Charge of the Light Brigade

Charge of the Light Brigade

In February 1854 a British peace delegation met with the Tsar of Russia in a bid to resolve the hostilities between Russia and Turkey which had been raging during most of the previous year. When this failed, troops from Britain and France set sail for Turkey and war was declared on Russia by these allies on 28th March 1854. They landed on Crimean soil at Kalamata Bay on 14th September. The major battles of the war between September and November were at Alma River, Balaclava (including the charges of the Light and Heavy Brigades) and Inkerman. In the meantime the allied troops and their Navies were laying seige to Sevastopol. The seige lasted just short of a year.

 

So what has this European tragedy have to do with a Company of Sappers and Miners in Western Australia more than six thousand nautical miles away? In the northern hemisphere spring of April 1855 the second Baltic Fleet left Spithead followed by a second bombardment of Sevastopol; but still it didn’t fall. That same month, HQ at Woolwich requested the withdrawal of two officers of the Royal Engineers, a senior NCO and the unmarried men of the 20th Company RSM; the Army had more use of these men elsewhere (the Crimea). The original promise that those who wished to stay in the Colony was honoured and Captain Henderson was asked to make arrangements accordingly.

Ultimately two officers, one sergeant, 16 rank and file and two buglers prepared to leave for Europe. Henry Wray (promoted to Captain the previous year) was left in charge of the remaining 72 men and given the much larger task of Acting Comptroller General of Convicts when Henderson took compassionate leave after the death of his wife in December 1855.

1856 Esmeralda [Perth Gazette 29 Feb 1856]

Perth Gazette 29 Feb 1856

On 25th February 1856 the Esmeralda left Fremantle with officers Edmund Frederick Du Cane and William Crossman of the Royal Engineers together with Sergeant James Lowrie, Sappers John Beaton, John Cameron, William Dunkley, John Gardner, James Gillies, James Griffin, Thomas Jones (invalided), John Lidford, John Marlow, James McAdam, Thomas Miller, Samuel Morgan, Thomas Murdoch, John SummersJohn Thomson, William Higgins Townsend and Buglers Thomas Herbert and Reuben Wood. Captain Henderson and his six year-old son were on board and did not return to the Colony until 1858.

Fortunately for these men, the Crimean misadventure had passed them by. Sevastopol finally fell in September 1855 following six bombardments by allied Navies. The war fizzled out with no real victors after horrific casualties on all sides (67% died of disease). Ironically, the Paris Peace Conference started on the very day that Esmeralda left Fremantle with troop reinforcements for a war that was already over!

Esmeralda - a sketch by E F DuCane [A Life of Sir Edmund Ducane, Alexandra Hasluck]

Esmeralda – sketch by E F DuCane from Alexandra Hasluck’s book ‘A Life of Sir Edmund DuCane’

Esmeralda was severely overcrowded and shortage of water and supplies required stops at the Cape of Good Hope, St Helena and purchases from passing ships and Esmeralda did not reach England until June (Du Cane:15). Reuben Wood and John Lidford went on to fight in the Indian Mutiny and were awarded the Indian Mutiny medal with a clasp for Lucknow. Two of the sappers returned to Western Australia on the Nile in 1858. They were John Cameron who returned once more to England in April 1862, and William Higgins Townsend who settled in the Colony.

 

 

The Nile arrived in Fremantle on 1st January 1858 with twenty-seven rank and file RSMs and three officers of the Royal Engineers (the Corps merged with the Royal Engineers in 1856). This boosted the depleted 20th Company. Of these, five had been engaged in the Crimean War and had the Crimea British and Turkish medals to show for it. They were John Burns, John Collis, Alexander GrayGeorge Hopkins plus John Wade, arriving on Salsette in 1861 from Melbourne . There were no Enrolled Pensioner Guards on the Nile as the 20th Company troops were on board to keep an eye on the convicts – many of whom were former British Army soldiers sentenced at court martial to transportation.

Treaty of Paris 1856

Treaty of Paris 1856

 

Also see Sources and Links
Perth Gazette 6 February, 29 February, 15 August 1852, 1 February 1858.
Effects of the Crimean War – extract of PhD paper by Dr Fiona Bush.
Military Establishment in Western Australia 1829-1863, E S & C G S Whiteley, Hesperian Press 2010.
The Late Major-General Sir William Crossman, E F Du Cane 1901.
WO1-437 Correspondence. In Letters 1846-1854 (Western Australia) p.219-220.
WO11-152 Engineers Muster Rolls & Pay List May & June 1856.
WO11-158 Engineers Muster Rolls & Pay List January 1858.
WO11-190+ Engineers Muster Rolls & Pay Lists June 1861.
WO97 Royal Hospital Chelsea: Soldiers Service Documents.
WO100-35 Indian Mutiny Medal Roll.
Analysis of names and other details – Diane Oldman.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.