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Recollections of Thirty-nine Years in the Army
Chapter XVIII


1859-1860. PLYMOUTH—DEVONPORT

First incident—Our men—Disaster at Taku—Wrecks—A launch—Phrenology - Aspect of affairs—Warships to China—Militia and Volunteers—Improved conditions—Regimental schools—Female hospital - Windsor—Most Honourable Order of the Bath —Preparations—Mines—Cheesewring—Affairs—Decade Mutiny medals.

SOON after our arrival II became the possessor of a horse and carriage, both purchased from "a friend." With pleasant anticipations I started on our first drive, accompanied by ray wife and her lady friend. We had not proceeded far along the country road before the animal bolted clean away; after wildly rushing for some considerable distance, the carriage came in contact with the embankment, was upset and broken to pieces, the two ladies severely injured. The accident happened at the entrance to a country house; the ladies were admitted thereto for a little, a glass of wine given to each; they were driven home, after which no inquiry was made regarding them. This first experience of "hospitality" impressed us at the time, and now is noted as in its way characteristic. We had not been "introduced" to the family.

Unfortunately it so happened that among the men of the 10th there were some who used not wisely the balance of "batta" still remaining unspent by them. The result was that they brought obloquy upon themselves, and to some extent upon their more steady and well-behaved comrades who were altogether undeserving of it. So it happens on other occasions; the actual number of men in a regiment who commit crimes may be small, though their offences may be statistically considerable.

In September attention was painfully drawn to the unfortunate failure at Taku of the war vessels conveying the British and French ambassadors to the Peiho en route to Pekin, that failure involving the loss of three gunboats and 464 men belonging to them. From that moment it became evident that troops and ships must prepare for service in the Far East, and although, as the 10th had so recently landed, it was unlikely that the regiment would as a whole be concerned, it was probable that some individual officers might be so; several of us accordingly took an opportunity of making ourselves acquainted with the current of events in China from the date of the Arrow affair in October, 1856, to that of the Taku incident alluded to.

Following close upon the news of that disaster came the wreck of the Royal Charter, involving the loss of 470 lives, near Bangor, during one of those autumn storms so frequent on English coasts. Public sympathy was much aroused by these events, quickly following each other as they did. Unhappily the last named was not at the time- isolated of its kind, though in its details not exceeded in painful accompaniments by any.

A new war vessel—the Narcissus frigate of fifty guns—being to be launched, the ceremony proved not only interesting but impressive, in respect to sentiments it evolved. An immense assembly met by invitation in Devonport Dockyard to witness the event; as the hour of four struck, the beautiful ship glided amidst a round of cheers into what thenceforward was to be her proper element; her career in the future in that respect like the career of the new-born infant—uncertain, beset by risks.

Very different in character was another "function" at which I "assisted"; namely, a lecture with demonstrations on phrenology, the "correctness" of that "science" being illustrated by the lecturer by references to the characteristics of the Hindoo in respect to mildness gentleness, and tractability. To those of us recently returned from scenes already described, his remarks and demonstrations seemed outcomes of misapplied knowledge. Yet, such as they were, they "went down" with the enlightened British public, as represented by that particular audience.

Various circumstances, domestic and foreign, combined to render- regimental life one of uncertainty, at the particular time now referred to. In India more than one column of our forces were actively engaged against the rebels who declined the terms of the gracious Proclamation already mentioned. The recently enlisted men for so- called "European" regiments of the late East India Company had combined in what was called "The White Mutiny"; they were shipped to England, there to be discharged the service. Disaffection had appeared in two native cavalry regiments stationed at Hyderabad. With regard to Europe, the condition of affairs in and relating to Italy was disturbed and uncertain. In France, the effusions of certain Colonels, added to other indications hostile to England, seemed to have an unpleasant significance, more especially that in which an appeal was made to the Emperor "to give the word, and the infamous haunt in which machinations so infernal are planned"— namely, London—" should be destroyed for ever."

A strong fleet of combined English and French warships proceeded to China. Extensive stores and supplies of all kinds were shipped for that destination, magazines were replenished; appearances indicated that important operations were in the near future. Uncertainty and speculation regarding probable events pervaded all ranks pertaining to regiments now available for emergent service; all held themselves prepared accordingly.

Various Militia regiments, embodied during the Crimean War, still occupied barracks throughout England; at Devonport and Plymouth the Warwickshire and Dublin Regiments, together with the Forfar Militia Artillery, being quartered. Second battalions were in progress of being added to the twenty-five first of the line. Now also, for the first time since the Revolutionary War, regiments of Volunteers were being rapidly formed. So important was the occasion considered to be that special invitations were issued to witness in the Town Hall the first parade of the Volunteers belonging to what were called "The Three Towns," and to inaugurate the formation of the regiment so constituted. The building was well filled by officials and others; great was the enthusiasm with which the ceremony passed off, the numbers of Volunteers in the ranks of the new regiment being ninety-three.

Some changes, having for their object the improved condition, of the soldier, were now in course of introduction. Thus orders were issued on the subject of corporal punishment, the infliction of which was reduced to a minimum. In other respects the stringent methods heretofore considered necessary for the maintenance of discipline were so relaxed that old officers were wont to predict a number of evil consequences as sooner or later sure to follow.

With the introduction of the national system of education into regimental schools, the reading of the Holy Bible in them was looked upon as seriously menaced in the present and threatened with prohibition in the near future. According to orders issued on the subject, "the Bible is only to be read, and religious instruction of any kind given, during one hour per week, and then in the presence of the Roman Catholic priest." Many among us looked with dread and apprehension to the probable outcome of the changes so begun.

That in the large garrison of Plymouth and Devonport there existed no regular hospital for the wives and children of soldiers seemed to most of us a very anomalous circumstance. Correspondence on the subject between myself and the Divisional authorities was without practical result. Taking advantage of the popularity and influence of Miss Nightingale at the War Office, I addressed myself to that lady. In a marvellously short space of time orders were received to set on foot such an establishment; they were quickly carried out, very much to the benefit of the classes for whom it was intended.

On January 15, i86o, I received a letter from the Registrar of the Bath, directing me to hold myself in readiness to proceed to Windsor, there to receive the Insignia of that Order, to which I had some months previously been gazetted. Two days thereafter—namely, on the 17th—a further letter ordering my attendance at Windsor Castle, at quarter before 3 p.m. precisely, on the 19th. On the 18th I proceeded, taking my dear wife with me, to that Royal burgh. The early part of the forenoon of the 19th was occupied in visiting some of the points of interest connected with the Castle, more especially the Round Tower and St. George's Chapel, the latter containing that most beautiful work of art, the cenotaph to the Princess Charlotte.

Punctually at the hour appointed, those of us who were to be similarly honoured drove to the Castle. We were shown into the Oak Room, and there, taking count of each other, discovered that our party numbered fourteen. Luncheon over, a messenger announced that Her Majesty was ready to begin the ceremony of investiture. The Lancaster Herald, who had meantime very courteously initiated some of us in the formalities to be observed, then mustered us in our order. He led the way, we following, into the great corridor, at a door opening into which we were halted, to be called in our turn to the Royal presence. The first to enter was an officer upon whom the honour of knighthood was to be conferred. Each Companion was summoned in his order of seniority as such. The cross with which we were severally to be invested was by the Lancashire Herald carried upon a cushion of crimson velvet. The door being opened, we separately entered a small apartment, at the further end of which stood the Queen; at her right side the Prince Consort. Our names announced, we advanced, making obeisance as we did so, knelt upon the right knee; the cross was attached over to the left breast by Her Majesty; we kissed hands, retired backwards, profoundly bowing the while. Thus we emerged, and the ceremony was over.

Preparations on a large scale for the expedition to China were in rapid progess, the military forces to be sent thither comprising regiments direct from England, others, British and native, from India. Public attention and a good deal of adverse criticism were directed to what was looked upon as excessive naval and military estimates in a so-called time of profound peace. At important military and naval stations, fortifications were much extended, and newly armed with Armstrong guns; for, although there was much of what was ludicrous in the "boastings of the French Colonels," the fact was apparent that their expressions were not altogether unnoticed by our authorities.

Excursions in various directions were taken; some with the object of seeing places of historical interest, some to take note of the early spring flora, others to examine geological features of the neighbouring country. One such visit was to copper mines near Liskeard, there to see for the first time the beautiful "peacock" ore brought from the depths of earth and displayed to our gaze by means of a hammer wielded by the sturdy arms of "Captain Jane,"—for the superintendent of the mine was a woman so named.

At a little distance from the Canadian and Phcenix mines rises the Cheesewring, a granite hill some 1,200 feet in height, the rocks on its summit so piled upon each other as to thus give rise to its particular name. On some of those rocks were marks of boulder action, also tracings that bore distinct resemblance of vessels in ordinary use by Hindoos at their worship on the banks of the Hooghly, and now attributed to the Druids, one of whose places of sacrifice this for may perhaps have been.

More and more did the state of uncertainty and unrest in which regimental officers had to perform their duties increase during the early months of the year, by the condition of affairs in Continental Europe. With regard to items of the general complication then noted, the following extract from my diary, written at the time, reads somewhat strangely to-day, namely: "France resolved upon the annexation of Savoy, notwithstanding the strongly expressed opposition of England against that measure; the threatened occupation of Tetuan by Spain, opposed by England, as being against the terms on which England remained neutral between that country and Morocco."

The first decade of wedded life completed,' the following reference to the occasion was written at the time: "Notwithstanding all that I have undergone since that event, sufficient of my early romance remains to enter in this place the motto which on that occasion surrounded the bon-bon broken by my bride and myself at our wedding luncheon— 'My hopes are in the bud; bid them bloom." As the paragraph is being transcribed, the fifth decade is not far from completion. With affection chastened and sanctified by trial and affliction, I express to the Almighty humble gratitude that from bud my hopes have indeed advanced to bloom—holy and refined.

Towards the end of April, soldiers and officers of the 10th received their medals awarded for the campaign connected with the Indian Mutiny. No pomp and circumstance of military display took place on the occasion of their doing so. On the contrary, from the manner in which the distribution took place, all such accompaniments were intentionally avoided. It was while walking on the public thoroughfare in Devonport, that by accident, as it were, I met a sergeant in whose hand was a packet of little card-case boxes; one of these he presented to me—it contained my medal. I then continued on my way!


 


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