25 June 2009

British Army recruitment in the nineteenth century

Further to responses to my post yesterday on recruitment into the Border Regiment in 1906, and specifically the regions from which regiments drew their recruits, I'd like to quote from Alan Ramsay Skelley's The Victorian Army at Home (Croom Helm London, & McGill - Queen's University Press; Montreal 1977).

"... recruitment relied heavily upon a large staff of army pensioners and soldiers seconded from regular and militia units. Each regiment recruited at its headquarters while, independent of this, the country was divided into several large districts centred around major cities, where full time recruiting staff were employed. Regulations forbade units to recruit over their voted establishment... This meant that recruitment had to be turned off like a tap when the establishment was reached and back on when colonial drafts reduced the size of the home army."

There were also incentives both for the recruit, and for the recruiting staff.

"Cash bounties were sometimes used to attract men to the colours, the amount paid varying with the need for men. In 1859 during the threat of war with France, each recruit received £3. Recruiting officials received a fee for every man they enlisted. In 1859 again, £1 7s 6d was shared between the recruiting party and the superintending officer."

I am not sure how widespread this incentive practice was by 1906.

Dr Skelley also presents various tables, and in the table showing the nationalities of men serving with the colours between 1868 and 1898 there is a clear decline in the percentages of men deriving from Ireland and Scotland. In 1868, English and Welsh recruits accounted for 59.5 per cent of the total, whilst Scottish recruits accounted for 9.5 per cent, and the Irish, 31 per cent. By 1898 the figures were 78.2, 8.2 and 13.6 per cent resepectively.

In 1891, according to the census taken that year, Rank and File in the Royal Scots, Seaforth Highlanders, Highland Light Infantry, Royal Highlanders, Cameron Highlanders, Gordon Highlanders, Cameronians and Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders numbered 2,076. Of these, 61.5 per cent were born in Scotland, 32.9 per cent in England & Wales, 4.3 per cent in Ireland, and 1.3 per cent overseas.

For the army in Scotland as a whole, in 1891, less than half - 44.5 per cent - of the Rank and File had been born in Scotland, with 48.8 per cent born in England & Wales, five per cent born in Ireland, and 1.7 per cent born overseas.

As Dr Skelley concludes, and as Graham Stewart pointed out in his comment on yesterday's post, "it is clear... that the proportion of Scots in their own units declined somewhat between 1851 and 1891 [and a good deal after that as well]. Their places in the ranks, like those of the Irish, were taken by English (and Welsh) soldiers. This clearly throws some doubt on the success of Cardwell's localisation of recruitment."

As a further example - which Alan Skelley questions - Lord Sandhurst asserted in 1893 that only 21 per cent of Cameron Highlanders came from the Cameron's recruiting district and that of the remaining men, sixty per cent were "Whitechapel Highlanders". Whitechapel, in London's East End, is just two or three miles away from Stratford where the Border Regiment would have so much success 17 years later.

I've borrowed the famous image of recruiting sergeants lounging outside a public house in Westminster in 1877, from the Victoria & Albert Museum's website. The photograph was taken by John Thomson (1837-1921).

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Anonymous said...

My grandfather Frederick Moon,born Buxted 1854/55, joined the Royal Artillery and is shown at the Woolwich Barracks on the 1881 Census as Frederick Reed. Same man. Would there have been a reason for the name change to join the army such as two family members in the same unit or other restrictions that would necessitate a name change. Thank you. Ian Reed.

Paul Nixon said...

None at all, Ian, though enlisting under an alias was a not uncommon practice.


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