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Hibernians remembered (1869-1922)
In homage to this once-famous institution of the British Army one is bound to record the deeds and careers of what little is known of the boys and girls who went through the School. Knowing or learning of the careers and subsequent histories of Royal Hib girls is more difficult than tracing that of its boys. This is not so much because they led less illustrious lives than the boys or failed to distinguish themselves in later life, but more because there was no institution or organisation or body to record their stories. For those Hibernian boys who joined the Army it was different. Their exploits, good and bad, were recorded in regimental records, punishment books, daily orders, morning reports, in the regimental histories of their units. These anecdotes are the sum of what is known of the Hibernian children.
From the pen of chronicler Frank H. Hawkins comes this summary of numbers. 'Between 1769 and 1924 [those who transferred to the Duke of York's Royal Military School in 1922 are counted among Royal Hibernians; hence the two year difference 1922 - 1924] from rather scanty dates available, one judges that some 9,000 boys and 1,000 girls passed through the School. During the first decade of its existence the proportion of boys who joined the Army was 20 per cent, but during the first 45 years from its foundation, i.e., until 1810. the average joining the Army was 10 per cent; in 1850 the proportion was 50 per cent while in 1898 it was 80 per cent.'
|The first recruits|
The first boys to join the Army were Adam Bell, Enoch Markham, John Boswell, James Harvey, John Reilly, William Duncan and William Simpson. All enlisted as drummers in the 24th Foot (1). The muster rolls in 1777 from Boucherville, Canada, show six of them were still on the regimental strength - the missing one being Adam Bell.
The 24th, with five other regiments, totalling 4,000 men, and 3,000 Hessians comprised General John Burgoyne's force, which marched south to rendezvous at Albany with General Clinton's force from New York. Burgoyne took Ticonderoga by July 1777, but the road ahead was difficult and the New England militia was gathering. By October, when the force from Canada struggled into Saratoga, 50 miles north of Albany, supplies were low and the Hessians were in a mutinous state. Clinton's force was 100 miles south of Albany and of no help to Burgoyne. Surrender was therefore inevitable. Of the original force, 5,000 men went into captivity until 1782 by which time only 60 men of the 24th survived to be repatriated.
The 24th reformed at Alresford near Winchester. The companies of the regiment were about ten men strong. The only Hibernian mustering was Corporal William Simpson. The 24th moved to Scotland where, at Dundee in 1783, Corporal John Reilly rejoined 'from American' and in the following year, at Edinburgh Castle, Drummer Enoch Markham mustered. What happened to the other three Hibernians were at muster in Boucherville is not known. Casualties among 'other ranks' at this period were reported only numerically. As to the fate of the surviving Hibs this much is known.
The 24th was quartered in the 'Dublin Barracks' from 1787 to 1789 and so, back on home ground, it may be imagined that the three old boys, now with 18 years service, visited the School as did ex-Hibs for years to come when in the vicinity of Dublin. The Regiment embarked at Monkstown a ten-year service in Quebéc following its service in Ireland. During the period of its Quebéc station, Corporal W. Simpson was 'broken' (2) - no reason being stated on the morning report (3). We know from the morning report that Corporal J. Reilly was shown as 'deserted' and Drummer E. Markham 'died', but of what is not known either. From that time on the muster rolls show only 'Privateman' Simpson remaining of the group that enlisted from the school in 1770.
Returned from Quebéc, the 24th Foot disembarked at Gosport in 1800 and marched via Southampton, Ringwood and Wimburn to Exon (Exeter). Simpson drew 6d a day as a Privateman in Canada, but 1/- a day on landing in England: a meat ration worth 6d a day explains the differential in pay.
In July 1801 the Regiment marched to Plymouth for embarkation to Egypt. Encamped near Alexandria, the unit missed the fighting under General Abercrombie. It returned to England in April 1802, landed at Gosport and marched via Cirencester, Gloucester, Tewkesbury, Stafford, Landback and Warrington to Liverpool. Within a year it had moved to Ipswich and was quartered in that district until, in August 1805, it was at the Cover of Cork embarking for the Cape where, landing north of the town, it marched against the Dutch and easily took Cape Town.
Simpson, however, had been left 'on command' (4) at Yarmouth and did not rejoin the Regiment until December 1807. For the next three years he appears on the muster roll as 'on command' at such seaside places as Simonstown, Muizenberg (near Cape Town) and Algoa Bay. In March 1810 the Regiment prepared to move to the East Indies, but on 24th May of that year the musters show Simpson to have been 'invalided to England'. His name is finally omitted from rolls dated later than December 1810. Hence, with almost forty-one years service with the colours this last of the seven Hibernians who were the first to enlist in the Army. Simpson's name does not appear in the casualty lists of the Regiment and he cannot be traced as an in-pensioner of the Chelsea or Kilmainham Hospitals.
In Simpson's day, soldiers enlisted for an 'unlimited period' i.e., for life. One wonders as to the fate of Willie Simpson when he was discharged from the Army at about 55 years of age. In his 'Rough Notes of an Old Soldier', Major-General Sir George Bell, published in 1856, contrasts the treatment of the British soldier discharged after the Peninsular War in 1814 - when the Army was virtually disbanded - with that of the officers. At the age of 22 years, George Bell, subaltern, was granted a retiring half-pay of four shillings a day for life. The Government passed off with a sixpenny pension the old soldier, very often with sixpence or ninepence a day for nine, twelve, eighteen or twenty-four months after which the payments ceased and the soldier became a pauper.
Hibernian Simpson's story is neither exceptional nor dramatic, but his story does demonstrate the relative ease with which one can trace a particular soldier's life and times through regimental records. The seven of whom Simpson was one represented the Hibernian School in the American Revolution though there were no doubt many more who, following in the footsteps of the original seven, saw action in the Revolutionary War.
William Young (1818 - 25) (5) enlisted in the Corps of Sappers and Miners in 1825 and was promoted from the ranks to Sergeant-Major of the Provisional Battalion at Chatham, then promoted first to Ensign in 1841 and Quartermaster in the same year. He was transferred to the 22nd Foot (6) in 1843 and served the Southern Mahratta country 1844-45 and took part in the investment and capture of the fort of Panulla and Powngbur. In 1853 he was placed on half-pay with the rank of Captain, being appointed Paymaster of a depot battalion and retired with the rank of Major in 1860. Major Young was appointed a Military Knight of Windsor in 1872 and resided in Windsor until his death in 1882. While he was serving as Quartermaster of the 22nd Foot his son was Adjutant of the Regiment, an unusual coincidence.
Michael Kelly (1822 - 27) enlisted in the 13th Foot (7)and was soon promoted through the ranks to Colour Sergeant. He served in India and Afghanistan 1838-42. He was wounded at the storming of Ghuznie. He marched with the Regiment to Cabul and then across Afghanistan to Peshawar. In 1840 he returned to Cabul. The 13th Foot at this time was commanded by Sir Robert Sale and Sir Henry Havelock was a captain in it. Michael Kelly was present at the capture of the forts of Toolumdunnal and Thoolghur, and the forcing of the Khood where the enemy fiercely held up the British advance for 18 days, causing Sale and his men to shelter in Jellalabad to await relief. Famine and a shortage of munitions led him lead the garrison out in sally in three columns on 7 April 1842. The action was successful and the besieging Afghans scattered with considerable loss. In August the same year Kelly returned to Cabul for a third time. His services were rewarded by a medal for the action at Ghuznie, a second for Jellalabad, and a third for the recapture of Cabul. In 1842 he was promoted to Ensign in the 62nd Foot (8)and, three years later, to Lieutenant. In December 1849 a Sikh Army invaded the Punjab where it was engaged at Ferozeshal. At this action, the British Artillery met more than a match from the Sikh Artillery. The infantry was ordered to charge and silence the Sikh guns, successfully as it turned out. The next morning, close to the guns, searchers found the mangled remains of Kelly, who had led the attack the previous evening. So died Lieutenant Kelly, age 32.
Joseph M'Gee (1818 - 22) was for many years Sergeant-Major of the 20th Foot (9). In 1846, he was a commissioned quarter master with the rank of Captain. On disbandment of the reserve battalion, he was transferred to the 1st Foot (10) and was present with his Regiment at the Battle of Alma, Inkerman and at the Siege of Sevastopol. He retired from the service in 1866 and died in Dublin in 1877. (11)
Isaac Suckling (1820 - ?) Enlisted in the 63rd Foot (12), served for many years in India and China, receiving the China Medal in 1842. He became bandmaster of the 26th Foot (13)and of the 47th Foot (14). The Toronto Globe and Mail reported Isaac's death at age 94 on 30 January 1905 as one of the most noted citizens of the city. He was survived by six sons living in Toronto or New York. For many years he was the oldest surviving old Hib.
they enlisted in 1770 the 24th Foot was numbered and known only by the
names of successive colonels. When formed in the reign of William and
Mary (circa 1690) it was Dering's Regiment of Fusiliers. Later it became
the 2nd Warwickshires and, subsequently, the famous regiment, The South
Wales Borderers. Back to 1
2. Reduced to the rank of private or fusilier. Back to 2
3. Muster rolls were also known as the regimental 'morning report', giving the state of the regiment. Back to 3
4. Another military term meaning to be sick or otherwise unfit to be on active duty. Back to 4
5. The dates in parenthesis refer to the time the subject remained at the RHMS. Back to 5
6. The Cheshire Regiment. Back to 6
7. The Somerset Light Infantry. Back to 7
8. The Wiltshire Regiment. Back to 8
9. Until the 1875 reforms, The East Devonshire Regiment. After the reforms and until it was disbanded it was named The Lancashire Fusiliers. Back to 9
10. The Royal Scots. Back to 10
11. Bell, Major-General Sir George in 'Rough notes of an Old Soldier', 2 vols, 1867. Bell commanded the 1 Foot during the Crimea War. Back to 11
12. The West Suffolk Regiment. Back to 12
13. The Cameronians. Back to 13
14. The Lancashire Regiment. Back to 14
© A. W. Cockerill 2005
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