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The Royal Hibernian Military School (1765-1924)
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Sources of documents and records relating to the
Royal Hibernian Military School

The significance of the documents and records of the Royal Hibernian Military School (R.H.M.S.) is best understood as a pattern of hitherto neglected pieces which fit together to nest neatly into the jigsaw of Irish military history. When the R.H.M.S. was amalgamated with the Duke of York’s Royal Military School (D.Y.R.M.S.) at Dover in 1924, many of its records were stored at Walworth, London, and were destroyed in the London blitz of 1940. It is a common perception that most of the records were lost, but this was not the case. A good number still exist. For instance, state papers, War and Home Office records, and parliamentary papers relating to the Hibernian Society for Soldiers’ Children and the Hibernian Military School are available to the researcher. These contain the charters of incorporation, record the changing source of funding over the years and the takeover of the control and management of the School by the military authorities. They also provide rare insights into the interior economy of the Hibernian School and the life of the children in the first half of the nineteenth century.
    The state papers and Departmental documents are now in the National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office) at Kew [1] and the parliamentary papers are available in the National Library of Ireland in Dublin and the parliamentary archives at Westminster. In 1967 a number of the surviving R.H.M.S. records, including regulations, and some admission and discharge registers covering a period from about 1846 to 1924, were deposited in the Public Record Office, Kew, by the Duke of York’s School. In addition two large registers containing the nominal roll of the boys joining the R.H.M.S. were donated to the National Archives by the D.Y.R.M.S. in 2003.
    These records are the subjects of this article. They provide information on a large number of pupils who entered the school from 1846, [2] and identify the children admitted to the institution from the various units of the British Army until the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922.
    The admission registers are now being collated, sorted and analysed. They will interest researchers seeking genealogical data for descendants of soldiers of the British Army. Pupils of the Hibernian School are mostly, but by no means all, of Irish descent.
    As a background to the registers is well worth offering a brief history of the institution later known as the Royal Hibernian Military School. The Hibernian Society for the Orphans and Children of Soldiers, as it was originally known, existed from 1765 to 1846. It was created by private subscription exclusively to maintain the orphans and children of soldiers. The Society quickly gained influential support from the governing elite in Ireland. The Society’s first institution for the care of soldiers’ children was established in two private dwellings on Oxmantown Green, Dublin, rented from the Corporation of Carpenters. The Crown granted a charter of incorporation to the Society in 1769 and the Hospital for soldiers’ children was opened in Phoenix Park in 1770. [3] Construction of the building was financed by grants from the Irish Parliament on land granted in trust by the Crown. Between 1765 and 1800 the institution admitted some 2,200 children, of whom around 800 were girls. The Hospital would not have survived on private charity alone and was dependent on annual grants of the King’s Bounty, supplemented from 1778 until the Act of Union by grants from the Irish Parliament. Donations, subscriptions and bequests were marginal sources of income, and in a good year would barely have supported the children for more than two months.
    These parliamentary grants, however, were not voted as part of the Irish Military Estimates, for neither the Hibernian Society nor the Hibernian School was part of the Irish military establishment, i.e., ‘the British Army on the Irish Establishment’. [4] Nevertheless, from the years immediately following its foundation, there were always close connections between the military authorities in Ireland and the Hibernian Society. The 1769 Charter gave the Irish military establishment a strong representation on the governing body, and this presence was increased by a significant number of army officers who became governors by virtue of their subscription to the Society (including the Duke of York). It would be correct to say that the Hibernian Hospital had no official connection with the Irish military establishment when it opened in 1770, and did not have much of a military character for most of the eighteenth century. However, by the 1780s, military men were in a majority on the Society’s Committee of Fifteen, a body which effectively directed the management of the School, and to which its Inspector and staff were accountable. The military influence counted throughout this period, and by 1800 over 200 of the boys, on leaving the School, had entered directly into the Army as drummers and fifers.
    By 1800, the Military held a dominant position on the governing body of the Hibernian Society. Charles Marquis Cornwallis, who was uniquely both the Lord Lieutenant and the Irish Commander-in-Chief, had been elected President of the Society, and was determining the direction of the School. During the years following the Act of Union the military authorities asserted an indirect but effective control of the policy of the Society and the development of its School. A second Charter of incorporation in 1808 defined the membership of the governing body more precisely and confirmed the Commander-of-the-Forces in Ireland as the Vice-President.
    During these years the military influence increased and the Hibernian School gained a more military character. [5] A ‘commandant’ was appointed in 1809; the staff were drawn from retired military personnel and given military titles; and the School’s regulations and procedures were shaped by the military experience. By 1809 its daily routine had taken on a military character, and the boys were performing ‘military evolutions’ and were learning trades, such as shoemaking, which were useful to the Army. [6] Nevertheless, the parliamentary grants from the United Kingdom Parliament were voted under the Irish Civil Estimates. It was not until 1832 that the funds of the Society were included in the Military Estimates. The Hibernian Society and School was not finally placed under the direct control of the Military Departments in London until 1846.
    Despite the non-military nature of its foundation, the Hibernian School eventually came to be regarded as the first of the British military schools. [7] Between 1801 and 1830 around 3400 soldiers’ children were admitted to the School, of whom some were 880 girls. During the same period around 740 boys volunteered into the Army on discharge, and others perhaps enlisted at a later date.
    From 1832 the Society’s estimates were no longer presented to Parliament by the Chief Secretary as part of the Irish Civil Estimates, but by the Secretary-at-War, who moved them together with those for the Royal Military Asylum (R.M.A.) in the Army Estimates. The Society’s accounts were in consequence finalised at the War Department in London, where they were subject to Treasury control and shaped by British military policy. These decisions taken in London would determine the number of soldiers’ children maintained at the school in Phoenix Park. The transfer of the parliamentary grants to the military estimates was something of a mixed blessing to the Hibernian School. Its future was now firmly linked with that of the Royal Military Asylum. The immediate consequence was that there was a substantial reduction in the number of children at the School, in line with the reduction in numbers of the R.M.A. [8] Both schools were under threat during the 1830s and were lucky to survive. In the long run the Hibernian School perhaps survived because the R.M.A. survived. But henceforth it would have to follow the path of the R.M.A. as a military school for the sons of soldiers, with an eye firmly on their entry to the British Army. The girls, of course, would have to go.
    The 1846 Charter recognised these developments and re-incorporated the Hibernian Society as a corporation with the name of the ‘The Royal Hibernian Military School’. Thereafter there was in law no distinction between the Corporation and the School in Phoenix Park. The governing body under this charter was restricted to the Lord Lieutenant and some twenty-five officers of the British Army, all of whom were on the staff of the Irish military command or field officers of the Dublin Garrison or held posts in the Irish Constabulary. Therefore by the date of the commencement in January 1847 of the ‘Nominal Roll of boys joining the R.H.M.S.’ (WO 143/78) the School was under the direct control of the British military authorities. It is significant that this series of registers in WO 143/78 runs from January 1847.
    A Return of the public money received by the Hibernian Society from 1765 to 1830, prepared for the United Kingdom Parliament in December 1831, refers to the ‘original Register of the School’ as not giving the number of boys volunteering for the Army in each year prior to 1801. A series of annual parliamentary papers covering the years to 1831 include annual totals of the numbers of boys and girls admitted and discharged. It seems therefore that there was one register that ran to at least 1800, and that this continued, or was replaced by, additional sets of registers that ran from 1801 to 1846. These registers are not listed in the documents sent to the Treasury by the D.Y.R.M.S. in 1927 and lost in the Blitz.
    The records of the Royal Hibernian School held at the National Archives in Kew are in three series:

The Treasury (T) records contain correspondence on pensions and allowances and furniture for the officers of the School, the full dress clothing for the Band, and, surprisingly, a copy of a further Charter granted in 1879.

Series WO 33/39 contains the Report into the D.Y.R.M.S. and the R.H.M.S. made by a Committee of Inquiry in 1882.

Series 143 contains the records of the D.Y.R.M.S. and a few records relating to the R.H.M.S.

Documents WO 143/4, /5, /26 and /27 had been deposited at Kew before 2003. In

WO 143/4 –– 1884 Standing Orders, Royal Hibernian Military School
WO 143/5 –– 1908 Standing Orders, Royal Hibernian Military School
WO 143/26 –– 1910-1958 Alphabetical Index of Discharges.
This register has entries from the Hibernian School until its closure. It continues with data from the Duke of York’s School and carries minimum detail beyond names, number and dates of discharges. The record is useful for cross-referencing data to other documents.
WO 143/27 –– 1840-1919 Index of Admissions, Royal Hibernian Military School. The document carries minimal and sporadic detail.

WO 143/78 and 79 were deposited at Kew in 2003:
WO 143/78 –– 1847-1877 Nominal Roll of boys joining the Royal Hibernian Military School.
    This is an alphabetical ledger of 2649 admissions. It contains comprehensive data, which include these categories of information: the company to which the boy was assigned; his date of admission; date of birth; body mass data including his height, chest measurement and weight in pounds; his religion; rank held; trade taught, good conduct stripes earned at age 14; his petition number; entry class; father's regiment; his disposition (army volunteer, trade apprentice or‘withdrawn by guardian’ etc.) The register includes other useful information such as transfer to the R.M.A. (rare), deaths and absconded or deserted.
WO 143/79 - 1878–1907 Nominal Roll of boys joining the Royal Hibernian Military School.
   This ledger is a continuation of the preceding ledger, WO 143/78, and records for 3,907 entries the same wealth and range of data described for that ledger. Using a pupil’s admission number entered in the WO 143/27, the entry can be cross-referenced to the same boy’s name and petition number recorded in the fuller ledgers, WO143/78 and 79.

One must be cautious about using the registers as a source of information about the rotation of units. Although in 1782 a county title had been added to the regimental number of various infantry units, the formal assignment of territorial recruiting areas did not take place until the localisation of 1872 that was part of the Cardwell reforms, which divided the military districts into sub-districts within which two linked battalions and affiliated Militia battalions shared a depot. These depots were slow to develop and only thirty-three of the eighty sub-districts had their facilities in place by 1875.
    During the earlier years of the nineteenth century units were frequently rotated within the British Isles, and, when a battalion was sent overseas, one or two of its companies were retained at barracks in the U.K. which served as regimental depot. Such a depot was not fixed and was often located in or near to the port of embarkation. Recruiting parties were sent from the depot to various parts of the British Isles (some units favouring particular areas) to enlist recruits. These were then transferred to the depot and afterwards sent as reinforcements to the battalion’s overseas station. Each unit stationed abroad would, especially before the Cardwell reforms and the advent of short-service enlistment, receive a number of large drafts from the depot during its time overseas. In addition, soldiers often were drafted or volunteered from one unit to another whilst serving overseas. Troops in India often volunteered to transfer to another unit on that Command
rather than return to the U.K. with their original unit.
    A unit’s presence in a particular Military District or command in the U.K. was often quite short, and the men would have an opportunity to acquire wives and to father children in various parts of the British Isles.
    As a reminder, soldiers’ children were normally only admitted to the R.H.M.S. between the ages of seven and eleven. By the terms of the Charter these children had to be the children of soldiers serving in the line or who were deceased or discharged. The Governors had to give priority to complete orphans (Class 1), then to children whose fathers had been killed or had died on foreign service or home service (Class 2), etc.
    Entry to the School said little about the date or the time at which the boy’s father’s regiment had been in Ireland. A single example should suffice to show that a choice between the R.H.M.S. and R.M.A. was not as straightforward as it might appear.

Private James Clarke

Private James Clarke, born in 1840, was admitted to the Hibernian School (a class 2 entrant) in 1849 and discharged into the 22nd Foot (his father’s regiment) in October 1854 aged 14. His father was most probably the John Clarke who had joined the 22nd Foot in 1813 at Stockport at the age of 16. He was in a draft to reinforce the regiment in the East Indies in 1814. The 22nd Foot, which also recruited widely in Ireland, returned to England in 1819 and marched through the North of England until it was rotated to Ireland in 1821. It then was rotated within Ireland until 1826, when it embarked for Jamaica. During the eleven years to 1837, when it returned to Ireland, its mortality rate in the West Indies (mainly from yellow fever) was 562 Officers and Men and an unknown number of women and children. Colour Sergeant John Clarke survived and was invalided out of the Regiment at Dublin in 1838 after it had returned to Ireland. He went to Cookstown in 1838 and was married in Ireland. His son James was born in Belfast in October 1840. John Clarke died before November 1849. The 22nd Foot left Ireland for Liverpool in December 1840, and proceeded to Chatham, where it left its depot and sailed for Bombay in January 1841. During its time in India the regiment received drafts from the depot at Chatham and also 148 volunteers from the 28th Foot, which had been stationed in New South Wales. Decimated by cholera, and having suffered casualties in the campaign in Sind under Napier, it returned from India in March 1855. In July 1855 it disembarked at Gravesend, where James Clarke from the R.H.M.S. joined the regiment at its Chatham depot.
    The Regiment’s service during the period of James Clarke’s enlistment is also instructive:

July 1855 to August 1859: rotation in England (including ceremonial and guard duty at Windsor and deployments in support of the civil powers).
August 1859 to May 1860: Ireland
May 1860 to March 1866: Malta
April 1866 to May 1869: New Brunswick
June 1869 May 1871: Ireland
May 1871 to July 1872: Channel Islands
July 1872 to March 1877: rotation in England
March 1877: rotation in Ireland, where in October 1879 James was discharged at Dublin with a private soldier’s pension. He then settled, and married, in Sheffield, England.

Phoenix Park or Chelsea?

Assuming that a soldier’s son met all the criteria for eligibility specified in the R.H.M.S. Charter, and required in the forms for application (which were the same as the forms in use at the R.M.A,, Chelsea), would admission to the R.H.M.S. be determined by whether the father’s regiment’s most recent station in the United Kingdom was Ireland, or did the decision depend upon whether the boy’s family or friends were resident in Ireland?
    A serious point is made here. The frequent rotation of corps between Great Britain and Ireland, and the fact that units could embark from Ireland for service overseas, but return to England, meant that the choice between the R.H.M.S. and the R.M.A. would not always have been straightforward. In 1807 this was illustrated in an early exchange of correspondence between London and Dublin as to whether children from regiments stationed in Ireland or sent overseas from Ireland should be admitted to the R.M.A. [9]
    These difficulties being admitted, a high proportion of admissions to the R.H.M.S. were boys of Irish heritage. This was because of the high proportion of Irish recruits in the British Army throughout the nineteenth century. These recruits were not confined to Irish regiments. They appear in the ranks of English, Irish, Scots and Welsh regiments without exception. For example, in ‘...1809, 24 per cent of the N.C.O.s and men in the 57th (East Middlesex) Regiment were Irish’. [10] In 1830, the Irish proportion of the British army was 42.2 per cent; and in 1840 it was 37.2 per cent. [11] Moreover, soldiers of non-Irish heritage serving in units stationed in Ireland frequently married Irish women.
    The proportion of Irishmen in the Army in the nineteenth century is well documented in the British government and parliamentary papers and features in a number of secondary sources on the British Army during that period. [12]
    Some points worth noting in relation to the registers are these:

1. In the 1790s and early 1800s specifically Irish regiments and the British regiments with large recruitment of Irishmen were sent out of Ireland as soon as they had recruited to establishment and sometimes before. This was because there was widespread desertion when units remained in Ireland and also because, following the 1798 Rebellion, these units were thought to be unreliable for internal security duties in the country. 2. There was a much smaller proportion of Irish in the cavalry than in the infantry. This applies equally to the three Irish cavalry regiments, which had a majority of Englishmen in their ranks. In 1878 none of the cavalry of the line had an Irish component in excess of 30%.

3. The recruitment into individual English infantry regiments varied greatly even in the 1820s and 1830s when the Irish proportion in the British Army was at its highest.

4. The proportion of Irish in the Army fell from 37.2% in 1840 to 30.8% in 1868 and to 21.9% in 1878 and to 12.9% by 1898. The effect of the Cardwell reforms was to reduce the proportion of Irish in the English regiments and to increase it in the Irish regiments. The number of the latter was increased in the 1860s when the European regiments of the East India Company were absorbed into the British Army and recruited up to strength in Ireland. The data in the admission and discharge ledgers has taken some sorting out, for it is far from clear. To obtain a chronological record of about 8,500 entries to be of use to historians and genealogical researchers, it was necessary to sort and crossreference many duplicate entries unto a single spread-sheet. This is work in progress and will not be completed until mid-2007. Only then will it be possible to identify and list the children in alphabetical order according to their father’s units or, for example, for epidemiological research using the body-mass index (B.M.I). for each age group and year.

Sample detail of admissions, here extracted from entries for the 86th Foot, the Royal County Down Regiment, is given in Table 1.


Date admitted

















COOLEY Timothy









CORR Henry


















O’BRIEN William









SHEA Christopher









Table 1 – sample data now available

Abbreviations used: Yrs - age in years; Mths - age in months; Inch - height in inches; Lbs - weight
in lbs; Chest - Chest in inches; BMI - body mass index as calculated.

Entrants were also identified under one of four classifications previously noted. These were: Class 1 – an orphan; Class 2 – father deceased; Class 3 – mother deceased; and Class 4 – both parents alive but on foreign service. In addition to the data quoted here, ‘Petitions for Entry’ were received and identified in numerical order, the father’s regimental unit; [13] the pupil’s date of discharge from the institution; and the pupil’s destination on discharge (enlistment, apprenticed, returned to guardian, deceased, etc.)
    It is estimated that the registers reviewed cover about 8,500 entrants, with a further 4,000 names and details to 1907 not yet reviewed. Using standard computational procedures based on an average of two descendants per boy per generation, it is calculated that from 1846 to 2006 the descendants number between 1,152,000 and 1,332,000. This takes into account deaths during childhood and bachelorhood. The calculation has been limited to allow for two offspring per family with descendants doubling each 24 years to 2006.


[1] The National Archives at Kew contain records of the Hibernian Society, which are mainly located in the series titled State Papers [Ireland] (SP) and the Home Office HO). These relate to the grants of Letters Patent and Royal Warrants and related correspondence. The amendments to the 1846 Charter, which were made in 1871, are to be found in HO 45/9289/5327. Series WO 43 contains correspondence relating to the Hibernian Society and the Hibernian School between 1830 and 1858, including the transfer of the funding to the Army Estimates.
[2] Estimated at about 11,000 entries.
[3] The building, which is situated at the centre of the south side of the park, is now St. Mary’s Hospital.
[4] The numbers on the Irish Military Establishment were determined and paid for by the Irish Parliament.
[5] The first recorded use of the term ‘Hibernian Military School’ is in the official return of the number of children at the School to the Commissioners for Auditing Public Accounts in Ireland.
[6] The Seventh Report of the Commissioners of the Board of Education in Ireland. 1809
[7] The two other military schools are the Duke of York’s Military School, Dover founded as the Royal Military Asylum (R.M.A.), Chelsea in 1801 and the Queen Victoria School, Dunblane, founded in 1908.
[8] The number of children was reduced from 532 in 1831 to 300 in 1839.
[9] Minutes of the Governors of the RMA, WO 143/6.
[10] Richard Holmes, in Gone for a Soldier (2002).
[11] Brendan Hall, The Louth Militia [Irish Genealogical Sources Series No. 15] pub. Genealogical Society of Ireland.
[12] E. M. Speirs: Army Organisation and Society in the 19th (A Military History of Ireland. Ed.T. Bartlett and K. Jeffrey) and E.M. Spiers, The late Victorian Army 1868-1902 are the best sources).
[13] The examples extracted here are selected admissions from the 83rd Foot.

First published in
The Irish Sword Vol. XXV, Summer 2007, No. 101

Howard Clarke attended the London School of Economics and Oxford University. Following
work in accountancy he taught economics, history and government in a sixth form college, later
moving into college management. He retired in 2003 following seventeen years as Principal and
Chief executive of a sixth form college in the North of England. He has an interest in the history of
public administration, political economy and governance of education in Great Britain and Ireland.
He is working on a history of the Hibernian Society for Soldiers’ Children and the early years of the
Hibernian School, Phoenix Park.

Table of Contents - Royal Hibernian Military School
1769 Petition
1806 Pay and Allowances
1806 Weekly Governor's Report
1806 Time Table
1819 Charter
1819 Diet
1819 Staff Duties
1819 General Regulations
1844 Return of Religions
1849 S.S. Pemberton Orphans
1856 School Inspector Gleig
1857 China
1873 Religion
1900 Review at Phoenix Park
1918 Lost Boys
1919 Roll of Honour
1919 Recollections
1919 Lives of the Hibernians
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
1922 Last cricket match
1924 A soldier's orphan's story
1924 Last roll call
1924 Laying up the colours
1924 The final era
1937 A military misfit NEW
1969 The bicentenary reunion
1994 Capt. Harry Bloomer MBE
2001 IGS No.25 History
2004 Newsletter
2005 The last known Hibernian
2007 Sources of Hibernian documents

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