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Recollections of Thirty-nine Years in the Army
Chapter VI


1845-1846. HOME SERVICE

Leave Chatham—First railway experience— March continued—A comparison— Chichester —Soldiers' tea—Winchester—Forton and Haslar—Naval Hospital— Sikh invasion—Regiments to India—Experimental Squadron—Russians Ibrahim Pasha—Regiments—Volunteer for West Coast of Africa—Leave the Buffs—Hounslow flogging case—Clarkson and slavery—Abolition.

TIME-EXPIRED and some other classes of men not conducive to regimental efficiency being discharged, soldiers and officers "set up" in respect to kits and equipments, the order to proceed to Chichester was received with acclamation, for in those days the reputation accorded to Chatham as a station was by no means flattering. At the end of May the Buffs marched merrily away; that is, marched on foot, for railway communication had not yet connected Chatham with the outside world. A few miles got over, and we were at Blue Bell Hill, the ascent of which revealed to us in great variety and luxuriance forest, flowers, and grass-covered patches; the summit reached, an extensive view of the lovely vale of Kent stretched away beneath us, and in our near vicinity the cromlech called "Kittscotty House" attracted the notice of those among us who were of antiquarian tastes.

At Maidstone the regiment had its first experience of transit by rail The art of "training" and detraining troops had not yet been learnt; hence delay such as would now be culpable was unavoidable before soldiers and their baggage were in their places, and a start made. The line being open only to Redhill, all had there to alight, the short journey to Reigate being performed on foot. Arrived at that pretty town, we had our initiation into the system of billeting, the officers being "told off" to the principal hotel, the comforts of which made us speedily forget whatever disagreeables had attended the proceedings of the day. Continuing our journey, we arrived in succession at Petworth and Horsham, at each of which towns we similarly enjoyed our billets; thence to Chichester. The approach of a country gentleman to our Commanding Officer attracted our attention; the "halt" was sounded; the word passed on that, on hospitality intent, he had provided "refreshments" for all of us. His kind attention was highly appreciated, acknowledgments expressed, he himself invited to dinner with the officers at our new destination; then the march resumed, the Buffs marching into quarters at Chichester on the fourth day of their very pleasant journey.

Compared and contrasted with a march in India, that now over presented some striking points of difference, not the least of which were the absence of hackeries, bullocks, camels, elephants, and that heterogeneous collection of "followers" comprised under the name, of the bazaar." Instead of tents and camp fare we had comfortable if expensive entertainment at hotels, while our daily line of route lay through rich, varied, and beautiful English scenery. But some of our Party looked back with fond remembrances to the freedom and feeling of exhilaration attending the early morning march in India, dusty roads and sundry other drawbacks notwithstanding.

The huts, literally "baraques," assigned to us were old, dating from the Peninsular War. From the restoration of peace they had been left unoccupied until quite recently, when they were utilised in the first instance for the temporary reception of men enlisted to form a new 44th Regiment, and subsequently by the 55th on its return from China. The officer' who held the position of Barrack-master boasted of a very honourable military "record," he having been, if not the very first, among the first to mount the breach at Badajos; yet, like many others of his day, he had been thrown on half-pay at the conclusion of the war, and so deprived of the chance of rising in the service. From the residents of the cathedral city and its neighbourhood our officers received much civility and hospitality. The cathedral, used as a stable in the days of Cromwell, but long since "restored," was often visited, the circumstance that it had been transported from Selsey to its present site adding to it many points of historical interest. But to some among us Chichester had the great disadvantage of not yet being in direct communication by railway with London, the journey to and from the metropolis having to be performed by coach. A Bill had then only recently been passed authorizing such a railway.

An event occurred while we occupied those huts which marked in its way a stage in the advance of comfort and well-being of the soldier. Hitherto his "regulation" daily meals were only two; namely, breakfast at 8 a.m., dinner at i p.m.—an interval of nineteen hours being thus left during which he had to be without food, unless he happened to have spare money wherewith to supply himself at the regimental canteen or public- house in town. The obvious drawbacks of such a state of things had long been subject of representation, but hitherto unsuccessfully. Now, however, in 1845, authority was issued granting the issue to the men of a tea meal at 4 p.m. For a time the order was resented; that a soldier should condescend to lea was held to be against the natural order of things, and to mark effeminacy. Soon, however, the measure was appreciated by all, and drunkenness, at that time the bane of the soldier, underwent a remarkable decrease.

Winchester, to which we next proceeded, had "for ages" been looked upon as a favourite station by regiments. To some of us the many historical associations connected with that ancient city became so many sources of interest and objects of study. The commodious barracks, occupied by the Buffs and Scots Fusilier Guards stood upon the site of what had been a royal palace, and still earlier a castle. The city itself dates back to B.C. 800. The cathedral— to which our visits became very frequent—occupies a site whereon stood, during the years of Roman occupation, an altar to Apollo, and, in times still more ancient, one devoted to sun worship. Among other places of interest in and around the city were the buildings to which more particularly are referred the legendary stories of Saint Swithin of rainy fame; the ancient hospital of St. Cross, at which travellers might claim a dole of bread and beer; the world-famous school and college, both founded by William of Wykeham, A.D. 1324-1404. Among favourite walks was that to "the Labyrinth," on the summit of St. Catherine's Hill; several alongside the banks of the Itchin, sacred to the memory of Izaak Walton, and that to Twyford. In the churchyard of that place stood a remarkably fine specimen of a yew tree, such as, in times long gone by, were preserved in burial places, and so held in a manner sacred—for the purpose of supplying yeomen with long-bows, in the use of which weapon those of England so much excelled. The bill from which, in Cromwell's time, the city was bombarded was a favourite walk among us. So was the village of Horsely, some few miles distant; its church associated with the author of The Christian Year, the choir, consisting of various very ordinary musical instruments, including a violin and clarionet.

On a day late in January, 1846, the Buffs proceeded by rail to Portsmouth Bitterly cold, wet and windy, was the weather; the streets of that great naval port in some places inundated by the tide, so that progress along them was by no means pleasant. By the floating steam bridge the harbour was crossed, our regiment divided so as to occupy barracks at Forton and Haslar respectively. With the companies proceeding to the latter place I was detailed for duty. The quarters consisted of huts, the one assigned to me so situated as to afford from its window a near view of Spithead, and of the magnificent and graceful sailing men-of-war vessels anchored there or manceuvring in the Solent.

An early opportunity was taken to visit the great Naval Hospital, near to which my temporary residence was situated; and although in these notes professional recollections are for the most part avoided, one of the results of that visit was sufficiently interesting to be made an exception to that rule. On a portion of the adjoining grounds, and set apart for the purpose, a considerable number of mentally afflicted patients, together with their attendants or keepers—their costumes in every respect similar to those worn by the patients—were engaged with apparent heartiness in what was a "rollicking" dance, to the notes of several violins, the performers on which were presumably patients and attendants. In the treatment of the patients all coercive measures were absent; free association among them was permitted from time to time, as we had seen; such of them as desired to work or labour were given every opportunity of doing so, and for the special benefit of those who desired to follow—in imagination—their seafaring life, a lake with its fleet of boats was provided. Such were some of the measures adopted in respect to this class of patients in 1846. The Victory and other "sights" connected with the great naval port were visited; but in respect to these it appears unnecessary to enter into details, except that all associations on board relating to England's naval hero were duly venerated.

Without previous warning news circulated that the Sikhs, in great force, had crossed the Sutlej, and thus invaded British territory. Then quickly followed intelligence that four severely contested battles against them had been fought, their forces defeated, Lahore occupied; 1)huleep Singh, a child, brought by his mother, the Maharanee, to the camp of Lord Hardinge, the Governor-General, by whom his "submission" was accepted. In those battles many officers fell, with whom, collectively or individually, we had but recently, as already mentioned, been most pleasantly associated, and whose fate we now mourned. As fuller details became known, it appeared that on December 12, 1845, the Sikh armies, under the command of La! Singh, crossed the Sutlej, and by the 16th had strongly fortified a position taken up by them on the left bank of that river. On the 13th the forces under Sir Hugh Gough attacked and drove them from their position at Moodkee. Following them to Ferozeshuhur, at which place they had meanwhile entrenched themselves, he renewed his attack upon them on the 21st, the terrible battle which was to ensue continuing during that and two following days,— the issue, for some time uncertain, ultimately being in favour of our troops. There it was that the 62nd, with whom but lately we had been happy at Dinapore, having begun its advance against those entrenchments with 23 officers, lost 17 of that number-8 killed on the field and 9 wounded. But still another position, and it at Aliwal, was taken up by the retreating Sikhs, where, on January 28, 1846, they were attacked by the forces under Sir Harry Smith. There the 16th Lancers performed the gallant deed of charging through a ghola (or mass) of Sikhs, their substitute for a square; then repeated the charge, destroying the enemy thus rode down. In the performance of that heroic feat the regiment lost upwards of one hundred men killed and wounded—that is, nearly one-third of their effective strength. On February 10 the Sikhs were defeated, their forces destroyed up at Sobraon, though at very heavy cost in killed and wounded to the British. On that occasion the 50th lost in killed and wounded 12 officers, nearly all of whom were personal acquaintances, more or less intimate of my own, and in addition 227 men. The 10th Foot, with which I was destined to be subsequently associated, had in killed and wounded 3 officers, 3 non-commissioned officers, and 127 rank and file. Other regiments engaged suffered heavily, for the Sikhs contended for their nationality and class interests. The facts related give significance to the intentions of Lord Ellenborough expressed in Gwalior, to lead the troops thither direct upon the Punjab frontier. That plan was disallowed, and so two years were given to the Sikh leaders wherein to complete their arrangements for taking the offensive.

Orders from the Horse Guards directed that three infantry regiments —namely, the 8th, 24th, and 32nd—should proceed to India without delay. No less than six weeks elapsed, however, before they sailed, the circumstance itself illustrating the state of unreadiness for emergencies which then existed. The three regiments named were destined to take their parts in arduous service in India, the first at Mooltan, the second at Chilianwalla, the third at Lucknow.

The establishment of what was to be called our "Experimental Squadron" at this time was justly looked upon as an event of great importance.. The fleet so designated consisted for the most part of sailing ships of war, but comprised also several steam vessels, propelled by paddles, the whole providing for spectators an unusual and magnificent sight as they lay anchored at Spithead.1 Between the lines passed the Royal yacht, having on board Her Majesty the Queen. From the sides of each successive ship thundered salutes; from their decks rose strains of the National Anthem ; from their yards, manned for the occasion, came hearty cheers of loyalty. A brief interval succeeded; then simultaneously, as if by combined movement, dropped the huge white sails; these gradually filled to the breeze; away glided the fleet, followed by hundreds of yachts, boats, and craft of all sorts. About this time also the then strange sight was for the first time witnessed of a war ship, the Rattler, sliding, as it were, out of Portsmouth Harbour, destitute of sail or paddle, the first of her kind propelled by the Archimedean screw.

The arrival at Spithead of the Russian war-ship Prince oJ Warsaw, having on board the Grand Duke Constantine, escorted by two other vessels, was to Portsmouth an event of interest and political importance. The officers of the Imperial frigate were entertained at dinner by those of the Buffs: an attention much appreciated by them. Next day a party of us were most civilly received on board their ship; in the course of that visit the circumstance made clear that our hosts were well acquainted with the English language, as also with insular manners and customs. But great was the contrast between conditions on board and those of the "Experimental Squadron." The Russian sailors untidy and slovenly in appearance, the terms of their service severe, inasmuch as after a period of twenty years in the Navy or Army the reward to which they had to look forward was—emancipation; for as yet they were serfs. According to their own accounts, the period of obligatory service by officers was twenty- one years. Leave of absence, if exceeding a total of one year during that period, had to be made up by them; and if on any occasion absent from their ships or regiments for more than four days, their pay for that time is withheld from them. We congratulated ourselves that our position was in those respects more fortunate than theirs.

About the same time Ibrahim Pasha came among us. The circumstance that the comfort or otherwise of travellers across the desert between Cairo and Suez depended much on measures directed by the Viceroy of Egypt, added to other considerations, no doubt moved Admiralty and Horse Guards to order that every attention should be shown to His Highness. Among other displays for his gratification the troops in garrison were paraded on Southsea Common. As he rode along the line, the impression produced by his appearance and style was by no means favourable; about fifty years of age, bloated in aspect, cruel and relentless in expression, he looked in these respects a true descendant of his father, Mehemet Ali.

In quarters at Portsmouth were the 13th Light Infantry, then recently returned from India, their honours thick upon them, as "The Illustrious Garrison." The 74th, re-converted into Highlanders, paraded for the first time in their newly-acquired uniform. In those regiments and in the Buffs there was a large leaven of old soldiers who had not risen beyond the ranks; the majority of the non-commissioned officers were men whose locks were grey, some with sons serving as soldiers; recruits were relatively few in number; barrack-room courts- martial in full operation; crime, at least that officially brought forward, comparatively rare, though what in reality is quite another thing. That the regiments so constituted were capable of the most arduous service was proved by that of the Buffs in Gwalior, the 13th in Affghanistan.

The receipt from the War Office of a letter containing an offer of promotion conditional on proceeding to the West Coast of Africa, though a surprise, was not altogether an agreeable one, for hitherto the usual designation of that part of the world had been "The White Man's Grave." Official reports' regarding it referred to no later date than 1825 ; but this is the result of reference to them :—In February of that year a party of white soldiers, 105 strong, arrived at the Isles de Loss, near Sierra Leone; at the end of eighteen months 54 of their number were dead by fever, 8 by other diseases, 21 invalided back to England, 20 remained on those islands, scarcely any of them fit for duty. Then followed a table by which, at the Gambia, the annual mortality of white men was shown to have been at the rate of 1,500 per 1,000 average strength. On the other hand, the proffered promotion would advance me over one hundred and forty of my seniors; increased pay would be an immediate advantage, and, in the event of survival, increased departmental position. The upshot of thought given to the subject was that, in the expression common to the time, I volunteered for the West Coast.

With regret and sorrow I ceased to be a member of the distinguished old regiment, with the traditions and history of which, like all its other members, I had become familiar. I had, moreover, formed friendships' such as subsequent experience taught me existed only between regimental officers during early life. The kindly expressions addressed to me by the Commanding Officer on the occasion of the farewell dinner, to which I was invited, impressed me in a manner not to be forgotten, and are here alluded to as indicating the relations then existing between medical and battalion officers.

No regular line of communication existed between England and the West Coast of Africa; consequently, when orders to embark were received, passage had to be negotiated for through the medium of a ship's broker, and so advantage taken of trading brigs or other small craft proceeding, at irregular times, on voyages thither, either from the Thames or Mersey. Several months elapsed before transport was obtained, and, meanwhile, time was spent in visiting places interesting in themselves or by reason of past associations.

At this time public attention became aroused to a state of ferment, ostensibly because of the death of a soldier of the 7th Hussars at Hounslow, after having been flogged to the extent of io lashes, in pursuance of a sentence to that effect by court-martial, for having violently and dangerously assaulted a non-commissioned officer of his regiment. Medical opinion differed in to/a as to whether the death was, or was not, the effect of the corporal punishment. But the case was taken up and energetically debated, not only at public meetings convened for the purpose, but also in both Houses of Parliament. Whatever may have been its intrinsic merits, the case in question undoubtedly led to the introduction of a Bill, the outcome of which was that the maximum number of lashes to be inflicted was thenceforward reduced to fifty. Instead of" unlimited" service as heretofore, the period of a soldier's engagement was reduced to ten years; and so, it was hoped, encouragement held out for a better class of recruits to join the ranks; desertion would be diminished, and the general efficiency of the service increased.

In September, 1846, the death of Thomas Clarkson, at the age of eighty-six, recalled attention to the subjects of slavery and the slave trade, against both of which, for many years, his energies had been directed. It was in 1720 that English opinion was first drawn to the horrors incidental to that traffic. In 1787, by the efforts of Clarkson and Granville Sharp, a Society for total abolition of the system was formed. In the following year a Committee of the House of Commons was appointed to inquire into the entire system; but not for a considerable time could the objects of that Society be carried out, or members of influence be induced to take interest in the Anti-Slavery Association and its work. Suddenly, and as if through an accidental occurrence, public opinion was aroused; that accident, the seizure in the streets of London of an escaped slave, named Somerset—his late master, the captor. In 1792, Wilberforce carried a Bill for the gradual abolition of the slave trade. In 1805 the importation of slaves into British Colonies, recently taken from Holland, was prohibited; a Bill carried, by which such traffic after i8o8 was declared illegal. In 1811 it was declared to be felony; in 1824 it was made piracy. In 1837, made punishable by transportation for life. In 1838, complete emancipation of slaves throughout all British possessions took place. We were soon to see the results of those measures in what had once been one of slavery's most active spheres.


 


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