Friday, 29 March 2013

British Army commitments, 1842

In 1842 the United Service Magazine of London published a list of the Distribution and Stations of the British Army (available free as a Google ebook). This gives an intriguing snapshot of British military priorities and resources at the time.

British Isles

One thing that's immediately obvious is the worldwide commitment of the army, with only 52 of the 148 regiments listed based in the British Isles. Given the relatively small size of the army compared to her European rivals, this presumably reflects the absence of a clear threat to the homeland, and confidence in the Royal Navy, the “Senior Service” which received more resources, and prestige.
The home forces included all the Guards units, and the bulk of the cavalry.

A Royal Horse Guard in parade dress outside Windsor castle (New York Library digital archive)
Mainland Britain

1st & 2nd Life Guards (Hyde Park & Windsor)
Royal Horse Guards (Regent's Park)
2nd , 3rd and 6th Dragoon Guards (Nottingham, Birmingham & Glasgow)
1st , 2nd, 4th and 6th Dragoons (Manchester, Exeter, Brighton and Piershill)
8th and 11th Hussars (Hounslow & York)
13th Light Dragoons (Ipswich)
17th Lancers (Leeds)

Grenadier Guards (1st ,2nd & 3rd Battalions) (Windsor, Wellington Barracks, London & Winchester)
Coldstream Guards (1st & 2nd Battalions) (St John's Wood & St George's Barracks, London)
Scots Fusilier Guards (1st & 2nd Battalions) (Portman St., and The Tower, London)

6th , 11th, 15th, 16th, 24th, 32nd, 34th, 53rd, 58th, 60th, 61st, 65th, 66th, 67th, 72nd, & 73rd  Regiments of Foot (Gosport, Weedon, Chester, Portsmouth, Devonport, Leeds, Northampton, Edinburgh, Chatham, Manchester, Newcastle, Manchester, Glasgow, Plymouth, Bolton, Newport respectively)


4th , 5th & 7th Dragoon Guards (Dublin, Dublin & Cahir)
10th Hussars (Ballincollig)
12th Lancers (Dundalk)

8th , 36th, 37th, 45th (& Reserve Battalion), 54th, 56th, 64th, 69th, & 76th Regiments of Foot

Given Britain's clear dominance of the seas, the Army was deployed either where an invader could come by land, or to protect naval ports. In the first category the two dominant commitments were India and Canada. 

The last stand of the 44th (East Essex) on the retreat from Kabul

Twenty nine regiments are based in India, backed up by the massive army of the East India Company. Or rather the three armies of the Presidencies of Bombay, Bengal and Madras. These units comprised mainly local troops with British officers, and were, technically, separate from the British Army as such. Since 1839 the British/ British Indian armies had been locked in the disastrous Afghan War, with in 1842 the massacre on the retreat from Kabul. In total, 4,500 British and Indian soldiers, and 12,000 allied civilians had been killed. In 1845, the British forces would be in action again, this time against the Sikh empire, although this time they emerged (just) victorious.


3rd  Dragoons
9th & 16th Lancers

3rd , 9th, 10th, 13th, 21st, 29th, 31st, 44th, 50th, 62nd Regiments of Foot


14th Light Dragoons

2nd , 22nd, 28th, 40th, 78th, 86th Regiments of Foot


15th Hussars

4th , 25th, 39th, 41st, 57th, 63rd, 84th, & 94th  Regiments of Foot


90th & 95th  Regiments of Foot
Ceylon Rifle Regiment

The Americas

After India, the biggest commitment was Canada. War with the United States was regarded as a distinct possibility in 1842, and referred to several times in articles in the magazine. The previous war had ended only 27 years before and there had been several incidents since. In 1837, insurgents had smuggled arms into Canada from the US, only for Canadian militia to cross the border and burn their ship. As recently as 1839 there had been a dispute over the Maine/ New Brunswick border. Whether the force would have been sufficient is debatable, as in the war against Mexico only 6 years later the United States was able to field 32,000 soldiers and 50,000 militia, although of course Britain could have reinforced from the homeland. Having said that, British contingency plans never depended purely on a static defence of Canada and the Royal Navy would have been deployed from it's bases in the Caribbean, especially Bermuda. Hence the deployments throughout the area.

The Canadian deployment had a much lower proportion of cavalry compared to that in India, presumably related to the terrain.


1st Dragoon Guards
7th Hussars

1st (2nd Battalion), 14th, 23rd, 23rd (Reserve Battalion), 43rd, 68th, 70th, 71st, 71st (Reserve Battalion), 74th, 81st, 83rd, 85th, 89th and 93rd Regiments of Foot

New Brunswick

30th & 52nd Regiments of Foot


Royal Newfoundland Companies

Nova Scotia

82nd  Regiment of Foot
Rifle Brigade (Reserve Battalion) 
Rifle Brigade (2nd Battalion) 


20th  Regiment of Foot

St Vincent

33rd  Regiment of Foot


46th  & 92nd Regiments of Foot

British Guiana

47th  Regiment of Foot (Berbice)
1st West Indian Regiment


59th  Regiment of Foot


60th  Regiment of Foot (2nd Battalion)
2nd West Indian Regiment

The Mediterranean
British interests in the Mediterranean centred on her island bases, with the obvious exception of Gibraltar. As well as being a crucial naval base, this had a land border with a Spain that had already coveted Gibraltar for over a hundred years. For much of the 1830s Spain had been racked with civil war (the Carlist Wars) and as recently as 1842 there had been a coup attempt in Madrid. In the circumstances it is hardly surprising that Gibraltar was strongly garrisoned.

The forces in Corfu, Cephalonia, Zante and the Ionian Islands perhaps require some explaining. These had been Venetian possessions before conquered by France during the Napoleonic Wars, Several rapid changes of ownership followed before they became a British protectorate at the Congress of Vienna. British rule was certainly hugely better than French or Venetian, but after Greek independence in 1830 a movement developed to join the mainland, which they eventually did in 1864. A this time Corfu, especially, was a very useful British naval base in the eastern Mediterranean, especially for British intervention in the short Egyptian/ Ottoman war in 1839-41.


1st (1st Battalion), 5th, 7th, 48th & 79th Regiments of Foot


19th and 88th Regiments of Foot
Rifle Brigade (1st Battalion)
Royal Malta Regiment


38th, 77th and 97th  Regiments of Foot ( 97th Reserve Battalion)


42nd  Regiment of Foot

Ionian islands

42nd  Regiment of Foot (Reserve Battalion)


97th  Regiment of Foot



12th , 35th and 87th Regiments of Foot

Sierra Leone

3rd West Indian Regiment

South Africa (Cape of Good Hope)

27th , 75th, 91st (& Reserve Battalion) Regiments of Foot
Cape Mounted Riflemen (Cape of Good Hope)

St Helena

St Helena Regiment

The Far East

The 18th (Royal Irish) at the Battle of Amoy in China, 1841

The large garrison in China was a result of the Opium war, which had started in 1839, and only ended in 1842. Since the 1750s a massive amount of tea and other goods had been imported to Britain from China, but access to Chinese markets in return was extremely restricted, creating a huge trade imbalance (sound familiar?). The unfortunate British response was to export opium, for which there was a huge Chinese market. Initially this was actually welcomed by the Chinese government (as long as they got their cut via taxes), but the massive increase in opium production and importation led to increased tensions and eventually war, which the British won easily, gaining Hong Kong as a colony. All this, of course, required British troops.

Otherwise, the largest British deployment was in New South Wales. This does not necessarily mean Australia, and in fact probably doesn't. In 1840, New Zealand had controversially become a British territory, initially assigned to New South Wales and in 1841 becoming a separate colony, but possibly that change is not reflected in this list. Certainly annexation had been far from popular with some of the Maori chieftains, though others had argued that too many European settlers had been let in previously, and New Zealand was inevitably going to be  British or French. Anyway, small scale revolts and skirmishes started almost immediately, and resulted in two major British-Maori wars in the 1860s.


17th  Regiment of Foot


18th , 26th, 49th, 55th and 98th Regiments of Foot

New South Wales

51st , 80th, 96th & 99th Regiments of Foot

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