

Adriaan van Jaarsveld (1745-1801) was more typical of the frontier Boers than De Buys and the 315 children that legend credits him with. For many years he tried to enforce the Dutch government’s policy of discouraging contact between the Boers and the Xhosa. In his view the San and the displaced Khoikhoi inhabiting the mountains to the north were a greater threat to sheep farmers like him than the Xhosa to the east. The Xhosa were cattle herders and had much more interest in the sweetveld of the coastal plain than in the sourveld.

In 1780 the Boers were dragged into the latest Xhosa civil war when the paramount chief Rarabe requested their help fighting the Dange, a clan that refused to accept his rule. Rarabe had quarrelled with his brother Gcaleka. The resulting split left the Xhosa divided so that in all circumstances the Boers could find allies. In 1781 van Jaarsveld led the Boer commando that attacked the Dange after they had been driven across the river by Rarabe. A series of cattle raids followed that were later labelled the First Kaffir War and still later relabelled the First South African Frontier War. The war was a draw. The Denge and their allies were as scared of Boer firepower as the Boers were of Denge numbers. After the event, van Jaarsveld stated what he’d always believed, that the San were a more immediate threat, saying “For myself I have nothing to do in Kafirland, and I could wish this nation were given no cause for enmity, since we have our hands full with the Bushmen.”

What de Buys and van Jaarsveld had in common was that they were patriarchs of extended clans resembling those that Abraham and Lot led to the promised land. Accompanying them in their wanderings – in order of importance – were children and grandchildren, landless relatives, slaves and Khoikhoi, not to mention innumerable sheep and cattle. The Khoikhoi were treated appallingly. Why any of them were prepared to work for the Boers is a mystery. Mostert provides a partial explanation, “Once contracted to a colonist, they often found that it was difficult, almost impossible sometimes, to leave when they wished to. Their contracts became a form of forced labour. Children born on a colonist’s farm were automatically indentured as ‘apprentices’….” Two of the index entries under ‘Hottentots’ in the 1837 Report of the Aboriginal Select Committee speak for themselves, “As late as 1828 great doubts were expressed upon the competency of the Hottentots and other free persons of colour to purchase or possess land in the colony” and “They are regarded by the Cape farmers and the inhabitants generally as incapable of benefiting from instruction”. Yet the Khoikhoi did work for the Boers as herdsmen and even on raids.

I’m using the word ‘frontier’. Until 1778 no such thing existed. Driven by land hunger and their dislike for being able to see a neighbour’s smoke, the Boers had been advancing into land empty of inhabitants. (In Boer eyes, the Khoikhoi and the San had no more rights of ownership than any other ‘creatures’.) The discovery of large numbers of Xhosa coming the other way was an unwelcome surprise. The situation was made worse by the paramount chief Rarabe’s concurrent insistence that other Xhosa chiefs submit to him. The whole region east of the Fish River was destabilised by his endless wars. Alarmed by reports of the unrest, the Dutch governor came up in person from Cape Town. He decided that the Fish River would make a convenient boundary between the Xhosa and the Boers. He then went around persuading individual Boers and some of the Xhosa frontier chiefs to agree to his new frontier. In truth it was a pointless exercise. The Cape government was bankrupt and the governor had no troops to enforce his rule. The Xhosa chiefs probably didn’t understand what they’d agreed to, and in any case, spoke only for themselves and their own clans. None of the Boers had authority to speak for his fellows since Kommandants like van Jaarsveld were appointed for specific and time-limited purposes. The frontier was just a line on a map.

The Second Xhosa War of 1793 was a rerun of the first, being as much a Xhosa civil war as a war between the Xhosa and the Boers. Two of the Xhosa clans, the Mbalu and Gqunukhwebe, taking umbrage over persistent raids by Coenraad de Buys and other Boers, attacked the homes and herds of their enemies. A commando was formed led by Honoratus Meynier – a decent man which doesn’t fit in with my prejudices so I’m airbrushing him out of the story – which drove the Xhosa across the Fish River where they were ambushed by Rarabe’s son Ndlambe. The Dutch fulminated ineffectually. The Boers returned to fighting the San. The Xhosa drifted back across the Fish.

The frontier became more than a line on the map when the British took over from the Dutch at Cape Town. The British occupied the Cape from 1795 to the Peace of Amiens in 1802 and more permanently from 1806. In 1799 Brigadier General Thomas Vandeleur was sent north with a force of Khoikhoi soldiers stiffened by two companies of the regular 91st Argyllshire Regiment of Foot to suppress a half-baked Boer attempt to form an independent republic. Vandeleur made short work of the Boers. Then he discovered there were Xhosa on the British side of the frontier. This was the start of the Third Xhosa War.

And very embarrassing it proved to be for the British. The abject surrender of the rebel Boers had emboldened their Khokhoi servants to rebel against them. The rebel Khoikhoi assumed that the British force with its armed Khoikhoi auxiliaries were on their side. So did the Khoikhoi auxiliaries. Vandeleur was obliged to send the latter back to Cape Town leaving him with fewer than two hundred British soldiers. Deciding these were too few “to wage an unequal contest with savages in the midst of impenetrable thickets”, he took up defensive positions at Fort Frederick near what is now Port Elizabeth and Graaff Reinet in the Zuurveld. Meantime the rebel Khokhoi joined forces with the Xhosa and defeated a Boer commando. The British governor, General Dundas, came up from Cape Town and in 1800 patched together a truce leaving the Xhosa in occupation of many Boer farmsteads. Most unwisely, some of the frontier Boers reacted to their dispossession by marching on Graaff Reinet in 1801, thus finding themselves at odds with the British, the majority of the Xhosa clans, the rebel Khoikhoi and the San simultaneously. The truce collapsed. It was probably fortunate for the British that by the terms of the Treaty of Amiens of March 1802 they were obliged to return the Cape to the Batavian Republic as Holland was now known.

It was left to the new Batavian governor, General J W Janssens to agree a peace with Rarabe’s son Ngqika, chief of the Rarabe clan and self-proclaimed paramount chief of the Xhosas. The meeting took place near Ngqika’s great place in the foothills of the Amatolas near the Kat River, a tributary of the Fish River, on 24th June 1803. The picture above is from a sketch by the governor’s aide-de-camp, Captain Paravicini. It shows the governor and Ngqika shaking hands in the foreground with the Dutch Waldeck Regiment paraded in front of their tents in the background. Janssens wanted the Xhosa chieftain to agree that the Fish River ought to be the frontier between Cape Colony and the Xhosa. Ngqika, who lived east of the river, had no great problem with that. To his credit, according to another eyewitness, Dr Lichtenstein, in Travels in Southern Africa, Ngqika tried to explain that he had no control over the frontier clans, most of whom owed allegiance to his uncle Ndlambe. Janssens brushed this aside. This basic misunderstanding, which was to bedevil relations between Cape Town and the Xhosa, was now set in writing. Ngqika had put his mark to a treaty committing all the Xhosa clans to move east of the Fish River.

The British reoccupied Cape Colony following the resumption of hostilities in Europe. The first British governor, the Earl of Caledon, made no move to enforce Janssens’ treaty. His successor, Sir John Cradock, acted almost immediately. After sending an embassy to Ngqika to ensure his neutrality, he launched an invasion of the Zuurveld, the area west of the Fish River that was occupied by Xhosa clans. In December 1811 Colonel John Graham commenced the Fourth Xhosa War with a three pronged invasion of the Zuurveld. Despite an early reverse, when fifteen Graaff Reinet Boers were asseigaied, the “removal” of the Xhosas proved surprisingly easy. In part this was because Ndlambe chose not to fight. He retreated with his clan across the Fish River all the way east to the Buffalo River shortly after the fighting began. Having driven some 5000 Xhosa east of the Fish River and impounded many of their cattle, Graham built twenty forts along the river to prevent a return. He also founded a new military headquarters in the Zuurveld called Graham’s Town.

This is Grahamstown today photographed by Tim Giddings. It shows the Cathedral of St Michael and St George in Grahamstown as seen from the Fort. The foreground could well be an English cathedral city. The cathedral was completed in the 1880s on the site of St George’s Church opened in 1830. If you look closely you’ll see that its Gothic windows are narrower than usual. That’s because the architect, Gilbert Scott, was determined to frustrate the African sun and produce an interior lit as an English church ought to be lit. Grahamstown in a word is English.

Meantime the overcrowding east of the Fish River consequent to the removal of so many Xhosa from the Zuurveld sparked yet another Xhosa civil war. By now, with the consequences of his entirely selfish policy plain to see, Ngqika and his clan had little support amongst the other Xhosa clans. In 1818 he and his son Maqoma were defeated by Ndlambe at the bloody battle of Amalinde. Before fleeing Ngqika did the Xhosa one final disservice by calling on the new British governor, Lord Charles Somerset, for aid. This triggered the Fifth Xhosa War.

In December 1818 a large force gathered at Grahamstown. It consisted of British regulars, the Khoikhoi of the Cape Corps (a unit taken over from the Dutch who had called it the Hottentot Light Infantry, it was later renamed the Cape Mounted Rifles), Boers from Graaff Reinet, and Ngqika’s survivors. It was accompanied by artillery. Ndlambe decided that this force and its guns were too formidable to be faced in battle and retreated with his clan and his herds into the thickets of the Keiskamma River valley. No doubt he expected to lose a few cattle to strong patrols and then to be able to make peace. Unfortunately the commander of the British force, Thomas Brereton, was new to this sort of warfare. He didn’t like the look of South African bush country. Instead of trying to follow the Xhosa, he opened fire with his artillery. The bombardment was noisy rather than dangerous but it panicked the Xhosa cattle who fled into the open where they were rounded up by the British. Ndlambe’s clan lost over 20,000 cattle. This was a catastrophe for both sides. Ndlambe’s clan had lost not only its means of subsidence but its whole raison d’etre. It was inevitable that they would attack across the Fish River to try to replace their herds.

It was also perhaps inevitable that the demoralised Xhosa would fall victim to a witch doctor, Makana, who preached a dualist variant on Christianity in which the British, having murdered the son of the god of the white people, were exiled from their own land and in search of a new land. Fortunately the god of the black people was more powerful than the god of the white people, and would help the Xhosa drive the British into the sea. Makana must have been an inspirational speaker because he made this nonsense sufficiently convincing to convert Ndlambe and to assemble a force of at least 6000 Xhosa warriors. He also proved to be a masterful tactician. Somehow he got this large force through the network of defensive positions along the Fish River and into position near Grahamstown. Then, after delivering a battle speech in which he assured his army that the British bullets would turn into water, he led the Xhosa into battle.

If it hadn’t been for the battle speech, the Xhosa might very well have won the Battle of Grahamstown. The garrison numbered 450. A quarter of the garrison were men of the Royal African Corps. As Padraic Scanlan suggests in Freedom’s Debtors: British Anti-Slavery in Sierra Leone this colonial unit wasn’t noted for its high morale:

The Xhosa’s first charge took them to the mouth of the guns. There it became apparent that shrapnel didn’t turn to water. The Xhosa retreated. Makana, who had been leading a subsidiary attack on the barracks, hurried to the scene. He was in the process of restoring order when a famous hunter, Jan Boezak, appeared with 130 other Khoikhoi and started taking potshots at Xhosa notables. The Xhosa fled, suffering as usual rather more losses in their rout than they had in the battle itself. Two months later Makana was captured. He was sent to Robben Island where he drowned while trying to escape.

The sketch map above is from the parliamentary paper on the Death of Hintza during the Sixth Xhosa War. I am using it to illustrate the consequences of the Fifth Xhosa War. The British governor of Cape Colony, Lord Charles Somerset, believed that the thickets of the Fish River made the existing frontier line untenable. He proposed advancing the frontier to the Keiskamma River. He bullied his erstwhile ally, Ngqika, into agreeing to this. The establishment of the no-man’s-land of The Ceded Territories bought the British frontier close to Hintsa’s great place beyond the Kei River. Hintsa thus far had managed to avoid entangling his Gcaleka clan in the affairs of either Ngqika or Ndlambe. This balancing act became more and more difficult in the 1820s.

The second consequence of the Fifth Xhosa War was the establishment of Albany as a British colony centred on Grahamstown. Somerset’s idea was that British settlers would form a defensive bulwark against the Xhosa. Faced with rising unemployment at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the British government agreed to it with enthusiasm. The 1820 Settlers as they were collectively known were a group of about 4000 British emigrants who arrived at Bathhurst in 1820. They permanently altered the character of the frontier.

This is a picture of Oatlands House painted by Joan English in 1975 which was built in 1823 for Colonel Henry Somerset (1805-1862). It has three large front rooms with a return verandah. I thought this was remarkably modest considering that Henry was a masterpiece of self importance. I was right. Oatlands House was merely a villa for the use of Henry in the years when the mansion on the same estate was lived in by his father. The mansion itself was named preposterously after the palace Henry VIII built or Anne of Cleves. Now gone, it was an altogether grander affair than Oatlands House with stained glass windows to remind visitors of the Beauforts’ descent from the Plantagenet kings of England.

If I can be forgiven a digression within what is already a digression, I’ll remark that the Beauforts’ claims were thoroughly exploded when the skeleton of Richard III – an anonymous hunchback with pike wounds buried in haste by the Tudors after the Battle of Bosworth – was discovered beneath a Leicester car park. The skeleton carried a rare Y chromosome not carried by the Beauforts which leaves four possibilities

  • the skeleton wasn’t that of Richard III
  • the Beauforts weren’t descended from John of Gaunt
  • Richard III wasn’t descended from John of Gaunt (there’s a question mark next to the paternity of his grandfather – the Cambridge of Shakespeare’s Henry V)
  • there’s another instance of false paternity somewhere between 1485 and 1805

Perish the thought. There’s never a question mark next to the conduct of an English gentlewoman. The Beaufort line begins with Charles (1460-1626) illegitimate son (later legitimised) of Henry Beaufort (1436-1464) by his mistress Joan Hall. Henry Beaufort was the grandson of John Beaufort (1371-1410) illegimitate son (later legitimised) of John of Gaunt by his mistress Katherine Swynford.

Interesting, isn’t it? And there you were thinking that the Xhosa were overly concerned with blood lines.

What made Henry important was his Beaufort connections. Henry’s father, Lord Charles Somerset (1767-1831) was a younger son of the 5th Duke of Beaufort who served as governor of Cape Colony from 1814 to 1826, enjoying a salary of £10,000 a year. One of his brothers, Lord Fitzroy Somerset, later Field Marshal Lord Raglan, was already influential in the army thanks to his role as the Duke of Wellington’s private secretary. Nobody dared to intervened when Lord Charles decided to put his son Henry in charge of the frontier. He did this by purchasing a lieutenant colonelcy for Henry and putting him in command of the largely Khokhoi Cape Mounted Rifles (The Cape Corps as was – see above).

So finally we have all the elements in place for the Sixth Xhosa War, the confrontation that led to the death of Hintsa. The Xhosa were still fatally split. Hintsa of the Gcaleka clan was widely accepted as paramount chief though the descendants of Gcaleka’s brother Rarabe and their clans took his claims less seriously than he did. Nearer to the new British colony of Albany Ngqika’s son Maqoma emerged as the leader of the clans descended from Rarabe. He was helped by the death in rapid succession of Ndlambe and his oldest son in 1828 and 1829. The Ndlambe clan was left effectively leaderless. Above all Maqoma was helped by the death of his father at the end of 1829. Strangely enough Maqoma got on well with Henry Somerset who allowed him to return to the old Ngqika haunts in the Ceded Territort. This annoyed the Boers now led by Andries Stockenstrom, landrost of Graaff Reinet, who tells us in his Autobiography that he demanded “total expulsion of the Kaffir hordes from the whole of the Ceded Territory” but was turned down by Somerset who treated the frontier as a fiefdom. In broad theory, Henry Somerset, who was commandant of the frontier, was junior to Stockenstrom, who was commissioner-general. In 1835 Stockenstrom was called before Select Committee on Aborigines to explain his role. Evidently he was as baffled as anyone else, “I knew that the situation had been specially created with the view of superintending the frontier and eastern division, and as I had no superintendence of the kind, or was not useful in any way, I obtained leave from the colonial government to come to England, represented the case to the Secretary of State, and in a short time afterwards I was informed that the situation was abolished.” In other words, don’t cross a Somerset. Finally there were the British colonists centred by now on Grahamstown which had a population of more than three thousand.

The immediate cause of the Sixth Xhosa War was Henry Somerset’s over confidence. In December 1834 a Boer said he’d been robbed of three horses by one of the Nqeno clan. Ensign Sparkes was sent out to take some cattle as compensation. Unusually the Nqeno resisted, wounding Sparkes. So far as Somerset was concerned this was a breach of the agreement he’d come to with Maqomo that the Xhosa could reoccupy some of the Ceded Territory so long as they remained quiet. He sent out strong patrols to instruct the clan chiefs to move their people east of the Keiskamma River. On 10th December Lieutenant Sutton of the 75th seized some cattle belonging to one of Ngqika’s sons. Xoxo, Maqomo’s nephew, asked why Sutton was taking the chief’s cattle. Weapons were fired and Xoxo was slightly wounded. After the event the Select Committee established that “any injury committed on the person of a Caffre chief (was) regarded as a very peculiar and great provocation.” The blame lay not with a lieutenant of the 75th but with Somerset who had got away with strong-arm tactics hitherto and had failed to issue proper instructions.

The actual cause of the war was land hunger and over-crowding. The frontier erupted. By 21st December it was estimated that 12,000 Xhosa warriors were about to cross the Fish River. Somerset panicked. In truth his earlier over-confidence had been based on little more than an inflated idea of his own abilities. He had fewer than 800 men at his disposal, principally 482 men of the British 75th Regiment of Foot and 226 men of the Cape Mounted Rifles. Apart from one detachment at Fort Beaufort on the Kat River, Somerset ordered the colonial forces to retreat to Grahamstown. This left many British colonists exposed and gifted to Maqoma his first military objective, Fort Willshire.

Fortunately for the British colonists, Somerset’s time as commandant was nearly done. Lieutenant Colonel Harry Smith was on his way from Cape Town, achieving the 600 mile journey in six days. Smith, a veteran of the Peninsular War, stayed at Oatlands for long enough to establish that Somerset, who estimated the number of invading Xhosa at 100,000, was a waste of space.

The problem for the Xhosa was that they had already achieved all they could hope to achieve. On the first day of the New Year one of the Xhosa chiefs allied to Maqoma, Tyali, dictated a letter to Wiilliam Chalmers, a missionary, for the attention of Sir Benjamin d’Urban, the governor of the Cape Colony. In it he listed fourteen reasons why the Xhosa had gone to war. It was futile. One of the lessons the Xhosa had yet to learn was that empires don’t negotiate from a position of weakness.

With British colonists to protect and British missionaries to make a noise about it, Smith was in a position to raise greater numbers of auxiliaries than any of his predecessors. Fewer Boers than usual turned up for commando service. They didn’t like being under martial law and the abolition of slavery still rankled. The movement that led to the Great Trek was already beginning. Smith was unimpressed by those Boers who did join him. Writing to his wife, Juanita, who later gave her name to Ladysmitrh, he commented, “The Boers of the old Commandos talk of the glories of former times, when the Kaffirs had only assegais. But now they have a few guns, which they use very badly, Mynheer funks.” In addition, Smith recruited more than 1000 Khoikhoi and formed a Corps of Guides 400 strong from British settlers. The governor, Sir Benjamin d’Urban, another Peninsula veteran, came up from Cape Town with 450 more British regulars, arriving on 20th January 1835. On 23rd January the formation of the Albany Mounted Sharpshooters with three troops of fifty men was advertised in the Grahamstown Journal. It was supplemented by a company of Bathhurst Volunteers on the 30th. These were numbers the Xhosa couldn’t face in the open. They retired to the thick bush of the Fish River, sending their captured cattle yet further back, across the Kei and into Hintsa’s Galeka country. Smith announced that he’d cleared the Fish in March though it seems more likely that Maqoma elected to retreat to the Amatolas as a better centre for resistance. D’Urban sent four forces into the Amatolas at the beginning of April but Maqoma avoided contact. In August he was still resisting and capable of putting on a show of force to British officers sent to treat with him that Captain James Alexander estimated at 5000 or 6000 men in his Narrative of a Voyage and a Campaign in Kaffirland.

But much had changed by August. On 24th April d’Urban declared war on Hintsa who had at the very least taken in cattle stolen from colonists by Maqoma. Quite what else Hintsa had promised Maqoma was the subject of repeated enquiry by the Select Committee. D’Urban and Smith were still in South Africa when the Committee took evidence in 1836, but d’Urban’s senior aide de camp, Captain George Beresford, and L:ieutenant Colonel William Cox, commanding officer of the Cape Mounted Rifles, were both grilled at length. The casus belli was “violence, rapine and outrages” against the mission station at Butterworth. British troops crossed the Kei and began capturing Gcaleka cattle. Shortly after d’Urban announced the annexation of the Ceded Territory and all other land between the Fish and the Kei Rivers and his intention to form a new colony to be called Queen Adelaide. The frontier Xhosa were to be expelled and space found for them on the east side of the Kei.

In between these two events Hintsa and forty followers rode into d’Urban’s camp and voluntarily surrendered. D’Urban told him the peace conditions. Hintsa was to hand over 50,000 cattle and 1,000 horses by way of war reparations and was to command Maqoma and other frontier chiefs to stop fighting. He was given two days to agree. Like Ngqika in 1817, Hintsa tried to explain that his title of paramount chief was just that – a title. He didn’t have the power to tell other Xhosa chiefs what they should or shouldn’t do. But – again like Ngqika – all accounts suggest that he did indeed agree to d’Urban’s demands. And – unlike Ngqiya – he was an extremely intelligent man who will certainly have understood what was demanded.

Hintsa was killed on 12th May 1835 whilst leading Harry Smith and a detachment of the Corps of Guides to confiscate some of the cattle he’d been promised. Clearly he was in an impossible position because the cattle would never have been handed over. Why he ever consented to d’Urban’s demands is a mystery. There is a long account of his death in Mostert’s Frontiers and another in Harry Smith’s Autobiography. The Select Committee on Aborigines also took evidence on the subject. The truth will never be known. What is undisputable is that Hintsa tried to escape on horseback, was pursued by Harry Smith who threw him to the ground, then tried to escape on foot and was shot by George Southey of the Guides. His body was subsequently mutilated and trophies taken.

The death of Hintsa gave Thomas Fowell Buxton, chairman of the Select Committee on Aborigines, all the leverage he needed for a sustained campaign against d’Urban’s actions. As Zoe Laidlaw puts it in Colonial Connections

Buxton’s efforts bore fruit. In November he wrote to his cousin, Anna Gurney

On 26th December 1835 Lord Glenelg wrote to D’Urban asking him to justify the retention of the occupied territory. His despatch was a bombshell. In it, he remarked that the Xhosa had “ample justificatiion for going to war” and that they had been “driven to desperation by the systematic injustice of which they had been the victims.” This wasn’t at all what d’Urban, the Boers or the British colonists expected to hear. On 3rd February 1836 Glenelg wrote to d’Urban instructing him to appoint a court of military inquiry into the death of Hintsa. In his letter he made plain his own opinion:

“It is stated to me, however, on evidence which it is impossible to receive without serious attention, that Hintza repeatedly cried out for mercy; that the Hottentots present granted the boon, and abstained from killing him; that this office was then undertaken by Mr Southey, and that then the dead body of the fallen chief was basely and inhumanely mutilated.”

On 5th February Stockenstrom was appointed lieutenant governor of the Eastern Cape with instructions to restore relations with the Xhosa. No more was heard of Queen Adelaide Land.

So the Sixth Xhosa War was a draw of sorts and had important consequences for the treatment of native peoples in all parts of the British Empire. But it didn’t solve the land hunger which was the root cause of all these frontier wars. In the Seventh and Eighth Xhosa Wars of 1846 and 1850 the Xhosa were comprehensively defeated. A prophet told them a great nation would be destroyed if the Xhosa destroyed their own cattle first. They did. It was.

W is for Andrew Wilson

Needless to say this isn’t a picture of Andrew Wilson, blameless author of The Ever-Victorious Army, about whom more later. It is “a woodblock print of a Taiping leader which some Western observers mistakenly assumed was a likeness of Hong Xiukang”, the Hakka scholar who decided he was the second son of God after failing to get into the Chinese civil service. I owe the picture and the explanation to Richard P Bohr’s Did the Hakka Save China? which you can find online.

The Taiping Rebellion began on 11th January 1851 when Hong proclaimed the beginning of the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace. In March 1853 Taiping armies under his control captured Nanjing and christened it the New Jerusalem. The rebellion effectively ended in June 1864 when imperial troops led by Zeng Guofan recaptured Nanjing, though mopping-up operations continued into 1866. Both sides conducted the war with utter indifference to human life. The world’s bloodiest civil war is estimated to have cost at least 20 million lives and possibly as many as 30 million. This death toll comfortably exceeds the human cost of the Sino-Japanese War of 1936-1945. Rudolf Rummel in China’s Bloody Century has 3,949,000 Chinese killed directly by Japanese forces and about 6,000,000 more dying from starvation or disease. It wasn’t until the policies of the Great Leap Forward exacerbated the effects of the Great Famine of 1959-1961 that China suffered comparable human losses. Hostile commentators give vast numbers of deaths. The People’s Republic of China’s own census figures record a drop in population of 14,580,000 between 1959 and 1961.

This is not the place to try to understand the religious beliefs of the Taipings which are about as accessible to the non-believer as the Book of Mormon. Jonathan Spence’s God’s Chinese Son may or may not inform you further. Hong was influenced by Good Words to Admonish the Age, a tract pushed out by Protestant missionaries, but mixed Christian ideas with classical Chinese ideas about the supreme deity, Shangdi, to produce a dynamic new religion. He was aided in spreading his ideas by Yang Xiuqing, a charcoal trader with a direct line to Shangdi, and Feng Yungshan, the movement’s most effective missionary and later its strategist. It was Yang who provided an egalitarian leavening to Hong’s ideas, providing some justification for regarding the Taipings as proto-communists.

In the late 1840s the Taipings evolved from a secret Society of God Worshippers into a revolutionary movement enjoying much popular support. Immediately after the capture of Nanjing it seemed possible the Taipings would overthrow the Qing dynasty. A northern expedition reached Tientsin before it was turned back. A western expedition secured control of large parts of the Yangtse plain. However the mass slaughter of all the Manchus in Nanjing gave Qing separatists pause for thought while Taiping hostility to Confucianism ensured the movement could never enjoy wide support amongst the Chinese middle classes. In May 1852 Feng was killed by a chance shot from a Qing gunner and was never really replaced as a strategist. The following year Hong himself withdrew into seclusion where he became increasingly suspicious of Yang whose messages from the supreme deity were increasingly at odds with his own. In 1856 Hong’s followers murdered Yang and his family. This was followed by a protracted blood bath. The fact that the rebellion lasted another eight years had more to do with Qing incompetence than any remaining shreds of Taiping dynamism. It also had precious little to do with the Ever Victorious Army.

There was a time when I had lots of books on the Taiping Rebellion. A personal favourite was Ti-Ping Tien-Kwoh by Lin-Le who described himself on the titlepage as “special agent of the Ti-Ping general-in-chief.” Lin-Le’s real name was Augustus F Lindley. He was a salty character even by Shanghai standards, spending many pages attempting to explain why he boarded the sailing vessel Firefly in 1854 and then handed it over to the Taipings. It had 19 chromolithographs, 9 of which were garishly coloured. Heaven knows what it would fetch nowadays. The only reason I have Andrew Wilson’s book is because of its library stamp. I have an old friend who spent his early days in Tokyo in a surprisingly grand flat. The reason he was able to live in such state was because it overlooked a Shinto graveyard. You have about as much chance of flogging an ex-library book to the Chinese as you have of renting a flat with a view like that to the Japanese.

Andrew Wilson (1831-1881) was an eyewitness only of the earliest of the events he describes. He was born in Bombay to John and Margaret Wilson, Scots missionaries in India, and was educated at Edinburgh and Tubingen Universities. After a brief stay in Italy, he returned to Bombay where he edited the Bombay Times in the absence of its editor George Buist. He then went to Hong Kong where he edited the China Mail for three years. He left Hong Kong in March 1861 and returned to England via San Francisco, the Panama Canal and New York, contributing articles about his adventures to the China Mail. This is part of what he wrote about the voyage from Hong Kong.

Wilson remained in Europe until 1873 dogged by increasingly bad health. He had some kind of wasting sickness which made walking increasingly painful. He went to Switzerland in the mid 1860s in an unsuccesful attempt to recover his health. He supported himself by freelance journalism but mainly through contrbutions to Blackwood’s Magazine. In the July 1881 edition, in a generous obituary, the editor commented, “With the exception of his work in journalism, almost the whole of Andrew Wilson’s literary remains have been first given to the public in the pages of the magazine.” This was as true of The Ever-Victorious Army as it was of his best known book The Abode of Snow.

In 1873 Wilson returned to India theoretically to edit The Bombay Times. In practice he spent most of his time travelling or writing about his travels. He was by now seriously unwell. But you wouldn’t guess that The Abode of Snow was written by a man who could barely drag himself upstairs let alone along the Himalayan fringes of British India. The editor of Blackwood’s meant well when writing, “his health denied him that power of unremitting application….” which would have crowned his life’s work by a serious journey of exploration followed by a book recording new discoveries. I beg to differ. The Abode of Snow is a supreme illustration of unremitting application. In 1877 Wilson made a final excursion to Kathiawar. It did for him. He returned to England and died four years later.

What makes The Ever-Victorious Army a valuable historical source is that it is based on the “private” diary of Charles George Gordon later of Sudan fame. More about Gordon and his “private” diaries later. In 1885, Samuel Mossman took advantage of the furore about the British failure to relieve Gordon in Khartoum, to get Sampson Low Marston to publish General Gordon’s Private Diary of his exploits in China. Reviewing this and other books about China in the Fortnightly Review a few years later, Colonel R H Vetch criticised The Ever-Victorious Army, commenting, “by introducing into his work disquisitions on the Chinese system of philosophy, the foreign policy of Pekin, and a variety of other topics, Mr Wilson contrived to obscure what he intended to illustrate….” He digressed in other words. You’ll be surprised to hear I’m unsympathetic to Vetch’s viewpoint.

And so to the point, which is in case you’ve forgotten, The Ever-Victorious Army and its part in the defeat of the Taiping Rebellion. In origin the Shanghai Foreign Arms Corps was formed as a local defence force by Chinese officials loyal to the Qing. It was funded by a banker Yang Fang and recruited from the sort of westeners who hung around the Shanghai docks. Until the summer of 1861 it always had fewer than three hundred men under arms. Its leader was an American called Frederick Townsend Ward.

From Holger Cahill’s Yankee Adventurer to Richard Smith’s Mercenaries and Mandarins there have been plenty of books that take Frederick Townsend Ward seriously. One of them, Caleb Carr’s The Devil Soldier, was optioned for a movie with Tom Cruise in the lead, but Hollywood producers know a dud when they see one, so the movie was never made. In my view Edward Alexander Powell got the measure of this Boys’ Own adventurer back in 1913.

Here in Gentlemen Rovers we see Ward and his men about to take Sunkiang from the Taipings in July 1860. The actual event was less gung-ho though the mixed weaponry is about right. In Wilson’s narrative, after hiding out all day, Ward “contrived to seize a gate of the city just at sunset, repulsing all the Rebel attacks until next morning, when the native Imperialist troops coming up were enabled to drive out the Taipings.” It says a lot for Ward’s leadership that he got his gang of ne’er do wells to perform as well as they did.

In sober reality, Ward lost as many actions as he won. He was recovering from a wound at the end of 1861 when either he or Li Hung Chang (1823-1901) came up with the idea of training Chinese soldiers in the use of western arms and western light infantry tactics. Li Hung Chang was a complex man who was to play an important role in China’s survival during the era of unequal treaties. He said of himself, “to know me and to judge me is a task for the next millennium.” He was right. The PRC is busy reassessing him right now. In 1861 he was still comparatively junior. His naval operations on the Yangtze, which had driven Nanjing yet closer to starvation, had been noted and approved by Zeng Guofan commander of the Xiang Army which was conducting an ever closer siege of the Taiping capital. On Zeng’s recommendation Li was made Governor of Kiangsoo with orders to raise a new force to block Taiping thrusts that were intended to divert Zeng himself from Nanjing. Li’s new force eventually developed into the Huai Army.

Li Hung Chang in 1896

Li took an interest in Ward and his ideas about training Chinese soldiers. He freed him from the control of his banking backers and provided imperial funds for the purchase of weaponry from the British whose policy in China had changed somewhat since the burning of the Winter Palace. From this moment Li’s firm intention was that Ward’s force should indeed be “ever-victorious”. He needed them to win battles if he was to persuade the traditionalist Zeng Guofan to provide funds for the equipping of Li’s new Huai Army. Under Li’s tutelage Ward got rid of many of his European and American mercenaries. The rest served as officers in the new and largely Chinese force that was named The Ever Victorious Army in March 1862 after a few earlier successes. The operations of the Taiping’s Faithful King around Shanghai are complex, bloody and confused. It’s not even certain he was aiming to take the city. His retreat – if it was a retreat rather than a relocation – owed little to Ward and much to Shangdi, Hong and the confused orders emanating from Nanjing.

The campaigns of the Ever-Victorious Army were always something of a sideshow. Li’s Huai Army eventually amounted to 60,000 well-armed men drawn mainly from Taiping deserters. By contrast the Ever-Victorious Army was never more than 5,000 strong. Its function was to win battles that would persuade Zeng to fund Li’s increasingly large ideas. On the whole it performed its task admirably. Occasionally it was let down by its Chinese allies as in the first attack on Taitsan when it failed to cross a moat filled with thirty feet of water that was shown on Chinese maps as a dry ditch. On occasions like that, when a foreigner was at fault, Li sacked the man who had taken Ward’s place and applied to Sir Charles Staveley, the commander of British forces in China, for a replacement.

Green turbans – wiki commons – don’t knock it

The man Staveley recommended was Captain (soon to be Colonel) Charles George Gordon of the Royal Engineers. Staveley had been sent down from Tientsin at the end of 1861 with orders to clear the rebels from a thirty mile radius around Shanghai. Gordon “was of the greatest use to me,” he wrote, remarking favourably on how “he reconnoitred the enemy’s defences, and arranged for the ladder-parties to cross the moats, and for the escalading of the works, for we had to attack and carry by storm several towns fortified with high walls and deep wet ditches.” You can find the technical details in Gordon’s own Notes on the Operations round Shanghai published in the 1871 volume of Papers on Subjects connected with the duties of the Corps of Royal Engineers of which there is a precis in Wilson’s book. Staveley had however noted a disturbing trait in Gordon’s character. He ignored orders he didn’t like. “He was, however, a source of much anxiety to me from the daring manner in which he approached the enemy’s works to acquire information.” Staveley put Gordon’s behaviour down to pluck, and since he was on the spot, having been left behind to make a survey, recommended his appointment.

It was worse than Staveley knew. Gordon took his orders from a higher authority than the War Office. In a letter to his mother shortly after his appointment, Gordon wrote

There is precious little there about obeying orders. Nor about the problems his appointment caused at home which resulted in a 36 page blue book China No.7 of 1864 entitled Correspondence relative to Lieut-Colonel Gordon’s position in the Chinese service. J S Gregory in Britain and the Taipings summarises the diffculty

Gordon was oblivious. God and his conscience were the only things that mattered. It’s typical of Gordon that the moment he got back to England he should lend his “private journal” to a jobbing journalist. He was to repeat the trick in 1884 shipping back parts of his Khartoum Journal to Cairo in the hope of forcing Gladstone to invade the Sudan. Gladstone, who was at least as stubborn as Gordon, delayed too long. The Grand Old Man turned into the Murderer of Gordon. But that’s another story.

The Ever Victorious Army was broken up in 1864. Hong died of food poisoning before the fall of Nanjing. Many of the Taiping kings were less lucky and fell into the hands of the imperial Chinese. There is a memorial to the Ever Victorious Army in Shanghai.

V is for Spencer Thomas Vassall

Library of Congress 2010652217

Spencer Thomas Vassall (1764-1807) was the second son of the loyalist John Vassall (1738-1797) of Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father lost his American estates but retained his sugar plantation at Newfound River, Jamaica. The picture above of Four Jamaican Figures Talking at a Fence is by John Berryman who visited Jamaica between 1808 and 1815 and drew more than three hundred pictures of slaves. In view of the current Black Lives Matter campaign, I thought it apposite to show the foundation of the Vassall family’s wealth rather than a picture of Spencer Thomas himself.

John Vassall had four sons and two daughters. When he died at Clifton in 1797 he left £4000 to his daughter Mary, having previously settled £4000 on his daughter Elizabeth when she married. He left his real estate in trust. From the trust income his wife was to have an annuity of £600, his oldest son John to have an annuity of £200, and his other sons to have annuities of £100 each. The rest of his estate was divided between his sons in the same portions of two fifths for John and one fifth for the three other sons. Spencer Thomas inherited 133 slaves.

In 1834 slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire. Slave owners were promised compensation. Spencer Thomas Vassall’s widow Catherine and his son Spencer Lambert Hunter Vassall inherited his share of the Newfound River estate. His widow had remarried. Following the Slave Compensation Act of 1837, Mrs Catherine Strode, as she now was, was awarded compensation of £2,595 18s 5d. That is the equivalent of between 1 and 2 million pounds in today’s money. The total cost of the compensation awards in the Caribbean, Mauritius and the Cape of Good Hope was roughly £20,000,000. If you are interested in this subject, University College London’s excellent website on Legacies of British Slave-ownership is at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/project/research

The slaves themselves, of course, didn’t benefit from the Compensation Act. Being nobody’s property – not even their own – they weren’t eligible. 1834 was also the year when the Tolpuddle Martyrs were convicted under the Unlawful Oaths Act. When they combined to form the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers, these six farm workers swore a secret oath, thus laying themselves open to prosecution. They had aroused the ire of a local landowner, James Frampton, for protesting against the reduction of their wages from eight to seven shillings a day. At eight shillings a day, assuming they were employed every day, which they weren’t, their annual remuneration would have been £146. It’s a figure worth bearing in mind when looking at the sums paid out to former slave owners.

This is the coat of arms granted by Elizabeth I to John Vassall (1544-1625). He was a Huguenot who came to London from France sometime before 1572. By 1588 he was an alderman and rich enough to equip two ships at his own expense to join the English fleet facing the Armada. He died of plague in London in 1625.

Both John’s surviving sons, Samuel and William Vassall, were original investors in the Massachusetts Bay Company, owning a twentieth each of Masssachusetts Bay. William emigrated to America with his wife and seven children. He settled in Scituate but quarrelled with the church of Plymouth over their treatment of Quakers and returned to England before dying in Barbados. Samuel was a large scale ship owner who stood out against the King in the matter of tonnage and poundage and was later awarded over £10,000 in compensation by the Long Parliament of which he was a member. He was an early developer of the triangular slave trade and from 1651 was a major shareholder in the Guinea Company.

It was Samuel’s son John (1625-1688) who acquired Newfound River and other properties in Jamaica shortly after the English conquest of the island from the Spanish. The map above is from the BCW Project’s article on Cromwell’s Western Design which can be found at http://bcw-project.org/military/anglo-spanish-war/western-design As the map shows, the conquest of Jamaica in 1655 was very much of an afterthought after the failure of the English attack on Santo Domingo.

The early years of the English in Jamaica weren’t easy. The last Spanish governor, Cristobal Ysassi, conducted a guerilla war in the mountains where he was joined by escaped slaves led by Juan de Bolas. In 1660 the English persuaded Juan de Bolas to change sides, but resistance continued into the 1670s under a new black leader, Juan de Serras. Over time the English and the escaped slaves, who were now called Maroons, established a modus vivendi punctuated by frequent wars. The English interest was to prevent the Maroons welcoming new escaped slaves into their midst, whilst the Maroons wanted to establish areas in the mountainous north of the island where they would be free from interference. In the picture below from Robert Dallas’ History of the Maroons Colonel John Guthrie and the Maroon leader Cudjoe are shown making peace in 1738 towards the end of the First Maroon War.

British Library

It was only after the earthquake of 1692 that, as Jason Daniels puts it in Atlantic Contingency, “Jamaica transformed from a frontier society dominated by ex-English military men turned small planters and privateers, who were governed by martial law, into a well-settled plantation society dominated by a diminishing number of powerful white planters and their enslaved Africans.” And indeed it wasn’t until well into the 18th Century that sugar replaced piracy as Jamaica’s main industry.

It was sugar that brought wealth to Jamaica or rather to the plantation owners of Jamaica. As tea evolved in Britain from a bitter drink drunk by the upper classes into a sugared drink drunk by all and sundry so the demand for sugar increased exponentially. Tea was heavily taxed and just as heavily smuggled so exact figures are hard to find. It is estimated that in the half century from 1650 to 1700 Britain imported 180,000 pounds of tea. In the decade from 1750 to 1760 Britain imported over 40,000,000 pounds of taxed tea. Sugar soon replaced cotton and tobacco to become Jamaica’s only significant export. Some idea of the increase in production can be gauged by the increase in the slave population. John J McCusker in The Rum Trade estimates that the slave population in the British Caribbean rose from 148,000 in 1710 to 428,000 in 1770.

For the first nine years of his life Spencer Thomas Vassall spent the summer months in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The house above, now called Longfellow House after the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who lived there for many years, was built by Spencer Thomas’ father, John Vassall, in 1759. Apart from his Vassall cousins, of whom there were bewildering numbers, John Vassall was connected with other leading lights of New Englabd society. He was married to Elizabeth Oliver, sister of the Lieutenant Governor.

John Vassall owned property in Cambridge and Boston supposedly worth between £7000 and £8000, but these amounts were dwarfed by the income derived from his Jamaican estate which brought in £3000 a year before the hurricane of 1771 and more than £1000 a year in the years immediately after. Clearly, if John Vassall was to hold on to his Jamaican property, he needed to side with the crown, but it appears he was also a loyalist by inclination. He accepted a place on the Council of Massachusetts without compulsion and incurred the wrath of the crowd by a vigorous defence of the new Lieutenant Governor, Thomas Hutchinson. In March 1775 Rivington’s Gazette reported that “Colonel Vassall, of Cambridge, from intolerable threats, and insolent treatment by mobs, of his friends and himself, has left his elegant seat there, and retired to Boston, with his amiable family, for protection.” When the Revolution began he took himself and his family to England. His property in America was confiscated. By a bitter irony “his elegant seat” served as Washington’s headquarters from 16th July 1775 to 4th April 1776.

Spencer Thomas Vassall’s last year in North America must have been alarming. Far from suffering any form of post-traumatic stress disorder, the eleven year old must have started badgering his father into buying him an ensigncy almost as soon as he set foot in England. According to the Memoir, he received “a suitable education, first at a foreign academy, where he acquired a knowledge of the modern languages, and afterwards at a military establishment in England.” This education took eighteen months at most since he was gazetted into the 59th Foot in 1776. The 59th Foot was stationed in Boston when the American War broke out. It had suffered heavy losses and its remaining men were drafted into other regiments while its officers returned to England to recruit. Almost certainly John Vassall had met some of these officers when they were in Boston and almost certainly he paid over the regulation price for his son’s ensigncy.

There are problems about the Memoir. It’s not at all clear why the book was published at all. Much of the text is word for word the same as an obituary published in the Royal Military Chronicle for May 1811. Presumably it was printed as an act of piety by his widow Catherine, who had married Thomas Chetham Strode in 1816. But why? Before 1811 she had already commissioned a memorial to her first husband designed by Flaxman and executed by Rossi in St Paul’s, Bristol. More baffling still is the question of authorship.

Most people attribute the Memoir to Margaret Holford (1778-1852) who also wrote (after 1826) under her married name Hodson. The problem with this attribition is twofold. First the Memoir concludes with an Elegiac Ode to the Memory of Lieut-Colonel Vassall. By Miss Holford. There seems little point publishing the Memoir anonymously if you then advertise yourself as author of the poem. Again, if Miss Holford had actually written the Memoir, it would have been more than a trifle immodest of her to write, “Many literary tributes have been offered to his memory, among which stands pre-eminent an affecting monody by Miss Holford, the admired author of ‘Wallace’.” The editor of the Royal Military Chronicle doesn’t help, expressing himself only “as indebted for the following memoir to a person who would give grace to any society, and dignity to any work.” So the author was still alive in 1811. Which counts out another possibility, Anna Seward ‘the Swan of Lichfield’. The poem that ends the Memoir is also introduced by the author’s name, Amelia Anderson Opie.

So perhaps we’d better settle for Margaret Holford. In Gender, War and Politics: Transatlantic Perspectives edited by K. Hagemann, G. Mettele, J. Rendall we read:

It’s about time I got to the point which is that Anna Seward, Margaret Holford and Amelia Opie were all literary lions in their day. Which is strange since the poem that adorns the Flaxman memorial in Bristol begins ‘Stranger if e’er you honour’d Sidney’s name’ and continues in much the same vein. Still, there’s no accounting for changing tastes. And the point is Spencer Thomas Vassall had the benefit of the social connections of his numerous Vassall cousins. In particular, he was the great grandson of Leonard Vassall whose brother Florentius was grandfather of Elizabeth Vassall, and as such had access to Holland House and the people who frequented it. Holland House was the closest London got to a Parisian salon and all three of these ladies attended Holland House dinners at one time or another.

When Elizabeth Vassall married Henry Fox in 1797 she brought with her two Jamaican plantations, Friendship and Greenwich. These were sufficiently substantial for her husband to change his name to Fox-Vassall when compensation became a probability. Henry Fox 3rd Baron Holland was a major player in Whig party politics in Britain. He was Lord Privy Seal for six months from October 1806 in the Ministry of All the Talents. Since her husband was usually in opposition before 1806, his connection with Elizabeth may on balance have hindered Spencer Thomas Vassall’s career. It does however explain the wealth of literary talent available to mark his death.

The extract above from Visitation of England and Wales volume 13 (1919) summarises the careers of Spencer Thomas Vassall and his son. The Memoir fills in some of the gaps. To his chagrin, Spencer Thomas Vassall arrived in Gibraltar during the siege but after the garrison had repelled what proved to be the last setpiece attack on the Rock. He served in Flanders twice and was lucky to have escaped with his life in 1794 when he accompanied General Don under a flag of truce to the French camp where “Brun, the French commander-in-chief, in a fit of frantic rage….” treated them both as spies. He married in June 1795 but spent most of the late 1790s in Antigua.

In 1800 Vassall purchased a lieutenant colonelcy and took command of the 38th South Staffordshire Regiment of Foot which had returned from the West Indies with fewer than 100 effectives and was recruiting in Lichfield. It is probably then that he met Anna Seward and her friend Margaret Holford. Next year the 38th were sent to Ireland where Vassall remained for four years – 1801 in the Visitation is a misprint – together with his wife and children. In 1806 the 38th were part of the force that captured the Cape of Good Hope from the Dutch. The picture below, painted in 1820, is of the Battle of Blaauwberg on 8th January 1806 when the Dutch Governor, General Janssens, was defeated by Sir David Baird.

Following the succesful invasion of the Cape, the main British force continued to South America intending to hurt the interests of Spain, another nation allied to the French. This ill conceived invasion appears to have been the brain child of Commodore Sir Home Popham. Popham persuaded Baird to lend him the 71st Regiment and collected more men and guns from the garrison of St Helena before reaching the River Plate in June 1806. A British force of 1600 men and 6 guns proceeded to surprise and capture Buenos Ayres. Predictably enough this small British force was unable to hold the Spanish capital. In August 1806 the 71st capitulated and were marched off into the interior.

The British government recalled Popham as soon as his despatch from St Helena reached London. However, faced with a fait accompli, they decided to reinforce the invasion, sending a new expredition from Britain under Sir Samuel Auchmuty and drecting Baird to send reinforcements from the Cape. Vassall had been selected as commandant of the British garrison and could easily have summoned his wife and children to join him. He chose not to. According to the Memoir, he sent several letters home, presumably to his Fox-Vassall connections, lobbying to be allowed to accompany the second expedition.

In October 1806 the new force from the Cape under command of Lieutenant Colonerl Backhouse secured a new base at Maldonado in an action where Vassall again distinguished himself. Auchmuty landed there on 5th January 1807. Deciding that Buenos Ayres was too strongly held to be recaptured, Auchmuty chose to attack Monte Video instead. On 3rd February the city was taken. It proved to be the high water mark of Britisjh involvement in South America. A still larger force was ssent out from Britain under Lieutenant General John Whitelocke who failed to take Buenos Ayres and was cashiered on his return to England with “his sword broken over his head”.

But the later events of 1807 are irrelevant here. The Memoir includes a long letter about Vassall’s death at the storming of Monte Video by his orderly, Sergeant Mathews. The letter, which appeared in several English newspapers, was dated February 10 1807 and addressed to Sir Home Popham “a friend of the family”.

A little later, having advanced through the breach, he was leading a party to

Vassall was wounded on the 3rd February and died on the 7th from gangrene. I remain perplexed as to why this brave officer never once received promotion without purchase.

These are Spencer Lambert Hunter Vassall’s arms as depicted in John Burke’s Genealogical and Heraldic History. They show the augmentation of arms granted posthumously to his father following the taking of Monte Video, “the sun rising in full splendour from behind the breached bastions of a fortress, and above the same, the word “Monte Video”; the number 38th on a canton argent, within a branch of cypress, and another of laurel, the stems uniting in saltire….”

By way of valediction here is another of John Berryman’s pictures

U is for Beauchamp Colclough Urquhart

These are the arms of Kenneth Trist Urquhart 26th chief of Clan Urquhart whose father established his right to be chief in 1959. As with many old Celtic families the Urquhart arms celebrate the exploits of a faithful hound that saved the life of a hunter menaced by an outsize boar in the mists of time. Don’t ask me to explain the naked lady with the sword and the palm leaf. The subject of this blog, Beauchamp Clough Urquhart, was the 22nd chief. Were he American, you’d have to call him Beauchamp Clough Urquhart III since his father and grandfather both had the same name. He was third and last; he died childless, and with him died the Urquharts of Meldrum.

My excuse for this blog is a snappily titled volume, In Memoriam Beauchamp Colclough Urquhart of Meldrum, Captain 1st Battalion Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders (gazetted Major, 5th April 1898) killed in action at the Battle of Atbara, Soudan, Good Friday April 8th 1898. Also more, also later about In Memoriam volumes. This one was almost certainly edited by Urquhart’s sister Anne who had married Garden Alexander Duff of Hatton. Beauchamp Colclough Urquhart was a decent man and a good soldier who would probably have reached the command of his battalion of the Cameron Highlanders before retiring to Meldrum if he hadn’t been killed. But it has to be admitted he was a pale shadow of an earlier Urquhart chief. In an attempt to keep my readership (eight at the last count) I’ll focus on him for a moment or two with the aid of Henrietta Tayler’s Family of Urquhart.

Sir Thomas was the 12th chief of Clan Urquhart and the nth descendant of Conachar, the Irishman who had a narrow escape from a boar. Sir Thomas could have told you the value of n since in his book Pantochronachon he includes a genealogy tracing his ancestry back to Adam and Eve. He is most famous (and justly so) for his translation of Rabelais. The screenshot above is from an article about Sir Thomas Urquhart and Rabelais by Roger Craik. It is well worth reading in full at


The genealogy and the translation were by no means Sir Thomas’ only works. As you’ll have guessed by now from his strange book titles, he was a great coiner of words, though few of them have stood the test of time. He proposed a universal language in his Ekskybalauron. In the same book he tells us how he took “Manuscripts in folio, to the quantity of six-score & eight quires and a half” to the Battle of Worcester where they were scattered to the winds by the “exquisite snaps and clean shavers” of Cromwell’s army. What priceless treasures the world has lost! Fortunately, though, Captain Goodwin of Pride’s Regiment rescued some receipts from creditors which allowed Sir Thomas to hold the duns at bay for long enough to visit his estates. A prominent Royalist, who looked the part (see below), Urquhart died of over-exuberance – though this story is denied by Ms Tayler – in Holland while celebrating the Restoration of Charles II.

Sir Thomas’ brother inherited what was left of the Urquhart fortunes. Either he or the kinsman who succeeded him as chief was obliged to sell Craigston Castle. The last of the Craigston branch of the family was Colonel James Urquhart who fought at Sherriffmuir for the Jacobites and was proscribed. He was succeeded as 17th chief by William Urquhart of Meldrum whose daughter Jean married Captain John Urquhart nicknamed “the pirate”. The pirate, who was also at Sheriffmuir, went into exile and fought as a privateer with letters of marque from the Spanish. He must have made a considerable fortune since he bought Craigston back from the Duffs in 1740 and the original Urquhart estates in Cromarty from the Mackenzies in 1741. The recovery of the Urquharts is often attributed to him. It had at least as much to do with Highland clearances. It would be nice to think it was Spanish doubloons that paid for the 186 room Jacobean-style house that emerged from Archibald Simpson’s remodelling of Meldrum House in 1836. But it wasn’t really. It was the presence of sheep and the absence of people.


This is a picture of Meldrum House today. It doesn’t properly illustrate Simpson’s work since the house was redesigned in 1934 by W L Duncan who removed two pavilions and the top storey. Still it gives an idea of scale. Meldrum House is now a hotel. Its owners say Simpson was commissioned by James Urquhart. Work started in 1836 by which time the oldest Beauchamp Colclough Urquhart of Byth had inherited.

Back to the subject which is the 1836 Urquhart’s grandson. He was born 20th July 1860 and was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant in the 79th Foot on 14th January 1880. Like most regiments numbered higher than 26 the 79th Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders had only one regular battalion. In 1881 all other single battalion regiments were linked with other single battalion regiments to form new regiments with two regular battalions. The idea behind Sir Edward Cardwell’s reform was that one battalion could remain in Britain to train and recruit while the other was overseas.

The 79th was the exception to Cardwell’s rule. Apart from dropping its regimental number, The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders emerged from the reforms of 1881 unalloyed by amalgamation and still with only one regular battalion. The regiment almost certainly owed its survival to Queen Victoria herself. It had been a great favourite of hers in her highland period and in 1873 had been granted the badge of the crowned thistle, the royal badge of Scotland. But reformers had their eye on this anomaly. During Urquhart’s service with the regiment there were repeated scares that its independence was under threat. In 1887 the regimental historian records “it was in contemplation to convert the Cameron Highlanders into a 3rd battalion of the Scots Guards” and that after protests from the Highland Society of London and other bodies the proposal was as “dead as if it had never been mooted”. Which didn’t stop it being mooted again in 1893. The furore only ended in 1897 when the regiment was allowed to raise a second regular battalion. A nucleus of officers was sent home from Gibraltar. Prtedictably enough they had difficulty recruiting. “The whole of Scotland was thrown open to recruiting for the Cameron Highlanders.” Which rather spoiled the point since the exclusivity of the regiment was that it was composed of men who came from Cameron country.

The picture above is from Historical Records of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders and is by R A Wymer. It shows the service uniform of the regiment in Egypt in 1882. The store pattern helmets with puggarees were “stained brown with tea, coffee or tobacco juice” as were the spats. The red serge jackets had blue collars with a thistle pattern ornament and red cuffs marked with white braid. Because of the climate, khaki trousers and khaki drill jackets had been issued, but as the writer of the appendix on dress notes, “Red jackets were also taken and were worn in action at Kosheh and Giniss.”

Urquhart arrived in Egypt on 4th September 1882 with a party of reservists under Captain Chapman. The regimental historian, probably Major General J S Ewart, grouses “they had not been supplied with kilts, and the subsequent presence of so many men in trews somewhat spoiled the fine appearance of a battalion on parade.” Urquhart was in time to fight at Tel-el-Kebir, the battle that put paid to Arabi Pasha’s hopes of Egyptian independence. The Cameron Highlanders were with the slow-moving River Column of the Nile Expeditionary Force advancing from Assouan when news of General Gordon’s death at Khartoum led to the abadonment of the relief effort.

In 1885 the Cameron Highlanders were one of four infantry battalions left behind to form the Soudan Frontier Field Force. At the end of November the regiment and the 9th Soudanese Battalion of the Anglo-Egyptian army were the main elements of the garrisons of Kosheh and Mograkeh when a Mahdist force of about 7000 men appeared on the hills above Amara. For the rest of the month the two forts were effectively under siege until the arrival of a relief force under Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Stephenson. The battle of Ginnis on 30th December 1885 broke what proved to be the last serious attempt to export the doctrines of the now dead Islamic leader Mohammed Ahmed into Egypt. It was also the last battle fought by men of the British army wearing red. Urquhart, who had been promoted captain on 2nd November 1885, took part in the battle and led E Company to clear the enemy from some houses near Kosheh the next day. In 1886 the Cameron Highlanders moved to Cairo. They sailed home in March 1887.

This is Urquhart’s record of service as given in The Historical Records of the 79th compiled by Captain T A Mackenzie and others and published in 1887.

From 1887 to 1893 Urquhart served uneventfully at home with the regiment. He is mentioned twice in the clunkier two volume regimental history. On 23rd July 1888 he commanded an escort of men and pipers charged with depositing old colours of the 26th and 94th Regiments in St Giles. From 22nd May he commanded the Guard of Honour sent to Ballater for the duration of Queen Victoria’s stay at Balmoral. And those were the high spots of regimental life!

In 1893 Urquhart was seconded from the Cameron Highlanders to act as senior aide de camp to Lord Aberdeen, the newly appointed Governor General of Canada. Confusingly the London Gazette of December 12 1893 has him seconded from the Cameron Highlanders to the Staff College from September 7th 1893. Satisfactory attendance at the Staff College was necessary if he was to be promoted major. His appointment as Aberdeen’s ADC seems to have trumped his secondment to the Staff College. Certainly by December 1893 he was already in Canada where he remained until he heard of the death of his father in September 1896.

John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon, 7th Earl of Aberdeen and later 1st Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair (1847-1934) was Governor General of Canada from 1893 to 1898 and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1905 to 1917. In 1929 he published some of the jokes he told in his after dinner speeches. Jokes Cracked by Lord Aberdeen enjoyed a cult revival at the turn of the millennium. Here is one of them:

“A reminiscence concerning the late Dr Campbell, bishop of Glasgow, which he probably narrated, or which at any rate would be thoroughly appreciated by him was, that some English friend once addressed a letter to “The Right Rev the Bishop of Glasgow, The Palace, Glasgow.” The letter was returned from the Post Office, marked, “Not known at the Palace – try the Empire.”

You can read more of Lord Aberdeen’s jokes in a Guardian article at


After settling his father’s affairs, Urquhart took up his delayed secondment to the Staff College. Hart’s Army List for 1898 shows him in the Senior Division of the Royal Military College the year before. It wasn’t until 31st March 1898 that he was able to join 1st Battalion Cameron Highlanders at Ras-el-Hudi on the river Atbara.

This map is from Alfred Milner’s England in Egypt (1894). It is based on maps drawn by Major F R Wingate in Mahdiism and the Egyptian Sudan and shows the maximum extent of the area ruled by the Mahdi and his successor the Khalifa. It was always likely that the British would seek to avenge the death of General Gordon; however, many policy makers resisted this, notably Lord Cromer who as British Consul-General in Cairo was de facto ruler of Egypt. In 1896 Lord Salisbury’s incoming Conservative government believed that the French, who had already sent Colonel Marchand to Fashoda, had designs on the whole region that had once been ruled by Egypt. The catastrophic defeat of an Italian army at Adowa by the Ethopian Emperor Menelik sharpened London’s alarm as it raised the very real prospect that Menelik might ally with the Khalifa and threaten British rule in Egypt.

In 1896 Brigadier General H H Kitchener, the commander-in-chief or Sirdar of the Anglo-Egyptian Army was tasked with reconquering the Sudan. He attributed Wolseley’s failure to relieve Gordon in 1884 to supply problems and resolved to solve the problem by building a railway across the bend of The Nile from Wadi Haifa, south of Assouan, to Abu Hamed. The gap between Assouan, where the existing Egyptian railway system ended, and Wadi Haifa was covered by ferry. In 1896 Kitchener advanced a force to Dongola to provide a shield for his railway building. A Mahdist attempt to save Dongola was defeated at Hafir in September. Kitchener was promoted Major General when news reached London. 1897 was taken up with extending the railway. The advance to Khartoum began in 1898 when the Anglo-Egyptian Army was reinforced by a brigade under Major General W F Gatacre consisting of three battalions from the Warwickshire Regiment, the Lincolnshire Regiment and the Cameron Highlanders.

The Anglo-Egyptian army advanced up river to Berber where the river Atbara joins the Nile. The Khalifa, aware of the threat to his capital at Khartoum, sent Emir Mahmud Ahmad to reinforce the Mahdist forces under Osman Digna. Osman Digna had intended to fight a mobile war, crossing the Atbara and threatening Kitchener’s supply lines. He was over-ruled by Mahmud who insisted on remaining inside a fortified camp.

On 8th April 1898 the British stormed the Mahdist camp. This plan of the Battle of Atbara is from A Hilliard Atteridge’s Wars of the Nineties.

This coloured platinum print depicting the Cameron Highlanders entering the Mahdist camp was published in 1898 by Henry Graves from a painting by Stanley Berkeley. There is an account of the battle in Urquhart’s In Memoriam by the special correspondent of the Daily Telegraph. Here he describes the moment when Urquhart was mortally wounded. “Truth to say, the enemy were there to kill or be killed. They gave no quarter, and rarely asked for it themselves, fighting like beasts till death relaxed their thews. A sergeant jumped from the palisade across the trench underneath, and then pistoled a Dervish who had sprung up in front to spear him. Captain Urquhart, of the Camerons, jumped across about the same moment, and was shot by a rifleman who had lain among the dying waiting an opportunity to slay. Hearing a gun discharged so close behind him, the sergeant wheeled about and shot the Dervish, and one of Urquhart’s infuriated men bayonetted the treacherous foe as he fell. Urquhart received the terrible mortal wound through the body. As his men stopped to pick him up he said, ‘Never mind me, my lads. Go on, Company F’.” The story of Urquhart’s dying words is colourful but almost certainly untrue. The regimental history has Urquhart “shot dead”. As I said earlier, its main author was Spencer Ewart, who as staff officer to General Gatacre and an officer of the regiment had every opportunity to inform himself.

The poet McGonagall must have been a Telegraph reader since he repeats the story:

And with their pipes loudly sounding, and one ringing cheer,
Then the Cameron Highlanders soon did the zereba clear.
And right through the Dervish camp they went without dismay,
And scattered the Dervishes across the desert, far, far away.

Then the victory was complete, and the British gave three cheers,
While adown their cheeks flowed burning tears
For the loss of their commanders and comrades who fell in the fray,
Which they will remember for many a day.

Captain Urquhart’s last words were “never mind me my lads, fight on,”
While, no doubt, the Cameron Highlanders felt woebegone
For the loss of their brave captain, who was foremost in the field,
Death or glory was his motto, rather than yield.

McGonagall’s effort is not included in the In Memoriam volume. What are included are other accounts of the Sudan expedition, various obituary notices and a biographical sketch. The few personal reminiscences are contributed by the good and great and resemble the speeches at a memorial service.

Urquhart’s In Memoriam is a far cry from the deeply personal cries from the heart, replete with schoolboy achievements and prize essays, published in such numbers twenty years later in the First World War. But that’s not surprising. Since he joined the army seventeen years earlier, Urquhart had spent only a few weeks at Meldrum. There were few people who could remember him as a boy. He had yet to make his mark as laird. He wasn’t even buried at Meldrum. The inscription at Oldmeldrum Episcopal Church is “To the memory of Beauchamp Colclough Urquhart, Major, Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, b 20.7.1860 killed at the battle of the Atbara, Soudan 8.4.1898 and buried on the field of battle.” But Lord Aberdeen liked him. Here is his memorial plaque at Rideau Hall, Ontario.

T is for Paul Thiebault

Paul Charles Francois Adrien Henri Dieudonne Thiebault (1769-1846) was a French general of the Napoleonic Wars who wrote a number of military books in his life time and left behind in manuscript Memoires du general baron Thiebault published in 5 volumes in Paris between 1893 and 1895. There is a perfectly good abridgement of his memoirs in English, translated by A J Butler, and published in 2 volumes in London in 1896. Typically, as Management would say, I don’t have any of these in stock. Instead I have three controversial pieces by his son Adolphe (1797-1875) contributed to the Spectateur Militaire in the 1840s. Again typically, they are bound together in the wrappers which that journal used to supply its offprints, broché as the French call it. Booksellers tell the credulous it’s better to retain the original beaten up paper than to rebind such material.

First a summary of Thiebault’s career:

  • 1789 : volunteer in the Feuillant battalion of the Paris National Guard
  • 1792 : volunteer in the battalion of Butte des Moulins
  • 1793 : joins the Army of the North – he is charged with treason
  • 1793 : re-employed in the Army of the North
  • 1795: joins the Army of Italy
  • 1800 : recalled to the colours to serve on Massena’s staff at the Siege of Genoa
  • 1801 : promoted general of brigade
  • 1805 : commands 1st Brigade 1st Division at Austerlitz
  • 1806 : Governor of Fulda in occupied Germany
  • 1807 : promoted general of division, he accompanies Junot to Portugal
  • 1810 : Governor of Salamanca
  • 1811 : Governor of Old Castille
  • 1813 : sent to Hamburg where he commands the 4th Division under Davout
  • 1815 : rallies to Napoleon and commands the Paris garrison
  • 1817 : appointed chief of the Royal Staff Corps
  • 1822 : retires at the same time as Gouvion Saint-Cyr

There are two moments of exceptional interest in his career. First when he was suspected of sympathising with General Dumouriez after the General deserted to the Austrians in 1793. Second when he wasn’t promoted in the aftermath of Austerlitz, a battle in which his brigade had performed well and after which promotions were handed out like confetti. More exceptional than either of these, however, is his love life. Prepare to be perplexed: this is a tangled web.

Thiebault married first Betzy Walker (1867-1824) daughter of Lady Mary Hamilton, author of Munster Village, a novel about a Utopia for fallen women. Lady Mary is worthy of a post of her own. Thiebault met Betzy in 1793 in Lille where she was living with her mother and her stepfather, George Hamilton. Like her mother, who wasn’t actually married to Hamilton, Betzy enjoyed tempestuous relationships. Her son Adolphe was born in 1797. She had several other children of whom two grew to adulthood, Laure-Melanie and Alfred. Adolphe wrote a biography of his grandmother and several pieces about his mother that are now with Lady Mary Hamilton’s papers at Yale. More of Adolphe’s papers are with Indiana University’s collection of Thiebault papers which also has the manuscript of Thiebault’s Relation de l’Expédition du Portugal published in 1817. Adolphe conducted extensive genealogical research, but counting up to nine should have been enough to suggest that Alfred wasn’t legitimate, Thiebault being posted at Tours at the moment of conception while Betzy was at home at Ste Larmes near Paris, the estate Thiebault had bought in 1799 with his loot from Italy. Thiebault divorced Betzy on 7th July 1804. Thereafter Betzy remained close to her sister Isabella while Thiebault remained friendly with Isabella’s husband, the dramatist Etienne Jouy, who had served with him in the Army of the North. I’m not sure how this Gallic arrangement worked. Betzy died in 1824 when she was living in Blois with her brother James Walker who had risen to the rank of Rear Admiral in the Royal Navy.

The Memoires are silent on the subject of Betzy’s affaires, probably because all reference to them was excised by her son Adolphe who seems to have been custodian of the Memoires until his death in 1875. They are far from silent on Thiebault’s affaires, Adolphe being more than a touch disapproving of his father’s ways. In 1823 Adolphe caught his father in flagrante with the governess of his stepsisters. He used this to advantage, compelling Thiebault to stump up for the marriage of his daughter Laure to Jacques Montbrun de Norvins, author of the first serious history of Napoleon.

Thiebault’s longest lasting mistress was Pauline Ricciulli who he met in Naples. According to the Memoires their idyll lasted until March 1802 when he received a final letter from Madame Ricciulli in which she threw his promises in his face. Adolphe’s papers, however, include a letter to Thiebault from his father in December 1802 in which the older Thiebault warns his son that the Baron de Nolli and another “very large” Italian were demanding to meet him so that they could hand over a letter from Pauline and possibly a personal message also.

By Jean-Christophe BENOIST – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11301412

In March 1802, while serving at Tours, Thiebault met Elisabeth (Zozotte), daughter of Francois Chenais, a coffee planter in the Antilles. In 1791 Francois had bought the Chateau de Villandry (above) from the Marquis de Castellane. Francois’ income was diminished by the rising in Santo Domingo which cost him his 400 slaves, but he was by no means a poor man when Thiebault began courting Zozotte. Thiebault married Zozotte two weeks after his divorce from Betzy was finalised in 1804. There’s not a word of criticism about Zozotte in the Memoires. You need to go to Adolphe’s papers to read, “It was not uncommon for them to go weeks at a time without seeing each other during fights”. Thiebault had three daughters by Zozotte. It was the oldest of them, Claire, who arranged for publication of his Memoires shortly before her death in 1894.

All this might suggest that there were tensions in the Thiebault family. Adolphe certainly doctored the Memoires. Claire probably did. There is a brilliant discussion of this and other matters relating to Thiebault’s career in Jack Sigler’s unpublished PhD thesis at https://fsu.digital.flvc.org/islandora/object/fsu%3A176227/datastream/PDF/view

Back to 1793 and the treason of General Dumouriez. Our hero had been introduced by his father to General Jacques O’Moran, a man who figures largely in John Cornelius O’Callaghan’s History of the Irish Brigades in the service of France. O’Moran, a divisional commander under Dumouriez, took the young Thiebault under his wing. On 22nd February he appointed Thiebault lieutenant in the 1st Tournai Regiment. He introduced the young captain to notables like Mme de Genlis. It was in Mme de Genlis’ house that Thiebault met Betzy and her mother Lady Mary Hamilton. As I’ve already remarked, there is a great deal to be said about Lady Mary. Inter alia, she was rumoured to be a British agent in communication with James Harris who was charged with co-ordinating the forces opposed to the French Revolution and more practically with shelling out large sums of British money. I can’t find anything to suibstantiate these rumours. Lady Mary is mentioned only once in the Diaries and Correspondence of James Harris 1st Earl of Malmesbury when in 1797 he records

No sign there of a George Smiley resuming contact with an agent. Still I suppose if Harris really was a spymaster, he’ll habe been so used to covering his tracks that it’s pointless looking for anything other than disinformation in his diaries. All the same, Lady Mary had a reputation that made her dangerous to know, especially if you were a bumptious young Frenchman on the make in revolutionary times.

That was a whole paragraph theoretically about Dumouriez in which I mentioned his name only once. Dumouriez was the architect of the French victories at Valmy and Jemappes when – to everyone’s surprise – untrained but enthusiastic French levies defeated the royalists in exile and their Austrian allies. The spirited and entirely unrealistic image above is from Charles Morris’ One Hundred Years of Conflict. It depicts the Duke of Chartres directing an attack on the Austrian centre. Dumouriez should have been riding high at the beginning of 1793. He wasn’t. The Jacobins in Paris didn’t like his expensive military tactics which involved little more than launching repeated frontal attacks. They also distrusted him for speaking out against the execution of the king. For his part Dumouriez reacted strongly to the decree of 15th December 1792 allowing French armies to loot in conquered territories. He pointed out that this put paid to any chance of collaboration from the Belgians. It was clear that the Jacobins would move to be rid of him as soon as he lost a battle which he did at Neerwinden on 18th March 1793. Sure as the guillotone’s blade the Jacobins responded to the news by sending delegates from Paris. Dumouriez, who had retreated with his army from Tournai to Saint-Amand will have expected their arrival. He and his friends will certainly have been planning to arrest them which is indeed what they did when the delegates arrived.

Towards the end of March Thiebault received a handsome offer from Jean-Baptiste Cyrus de Valence who had commanded the right wing at Neerwinden. One of Valence’s aides de camp had been killed in the battle. Valence offered Thiebault the vacant post and with it an appointment as captain in the crack Chamborant Hussars. According to Thiebault, Valence then gave him four days leave so that he could visit Betzy Walker and his father who were at Lille. Four days is a generous allowance from a general to his new aide de camp especially when the general is well aware that Nemesis is on its way from Paris. It’s more likely Thiebault was given one day’s leave. He does his best to account for the other three. He needed a new uniform. Saint-Amand to Lille is a long journey – 25 miles as a matter of fact. He proposed to Betzy on 1st April – as though that lady gave a toss about formalities of that sort.

Chapter 9 of Thiebault’s volume 1 (English edition) begins

This is typical Thiebault. It neatly avoids mentioning Valence by name although Valence and his divisional commander, the Duke of Chartres, were two of Dumouriez’ main supporters. So we are not required to ask ourselves why Valence hasn’t said a word to his newly appointed aide-de-camp about the impending arrest of the delegates. Also, we’re required to believe that Thiebault has been kept in the dark by Madame de Genlis who was Valence’s mother-in-law. Betzy and her mother have also – and most unusually – held their tongues. Uneasily aware that this farrago of self-exculpating nonsense won’t stand a moment’s scrutiny, Thiebault repeats his claim that Valence had given him four days leave. Later in chapter 9 however he reveals

Number 3 suggests Thiebault had indeed overstayed his leave. The truth of the matter is that Thiebault took himself off to Lille, leaving Valence and Dumouriez in the lurch.

Dumouriez’ coup failed. Quite what he was up to isn’t clear. Most likely he intended to set himself up as a strong man, lead his army to Paris and restore moderate – or at least Girondin – government. He, Chartres and Valence together with Madame de Genlis and others fled to the Austrians. Thiebault had his work cut out explaining away the documents intercepted at Lille. (Dumouriez eventually found refuge in England. He returned to France in 1816 and somewhat tactlessly petitioned to be made a marshal. The Duke of Chartres is better known as Louis Philippe who reigned as King of France from 1830 to 1848. Valence reconciled with Napoleon and led a heavy cavalry division at Borodino. Madame de Genlis also reconciled with Napoleon and spent her declining years writing novels and quarrelling with other authors.)

Thiebault’s concern for his own skin in April 1793 was repeated on 9th November 1799, better known as the 18 Brumaire of the revolutionary calendar. 18 Brumaire was the coup that brought Napoleon Bonaparte to power as First Consul. After General Napoleon Bonaparte returned from Egypt on 16th October, Thiebault met him several times. On 24th October, over breakfast, Napoleon offered him a post on his staff. In his Memoires Thiebault claims not to have understood the offer for what it was, adding “the thought did not occur to me”. However, that seems rather unlikely since Thiebault also wrote, that while escorting him to the door, Napoleon said, “Go and give your address to Berthier.” There had been seditious talk over breakfast. Thiebault resolved to stay well clear. On 6th November he said he was too ill to attend the dinner given by the Directory at the Temple of Victory to honour General Bonaparte.

So far as we can tell from his book, Thiebault did nothing at all on 18 Brumaire itself. He has nothing to say about Napoleon persuading the Council of Five Hundred that a Jacobin coup was imminent and that they must withdraw from Paris to the Chateau of Saint-Cloud for their own safety. He is silent about the resignation of three of the five Directors of Public Safety, the elevation of the two others to the rank of Consul and the appointment of Napoleon himself as First Consul.

Thiebault’s account resumes on 19 Brumaire (9th November) when a friend tells him Napoleon has left for Saint-Cloud with his entourage. This is the vital moment. Will the Council accept the shenanigans of the day before or will they outlaw Napoleon? Thiebault, who has abruptly recovered his health, hurries to the scene. It’s all very tense. Napoleon is looking worried. He asks a major why he has moved his troops. The major replies that he has been ordered to do so by his superior officer. Napoleon snaps, “There are no orders here but mine.” And Thiebault gets it wrong. “Are we to see things like this?” he demands and leaves the room.

But Napoleon was no Dumouriez. He had his own way of dealing with political opposition as the Gillray cartoon above demonstrates. Grenadiers commmanded by Murat emptied the chamber. The Parisian mob did nothing. The revolution was over.

As for Thiebault, though he didn’t realise it, there was no going back. Napoleon often forgave failure on the battlefield, but he never forgot disloyalty. Jean Tulard, author of Nouvelle Bibliograhie Critiques des Memoirs sur l’epoque Napoleoniennes, was no fan of Thiebault. He comments, “His memoirs have eclipsed his other books. Their success has been prodigious. This is undeserved despite some useful remarks on occupied Germany and the war in Spain. Thiebault makes judgements full of bias against his superiors, Soult in particular, and tends to exaggerate his own exploits.” Fair enough. But he was a good soldier who deserved to get further than he did. The shape of his future should have been apparent to him when a week later he offered Napoleon a plan of campaign for Italy. “You know the roads well,” the great man said and nothing more.

lithograph by Carle Vernet – Wiki Commons

And so to Austerlitz, the high point of Napoleon’s career. Thiebault was now a brigadier with the Grande Armee commanding the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of Marshal Soult’s IV Corps. He was already established as a leading military theorist. His Manuel des Adjudants Généraux et des Adjoints employés dans les Ètat-major (1804) was an early version of the Manuel General du service des Etats-majors (1813) which was rapidly accepted as the standard work on the subject and was used as a textbook when a French staff corps was formed in 1816 by Gouvion Saint-Cyr with Thiebault as its chief. Thiebault’s Journal des opérations militaires du siège et du blocus de Gênes was an eyewitness account of Massena’s defence of Genoa in 1800 which held up the Austrian army for long enough to enable Napoleon to cross the Alps and ultimately win the Battle of Marengo. This book was also well regarded. Unfortunately Thiebault had criticised Soult’s role during the siege. In 1805 he became convinced the Marshal had it in for him. He told his wife Zozotte all about it and she told the world.

By his own account, Thiebault’s first quarrel with Soult in 1805 was on a point of punctilio. Soult put Charles Morand in command of the 1st Brigade of Saint-Hilaire’s 1st Division. Thiebault protested on the ground that he was senior to Morand as a general of brigade. Then, according to Thiebault, Soult said that as a general-in-chief, he had the right to assign officers as he wished. Thiebault pointed out that Soult was a corps commander rather than a general in chief. Soult responded by putting Morand in charge of the divisional advance guard so that Morand could continue to march at the front of the column. When telling this story in his Memoires, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to Thiebault that he’d given the marshal a more immediate reason to be irritated with him.

The main thing Thiebault had to do in the early stages of the 1805 campaign was to march. The Grande Armee left its encampments near Boulogne in late August and reached Vienna, 900 miles away, on 12th November. On the way they overwhelmed an Austrian army at Ulm before a Russian army under Kutusow could help them. The French took 60,000 prisoners at the cost of 2,000 men of their own. No doubt Napoleon expected the Austrians to surrender when they lost their capital. Instead the remaining Austrian forces in Central Europe together with Kutusow’s Russians retreated to join the Russian main force. Napoleon pursued, but was unable to catch them, On 23rd November, recognising that his army was exhausted, Napoleon called a halt at Brunn.

By all rational calculation the French had lost. Napoleon was confronted by a larger allied army that was in better shape than his own. He was over-extended and threatened from the south by the Austrian Archduke Charles who was operating against weaker French forces in Italy. An allied army, paid for by the British, was assembling in Germany to the north. Napoleon added to the impression of weakness by retreating and suggesting an armistice. The position where he took his stand was well chosen. Lannes’ Corps to the north occupied a hilltop that was exceedingly defensible. South of that, strung out along the river Goldbach for about six miles, the French forces looked temptingly weak. That was mainly because Napoleon Davout’s Corps was still out of sight yet further to the south. In addition Napoleon had carefully reconnoitred the Pratzen Heights on the far side of the river. In David Chandler’s map below, showing the position of the two armies on the night before the battle, the Pratzen Heights are occupied by Lichtenstein’s Corps of the allied army.

cut to size from David Chandler Austerlitz: The War of the Three Emperors

The allied occupation of the Pratzen Heights was of no moment. Napoleon thought correctly that the allies would be tempted to attack his weak south flank and that, in order to do so, they would strip the Pratzen Heights of troops. He intended to allow the allied attack to develop. Davout was to reinforce the south flank and hold his position. Finally Soult’s Corps was to occupy the Pratzen Heights and fall on the flank of the allied attack. The battle proceeded exactly to plan. After hard fighting, Davout stopped the allied attack; Ney occupied the Pratzen Heights, repelled a counter-attack and directed some of his brigades downhill to the south. The allied forces were trapped between the French in front and to the north and the frozen ponds and streams to the south and behind them. A third of the allied army was destroyed.

Thiebault played an important part in this overwhelming victory. He was in the thick of the fighting on the Pratzen Heights and led his brigade with distinction. He was seriously wounded by grapeshot shortly before the end of the battle while leading an attack on a Russian gun. Napoleon mentioned his injury in his Thirty-Sixth Bulletin here translated into English in Eighteen Original Journals, “General Thiebault was dangerously wounded; four Russians seized him, and were carrying him off; six wounded Frenchmen, having perceived them, drove the Russians off, and seized the wounded general, exclaiming, ‘It is an honour belonging to us alone to carry a wounded French general’.”

As the senior brigadier of Saint-Hilaire’s division who had performed well,Thiebault had every reason to expect promotion to general of division. In the upshot Morand, who had commanded Saint-Hilaire’s advance guard, was promoted and Thiebault wasn’t. Thiebault blamed Soult. On this occasion he may have been right; not because the marshal bore a grudge over Thiebault’s criticisms of him in his book on Genoa, but rather to demonstrate that he could have Morand promoted even if he couldn’t have Morand at the head of Saint-Hilaire’s first brigade. According to his Memoires, just before Thiebault was invalided to Paris, Soult visited him in hospital. Thiebault charged him directly with bearing a grievance. The marshal was embarrassed but denied it. A few pages later, in one of those jump changes which make you think the Memoires must have been composed at different times, Thiebault repeats his grievances to his friend Junot. Junot is dismissive. “Soult has nothing to do with it; he is not big enough to make the Emperor change his mind.”

And there’s the rub. The secret enemy isn’t Soult. Nor is it Berthier who Thiebault also believes to harbour an ancient grudge. (The story of this imaginary enmity is too tedious and improbable to relate.) It is the Emperor himself. Unlike Thiebault, Napoleon isn’t at all thin-skinned; however he has an elephantine memory. He is no hurry to promote Thiebault. And why? Because ever since 18 Brumaire there has been the faintest of black marks against Thiebault’s name. And that’s where Berthier really may come into the story: there may quite literally have been a little black mark next to Thiebault’s name in Berthier’s celebrated filing system.

I return to the beginning and to the obituary in the Spectateur and two other articles penned by Thiebault’s son Adolphe bound together in blue paper wrappers. Adolphe was replying to two articles written by the Russian General Danilewski and published in the Spectateur Militaire in 1846. He writes:

What Adolphe is saying here is that his father’s notes aren’t that easy to transcribe, but he’ll do his best with what he’s got, so once again it’ll be his father who speaks. I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of Thiebault v Danilewski. The debate about who did exactly what at Austerlitz goes on to this day. What’s important is that Adolphe has difficulty making sense of his father’s notes. However, the best part of half a century later, his step-sister Claire, assisted by F Calmettes, admits to no problem at all working them up into three fat volumes 8vo.

Colonel John Elting in Swords Around A Throne smelt a rat. He says the Memoires were “ghosted” by Calmettes. At the very least, someone who isn’t Thiebault has worked on them. My thanks to Jack Sigler whose thesis I have plundered for facts. It’s well worth reading (though long) at https://fsu.digital.flvc.org/islandora/object/fsu%3A176227/datastream/PDF/view Needless to say my views – especially the wrong-headed ones – aren’t his. I’ll end with what Alain Pigeard has to say about Thiebault in Les Campagnes napoliennes, “He is the author of a celebrated memoir written with a pen dipped in vinegar not only for soldiers dead on the field of honor, but for his own few friends.”

Thiebault is buried in division 39 of Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

S is for Commissary Schaumann

Augustus Ludolf Friedrich Schaumann (1778-1840) was a citizen of Hanover who served in the British Army during the Peninsular War. His ambition was to serve with the King’s German Legion but he began and ended elsewhere.

The English edition of his diary was published in 1924 translated by Anthony Mario Ludovici, famous and notorious by turns in his own lifetime, completely forgotten in ours. More about him later. Ludovici’s book was an abridgement of Kreutz- und Querzüge a two volume work published in 1921 by Schaumann’s grandson, Conrad von Holleuffer. Von Holleuffer, in his turn, had boiled down nine quarto volumes of manuscript “written in Hanover in our small house at number 363 Georgen-Platz, in December, 1827” by Schaumann who based them, he wrote, on diaries “dotted down at odd moments, while I was on the march, in bivouac, or on the foaming sea.” But – sad to relate – “a good deal of my diaries has been obliterated and rendered illegible by the hand of time, and large portions of them have been destroyed by Spanish and Portuguese rats and other vermin; but with the help of my memory and by reference to my commissariat records, I have endeavoured to fill the gaps….” He hoped to enlighten his beloved relatives. Anyone who writes a blog doesn’t need to enlarge on that one.

I like to think these are some of the vermin responsible for eating Schaumann’s diaries. It’s fortunate they laid off the commissariat records. Perhaps they found them indigestible. Back to 1921 and Colonel Conrad von Holleuffer, late of the Imperial German Army, currently unemployed. Only an optimist would have expected a huge demand for a war memoir in war-weary Germany. Holleuffer, too, was motivated by familial piety. Also an absence of anything better to do with his time. Boredom, I suspect, deserves more credit than it gets as a motivator in human affairs.

And so to Anthony M Ludovici (1882-1971) who in 1924 put Schaumann in front of a British audience. Somewhat desperately, in his preface, Ludovici remarks that Oman in Wellington’s Army had noted only five memoirs concerned with transport or the commissariat. Room for one more then. Next he falls back on a tried and trusted reason for publishing any military diary of any kind at any time, it “throws much light upon the men and methods of the British Army.” Putting feeble excuses like this on one side, it’s clear someone must have leant on him to translate the book. Most likely the someone is von Holleuffer who knew Ludovici before the First World War when the latter spent several years in Germany building himself a reputation as a Nietszche scholar.

Schaumann’s diary is an aberration in the list of Ludovici’s publications. After his various Nietszche publications before the First World War he wrote A Defence of Artistocracy in 1915. This set the tone for his life’s work. “I have long been an opponent and critic of Christianity, democracy, and anarchy in art and literature,” he wrote. Amongst his other targets were socialism, liberalism, feminism and Marxism. He went off the rails in the 1930s when, like so many men and women of the right, he fell under Hitler’s spell. Some of his earlier books are half way respectable. No such excuses can be made for his books on eugenics and the dangers of miscegenation. Even MI6 (the oxymoron to the power of six) woke up eventually to the dangers of continuing to employ him, sacking him in August 1940.

And so to Schaumann. 1808 found him in Gothenburg working as a clerk after eleven years of failing to satisfy the demands of his father. He failed in the Hanoverian army and then in the Hanoverian post office. Next he trained as a clerk, picking up skills in double entry book keeping that were to stand him in good stead later. He put up with four years of paternal disapproval before going overseas to Holland, England and finally Sweden. Then he took advantage of the British expedition to Sweden to board a crowded ship for London where he hoped to join other Hanoverian volunteers in the German Legion formed in 1803 after the King of England, George III, was deposed as Elector of Hanover by Napoleon. Initially they wouldn’t have him. He had to go cap in hand to the Commissary Department at the Treasury. He whinges about these tedious misfortunes over the first two hundred pages of Kreutz- und Querzüge. Wisely Ludovici scraps the lot, electing to start with his hero about to set foot in Portugal, “At about ten o’clock on Sunday morning the 28th August, 1808, we were given the signal to land.”

So who is the thirty year old Schaumann? A skilled artist for one thing who landed portmanteau in hand. Not over-modest as the self portrait at the start of this blog suggests. Free in offering his own opinions – on page 92 he tells General Beresford how to use a map, “remarking that if he took a number of pins and dipped their heads in red, black, green or blue sealing wax, or used any other means for distinguishing them, and then stuck them into the maps, he would find that a very clear and pleasant way of indicating the position of the enemy’s army and our own….” Philosophical (but an honest reporter) when rebuffed – “I don’t want your advice, sir; mind your own business, and take yourself off this instant!” Surprisingly perhaps, popular amongst fellow officers of the King’s German Legion, many of whom he knows from back home. A lover of Iberian women whose hearts and reputations he breaks with gay abandon throughout the book. And above all a success at last: he is able to deposit £150 with the army agents after a year’s service, and in 1812 when he has a depot to command for five weeks, he adds a further £700 to his savings, noting on 24th October 1812 “All things considered, I had done very well here, for one of the trifling advantages of a depot of this sort was that, without being able to reproach myself with the smallest suspicion of bribery, dishonesty or corruption, I was nevertheless able at the end of the short time I had spent here, to remit over £700 to England to be invested in four and a half per cent stock.” With the income from his investments and the half pay of a deputy assistant commissary general paid regularly until his death, Schaumann had no need to work after 1815. He acted as bursar to a Lutheran foundation in Hanover but that was all.

The figure above is taken from Christopher Chilcott’s unpublished PhD thesis Maintaining the British Army which you can find on line. Many of these duties hardly concerned the commissaries in the Peninsula and certainly not one as junior as Schaumann. Still it gives an idea of the range of what he needed to know when he was working at head office in Lisbon as he did twice during his years of service. Mostly he worked in the field and became something of a specialist in feeding cavalry men and cavalry horses. From 1809 onwards he was regimental commissary to the 14th, 20th and 16th Light Dragoons, the 4th Dragoons and the 18th Hussars. He is not mentioned in any of the early histories of these regiments which says something about how British cavalry officers thought of commissary officers, men who were tainted by a necessary connection to trade. Schaumann returned the compliment, comparing them unfavourably with their German counterparts. During Moore’s retreat to Corunna he notes, “It is strange but true, that Englishmen would rather starve than trouble themselves about cooking; that is why it is so hard to be an English commissar; for the men, together with their officers, are like young ravens – they only know how to open their mouths to be fed. Not so the German.” His attitude hardens. By 1810 he is writing, “The English soldier looks upon his horse as a machine, as an incubus, which is the cause of all his exertions and punishments. He ill-treats it. And even when forage lies within his reach, he will not, of his own accord, lift a finger to get it. The commissary must procure everything, and actually hold the food to his own and his horse’s mouth. Even the officers do not give the commissary, the slightest help, and grumble when they have to hand him over a few men even as an escort. From the colonel downwards, all they can do is find fault with the forage, and every day they repeat the remark: ‘I shall report it’.”

S P G Ward in The Peninsula Commissary, an article in issue 304 of The Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, had counted 410 commissaries who served in Spain or Portugal, a number he knew to be incomplete. Under Wellesley there was one commissary for each division, one for each cavalry or infantry brigade and one for each cavalry regiment. In addition there were around 25 at Commissariat Headquarters, 50 at bases in Lisbon and Oporto, 10 with the pontoon train, and one commissary at least at each supply depot. As the army advanced further into Spain and later France, the supply chain grew longer the number of depots increased. By 1814 there were 64 commissaries employed at depots. The officers – all that the authorities were concerned about – had five ranks: Commissary General (equivalent in everything except social status to a Brigadier), Deputy Commissary General (Major), Assistant Commissary General (Captain), Deputy Assistant Commissary General (Lieutenant), Commissariat Clerk (Ensign). Workers were hired and paid as needed by the commissary officers. Schaumann had much to do with muleteers who were usually divided into sections under their own capatrasses.

In 1807 a French corps under Jean Junot supported by Spanish troops occupied Portugal. In 1808 France invaded and occupied Spain. On 2nd May 1808 the people of Madrid rose in rebellion. This was followed by widespread uprisings which the French endeavoured to counter by forming flying columns. In July 20,000 men under General Dupont were obliged to surrender to General Francisco Castanos at Bailen, the first defeat of a French corps since Napoleon’s coronation as Emperor. By August, with the exception of Junot’s corps cut off in Portugal, the French were penned against the Pyrenees. However Napoleon himself was preparing to reconquer Iberia at the head of the Grande Armee. It was at this point that a British army was sent to Portugal.

Schaumann arrived on 28th August 1808 with some of the last British troops to land at Maceira Bay in Portugal. A week earlier, Major General Arthur Wellesley (later Duke of Wellington) had decisively defeated Jean Junot at Vimeiro (called Vimeria by Schaumann). Occupying a strong position covering the bay, Wellesley thwarted repeated attempts by the French to drive him from it. Schaumann’s water colour above is an imaginative representation of the moment that converted the French defeat into a rout. It shows Colonel Taylor leading out the 20th Dragoons to fall on the flank of the retreating French. Good stuff. But Schaumann wasn’t actually there. Nor was he at Waterloo, described at length in the German edition of his book, omitted by Ludovici.

What followed Vimeiro was the Convention of Cintra in which Sir Hew Dalrymple, senior to Wellesley and now in command, allowed the French to evacuate Portugal by means of British ships that took them to Rochefort. Schaumann was outraged. “The stupidest owl in the army saw how badly Sir Hugh Dalrymple had allowed himself to be diddled by the French generals.” It was a view shared by Lord Byron in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

Britannia sickens, Cintra! at thy name;
And folks in office at the mention fret,
And fain would blush, if blush they could, for shame.
How will posterity the deed proclaim!
Will not our own and fellow-nations sneer,
To view these champions cheated of their fame,
By foes in fight o'erthrown, yet victors here,
Where Scorn her finger points, through many a coming year?

There were in fact good reasons for allowing the French to leave. The British army was barely mobile. However all three generals in Portugal were summoned back to London to face a public inquiry. Sir John Moore took command. His mission was somehow to save the Spanish armies which were about to be engulfed by the French Grande Armee.

On 26th September 1808 the War Department sent Moore the sort of advice generals in the field can do without. “It will be necessary to concert with the Commissary General, W Erskine, who will be attached to your army, the best means of assembling an adequate supply of horses and mules for rendering your army mobile.” Moore hardly needed telling. More than a month earlier, on 11th August, Wellesley had told Burrard, “As for mules for carriage, I believe you will find none, for I believe my Corps has swept the country very handsomely of this animal.” Even in the royal stables there were no mules to be had. Schaumann had to make do with a “huge mule stallion…with a broken hoof.” In the absence of mules, Schaumann was set to finding and paying for bullock carts.

Napoleon’s campaign in Spain was a brilliantly conceived double envelopment of the Spanish armies. Somehow Moore got his army moving. His advance into Spain had the effect of drawing off French forces northwards, meaning that Napoleon’s pincers never fully closed on the Spanish armies. Moore’s problems with supply got steadily worse, especially as he began to retreat towards Corunna over roads that were bad even by Spanish standards. Schaumann was regimental commissary to the 32nd Foot before being transferred to help Commissary Kearney at the depot in Zamora. During the retreat he had little enough to do amidst an absence of supplies. “I saw one bullock cart, belonging to the Paymaster-General’s department, loaded with six barrels full of Spanish dollars, standing on the side of the road, with its back resting against a rock. The bullocks were lying on the ground, under their yokes, utterly exhausted. A soldier with bayonet fixed stood guard over the treasure, and with a desperate air implored every officer that passed to relieve him of this duty. But of course no one dared to do so! If only those dollars had been bread!” Below is another “incident on the retreat.”

Schaumann was evacuated with the rest of the army from Corunna. He returned to the Peninsula in April 1809 still as a deputy assistant commissary general on a pay of 7s 6d a day. Soon after landing he was promoted to ensign in the 5th Line Battalion of the King’s German Legion and in 1812 to lieutenant in the 7th Line Battalion. He remained a lieutenant until 21st July 1812 when he resigned because he was worried – needlessly as it happened – that he might not be eligible for half pay as an officer of the King’s German Legion. For the rest of the Peninsular War he reverted to his old civilian rank as a deputy assistant commissary general.

Schaumann’s notional service in the King’s German Legion had no bearing on his work (though a lot on his pay). He continued as a commissary. After a brief spell of office life in Lisbon he was appointed commissary to the 14th Light Dragoons. For the rest of the war his business was to look after the physical needs of cavalry men and cavalry horses.

Looking after the men was rather easier than looking after the horses. Wellesley, who had returned to command the army in Portugal after being exonerated at the Cintra Inquiry, recognised the need to supply his army from overseas. Already in 1808, writing to Burrard in August, he had noted “you cannot depend upon the country for bread,” adding that even if grain could be found, “mills are generally turned by water and there is now no water in the mill ponds.” By the end of 1809 there were supplies coming in from the United States, Canada, Brazil and other countries not subject to Napoleon’s Continental System. This steady flow of supplies enabled Wellesley to concentrate his army when and where he chose. It was the principal cause of his victories over French marshals who had to live off the land. They found it difficult to concentrate their forces, and were in a hurry to bring on battles when they had done so. Thus in March and April 1811, when the army was chasing Marshal Massena out of Portugal, Schaumann extols his achievements feeding his regiment in lands stripped bare by the French and self-confessedly devastated by them. Then, on the very same page, with typical inconsistency, he writes, “My exertions on these marches had been enormous; for owing to the fact that the pack mules, the bullocks for slaughtering and the carts could not proceed as quickly as the main body, I was obliged to cover the same distance like a dog as many as ten times….”

Feeding his regiment’s horses was trickier. A cavalry horse ate 14 pounds of hay or 10 pounds of barley or maize per day. Hay couldn’t be imported. When it gets too hot, its chemical composition changes and it becomes both less nutritious and also sourer. In the Peninsula, in the summer months, moist hay also over-heats when stored. On one occasion, when bran had to be ordered as an alternative, Schaumann discovered that the troopers were exchanging the corn they’d drawn for bottles of brandy. He galloped off to General Payne in command of the cavalry. “A furious general order was immediately issued and circulated, according to which, when the trumpet blew for feeding time, officers were to be present to superintend, and were not to go away until the horses had devoured the last grain of corn in their presence.”

Collecting corn involved much unpleasantness. In June 1809 a peasant fired at him while he was taking forage. “What a horrible thing war is! Often, when I am thus engaged, my eyes are streaming with tears; but I cannot help it. It is part of my duty to supervise the cutting down and the loading of the corn, and to compensate the poor people for their loss by giving them a requisition receipt on headquarters, based upon a valuation of what I have taken from them. As a rule they assure me that they either fear the magistrate will keep their money – a not uncommon occurrence in this country – or that they prefer their own corn to our cash….” Here he hints at one of his own sources of profit because surely it is better to exchange the receipt with Schaumann than with the wicked magistrate. All in all, Schaumann gives almost as much space to his problems with corn as he does to his love affairs.

Commissaries had other sources of profit. Most obviously, they were ideally placed for insider dealing – not in any way illegal – since they knew both what the army required and what it was prepared to pay. Closer to the bone was fleecing the locals. During the Corunna campaign, Schaumann gets rid of his mule with the cloven hoof to a miller. “The cleft in the hoof was now hastily stopped up with cobbler’s wax and smeared over with blacking, while the other hoof was made very glossy and clean. He rode it to and fro for a little while, and we settled the bargain for 100 Spanish dollars. It was so unusually strong and large that if it had not had that cloven hoof it would have been worth 300 dollars. The man looked as if he thought he had gulled an Englishman. How he will open his eyes, however, when one day at the smithy the cloven hoof is disclosed!” Caveat emptor. Except, of course, the risk was strictly one-way. Billeting, too, could be a source of profit. Basil Seal in Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags is a fictional master of the art. All we get in Schaumann is his revenge on a landlady who has failed to provide him with free sausages: he billets a whole company of grenadiers on her.

I’ve failed to mention our gallant Spanish allies. So on the whole does Schaumann.

I’ve also managed to write this blog without mentioning the numerous assistants Schaumann employed. They were famously faceless. Wellesley’s Standing Order 52 states, “Whenever any of the inferior persons of the Commissariat department may require admission into any field or general hospitals, application for that purpose must be made by the commissariat officer (who) will send the sick person to the hospital with a ticket, specifying his name, trade and date of birth.” On page 230, after meeting his “old companion and interpreter of the Corunna campaign, Senhor Antonio Falludo” Schaumann “recommends him in the warmest terms to the Commissary General.” Falludo? Who he? I thought. Fortunately my failure to recognise the name wasn’t a sign of incipient Alzheimers. Senhor Falludo is mentioned just once in the hundred odd pages on Corunna and then only for his inability to speak French or German. I can find only one description of Schaumann’s staff that has the immediacy of his drawings. “In Mangoalde I found Mr Hughes, my second clerk. He, too, was leading a fine life, and not only kept a girl, but also two horses, two hunting dogs and a groom. He wore a huge Portuguese hat with a large flat brim, He was a good fellow, but exceedingly sensual and lazy at his work, and I often had to reprimand his most severely.”

Here finally is one of Schaumann’s picture admired by Ludovici, the author of Personal Reminiscences of Auguste Rodin, whose secretary he had been for six months in 1906.

R is for L E Rees

This picture of a Regency rake contemplating his ruined fortunes hangs above my desk. It adequately conveys my feelings after I posted Q is for Queen’s Regiment which got worse each time I revised it. To the right of The Bitterness of Dawn I have an albumen portrait of Captain F H M Sitwell, aide de camp to General Outram during the Indian Mutiny, and (after the first relief) a fellow defender of Lucknow with L E Rees.

This photograph shows Sitwell in native dress carrying the pistol he lent to Thomas Henry Kavanagh who was the first civilian to be awarded the Victoria Cross. It was the one thing I kept from a large Indian Mutiny collection formed by my friend Peter Piercy and sold to me after his death by his widow. One of the books in Peter’s collection was Rees’ A Personal Narrative of the Siege of Lucknow. I sold it many years ago to an American air force officer and bought it back from his daughter two years ago.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The subject of this blog is the Indian Mutiny which you can call The Sepoy War if you prefer or The War of Indian Independence if you must. So far as the last is concerned Vinayak Damodar Savarkar beat you by 111 years. Savarkar’s The Indian War of Independence by an Indian Nationalist was translated from Marathi and published in London in 1909. Specifically I’m going to write about the siege of Lucknow. But first I need to say something about the fall of the Mughal Empire and the rise of the East India Company.

The East India Company was a joint stock trading company founded in London in 1600 to trade in the East Indies. The spice trade was lucrative but was dominated by the Dutch who fought hard to retain their position. From 1611 onwards the Company’s interest turned to India. The Mughal Emperor Jahangir had nothing against trade with far-off Europe and wanted to break what looked like a Portuguese monopoly in his territories. Thus he received the Company’s embassies with enthusiasm offering them “free liberty without any restraint; and at what port wheresoever they shall arrive.” The Company set up a number of factories along the coast of which the most important were Madras (1639), Bombay (1668) and Calcutta (1690) which later became the capitals of the Company’s three Presidencies.

It’s important to keep this in perspective. The Mughal Empire had probably overtaken Ching China as the world’s largest economy. In 1689, after the conquest of Golconda, the last great Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb ruled an area of over 4,000,000 square kilometres with a population approaching 150,000,000. England with 130,000 square kilometres had a population of about 8,000,000. The Company had neither the means nor the will to fight the Mughals who, until the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, remained all powerful on land. As late as 1750 the Company employed fewer than 3,000 soldiers. In 1686, 1695 and 1702, when the Company and local Mughal officers came to blows, the Company backed down and offered compensation.

The sea was a different matter. The person pictured above in Daniel Defoe’s General History of the Pyrates is Captain John Every. (The authorship of the book is disputed – but the Captain Charles Johnson of the titlepage is certainly a pseudonym. In any case it is utterly unreliable as history.) Every’s piratical career began in 1694 when he was first mate of The Charles, a Royal Naval ship with 46 guns, which was part of a fleet under Don Arturo O’Byrne waiting in Corunna harbour for several months arrears of pay and for letters of marque from Madrid which would allow them to attack French ships in the West Indies. When the crew of The Charles got tired of waiting, they mutinied and elected Every captain. He renamed his ship The Fancy and in August 1695 reached the Bab el Mandeb (the aptly named Gates of Grief) at the entrance to The Red Sea. There he linked up with five other pirate captains and lay in wait for a Mughal treasure fleet returning from The Haj. The pirate attack was overwhelmingly successful taking over £200,000 sterling (multiply by at least a thousand) from the Ganj-i-Sawai alone. It was also extremely nasty, ending in multiple rape and torture. Facts are few and far between but there appears to have been a distribution of £1000 each to the surviving pirates at Bourbon in November 1795. A manhunt followed but Every escaped. Nobody knows what happened to him. Cynics have him retiring to England under an assumed name. Moralists have him dying in poverty. He lives on in fiction: Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean series uses his flag. The Mughals should have been alarmed that their heaviest and best ships were overwhelmed by pirates. Instead they demanded and got compensation after threatening a renewed attack on Calcutta, currently pig in the middle between the main Moghul army and a rebellion led by Subah Singh.

There were also cracks in the mighty edifice of the Mughal Empire on land. As Stanley Wolpert puts it in A New History of India, “The conquest of the Deccan, to which, Aurangzeb devoted the last 26 years of his life, was in many ways a Pyrrhic victory, costing an estimated hundred thousand lives a year during its last decade of futile chess game warfare. The expense in gold and rupees can hardly be accurately estimated. Aurangzeb’s encampment was like a moving capital – a city of tents 30 miles in circumference, with some 250 bazaars, with a ​12 million camp followers, 50,000 camels and 30,000 elephants, all of whom had to be fed, stripped the Deccan of any and all of its surplus grain and wealth….” So long as the Marathas refrained from occupying fixed positions, this was a classic case of an irresistible force entirely failing to meet a highly moveable object. Aurangzeb’s son, Bahadur Shah, inherited a bankrupt treasury, a demoralised army and an Empire many of whose non-Muslim territories were in open revolt against Aurangzeb’s imposition of the jizya military tax. Bahadur Shah compounded his problems by converting to the Shia branch of Islam. When he died in 1712 there was a dispued succession. The Empire fissioned. And very soon the Emperors were ruling little more than the area immediately adjacent to Delhi.

Watching the demoralised remnants of the Mughal armies tearing themselves to shreds, an intelligent observer might well have concluded that the Marathas would fill the vacuum. And indeed the Marathas did push steadily northwards, reaching the height of their power in 1762 when the powerless Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II invited them to Delhi to fight off an Afghan invasion. Then and now Afghanistan was a wild card. The Afghan Ahmed Shah defeated them at Panipat.

The sub-continent was once again a patchwork. Amongst the more powerful succesor states were Hyderabad and Mysore in the south. The richest was Bengal whose Nawabs combined the revrenue raising powers of the Mughal Diwans and the executive powers of the Mughal Nizams. There were frequent small wars between these successor states. The East India Company was involved in them willy nilly, needing to form and maintain local alliances in order to preserve its factories. During the course of these wars British officers discovered an interesting fact. Tiny British trained armies – tiny armies was all the East India Company had – could defeat very much larger local armies. Thus in 1751, Robert Clive seized Arcot with a force of about 200 Madras Europeans and 200 Madras Sepoys and held off Raja Sahib, who hoped to become Nawab of the Carnatic, with 2,000 native regular troops, 5,000 irregulars, 120 Europeans, and 300 cavalry.

Clive had his fair share of luck at Arcot. Raja Sahib’s son was killed while in command of the final assault. But his victory owed less to God and British pluck than it did to firepower. The Company’s British trained European and native troops were drilled without mercy until they could deliver volley after volley of musketry. There is no word to describe the relentless precision with which the Company’s troops went about the business of killing their fellow men. Ferocity is too emotive but will have to suffice. Western ferocity reached its climax in the First World War and went out of fashion after that. In India it was a new phenomenon. Apart from the Afghans and a few of the inhabitants of the North West Frontier, the inhabitants of the sub-continent lacked ferocity. It took Europeans to drill it into them. It wasn’t until the British met the Japanese in 1942 that they encountered large numbers of armed men as ferocious as themselves. The subsequent loss of the Empire wasn’t unconnected with this event.

Clive’s more famous victory at Plassey on 23rd June 1757 established the Company as the most significant military power in India. It was an altogether less creditable affair than Arcot owing much to bribery. The Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Daulah, had made the fatal error of antagonising the Jagat Seths. These Bengali bankers advanced to the Company the colossal sum of £4,000,000 to unseat Siraj-ud-Daulah and to replace him with a ruler more to their taste. The Company found and bribed their man in Mir Jafar whose name in Urdu is used today in much the same way we use the name Quisling. An excellent modern account is in William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy. Dalrymple, who lives in India, is a bit of a split personality: in Britain, he tends to emphasise the rapacity of the Company and its employees; in India, he tells his audiences about the utter lack of anything approaching patriotism amongst the peoples the Company engulfed. The Company’s control of Bengal and its immense riches was complete after the death of Mir Jafar in 1765 though the Nizamate wasn’t formally abolished until 1793.

Over the next hundred years the Company took under direct rule large tracts of India. Its army grew exponentially. In 1750 it had consisted of three thousand men all told, of which nearly half were European. In 1850 it consisted of two hundred and ninety thousand men, the large majority of them Indian. There was significant opposition to the extension of the Company’s rule from the rulers of Mysore, from the Marathas and lastly in the 1840s from the Sikhs whose army, the Khalsa, was equal in quality to that of the Company, though by that time vastly outnumbered.

The main reason the process took so long had to do with Company politics. Many members of the Board in London objected to the taking of territory, pointing out that the cost and difficulties of administration diverted effort from the more important business of making money. As early as 1770 the great Bengal famine, which resulted in millions of deaths, provided grist to their mill. Clive was lampooned as a vulture and hauled up before Parliament where he defended himself ably, remarking of the hundreds of thousands of pounds in prize money awarded to him personally, “I stand amazed by my own moderation.” He was exonerated. But the Company could do without publicity of this kind. Still more it could do without parliamentary scrutiny and interference such as the Regulating Act of 1773 which forced it to reform its practices.

So conquest proceeded by fits and starts with increasing interference from the home government. By 1857 more of the subcontinent was under direct rule than was independent. Just as the Company’s conservative directors had feared, its control of India was now more nominal than real. Policy was determined by the Governor General and the administrators of the three Presidencies, men whose appointments were overseen by the British government in London. Which brings me finally to the start of this blog. And in case you’ve forgotten what it’s about here is a picture to remind you.

L E Rees Ruutz was one European of many trapped in one garrison of many garrisons surrounded by infuriated and rebellious sepoys. Fortunately for Britain it was only the Company’s Bengal army that mutinied. And even in Bengal a few regiments remained loyal. Twelve out of a total of seventy four regiments of Bengal native infantry continued to exist in the post-Mutiny Indian army. Of the Bengal cavalry, only the Governor General’s Bodyguard continued to exist; eight other native cavalry regiments mutinied and two were disbanded. There were dangerously few Bengal Europeans, maybe 25,000 in all out of a total army strength of 160,000.

The immediate cause of the Mutiny was the introduction of a new sort of greased cartridge. Unlike the post-Mutiny Indian army which consisted largely of Punjabis, Sikhs and Gurkhas, the Bengal Army of 1857 was mainly Hindu. In late 1856, fanned by various discontented Indian notables, rumours spread that the new cartridges were greased with cow fat. The new 1853 Enfield rifles were loaded in the same way that muskets had been; sepoys were drilled to tear open the cartridges with their teeth, pour the explosive down the gun barrel and then wedge in the cartridge wrapping as wadding. It is impossible to overstate how offensive the idea of contact with cow fat was to observant Hindus. Forcing a Hindu to eat excrement would convey the distaste. On top of that you would have to add the insult to his religion and the damage to his caste. Officers protested that these were rumours, claiming that really the cartridges were greased with sow’s fat. The truth about the exact composition of the tallow (if it was known at all) was known only to Captain Boxer of the Royal Laboratory at Woolwich who’d been asked to test four different greases, one of which was selected in 1855 by the Company’s Board of Directors. The deliberations of the Board, who still had autonomy in trivial matters like this, were not recorded, but almost certainly they based their selection on cost. Thus for the sake of saving a few pounds, the Company risked losing India. Boards of Directors do this sort of thing all the time. So do governments.

What made the greased cartridges issues so potent was that many sepoys didn’t believe what their officers told them. They also believed it probable that the Company would insult them in this way. They were demoralised. The causes of this deep rooted disaffection are hard to analyse. Unlike the men of the British army, the sepoys were honoured in their own communities. Service with the Company was seen as something positive, a career rather than a job. The Company’s uniform was cut from the cloth of the three musketeers rather than that of Tommy Atkins. True, the sepoys had limited promotion prospects – all the officers were British – but in the old days a jemadar or a subedar had enjoyed a closer relationship with the officers of his regiment than any non-commissioned officer in the British Army did. All this was changing. A less tolerant breed of officer was coming out from Britain. Things Indian were held in less respect.

Aggressive Christian evangelisation also played a role. One of the first regiments to mutiny was the 34th Bengal Native Infantry at Barrackpore. The regiment was disbanded after its guard refused to disarm one of its sepoys, Mangal Pande who had run amok and shot at the European sergeant major and adjutant. In 1866 Major H M Conran wrote A Memoir of Colonel Wheler about the regiment’s commanding officer aiming to counter “the clamour about his preaching to the sepoys in 1857.” Conran makes a few good points such as that Wheler had only just taken command of the 34th and that his old regiment, the 31st, was one of those that remained loyal. He has difficulty, however, glossing over the revolt of the 31st at Ferozepore in 1844 and the complaints from other Europeans about his preaching. Wheler and Conran were not the only “sepoy apostles.”

In April and May there was further unrest at Agra and Ambala in particular. Then, on 10th May 1857, there was a large scale mutiny at Meerut after 85 men of the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry were court martialled for refusing to accept the new cartridges. Meerut was a huge cantonment with over 2,000 British soldiers and slightly more Indian sepoys. The sepoys mutinied, rescued their imprisoned comrades and set off for Delhi. One of the rarest pamphlets I got from Peter Piercy was Colonel G Carmichael-Smyth’s Memorandum or a few words on the Mutiny printed by A David at Meerut in 1857 shortly after the event. Carmichael-Smyth was none other the commanding officer of the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry and as such bears a fair share of the blame for the Mutiny. You’ll be surprised to hear that he’d seen it coming. “The chief cause was the petting and pampering of the Sepoys….I believe the abolition of Flogging to have been the next great cause….”

You’ll get a very different view of the causes of the Mutiny (which he calls the Great Rebellion) from Richard Gott. I’m including his book cover here partly because it’s about time I inserted a picture, partly because I wanted to include a non-copyright image of Tipu Sultan of Mysore’s ludicrous mechanical tiger and partly because Richard Gott’s views are simultaneously different from mine and very well worth reading.

Hardly any historians, Gott included, express surprise at the decision of the mainly Hindu mutineers to trek forty miles in order to offer their services to the Muslim Mughal Emperor. It suggests a guiding intelligence, possibly Shan Singh Gurjar, the local police chief. Despite conspiracy theories then and later, there was pretty little other evidence of strategy amongst the rebels. The Indian feudal nobility showed little interest in anything other than their own immediate short term interests. The Rani of Jhansi, female, so something of an icon nowadays, was prepared to support the British if only they would agree to accept her adopted son as her late husband’s successor. Nana Sahib, whose psychopathic behaviour in Cawnpore was only equalled by the British Frederick Cooper in Amritsar, was chiefly interested in forcing the Company to continue paying him the pension paid to his father. Landowners in Oudh took advantage of the disturbances to reoccupy the half of their estates they had been forced by the British to hand over to their peasant cultivators. These people weren’t leaders, they were parasites.

Until Meerut most mutineers simply went home. The decision by the Meerut mutineers to occupy Delhi and to restore the aged Mughal Emperor to authority was a mortal threat to British rule in India. It provided a rallying point for other mutineers and a figurehead. So long as Delhi remained in the hands of the mutineers there was a danger that major independent princes like Scindia of Gwalior might join them. The British in India reacted immediately to the threat. By the end of June a force of about four thousand men occupied a ridge outside the city. They faced about thirty thousand men inside the city. This extract from Hansard tells how Palmerston answered a parliamentary question from Disraeli on 13th July 1857.

And so on. It was already clear to everyone how the Mutiny should be suppressed. Most important was the recapture of Delhi. Once that was done it would be possible to relieve beleaguered garrisons at places like Lucknow and Cawnpore. Finally the remaining rebel forces could be mopped up.

The mutineers failed to shift the British from the ridge throughout July. On 14th August, after a famous march during which he hanged his force’s cooks without trial for having poisoned some soup with aconite, Brigadier John Nicholson arrived from Peshawar with about 2000 men and 32 siege guns. By September there were 9,000 men in place on the ridge, about a third of them British, the rest mainly Sikhs, Punjabis and Gurkhas. These men took Delhi which fell on 21st September. Nicholson was fatally wounded during the assault, an event that stopped people looking too closely at some of his earlier activities.

Back to Lucknow. Sir Henry Lawrence, High Commissioner of the newly acquired state of Oudh, was one of the first people to appreciate the significance of events in Meerut. He began fortifying his Residency at the end of May. He was fortunate in that one of the few British regiments in India, the 32nd Regiment of Foot, was garrisoned nearby. Three of the four native regiments at Lucknow marched for Delhi, but one, the 13th Bengal Native Infantry, remained loyal. During the course of June Faizabad and other important cities in Oudh fell into the hands of the rebels. European and other refugees flooded into The Residency which eventually contained 1,280 non-combatants.

On 30th June Lawrence himself led out a force of some 600 men intending to break up a rebel force gathering at Chinhut. It was both larger and better led than he’d been led to believe. The battle that followed was undoubtedly a significant sepoy victory. The rebels were led by Barket Ahmad, about whom I know nothing, supported by Ahmadullah Shah of Faizabad. Ahmadullah, as Thomas Seaton recognised in his autobiography Cadet to Colonel, was a great leader. If there had been more men like him on the rebel side – or rather if the sepoys had followed people like him rather than the odious Nana Sahib – the Mutiny might have had a different outcome. The Lighthouse of Rebellion, as he was known in Oudh, appealed to both Hindus and Muslims. He remained a problem for the British until he was killed in June 1858 by Jagganath Singh, Rajah of Pawayan.

The author of The Mutiny of the Bengal Army (written in two parts in 1857), writing anonymously as “one who has served under Sir Charles Napier”, is grudging about Chinhut. “The victory was ours, when at this critical moment our artillerymen of the Oudh battery overturned the guns into the ditches and abandoned them, thus totally exposing our flanks.” You’ll find a more balanced account in Sir John Kaye’s History of the Sepoy War. Kaye died after writing three volumes and his work was completed by G B Malleson in a further three volumes (plus an index volume by Pincott). I mention this because “one who has served under Sir Charles Napier” was none other than G B Malleson. Trust Kaye. Avoid Malleson.

After Chinhut Lawrence withdrew into his prepared defences. Lawrence, who had been wounded at Chinhut, was killed by a shell at the beginning of July. Colonel John Inglis of the 32nd took over the defence. Inglis believed the garrison was running short of supplies, Lawrence having died before divulging where he had hidden the stores he had gathered in May. He sent increasing desperate appeals for relief to Sir Henry Havelock who had recaptured Cawnpore on 16th July. During July and August Havelock made three attempts to relieve Lucknow, all of which failed. This sequence of failures persuaded the majority of Oudh’s taluqdar landowners to join the rebels. That put paid to any chance of mass popular support for the Mutiny though as I’ve already said the mutinous sepoys themselves were hardly representative of the oppressed classes.

On 25th September Havelock finally got to Lucknow with a force of about 2,000 men. (He’d been superseded by Major General Sir James Outram who characteristically allowed Havelock to continue in command while serving himself as a volunteer.) The force had suffered heavy casualties so Outram elected to stay in an extended defensive position. He was helped in this decision by the timely discovery of the stores Lawrence had hidden at the end of May. The second and final relief was by a force under Major General Hope Grant that broke through on 27th November. Hope Grant evacuated the city. It was retaken by the British in March 1858.

I want to end as I began with the photograph of Captain Sitwell dressed up in native clothes and sporting the pistol he lent to Thomas Henry Kavanagh VC. Some days before before the final relief, Hope Grant sent in a volunteer, Kunoujee Lal, to discover more about the mutineers’ defences and the safest line of approach to the defended position. Despite Lal’s objections – he felt that a blacked up Irishmen with red hair might compromise his safe return – Kavanagh persuaded Outram and his staff that only a European could interpret the plan of the city they had given Lal. His citation for the Victoria Cross, the first one ever to be awarded to a civilian, reads

Ruutz Rees, who had access to Inglis’ diary also, persuaded Kavanagh to write a narrative of his exploit. Here is part of it.

In 1860 Kavanagh wrote a 219 page book How I Won The Victoria Cross about the same event. I see from my catalogue entry for Peter Piercy’s collection that I glossed this with a reference from the Rev J R Baldwin’s Indian Gup in which he characterises Kavanagh as one of the most conceited men he’d ever met, who had VC embroidered on his bedroom slippers. Be that as it may. The one thing all three accounts have in common is that they largely omit to mention Kunoujee Lal who accomplished the same dangerous journey twice. There was no VC for him. It makes you wonder about the word ‘loyalty’. Thoughtful Indians did for the next ninety years.

Q is for The Queen’s Regiment

Six volumes to cover two hundred and forty three years is slow going even by the standards of regimental historians. You’d have thought John Davis had spent his entire life in the regiment and lacked any kind of hinterland. Not so. Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History tells us he was “Honorary Colonel of the 3rd (Militia) Battalion of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment, and an Aide-de-camp to the King, (and) died on the 7th July, 1902, from pneumonia at Till Hill, Tilford, Farnham, the residence of his relative, Mrs. Hawkes, widow of the late General H. P. Hawkes, C.B.” and that he spent his working life as an engineer on the Bombay, Baroda and Central Indian Railway and then as senior partner at Dewrance and Company, manufacturers of engine and boiler accessories. So his regimental history, which has well over two thousand pages, was largely a labour of love. I wish I could say it was a stimulating read. But I can’t. I read with difficulty the whole of his first volume on the English Occupation of Tangiers which was going to be the subject of this blog. Then I changed my mind. Instead I’m going to give you a blog about the origins of the British Army.

After the death of Oliver Cromwell and the abdication of his son Richard, the political order established by The Protectorate began to fall apart. On 1st January 1660 Major General Monck, commanding a regiment of the New Model Army, marched south from Coldstream with the intention of restoring the Long Parliament and negotiating with the exiled King Charles II. He faced opposition along the way from a force led by Major General Lambert but had guessed correctly that the rank and file of the New Model Army wouldn’t face their comrades in battle. When he reached London in February Monck secured the readmission to the Long Parliament of the moderate members expelled on 6th December 1648 in Pride’s Purge. The Long Parliament then voted itself out of office and a new parliament called The Convention Parliament (because it hadn’t been formally summoned by a ruling king) was elected. A great deal of negotiation took place and on 25th May 1660 Charles II landed at Dover.

One of the many under the table agreements between the exiled King and the Convention Parliament was that the New Model Army was to be disbanded. The King inspected the New Model Army at Blackheath on 29th May 1660 and promised them their arrears of pay which were to be met by a poll tax. Something like fifty thousand men were to be disbanded and replaced by about five thousand men loosely styled “the King’s guards and garrisons.” Most of these five thousand men were to be scattered around the country in garrisons. The mounted guards consisted of three troops, originally the bodyguards of the king, his brother James Duke of York, and General Monck. The three troops were later amalgamated to form The Life Guards. The Royal Horse Guards was raised by the Earl of Oxford in 1661 as a regiment of horse sometimes called Oxford’s Blues. It wasn’t a descendant of Sir Arthur Hazelrigg’s Regiment of Cuirassiers, as is sometimes claimed, though no doubt many of Hazelrigg’s men were recruited into the new regiment. Neither was it initially a guards regiment, remaining a regiment of horse until 1820 when it was given household status. The foot guards consisted of two regiments later amalgamated to become The Grenadier Guards – Lord Wentworth’s regiment was raised from royalists in exile in 1656, Russell’s regiment was raised in 1660 from disbanding men of the New Model Army. Predictably enough the two regiments didn’t get on.

Thus towards the end of 1660 the effective defence of the country consisted of rather under two thousand men. Cue Thomas Venner and the Fifth Monarchy Men, a diehard Puritan sect who still believed that the execution of Charles I had cleared the way for the rule of King Jesus as foretold in the Book of Daniel. Venner, at the head of about fifty men, though rumour multiplied their number tenfold, briefly occupied St Pauls Cathedral, saw off the London Trained Bands and on Wednesday 4th January 1661 held a detachment of Russell’s Regiment in check.

This account in Cannon’s Historical Record of the Life Guards is taken from Kingdome’s Intelligencer and describes the action in Wood Street, Cheapside where, by most people’s reckoning, Venner’s men gave as good as they got. Next day the government had to send in the veterans of Monck’s Regiment to finish the rebels off. Venner was captured with nineteen wounds, some of them so serious that the surgeon had his work cut out to keep him alive. Below is a screenshot from http://www.pepysdiary.com describing Venner’s end in Samuel Pepys’ inimitably matter of fact way

Rebellion was in the Venner blood. His son, another Thomas, was one of the Fifth Monarchy men. His grandson Samuel led the Duke of Monmouth’s cavalry. But Samuel’s daughter Elizabeth made good; she married John Potter, later Archbishop of Canterbury.

Both king and parliament were alarmed by Venner’s success in remaining at large for four days in the vicinity of the capital. The disbanding of Monck’s Regiment of the New Model Army was halted so that the government had at least one fully efficient military unit to call upon. On 19th January 1661 the men of the regiment laid down their arms as a token of their disbandment as a unit of the army of the Protectorate, then took them up again as a token of their re-enlistment as the King’s second regiment of foot guards. The title Coldstream Guards was adopted after Monck’s death in 1670. Its motto nulli secundus reflects the unease these veteran soldiers felt at being ranked second in order of precedence to the men of the first regiment of foot guards whose only significant military service had been on the losing side at the Battle of the Dunes in 1658. The regiment was compensated by being allowed always to parade to the left of their fellow foot guards so that they were indeed second to none.

These new arrangements were formalised on 26th January 1661 when the king issued a royal warrant authorising a permanent establishment of four regiments in or near the capital – the king’s regiment of horse guards (later The Life Guards), the king’s regiment of horse (later The Royal Horse Guards), the first regiment of foot guards (later The Grenadier Guards), the second regiment of foot guards (later The Coldstream Guards) – and twenty eight garrisons up and down the country.

In 1661 Charles II married Catherine of Braganza. The ports of Tangier and Bombay were part of her dowry. In return Britain agreed to send two thousand foot and five hundred horse to assist the Portuguese in their war with Spain. This English brigade was formed from men of the New Model Army, and under the command of the German soldier of fortune von Schomberg, was a decisive element in the Portuguese victory. However, after the Treaty of Lisbon in 1668, the English forces in Portugal were disbanded.

Bombay was a rich trading post requiring no more than four hundred men to keep it secure. In 1668 it was transferred to the East India Company for a token rent of £10 a year. Tangier was a different matter. The city needed to be garrisoned against hostile Moorish forces. A local warlord, Khadir Ghailan, called Gayland by the English, had taken control of most of the land around the city, inflicting several defeats on the Portuguese in the process. Fortunately for the English, the Alawids who were steadily unifying the rest of Morocco were opposed to Ghailan. Even so, from the very beginning the defence of the city required a new regiment of infantry. In addition a troop of horse and three regiments were transferred from the disbanding garrison of Dunkirk. As Alawid pressure on Tangier increased, three more troops of horse were added. These four troops were later converted to dragoons and added to new troops raised in 1683 by John Churchill to form the cavalry regiment which later became the 1st (Royal) Dragoons. The new regiment of infantry raised for service in Tangier was called The Earl of Peterborough’s Regiment or The Governor’s Regiment after the name of its colonel. This was the regiment that was later known as The Queen’s Regiment.

The regiment’s badge of the paschal lamb probably has some connection with its service in Tangier. The Roman Catholic church at Tangier was dedicated to St John the Baptist whose sign is the paschal lamb, but it’s unlikely that any English regiment in the reign of Charles II would have adopted such an overtly catholic device. The paschal lamb isn’t part of the heraldry of the house of Braganza. Philip Haythornthwaite In Search of the Lamb http://www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk/the_lamb/lamb004.shtml suggests that Queen Catherine may have adopted the symbol unofficially since John the Baptist was her father’s patron saint. Davis in his volume 3 goes in the same direction when mentioning that in one of Lely’s portraits of Catherine she is shown with a lamb in the foreground. Whatever the reason, the regiment must have adopted the badge early, since in the 1751 clothing warrant the badge is already described as “ancient.” The regiment was nicknamed Kirke’s Lambs in the time of Percy Kirke, who took command in 1682. Barbarised by their long stay in Tangier, the regiment was far from lamblike when slaughtering Monmouth’s remnants after the Battle of Sedgemoor. The two regimental mottos are also mysterious. Davis in his volume 2 asserts that the regiment was given the right to carry Vel exuviae triumphant (even in defeat triumphant) for its part in the defence of Tongres in 1703 but this is doubtful. Davis doesn’t attempt to explain the origin of Pristinae virtutis memor (mindful of former valour).

Peterborough landed in Tangier at the end of January 1662. On the 30th January he mustered the garrison. For foot he had his own regiment of 1000 men, and from the Dunkirk garrison Sir Robert Harley’s regiment of 947 men, and two smaller regiments commanded by Colonels Fitzgerald with 395 men and Farrell with 381 men. After a disaster suffered by the second Governor, the Earl of Teviot, the men of the three other regiments were incorporated into what was now the Governor’s Regiment. There were also 98 English horse.

Tangier c.1670 by W Hollar – courtesy University of Toronto

Tangier had a fine natural harbour, but it needed to be protected by a mole if it was to be fully effective as a trading centre. During the course of the English occupation fantastic sums of money were expended on the mole. It was planned to cost £340,000 but, in the way of government estimates, almost certainly more than that had been spent before the mole was demolished in 1683. In 1676 the King ordered a survey to be made. It was found that Tangier was costing around £140,000 a year to maintain. The population numbered 2,225 of whom 1,282 were soldiers and a further 302 soldiers’ wives or children.

By 1680 Alawid pressure on Tangier was becoming intense. The garrison controlled no more ground than their artillery could cover. Additional forces were required. The Earl of Dumbarton’s Regiment of Foot (later The Royal Scots – see below) was transferred to Tangier from the army in Scotland. A second Tangier regiment, the Earl of Plymouth’s Regiment of Foot, was raised. Like the first Tangier regiment it proved to be a permanent addition to the English Army. From 1715 it was known as the King’s Regiment. Parliament, which was fearful of the impending succession of the King’s Catholic brother James and of Popery in general, declined to provide sufficient funds for the increasingly costly defence. Evacuation became inevitable.

In 1683 Samuel Pepys was sent out to assist Admiral Lord Dartmouth in the evacuation. His first impressions were, “Kirke, the Governor, saluted us with all the guns of the town, near which we found the Alcade [an envoy of the Sultan] encamped. But, Lord! how could anybody ever think a place fit to be kept at this charge, that, overlooked by so many hills, can never be secured against an enemy.” He was “amazed to think how the King hath lain out all this money upon it.”

When Kirke’s Regiment returned to England it was the senior English infantry regiment. Although usually known by the name of its colonels, it was occasionally called The Queen’s Regiment from 1684 and The Queen Dowager’s Regiment from 1686. After 1704 it was ranked second in order of precedence to The Royal Regiment when that regiment was transferred from the Scottish establishment to the British establishment following the Act of Union that united Scotland and England. Like all regiments, The Royal Regiment was usually known by the name of its colonel at this stage, thus Orkney’s Royals in 1704. It was first called Royal Scots in 1812.

The Royal Scots took precedence because it traced its origins to various regiments of Scottish mercenaries formed to fight in the Thirty Years War. One of its historians, Major Joseph Wetherall cites “the general and received opinion, that this regiment derives its original formation from the body guards of the Scottish kings, and that they formed a part of the 7000 auxiliaries sent to France in 1420.” Less extreme is the claim derived from Sir John Hepburn’s Regiment which was formed in 1633 for service in France where it was known as le Regiment d’Hebron. Hepburn obtained a royal warrant from Charles I and as R H Patterson writes in ‘Pontius Pilate’s Bodyguard’ “while the regiment was paid by the French and formed part of the French army, it was only permitted to do so with the consent of the British sovereign.” Mackay’s Regiment (titlepage above) was raised in 1626 for Gustavus Adolphus’ Green Brigade but had no warrant. The regiment, now the Regiment de Douglas, left French service for the last time in 1678, when it was put on the Scottish establishment. Some of its companies saw service in Tangier. Herbert Maxwell in The Lowland Scots Regiments explains the nickname by saying it was given to Hepburn’s Regiment by officers of the Regiment de Picardie in a quarrel over which regiment was older. “An officer of Hepburn’s made the famous retort that the Picardy regiment must be mistaken, for had the Scots really been Pontius Pilate’s Guard and done duty at the sepulchre, the Holy Body had never left it.”

The Buffs, third in order of precedence on the British establishment, have some claim to be older than both senior regiments. They trace their origins to companies of English mercenaries recruited by the Dutch to fight the Spanish. There were several English regiments in Dutch pay during the Thirty Years War. In 1648 they were amalgamated to form a single Holland Regiment. That regiment returned to England in 1665 on the outbreak of the Anglo-Dutch War. But the royal warrant only dates from 1665.

It wasn’t until 1751 that a royal warrant formally established an order of precedence for the British Army. However that order was already plain in 1685. In order of seniority:

  • Household Cavalry – Life Guards & later Royal Horse Guards
  • Royal Horse Artillery – first separated from the Royal Artillery in 1793
  • Dragoon Guards – Royal Horse Guards; soon to be joined by six other regiments of horse raised at the time of the Monmouth Rebellion, initially numbered 2-7, later renumbered 1-6 when they were downgraded to Dragoon Guards
  • Cavalry – 1st Royal Dragoons in England; Dalyell’s Dragoons (later 2nd Dragoons or Royal Scots Greys) in Scotland; soon to be joined by two regiments of Hussars raised at the time of the Monmouth Rebellion and later numbered 3rd and 4th
  • Artillery – before 1716 batteries were raised and disbanded as required; from 1716 there were two permanent companies; from 1720 a Regiment of Artillery
  • Engineers – The Royal Engineers didn’t yet exist as a separate arm
  • Signals – still less did The Royal Signals, split from the Royal Engineers in 1920
  • Foot Guards (1st and 2nd Guards in England; Scots Guards in Scotland
  • Foot regiments – (1st) Royal Scots in Scotland, (2nd) Queen’s, (3rd) The Buffs or The Holland Regiment, (4th) The Kings (all usually known by their colonels’ names); soon to be joined by others

Apart from the addition of the three corps – Artillery, Engineers and Signals – this order of precedence has remained fundamentally unchanged. New regiments were raised as required and given the first vacant number. Such regiments were frequently disbanded following various treaties of peace. Thius the same higher numbers were often given to several different short lived regiments. Very occasionally numbers were left vacant. The extreme case is the number 5 for cavalry – the 5th (Royal Irish) Dragoons was disbanded in 1798 since the loyalty of its mainly Roman Catholic troopers was suspect; a new 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers “was restored to its place in the line” in 1858. From 1782 non-royal regiments were given county titles in the hope that they would establish local recruiting connections. As a royal regiment The Queen’s Royal Regiment was only associated with West Surrey from 1881.

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