Hunting shirts and rifle guns…

We certainly are at present living through interesting times! As I; and I’m sure a lot of you as well, find ourselves confined to quarters I’m chastened by the lack of campfire camaraderie that living history events afford The Society. 

We are a very social group and a great part of that is at the end of the day when public at large away, the daylight shrugs off its unending task, dusk dutifully ushers in nightfall and the allure of the campfire draws the members like moths to… well… to a literal flame! 

For it is usually then with full bellies and charged bumpers/tankards we barrack ourselves about and in good cheer and bawdy spirits often coerce one another into chantey (although it’s fair to say anybody unfortunate enough to be in earshot might well describe it is a caterwaul). 

Now, as you will be aware the portrayals undertaken by The Society centre around the Queens Rangers, indeed if I were to discuss music and vague attempts at singing you would rightly assume I would take aim at (pun truly intended) “The Rebels” which is considered the regimental song. And for this entry I will – if only not to disappoint! That said I have taken the time to pen several other entries dedicated to our dirge-esque warbling attempts which I will publish in due course. 

The words were penned by Capt. John Ferdinand Dalziel Smyth of the Queen’s Rangers the year after John Graves Simcoe had assumed command. Originally published in the Pennsylvania Ledger, 1778 the words mirror the accounts given within both his journal and that of Lieut-Col. John Connolly and suggest causal belief based on experiences rather than bombast or empty rhetoric for the sake of song. These angry, sarcastic lyrics are some of the most emotional left behind by the Loyal Americans and perhaps no song written during the American War of Independence better illustrates the Loyalist point of view.

Special credit to the American historian Christopher New for rediscovering the above song; of course this was before the advent of drives to make such information publicly available through wholesale digitisation and proliferation across the web making his efforts highly laudable.

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HMS Nymphe: A Brief Overview 1780-93


The society style themselves as a landing party of Pellew’s command HMS Nymphe c.1793.

La Nymphe; originally of the French Marine Royale was laid down at Brest in the first half of ’77. Her complement upon commissioning later that year was to be some 290 men under the command of Charles-Marie de Trolong du Rumain. 

Designed by Pierre-Augustin Lamothe the first of 3 Nymphe Class vessels of the Quatrième Rang; and was considered upon capture, a frigate of fifth-rate according to the Royal Navy’s 1745 establishment. Pierced for 40 guns but installed with only 32 her broadside weight of 174 (French) pounds consisted of 26 guns of 12 (French) pounders on the gun deck supplemented by 6 smaller 6 (French) pounders spread across the forecastle and quarterdeck.

The capture of La Nymphe off Ouessant (Ushant) near Brest in August 1780 upon engagement is said to have to have lasted little over an hour and a half. Borne down on by HMS Flora, La Nymphe waited until but a couple cable-lengths before raising her flag and opening fire. The close proximity of the action favoured the recently installed carronade of the British ship negating it’s inaccuracy at range and allowing the deck of the French vessel to be raked by grape which explains the comparatively higher losses aboard her.

Whilst repelling the French attempt to board, an explosion thought to be of a cache of French cartridge urged the crew of the Flora to respond in kind and it was noted the French flag was “quickly struck”. La Nymphe battered and bruised was returned to England for transfer, refit and repairs which were carried out at Portsmouth.

The initial refit; said to have cost £9657 10s 7d (close to £1.6 million today) whilst increasing the number of guns offered only a marginal gain to the broadside weight increasing to 186lb equivalent to approx. 201 (French) pound.

HMS Nymphe sailed then for the colonies in America and the Caribbean where under the command of John Ford was present at both the Battle of the Chesapeake (’81) and Battle of the Saintes (’82) to no great distress. Upon returning she was paid off for the first time in the middle of ’83 and so remained until ’87 when a need for readiness from the Admiralty saw her recommissioned and middling repairs undertaken again at a similar cost as before. 

This; it would seem, was a false alarm for the tempers of the continent simmered and she was again to sit mothballed until the killicks strained once more and her new recommissioning brought with it a substantial upgrade. The fitting in the year of 1790 added significantly to armament of the forecastle and quarterdeck costing over two thousand pounds. 

The use of carronade that proved so effective in the capture of the ship some 10 years hence was gaining traction throughout the Royal Navy as a necessary weapon of close engagement. To that end HMS Nymphe now sported on her quarterdeck 12x 32-pound carronade in place of the 8x 6-pounders and the 2x 6-pounders on the forecastle upsized to 8-pounders supplemented* with an additional 2x 32-pounder carronade. All-in-all over doubling the broadside weight to 389lb!        

For the next two and a half years her captain and commanding officer was George Campbell but she was to see little to no action or noteworthy affray and was retained for the threat of war with revolutionary France. As this fomented there was an apparent opportunity for enthusiastic and capable officers to come to the fore and sure enough at the beginning of the year of 1793 Captain Edward Pellew was to assume command of HMS Nymphe; his springboard to knighthood.

In February ’93 with the writing very much on the wall the French Republic as expected, declared war on Britain. Over the next few months it’s channel frigates harried and attacked British trade vessels along the channel. In response to the raiders a pair of frigates were stationed at Falmouth one of which was HMS Nymphe. Aboard, her complement of 240 men comprised (of which it is well noted that) at least a third were very much unskilled sailors (nay tin-miners no less!) and the remaining majority were mostly acquired from the merchant vessels escorted under their protection.

The disadvantage in her crew’s dearth of seamanship proved surmountable as; after aiding the pursuit of some French vessels into Cherbourg and subsequent separation from her party, en route back she captured a privateer brig called the Sans Culottes. Returning to Britain she again prowled the peninsula and had not but four months to wait until she saw action once more.

Sailing alone off Start Point in the early hours of the morning of June 18th they identified a vessel and made for her. In a short time they were able to identify her as the Cléopâtre, a ship similar in size and armament but sporting more crew, a ship known to have been a principle player in the harassment and marauding along the channel – such a prize would not go unsought! 

The unfolding action, the subsequent capture of the Cléopâtre and the resultant honours bestowed upon Edward Pellew and his crew will be covered in greater detail in an article later this year for which we hope you’ll visit us once more!

*source dependent these may have been in place of, as noted earlier the ship was only “pierced” for 40 guns yet regular reference is made to her having 42.

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Summation of Robert Rogers’ Command of the Queen’s Rangers

Although Robert Rogers was an effective commander of irregulars during the French-Indian War, the following letter gives a brief account of the reason for his replacement as commander of the Queen’s Rangers in 1777.

It was written by Alexander Innes, inspector-general of Provincials, and sent to General Clinton in November 1779.

In reporting the state of the different corps as they fell under my inspection it was with much concern that my duty obliged me to present to Sir William Howe the wretched situation of the Queen’s Rangers, then commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Rogers.

Mr Rogers had introduced into this corps a number of persons very improper to hold any commission and their conduct in a thousand instances was so fragrant, that I could not hesitate to tell the General that until a thorough reformation took place he could expect no service from that battalion, which in the course of the winter had been reduced to one fifth of its original strength, principally by desertion.

Major Robert Rogers 1776 Credit: Toronto Public Library (T.R.L) J Ross Robertson Collection: T15521

As an instance I find that on my first inspection , the effective strength of the four companies commanded by the complainants consisted of fifty-one rank and file. I was fortunate enough to find in that regiment several gentlemen particularly Major Grymes, and Captain Armstrong now Major of the regiment those had in general originally belonged to Lord Dunmore’s Virginia Corps of the same name and they were exceedingly ashamed of the behaviour and conduct of the other officers, that I was told they had it in contemplation to wait on the Commander in chief, resign their commissions, and serve as volunteers in any corps in the army rather than remain where they were.

On this representation, the General determined that Lieut.-Colonel Rogers should retire on his pay and give the command of the corps to Lieutenant Colonel French, then Major of the 22nd Regimen who accepted it on the express condition of being permitted to New Model the regiment and to recommend such officers only as were deserving that honour. The corps, therefore, was to all intents and purposes dissolved, and a new one formed.

Lieut.-Colonel French made out a list of officers for the new corps in which he included as many of the old officers as he thought fit: their recommendations were approved of by the General and the gallantry and good conduct uniformly shown by the Queen’s Rangers in every occasion do great honour to Lt.-Colonel French’s choice.

That gentleman did not remain long enough with the regiment to complete the reformation he had begun, but his resignation was voluntary and was accepted with reluctance, Major Wemys and Lieutenant Colonel Simcoe have commanded that battalion since, and their merit and service are too well known to need my testimony. The tenderness and humanity of Sir William Howe to the dismissed officers was strongly marked, he ordered them three months full pay and repeatedly desired they might be recommended for such commissions as they were qualified for. Mr Fraser might have been appointed a Lieutenant, which I thought really equal to his merit, but he declined it and as to the other three captains I should have been highly unworthy of the commission I now hold had I been capable of introducing them into any Provincial corps in the character of gentlemen.

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Wives ‘on the strength’…

The eighteenth-century military was comprised of more than simply its soldiers. Accompanying the army would quite often be: soldiers’ wives and families; servants; sutlers; and other camp followers offering some kind of logistical support. This article will be focussing on the female aspect of the camp follower and how women played an essential role in the military during this period, and more specifically, during the American War of Independence.  This article aims to highlight the importance of ensuring that the history of women camp followers continues to live on and also wishes to record that women almost certainly faced many hardships that some would not consider.

Wives ‘on the strength’ a term used by the British military used to differentiate the women who were legitimate camp followers. Often the pay given to soldiers meant that they wouldn’t have earned enough coin to support another person accompanying them on campaign and so many women joined in a working role, fulfilling camp duties while being able to draw on rations and a small wage. The British followed strict ratios of how many women ‘on the strength’ they would have within the regiment. This would often determine how many men had permission to marry while on campaign. Additionally, many men also married without permission, and because of this their wives would not be granted a place within the barracks. However, these wives ‘off the strength’ would often just accompany the men anyway while finding their own means of living on campaign, this would comprise of them undertaking a craft skill or trade in order to gain a wage outside of the military on campaign. The British Army legitimized their position within the military by giving the wives ‘on the strength’ particular roles washers and cleaners. Furthermore, these wives also became nurses for the British military as by 1750 almost the entirety of the British army’s nurses were indeed female with a large majority of them being the wives of soldiers on campaign. Of particular note was a lady by the name of Charlotte Browne, who was a Matron in the British army and was in charge of a number of other nurses. Browne is just a single example of a lady making a career as a nurse in the British army as her own career had spanned the entirety of the French and Indian war in the Americas.

However, according to some sources, the role of the military nurse was actually less desirable than it may seem. As nurses were drafted from the wives on the strength in the British military during the American War of Independence they would be distanced from their husbands and the rest of the regiment as they went to serve at one of the hospitals in their locality. Additionally, there was not much training in the role and the periods they would serve would often only be a matter of a few months meaning that there would not have been much opportunity to learn while in the role. A military nurse was largely underpaid, difficult and not very rewarding, the role was even hazardous to the nurses should an epidemic sweep through the hospital she was serving in. It should be noted here that women following their regiment would not have had much choice in the matter as there is documented cases of women being threatened should they refuse the detail.

Moreover, the opinion held by provincials during the French and Indian war and the American War of Independence was rather lacklustre. For example, many of the highly religious New Englanders actually frowned upon the practice of having women on the strength as camp followers despite it being documented that these women camp followers were more often than not the wives of soldiers and were highly loyal to their husbands. Despite this, some women were considered heroines, for example the case of Mrs Stone who died aged 43 in Ireland. A writer at the time gave detail of Mrs Stone’s exploits:

“This woman… being married when very young to a Mr. Stone, a serjeant in a marching regiment… accompanied him, though she was rather of a small and handsome make, through most of the hardships our armies underwent in America during the last war; no consideration of fear could make her leave her husband’s side, thro’ nine engagementsin which he was concerned; in the course of which she twice helped carry him off wounded from the field of battle; and it is a fact which can be testified by living witnesses, now in Dublin, that at the siege of Louisburg, at a time when many of our troops were killed, she supplied the living with powder cartridges of the dead, and animated the men in the ranks next to her by her words and actions. Though a woman of the most surprising intrepidity, she was never known to be guilty of anything that could impeach her delicacy, or violate the modest demeanour of her sex.”

However, Mrs Stone was considered an exception as the opinions of the provincials was often shared by British Military officials and were known to try and force women out of his regiment through threats of withdrawing rations, pay or even submitting them to a lashing or even capital punishment. Moreover, many officers within the British Army held low opinions of women camp followers as they saw them as the carriers of disease and therefore held the potential to take men out of service, this can be partly attributed to the presence of prostitutes finding their way into camp which was a rather common phenomena to take place in British camps.

Engraving: Source:

The low opinions held by provincials and British of women was nothing in comparison to the opinion of the colonials treatment of some groups of women. The families of loyalists serving the British were seen with high levels of suspicion by the colonial rebels who considered them to be spies and women were treated with increased levels of persecution as a result. There are documents cases of women fleeing colonial held areas with their remaining family to British held territories. During these refugee movements it is known that up to 400 women arrived in New York as refugees , and while many of these became camp followers, not all camp followers were refugees and not all refugees became camp followers.

It is clear that women camp-followers did indeed face many hardships during their service to the British military and were not afforded many comforts. They were seen with low opinion and faced many threats of discipline should they step a toe out of line. Particularly the role of being a nurse during the American War of Independence was most certainly not a glamorous and did not carry many incentives. However, it should also be noted that without these wives ‘on the strength’ the British military would have struggled to function without women filling many essential roles. While only a couple of examples of heroines undergoing noteworthy acts are recorded here, there are many more documented.

Here in the Society of King George III we always strive to make sure that these stories are told and are portrayed when possible. It should go without saying, however these aspects of history must be told and must live on as without women, the British military would have merely been a shadow of what it was.

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A Brief History of The Queen’s Rangers 1776-83

During the American War of Independence 1775-83 the British Army authorised the raising of a number of regiments from the colonial population who remained loyal to the Crown. The Queen’s Rangers was formed in New York by Colonel Robert Rogers, a celebrated officer in the earlier French-Indian War. It was named in honour of Queen Charlotte the wife of King George the Third.

It’s first recorded muster was on Staten Island in August 1776 and soon numbered some four hundred officers and men, mainly recruits from Westchester and Long Island. Serving between the opposing lines it was engaged in numerous skirmishes with the rebels.

At Mamaroneck, October 22 they beat off a surprise night attack but not without loss of Ensign Huston, about twenty privates killed or wounded, and a further 28-36 captured. It has also been suggested that a pair of colours were taken but this is unlikely, more probably these were small camp colours.

It does appear that Robert Rogers, who had ‘gamed himself into poverty’ was unsuitable to command a regular regiment. On January 30, 1777 the position was given to Lieut. Colonel Christopher French, a British Officer. Others holding commissions such as captains Daniel Fraser and John Griffiths were also discharged to be replaced by better quality officers, often from drafted under-strength units such as the Queen’s Loyal Virginia Regiment and Major William Stark’s Corps of Volunteers. This latter comprised Connecticut loyalists.

French made enormous progress with the regiment as did his brief successor Major James Wemys, also a British officer. At Brandywine, September 11 and Germantown, October 4 the regiment served with distinction although their losses were heavy, seventy-five in the first action alone. On October 15, 1777 the command passed, finally, to Major John Graves Simcoe.

During the winter of 1777-8 the rangers carried out numerous patrols and escorts around Philadelphia. With the withdrawal of the British garrison overland to New York, the rangers served as rearguards and it was noted that they suffered no losses from desertion. At Monmouth Court House June 28 the corps once more showed their courage in battle.

On their return to New York their tactical prowess is revealed in the successful surprising of the Stockbridge Indians serving the rebel side. These natives were superb scouts and marksmen under Chief Abraham Ninham yet, out of sixty, two thirds were killed or captured on August 31, 1778.

On October 26, 1779 the rangers were landed at Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Moving rapidly in detachments they destroyed quantities of stores and flat bottom boats. This effective raid would have been considered a complete success had misfortune not befallen Simcoe. When his horse was shot under him he was unable to free himself and fell prisoner to the rebels. To the joy of his regiment he was exchanged in January 1780.

In 1780 the Queen’s Rangers participated in the successful reduction of Charlestown, South Carolina. Rapid and effective raids against rebel units and stores in Virginia shocked the government of that colony during 1780-1. The service record of the rangers came to an end with the general surrender of British troops at Yorktown and Gloucester Point in Virginia on October 19, 1781. Simcoe and a few others being granted leave on parole to use the cartel vessel Bonetta to go to New York with news of this defeat.

On the conclusion of the war the Queen’s Rangers was disbanded in Canada. Many of the officers and men, with their families, receiving grants of land in what became the parish of Queensbury, York County, New Brunswick.

Notes courtesy of M.G.Butterfield.

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American Museum in Britain

“Once more unto the heat, dear friends, once more;” rang the watchcry of the weekend as The Society attended the first part of the independence celebrations (or more fittingly should you so wish, any according antonym) at the American Museum in Britain situated on the outskirts of Bath which was Bathed (I refuse to apologise for that) in some of the hottest days of the year.

Working alongside old friends and confréres the weekend was awash with wildly varying talks and displays; to be had amongst others there were demonstrations of light infantry tactics and artillery with open camps and entertaining duels full of witty repartee.     

It was another chance for our junior officer and orator Mr Mills to engage and edify in equal measure and he did not disappoint; the feedback was highly complimentary from both the public and our peers.

The rations were bountiful and by our own admission far above our station. We ate extraordinarily well owing to the efforts of members messers Knight and Atkins. In equal measures the evening social was truly whetted (pun very much intended) by copious amounts of ale and mead, as is only to be expected! Outside of public hours this afforded a chance for discussions to be had regards future cooperative endeavours which we will hope to expand on in the off-season.

It was with sadness (and great honour) that members attended the internment of the ashes of Colin Adams of the Crown Forces. Colin was a good friend of The Society and we can’t think of a more fitting place for him to rest. 

The Museum is undergoing some extensive remodelling to the surrounding landscaping with the intention to improve accessibility but remains open and we encourage you to visit; moreover the works are incorporating a great amount of interesting native (to America) species and is due to be finished by September. 


Picture 1 of 11

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Ship’s Biscuit

Ship’s biscuit, in one form or another, was the staple food stuff of both the army and Royal Navy from the early 16ththrough to the late 19thcentury, with a heritage reaching back thousands of years to the ancient Egyptians. Its popularity and longevity, to the lament of many a sailor, does not lie in its palatability or pleasant flavour but rather in its apparent imperviousness to corruption.

Before such advancements in food preservation as canning or refrigeration, a vessel could only remain at sea for as long as its provisions could be stored. The development of a cheap, durable food stuff with a good calorific content was essential in enabling shipping to traverse the Atlantic and beyond.

Ship’s Biscuit (often known by its 19thcentury moniker ‘hard tack’) is a simple baked cracker of flour and water (sometimes with a little salt added). The word ‘biscuit’ stems from old French, which in turn comes from the Latin bis coctus or twice cooked. It was made by adding water to flour until a stiff dough was formed. The dough was then divided into rounds, pricked with a stamp and commonly marked with the ‘broad arrow’. The biscuit was then baked at a moderate temperature for around half an hour. It was sometimes allowed to cool and baked up to four times to ensure that all moisture was evaporated from within, which prevents the formation of mould and fungus.

The dough was divided into 4 ounce rounds. This weight is significant because it meant that 4 biscuits could be issued to each man, equating to the standard provision of one pound of bread per man per day, or half that amount for women and children.

So hard was the biscuit that in order to eat it, one would have to soak it in water first. Quite often it was simply broken up and added to stews as a thickener.

Many myths and legends have been propagated from this infamous foodstuff. You will have heard stories of biscuits filled with worms or weevils which had to be bashed out before consumption. Indeed, the British Sign Language symbol for “biscuit” simulates the motion of banging a sea biscuit upon one’s elbow, to shake out any unwanted stowaways. While it is true that it was not always possible to provide the freshest victuals, a seaman was actually well within his rights to lodge a complaint with the admiralty and receive financial compensation upon his return home, should he be forced to suffer sub-standard meals at sea.

The society of King George the Third aspires not only to recreate the look and dress of the late 18thcentury Royal Navy, but some members also seek to recreate the lifestyle. Often partaking in eating period rations (and consuming the libations). The sea biscuit pictured here is now in excess of 2 years old! And still takes its place among the artefacts which the public are most welcome to examine at our living history displays.

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Taking the King’s Shilling; The Recruitment & Composition of the British Regiment of Foot

The average strength of an infantry regiment on the English establishment was 477, consisting of one battalion divided into ten companies, one of which was a grenadier company, and another a light infantry company. When introduced at the end of the previous century, the role of the grenadiers had been to hurl hand grenades at the enemy from close range, a task calling for a strong physique. By 1775 the grenades had disappeared but the grenadiers remained. The Light Infantry had been tried out in North America during the French and indian wars and were introduced throughout the army in 1771. Good marksmen, of light build and active temperament were chosen for this service, providing each regiment with its own corps of skirmishers. The Grenadiers and Light Company together represented the elite of the regiment. A fact which set them apart from their less- gifted comrades in the so-called hat companies which formed the centre of most regiments of foot.

Clearly there was a need for large numbers of relatively young and fit men to fill the swollen ranks of the army’s ninety five regiments of foot. This number would often increase during time of war as local associations would form to raise local companies of volunteers to serve either as a local defence force, or overseas. It is interesting to note that when the British forces under the command of Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown in October of 1781, among the regiments that laid down their arms and marched into internment were, the 80th Regiment of Foot (Royal Edinburgh Volunteers) and the 76th Regiment of Foot (McDonnell’s Highlanders), both of which were raised in the years 1777 and 1778 to meet the need for recruits. What is further significant is that both of these Scottish regiments could trace their founding to money and recruits paid for by local committees.

Most recruits to these newly raised companies or drafts were young men, frequently teenagers and almost all unmarried, at least at the time of their enlistment.

 The few surviving testimonies we have from those who joined at this time gave express reasons for their recruitment. What is clear is that the surges in recruitment, especially in 1777 and 1778 in particular did so out of an economic need. Whatever its disadvantages, the army would at least promise a relatively secure source of food, shelter and clothing. Though many recruiting parties, particularly those in operation in the South Westwould use economic-lulls to their advantage. It is still believed that country fairs or post-harvest represented the best grounds for recruiting. This is probably on account of 85-95% of Britain’s population working in agricultural industries in the 1770s. 

It is clear then that many actively sought out the various recruiting parties that made their way around the country, attending country fairs and markets throughout the year. The link between agriculture and military recruitment is an established one during this period. This is demonstrated by a series of plays and folk songs that commented on the recruiting parties activities. One of which was used extensively by the 42nd Regiment of Foot:

“It’s in by the barn and it’s out by the byre,
This auld farmer thinks you’ll never tire,
It’s a slavery job, o’low degree,
So ‘list my bonnie laddie and come along wi’ me.”

Of course songs like this represent another facet of military recruitment during the 18th century. Looking through the various compiled lists of those who entered military service at the time it is clear that not all appeared to see army life as an escape from tireless labouring in the fields of Wiltshire and Somerset. The appeal of military glory is often cited as a key proponent behind which individuals were brought into the service of the king. Many recruiting parties would often consist of several musicians from the regiment as well as a veteran sergeant. Their primary function was to capture the imagination of idealistic young men with stories and music that talked of glory and prestige. An example of this pageantry is recorded by Major Boyle Roche in Ireland in August 1775:

“Major Roche, bearing a large Purse of Gold,
Captain Cowley
A great number of recruits
An elegant Band of Music, consisting of French
Horns, Hautboys, Clarionets, and Bassoons,
Playing ‘God Save the King’
A large Brewers Dray with five Barrels of Beer, the
Horse richly caparisoned and ornamented with ribbons,
Two Draymen with cockades, to serve the Beer,
The Recruiting Serjeant,
Drums and Fifes,
Another division of Recruits,
The Recruiting Soldiers,
A prodigious concourse of Spectators.”

An account such as this one is not a too uncommon record of the attempts by various recruiting parties to gather in as many able bodied men as possible. Naturally there were some barriers to those wishing to join. While the recruit was swearing his oath of allegiance to the Crown before a local magistrate, he would have to declare that he was Protestant. The issue of religion in the British Army was amended when Lord Rawdon in 1777 formed a loyalist regiment given the title Volunteers of Ireland, the majority of the units strength was made up of Catholic-Irish settlers from Pennsylvania. The Volunteers of Ireland would later in 1778, be added onto the British military establishment as the 105th Regiment of Foot. In addition to religious conviction a man was expected to stand no shorter than five foot six inches tall and be in possession of at least two teeth. Many recruits are known to have signed three year enlistments, this was the usual minimum service for any soldier in the British army, though in 1779 when the need for recruits became ever more pressing, the government under Lord North, passed an amendment to earlier legislation that began introducing five year enlistments for petty criminals who would rather serve than go to prison.

What is significant to note is that while the war of independence escalated into a global conflict, there was a parallel increase in willing recruits for the army. 1,463 volunteers were mustered in the Southern counties of Britain alone in 1778. The same year that France formally declared their support for the rebel cause.  This is reflected in a national surge in recruitment that led to the formation of twelve new regiments in the same year. The British Army by 1779 stood at 110,000 men, a great deal of this was down to the efforts of the recruiting parties.

While our society may not muster as many numbers as his majesty boasted in 1780, we still continue to use glory, pageantry and an abundance of ale to bring new faces into our close circle of comrades. Military recruitment is often an overlooked aspect of military history and its study has enabled our society members to gain a more human insight into the lives of the men we aim to bring to life.   


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Plymouth, Devon

And so the season started with a bang – several if we’re honest! All well received across 6 smaller drill and firing displays over the two days. To the fore was that age old British curiosity; a penchant for discussing the weather. The miseries foretold of by our meteorological doomsayers were by all accounts unfounded as the gods smiled upon us and delivered us a very pleasant, mostly sunny weekend.  

The public, in part drawn out by the balmy weather were in high spirits and turned out ‘en masse’; a swathe of be costumed revellers, abound for family fun in the sunny Barbican area of Plymouth.

Working alongside friends new and old we were pleased to receive such positive feedback from the public and our peers finding the conversation and questions engaging. 

Our displays, fronted by Mr Midshipman Mills and delivered with aplomb and gusto involved musketry and demonstration of the carriage-mounted swivel; a replica of Captain Cook’s. For a brief interlude immediately following this it would be safe to say nobody was hassled by any maddened gulls!

At our encampment there were regular talks delivered by Mr Radford of the thankless and often gory subject of surgery of the period which enthralled and drew ample crowds with piqued interests and more than a question or two of the gruesome nature of human butchery.

We would like to extend a big thank you once again to the events team at Plymouth City Council, the team at One Plymouth, the hospitality of the local traders and the well wishers of our weekend audience.

We include with kind permission photos by Calvin Bedford and One Plymouth in addition to our own.   


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When discussing the officer class in the 18th century, it is important to remember first and foremost that The British officer strives to carry himself as a gentleman. Following the unwritten constitution of etiquette and morality which ruled over social interaction throughout the period. A constitution based on duty, loyalty, courage and the ability to inspire their men in times of great hardship. A far cry from our sometimes Hollywood view of an army driven on under a yoke of brutality and corporal punishment. However, it would be wrong to identify the character of the officer and gentleman as the sole preserve of the aristocracy. Though the likes of Lieutenant Colonel John Graves Simcoe and Lord Charles Cornwallis were educated at Eton, then later Merton College, Oxford and Clare College, Cambridge, this is by no means the average upbringing for the majority of British officers of the time. A recent study looking into the social background of officers serving in the British Army, concluded that during the American Revolution (1775-1783), only seven percent of ordinary infantry officers serving in the line were from the aristocracy, titled or otherwise and another five percent from the baronetage, thereby accounting for just 12 percent of the total. It is fascinating to consider that the 21st century impression of the British officer, as a member of the upper classes, is only really born out of the later regency period. It is then when the percentage climbs to around twenty percent, with a rise to forty seven percent within the guards regiments.

Portrait of John Graves Simcoe portrait from the Historical Narratives of Early Canada

Why is this so important? Well, it highlights something that is greatly overlooked in this period and that is the fluidity of social mobility. Though there is still the practice of purchasing commissions in the army, taken as a whole, if a man possesses the ability and manner for command, then he is quickly sought out for advancement. An example of this would be the rather controversial character of Banastre Tarleton. Tarleton was born into the emerging merchant classes, a social group that had grown extensively during the mid to late eighteenth century. After losing the majority of his inheritance to gambling and the company of the fairer sex, he purchased a commission as a Cornet in the 1st Dragoon Guards. This would be the only commission he would purchase throughout his entire career. He made his way to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel on nothing more than the merit of his service, which at the time was no mean feat.

In peacetime the army maintained a reduced establishment in which promotions and appointments by purchase naturally dominated. However, in times of war, with a greater number of casualties occurring, it was a very different matter. Not only was the commissioning of officers within existing regiments increased, but a whole host of new regiments were raised (in one instance twelve in the same month). This in turn meant that the expansion of the army resulted in an exponentially large demand for officers, and since this demand was not matched by a corresponding increase of the birth-rate of the gentry and the aristocracy, the additional officers had to be drawn from a much wider social base. Hence why the middling and merchant classes began to furnish the army with some of its most talented junior officers. The characters of Hornblower and Sharpe are not altogether works of fiction, they have a grounding in real practices. Therefore, one may argue that the idea of a gentleman in the eighteenth century, is based far more on conduct and attitude, than on birthright. One contemporary described this by saying, “Private gentlemen without the advantage of birth and friends”.

The newly commissioned officer would have his name appear in the London Gazette, a term often referred to as being “gazetted”. What is also remarkable is that alongside the man’s name, it also made note of whether he had been raised in the ranks or was a private gentleman seeking his first commission. It is estimated that nearly ten percent of British officers had spent some time in the ranks or had been senior NCO’s prior to their commission. A notable example of this would be five men from the 100th Regiment of Foot, who were gazetted in 1799. The men had served since the regiments raising in 1794, with occupations ranging from a tailor to a labourer. It is safe to say that these men were not gentlemen by birth, but through commitment and valued service, the status could be obtained.

Age is another interesting factor to consider at this time. Officially a man had to be at the age of sixteen to take up a commission as an ensign in the British army. Though we know now that this often varied. General James Wolfe for example, entered the 12th Regiment of Foot as a commissioned ensign shortly after his fifteenth birthday. In the 21st Century we would be shocked to hear of a child serving in the army, but in the 18th it is not uncommon to begin a career as a drummer as young as 10 years old. That being said, we must also remember that at this time, boys of the same age were being apprenticed up and down the country in all manner of hazardous occupations. The idea of taking up an ensign’s post was in a sense a military apprenticeship.

The officer’s role then in the late eighteenth century is to be the bastion of elegance and efficiency. This is reflected in the numerous guides for junior officers. books including both the lists of required and expected items a junior officer should carry with him during his service with the infantry. They further included guides attaining to the way a company officer should interact with his NCO’s. What they do not mention is that the majority of a junior officer’s training and basic introduction to army life would be overseen by the senior NCO’s in his battalion. From the handling of firelocks to the words of command, the NCO gave the officer class an education in the tough realities of command. This is a practice still used at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

Lt George Dyer Corps of Marines, painted 1780 by James Northcote, national museum of the Royal Navy

Obtaining an accurate portrayal of an officer of any rank, is among the greatest challenges facing any living historian. The marriage of dignity, presence and an appropriate wardrobe to name a few. But what truly anchors it, is the understanding that for the men under an infantry officers command, the officer represents the prestige and pedigree of the regiment. He carries with him not only the burden of command but the weight of maintaining the hereditary reputation of the regiment. It is often remarked, that the men feared their NCO’s, but adored and aspired to emulate their officers, in conduct and manner. The British officer then of the late eighteenth century, is far more than a tyrant in a redcoat. He is a multi-faceted individual, appointed not always by birth, but often through the demonstration of skill and by virtue of the respect of his men and peers.

The Society of King George the Third has always aimed to capture the essence of this persona with the greatest attention to detail. We pride ourselves on the ability to accommodate the sense of belonging and military respect, that would be afforded to an infantry officer during the American War of Independence, with the goal to honour and maintain the memory of the men who undertook these duties, most notably our local Devon hero John Graves Simcoe.


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