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Recollections of Thirty-nine Years in the Army
Chapter VIII


1848-1851. IRELAND

57th Regiment—Enniskillen—War in Punjab—Weeding out—Routine—"Albuhera day"—Ballyshannon----Sligo—Monro of the Blues - Orange festival—General conditions—An execution—Surprise inspections—Married—March to Dublin - Clerics—Kells—Trim—Dangan—Maynooth—Dublin— Duties, etc.—Civilities - Donnybrook—Medical staff and Order of the Bath—Kaffir War—Adieu to 57th.

GAZETTED to the 57th, I joined that distinguished regiment at Enniskillen, receiving from members of the "Die-hards" much civility and courtesy as a new-corner among them. A few months passed, and newspapers contained details of victory over the Sikhs at Chilianwallah, though at a British cost in killed and wounded of 89 officers and 2,268 soldiers. With a sense of relief, intelligence by the following mail was read that crushing defeat had been inflicted upon the enemy at Goojerat,' though with a loss to our forces of 29 officers and 778 men; the dispersion of the beaten army, the flight of their Affghan allies towards the Khyber Pass—for disaffection on the part of Dost Iviahomed had not yet been completely appeased.

During winter the weekly route march, with its attendant little incidents, furnished about the only events of regimental life that need be alluded to. As an outcome of what was looked upon as a scheme of "econmical" administration proposed for political reasons, a reduction in regimental strength was ordered, several soldiers weeded out of the ranks in accordance with orders received. Not long thereafter public attention was drawn to "The Defenceless State of Great Britain" by Sir Francis Head, to whose book, so named, credit was given for measures speedily taken to reverse the schemes of reductions in personnel and materiel alluded to.

With the return of summer the routine of regimental life became again pleasant as compared with the monotony incidental to the dreary months of winter. The leave season over, the process of preparing for inspection seemed the only object for which the regiment existed, men and officers lived; for no sooner was the dreaded ordeal past and over, than the process was resumed for that which was to come six months later on. As 'so many interludes, entertainments given and received, games, and "matches" of various kinds became so frequent as to be looked upon as somewhat monotonous.

Exceptional in these respects was the anniversary, on May 16, of the battle of Albuhera in 1811[, on which occasion the 57th Regiment earned the soubriquet of "The Die-hards," of which it is so justly proud, the esj5rit de corps maintained thereby as well as through anniversary celebration being among its most valuable heritages. Then came the birthday of Her Majesty; after it, the celebration of Waterloo, "the credit of the regiment" being fully maintained on these occasions.

Trips in various directions by water and land proved to be most enjoyable. Boating on the beautiful Loch Erne became a favourite pastime, picnics on some of the many islands with which it is dotted acquiring an interest of their own. Of those islands one has a semi-sacred character; upon it stand ruins of an ancient church, and, as believed, a still more ancient round tower. By road to Beleek and Ballyshannon was no less pleasant and interesting. Around the promontory on which the first-named stands, the river Erne rushes as a magnificent torrent; the second noted on account of its "salmon leap," and legendary story connected with the islet at a little distance seaward from the cataract. Extending our trip to Sligo, we visited the ecclesiastical ruins and buildings pertaining to that city. In proximity to one of them, several small heaps of human bones lay among the grass, exposed to wind and weather. Inquiry elicited that they were exhumed remains of dead prior to 1832, the great mortality by cholera in that year rendering it necessary thus to "make room" for interment of the numerous victims. But the necessity for leaving exposed the vestiges of mortality was not apparent to us at the time.

At Bundoran I made the acquaintance of Lieutenant Monro, late of the Blues, living in retirement, his prospects ruined as a result of the duel into which he was forced with his brother-in-law, Lieut.-Colonel Fawcett, 55th Regiment, whom he killed n that occasion. Coming as that duel did not long after the "meeting" between Hawkey and Seton, in which the latter received a wound that resulted in his death, public opinion became aroused against the practice. Within two years thereafter the Articles of War were so modified as to declare it to be a military offence on the part of an officer to fight a duel or fail to take measures to prevent one from taking. place. For a considerable time past there had been a growing feeling in the army and in civil life against a system by which it was possible for the bully and the aggressor to have an advantage as a "professed duellist" over the less experienced adversary whom he might see fit to "call out."

The celebration of the victory of the Boyne, July i, 1690, and that of Auchrim on 12th of the same month, 1691, was enthusiastically observed. Processions of men, bedecked with the distinctive colour of their party, led by bands of music and bearing with them a profusion of flags, paraded the streets of Enniskillen. From many windows orange flags and other party emblems were displayed; from the church steeple festoons of orange-coloured ribbons waved in the breeze. In other respects much of what was "demonstrative" in character took place, but the general impression produced upon strangers and uninterested spectators was not unlike that experienced as we looked in India upon "religious" festivals.

The visit of Her Majesty to Ireland, and the prospect of a Levee to take place in Dublin, attracted to that capital every officer whose duties and position admitted of his being temporarily absent from his regiment. The question of expediency of the Royal visit had for some time previous been subject of conversation, nor was there an absence of curiosity and anxiety in regard to the reception the Queen might meet with on the occasion of her traversing the streets. Everywhere it was enthusiastic, so much so. that Her Majesty was much impressed. The following day the Levee was held; some two thousand presentations were made, and in the list of those who had that honour my name was included.

At this time the general state of things in our immediate neighbourhood was this :—The intensity of famine by reason of the potato blight of 1847-8 had to some degree become lessened; favourable summer weather had brought about an abundant crop of grain, relief works were in progress, the expenses of administration out of proportion to the meagre sums which actually reached the workers. All the while political and religious antipathies manifested themselves in violent forms; murders perpetrated in the close vicinity of our county town.

Some of the alleged perpetrators of those crimes underwent their trial at the County Assizes. Two were convicted and condemned to death. On the day of their execution a guard provided by the 57th was drawn up at a little distance from the main entrance of the prison, where the apparatus for carrying out the extreme sentence of the law was kept in readiness. Behind the soldiers the large open space then existing was crowded with interested spectators, the proportion of women being estimated as four to one of men. The dread ordeal over, one of our men was brought to the regimental hospital in a condition of delirious terror, his delusion that one of the men executed was dangling over his head. All means used to soothe or relieve him failed; his horrible delirium continued with little or no interruption through some few days and nights, only ceasing with his own existence, for the same terrible impression haunted him to the very last.

The system of "surprise inspections," at the time in force, applied to regiments and departments; inspecting officers were wont to appear without warning, such ordeals being over and above those held in ordinary course of routine. That the higher authorities saw good reasons for their action in this respect is not to be doubted. Those reasons, however, did not transpire; but among our soldiers the irritation caused by unusual proceeding went far to overbalance whatever good might have accrued from it.

On the 14th of March, 1850, the most sacred event of a man's life occurred in mine—that event, my marriage to Annie, daughter of John Mackintosh, Esq., of Torrich. Time was pressing, for rumours were in the air that the regiment was well up the roster for foreign service. Leave of absence had accordingly to be curtailed; but, on rejoining the 57th with my young bride, she was received with the same kindness that had been shown to myself. Not many days thereafter, she proceeded to Dublin, where, pending the arrival of the regiment, including myself, she was most hospitably received by the family of a brother officer.

Our progress to the Irish capital included several days' march; for, although railway communication could have been made use of for part of the distance, the authorities had decided that it should not be so. In our march, we passed through or were billeted for a night at places in relation to which history records a good deal of what is interesting. For example, Clones has an ecclesiastical history dating back to the sixth century; Kells, otherwise Ken/is, boasts of ruins of a monastery, said to have owed its foundation to St. Columba; in near proximity to Trim stands the rectory of Larour, the former residence of Dean Swift, and near it a fragment of what had been the house of Stella. The ruins of Dangan Castle in the near neighbourhood were interesting, in that in them was shown to us an apartment said to have been the actual birthplace of the Duke of Wellington—with what degree of truth it was not deemed necessary to inquire.

The village of Maynooth, at the time of our march through it, was in appearance wretched and decayed, even as compared to others along our line of route. At its eastern end is the avenue that leads to Carton, seat of Ireland's only duke. But the name of the village has become associated with its Roman Catholic College, which dates from 1795, and was endowed by Sir Robert Peel with an income yearly of £30,000—a measure much discussed at the time of our visit, as indeed it has continued since to be.

Arrived in Dublin, the barracks assigned to the 57th were the Linen Hall—old, and long before then condemned as unfit for occupation; accommodation for all ranks insufficient. Thus my experience in searching for lodgings began. Some months elapsed; then the regiment was "broken up," small parties distributed among various barracks, to be, after another interval, collected in the Royal Barracks—large, spacious, and, at the time, looked upon as well adapted for their purpose.

Duty, relaxation, pleasure, as represented in Ireland's capital, succeeded each other among our officers. In accordance with rules then in force, much of my own time was taken up in connection with the more military functions of parades, drills, field days, and ceremonial "trooping the colours." Regimental entertainments, levees, and "receptions" at the Castle were so many interludes in our general routine.

In accordance also with the custom of the time, civility and attention in various ways by learned societies and institutions were extended to medical officers of the garrison, myself included. Access to lectures in the Colleges was placed at our disposal; so was admission to the Botanical and Zoological Gardens. Invitations to pie-flies and to boating excursions in the beautiful bay further helped to render pleasant our stay in Dublin.

The once famous Donnybrook Fair- had not then become a thing of the past, although its extinction was approaching. The assemblage of people on the occasion comprised the wild in aspect, dirty in person, squalid, imperfectly clothed, all more or less strongly smelling of whisky, some dancing to music of their pipes; but so far as we saw, without the mirth, laughter, and other signs of Irish life of which we had heard so much.

Through the advocacy of Sir De Lacy Evans, and almost by it alone, officers of the Medical and Commissariat Departments were admitted to the second and third grades of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath.' In battles connected with recent campaigns, surgeons of British regiments were exposed to fire of the enemy in a degree only second to that of combatants, the casualties in killed and wounded among them testifying to the risks ran by them in the performance of their duties on those occasions. Other circumstances of military life tell more against medical officers of regiments than those whose duties are merely "combatant." The combat over, the latter, if unscathed, takes his rest, such as it may be under the circumstances, but the most arduous duties of the former then begin. On marches incidental to campaigns, the halting ground reached, requirements of the sick and wounded must be attended to, often under great difficulties. In times of epidemics, the combatant runs risks common to all; the surgeon, in addition to them, is exposed to those incidental to close association with subjects of those epidemics, together with mental and physical wear and tear in the performance of professional duties. Hence arises the proportionately high rates of mortality that prevail among junior departmental ranks.

Some time thereafter, war was undertaken against the Kaffirs under Sandilli, their chief. Eight infantry regiments were hastily dispatched to take part in the coming campaign, and so the 57th was placed among the first to proceed to the same destination in the event of reinforcements becoming necessary. Married officers, therefore, lost no time in forecasting arrangements to be made by them respectively in the event of the anticipated contingency becoming a reality.

My personal arrangements in that respect became hastened by the birth to me of a son. Anticipating such an event, I had already opened negotiations for exchange to a regiment serving in India, conscious that colonial rates of pay and allowances were inadequate to meet the needs of double establishments during war time. By-and-by the time arrived when connection had to be severed with a regiment to which I had become much attached, and of its traditions proud as any other of its members. A farewell dinner, by invitation of Colonel Goldie and officers, and then adieu.


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