The refractory sons of Mars

As part of a larger project to write up the biography of our ancestor, John Joseph Huggins (1816-1876), I undertook the study of the history of the 45th regiment of foot. The scope of this study was the eight-year period, 1834 to 1842, which coincides with the time that Huggins served with that corps. To do this, I consulted history books and transcribed every newspaper article I could find touching on the regiment. The results of this literature review have been posted as a series of web pages under two headings: news transcripts, and timelines. In addition to many newspaper articles, this review relied also on several other, primarily contemporary, resources, particularly the first and second items following:

  • the official history of the regiment, entitled History of the 45th: 1st Nottinghamshire Regiment (Sherwood Foresters), by Colonel P.H. Dalbiac (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Ltd., 1902);
  • “Observations continued throughout 6 years, relative to the Sick of H.M. 45th Regt. of Foot; viz. from the 1st January 1832, to the 14th of November 1837; comprising a brief Medical History of the Regiment from the time of its landing at Madras, till its embarkation for England.” Communicated by Dr. Murray, Deputy Inspector General of Her Majesty's Hospitals. The Madras Quarterly Medical Journal, Vol. I, No. II (April 1, 1839). Samuel Rogers, ed. (Madras: J.B. Pharoah, 1839);
  • The Statistical Journal and Record of Useful Knowledge. Vol. I, No. 3 (Dec. 1837); and,
  • Hart’s Army List for the year, 1841.

Naïvely, I had thought that a study of an eight-year period wouldn’t add up to much, but rather quickly, this work yielded twenty-five web pages of news transcripts, including a surname index, and timelines, organized by year.

My next challenge lay in pulling the information together and writing an essay that was reasonably cohesive and presentable. The greater challenge was to find a theme running throughout the assembled material. Thankfully, the theme presented itself, in the form a brief article published in the 23rd May, 1840 edition of the Gloucestershire Chronicle:—after a particularly nasty brawl in a public house in Monmouth, twenty soldiers of the 45th and local townsmen having joined in the fray, the editor referred to the former as “the refractory sons of Mars.”

To put this remark in context briefly, the regiment had returned to England in 1838 after a nineteen-year stint in India, its ranks decimated by disease. Moreover, in spite of the perils of tropical illnesses, nearly two hundred men elected to stay on in regiments stationed in India. Over the course of the next several years, recruiting efforts were kept up at home (i.e., England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland) at fever pitch. Yet, the regiment shed new recruits in alarming numbers almost continuously. This essay, then, became the story of a regiment rebuilding, and the difficulties it faced in doing so, including public embarrassment endured by the contemporary journals' frequent references to the disorderly character of its young men.

I believe the finished product has been greatly enhanced by the inclusion of mostly contemporary pictures. All of these are in the public domain, most notably, those images released recently by The British Library, for which I am very grateful, and I trust, have been credited fully.

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© Alison Kilpatrick, 2015. All rights reserved.
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"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."—Lesley Poles Hartley (1895–1972), The Go-Between (1953).

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