Historical Record of the Fifty-Sixth, or the West Essex Regiment of Foot/1755–1844

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HISTORICAL RECORD

OF THE

FIFTY-SIXTH,

OR

THE WEST ESSEX REGIMENT

OF

FOOT.


1755The aggressions of foreign Princes, possessing extensive military establishments, have repeatedly rendered considerable augmentations to the British army necessary, for the preservation of the kingdom and its numerous colonial possessions; and a circumstance of this character occasioned the formation of the Fifty-sixth Regiment, during the winter of 1755–6.

The unjustifiable claims of France on certain portions of North America, — the forcible expulsion of a company of British settlers from a tract of land beyond the Allegany Mountains, and near the river Ohio, by a body of French troops, — and the building of a fort to command the entrance into the country on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, thus excluding the English from a valuable portion of their possessions, gave indication of an approaching war.

In December, 1755, an order was issued for adding ten regiments of infantry to the regular army. The seventh of these new regiments was raised in the north of England, under the superintendence of Lord Charles Manners, who was nominated to the colonelcy, his commission bearing date the 26th of December, 1755. It was numbered the Fifty-eighth Foot; but two inefficient colonial corps being soon afterwards disbanded, (viz., Major-General Shirley’s and Major-General Sir William Pepperel’s,) it obtained the rank of the Fifty-Sixth Regiment.

1756Active measures were adopted in the beginning of 1756, for completing the numbers of the regiment to its establishment of ten companies, of seventy-eight non-commissioned officers and soldiers each; and its quarters were established at Newcastle and Gateshead. Its costume was scarlet, faced, lined, and turned up with deep crimson; a few years afterwards the facing was changed to a purple, which had been denominated “Pompadour” colour: this circumstance gave rise to the Fifty-sixth Regiment being commonly styled “The Pompadours.”

The following officers received commissions in the regiment:—

Colonel, Lord Charles Manners.
Lieut.-Colonel, Peter Parr.
Major, John Doyne.

Captains.

Lieutenants.

Ensigns.

James Stewart Wilson Marshall John Brereton
William Skipton John Forster Edward Jenkins
William Playstowe Thomas Harrison James Lyons
Wm. Earl of Sutherland Edwin Eyre Archibald Wight
Thomas Hargrave John White Joseph Baillie
John Heighington James Perrin William Sandys
John Deaken John Ingram Fiennes Jenkinson
John Archer Christopher Hales

Captain-Lieutenant.

David Dundas[1] John Woodford
Francis Gregor St. John Pierce Lacy

Chaplain, John Halsted; Adjutant, John Hardy;
Quarter-Master, William Lamplow; Surgeon, William Pitman.


1757In April, 1757, the regiment marched to Berwick, from whence it afterwards continued its route to Scotland, where it was stationed several years, occupying 1758 quarters at Aberdeen, and its vicinity, in 1758; and in 1759 the following year at Edinburgh, from whence a detachment proceeded to Germany, to recruit the regiments serving in that country.

1760Embarking from Leith, in July, 1760, the regiment proceeded to Hilsea barracks, where it was stationed 1761 during the year 1761.

On the 17th of December, Lord Charles Manners was succeeded in the colonelcy by Colonel the Honorable William Keppel, fourth son of William-Anne, second Earl of Albemarle, from the First Foot Guards.

1762In the mean time, France had been deprived of all her possessions in North America, and British troops, then employed in Germany, were opposing formidable resistance to the schemes of the court of Versailles; but the celebrated treaty, called the “Family Compact”, between the sovereigns of France and Spain (both Bourbon princes), gave a new character to the war. Confiding in the prowess of his seamen and soldiers, the British monarch did not shrink from the unequal contest, but proclaimed war against Spain on the 4th of January, 1762; and an expedition was afterwards prepared for the attack of the valuable Spanish settlement of the Havannah, in the island of Cuba. The Fifty-sixth Regiment, being selected to take part in this enterprise, sailed from Portsmouth on the 5th of March, and on arriving in the West Indies, it joined the armament under General the Earl of Albemarle: the colonel of the Fifty-sixth Regiment, the Honorable William Keppel, had the local rank of Major-General in the expedition.

Passing through the dangerous navigation of the Straits of Bahama without accident, the fleet arrived off the Havannah on the 6th of June, and a landing was effected on the following day. The Fifty-sixth Regiment mustered nine hundred and thirty-three officers and soldiers, under Lieut.-Colonel James Stewart, and were formed in brigade with four companies of the Royals, and a battalion of the Sixtieth, under Brigadier-General Haviland.

The Havannah, from its great importance, had been carefully fortified; the entrance to the harbour, which is one of the finest in the world, was secured on one side by the Moro fort, built of solid masonry on a projecting point of land, and having an immense ditch cut out of the rock. The west side of the harbour was defended by the Puntal fort, and the town was surrounded by a rampart, flanked with bastions, and strengthened by a ditch. The reduction of the Moro fort was the first object which engaged the attention of the troops, and this service was intrusted to Major-General the Honorable William Keppel (colonel of the Fifty-sixth), his own regiment forming part of the force placed under his orders, and having repeated opportunities of evincing its spirit and perseverance in this arduous undertaking, rendered particularly difficult by the oppressive heat, a scarcity of water, the necessity of dragging the artillery along a rocky coast, and from the thinness of the soil; so great was the labour in carrying on the approaches, that several men were daily lost by diseases produced by their extraordinary exertions. The destruction of the grand battery by fire augmented the labours of the besieging troops; but they resumed their work, repulsed a sortie of the Spaniards, and erected new batteries. On the 30th of July, a storming party was formed under the orders of Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart, of the late Ninetieth Regiment (disbanded on 18th March, 1763): two mines were sprung, a small practicable breach made, and the British soldiers rushed in at the aperture with so much impetuosity, that the Spaniards were instantly overpowered. Nearly one hundred and fifty of the enemy were killed; four hundred threw down their arms and were made prisoners; upwards of two hundred endeavoured to escape in boats, but lost their lives in the attempt.

The spirited capture of the Moro fort was followed by the erection of a line of batteries on Cavannos Hill, commanding the eastern side of the city, and the guns of the captured fort were also turned against the Spaniards. On the 11th of August the batteries opened a well-directed fire on the Puntal fort and the town; and so severe was the cannonade, that in less than six hours the enemy’s guns were silenced, and the white flag hoisted. A capitulation was concluded on the 13th, and possession was taken of the town and Puntal fort on the following day.

This valuable conquest was achieved by a division of the royal navy, and a land force of fourteen thousand men; and it cost upwards of a thousand officers and soldiers in killed and deaths from extraordinary exertions.

The Fifty-sixth Regiment had twelve rank and file killed; one officer and twenty-three rank and file wounded: the regiment also sustained the loss of many brave men from diseases.

For its distinguished conduct on this occasion, the regiment was honored with the royal authority to bear the word “Moro” on its regimental colours, which forms a conspicuous feature in its Record; few corps having acquired an honorary inscription for their colours on their first service.

1763The regiment remained at the Havannah several months, the garrison being under the order of its colonel, Major-General the Honorable William Keppel. A treaty of peace was soon afterwards concluded; and the Havannah was restored to Spain in exchange for Florida: it was, accordingly, delivered up to the Spanish troops on the 7th of July, 1763.

In September, the Fifty-sixth Regiment embarked for Ireland, and landing in the following month, marched to Limerick, its numbers being completed by volunteers from other corps.

1764At this period, several changes were made in the clothing and equipment of certain regiments of cavalry and infantry; and a communication, dated Dublin, 9th October, 1764, made known to the Fifty-sixth Regiment — “His Majesty’s pleasure, that the facings of the clothing of the Fifty-sixth Regiment of Foot, under the command of Major-General Keppel, be changed to a purple colour; that the men have white breeches; that the accoutrements be white; and that the grenadier caps be plated instead of embroidered,” &c.

1765Leaving Limerick on the 2nd of May, the regiment proceeded to Dublin, where it was stationed two years.

On the 15th of May, 1765, Major-General the Honorable William Keppel was removed to the Fourteenth Foot; and in June His Majesty conferred the colonelcy of the Fifty-sixth on Lieut.-General James Durand, from the lieut.-colonelcy of the First Foot Guards.

1766Lieut.-General Durand died in 1766, and was succeeded by Colonel Hunt Walsh, from the lieut.-colonelcy of the Twenty-eighth Regiment.

1767The regiment quitted Dublin in October, 1767, and proceeded to Waterford, where it remained seven months,1768 and in May, 1768, it returned to Dublin.

By the Royal Warrant, dated 19th December, 1768, the facings of the Fifty-sixth Regiment were continued to be purple.

1769After performing Dublin duty two years, the regiment received orders to transfer its services to Gibraltar. It accordingly marched to1770 Cork in May, 1770, and embarked from thence for that important fortress.

In December an order was received for augmenting the regiment, by the addition of a light infantry company of three serjeants, three corporals, two buglers, and sixty-two private soldiers; also an addition of twenty-one rank and file to each of the other companies.

1771The regiment was stationed at Gibraltar during the following twelve years. The American war commenced in 17751775 and three Hanoverian regiments afterwards joined the garrison of Gibraltar. 1778In 1778 France united with the revolted British subjects, and the Spanish monarch contrived to introduce himself into the dispute, in the character of a mediator; but his proposals were of so injurious a character to the interests of Great Britain, that they were instantly rejected. The King of Spain 1779then seized on what appeared to be a favorable opportunity to declare war, and to wrest from Great Britain the important fortress of Gibraltar, which had resisted every attempt to retake it, since its capture by the British in 1704.

In June, 1779, the intercourse of the garrison of Gibraltar with the Spanish territory was suddenly stopped, so that several officers on leave of absence, experienced difficulty in rejoining their corps. A numerous Spanish army speedily blockaded the fortress on the land side, and the garrison became insulated from the rest of the world. Resolving on a desperate defence of the fortress intrusted to their care, the troops undertook the task with cheerfulness, and severe toil and spare diet were sustained without complaint. The works were increased; the pavement of the streets was taken up; the towers of conspicuous buildings pulled down; the stone sentry-boxes removed; guard-houses unroofed; traverses were raised in different places, and a covered way begun. Several staff appointments took place; among others, Major Hardy, of the Fifty-sixth, was nominated quarter-master-general; Captain 1779Valloton, aide-de-camp to the governor; and Lieutenant S. Wood, assistant town-major: the regiment was commanded by Major Bulleine Fancourt.[2]

1780A rigorous blockade being established by sea and land, a scarcity of provision was soon experienced; the soldiers, being resolutely determined to defend their position, submitted to privations which were unavoidable, although the scurvy made great ravages among them, and reduced their numbers. Early in 1780 Admiral Sir George Rodney arrived with a convoy, to the great joy and relief of the garrison, which was augmented by the second battalion of the Seventy-third Regiment.

The British fleet having departed, the Spaniards renewed the blockade by sea, and attempted to destroy the vessels in the harbour by fire-ships, but failed. Towards the close of the year, provision again became short; a limited supply was occasionally obtained from the Moors; the effects of the scurvy were mitigated by cultivating vegetables on the rock; and the gallant defenders of Gibraltar maintained their attitude of defiance to the power of Spain.

1781In April, 1781, the garrison was again relieved by the 1781 arrival of a numerous fleet under Vice-Admiral Darby.

This success occasioned the Spaniards to lose all hope of being able to reduce the fortress by blockade, and they resolved to try the power of their numerous artillery. Scarcely had the fleet cast anchor, when the enemy’s batteries opened, and the fire of upwards of one hundred guns and mortars enveloped the fortress in a storm of war; a number of gun-boats augmented the iron tempest which beat against the rock, and the houses of the inhabitants were soon in ruins. Surgeon Thomas Chisholm, of the Fifty-sixth, was severely wounded by the splinter of a shell, on the 15th of April; Lieutenant Edward Vicars of the regiment was also wounded on the 26th of October, and Ensign Richard Edgar on the 3rd of November.

Europe watched, with intense interest, the heroic conduct of the garrison; and the English governor deliberately observed the approaches of the enemy, and seized, with the keenest perspection, the proper moment to make a sortie with success. This occurred on the night of the 26th of November, when the flank companies of the Fifty-sixth had an opportunity of distinguishing themselves. The moon shone bright on the sands as the soldiers assembled at midnight; between two and three o'clock, darkness overspread the country, and the troops issued silently from the fortress. They were challenged and fired upon by the enemy’s sentries; but the British soldiers rushed forward with their native ardour, overpowered the Spanish guards, and captured the batteries in gallant style; the defenders of the works flying in dismay, and communicating the panic to the troops in their rear. The wooden batteries were soon prepared for fire; the flames spread with astonishing rapidity, and a column of fire and smoke arose from the works, illuminating the surrounding objects, and shedding a fiery lustre upon this unparalleled scene. In an hour the object of the sortie was effected; trains were laid to the enemy’s magazines, and the soldiers withdrew: as they entered the fortress tremendous explosions shook the ground, and rising columns of smoke, flame, and burning timber, proclaimed the destruction of the enemy’s immense stores of gunpowder to be completed. General Eliott declared in orders, — “The bearing and conduct of the whole detachment, — officers, seamen, and soldiers, — on this glorious occasion, surpass my utmost acknowledgments.”

The Spaniards appeared astounded at this disgrace; they made no attempt to extinguish the flames; but appeared at a loss how to proceed. Early in December they began to arouse themselves, and to restore the batteries; but were retarded by the fire of the garrison. While the besiegers were using diligence in repairing the old works, and constructing new ones, the gallant defenders of the fortress were equally indefatigable, — every Serjeant, drummer, musician, officer’s servant, and private soldier was required to use the musket, shovel, and pickaxe, as his services were necessary.

1782All ordinary means of attack appearing to be unavailing against the resolute garrison of Gibraltar, stupendous preparations were made on a new principle, and floating batteries were constructed with great art and labour, and were accounted the most perfect contrivance of the kind ever seen. The combined power of France and Spain was directed against the fortress; the Duke of Crillon took the command of the besieging army, and he was assisted by a celebrated French engineer, Monsieur d’Arcon. As the summer of 1782 progressed, the garrison was aware that a crisis was approaching, and awaited with cool determination the hour of trial. Sickness and the enemy’s fire thinned their numbers (Lieutenant White, of the Fifty-sixth, being among the wounded); yet their efforts were not relaxed. New subterraneous works were constructed; and furnaces prepared for heating red-hot shot.

A trial of hot shot was made in the early part of September, and some of the enemy’s works were set on fire. This unexpected disaster provoked the Duke of Crillon to hurry the attack of a number of new batteries, which opened with a volley of sixty shells, and was followed by the fire of one hundred and seven guns of large calibre. A tremendous storm of bullets and shells thundered against the fortress; and soon after, the immense battering-ships approached and took their station: princes of the royal blood of France, — Spanish nobility, — dignified characters of Europe, — and an amazing concourse of persons filling the enemy’s camp, and covering the adjacent hills, to witness the fall of the fortress under the fire of these stupendous vessels.

The batteries of the garrison opened their fire, and the roar of four hundred heavy guns proclaimed the dreadful conflict. The battering ships proved powerful; the heaviest shells rebounded from their tops, and a thirty-two pound shot scarcely seemed to make an impression on them. Sometimes smoke arose, but the engines in the ships soon caused it to disappear. The effect of the red-hot shot was doubted; the result uncertain; but the fire was persevered in, and showers of balls, shells, and carcasses, flew through the air. For some hours the attack and defence were so equally well supported, as scarcely to admit of any appearance of superiority in the cannonade on either side. The wonderful construction of the battering ships appeared to bid defiance to the powers of the heaviest ordnance and of red-hot balls. In the afternoon (13th September) the face of things began to change, and the smoke issuing from the upper part of the enemy’s flag-ship became more voluminous. A second ship soon appeared in the same condition. Confusion prevailed. The enemy’s cannonade began to abate. Signals of distress were made to their fleet; and groans and cries of suffering came from the burning ships. Soon after midnight one battering ship was in flames; in a short time a second appeared in the same state; and between three and four o'clock six more exhibited the effects of the red-hot shot. A dreadful scene of conflagration illuminated the bay of Gibraltar, and the British seamen were seen rescuing their enemies from impending destruction.

Although defeated in this grand effort, the Spaniards entertained some hope of being able to reduce the garrison to submission from the want of provision; and the siege was continued: but in October the combined fleets of France and Spain were damaged by a storm. After this event the garrison was again relieved; supplied with provisions, and reinforced with troops; and the officers and soldiers were encouraged to persevere in their gallant efforts, by a letter from the principal Secretary of State, published in orders, in which it was stated,—“I am honored with His Majesty’s commands to assure you, in the strongest terms, that no encouragement shall be wanting to the brave officers and soldiers under your command. His Majesty’s Royal approbation of the past will, no doubt, be a powerful incentive to future exertion: and I have the King’s authority to assure you, that every distinguished act of emulation and gallantry, which shall be performed in the course of the siege, by any, even of the lowest rank, will meet with ample reward from his gracious protection and favour.”

Thus encouraged, the brave garrison of Gibraltar stood firm and determined in the defence of the fortress, and the enemy lost all hopes of being able to gain possession of the place.

1783Preliminary articles for a treaty of peace having been signed, hostilities ceased in February, 1783, and Gibraltar remained one of the gems of the British Crown, after a determined siege of three years, seven months, and twelve days, from the commencement of the blockade.

Thus terminated the celebrated siege of Gibraltar; the nations of Europe were struck with admiration of the gallant defenders of the fortress; the British people applauded their governor and his brave garrison; and the officers and soldiers received the thanks of Parliament and the approbation of their Sovereign.

“In commemoration of the glorious defence made by the regiments of infantry which composed the garrison of Gibraltar during the late memorable siege of that fortress,” the Fifty-sixth Regiment received the royal authority to bear on its regimental colours the word “Gibraltar,” with the device of a “Castle and Key,” and the motto “Montis Insignia Calpe.”

In pursuance of an arrangement made by His Majesty’s command, the several regiments were at this period directed to assume County Titles, and to cultivate a connexion with such parts of the kingdom, with the view of promoting the recruiting of the army. The Fifty-sixth received the title of the West Essex Regiment.

In the month of October of this year, the Fifty-sixth Regiment was relieved at Gibraltar, and embarked for England: having landed at Portsmouth in December, it marched from thence to Chatham.

1784In the beginning of 1784 the regiment marched to St. Albans, and in the spring commenced its route to Scotland, proceeding first to Glasgow, and afterwards to Aberdeen.

1785On the 8th of April, 1785, the regiment commenced its march from Aberdeen for Fort George, where it was stationed twelve months, and, 1786in April, 1786, marched to Perth: in June it proceeded to Edinburgh Castle.

1787Leaving Edinburgh in May, 1787, the regiment proceeded to Ayr, and in September to Glasgow. Its establishment was reduced from eleven to ten companies.

1788In January, 1788, the regiment embarked from Glasgow for Ireland, and, landing at Belfast, proceeded from thence to Galway, where it was stationed during 1789the following year.

1790From Galway the regiment marched, in the autumn of 1790, to Dublin, where it was stationed during the 1791year 1791, its lieutenant-colonel, Colonel Peter Craig, commanding the garrison.

1792From Dublin the regiment marched, in June, 1792, to Drogheda. In the mean time a revolution of a violent and dangerous character had taken place in France, and the French monarch was placed under restraint. These proceedings, with the attempts made by the French to promulgate their democratical doctrines in other countries, appearing to render a war inevitable, the army was augmented, and two companies were added to the Fifty-sixth Regiment.

1793Several changes of quarters took place in the early part of 1793. Brevet-Major Valloton, being stationed with his company at Wexford, was employed, on the 11th of June, 1793, in suppressing a tumult at that place, and, advancing in front of his men, to expostulate with the rioters, he was cut down by one of the mob with a scythe; his men fired on the assassin, and several rioters were killed and wounded. A monument was erected to the memory of Major Valloton near the town of Wexford, where the occurrence took place.

In August the regiment marched to Cork, and was held in readiness to proceed on foreign service. The French republicans had added to their other atrocities the decapitation of their sovereign; war had commenced, and the Fifty-sixth Regiment was selected to join an expedition to the West Indies, under General Sir Charles (afterwards Earl) Grey, to deliver the French West India islands from the power of the republicans. The regiment embarked for this service in November, and sailed for Barbadoes, where it arrived in January, 1794.

1794The flank companies of the regiment were formed in grenadier and light infantry battalions, and, with the battalion companies, proceeded against the island of Martinico. A landing was effected at three different points in the early part of February, 1794, and some sharp fighting occurred, in which the Fifty-sixth, particularly the flank companies, had the honor to take part, and in a short period this valuable island was captured by the British arms. Sir Charles Grey stated in his despatch,—“The general and field officers and the commanding officers of corps, have set such an example of zeal, activity, and animation in this service, which has been so laudably imitated by all the officers and soldiers of this little army, that they merit the greatest praise.”

Leaving the battalion companies at Martinico, the flank companies proceeded with the expedition against St. Lucia, the grenadiers being in the brigade under Prince Edward (afterwards Duke of Kent), and the light company in that commanded by Major-General Dundas. The troops employed on this service arrived at St. Lucia on the 1st of April, and the conquest of that fine island was achieved in three days.

The army afterwards proceeded against the island of Guadaloupe, and the Fifty-sixth had the honor to share in this enterprise. A determined resistance was made by the French republicans; but the island was captured before the end of April, and the commander of the forces declared he could not find words to express “the high sense he entertained of the extraordinary merit evinced by the officers and soldiers in this service.”

The regiment was afterwards stationed at Grenada and Martinico, and a great loss of life having been sustained from the effects of climate and other causes, an order was received in October, to transfer the men of the Fifty-sixth, fit for duty, to the Sixth, Ninth, and Fifteenth Regiments.

1795On the 3rd of January, 1795 the officers, staff, and such non-commssioned officers and soldiers as had not been transferred to other corps embarked from Martinico, and sailed for England; they arrived at Gravesend on the 18th of February, and were stationed at Chatham: active measures were adopted to recruit the ranks of the regiment.

After commanding the regiment nearly thirty years, General Walsh died, and was succeeded in the colonelcy by Major-General Samuel Hulse, from the lieut.-colonelcy of the First Foot Guards, by commission, dated the 7th of March, 1795.

In September the regiment marched to Gravesend, where it embarked for Cork, and landed at Spike Island on the 1st of October.

1796Great success had attended the recruiting and training of the regiment, and although one year only had elapsed since its return from the West Indies a skeleton, it had attained so perfect a state of discipline and efficiency, that in the early part of 1796 it proceeded to Barbadoes, from whence it was detached to St. Domingo, where it served under Major-General White, by whom it was employed at the taking of Bombarde in the district of Mole, St. Nicholas, which was captured, and the works destroyed.

1797On the 24th of January, 1797, Major-General Hulse was removed to the Nineteenth Regiment, and the colonelcy of the Fifty-sixth was conferred on Major-General the Hon. Chapple Norton, from the Eighty-first Regiment.

In this year the regiment was employed in the district of Grand Ance in the island of St. Domingo; it took part in the attack of Port Jack Thomas, and in the defence of Irois, under Major-General Brent Spencer, also in the attack made on the town of St. Mary’s; after which it returned to Port St. Nicholas. When the island was given up, the regiment proceeded to Jamaica, where it remained until1798 November, 1798, when it embarked from Kingston, for England.

1799Arriving at Gravesend on the 31st of January, 1799, the regiment landed, and proceeded to Chatham. It was afterwards removed to different counties in England, and active measures were adopted with success to recruit its diminished numbers.

At this period a favorable opportunity appeared to present itself for rescuing Holland from the power of France, into which it had fallen during the early part of 1795, and a plan of co-operation was concerted between Great Britain and Russia, in the expectation that the Dutch would rise against the French, and, aided by the Anglo-Russian force, would exert themselves to effect their emancipation. The Fifty-sixth being selected to share in this enterprise, joined the troops at Barham Downs on the 31st of July, and in the middle of September embarked at Deal for Holland.


1799The regiment joined the Anglo-Russian army, under His Royal Highness the Duke of York, in time to take a distinguished part in the attack of the enemy’s positions on the 19th of September. On this occasion the first operations of the several columns were successful; but the hopes, which a brilliant commencement afforded, of a general and decisive victory, were destroyed by the hasty valour, and the want of that precaution which the art of war prescribes, on the part of the Russians under General Hermann, who were repulsed by an enemy inferior to themselves in numbers and valour, but superior in science and prudence. This disaster rendered it necessary for the army to resume its position. The Fifty-sixth Regiment had thirty rank and file killed on this occasion; Captains King and Gilman, Lieutenant Prater, thirty-three rank and file, wounded; one serjeant, one drummer, and fifty-seven rank and file, missing. The Duke of York stated in his public despatch,—“The gallantry displayed by the troops engaged—the spirit with which they overcame every obstacle which nature and art opposed to them, and the cheerfulness with which they maintained the fatigues of an action which lasted, without intermission, from half-past three o’clock in the morning until five in the afternoon, are beyond my powers to describe. Their exertions fully entitle them to the admiration and gratitude of their king and country.”

On the 2nd of October a successful attack was made on the enemy’s positions between Bergen and Egmont-op-Zee; and the action “was[3] sustained by the British columns under those highly-distinguished officers, General Sir Ralph Abercromby and Lieut.-General Dundas, whose exertions, as well as the gallantry of the brave troops they led, cannot have been surpassed by any former instance of British valour.”

During the night the enemy fell back; and the British advance-posts moved forward on the following day. On the 6th of October the enemy’s posts were again attacked with success, and the British maintained a forward position.

Although the army under the Duke of York was victorious in its engagements, yet the Dutch people were not stimulated, by these spirited exertions, to rise in arms against their oppressors; and several circumstances having occurred which indicated that the expedition was not likely to be eventually successful, the Duke of York resolved to evacuate the country.

The regiment embarked from North Holland on the 18th of November, landed at Yarmouth on the 20th, and marched to Chelmsford. In December it proceeded to Horsham.

1800Leaving Horsham on the 26th of January, 1800, the regiment proceeded to Portsmouth, where it embarked for Ireland, and landing on the 25th of February, marched to Kilkenny, from whence it afterwards proceeded to Clonmel, Fermoy, &c. Two companies, of one hundred rank and file each, were added to the establishment.

While at these stations, the regiment was conspicuous for its correct discipline and efficiency, and after the usual inspection, on the 29th of October, the following garrison order was issued:—“Major-General Sir Charles Ross is happy to have this opportunity of expressing his approbation of the steadiness and appearance of the Fifty-sixth Regiment this day, and returns his thanks to the officers and men for the zeal and attention which they have displayed on all occasions since he has had the honor of commanding them.”


1801The regiment, after its return from the West Indies, in the early part of 1799, had been recruited with men for limited service in Europe; but when the glorious triumphs of the British army in Egypt, under General Sir Ralph Abercromby, K.B., were made known to the corps in general orders, this announcement of splendid victories, gained by English troops, created so lively an interest in the regiment, that the soldiers instantly responded with a tender of service in any quarter of the globe, which was communicated to the general officer of the district, Brigadier-General Champagne, by Major H. S. Keating, commanding the regiment at the time, in the following terms:

“Sir,—I have the honor to inclose you the offer of the Fifty-sixth Regiment, of serving in any part of the world, where His Majesty may deem it necessary; which I beg you will have the goodness to lay before his Excellency the Commander-in-chief. I should consider myself acting with injustice, were I not to notice the very enthusiastic manner in which the orders of the 16th May, 1801,[4] of His Royal Highness the Duke of York, were received, and the consequent tender of those services excited by a contemplation of the animated conduct of our gallant army in Egypt; and I feel a confidence in adding, that should they be accepted, I have every reliance, that the spirit and energy of the regiment, will support with honor the interest of its king and country.”

The commander of the forces in Ireland directed the adjutant-general to convey to the non-commissioned officers and privates of the regiment, “his thanks and approbation of their spirited offer of general service, which is transmitted to His Royal Highness the Commander-in-chief, to be laid before the King.” The Duke of York also communicated “thanks to the corps for their spirited and loyal offer to extend their service to any part of the world.”

1802This tender of service was, however, so speedily followed by the peace of Amiens, concluded in the early part of 1802, that no call was made, at this period, for the regiment to proceed on foreign service. In October it marched to Limerick.

1803Hostilities were resumed in 1803, and Bonaparte’s threat of invading England was answered by a sudden assumption of arms throughout the kingdom, which produced an array of military power, that proved how highly the British people prized their constitution and liberties, and deterred the French from quitting their own coast. The regiment proceeded to Galway in August, and was afterwards removed to Tuam, Loughrea, and Kinsale.

1804Among the measures adopted to repel the French invasion, an additional force act was passed in June, 1804; and four hundred of the men, raised under its provisions, in the county of Surrey, were constituted the second battalion of the Fifty-sixth Regiment; they were embodied at Farnham, and the battalion was placed on the establishment of the army on the 25th of December, 1804: it was augmented soon afterwards to six hundred and fifty-six non-commissioned officers and soldiers.

1805The first battalion remained in Ireland until January, 1805, when it embarked at Kinsale for the Isle of Wight, where its establishment was augmented to one thousand rank and file, which was speedily completed, and in April it embarked in three divisions for the East Indies: it landed at Bombay in August, and was stationed at that city several years.

In May the second battalion left Farnham, and was stationed a short time at the barracks at Forton and Gosport; in August it proceeded to the Isle of Wight, where a pair of colours was presented to it on the 28th of November. Its establishment was augmented in December to eight hundred and sixty-six non-commissioned officers and soldiers.

1806From the Isle of Wight the second battalion proceeded to Guernsey, in March, 1806, and its establishment was fixed at a thousand rank and file.

1807After remaining at Guernsey twelve months, the second battalion returned to the Isle of Wight: it was in a high state of discipline and efficiency, and in June it embarked in two divisions for India. The fleet encountered a severe gale of wind, and the vessels of the first division parted company, and put into Simon’s Bay to refit. They remained at the Cape of Good Hope a month, and afterwards continued the voyage to Madras, where they arrived in December, under convoy of the Greyhound frigate. On arrival in India the several companies proceeded to Bombay, where both battalions 1808were stationed in 1808: the success which attended the recruiting of the regiment, occasioning the establishment of the first battalion to be augmented to thirteen hundred non-commissioned officers and soldiers.

1809In January, 1809, the second battalion marched to Barachie, near Surat.

Meanwhile British commerce had experienced considerable interruption and some loss from the French naval force stationed in the Indian Sea, which force rendezvoused at the Island of Bourbon, and the Isle of France (or the Mauritius). In January two hundred men of the first battalion were detached from Bombay, to join the troops assembling at the Island of Roderigue, under Lieut.-Colonel Keating, of the Fifty-sixth Regiment, for the attack of the French islands in the Indian Sea.


While this detachment of the first battalion was on the voyage, four companies of the second battalion marched to Baroda, under the orders of Captain D. Daly, and joined the force assembling at that place, under Lieut.-Colonel Walker, for the reduction of the fort of Mallia, in Kattawar, which was the stronghold of a numerous body of marauders, who plundered and devastated the surrounding territory, and had successfully resisted the attacks of powerful native chiefs, which had procured for their fort the reputation of being impregnable. The position was naturally strong, the fortifications good, the garrison, being fully aware of the approach of the British troops, was prepared, and, to gain additional security, had surrounded the wall with a strong embankment of earth and thorns.

After a long and fatiguing march the British troops arrived before Mallia on the 6th of July; and the garrison returning a vaunting answer to the summons to surrender, the fire of the artillery commenced on the following day, and a practicable breach was effected in a few hours.

At four o’clock in the afternoon the storming party, of which the Fifty-sixth furnished a proportion of one hundred and fifty rank and file, advanced; the forlorn hope being under the command of Captain McKenzie, of the Bombay European Regiment, who was gallantly supported by Lieutenant Newman of the Fifty-sixth, a volunteer on the occasion. Rushing forward with heroic valour, the soldiers soon forced the breach, and in less than three-quarters of an hour they were in possession of the greater part of the town. As they advanced, the resistance became more determined; the banditti fighting with great spirit, and eventually retiring into an inner fort, which was inaccessible to an assault; when, the evening being far advanced, operations ceased for the night. Before the following morning the defenders of Mallia withdrew through a sally port, and fled; a few men remaining to keep up an occasional fire, and these retired before daylight; when the fort was occupied by the British troops.

This place having been accounted by the natives of the Kattawar as impregnable, its early reduction, with the cool and steady valour by which it was carried, filled with astonishment and admiration the several vakeels of the different chieftains, who were in attendance on Lieut.-Colonel Walker, and afforded them proof of the irresistible effects of British discipline, skill, and prowess. This afterwards operated beneficially in producing the organization of so rude and uncivilized a tract of country, as the greater part of the peninsula of Guzerat then was.

In the general orders issued on this occasion, it was stated:—“To Captain D. Daly, the officers and men of the Fifty-sixth Regiment, the commanding officer returns his particular acknowledgments; they have nobly supported the reputation of the senior battalion, in all the characteristics of good soldiers.” … “The commanding officer cannot omit the expression of his warmest acknowledgments to Captain Arnot, of the Fifty-sixth Regiment, for his exertions at the erection of the batteries, and for his conduct at the storm; and it would be injustice to withhold his thanks to Lieutenant Newman, for his spirited support of Captain McKenzie in the advanced party.”

The casualties, amounting to eighty-two killed and wounded, prove the arduous nature of the enterprise; and of this number the Fifty-sixth Regiment had six rank and file killed; Captain Arnot, and twelve rank and file wounded. In December the troops were ordered to return to their former stations, and the detachment of the Fifty-sixth rejoined the head-quarters of the second battalion at Barachie.

Meanwhile the party of the first battalion at the Isle of Roderigue had sailed from thence with the forces under Lieut.-Colonel Keating, to co-operate with the British navy in blockading the Isles of France and Bourbon, and in attacking the enemy’s ports. At five o’clock on the morning of the 21st of September, six hundred men landed in three columns, seven miles from the port of St. Paul’s, in the Isle of Bourbon, then called by the French the Isle of Bonaparte, and by a forced march crossed a causeway extending over the lake, before the enemy discovered their disembarkation or approach to the town; they also passed the enemy’s strongest position by seven o’clock, and gained possession of two batteries before the enemy could form in force. Captain Imlack, of the Bombay Native Infantry, was detached with one hundred and fifty men to take possession of a third battery; and on his way he encountered the French forces, concentrated behind a stone wall, with eight field-pieces on their flanks. This post was instantly attacked in a most gallant manner; Captain Hanna of the Fifty-sixth Regiment arrived with the third column, and charging, captured two guns; and Captain Forbes, of the Fifty-sixth Regiment, advancing with the reserve, the enemy was compelled to retreat with the loss of his artillery. A few men were detached in pursuit; two additional batteries were captured, and by half-past eight o’clock the town, batteries, magazines, eight brass field-pieces, and one hundred and seventeen new iron guns, were in possession of the British troops: at the same time the enemy’s shipping were forced to surrender to the British naval force. Thus was accomplished a most brilliant exploit, in a few hours, and it reflected great credit on the commanding officer, Lieut.-Colonel Keating, of the Fifty-sixth, and on all the troops engaged. The loss of the regiment was one Serjeant, and five rank and file killed; one Serjeant and twenty-six rank and file wounded.

The town being commanded by the British naval force, the troops returned on board the fleet; part of the enemy’s stores and the guns were destroyed; the remainder were embarked on board the company’s recaptured ship Streatham, which, with the Europe, were placed under their former commanders. In October the troops sailed for the Isle of Roderigue. The conduct of Ensign Pearce, of the Fifty-sixth Regiment, was highly commended in the public despatch of Lieut.-Colonel Keating.

In the beginning of this year, a detachment of the regiment, under Lieutenant John Elliot Cairnes, performed duty as marines, in the Indian Sea, on board of His Majesty’s ship Psyche, which was engaged in the war with the Rajah of Travancore, who governed a populous province at the south-west extremity of Hindoostan. This province was indebted for its independence to the valour of British troops, who rescued it from the power of Tippoo Sultan, when the forces of the Mysore had overrun the country, in 1790; and in 1795 a treaty of alliance was concluded with the rajah, who engaged to subsidize three battalions of British Sepoys for the defence of his dominions. Some disputes arising from the payments to be made in consequence of this treaty, produced war; the British Sepoys stationed at Quilon were menaced with annihilation; the house of the resident. Colonel C. Macauly, at Cochin, was attacked; and the Twelfth and Nineteenth British regiments were suddenly ordered to the scene of contest. A detachment of the Fifty-sixth, on board the Piedmontaise frigate, were employed in services connected with the safety of the troops at Quilon, and the preservation of the life of the British resident. This frigate cannonaded the port of Aleppi, where a party of the Twelfth Foot had been treacherously seized, their wrists broken with a heavy piece of iron, their hands tied behind them, and after lying several days in a dungeon, were precipitated from a rock into the sea. This detachment of the Fifty-sixth landed at Quilon, under Lieutenant Warren, to co-operate in the preservation of the life of the British resident, who had escaped from Cochin. The services of the detachment under Lieutenant Cairnes, on board of the Psyche, were connected with the operations of the army under Brigadier-General the Honorable A. St. Leger; and under the cover of the frigate’s broadside, the soldiers of the regiment stormed and captured a strong battery, commanding Colatchi Bay; thus co-operating in the capture of Travandrum, the capital, which reduced the refractory Rajah of Travancore to submission.

Measures for enforcing a system of economy, having interfered with the emoluments which British officers in the command of native regiments had been accustomed to receive, from the contract for supplying their corps with camp equipment, the civil and military authorities of Madras became opposed to each other; from this misunderstanding resulted serious disaffection and disobedience of orders in the native army; and the head-quarters and companies of the first battalion of the Fifty-sixth at Bombay, were suddenly ordered to Madras. They embarked on board the Cornwallis frigate and two transports, on the 30th of July, under secret orders, and landed at Madras on the 11th of August, before any disclosure of the approach of this reinforcement had reached the army of that presidency. The governor addressed a communication to the regiment on this occasion, in which he stated he felt—“particular satisfaction that the selection for this delicate service had fallen to the first battalion of the Fifty-sixth Regiment, whose distinguished and characteristic zeal for the maintenance of professional subordination to the authority of legal government, must so powerfully tend to recal the misguided to a sense of their duty.”


The regiment proceeded to the Marmalong camp immediately, and after the return of the native corps to their duty, it received the thanks of the Governor in Council, in general orders,—“for the manner in which His Majesty’s officers and soldiers, who rallied round the cause of government, loyalty, and duty, conducted themselves.” In October the battalion proceeded to Bellary.

1810These troubles being suppressed, the governor-general conceived the idea of clearing the Indian Ocean of all that was hostile to Great Britain, and a considerable force was placed under the orders of Lieut.-Colonel Keating, of the Fifty-sixth, including a strong detachment of the first battalion of the regiment, for the capture of the Island of Bourbon. On this occasion Lieut.-Colonel Keating resolved to make his first attack on the capital, in the expectation that, with its capture, the reduction of the island would be accomplished. A landing was effected at Grand Chaloupe on the 7th of July, 1810; and Captain Hanna was detached with two companies of the Fifty-sixth to La Possessime, “the batteries of which place he took by assault in the most gallant manner;”[5] and with the trifling loss of two men killed, and two wounded: thus proving the advantage of making attacks with spirit and resolution. All the troops of the expedition conducting themselves with heroic ardour, the opposition of the enemy was speedily overcome, and the conquest of the island accomplished in so short a period of time, that Lieutenant-Colonel Keating stated in his public despatch,—“In all the operations the troops evinced the native energy and gallantry of Britons, and in a few hours this rich, extensive, and valuable colony was added to the British dominions.” Lieutenant Mallet and a party of the regiment, proceeded with the French troops which had surrendered, to the Cape of Good Hope.


Additional troops arriving at this part of the Indian Ocean, Major-General J. Abercromby assumed the command, and an expedition proceeded against the Isle of France, which was afterwards restored to its original designation of the Mauritius, and the detachment of the Fifty-sixth Regiment had the honor to serve in this enterprise; the party which proceeded, under Lieutenant Mallet, in charge of French prisoners to the Cape, arriving in time to take part in this service. A landing was effected in the Bay of Mapon on the 29th of November, and the troops advanced through a thick wood, when some skirmishing occurred, and Lieut.-Colonel Keating, of the Fifty-sixth Regiment, and twelve men of the piquet, were wounded. Penetrating the open country on the following day, the troops experienced great inconvenience from the want of water, and halted at the streams of the powder-mills, five miles from Port Louis. After passing the night at this place, they resumed the march, and were opposed in their progress by a strong body of the enemy, when some severe fighting occurred, in which the British soldiers were triumphant: the Fifty-sixth Regiment had five men killed and several wounded.

Pursuing their victorious career, the British troops advanced to the enemy’s lines; and on the following morning the French Commander, General de Caen, proposed to capitulate; thus was this valuable colony wrested from the enemy, and it has continued to form part of the possessions of the British crown to the present time.

During this year the star of Britain shone bright on the naval and colonial affairs of this great maritime power, whose enemies were deprived of the last establishment which they had possessed beyond the Cape of Good Hope, and the Pompadours had the honor of

sharing in these brilliant adventures.


The second battalion remained at Barachia; and so successful was the recruiting of the regiment, under the influence and zealous efforts of its colonel, Lieut.-General the Hon. Chapple Norton, that the establishment of the second battalion was augmented to one thousand three hundred and six non-commissioned officers and soldiers; making the number of the two battalions in India, two thousand six hundred and twelve, and, notwithstanding the casualties of war and climate, the effectives approximated the establishment. A strong detachment of volunteers from the militia, to the Fifty-sixth, arriving in India in May, was stationed at the Portuguese establishment at Goa.

The detachment under Lieutenant Cairnes continued to serve as marines.

1811In March, 1811, the party from Goa joined the head-quarters of the first battalion at Bellary; and towards the close of the year, Lieut.-Colonel Keating returned with the detachment from the capture of Bourbon and the Mauritius. The Honorable the East India Company expressed its sense of the valuable services of the regiment, by presenting the first battalion with a pair of new colours, during its stay at Bellary.

This year the second battalion returned to Bombay.

1812 In May, 1812, Lieut.-Colonel Kingscote arrived from England, and took the command of the second battalion, which, in October, marched from the town barracks, Bombay, to the pendals on Colabah.

The first battalion quitted Bellary, and in September joined the field-force assembled in the southern Mahratta country, under the command of Colonel Dowse, of the East India Company’s Service, for the purpose of enforcing the payment of the arrears of the customary tribute, withheld by the Ranee of Raree; and took part in all the operations consequent upon the performance of this duty.


1813Two companies of the second battalion were ordered to garrison Surat, in February, 1813; and the head-quarters embarked for the Guzerat, where they arrived at the Dutch Bundes in Surat on the 9th of March; and owing to the bad and unhealthy state of these quarters, the battalion was removed in April, to Domus, where it was encamped: but re-occupied the Dutch Bundes in June, with two companies at Surat.

Four companies were detached, in the same month, under the command of Captain Barrington, to join the Guicwar's subsidiary force, under the orders of Colonel Holmes, of the East India Company’s service. On the third day the four companies marched from Khim to Oclasceer, a distance of eighteen miles, the last six of which were across an arid plain, destitute of shelter, and exposed to an unusual degree of heat, when many men fell from complete exhaustion; three died where they fell; and seven others expired during the day, after they had been removed to quarters by the natives. These four companies were followed, in September, by two others, under Lieut.-Colonel Kingscote who assumed the command of the six companies with the force under Colonel Holmes, which was employed in operations for the re-establishment of the rightful heir to the throne, which had been usurped by the uncle. On the 15th of November this force took possession of the fort of Palampore, which the Scindians had evacuated early in the morning. The troops remained in the neighbourhood of this place until the end of the year, when the companies of the Fifty-sixth marched back to the camp at Domus, where the Guzerat fever deprived the corps of many valuable soldiers.

Notwithstanding its numerous losses, the recruiting of the regiment was conducted with great success, under the influence and zealous efforts of its colonel, and its ranks received a constant supply of young men, many of them from the county of Surrey. At this period the war in Europe had attained a crisis: the British forces had triumphed in Portugal and Spain, and had forced the barrier of the Pyrenees and penetrated France; the Emperor Napoleon had lost a numerous army in the north; the forces of Russia, Austria, Prussia, and the German States, were in arms against him; and a powerful effort promised complete success to the cause of the allies. Measures were adopted to augment the British army at this interesting period; and the facility with which the Fifty-sixth had been recruited, holding out the prospect that its establishment might be increased, a warrant was issued by the Prince Regent in the early part of November, for adding a third battalion to the corps. This battalion was embodied at Horsham, its establishment was six hundred and fifty non-commissioned officers and soldiers, and its ranks were so speedily completed with disciplined men, by volunteers from the militia, &c., that in one month from the date of the order for its formation, it was ready for foreign service. At this period a body of British troops proceeded to Holland, under Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Graham (late Lord Lynedoch), to co-operate with the forces of the allied sovereigns, and the third battalion of the Fifty-sixth embarked for this service at Ramsgate, on the 9th of December, under the orders of Lieut.-Colonel John Frederick Brown; it was posted to the third brigade, commanded by Major-General Sir Herbert Taylor; the British troops were concentrated in and near Williamstadt.

About the same period the first battalion took the field in India, and formed part of the force assembled at Goute, from whence it proceeded against Canool, where it arrived on the 25th of December, and batteries were erected during the night, but a flag of truce being sent out on the following morning, hostilities ceased. The battalion was also at the reduction of the fort of 1814Raree, Goosecull; and passed the monsoon in quarters at Cataubaugy; afterwards returning to Goute, it was relieved in the field by the second battalion of the Royals; it had lost three hundred and fifty men from disease, and was so reduced, that it was ordered to return to Bellary; it subsequently marched to Fort St. George, Madras.

The third battalion did not remain many days in quarters in Holland before it was employed in active operations, in consequence of a request of the Prussian general, Bulow, that the British would make a forward movement upon Antwerp, to favour his operations; the English general accordingly advanced to make a reconnoissance, and approaching that fortress on the 13th of January, attacked a body of French troops at the village of Merxem. On this occasion the Fifty-sixth supported the Seventy-eighth Highlanders, in a charge with the bayonet, on a French column, which was driven from its ground. The Fifty-sixth were engaged in a sharp skirmish, and had four men killed and fourteen wounded. The object of this movement having been accomplished, the British troops marched to Rosendael.

A serious attack on Antwerp was afterwards concerted, and General Bulow engaged to support the British with his Prussian corps. An advance was accordingly made, and on the 2nd of February the English again approached the village of Merxem, where a numerous body of French troops were stationed, and had fortified their post. The light troops commenced skirmishing about nine o’clock in the morning; and the Fifty-sixth, having cleared the wood on the right and left, formed line and advanced; when they were ordered by Sir Thomas Graham, in person, to move to the right,—charge through the village,—ford the dike on the other side,—take the enemy’s battery,—and attack them on the left of their line. These orders were gallantly executed, and two guns, which had annoyed the advance, were captured. The Fifty-sixth sustained some loss from the enemy’s fire, and had several men drowned in crossing the dike; but they succeeded in gaining the left flank of the enemy, and were warmly engaged until the French retired under the guns of Antwerp, when they pursued until recalled, and ordered to take post under the embankment of St. Ferdinand’s dike, which was not accomplished before several round shot had passed through the ranks. The regiment had thirteen rank and file killed; Ensign Sparks, and twenty-four rank and file wounded. Lieut.-General Sir Thomas Graham stated in his despatch,—“All the troops engaged behaved with the usual spirit and intrepidity of British soldiers;” and the conduct of Lieut.-Colonel Brown of the Fifty-sixth was particularly noticed.

After this success the British troops were employed in constructing a breastwork and battery, and the Fifty-sixth took their share in this labour, the men working all night. On the 3rd of February, several pieces of heavy ordnance opened upon the city of Antwerp, and on the French shipping in the Scheldt, and the cannonade was continued until the 6th, the Fifty-sixth taking their turn in the trenches, and being under fire each day; but General Bulow having received orders to march southward, to act with the grand army of the allies, it became necessary to relinquish the attack on Antwerp, when the British retired towards Breda,—the Fifty-sixth halting a few days at Rysburg, ten miles from Breda.

In the beginning of March the battalion again moved towards Antwerp, and was employed in services connected with preventing the enemy throwing a relief into Bergen-op-Zoom, which fortress Sir Thomas Graham had resolved to attack; and the battalion afterwards made a forced march towards that place, where it arrived in time to witness the failure of the attack. The services of the battalion were afterwards connected with the operations against Antwerp, and preventing supplies of provision and troops joining the garrison.

In the mean time Napoleon was pressed on every side by overwhelming numbers, which he was not able to withstand, and he was forced to abdicate the throne of France. Peace was restored, and the battalion of the Fifty-sixth marched into Antwerp; from whence it proceeded to Ostend, where it embarked for England in September, and landing at Deal, marched to Sheerness.

The army being reduced on the restoration of peace, the third battalion was disbanded at Sheerness on the 24th of October; its men fit for service being transferred to the first and second battalions in India, for which country they embarked about three months afterwards.

The second battalion continued to suffer severely from disease at the camp at Domus; its loss from March 1813, to December 1814, amounting to three hundred and twenty-nine non-commissioned officers and soldiers. The conduct of the men, during this distressing period, called forth the approbation of the commander of the district, expressed in division orders, in the strongest terms. During the year, it proceeded to Barachia, subsequently embarked for Bombay, and after occupying the pendals at Colabah a short period, marched into Fort George barracks.

1815Considerable improvement having taken place in the health of the men, the second battalion embarked for Panwell in January, 1815, and mustered upwards of nine hundred non-commissioned officers and soldiers; it joined the Poonah subsidiary force under Colonel Lionel Smith, encamped on the celebrated plain of Assaye, where the troops remained until the 27th of February, when they marched northward. In May they entered cantonments at Jaulna, where they remained during the monsoon, and in August marched in three divisions to Seroor, from whence the grenadier and rifle companies proceeded to Poonah under Colonel Smithy who left Lieut.-Colonel Kingscote in command at Seroor: these companies returned in October.

In the mean time occurrences in Europe had occasioned the removal of the first battalion from Madras. The sudden return of Bonaparte to France, and the astonishing facility with which he regained temporary possession of the throne of that kingdom, was followed by a manifested disposition to revolt on the part of the French settlers at the Mauritius, and the first battalion of the Fifty-sixth, which had been joined by three hundred men from the third, embarked on board the Salsette frigate, and the company’s ships Rose and Streatham, to reinforce the garrison at that station, on which occasion the following general order was issued:—

“His Majesty’s Fifty-sixth Regiment being under orders to embark on service at a considerable distance from the presidency, the Right Honorable the Governor cannot refrain expressing his warmest approbation of the uniform good conduct of the regiment, while it remained in garrison at Fort St. George, under the able command of Colonel Barclay, assisted by the zealous exertions of a distinguished corps of officers; and the Right Honorable the Governor begs leave to assure Colonel Barclay, and the officers of the regiment, that he participates in the sentiments of regret, felt by the settlement at large, for the loss sustained, in the circles of social life, by their departure.”

During the voyage the ships were separated by a violent hurricane, and each supposed the other lost; but they arrived safe at Port Louis, where they were stationed until November, when they marched to Mahebourg. The overthrow of Bonaparte on the field of Waterloo, and the restoration of peace, removed all cause of apprehension for the tranquillity of the Mauritius at that period.

1816The second battalion again took the field with the Poonah subsidiary force, in the early part of 1816; and in May it went into cantonments at Jaulna; from whence Lieut.-Colonel Kingscote, of the Fifty-sixth, was detached in September, with a light battalion, comprising part of the regiment, in pursuit of a native chief, called Trimbuckjee Dainglia, who had murdered the minister of state of Guzerat, escaped from prison, and was suspected of a design to assemble a force on the frontiers of the dominions of his late sovereign, the Peishwa. The pursuit of this chieftain occasioned the soldiers many fatiguing marches, and on one occasion the fortified village of Nimgaum, on the banks of the Peera, was surrounded in the expectation that the chief was there; but when, on the advance of the artillery, the inhabitants opened the gates, he could not be found: the pursuit was afterwards discontinued, and the detachment re-joined the Poonah subsidiary force at Seroor, whither it had been removed from Jaulna in October. At the close of active operations. Colonel Lionel Smith expressed the high opinion he entertained of the battalion, in division orders, dated Seroor, 31st of October, in the following terms:—“There is no language of praise, or thanks, Colonel Smith could feel to be too strong in describing the merits of such a corps.”

In August the first battalion returned to Port St. Louis; and about a month afterwards so serious a conflagration occurred at that place, that the destruction of the town appeared inevitable; but this calamity was averted by the efforts of the soldiers of the Fifty-sixth, who prevented the fire communicating to the government buildings, and thus saved the town: two men of the regiment lost their lives, in attempting to arrest the progress of the flames. The daring conduct of Serjeant James Hasty was particularly conspicuous and successful in checking the progress of the flames; and the governor expressed the following opinion of his merits in a letter to Colonel Barclay:—“I conscientiously believe, that it was in a great measure owing to Serjeant Hasty, of your regiment, that the whole town of Port Louis was not swallowed by the flames. His persevering fortitude and intrepid confidence enabled him to save the government house, by remaining among the flames when most others had despaired; and it is universally allowed, that had the government house been burned, the remainder of the town must immediately have followed, and the whole population of Port Louis left houseless among the smoking ruins.”[6]

The peace of Europe appearing to be established upon a sound foundation, a considerable reduction was made in the strength of the British army, and the second battalions of regiments were directed to be disbanded: the second battalion of the Fifty-sixth was consequently ordered to march to Bombay in November.

1817On the 7th of January, 1817, the following general order was issued:—“His Majesty’s second battalion of the Fifty-sixth Regiment, being under orders for embarkation for Europe, affords an opportunity to the Right Honorable the Governor in Council, of expressing his approbation of the conduct of that valuable corps, whilst serving on the establishment of this presidency, and as a testimonial of the sense entertained of its important services in this country, is pleased to allow three months full batta to be issued to the officers of the battalion, previous to their departure from India.”

Four hundred men volunteered to remain in India, and transferred their services to the Sixty-fifth Regiment: and on the 9th of January, the battalion companies embarked for England. They landed at Liverpool in May, marched to Rochester, and were disbanded at that place on the 25th of June. The flank companies left Bombay in July, landed at Portsmouth on the 10th of December, and were disbanded at Chatham on the 29th of that month.

The regiment left Port Louis on the 1st of March, for Flacq, and in July to Mahebourg, where it received the colours of the late second battalion. It was employed in patrolling and other duties for the suppression of the slave trade.

1818After commanding the regiment twenty-one years, General the Honorable Chapple Norton died; and was succeeded in the colonelcy by Lieut.-General Sir John Murray, Baronet, from the third West India Regiment, by commission dated the 31st of March, 1818.

1819In July, 1819, the regiment returned to Port Louis, where it was inspected by Major-General Darling, who stated in orders dated the 16th of August,—“The inspection has afforded the Major-General much real satisfaction. A finer body of men than compose this regiment is perhaps nowhere to be seen; they are clean and soldierlike in appearance, well appointed, and in no respect deficient: in short, the care and attention of Lieut-Colonel Barclay, and of the officers, and the good disposition of the men, are evident, and could alone have led to the state in which the Fifty-sixth Regiment now is.”

1820The regiment was stationed successively at Port Louis and Mahebourg until 18261826, when, after upwards of twenty years’ service abroad, it embarked at Port Louis for England, on which occasion the governor stated in general orders, dated the 27th March,—“If circumstances should again call for his Excellency’s services in the field, he will feel happy in having the Fifty-sixth Regiment placed under his orders, as experience has fully proved to him, that a corps distinguished for good conduct in quarters, is always to be the most depended upon in the presence of the enemy.”

After landing at Portsmouth in June, the regiment marched to Cumberland Fort; in September it embarked at Portsmouth for Hull, where it joined the depôt companies.

1827In January, 1827, the regiment quitted Hull for Manchester, and in October it marched to Liverpool, where it embarked for Dublin.

On the 29th of October Sir John Murray died, and King George the Fourth was pleased to confer the colonelcy of the regiment on Lieut.-General Matthew Lord Aylmer.

1828New colours bearing the words “Moro” and “Gibraltar;” with the device of a Castle and Key, and the motto Montis Insignia Calpe, (which had been confirmed to the corps on the 27th of December, 1827, in consequence of an application from Colonel Barclay,) were presented to the regiment, with the usual solemnities, on the 4th of April, 1828.

In May the regiment marched to Londonderry; in the autumn the head-quarters were removed to Newry; 1829and in August, 1829, to Birr.

In the year 1829, His Majesty’s government deemed it necessary to direct courts of inquiry to be instituted in the several regiments, in consequence of numerous frauds having been committed by certain soldiers, who, on being discharged, had given false statements of their ages, dates of enlistment, and of the periods of their former services, by which many had obtained undue rates of pension, and had thus imposed on their commanding officers, and on the bounty of their sovereign and country.

The court held to investigate the books of the Fifty-sixth Regiment reported, that the description-book had been well kept, and afforded a practical example of a system which it was proposed to adopt generally, namely, to give each man on joining a regiment a number, to be marked on his attestation, and placed against his name in the description, and other record-books of the regiment; that the book of the Fifty-sixth Regiment contained nearly two thousand names, the plan and arrangement of which were highly creditable to the zeal and industry of Colonel Barclay, and that few instances of error, or of fraud, had been detected.

The court concluded their report with a well-merited compliment to Colonel Barclay, whose long service in the regiment had been characterized by zeal and attention to his duties. This report was submitted to the Secretary at War, and Sir Henry Hardinge signified to the General Commanding in Chief, Lord Hill, his cordial concurrence in the observations made by the court, so highly honourable to Colonel Barclay, and his lordship directed it to be announced, that, in the midst of the irregularities which had been made manifest by the investigations of these courts of inquiry in the several corps, it was peculiarly gratifying to him to bear testimony to the successful and unremitting exertions of Colonel Barclay, which, while they reflected credit upon him, proved that, with diligence and a due adherence to regulations, the disreputable errors and frauds, which had been discovered in other regiments, could not have been effected.[7]

1830In March, 1830, the regiment proceeded to Limerick; in June, 1831, to Fermoy; and in 1831November to Cork, where arrangements were made for transferring its services to Jamaica, for which island six service companies embarked in the first week of December under Lieut.-Colonel H. H. Prichard. They were detained some time by contrary winds; but sailed on the 26th, and arriving at Port Royal in 1832February, 1832, landed and were stationed at Up Park Camp.

Lord Aylmer was removed to the Eighteenth (Royal Irish) Foot on the 23rd of July, and King William the Fourth was pleased to nominate Lieut.-General Sir Hudson Lowe, K.C.B., from the Ninety-third Highlanders to the colonelcy of the Fifty-sixth Regiment.

1833In April, 1833, the regiment proceeded to Spanish Town, with two companies to Fort Augusta; in 1834May, 1834, it embarked for Falmouth, at the north side of the island; and was stationed at that place, with detachments at Phenix Park, Sans Souci, and Montego Bay, during the years 1835 and 1836; and in 1837January, 1837, it quitted the north side of the island, and was stationed at Up Park Camp, where it sustained the loss of three officers and sixty men from yellow fever.

1838The head-quarters were removed to Fort Augusta in March, 1838, and the health of the men was much improved; in 1839January, 1839, they were removed to Spanish Town; but returned to Fort Augusta in August, and furnished detachments at Port Antonio, Up Park Camp, Port Royal, &c.

1840Leaving Jamaica in March, 1840, the regiment sailed on board Her Majesty’s ship Apollo, for North America, passing within sight of the Havannah,—the scene of its former gallant exploits,—and arriving at Halifax, where it was detained ten days in consequence of the navigation of the river St. Lawrence being closed by the ice. On the 24th of April it again put to sea, and arrived at Quebec, on the 7th of May. At this period the Maine and New Brunswick boundary question affected the amicable relations between Great Britain and the United States; and the extensive system of aggression pursued by the people of the State of Maine, rendered certain defensive arrangements necessary for the protection of the interests of the British subjects. The ship conveying the Fifty-sixth to Quebec had not been at anchor two hours when Lieutenant Turner and thirty men landed at Point Levi, and were sent forward in caleshes, with orders to proceed by forced marches to the disputed territory, and relieve a detachment of the Eleventh Regiment at Lake Temiscouata. This party was followed by three companies under Major Palmer, on the 9th of May, to occupy Riviére du Loup, Fort Ingall on Lake Temiscouata, and Degelé. The march of the detachment from Riviére du Loup to the two latter places by the Grand Portage, a dreary pass of thirty-six miles through a dense forest, across an uninhabited country, by a road in the worst possible order, consequent on the breaking up of a Canadian winter, with mud and water frequently up to the knees, proved very trying to soldiers just arrived from a tropical climate, and having been fifty-six days on board of ship. The remainder of the regiment proceeded up the river Saint Lawrence to Sorel, leaving the light company at Three Rivers. On the third of June Lieut.-Colonel William H. Eden arrived with a strong detachment from the depôt companies, and assumed the command of the regiment.

On the 27th of November, the light company, mustering one hundred men, marched for the Madawaska settlement, under Lieut.-Colonel Wm. H. Eden, in consequence of the Americans having offered insults to the warden and magistrates there, and intimated a design to take forcible possession of that part of the country. After traversing two hundred miles of bleak country, covered with snow, in cars, sleighs, &c., the thermometer varying from zero to twenty below, the company arrived at its destination without a casualty.

1841The head-quarters were removed to Chambly, in June, 1841, and in August, the detachments from the disputed territory, having been relieved by the Sixty-eighth light infantry, arrived at head-quarters.[8]

1842The period having arrived for the return of the regiment to the United Kingdom, its strength was reduced to three hundred and thirty-three men, by volunteers to remain in the country and to join other corps. In the beginning of July 1842 it proceeded to Quebec, where it embarked in Her Majesty’s troop-ship Resistance, and after an extraordinarily quick passage of seventeen days, arrived at Cork on the 22nd of July. It was joined by the depôt companies on the 3rd of August. In the autumn the regiment proceeded to Birr, with detachments to Kilkenny, Banagher, Carlow, and Shannonbridge.

On the 17th of November, Lieut.-General Sir Hudson Lowe was removed to the Fiftieth Regiment, and the colonelcy of the Fifty-sixth was conferred on Lieut.-General the Earl of Westmorland.

1843In March, 1843, the several detachments were ordered to head quarters at Birr; but the regiment had been collected little more than a week, when it was again found necessary to detach four companies to Cashel, Tipperary, Bansha, and Dungarvon. In April, the head-quarters marched to Fermoy, and from thence to Cork, where the regiment was concentrated, in expectation of being removed to England. The public service, however, required that it should remain in Ireland, and it has since furnished detachments to Ballincollig, Bandon, Buttevant, Mallow, Dummanway, Skibbereen, Millstreet, &c., in order to be in readiness to aid the civil power, if its services should be required, in consequence of meetings of large masses of the people, to agitate the repeal of the union between Great Britain and Ireland.

At the close of 1843, to which this Record is brought, the head-quarters were at Cork, with four companies, under the command of Major Norman, detached to Clonmel, and one company at Millstreet.

1844The Fifty-sixth Regiment is distinguished for its career of valuable service to the crown and kingdom; and it was conspicuous for its pre-eminent efficiency in point of numbers and discipline during the war from 1803 to 1815, during which period it was augmented to three battalions, which were all employed on foreign service. It was a favourite corps in England, particularly in the county of Surrey; and although many men were lost by casualties abroad, yet its effectives generally amounted to two thousand rank and file. Its gallantry in the field, and its conduct on colonial service, and in the United Kingdom, have enhanced the value of this corps in the estimation of the government and country.




1844.

 Note. In producing the foregoing details of the services of the Fifty-sixth Regiment, the compiler of the Records of Regiments deems it incumbent to acknowledge the very able assistance he has received from Lieut.-Colonel Eden, and from Captain T. Johnes Smith, who have been most anxious to collect and arrange whatever circumstances they have considered would do justice, and reflect honor on the Regiment to which they belong.



  1. Afterwards General Sir David Dundas, K.B., author of a valuable work on the principles of military movements which became the basis of regulations for the field exercises of the British army.
  2. Strength of the garrison of Gibraltar, at the commencement the blockade, 21st June, 1779.
    Officers Staff. Serjeants. Drummers. Rank & File.
    British.
    Royal Artillery 25 0 17 15 428
    Royal Engineers 8 0 6 2 106
    12th Regiment 26 3 29 22 519
    39th   25 4 29 22 506
    56th   23 4 30 22 508
    58th   25 3 29 22 526
    72nd, or, Royal Manchester Volunteers (disbanded 1783) 29 4 47 22 944
    Hanoverians.
    Hardenberg’s Regiment 16 13 42 14 367
    Reden’s   15 12 42 14 361
    De la Motte’s  17 16 42 14 367
    Total 209 59 313 169 4,632
    Governor, General George A. Eliott, afterwards Lord Heathfield.
    Lieut.-Governor, Lieut.-General R. Boyd.
    Commanding the Hanoverian Brigade, Major-General De la Motte
  3. The Duke of York’s despatch.
  4. These orders are printed in the Record of the Second or Queen’s Royal Regiment of Foot, page 81.
  5. Lieut.-Colonel Keating’s despatch.
  6. Serjeant Hasty was afterwards discharged and appointed to a situation in the service of the governor. He proved a man of talent, and was selected to take charge of, and educate in the English language, two of the princes of Ova, in Madagascar, where Radam was king. He was afterwards nominated British Resident at Madagascar; and on a visit to the Mauritius, he was received by a guard of honour of his old corps, commanded by his former captain. He died at Madagascar.
  7. Colonel Fletcher Barclay was appointed Ensign in the Fifty-sixth on the 30th of June, 1791, and served in the West Indies, in Holland, and in the East Indies. In 1804, he was promoted to the rank of Major, and in 1811, to Lieutenant-Colonel. In 1831, he retired, after a diligent and faithful service of forty years, having passed through the several grades, and attained the rank of Colonel in the Army.
  8. While detachments of the regiment were in the disputed territory, several desertions occurred, and in the beginning of March, 1841, Lieutenant T. Johnes Smith evinced signal energy and discretion in the apprehension of a deserter from the party under his orders, who had taken refuge in the American Block Houses at Fish River, for which he received the thanks of Major-General Sir James Macdonell, commanding at Quebec.