Jon Bauck­ham

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - GEM FROM THE ARCHIVE -

ur­ing the French Revo­lu­tion­ary Wars, fears of for­eign in­va­sion spread across the Bri­tish Isles. How­ever, rather than re­ly­ing solely upon the govern­ment to ward off un­wanted vis­i­tors, some wealthy in­di­vid­u­als took it upon them­selves to raise their own mili­tia, leav­ing be­hind some metic­u­lous records to ex­plore.

One ex­am­ple sur­vives on the Isle of Man, as Wendy Thir­ket­tle from the Manx Na­tional Her­itage Li­brary and Ar­chives ex­plains.

Which doc­u­ment have you cho­sen?

My choice is a list from Au­gust 1799 that de­tails, by rank, the men amassed in the Castle­town divi­sion of a vol­un­teer troop of cavalry. It was writ­ten by Cap­tain Ge­orge Quayle (1757-1835), a wealthy Manx­man who lived at Bridge House, Castle­town, Isle of Man.

Ge­orge was a banker, politi­cian, in­no­va­tor, flax mill owner and the man re­spon­si­ble for rais­ing this vol­un­teer troop.

As well as per­sonal de­tails about the men, in­clud­ing phys­i­cal de­scrip­tions, Quayle’s list records the colour and size (in hands) of each man’s horse or pony. One of Quayle’s younger brothers Basil is in­cluded with his chest­nut pony.

What does it re­veal about the lives of our an­ces­tors?

Quayle’s list pro­vides de­tails for more than 40 Castle­town men. Taken with other con­tem­po­rary re­sources, it helps to flesh out who served in this cavalry troop at all ranks and how they pre­pared, as well as re­veal­ing the ‘zeit­geist’ and fear of in­va­sion from France dur­ing the Napoleonic Wars.

Across the Bri­tish Isles at this time, wealthy pa­tri­otic gen­tle­men were rais­ing mil­i­tary for­ma­tions like this, for the de­fence of the realm. Many were short-lived and in­for­ma­tion about them tends to be sparse. In this in­stance not only do we have sur­viv­ing el­e­ments of the uni­form Quayle wore as the com­mand­ing of­fi­cer of this yeo­manry unit but also records that he kept about the men who served un­der him. Quayle equipped them al­most en­tirely out of his own pocket – the men pro­vided the horses, the govern­ment sup­plied firearms and swords but Quayle paid for uni­forms and ac­cou­trements.

The ef­fec­tive­ness of the men as sol­diers was some­what com­pro­mised. Dur­ing the her­ring sea­son of 1801 it was sug­gested the men ex­er­cise be­fore or af­ter di­vine ser­vice to avoid a day away from the fish­ing. They sim­ply could not af­ford to be away from their work in or­der to drill and train. Per­haps Quayle found this frus­trat­ing as, with the Peace of Amiens (March 1802), un­like other Manx of­fi­cers, he de­clined a re­quest to con­tinue to serve with the dra­goons and hung up his spurs.

Ge­orge’s wider in­ter­est in mil­i­tary affairs is well doc­u­mented. Dur­ing the Amer­i­can Revo­lu­tion­ary War, he held a com­mis­sion as a com­pany com­man­der in a lo­cal Manx fen­ci­ble in­fantry reg­i­ment, raised for the de­fence of the is­land. We know he bought mil­i­tary trea­tises, shopped for uni­forms, guns and am­mu­ni­tion when in Lon­don and re­ceived and ex­changed plen­ti­ful news with a younger brother John (an of­fi­cer in the Royal Ar­tillery and gifted let­ter writer who was posted to Ja­maica, Gi­bral­tar, Cey­lon and In­dia).

How­ever, it is note­wor­thy that Ge­orge’s ex­pe­ri­ences were not all se­cond-hand. In 1778, dur­ing a spell work­ing in Smyrna (Izmir in present-day Turkey), Ge­orge wit­nessed the af­ter­math of an earth­quake.

He saw the re­sult­ing wide­spread fires – as­sisted by ar­son – loot­ing and break­down of law and or­der. His brother John wrote with news to their mother that Ge­orge was safe, al­though very fright­ened.

Why did you choose the doc­u­ment?

The list is fas­ci­nat­ing in its own right, pro­vides a poin­ter to the as­sorted other mil­i­tary records we hold (in­clud­ing Royal Manx Fen­ci­bles) and helps il­lus­trate Ge­orge Quayle’s mil­i­tary pre­oc­cu­pa­tions.

I also wished to draw at­ten­tion to the archival re­source to which it be­longs, the Quayle Bridge House Pa­pers.

As well as of­fi­cial records, th­ese con­tain sev­eral gen­er­a­tions

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