Ewell's Loyal Volunteers

and the indiscipline of some recruits when under the command of Captain Kennard Smith.
Guildhal lLight Infantry
Guildhall Light Infantry Volunteer, plate 33 from Loyal Volunteers of London and Environs, 1798
By Thomas Rowlandson. Oil on Canvas.
Image Source WikiGallery.org

An introduction to Britain's Volunteer Movement 1794 - 1815 is provided by Steve Tamplin on The Loyal Volunteers Living History Society's website - as set out in the following excerpts, reproduced with kind consent of Paul Barrass;
"In March 1794 parliament responding to the invasion threat posed by revolutionary France passed an act that called upon 'gentlemen of weight or property' throughout the realm to initiate local defence plans that included the establishment of volunteer military formations....The 'Gentleman or Yeomanry Cavalry' was predominantly rural, middle class and self financing, and assembled for training for an hour or two once or twice a week. They were generally commanded and officered by the local gentry often with their tenants and mounted servants and others of the local artisan classes forming the rank and file. Yeomanry troops were armed, equipped and styled predominantly as Light Dragoons i.e. with curved light cavalry sabres, cavalry pistols, light dragoon 'Tarleton' helmets and short jackets....

Lord Hobart, who had succeeded Dundas as Secretary of War, considered the yeomanry cavalry a very useful force but was less convinced about the volunteer infantry who he considered were "by no means so well composed or regulated". Therefore the infantry volunteers and armed associations were disbanded on the Peace of Amiens (March 25th, 1802) while the yeomanry remained. However, when war resumed in May 1803 a new wave of volunteerism swept the nation.

French invasions plans were resurrected with the resumption of war. By late 1803 more than 100,000 enemy troops were stationed on the northern coast of France, and by the spring of 1804 up to 2,000 invasion craft were believed to have assembled in French channel ports for planned landings in Kent and Sussex - no wonder that home defence dominated British military strategy throughout 1803 and 1804. The volunteer infantry was revived and to encourage recruitment the government threatened a compulsory 'levy en masse'. By providing exemption for a district if sufficient men joined up this encouraged recruitment, particularly in hitherto under-represented rural areas. The government initially accepted all offers of service recommended by the county Lord Lieutenants but such was the overwhelming response that it limited the number in each county to six times the military quota. By the end of 1803 380,000* volunteers - infantry, cavalry and artillery - were under arms. Mark Philips in Resisting Napoleon: The British Response to the Threat of Invasion 1797 - 1815 (Aldershot. 2006) explains the reasons behind this:

Certainly, fear of invasion impelled people to volunteer, but volunteering was often a canny, pragmatic response to the crisis, a systematic avoidance of more authoritarian forms of military service, and a reluctance to put the nation before family and locality. Of course not everybody cared to join up. In 1803 no more than 1 in 5 did so. But failing to volunteer in 1803 made one vulnerable to the ballot, a dangerous predicament for a man who couldn't raise the £10 - £15 needed to find a substitute. In this context, volunteering might be seen as a form of play-safe patriotism.

In effect the volunteers of 1803-04 became soldiers to avoid becoming soldiers!

As the threat of invasion declined after 1805 so did the volunteer infantry movement. Government funding was largely withdrawn and with it the enthusiasm and morale of much of the membership. Companies assembled for training less and less frequently and the haphazard and often ill disciplined nature of the whole system became evident to all. In 1808 a new force, the Local Militia, was created with the aim of providing a better trained and better organized home guard. Most of the existing volunteer infantry companies were amalgamated and converted into 269 new regiments of Local Militia, who unlike the regular militia were not compelled to serve outside their own counties. All men aged between 18 and 30 were to be raised by ballot unless sufficient numbers of new recruits volunteered, and unlike with the regular militia, balloted men could not provide substitutes or join insurance societies, but could pay a fine graduated according to their income. Existing volunteers were encouraged to transfer to the Local Militia and a bounty of two guineas was paid, although this was restricted the following year. Although many of the volunteers were reluctant to transfer, three-quarters of the enrolments in 1808-09 were from existing volunteer corps, and by 1811 the Local Militia totalled 213,609 men. The regiments were trained annually in the Spring. In 1813 the remaining volunteer infantry formations were disbanded, and the Local Militia themselves were disbanded in the spring of 1816. Unlike the volunteer infantry, the yeomanry cavalry was retained after 1815, and many of the smaller independent troops were amalgamated to form larger regiments, many of which remain in service to his day."
Appointment of Volunteer officers in Epsom and Ewell
The Act (42 Geo. III c.66) introduced in June 1802, which denied volunteers the meagre allowances that they had previously enjoyed, was modified during March 1803 to provide for the Government to supply arms and accoutrements but the volunteers would be responsible for their own uniforms. Each new group appointed a committee to design the uniforms and helmets - indulging themselves 'with plumes, feathers, lace and a galaxy of colours'.

An announcement by the War Office, 15 October 1803, published in the London Gazette, named John Robinson, Esq., as Major commandant of Epsom Volunteer Infantry and the officers of Loyal Ewell Volunteers - Kennard Smith, Esq., to be Captain, James Hibard & Stephen Martin, Gents., Lieutenants, and George Barnes, Gent., as Ensign.

On 3 April 1804 may be found gazetted
'Rank of Commandants to take place when the under-mentioned Volunteer Corps are formed into Battalions, and assembled at their respective Alarm Posts: -

Major Robinson, with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in charge of Ashtead, Betchworth, Carshalton, Epsom, Ewell, Leatherhead & Mickleham Volunteer Infantry Corps.

Colonel Lord Leslie with Four Troops of Surrey Gentlemen and Yeomanry Cavalry & Surrey Gentlemen and Yeomanry Riflemen.'
Contradictory versions of the disaffection demonstrated by rank and file members on the streets of Ewell
Light Infantry Volunteers, 1804
Light Infantry Volunteers, 1804
By Thomas Rowlandson. Oil on Canvas.
Image Source WikiGallery.org

The Political Register published by William Cobbett from 1802 contained much criticism of a 'lathe and plaster army' run by Committees. Its correspondence columns include the following exchange: -
Cobbett's Annual Register Vol. 5 No7 Sat. 18 February 1804

"E..ll, Surrey, Jan. 30, 1804.

Sir,-Permit me to ask for a corner in your paper, in order to convey to the public some account of the Volunteer-corps of this place. It consisted of 139 men, to whom, about four months ago, the oath of allegiance was tendered; but, it was generally, if not wholly, refused. A set of regulations was afterwards submitted to the corps, who thereupon threw up, with the exception of 35 men. They paraded the place in great triumph, with blue cockades, and threw their regimentals, with great contempt, into the house of a man who had originally subscribed £50 towards clothing and disciplining them! Are these the men, Mr. Cobbett; is this the description of troops, to meet and to defeat the veterans of France? Is it thus that we are to be saved, Sir? I was, myself, some time ago much in favour of the volunteer system; and I must confess that even your arguments were not sufficient to correct me without the aid of experience. That experience I have now had; and, with you, Sir, and, I believe, with ninety-nine hundredths of the nation, I say, " short follies are best;" away with this foolery, and give us a real army in its stead. I am, yours, &c, &c, C. S."
"TO THE EDITOR. Sir, So many instances of the misconduct of the volunteers, have been recorded of late in your- Register, that I did not think it necessary, to add to the disgraceful list by giving you an account of the proceedings of the Ewell corps. I vainly hoped it would have passed off, without attracting the public notice; but, there having appeared in your Register of the 4th, inst a letter signed C.S., I must take the liberty, in justice to my neighbours, to point out to you some inaccuracy in that statement. However highly reprehensible the conduct of the men has on some occasion been, yet it is not just that a larger portion of obloquy should be thrown on them than they really deserve, In doing this, I must not be considered as defending the system, it is a system, which I deprecate as strongly as you can do; it is a system, which I am persuaded, if not speedily and radically amended, will be productive of evils to this country, more tremendous than I dare to think of. The tenor of the letter I allude to undoubtedly tends to convey, to those unacquainted with the corps, an idea that it is an extremely disaffected one; nothing less can be interred from it. It is to obviate that impression alone, that must apologize far my intruding on you. The letter asserts, that the oath of allegiance was generally, if not wholly, refused, when it was tendered to them. This I positively and most unequivocally deny. The oath was taken by every individual in the corps. It was the repetition of that oath, containing the additional words " heirs and successors", which was objected to. Having taken one oath, they considered a second unnecessary, and thought if a reflection on their honour, that their loyalty to the King's heirs should be doubted; and, most absurdly supposed, that it was a deception; and, that it was intended to trick them into a something, they knew not what. All arguments to convince them to the contrary were then useless. At the same time they refused to sign the regulations, which were then offered them, under the same idea. These regulations were merely intended to promote the discipline of the corps, without binding them to any thing more. On this some degree of commotion ensued which was quieted by postponing the consideration of the matter to a future day. On the day appointed to pay them the twenty shilling allowed them by government for drill days, the regulations were again offered for signing. Thirty-eight put their hands, the rest persisted in refusing it, and eighteen, mark, only eighteen, threw up their clothes, with much insolence; not into the house of the person alluded to, but at the Bull Head Inn, where the committee was then sitting. [The Bull's Head was sited on the Cheam Road, Ewell, where the HSBC Bank, 27 High Street, now stands on the village roundabout.]

Some of the seceders, I cannot say how many, for I myself saw only two, stuck a bit of blue riband in their hats, but I was not a witness of any parading, or other marks of triumph. All this was certainly extremely improper, and highly reprehensible, but it must not be placed to the account of disaffection; it originated in another cause, and which is notorious to every inhabitant of Ewell. An unfortunate prejudice prevailed against the gentleman who was proposed for their captain. He had been a captain in the service of the East India Company, and it was supposed by the men that the rigour necessary to regulate a ship's company would influence his conduct in the command of the corps. He was, however, appointed, notwithstanding strong symptoms of aversion were manifested at the nomination, a circumstance which has been productive, of much ill-humour among the men, and much insolence to himself, and which nothing but the utmost forbearance, and, a-strong-sense of the duty he owed his country at this tremendous crisis, could ever, have induced him to submit to. This prejudice has never abated; for you, Sir, who are so good a judge of human nature, must be sensible how extremely difficult, nay I would say how impossible, it is to eradicate prejudice from an uninformed mind. This prejudice, whether well or ill-founded, appears to have been the cause of the irregularities the corps have been guilty of. I must here complain of C.S.'s want of candour in his letter. He has stated, that on the regulations being proposed to them, "they threw up". What does this mean, but the whole corps? Can the most ingenious sophistry apply any other meaning to the expression? I again repeat that eighteen only of 120 "threw up"! Either C. S. is ignorant of, the real circumstances of the case or he is not. If the latter, what is the inference? I leave my readers to judge. Since the date of C. S.'s letter, many of the men have repented of their conduct, and have signed the regulations, and there are strong reasons for supposing that the greatest part will follow their example, and I trust that if the necessity should unfortunately arise, they will not be found any ways inferior to their fellow-countrymen in loyalty and courage. I hope, Sir, that this plain statement of facts, will remove the imputation of disaffection, which C. S. apparently, has endeavoured to throw on them; on no other ground do I endeavour to defend them; and, as to the eighteen seceders who have so basely deserted their country in the hour of danger, I hold them up to the detestation of their country, and leave them to the contempt and to the indignation which their infamous conduct so richly deserves.

I am, Sir, yours, &c. OBSERVER. EWELL, Feb. 7th 1804."

The personalities of some of the individuals involved in this affair
One is led to wonder about the identities of both 'CS' and the 'captain in the service of the East India Company' who had been appointed commander of the corps of Loyal Ewell Volunteers. The latter is clearly Kennard Smith, described as 'of Epsom' when he married, secondly, Aurora Ellethorne Hodges at St Marylebone on 13 December 1800. [In Calcutta, 20 October 1795, Captain K. Smith had taken as his first wife Frances Peirce, baptised 15 June 1779 at Kingston, daughter of the late HEIC Captain Richard Peirce of the ill-fated HCS Halsewell - http://books.google.co.uk. She had died, possibly during childbirth at Epsom before November 1796.] Kennard's parents were Richard Carpenter Smith (1741 - 1816) and his wife, Martha nee Hilditch (1741 - 1811). 'CS' could have been initials for 'Carpenter Smith'. Smith, senior, was a prominent businessman in Southwark with a hosier's shop on St Margaret's Hill and 'manufactory' in Nottingham. Richard Carpenter Smith was also actively involved in various political activities. Kennard's baptism took place at St Saviour's Southwark on 29 November 1765 but siblings may be found christened in Ewell from 1768 onwards. The family came to hold copyholds in Kingston Road near the Upper Mill [Plots 215 & 90] and on Cheam Road [House and garden, next to the Bull's Head mentioned by 'OBSERVER', within plots 283/5]. Richard and Martha Smith lie in St Mary's churchyard [Exwood plot 283**].

Extract From 1801 Enclosure Map - Click To Enlarge
Extract From 1801 Enclosure Map - Click To Enlarge.

Capt. K Smith had commanded the 798 ton H. C. S Minerva (built in 1786) on voyages between 12 December 1792 and 27 April 1800 which involved the transport of convicts to Australia.

According to Trade in the Eastern Seas 1793- 1813 by C Northcote-Parkinson (1937): - "Although perhaps seldom worn in an Indiaman, the side-arms to which the officers were entitled had a certain usefulness. The sword was not yet a weapon of merely decorative value. Its chief function was in quelling mutinies....[and] was used by Captain Kennard Smith in suppressing a mutiny in the H.C.S. Minerva" [A man was seized up for punishment at the gangway, a rush was made, and a forcible attempt by the ship's company to cut the man down and rescue him. Captain Smith drew his sword, cut the ringleader down, and severely wounded him; and by this prompt display of firmness more serious consequences were averted. The punishment was carried into effect, and good order resumed.]

Christopher Biden in Naval Discipline - Subordination contrasted with Insubordination, or a view of the necessity for passing a law establishing an efficient naval discipline on board ships in the Merchant Service, pub. 1830, wrote at length about the mutiny on 30 May 1798 aboard another Indiaman, Princess Charlotte. This ship diverted to Cape Town where an attempt was made to subject four ring leaders to a naval Court Martial but the process failed on a legal technicality. Although privateersmen and the crews of Indiamen had been placed under the articles of war, and were liable to be tried by Court Martial, the acts of George II and George III, by which the liability was imposed, declared that the offenders must be kept under arrest and brought to a place where a Court Martial could be held. Men from the Princess Charlotte had not been kept as prisoners: they continued to participate in the work of the ship. Whilst the time span was short, it included the mooring of the Princess Charlotte in Simon's Bay, and the three days before the Court met. Consequently, Captain Valentine Edwards and his colleagues declined to try the men.

Lord Macartney, governor of the colony of the Cape of Good Hope, subsequently proceeded to establish an Admiralty Court under the Commission of Piracy. Nevertheless, after further dispute, the Royal Navy Captains withdrew from the proceedings and needed to be replaced by 'three merchants, British subjects'.One of the latter had been Captain Smith of the Honourable Company's ship Minerva who, as a member of the court, signed a death warrant instructing the Provost-Marshall of the Castle, Cape Town, to hang, on 23 July 1798, the three found guilty. Earl Macartney immediately granted a stay of execution, however, and made representations on the condemned men's behalf: the King's free pardon eventually came to be proclaimed on 6 April 1799.

In a return of East India Company pensions, Kennard Smith's name was included in a list of Commanders in the Company's marine service to whom compensation was given in consequence of a change, in the Shipping System during 1796 - in his case £4833. So he had returned from seafaring to Surrey a wealthy man with a reputation for imposition of firm discipline in the authoritarian style of the navy, and one can understand that the Ewell volunteers, mainly agricultural labourers, would have deep cause for concern. Having acquired real estate in Cheam he moved there by 1805 and was elected Sheriff of Surrey, 1807. He also became a Director of the East India Company but returned to sea in command of H.C.S. William Fairlie during the years 1821 - 1824. By 1811 he was a Director of the British Herring Fishing Co., becoming a member of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers. Later established as a merchant in partnership, he survived until 20 October 1849, when his death was recorded at 46 Weymouth Street, Portland Place, London, aged 83, - buried Holy Trinity, Marylebone Road, Westminster, Middlesex, on 26 October 1849.

As mentioned above, The London Gazette for 13 -15 October 1803 had recorded the appointment of John Robinson Esq. to be Major Commandant of Epsom Volunteer Infantry. He is reported to have been an officer with 1st Troop Grenadier Guards, rising from Sub-Lieutenant in 1773 to Colonel by 1798, and during 1803 he acted as President of the Council, Dominica, residing at the Rosalie and Brookhills Estate. Dying on 6 July 1809, a tablet in the Lady Chapel of St Martin of Tours church describes him as formerly of the Island of Dominica, and late Lieut. Colonel Commandant of the Loyal Epsom Volunteers, deceased aged 59.

*In his History of the wars caused by the French (1864), Lieut. Colonel Williams remarks on the Volunteers: -
"This vast force was well equipped; some corps finding their own uniforms and arms; others being clothed and armed by the government; whilst some found their own uniforms, government supplying their weapons. The various regiments met regularly to drill and manoeuvre: occasionally there were field-days, when various combined evolutions were gone through; and once a year, the volunteers of every county were reviewed by the lord-lieutenant; the king generally inspecting and reviewing those of the metropolis. The number of these corps, and their spirit, precluded the idea of a levy en masse, even if the French were to succeed in effecting a landing: but although the finger-posts on the route to the camp at Boulogne were inscribed Chemin de Londres - "Road to London" - the hostile army never proceeded beyond that port.

This force was not kept on foot without considerable expense. In the debate on the army estimates in 1806, Mr. Windham, who had succeeded Mr. Yorke as secretary at war, stated, that, 'in three years and a-half, the volunteers had cost the government five millions; and as much more, at least, had been expended upon that branch of the service by private individuals'. This proved, that if the English people were, as Bonaparte once termed them, 'a nation of shopkeepers', they were also a nation of patriots; and considered no sacrifice too great to enable them to do their duty to their country.

In the case of the volunteers, the performance of that duty was not devoid of pleasure. The field-days were always made the occasion of a social meeting after the occupations of the day were over; and very frequently dinners were got up on other occasions; whilst in almost every regiment a club was formed, which promoted the general harmony amongst the men and the officers."
Richard and Martha Smith's Grave
Richard and Martha Smith's Grave
Image courtesy of Brian Bouchard © 2011

** Sacred To the Memory of Martha wife of John Channon Lee of the Borough of Southwark Esq. and eldest daughter of Richard Smith Esq. of this place who departed this life June 13th Anno Domini 1807 in the 39th year of her age.

For if we believe, That Jesus died and rose again, Even so them also which s1eep, In Jesus will God bring with him. I Thess: IV 14 also Martha Smith wife of Mr Smith of this Parish Esq. who died April 1811 aged 70 years also Richard Smith Esq. who died 23rd Janry. 1816 aged 75 years

[John Channon Lee, bachelor, had married Martha Smith, spinster of St Saviour, Southwark, on 19 July 1792, at St Michael, Cornhill.]

Obituary from Monthly Magazine and British Register, Volume 41, 1816
Richard Carpenter Smith Esq., 76, for many years an active and much respected magistrate for the counties of Surrey and Middlesex. By the blessing of Providence on his industry, integrity, and ability, he was raised from a comparatively inferior station in life, to one of high respectability. As a husband and a parent, he was prudent, attentive, and affectionate; as a magistrate, patient, acute, humane, and upright; as a citizen, anxious for the welfare of his country, and firmly attached to the principles of rational freedom, which he wished to see extended to the whole race of mankind. In the services of friendship, he was sincere, ardent, and indefatigable; and there are many persons, especially in the Borough of Southwark,who are ready to acknowledge the greatest obligations to him. To the poor, particularly in the neighbourhood of his residence, he was a compassionate and bountiful benefactor, and no deserving object of charity ever applied to him in vain. He lived and died a sincere believer in the important truths of Christianity, and his friends therefore " do not grieve as those without hope."

Brian Bouchard © November 2011

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