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TOPIC: The high cost of Empire-building

The high cost of Empire-building 3 months 1 week ago #54976

  • Brett Hendey
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While researching the man behind an Army of India Medal, who spent his adult life as a Private in the 45th Regiment of Foot and as a Chelsea Pensioner, I made extensive use of the following book:
‘History of the 45th: 1st Nottinghamshire Regiment (Sherwood Foresters)’ by Colonel P H Dalbiac, published in 1902.

Thanks in part to this forum, and especially the contributions by Berenice, Meurig and Elmarie, I was aware that the Empire-building ‘Soldiers of the Queen’ generally had more to fear from diseases than their enemies on the battlefield. However, I had not realised just how devastating the losses could be, especially given the long foreign deployments in countries with inhospitable climates that characterised the first half of the 19th Century.

The 45th Regiment spent nearly 19 years in Ceylon, Burma and India between 1819 and 1838, almost all of the time on garrison duty and very little on battlefields. It spent the first four years in Ceylon on garrison duty, but early in 1825 it was called up for active service in the 1st Anglo-Burmese War. Disease had so thinned its ranks that the regiment was able to embark only 362 rank and file. On the passage to Burma cholera broke out, and the regiment arrived in Burma unfit for further service. It was immediately redirected to Madras in India to recruit and reform. It was later strengthened by a draft of 420 men, and it returned to Burma in the closing stages of the war in time to earn the Ava battle honour.

The 45th spent six years in Burma, mainly employed in clearing the jungle and building the cantonment at Moulmein, which became the first British capital of Burma. The regiment then moved to India, where it spent the rest of its foreign deployment in garrison duty at Madras and Secunderabad.

Sixteen months before the regiment arrived back in England, the following was inscribed on a memorial at Secunderabad:

“Erected to the memory of 22 officers, 70 sergeants, 44 corporals, 17 drummers, 995 privates, 163 women and 183 children of the 45th or Notts regiment, who have died from the date of embarkation to India, January, 1819, till the 18th of November, 1836, when the regiment marched for Arnee, preparatory to its return to England.”

When the regiment landed back in England in March 1838, it included only 22 of the 800 men who had embarked in Ireland in 1819.

I have yet to find statistics for the deaths from disease during the regiment’s later foreign deployments, including the one in Natal between 1843 and 1859, but hopefully as the 19th Century wore on advances in medicine and nursing reduced mortalities.



The Army of India Medal awarded to Private Thomas Horn, 45th Regiment, who was one of the fortunate men to have survived the unhealthy years in Burma and India. He was one of only 135 men of the 45th who went on to claim his medal in 1851 ( www.norheastmedals.co.uk ). Horn later served in Natal in the 1840.s, and he was there when he retired in 1851. He was rewarded for his 25 years of service by admission as a resident of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, where he spent his last 21 years.

Brett Hendey
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The high cost of Empire-building 3 months 1 week ago #54996

  • Frank Kelley
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Hello Brett,
I've noticed the old 45th does seem to have become a bit of a hobby horse for you over recent times, that is certainly a far from easy medal to actually go out and find these days.
That immediate post Waterloo decade is very interesting indeed, the British Armies basic appearance alone, is worthy of note, it had reached completely new heights of sheer splendour, certainly not seen before and I have to say, very sadly, since either. although, I dare say Horn would not have looked quite as he would have wished after a year and ten months in wretched Burma.
Just imagine leaving India and having to march into an entirely new type of campaign, a whole new climate to come to terms with, an awful steaming hot jungle to get through, before reaching the Burmese stockades, appalling.
Regards Frank

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The high cost of Empire-building 3 months 1 week ago #55003

  • Brett Hendey
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Frank
I have indeed developed a great affection for the "old 45th", although from a collecting aspect the pickings have been poor - only two medals and one badge since January. Graham Dominy's 2016 book on Fort Napier, which was built by the 45th, was a fortuitous accompaniment to the passion. Also, amazingly given the anti-Colonial sentiment that prevails here, there have been a couple of articles in local newspapers about the founding years of the Colony of Natal (1842/43), which led to the 45th being garrisoned in Maritzburg, the first of many British regiments to do so, and the one that had the longest stay - 16 years. A large number men of the 45th settled in Natal, and they, and the regiment as a whole, did much to give Natal its "English" character.

Considering how awful the six years establishing Moulmein in Burma must have been, Maritzburg with its healthy climate and pleasant surroundings in an essentially English town must have been a great improvement. The Reserve Battalion of the 45th spent its years in South Africa dealing with the Xhosas in the Frontier Wars and the Dutch as Boomplaats and elsewhere, so its men probably had a less enjoyable time.

Regards
Brett

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The high cost of Empire-building 3 months 1 week ago #55038

  • BereniceUK
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Hello Brett,

It should also be noted that enteric fever was a killer in this country too, as late as 1906.

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The high cost of Empire-building 3 months 1 week ago #55044

  • Brett Hendey
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Indeed, Berenice!
The high death rate from enteric during the Siege of Ladysmith was almost inevitable given the circumstances of the Siege, but I have wondered about the conditions in Bloemfontein after it fell to the British. My impression may well be faulty, but the town does seem to have become a very unhealthy place even without siege conditions. Perhaps Elmarie has facts about the death rate there?
Regards
Brett

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The high cost of Empire-building 3 months 1 week ago #55045

  • BereniceUK
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I've always wondered how badly the Boers suffered with enteric, in numbers that is. Wouldn't they be sufficiently savvy in living off the land to have far, far less casualties from it?

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