Posted on

The Mutiny on the Bounty

The Mutiny on the Bounty was a mutiny aboard the British Royal Navy ship HMS Bounty on 28 April 1789. The mutiny was led by Fletcher Christian against their captain, Lieutenant William Bligh. According to accounts, the sailors were attracted to the “idyllic” life and sexual opportunities afforded on the Pacific island of Tahiti. It has also been argued that they were motivated by Bligh’s allegedly harsh treatment of them.

Eighteen mutineers set Bligh afloat in a small boat with eighteen of the twenty-two crew loyal to him. To avoid detection and prevent desertion, the mutineers then variously settled on Pitcairn Island or on Tahiti and burned the Bounty off Pitcairn.

The mutineers turning Lt Bligh and some of the officers and crew adrift from His Majesty's Ship Bounty. By Robert Dodd
The mutineers turning Lt Bligh and some of the officers and crew adrift from His Majesty’s Ship Bounty. By Robert Dodd

In an extraordinary feat of seamanship, Bligh navigated the 23-foot (7 m) open launch on a 47-day voyage to Timor in the Dutch East Indies, equipped with a quadrant and pocket watch and without charts or compass. He recorded the distance as 3,618 nautical miles (6,710 km). He then returned to Britain and reported the mutiny to the Admiralty on 15 March 1790, 2 years and 11 weeks after his original departure.

The British government dispatched HMS Pandora to capture the mutineers, and Pandora reached Tahiti on 23 March 1791. Four of the men from the Bounty came on board soon after its arrival, and ten more were arrested within a few weeks. These fourteen were imprisoned in a makeshift cell on Pandora’s deck. Pandora ran aground on part of the Great Barrier Reef on 29 August 1791, with the loss of 31 of the crew and four of the prisoners. The surviving ten prisoners were eventually repatriated to England, tried in a naval court with three hanged, four acquitted and three pardoned. Continue reading The Mutiny on the Bounty

Posted on

Captain Wentworth Speaks on Matters Naval

“The Admiralty,” he continued, “entertain themselves now and then, with sending a few hundred men to sea, in a ship not fit to be employed. But they have a great many to provide for; and among the thousands that may just as well go to the bottom as not, it is impossible for them to distinguish the very set who may be least missed.”
Captain Wentworth, Persuasion
by Jane Austen

While this comment may cause readers to wonder whether Captain Wentworth is joking or whether the seaworthiness of British Naval vessels was actually in question, at this moment in time, 200 years distant from the author’s experiences, readers may simply scratch their heads and read on. After all, who wants to stop reading and research a single obscure quote.

Captain Thomas Cochrane and a ship of the day
Captain Thomas Cochrane

As it happens, the disregard, which the Admiralty showed for the safety of the men under their command, was a topic of discussion in Jane Austen’s day. The deplorable situation prompted Captain Thomas Cochrane to run for Parliament. Once elected, as a reform candidate in 1807, he raised questions before Parliament about the manner in which the British Navy was being run, singling out Lord St Vincent, First Lord of the Admiralty, for allowing unchecked corruption within the British Navy.

While John Jervis, fist Earl of St. Vincent, was not corrupt himself; he was a political animal, who knew better than to cross conservative forces within the government by ending age-old-privileges. St. Vincent’s most striking innovation was the first time use of cost effective assembly line production techniques for the carving of the thousands of wooden rigging blocks needed by the British Navy, at a facility built in Portsmouth Royal Dockyard. Corruption and skimming had long been considered perks of office, so long as they did not become egregious. Conservative forces within the British government wished to protect their right to line their pockets at government expense, while in office.

Captain Cochrane, who was a respected and highly successful British Naval commander, had personal knowledge of the scandalously corrupt and inept management of the British fleet. He personally knew the captains of two vessels, which had recently sunk, resulting in the death of all aboard. The commanders of the HMS sloop Atalante and the schooner Felix had repeatedly written to the Admiralty, concerning the extremely unseaworthy state of their ships. Both ships had been refused permission to put into port for repairs.

Captain Cochrane’s speeches in Parliament became the topic of newspaper articles and public discussion. Jane Austen may have read about these speeches in Parliament in The Times or may well have heard about the situation from her brothers Frank and Charles, who were in the Navy. However, conservative forces within the Navy and Parliament were so entrenched that, in the end, nothing was done about naval mismanagement.

Austen Officers Navy

Captain Cochrane’s attempts at reform were ended, by the simple expedient of ordering him back to sea. Jane, as is her custom, handles the serious subject with a light and witty touch that is never preachy or pedantic. The literary sister of two navy men has the parting shot with her discussion, indicting the Admiralty for their disregard for the safety of the men serving in the British Navy, set around a dinner table, among the families, to whom the men are dear.

 


Written for the Jane Austen Online Magazine Sharon Wagoner, Curator of The Georgian Index. Visit this site for a historical tour through Regency London!

Posted on

Make Your Own Shoe Roses

shoe roses

Make Your Own Shoe Roses

If there had not been a Netherfield ball to prepare for and talk of, the younger Miss Bennets would have been in a pitiable state at this time, for from the day of the invitation to the day of the ball, there was such a succession of rain as prevented their walking to Meryton once.

No aunt, no officers, no news could be sought after; — the very shoe-roses for Netherfield were got by proxy.

Even Elizabeth might have found some trial of her patience in weather which totally suspended the improvement of her acquaintance with Mr Wickham; and nothing less than a dance on Tuesday, could have made such a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday endurable to Kitty and Lydia.

-Pride and Prejudice

During the Regency women’s shoes took a dramatic turn from the high-heeled bejeweled creations of the previous generation. Instead, simple kidd leather or satin slippers were worn, and dainty ankle boots protected feminine feet when venturing abroad. Adding to the over all effect these shoes were often adorned with ribbon, flowers, bows or rosettes.

When searching to complete your Regency ensemble, it can be difficult to find shoes that look period appropriate which are also comfortable to wear. The addition of shoe roses to an already owned pair of flats can transform the look from 21st century to early 19th century in a few moments. As shown in the photos of antique shoes, the trims added were the same color as the shoe they adorned, so keep this in mind while choosing your ribbon.

 

How to Make Ribbon Shoe Roses To Adorn Your Footwear

Wire-edge ribbon which can also be found as wired ribbon, is a very versatile ribbon to use in crafts. You can find the ribbon in craft and fabric stores or your local florist may have an ample supply. Wire-edge ribbon is most commonly seen in bows on floral arrangements or on fancy gift wrapped packages. The ribbon is called wire-edge because a thin wire is encased along the edges of the ribbon giving it body and the ability to be shaped.

My favorite thing to do with wire-edge ribbon is to make flowers, especially roses. You can find great ribbons sold by the spool or you can get some fancier ones by the yard. I like using variegated and ombre ribbons for the flowers. Variegated ribbons are shades of one color while ombre ribbons use a blend of different colors. The following photos show the different ways flowers can look by how they are manipulated.

This is a rolled ribbon rose that is made by gathering one long edge of the ribbon. Do this by pulling out part of the wire along one edge and then gather. You then roll the ribbon along the gathered edge.

show rose

This is a gathered rosette and a folded rose. The rosette is made by sewing the short ends of a length of ribbon together forming a continuous loop, then use a basting stitch about one third of the way from one edge and gather. The folded rose is shown at the end of the article.

These two roses are made from the same ribbon. The bottom one is the rolled ribbon rose while the top one is the folded ribbon rose.

Here are leaves made from various widths of ribbon. Notice how the leaves changed when using different sides of the variegated ribbon. I used the directions for boat leaves found in The Artful Ribbon by Candace Kling. The rosette instructions can also be found in this book but the roses are made a little differently plus there are several more types of roses as well as many other flowers.

Here are a couple of different looks to the folded ribbon rose by using checked and plaid ribbon.

Here are the steps to make a folded ribbon rose:

First cut a length of ribbon 18″ – 24″ (ribbon length will be shorter for narrower ribbon – 1″ and longer for wider – 1-1/2″). Begin by folding down one corner as shown in photo.

Second, roll the pointed end to the inside as seen in the next photo.

Next, fold the long length of ribbon down as shown. Then begin turning the small end toward you.

Continue to fold the ribbon down as you continue to turn the flower. When you reach the end pinch the bottom to temporarily secure the rose. Most instructions I’ve found say to use floral wire to secure but I find it stays better if you take a few stitches with needle and matching thread through the bottom.

Once your rose is complete, you can affix it to your boot or slipper with a few stitches or even glue. Voila! Instant Regency Fashion. You can also experiment with bows, jewelled buckles and other instant decorations. Have fun decorating!

Ribbon Rose instructions and photos by Donna Lannerd, for CraftCritique.com, July 9, 2007. Used with kind permission.

 

Posted on

Mrs. Lucas’ Mince Pie Recipe

mince pie

Mrs. Lucas’ Mince Pie Recipe

Did Charlotte dine with you?
No, she would go home. I fancy she was wanted about the mince pies.
-Pride and Prejudice

Although Mrs. Bennet makes a sly jab at Charlotte Lucas for being home advising the staff on how to prepare a mince pie, it is clear that she is a much better manager and housekeeper than either Mrs. Bennet or her daughters are likely to be.
Mince pies are often associated with Christmas, and for good reason. They are the Christmas pies referred to in Medieval times, though these were generally rectangular, to represent the Christ child’s cradle. The dried fruits and spices symbolized the three gifts of the Magi. Many mince pies contained chopped meat as well as spices. The brandy used in the filling acted as a preservative, allowing large quantities to be made up at one time and stored until use. I’ve pared down this recipe to make enough filling for one large pie. If you choose to replace the brandy with juice, use the filling immediately; it won’t store well.

 

To Make A Mince Pie Without Meat
Chop fine three pounds of suet, and three pounds of apples, when pared and cored, wash and dry three pounds of currants, stone and chop one pound of jar raisins,
beat and sift one pound and a half of loaf sugar, cut small twelve ounces of candied orange peel, and six ounces of citron, mix all well together with a quarter of an ounce of nutmeg, half a quarter of an ounce of cinnamon, six or eight cloves, and half a pint of French Brandy, pot it close up and keep it for use.
ELIZABETH RAFFALD

INGREDIENTS:
• Pastry for 23 cm / 9 in double crust pie
• 2 large Apples, chopped fine
• 225 g / 8 oz / ½ lb of Beef Suet, minced
• 90 g / 3 oz / ½ cup Raisins
• 120 g / 4 oz / ½ cup Sugar
• 60 g / 2 oz / ¼ cup Candied Orange Peel
• 2 tbsp Citron, cut fine
• 1/4 tsp Nutmeg
• 1/8 tsp Cinnamon
• 6-8 Cloves
• 75 ml / 3 fl oz / 1/3 cup Brandy or 1 oz
Brandy Extract and ¼ Cup Apple Juice
Preheat your oven to 220° C / 425° F.

Mix together the suet, apple, raisins and sugar. Add the remaining spices, fruit and
brandy or juice.

Line a deep dish pie plate with pastry, and add the mince filling.

Roll out the remaining crust and cut a pattern in the top to vent the pie. Place the top crust
on the pie and crimp the edges together.

Bake for 35-40 minutes.

Serves 8


 

This mince pie recipe was excerpted from Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, by Laura Boyle. Available in our giftshop!

Enjoyed this article? Browse our giftshop for Regency recipe books!

Posted on

Half-Pay and Prize Money: Making a Living in Britain’s Navy

Wentworth would have received both half-pay and prize money

Half-Pay and Prize Money

Captain Benwick had some time ago been first lieutenant of the Laconia; and the account which Captain Wentworth had given of him, on his return from Lyme before, his warm praise of him as an excellent young man and an officer, whom he had always valued highly, which must have stamped him well in the esteem of every listener, had been followed by a little history of his private life, which rendered him perfectly interesting in the eyes of all the ladies.

He had been engaged to Captain Harville’s sister, and was now mourning her loss. They had been a year or two waiting for fortune and promotion. Fortune came, his prize-money as lieutenant being great; promotion, too, came at last; but Fanny Harville did not live to know it.She had died the preceding summer while he was at sea.
Persuasion

As the Royal Navy came to its more modern organisation during the 17th Century it adopted the practice of impressment to provide the bulk of the crews.

The process of impressment was not suitable for the recruiting of officers, and the procedure adopted there was that officers received a basic pay for their rank when they were holding an appointment and half of that when between appointments (half-pay). Officers in command of ships or establishments received additional ‘Command money’ which varied with the status of the ship or establishment involved.”

Prior to 1814, Officers on shore could expect to receive payment every six months. After 1814, when so many officers were without ships, due to peace with France, this schedule was adjusted to once a quarter. Payment was based on a senority scale. A detailed chart of payments made may be found at The Napoleon Guide and ranged anywhere from £3.30 per day for Admirals to 5s per day for the lowliest of lieutenants.

Officers and men also received extra payments under the ‘Prize’ scheme. While this could arise in several different ways the most common by far was the capture of an enemy ship and its subsequent purchase by the Navy (a feasible process with wooden ships). For the ordinary sailor the amount was typically a few shillings (although it should be noted that this represented several months pay) but for the commanding officer it typically amounted to hundreds of pounds. Thus many captains had estates ashore which gave them an alternative income.

Junior officers were in a much more perilous state, as it was not really possible to keep a home on the half pay for a Lieutenant. This was part of the reason why marriage by junior officers was so frowned upon.*

While ashore, officers could refuse postings to new ships, waiting for more desirable places, but advancement was not assured and in so doing he ran the risk of being passed over a second time.

****

Enjoyed this article about half-pay and prize money? Visit our giftshop and escape to the world of Jane Austen.

Posted on

Advancement in the British Army

Ensigns raise the flag in battle As explained in the article, “ Aspiring to an Epaulette” the first step in an Officer’s career was to obtain the rank of Ensign (in the Infantry) or Coronet (in the Cavalry). Beyond lay the possibility of promotion to Lieutenant, and above. In peacetime, most promotions were acchieved by purchasing a higher rank. However, during the Napoleonic Wars, most progressions were made by promotions based first on seniority within the regiment to fill vacancies, second by merit, while Purchase came third. Advancement in the Ordnance Corps (Artillery and Engineers), as well as in the East India Company forces, was by Seniority only.

A young Coronet or Ensign could advance to Lieutenant by paying the difference between his current and the next highest rank. [See Table of Commission Prices.] For example: a Lieutenancy cost £550, but an Ensign had already paid £400 to achieve that rank. He only needed to pay an additional £150 to make up the difference. As with the first purchase, this could only be done through the Regimental Agent. There were many regulations stating that no other moneys, or other incentives could be offered. The penalty for trying to pay more than the established price, was to immediately forfeit the Commission, and to be cashiered, while aiding and abetting constituted a Misdemeanor. Advancement above the rank of Colonel was by seniority only.

Frederick, Duke of York 1759-1827 In the late 1790’s it became apparent that some officers had proceeded too quickly through the ranks, and had not gained the necessary training and experience to fulfill their role on the battlefield. In 1795 the Duke of York instituted a series of reforms. Amongst these were Regulations outlining the minimum number of years an officer needed to serve at each step. A Subaltern (Lieutenant and below) had to serve at least three years before becoming a Captain; at least seven years in service (two as Captain) to become a Major; and nine years in service to be a Lieutenant-Colonel. However, lack of vacancies, or money, could mean that an officer (especially in the junior ranks) could spend several years without advancing.

Let us take for example, how Frederick Tilney, in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, might have reached the rank of Captain in the 12th Light Dragoons. Although it appears to have been set in 1798 (putting part of Frederick’s military career before the Duke of York’s Reforms) let’s assume he advanced in a less accelerated manner:

Member of the 12th Light Dragoons. 1808 Uniform. Upon the age of 16 he (or more likely his father) would have placed the sum of £735, and Letters of Recommendation with a Regimental Agent. (Those of associates of an Officer like the senior Tilney would lend some weight.) Once he was accepted, the £735 was “paid” to a Coronet who wished to be promoted (or quit the service) and Frederick became a Coronet. However, it was very likely it would be with a Cavalry Regiment other than the 12th. He then spent a year or two learning his duties under the tutelage of his senior officers. When a Lieutenancy opened, an additional £262-10s was deposited with the Agents (to make up the £997-10s). That money would be credited to the holder of the desired Lieutenancy (which again could be in a different Regiment), while Tilney’s Coronet was sold to another civilian desiring to enter the army. Finally, after a year or two, the Captaincy in the 12th Light Dragoons opened up, and £1785 was transferred to the Agents (which, with the sums already paid, totaled £2782-10s), and Frederick gained the rank and position described in Northanger Abbey. (Meanwhile, a Coronet would buy Tilney’s Lieutenancy, whilst selling his own Coronet to another would-be hero, and so on.) It should be noted that although an Officer’s commission was “sold,” he did not receive the money directly, and would not recover it until he quit the service.

As stated above, there were other means of gaining promotion, including seniority and merit. An officer’s Seniority in the Army was primarily established by the date of his commission as it appeared in the London Gazette. However, it was also often necessary to determine a man’s seniority within the Regiment (for example, when he officially joined the unit). This was especially true where an officer transferred from one Regiment to another, or came off “Half-Pay.” Holding Seniority within the Army would entitle one to an available Purchase, whilst standing within the Regiment would decide who filled a non-purchase position created by the death or incapacity of another Officer. Of course, the outsider who bought a position within the Regiment, by virtue of having paid for it, had a more secure hold on the rank, than the officer whose advance was by non-purchase means. Purchases from outside were more prevalent for the “Field Ranks” (Majors, Lieutenant-Colonels and Colonels).

Sergeant in the 12th Light Dragoons, 1808 uniform There were many possible variations. If an Ensigncy in the Infantry had been received “free,” he could still pay the extra £100 to be a Lieutenant. However, when he sold out he could only recover the extra £100. It was possible to sell a “free” commission, but it was discouraged, as it reduced the number of possible non-purchase openings. More often, one received an appointment to a Veteran Battalion, or went on Half-Pay. Some Half Pay Officers went on Staff.

Originally, Half-Pay was a means by which an Officer could be put into semi-retirement while his services were not immediately needed. He would, as the term infers, receive half his regular pay while remaining at home waiting to be called back to active service. It also was designed to help support officers who could not find anyone to buy their commissions. This also had the advantage of saving the Government money. Those physically unfit for active service could be posted to Half-Pay Regiments, which were a kind of phantom organization.

Trooper in the 12th Light Dragoons, wearing the 'new' uniform of 1812. Half-Pay Officers could in theory be recalled at any time. Many were called up during the 1798 Irish emergency. Other conditions were outlined. An Officer could not collect half pay while in Holy Orders, nor take office with a foreign army (although this did not always apply to East India Company officers). When an officer went on H-P, he received the “difference,” and paid it when he came off Half-Pay. It was also possible to buy H-P commissions (a civilian could not do so), that is a H-P Captain could buy out a H-P Major, although reasons for doing so are vague.

Possibilities for advancement opened up in other ways. The great expansion of the Army during the Wars led to the creation of Second Battalions (that is, another Battalion within the same Regiment). Often promotions led to exchanges between the two. For example, the senior Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion upon being promoted would transfer to become the junior Captain in the Second. This allowed the “junior” unit to acquire experienced leaders. (Of course, with one of the Battalions serving overseas, transfers could take months, especially if one needed to wait for their replacement to arrive.)

Trooper in the 12th Light Dragoons, wearing the 'new' uniform of 1812. “Merit” was another possible means of advancement. If a junior officer performed an exemplary act of courage, or decisiveness in battle, he might receive a promotion. One means was to join a “forlorn hope” During the siege of an enemy fortress, artillery pound the walls to form a “breech.” The enemy, of course, would do its utmost to defend the breech. Booby-traps, and other unpleasant surprises would be prepared, and extra forces would be placed near the opening. The job of the Forlorn Hope was to make the enemy trigger the traps, and get a foothold in the breech, while under heavy enemy fire. The Lieutenant who led the Hope was assured of a Captaincy (should he survive), and the two Sergeants would become Ensigns.

By a bit of a twist of logic, it was felt that promotion by merit could lead to an excess of patronage, something objected to on political and professional grounds..In some cases there was an element of discrimination. For example, there was a “victory” brevet in 1814 that advanced all officers with commissions dated on or before the outbreak of War in 1803.

Colonel of Mounted Infantry There were also local brevets, such as that granted to East India Company officers to put them on the same footing as Regular Officers serving east of the Cape of Good Hope. Otherwise, brevets could be given for exceptional services, or to give an officer a local command. (Thus a Captain could be a Lieutenant-Colonel for a given region; he would hold the seniority and pay of Captain, but receive the Allowances and other perks of being Lieutenant-Colonel.) A brevet rank could not, of course, be sold.

Readers may also be interested in some related information originally posted on the “Life & Times of Jane Austen” Board at The Republic of Pemberley Website:

  • Officers’ Pay
  • Rise in rank
  • Ranking amongst officers
  • Resigning Commissions

Jason Everett has been a re-enactor since 1982 with a group representing a red-coated Canadian regiment of the War of 1812. For the past five years he has been its Commanding Officer. Other interests include Modern Ballroom, and Regency Country Dancing.
Military Re-enactment Society of Canada / Incorporated Militia of Upper Canada

Some pictures provided by the
British Napoleonic Light Cavalry Living History and
Re-Enactment Society

The 12th (Prince of Wales’) Light Dragoons is a living history unit aiming to recreate one of the finest British light cavalry regiments to serve in the Napoleonic wars. The Unit provides displays of living history, drill and skill-at-arms throughout the UK as well as participating in battle re-enactments and commemorative events in this country and abroad. The Unit is a non-profit making organization dedicated to the highest standards of living history.

Enjoyed this article? Visit our giftshop and escape into the world of Jane Austen.

Posted on

Entry into the Officer Corps

All Officers in the British Army began their careers by obtaining their first “Subaltern” commission. Depending upon the regiment, that would be as an Ensign, Second Lieutenant, or Coronet. This article will examine how officers made that first step; promotion to higher ranks will be covered in a separate installment.

Men could become officers in the Army in a number of ways. Those in the Ordnance Corps, such as Artillery and Engineers, were trained at Woolwich Academy, but were not considered to be truly “gentlemen”‘ despite being an Officer (and will not be dealt with in this article). Entry into the Cavalry or Infantry was either by “purchasing” his Commission, or by a number of “non-purchase” options.

Frederick, Duke of York 1759-1827 In examining this subject, it is necessary to divide the era into two parts, those before and after the Duke of York’s reforms of 1796. Before the reforms, there were fewer regulations to determine how young a prospective officer should be, or how they obtained their rank.

The Duke’s reforms created the provision that candidates needed to be at least 16 years of age (although a few younger did slip through, and there was also an upper limit of 21). They were also to be “gentlemen,” able to read and write, be of good character, and vouched for by a superior officer. All applications were to be transmitted through the Colonel (or Officer Commanding the Regiment) to the Commander-in-Chief’s Military Secretary (if at Home) or the General Officer Commanding at the station (if abroad).

While to many modern eyes, the “purchase” system seems archaic, and favouring the select few at the top, people in Jane Austen’s time took a very different view. Medieval in its most distant origins, it continued until the Reforms of 1871. Under this system, officers paid a set price for the rank that they held. The intention was to attract the men of fortune and character who would best know how to look after the nation’s interest. As they “owned” their Commission, it was expected they would be more responsible of their “property” (even though legally it was held by the Crown). As the King had not granted them their position, it also made them appear less likely to be used against the “People.”

Samuel West as Major Edrington, Horatio Hornblower, The Wrong War. Major Edrington, was a Lord who had purchased his commission. To purchase a commission, the required sum of money would be deposited with the relevant “Regimental Agent.” Commissions could be bought either from the Government, or from officers desirous of selling their Commission and retiring from the service. Agents were empowered by the Commander-in-Chief, or the Officer Commanding a Regiment, to handle public moneys in accordance to regulations. They were also authorized to act as the banker and business manager for the individual officers serving in ‘their’ regiments. They were not directly part of the Army, and need not necessarily have served in the Army (although many had). Some Agents acted on behalf of several Regiments. The Agent in turn submitted the applicant’s name and letters of recommendation to the Adjutant General’s office at Horse Guards, where the C-in-C would approve of it. People other than authorized Agents were prohibited from acting in the sale or purchase of commissions.

The Duke’s Reforms also set the prices for each Rank: to be an Ensign in a Regular Regiments of Infantry, £400; in Regiments that had Second Lieutenants, £450; in the Foot Guards: (where Ensigns were the equivalent of Lieutenants in Regular Regiments) £600; to be a Coronet in the Dragoon Guards or Dragoons cost £735, and in the Royal Regiment of Horse Guards, £1050. One can well imagine the extra social status attached to a Commission in the more “elite” units. The penalty for trying to pay more than the set price, was to immediately forfeit the Commission, and to be cashiered. Aiding and abetting constituted a Misdemeanor. Regulation also prohibited any advertising, or making any other promises, rewards, contracts, etc. This would not, of course, prevent any supposedly unrelated deal between two gentlemen from taking place. (These reforms were not, however, entirely without flaws. In March 1809, the Duke of York was compelled to resign as Commander-in-Chief, when it was discovered that his mistress had been trafficking in the sale of Commissions. He was, however, reinstated in 1811 when his successor, Sir David Dundas, proved to be an inefficient replacement.)

Anthony Calf as Col. Fitzwilliam in A&E's Pride and Prejudice. Col. Fitzwilliam (Cousin to Mr. Darcy) was the younger son of the Earl of ---, who had bought his commission. While to modern readers this would seem to favour those at the top of the society, some people at the time felt it was less open to excessive abuse of patronage. It also opened up entry into the Officer Corps for the sons of the rising “middle class”: soldiers, clergymen, professionals, and even tradesmen. While by right of their commission, all officers were “gentlemen.” This would give such men an element of “respectability” that they might not immediately hold by virtue of their birth. However, while some of these could afford to buy commissions, the majority applied for non-purchase vacancies.

There were a number of “non-purchase” ways of obtaining a commission, including: being a “Gentlemen Volunteer,” being promoted from the ranks, as other means. These could occur by the death, disability, retirement, etc., of another officer, creating a vacancy that needed to be filled immediately. Other openings came with the establishment of new Regiments, or the expansion of existing ones. Gentleman Volunteers were young men who applied to the Commanding Officer of a Regiment to serve at their own expense in the hope of filling a non-purchase vacancy when it occurred. They usually carried a musket, but wore a uniform cut in the style of an officer, but with minimal ornamentation. They fought in the ranks, but socialized with the Officers. In other cases an NCO (Sergeant or Corporal) might perform a deed of valour that came to the attention of the military establishment, which felt the individual merited being made an officer. However, the practice was to appoint them to another regiment than the one in which they served in the ranks.

Ensigns raise the flag in battle “Free Vacancies” came in a number of ways. Openings for junior officers might open up in a Regiment, which were filled without purchase, or having previous military service. This was done by applying directly to the Commander-in-Chief, accompanied by the applicant’s testimonials. These vacancies most frequently occurred in colonial formations, or in one of the “Foreign Corps”. Edmund Wheatley for example, obtained one such Ensigncy at the age of 21 in the King’s German Legion (which despite an admirable record on the battlefield, was not considered suitable for “gentlemen”). However, in almost all cases the Commanding Officer’s backing was crucial.

Openings occasionally occurred as the result of a court-martial ending dismissal from the service. (However, usually if a man was cashiered, his replacement came from outside the regiment, so that it might not appear there were other motives behind his removal.) Some Officers transferred from the Militia (where rank was related to one’s income based on property, later extended to trade, albeit at a higher rate). However, one could not normally carry over their existing rank, but had to enter as Ensigns.

Records show not only if a commission was purchased, but also if he was a volunteer, a former NCO, or a private gentleman. Michael Glover, who examined the Gazette, calculated that in the war 4.5% of new subalterns were Volunteers. He also calculated that another 5.42% were ex-NCOs, exclusive of Ensigns from Veteran Battalions (who were almost entirely drawn from the ranks). Thus nearly one in ten of the officers came from the two mentioned categories. This might be even higher if those who were discharged before taking the commission were added.

Jason Everett has been a re-enactor since 1982 with a group representing a red-coated Canadian regiment of the War of 1812. For the past five years he has been its Commanding Officer. Other interests include Modern Ballroom, and Regency Country Dancing.
Military Re-enactment Society of Canada / Incorporated Militia of Upper Canada

SOURCES:
Great Britain, Adj-General’s Office, General Regulations and Orders for the Army, 1811.
Bryan Fosten, Wellington’s Infantry(I) [Osprey Men-at-Arms series]
Stuart Reid, “Officers and Gentlemen: Commanding the British Army,” The Age of Napoleon (Nrs. 30 & 32)
Edmund Wheatley (Christopher Hibbert, ed.), The Wheatley Dairy.

Enjoyed this article? Visit our giftshop and escape into the world of Jane Austen for more Regency recipes.