The significance of the
documents and records of the Royal Hibernian Military School (RHMS)
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 RHMS was amalgamated with the Duke of York's Royal Military
School (DYRMS) 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 Records Office) at Kew1 and the Parliamentary
Papers are available in the National Library of Ireland in Dublin
and the Parliamentary Archives at Westminster. A number of the surviving
RHMS 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, in 1967 by the Duke of York's School.
In addition two large registers containing the nominal roll of the
boys joining the RHMS were donated to the National Archives by the
DYRMS in 2003.
These records are the subjects of this article. They provide information
on a large number of students who entered the school from 18462 and
identify the children admitted to the Institution from the various
units of the British Army until the creation of the Irish Free State
The admission registers are now being collated, sorted and analyzed.
They will interest researchers seeking genealogical data for descendents
of soldiers of the British Army. Pupils of the Hibernian School are
mostly, but by no means all, of Irish descent.
A brief history of the institution later known as the Royal Hibernian
Military School is well worth telling as a background to the registers.
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
Construction of the building was financed by grants from the Irish
Parliament on land granted in trust by the Crown. The institution
admitted some 2,200 children between 1765 and 1800 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 have barely 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; that
is, "the British Army on the Irish Establishment".4
Nevertheless, there were always close connections between the military
authorities in Ireland and the Hibernian Society from the years immediately
following its foundation. 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 18th century. However, military men were in a majority
on the Society's Committee of Fifteen by the 1780s, which effectively
directed the management of the School and to whom 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, the Lord
Lieutenant and uniquely 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 1801 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 more precisely defined the membership of
the Governing body and confirmed the Commander-of-the-Forces in Ireland
as the Vice-President. It is true to say that 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 and it was not until 1832
that the finances of the Society were voted in the Military Estimates
by the Westminster Parliament. 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 perhaps others 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 together with those for the Royal Military
Asylum (RMA) in the Army Estimates. They were in consequence finalised
at the War Department in London and were subject to Treasury control
and were 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 (RMA).
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 RMA.8
Both schools were under threat during the 1830s and were lucky to
survive. In the long run the Hibernian School survived perhaps because
the RMA survived. But henceforth it would have to follow the path
of the RMA as a military school for the sons of soldiers, with an
eye firmly on their entry to the British Army and of course the girls
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 in law there was
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 and the
field officers of the Dublin Garrison or held posts in the Irish
Therefore by the date of the commencement of the "Nominal Roll
of boys joining the RHMS" in January 1847 (WO 143/78) the School
was under the direct control of the British Military authorities.
It is significant that this series of registers in WO143/78 runs
from January 1847.
A Return of the public money received by the Hibernian Society from
1765 to 1830 provided for the UK 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
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 DYRMS in
1927 and lost in the Blitz.