Navigation links at the bottom of this page

Lieutenant-Colonel Pasley’s Complaint
Lt. Col. Pasley commanding the Corps of Sappers and Miners in Chatham complained of the inadequate level of education of ten boys recruited from the RMA for training and employment in a topographical survey of Ireland. Sir Henry Torrens, the Adjutant-General, wrote a critical letter to Commandant Williamson on the subject. Following is Williamson’s response dated 9 January 1826.
My Dear General,

I cannot but feel much obliged by your letter of the 6th Instant, although it has been the cause of the greatest pain and misery to me.

With regard to the precise point upon which it is in my power to offer you an explanation, viz. the report you have alluded to lately made to the Board of Ordnance, of the deficiencies and bad order of the last detachment of boys who have volunteered for the purpose of being attached to the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners, I beg to state that I considered their application for them so pressing, that I was induced to select them immediately for the service, although there were none of the age at which they generally leave us, remaining in the Institution, all those who had arrived at the proper age in 1825, and destined for the army had been discharged. The boys from the Royal Hibernian Military School are I believe kept there until the age of 15 they must therefore evidently have the advantage over boys who had not even attained their 14th year they have also the advantage in the admission of their children as they are never received there until they are 7 years old, here they are admitted at 5 [years of age].
This is the first complaint I have ever had for the 13 years I have had the honor to serve in this Asylum of any of the boys who have volunteered to the army, and as a proof that they are approved of, there are applications from at least 20 regiments for volunteers at this moment.

I can assure you my dear General that I have always made it my study to serve the welfare and comfort of the children entrusted to my care and give satisfaction to the Board of Commissioners; these boys are well fed, well clothed and the utmost care taken of the cleanship of their persons.

Perhaps I have sacrificed more to their comfort than their appearance in their dress as I found that when their jackets and trousers were made exactly to fit, after they had been wet, from the coarse materials of which they are made they became too small, and the summer jackets when laid up in store for the winter and brought into wear again the following season if they were made for appearances sake would be useless. Their shoes also are said to be too large, but I have always considered it better to have them too large than too small as I have several times met them in the streets when they have been out to see their friends, limping in consequence of having come out with their shoes too small and when they returned to the Asylum were lame. Little irregularities will always occur in establishments of this magnitude, but I have ever used my best endeavours to check them.
Apprentices of the Corps of Royal Engineers (c1944) being instructed in the exploits of General Gordon of Khartoum
It may be said also that sufficient attention has not been paid to drilling the boys in military exercises, they never have learnt more than the facings, marching and forming open and close column, but when I state to you that the greatest number of the children are under 11 years of age, you must allow that it is better during their hours of recreation to permit them to run about, stretch their limbs and amuse themselves, knowing when they arrive at the age of 14 that they have a free choice either to volunteer for the army or be apprenticed to trades as they and their friends may think proper.

With the exception of a difference some time ago between Mr MacGregor, the Surgeon and myself, upon some points relating to the Institution and which I am now sorry for as I feel myself under obligations to that gentleman for his kind attention to me and my family, whenever we have been ill, the officers have always lived in the greatest harmony and good will. The zeal and perspicuity with which Captain Lugard, Adjutant and Secretary; the Rev. Geo Clark, Chaplain; Assistant Surgeon Lawrence, Mr Fullom, Assistant adjutant and Quarter Master Fair; have performed their respective duties, entitles them to my highest approbation.

It may be said that too strict a discipline has not been exercised towards the non-commissioned officers and nurses, but I found severity towards them brought unnecessary restraint and punishment upon the children; those persons are confined from six in the morning until seven at night, continually in the care of the children, and it is difficult to get persons of a good character who will submit to this; those employed in the Asylum are generally speaking sober and well behaved.

I beg to transmit to you a return of the different articles consumed in the Institution in the year 1825 with what remained in store on the 25th December. I hope you will admit that these articles have been used with economy when you perceive that only 423 pairs of shoes have been worn out in the last year. You will also see a considerable savings in coals.

The accounts of this Institution for the year 1824 have passed to the auditors and those for the quarter ending 25th December last are making up and will soon be ready to be submitted to the Board.

I was only just recovering from a dangerous illness when I received your letter which has made such an impression upon me as to oblige me to keep my bed and I am under the necessity of getting a friend to write this letter, and if I never rise from it I solemnly declare to you that I am not conscious of having neglected my duty and I should be obliged to you to write to His Royal Highness the Commander in Chief to have a public inspection of this Institution and I will assure you that no preparation shall be made for it.

As it is your opinion that this Establishment be more aptly conducted in other hands, I willingly give up the charge but as I have served upwards of 20 years in the Barrack department and in this Asylum, the enclosed copy of a letter from the Commissioners of Barracks will shew the manner in which I filled the office as inspector of stores, and in my appointment to the situation of Commandant to this Asylum I relinquished the above situation with a salary of 400 per annum. I trust that I may be replaced in a situation in England to that amount.

The committee appointed to inquire into the selection and recruitment of ten boys ranging in age from 12 to 14 for enlistment into the Corps of Royal Engineers received the following report from Commandant Williamson.

Questions addressed to Commanding Officers of units
by the Special Committee held on the 6th February 1826.

A complaint having been made by Lieut. Colonel Pasley of the Royal Engineers of the deficiencies of 10 Boys and of the vicious conduct of one of the them who volunteered to serve in the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners on the 8th October last. Under what circumstance were these Boys sent to that Corps?

On receiving a letter from the Adjutant General dated 8th September last stating that the Master General of the Ordnance having expressed a wish to obtain 10 Boys of this Institution as Volunteers to serve in the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners I immediately made it known to all the Boys, when 10 of them came forward and expressed their willingness to Volunteer, two of them were of proper age to be discharged, seven of them would not be of the proper age before the spring of 1826, and one before the spring of 1827, but as I considered the application pressing I forwarded a descriptive Return of them to the Adjutant General and in a short time after Brigade Major Jones came here, when these Boys were shewn to him, also their copy and cyphering books, and of which he seemed to approve.

Were any of these Boys guilty of vicious conduct while in the Asylum?

Never - Three of them who came from the Royal Artillery were idle & troublesome [and] were after brought up for punishment.
Are spirits or liquors ever brought to the children in this Asylum?

There was some gin brought in by a Nurse some time back, to one of the Boys and she was immediately dismissed from her post.

Are any of the Boys ever seen Drunk in the Asylum?


Do the Boys ever make use of Oaths of profane Language?


Be so good as to state the general arrangement for carrying out the duties of the Asylum.

The establishment of this Asylum consists of 1000 Children divided into 10 Companies, and over each Company are a Serjeant, two Nurses, 4 Corporals (Boys) and two lance Corporals, the Boys rise at six o'clock every morning in Summer and at seven in Winter, the first duty they have to perform under the Superintendence of the serjeants and Nurses is to make their Beds, & clean out the dormitories, from thence they are marched to the cleaning houses, to clean their shoes, brush their cloths, & comb their hair. They then go to the washing houses to wash their hands & faces & to prepare for breakfast parade for which they fall in, in Summer at 1/4 before 8 O'clock and 1/4 before 9 O'clock in Winter. I beg to observe that the accommodation for washing the Boys is on too confined a scale as only two Companies can wash at a time which is the occasion of much loss of time - a proportion of Boys from each Company are taken in rotation every morning for duties of fatigue such as carrying coals to the Kitchen, Hospital, Laundry and assisting the Pioneers in sweeping and cleaning the Passages and rooms of the Building, assisting the nurses to carry the Pottage from the Kitchen, & carrying the same when portioned on to the Tables for breakfast, and two Companies in rotation every  morning to practice the Gymnastic Exercises. After Breakfast the Boys are disciplined on the Parades for 1/2 an hour to allow the Serjeants time to eat their own breakfasts when the are paraded again at 1/4 before nine o’clock in Summer and 1/4 before 10 in Winter and marched regularly to the Schools by the Serjeants Major where they are given up to the Chaplain who makes such arrangements as he may think proper for forwarding their Education. At 12 O’clock the Boys are marched from the Schools to the Parades and dismissed, in a short time they are again assembled by the Serjeant and marched to the washing housing to wash their hands & faces and prepare themselves for dinner Parade for which they fall in 1/4 before one O'clock where they are inspected by the officers & Sergeants Major as at the breakfast Parade, the fatigue Boys are in attendance to assist the Nurses as at breakfast in carrying the dinner from the Kitchen to the dining Halls & placing them on the Tables, after Dinner the Boys are marched to the Parades and are exercised a short time in marching, forming line from open Column, or forming close Columns & deploying into line, they are then dismissed to allow time for the Sergeants to eat their own dinners, &  at two O'clock in Winter, three in Summer they are again marched to the Schools for two hours. Such boys as are employed in making shoes or at Taylors (sic), Knitters & making & mending shirts, go to School, & work, on alternate days, so as to keep them half their time at Work & half at school, the same routine takes place at Supper after which the Boys are allowed to play & amuse themselves until bed time, the Committee will perceive how very much the time of a Serjeant of this Institution is occupied & what close confinement he is obliged to endure, he has 100 children at his heels from 6 o'clock in the morning until 10 at night, for at that hour he is obliged to attend in the Dormitories to call the Boys up to make water to prevent them wetting their beds, and it is from this circumstance that I find the greatest difficulty in finding respectable non-Commissioned officers to undertake the office. If a Serjeant falls sick I have only a Corporal (Boy) to replace him, & if the Nurse is ill I am obliged to hire an extra woman to do her duty. from the number of applications for children of 5 or 6 years old, the duties of these Persons become more arduous & I beg to suggest to this Committee the propriety of forming a second Company of little Boys with two additional Nurses attached to it.

What punishments have you for Boys who behave ill & how are they administered?

If a Boy is impertinent to a Serjeant or does not obey his orders or is caught throwing stones the serjeant is permitted to give him two or three stripes with his cane. For all other offences his name is put down in a Report which is sent in to the Commandant every morning, who orders all the Boys to be assembled in one of the School rooms; at 12 o'clock when the Boys reported are whipped with a Rod at the discretion of an officer who is always present not exceeding however six stripes. If a Boy is guilty of thieving or running away the Commandant generally attends the Punishment and whips him more severely - to vary the Punishment they are sometimes put in a Cage in the School Room, sent to drill, or prevented going out to see their friends when applied for. [Ed. note: Mention here of the 'cage punishment' is one of only two documented references to use of the cage.]

If a Serjeant or Nurse misbehave themselves how are they punished?

The Commandant generally assembles a Court of enquiry consisting of the Adjutant, Assistant Adjutant, and Quarter Master, who write down such evidence as may be brought before them, then proceedings are given to the Commandant who after due consideration either suspends the offending Persons from their situations, or cautions them in public order to be more circumspect in future the Serjeants & Nurses are assembled & their orders are read to them by the adjutant.

Are the Boys drilled to Military Exercises?

In summer time they are drilled but there has been less drilling since the gymnastic Exercises have been introduced. in Winter I think the Gymnastic Exercises are preferable in keeping the children free from chilblains, and they were practising their exercises up to the 19th ultimo when I suspended them for the purpose of exercising them to the Military exercises preparatory to the Inspection of the Commissioners. The accompanying Returns will shew that on the 19th Ultimate only 48 Boys were afflicted with Chilblains, but on the 4th Instant the numbers had increased to 277. If the Commissioners are of opinion that the Boys should be drilled so as to move with the precision of Men, I beg to suggest that a drill Serjeant should be added to the Establishment.

How are provisions and supplies issued?

The provisions are supplied by contract & carefully examined by the Quarter Master when sent in. He attends when the proportions of meat are weighed to each company according to its strength, and delivers them to the Nurses who take them to the Kitchen to be cooked , at meal times they carry them with the assistance of the Boys on Fatigue from the Kitchen to the dining Halls where they are portioned out under the inspection of the Qtr Master & his two Qtr Master Sergeants.

Are you always at hand in the event of any thing going wrong in the Asylum?

Always. I have not slept out of the Asylum except for one week last Summer, for the last two years.

If a boy should be take ill at night in his Dormitory what assistance is at hand to take him to the Hospital, or to administer relief to him?

The Serjeants Rooms adjoin the Dormitories with which they have Communication so that in the event of any noise in the Dormitory the Serjeant or his Wife would immediately hear it - the Assistant Adjutant & the Serjeants Major frequently visit the Dormitories after the Boys are in Bed.

Delta Tech Systems Inc
Duke of York's Royal Military School
Royal Hibernian Military School
Reminiscences of a Queen's Army  Schoolmistress
World War I letters and Reports
Books and Militaria
Wellington on Waterloo
Related Links

© A. W. Cockerill 2011

Site Map    Contact me