Sunday, August 26, 2012

David Whybrew's military career - part 1.

David Whybrew joined the Essex Rifles as a volunteer in November 1856, just a few months after the end of the Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856). By the 30th December of that year he had applied, and been granted leave, to transfer to the 50th (Queen's Own) Regiment. At the time he was said to be 21 years old, although he was probably closer to 18. The record of his transfer describes him as 5' 4'' (163cm), with grey eyes and a fresh complexion. 

Soldier of the 50th regiment
 in the  1740's
Incidently, the military records, available on, are indexed under his original militia regiment rather than the 50th. It was only recently, after I searched for his name without listing his regiment, that I discovered them. 

David enlisted at a time when conditions in the army were beginning to improve. During the Crimean War, eye witness accounts of the appalling conditions on and around the battle fields were reported in the British newspapers for the first time, aided by the introduction of the telegraph and photography. Florence Nightingale was one of those who responded to the reports. Medical care for soldiers began to be taken seriously. The government also set up a number of enquiries into the running of the army which led to improvements over the next 50 years.

David's first posting outside England was to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1857. His medical records show he suffered from tropical ulcers and a 'febrile inter[?]' (presumably malaria) which was treated with quinine. From there his regiment sailed to New Zealand, where they were involved in the Maori Wars of 1863. He seems to have come through that unscathed. 

In 1866 they went on to Australia, and travelled via Norfolk Island, Van Diemen's Land and Sydney to arrive in Adelaide on the 16th August 1867. Several British regiments were stationed in South Australia to act as law-enforcers, as well as to protect the colony from potential attackers. (Apparently some seriously thought the Russians would like to take the colony.) The commander of the 50th Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Hamley, became Acting Governor during their stay, and he was well respected. 

However, the conduct of the lower ranks of the Red Coats was not always exemplary, as the writer of this letter to the editor of the South Australian Register complains. Drunkenness, stealing, and disorderly conduct seem to have been quite common, and David Whybrew was certainly not the only member of the regiment to find himself in the local police court during this time. In his defence, his commanding officer, Lieutenant Fleury, is reported as saying that "Corporal Whybrew had been in the force 12 years. His conduct had been very good. He had two badges for it."

When the regiment left South Australia in April 1869, David was not with them. He is mentioned in the South Australian Police Gazette on April 28 among those soldiers who had deserted. His name appears again on May 19 after he and another soldier, John Love, gave themselves up. 

He must have been dealt with quite leniently, because a few days later, on May 28 he and Susan Mason were married at St Luke's church. I haven't discovered when they returned to England, but it must have been after Eliza's birth in December 1869. His military records show he was in Bristol in 1870 and at the time of the English census of 1871 David was with the regiment in the barracks in Aldershot. 

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