Navigation links at the bottom of this page

How Sergeant Brabyn saved Frederick, Duke of York

During the 2006 Remembrance Day service in Victor Harbour, Australia, Edward Grant (R1940-45) added two white roses to the official wreath laid at the cenotaph. At the ceremony, the president of the RSL welcomed the ex-Dukies present. Later, Mrs. Carlene Farmer told Ted that one of her husband's forebears had once saved the life of HRH Frederick, Duke of York. Mrs. Farmer copied the following extract from their family history, 'The Life and Times of John Brabyn of the NSW Corps and His Extended family' by Betty McGrath, a direct descendent of John Brabyn and the present custodian of the King's Sword and other artifacts of John Brabyn. She lives in Sydney, Australia. As Ted Grant remarked, "If it were not for John's swift action in Flanders in the late 1790s, there might well have been no Duke of York's Royal Military School today. Extract from 'The Life and Times of John Brabyn of the NSW Corps and His Extended family'.
After France declared war on England on Feb 1st 1793, George III gave his son, the 30 year old Duke of York, command of the English contingent, wisely bolstering him with senior advisers. Prince Frederick was immediately dispatched to Flanders in the Austrian Netherlands in command of 5,000 armed men. The forces were sent to support the General in overall charge of the Allied Forces on the Continent, the Austrian Prince Saxe-Coburg. (Present day Belgium forms part of this area). John Brabyn "A true and trusted steady sergeant in the foot guards" was chosen to be part of the Duke's personal bodyguard. We know that John was tall, strong and had previously served under the Duke's command when a private in the foot guards, some years earlier.

The Flanders campaign, particularly from 1793-1795, came under the overall Leadership of Prince Saxe-Coburg, the Austrian General, who opened the Allied offensive with a 40,000 strong Army and advanced into Belgium on March 1st 1793. The wonderful Lippizzaner horses were raised near Gratz in Austria. The Duke of York and Brabyn would certainly have had these beautiful horses.

Coburg led his troops on to the Southern Netherlands on 18th March where they encountered and beat the French, who had invaded Holland at Neerwinden. Prince Frederick and his faithful bodyguard, John Brabyn featured in this battle. The British troops found themselves encircled and threatened with annihilation. Although it was a chaotic and desperate action and they suffered heavy losses, they managed to regain the Allied lines. They were being mercilessly hounded by the enemy and "by superb effrontery, the Duke of York escaped capture, at one point galloping in front of his two escort squadrons of Dragoons in a dramatic chase over hedge and dyke with the Star of the Garter gleaming at his breast."

The King's sword
presented to
Sergeant John Brabyn
by King George III

The Duke's own account of this episode played down the whole encounter. He wrote ­"Thus completely cut off from my corps, nothing remained for me to do, but to force my way to that of General Otto (his Austrian Ally), and to concert measures with him, to free my own troops. This I effected, accompanied by a few Dragoons of the 16th Regiment, with great difficulty"
Major -General Craig, described the ducal plight as "the misbehavior of another Austrian Battalion left us so completely exposed that his Royal Highness was litterally (sic) cut off from every part of his Army and was under the necessity of making his way, sword in hand, to General Otto's Column, in doing which he received fire at 50 yards distance an officer was killed by his side".

As a personal bodyguard, Brabyn would have had permanent place in the Duke's own entourage of which no record could be found. However this appears to have been the occasion when they were riding side by side, fleeing the enemy. The Officer on one side of the Duke was shot. The Prince's own horse was shot from beneath him in a volley of grape, John, riding alongside and protecting the Duke's other flank, was able to quickly hoist the royal personage on to the rear of his horse and gallop to safety. King George III presented John Brabyn with his personal sword in honor of the occasion when he saved the Duke of York's life in Flanders. This treasured possession is still in the hands of descendants of John Brabyn.

George III is also said to have offered John a title, to which he replied that as a King's man he was only doing his duty. John also received his commission, without purchase, in the New South Wales Corps, the very day he and the Duke set foot back on English soil, 5th May 1795, by the King's own command.
Markings on Sword presented
to Sergeant John Brabyn
by King George III

The NSW Corps had embarked on board the 'Marquis Comwallis', Captained by Michael Hogan, at Portsmouth on 6th June 1795. John Brabyn did not join the ship until a month later at Cork. By this time the detachment consisted of two ensigns, one sergeant one corporal, and 26 privates. There were 163 male and 40 female Irish convicts consigned to board the ship at Cork, without any papers as to their crime or term of sentence.

Mary Brabyn and her two infants traveled by coach, then sea and boarded the ship and on the 9th of August they all sailed out of the port for a long 186 day voyage to Sydney. Mary was the only free woman on the ship. There was also a mutiny during the voyage. They arrived in Sydney on Feb 11th 1796. After 6 weeks, Brabyn was sent to Norfolk Island, and 3 weeks later Mary died. She was the first free woman to die on Norfolk Island. John later married Sarah. He died in Sydney on Aug 1st 1835 and his tomb is situated in St. Matthews Churchyard, Windsor, New South Wales.

© Betty McGrath

Peter Goble has provided the following list of boys and girls whose fathers served in the New South Wales Corps. They appear in the RMA admission registers (WO143/17 Admission of male children; and WO143/24 Admission of female children). Five children share the family name of Hunt, undoubtedly of the same father who is noted as deceased at the time of admission. It is supposed that children of the NSW Corps were favoured applicants considering York's association with his Sergeant of the Royal Bodyguard.

Name Age Admitted Discharged Apprenticed To
Ann Redman 10 1 Aug 1804 28 Nov 1808 Housewifery Maquire Esq
Margaret Hunt 12 16 Mar 1804 21 Apr 1810 Housewifery Capt. Reshon 43th Regt. Foot
Nicolas Hunt 10 6 Feb 1804 14 May 1808 Volunteer 52nd Regt. Foot
Samuel Hunt 10 14 Mar 1804 2 Mar 1809 Volunteer 95th Regt. Foot
Francis Hunt 4 5 Mar 1804 29 Apr 1813 Volunteer 1st Foot Guards
James Pickles 6 5 Mar 1804 31 Oct 1810 Volunteer Royal Staff Corps
Wm Blinkhorn 7 7 May 1805 23 Dec 1819 Servant Mrs. Mount, Canterbury
Charles Hunt 5 12 May 1807 19 July 1815 Volunteer 52nd Regt. Foot
James Finn 7 4 Mar 1833 23 Apr 1840 Volunteer 35th Regt. Foot

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