A Soldiers Progress: Some Military Records Pertaining to John Richardson, a Pioneer Canadian Poet and Novelist
by William F.E. Morley
John Richardson (1796-1852) is generally regarded as Canadas first native-born novelist to gain an international reputation. His narrative poem Tecumseh, in Byronic ottava rima, was published in 1828 only two years after Lord Byrons death. Although Richardson was born in the same year as Thomas Chandler Haliburton, his three-decker novel Ecarté, concerning gambling and low life in Paris, was published in 1829, seven years before the first Sam Slick volume appeared. In the following year, Richardsons long poem of social satire, Kensington Gardens, was published, as was his novel Frascatis, another three-decker and also set in Paris. All these works were published in London, and already the dashing young Richardson was be coming the talk of the town. In 1832 his most successful novel, Wacousta, was first put into print in London; within six months it was appearing on the American frontier, in the Ohio State Journal, and in one year a dramatized version began its successful run in New York City.
Yet, although he early established his reputation in the gentle arts of literature and poetry, Richardson was pre-eminently a military man. Many of his works bear ardent witness to this, from his Tecumseh and Movements of the British Legion, to Guard in Canada (about his constant embroilment in duels and affairs of honour), Wacousta (Pontiacs Conspiracy, 1763-5), and his novels and historical narratives of the War of 1812-14, such as Canadian Brothers, Hardscrabble, and Canadian Campaign and War of 1812, to name a few. Richardsons autobiographical accounts, Personal Memoirs (1838) and Eight Years in Canada (1847) clearly substantiate his military habits and interests. It is not, I think, by chance that Richardson preferred always to be known by his military title and thus has his name come down to us: Major Richardson.
The following notes represent a foray into the documentation of Richardsons military career. They take him from the start of his service in 1812, as a Volunteer, and his first commission as an ensign recommended by Sir George Prevost, Commander-in-Chief of the British forces, at Kingston, Upper Canada, in 1813, until he was placed on half pay in the West Indies, in 1818. These extracts were mostly drawn from the War Office Monthly Return of Services, in the Public Record Office (PRO), London, in 1969, under the expert guidance of Commander Michael Godfrey, then the Search Assistant in the Rolls Room. The Appendices contain other military records, briefly spanning the period beginning with Richardsons position as a Gentleman Volunteer with the 41st Regiment, Fort Maiden, Upper Canada, in 1812, to his retirement from active service and the sale of his commission in 1840, after he had returned to Canada from Spain and England. This information is taken from the annual Army List, most of it from the unique annotated set held in the Ministry of Defence Library, London.
I. War Office Return of Services
On the verso of the sheet only a few words appear:
Then follows John Richardsons signature, and Lieut. H.[alf] P.[ay] 92d. Regiment.
The following year Ecarté appeared (1829), and the year after that Frascatis (1830), both based on Richardsons experiences during the years in Paris to which he here refers.
II. War Office Return of Services
1) Letter from Sir George Prevost at Quebec, 5th April, 1813, with many recommendations for promotion, including these:- Messrs. Jarvis, Richardson4, and Thompson, are at present Volunteers with the 41st5 and 49th Regiments . . . The above Young Gentlemen are all upwards of Sixteen years of age and eligible for commissions . . . Geo. Prevost . . .
2) Inventory leaves with outside title Memoranda . . . (as above) under page heading 8 Foot:- Vol.[lunteer] Richardson to be Ditto [i.e. Ensign, from line above] vice Kidman6.
3) Leaf with outside title:- 8th
Foot. Lt. Thos. Cross, Ensign Veith, Ensign Kidman
8th Foot, Ensigns Veith With 2d Bn.
Items 2 and 3 above show that Richardson was promoted from a Gentleman Volunteer to Ensign Kidmans position while the latter was on sick leave till 2d Aug. 1813. William Kidman was himself promoted however, effective 4th August (cf. Army List, 1814, p. 159)7, so that Richardson gained the penitent rank of Ensign not upon the termination of Kidmans sick leave but on the date of Kidmans promotion. Desmond Pacey, in his A Colonial Romantic (Canadian Literature, 2, p. 28) says that Richardson was commissioned Ensign 3d August 1813, the day Kidman would have reported back from sick leave; but the Army List just cited shows that Richardsons promotion was not effective till 4th August. The actual dates were always adjusted to avoid conflict of seniority.
III. The Military General Service Medal 1783-1814, a Roll of the Names of the 26,240 Officers and Men of the British Army who Fought in the Peninsula and Elsewhere . . . Compiled by Col. KO.N. Foster. [n.p., Germany 1947]. This book is without imprint, but the Foreword is dated Germany, January 1947. The book was printed in Germany. Page 318 records as follows: -
It is interesting to notice that Richardson was keen enough to apply for the MGS, even though he was 3,000 miles from Europe. The MGS Medal was not issued till 1847 (Wellington opposed it), and in that year its approval was advertised throughout the world8. Those eligible had to apply in writing so Richardson did so from Canada. Those killed in action in the Napoleonic Wars, or who died before 1847, did not get the medal.
IV. Army Lists
1817: Richardson disappears, with any assurance that he is our man, till 1820. The most likely entry is as follows:
However, as we have seen from Richardsons own hand (WO 21, vol.172, above), he was placed on half-pay 25 December, 1815, but was returned to active status 25 May, 1816. He then sailed to the West Indies with his Regiment. This does not conform with the above entry in the Army List, 1817.
There is one other possible reference, in the Army List entry for 1817, thus:-
In 1807 (if this date is not an error) Richardson would have been only 11 years of age surely too early for a lieutenancy, even allowing for seniority backing; but the half-pay date is remarkably close: the Army List records 25 Feb. 181610.
All other John Richardsons in the 1818 Army List are surgeons, are too highly ranked, or in English county regiments.
And so on the Army List continues, but the foregoing exhibits the sort of information that a continuing search will yield, even for just one officer.
V. Annotated Army Lists in the PRO
1816: PRO Document No. IND:5506, on p. 215, shows George Richardson under Lieutenants, from 27 July 1815 (correct), name ruled out in ink and manuscript note in column: 1/2 pay. (Correct, as of 1st Oct. 1818, when John Richardson returned from Barbados cf. WO 21, vol. 172, above, and under 1818, below. Note that though this is the 1816 Army List, it could have taken a couple of years to annotate it up to date.)
VI. War Office Monthly Returns, Windward and Leeward Islands
1816: Monthly Return of the General and Staff Officers at present serving in the Windward and Leeward colonies under the command of Major General George William Ramsay commanding the Forces. Head Quarters Anti gua, 25th of December, 1816. Section headed Remarks. Shewing the Regiments or Detachments which may have arrived at, or left, the station during the preceding month . . . (WO 17 / 2505 / A):-
(Note:-the dates of disembarkation refer to officers and men of 14 different regiments; the 2d Foot is first on the list, but this and the 6th West India Regiment both arrived in the Transport Wilson.)
Under List of the Officers Present
for the same month:
1817: General Monthly Return of Officer, 1817. Regiments, 2d Foot:-
General Monthly Return of Sarjeants . . . and Rank and File . . . 25th January, 1817:-
1817:-List of Officers Present [at 25 Jan. 1917] 2d Foot, G. Richardson . . .At 24th February. 1817:
(Note:- 25th May, 1817, Returns for Windward and Leeward Islands are headed: . . . Head Quars. Barbados . . ., whereas before the Head Quarters were at Antigua.)
At 25th June, 1817:- List of Officers Absent, Lieut. G. Richardson on a General Court Martial, Tobago (as an officer of the court:- cf. his Recollections of the West Indies, in his own journal New Era or Canadian Chronicle, Brockville, Ont., vol. 2, nos. 1-12, 2d March24th June, 1842; so Richardson was also in Tobago).
(Commander Godfrey suggested that the Muster Rolls might indicate what Richardson was doing at this time; but a Muster Roll search is very time consuming.)
1818: At 25th Sept., 1818:- List of the Officers Present, 2d Foot, G. Richardson but line drawn through his name and Lieut. G. Richardson added in fresh darker ink at the bottom of the list of Officers Absent (as though the change were made after the record had been completed, and thus very recently). The entry under Officers Absent reads in full:-
* Lieut. G. Richardson, Commander of the Forces [officer granting the absence] 16th Sept. 1818, to be placed on Half Pay. Under the same date, there is a page headed:- Regimental and Staff Officers who have obtained leave of absence during the preceding month to return to England . . . Lieut. G. Richardson, 2d Foot, 16th Sept. 1818, for the purpose of being placed on Half Pay. Richardsons name is last on the list; all the other names above (6) are dated in August, the preceding month of the Return, as stated in the heading. So again, Richardson must have got his name in just as the return was being made, and perhaps with his usual urgent nature he requested the change be recorded immediately. Note that the official reason given for Richardsons leave of absence to return to England is for the purpose of be ing placed on Half Pay, whereas the reason he gave in the record of his mil itary service (WO 21, vol. 172) was both from private motives and from ill health).
With permission to leave the West Indies granted, 16 September 1818, Richardson could have left for England on or any time after that date. I continued the search for a more precise date of his departure. His name is not given under Remarks for the month, and there is no indication Richardson was sick.
(Note:- The meaning of the asterisk * is not known to me, but it may be simply a clerical symbol to draw attention to a late and out-of-order entry.)
Above two entries: WO 17 / 2507 / C & D.
At 25th October 1818: Richardsons name is absent from the List of Officers Present, but still included with Officers Absent, thus:- Lieut. G. Richardson, Commander of the Forces [approving Officer], 16th Sept., To be placed on Half Pay. (WO 17 / 2507 / E) Again, Richardson is not mentioned under Remarks for the month, and there is no indication that he is sick (under Regimental and Staff Officers who have obtained Leave of Absence . . . to Return to England the reason given for one officer is Benefit of Health; but no such reason is given for Richardson in the similar entry for last month, Sept. q.v.). Commander Godfrey stated that though sick absences are usually reported, if Richardsons name is still listed he could still be on the island; but apparently since on half-pay as of 16th Sept., he is not on strength, simply waiting for a ship to return to England. So the search continued.
(Note:- I observed that in March 1818, the 2d Foot are serving in Barbados; in April, they are serving in St. Vincent; in May there are detachments of the 2d Foot in Barbados, Grenada, St. Vincent; June, St. Vincent (only); July, Barbados, Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia (though, as in other months, the General Monthly Return shows only St. Vincentthese entries are not clear and need further examination); August, Barbados, Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia; Sept., St. Vincentand here Richardson goes on half pay. It seems that Richardson might have spent some months in St. Vincent, and perhaps in others of the islands mentioned, for all the detachments are staffed with officers. Only the Muster Rolls are likely to settle Richardsons exact whereabouts, and even this is not a certain reward for the long search-time required. In his Recollections of the West Indies, already cited, Richardson mentions visiting only Barbados, Grenada and Tobago, this is new information.
At 25th November 1818:- Officers Absent, Lieut. G. Richardson, [granted by] Commander of the Forces, 16th Sept. 1818, until placed on 1/2 Pay [Lord Combermere was Commander of (he Forceshe Signs all the returns Combermere, C. of the Forces or Combermere, Commr. of the Forces, etc. Remark the future tense: until. (WO 17 / 2507 / F)
(Note:- Under Remarks, several ships are recorded as having left for England, with men whose service had expired. There is no other reference to Richardson in the Nov. 1818 returns, however.)
At 25th December, 1818:- Officers Absent, Lieut. G. Richardson, Commander of the Forces [grantor of the Absence] 16th Sept., until placed on 1/2 Pay. Under the page headed Proof, there are no Invalids sent Home. There is no reference to Richardson under Remarks, and though several persons are reported as discharged, no ships are reported as coming or going. This is the last reference to Richardson I found (WO 17 / 2507 / G)
At 25th January, 1819:- Richardsons name is omitted from Officers Absent list, nor is he under Officers Present; and it is the same for February. Richardson has evidently sailed, but there is no explanation under Remarks for January or February 1819, nor elsewhere in the Returns for the two months. However, the Remarks for January refer to the ships London and Thomas as having arrived from London on 13th and 16th Jan. 1819, respectively. It seems quite likely that they brought confirmation of Richardsons save arrival in England, and that his name was carried as Absent until this news reached the West Indies headquarters. Although perhaps only the Muster Rolls can indicate the exact date of Richardsons departure from the West Indies, the evidence is reasonably clear that he sailed 16th September or soon after, reaching England in time to be placed on half pay (as he himself states: WO21, vol. 172) on 1st October, 1818.
(Note:- These War Office Monthly Returns are a mine of information, but very detailed, and need lengthy study and analysis.)
In several places Richardsons name is given as George Richardson, but this seems to begin when a dash given under George in the line above, is assumed to mean ditto. This is evidently an error of interpretation, the dash apparently meaning forename unknown. Commander Michael Godfrey, Search Room Assistant in the Rolls Room, at the PRO, was so sure that this is an interpretative error that he corrected the entry in the Army List, and said he had no objection to being quoted in his opinion.
The Prevost letter of Quebec, 5th April 1813, cited under II above (WO 31, vol. 379), contains what appears to be the beginning of this mistake, where the following is given:-
This is picked up in the cover title: -
The dash would seem to indicate that Richardsons forename was unknown at that moment, and not that it was the same as the one in the preceding entry. Another manuscript page in the same bundle (WO 31, vol. 379), but undated, containsa list of names of promoted officers and volunteers in the 8 Foot regiment, all bracketted to the name Lt. Gen. Sir Geo. Prevost. Two of the lines run as follows:-
The second line here is the only line on the page in which the first name bears no forename or initials. This seems to substantiate the interpretation that Richardeons forename was unknown during this period of his promotion to Ensign.
The annual Army List picked up the dash as though it were a ditto, as the following citations illustrate.
Army List, 1813, p. 145 (8th or the Kings
Regiment of Foot):
Army List, 1814, p. 159 (8th or the Kings
Regiment of Foot):
. . . . . . . . . . . . . [lines omitted] . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
EnsignGeorge Richardson [George given for John] 4 do. [i.e. 4th Aug. 1813, the do being a contraction of ditto].
Army List, 1816, Annotated, held in PRO, p. 215, shows George Richardson as holding Lieutenant rank since 27 July 1815, and as being on half-pay at the time the 1816 vol. was annotated, usually about two years later.
Army List, 1820, p. 597, shows John Richardson as Lieutenant in the 92d Regiment of Foot from the 27 July 1815, and on English Half-Pay from the 1st Oct. 1818. The promotion to Lieutenant date agrees with the Army List, 1816, p. 215, the first appearance of John Richardsons promotion to Lieutenant, then in the 8th Kings Regiment.
This confirms that the George Richardson of the Army List for 1814-1816 is indeed our John Richardson.
The following is in extension of Richardsons manuscript record of his military service to 1828, as cited under I above (WO 21, vol. 172). The resumé is pieced together from a close reading of the annotated set of issues of the annual Army List held in the Army Historical Section of the Ministry of Defence Library, Whitehall, London, England.
(No records were kept for Gentlemen Volunteers, but he has told us that he was in the 41st Regiment (stationed at Fort Malden, Upper Canada) at age 15, and that he became a Gentleman Volunteer in June 1812, at the declaration of war. He was not 16 till 4th October l812.)
(From 1813 to 1819, Richardson is listed as George; from 1820 to 1840, as John; from 1818 to 1840 Richardson was on half pay continuously.) On retirement, Richardson took the place of Lieutenant Gray as an active officer, and immediately sold his commission to Ensign Swinton cf. Army List 1840, July, p. 923.
(From 1813 to 1819, Richardson is listed as George; from 1820 to 1840, as John; from 1818 to 1840 Richardson was on half pay continuously.)
Richardson took the place of Lieutenant Gray as an active officer, and Immediately sold his commission to Ensign Swinton cf. Army List 1840, July, p. 923.
(Note:- Richardson was a major only in the British Auxiliary Legion in Spain, not in the British Army (cf. Personal Memoirs, e.g. p. 52 and 73, where he describes himself as Lieutenant Richardson of His Majestys Army). Occasional issues of the Army List indicate what commissions are worth. The issue for 1841 (the closest one to 1840 which includes the com mission evaluation list) suggests £700 for a lieutenancy on the active list, and £335 for one on the half pay list. A military historian assures me, however, that this was only an indication. Richardson could have obtained considerably more for his commission if the demand were great and the promptness of the sale suggests that it was. Note, too, the skill with which Richardson managed to arrange his transfer to the active list, the sale of his commission, and his retirement, all on the same day. This increased the value of his pen sion as well as of his commission. It is characteristic of Richardson.)