Military Subjects:  War of 1812


The War of 1812 Magazine

Issue 10: October 2008



The Impeccable Timing of Sir George Brown

By Robert Burnham and Ron McGuigan

Sometimes an officer is lucky and earns a promotion by being in the right place at the right time.  Sir George Brown was different.  His promotions came about by being in the wrong place at the right time!

George Brown was born on 3 July 1790 and was commissioned as an ensign in the 43rd Foot on 23 January 1806 at the age of 15.[1]  Eight months later, on 18 September, he was promoted to lieutenant. [2]  He fought in the Baltic Campaign of 1807 and was in the 2nd Battalion 43rd Foot, part of the British forces that landed in Portugal in 1808.[3]   Lieutenant Brown was destined to miss the Corunna Campaign.  He was left in command of those soldiers who were too sick to join the army on the march.  He joined the 1st Battalion of Detachments in February 1809 and served with them until September 1809 when the battalion was disbanded. While assigned to the 1st Battalion of Detachments, he was severely wounded --being shot in both thighs[4] -- at Talavera.  He joined the 1st Battalion of the 43rd Foot at Campo Mayor in September 1809.[5]  Over the next 22 months he would see action on the River Coa, Busaco, Redhina, Casal Nova, Foz d’Arrounce, and Sabugal.  He fought with the regiment at Fuentes d’Orono, but on 20 June 1811 he became a captain without purchase in the 3rd Garrison Battalion and returned to England in August. [6]  While in England he attended the Royal Staff College.  Captain Brown exchanged into the 85th Foot on 2 July 1812, becoming its junior captain.[7]

The 85th Foot  deployed to the Peninsula in January 1811 and took heavy casualties.  By 30 September it was down to 20 officers and 246 men.  Because it was a single battalion regiment, it had trouble maintaining its strength and was ordered home to recruit.[8]  The regiment was stationed at Brabourne Lees in Kent.  The discipline of the regiment began to fall apart, especially among the officers. 

“. . . considerable dissension amongst the officers came to light and led to a series of courts-martial.”

“Accusations, for the most part false, were made, challenges to duels – horsewhipping and a pugilistic encounter between an officer and a sergeant – even the accusation was made against an unfortunate subaltern of embezzling the money stopped from the pay of the men for the purchase of coffins when they were dead. Although, as stated, most of these accusations turned out to be false.”[9]

Among its problems, the regiment had a reputation for dueling.  In 1810, there was a duel between two officers, that turned fatal when on 5 January Lieutenant Hylton shot and killed Captain Hoggins.[10]

When the latest allegations surfaced, the Prince Regent had had enough and took the unprecedented step of removing all the officers from the 85th Regiment and filling their spots from officers from other regiments.[11]

The new officers and those who were replaced were:[12]

New Officer


Who was sent to

Lieutenant Colonel William Thornton, Duke of York’s Greek Light Infantry

Lieutenant Colonel Henry Cuyler

46th Foot

Major Peter Deshon, 43rd Foot

Major Nicholas Mein

43rd Foot

Major James Fergusson, 79th Foot

Major Aenish McIntosh

79th Foot

Captain Richard Gubbins, 24th Foot

Captain James Soden

24th  Foot

Captain W.C. Ball, 37th Foot

Captain Brinsley Nixon

37th Foot

Captain D. McDougall, 53rd Foot

Captain Benjamin Watson

53rd Foot

Captain Charles Schaw, 60th Foot

Captain Richard Stannard

84th Foot

Captain William De Bathe, 94th Foot

Captain Frederick Campbell

94th Foot

Captain James Knox, 40th Foot

Captain George White

40th Foot

Lieutenant D. J. Hamilton, 52nd Foot was promoted to captain with a date of rank of 25 January 1813.

Lieutenant Cortland Meredith

Discharged from the Service

Lieutenant Charles Grey, 52nd Foot was promoted to captain with a date of rank of 25 January 1813.

Lieutenant John Hylton


Lieutenant Edward Cottingham, 28th Foot was promoted to captain with a date of rank of 25 January 1813.

Lieutenant Joseph Glew

41st Foot

Lieutenant Henry Fairfax, 95th Foot

Lieutenant William Gammell

95th Foot

Lieutenant William Walker, 49th Foot

Lieutenant Morton

49th Foot

Lieutenant George Wellings, 57th Foot

Lieutenant Powell

57th Foot

Lieutenant Charles Fisher, 60th Foot

Lieutenant  Perham

36th Foot

Lieutenant John Burrell, 6th Foot

Lieutenant James Brock

6th Foot

Lieutenant Valentine Bennett, 6th Foot

Lieutenant James Gell

6th Foot

Lieutenant John Watts, 21st Foot

Lieutenant John Spooner

21st Foot

Lieutenant Matthew Forster, 12th Foot

Lieutenant Henry Cash

12th Foot

Lieutenant Thomas Wilkinson, 43rd Foot

Lieutenant James Imlach

43rd Foot

Lieutenant William Williams, Royal African Corps

Lieutenant Arthur Stevenson

83rd Foot

Lieutenant R.M. Hamilton, 101st Foot

Lieutenant James Mitchell

24th Foot

Lieutenant Frederick Maunsell, 18th Foot

Lieutenant John Copley

4th Foot

Lieutenant A.R. Charleton, 89th Foot

Lieutenant John Orr

69th Foot

Lieutenant G.F. O’Connor, 73rd Foot

Lieutenant Patrick Kelly

87th Foot

Ensign B.C. Urquhart, 6th Foot

Ensign Shapland Swiney

6th Foot

Ensign Henry Belstead, 6th Foot

Ensign Charles Kelson

6th Foot

Ensign John Green, 90th Foot

Ensign William Rothwell

90th Foot

Ensign George Gleig, 3rd Garrison Battalion

Ensign Robert Dutton

3rd Garrison Battalion

Ensign W. Hickson, 46th Foot

Ensign Maxwell

46th Foot

Ensign Henry John French, 90th Foot

Ensign William Veitch

48th Foot

Sergeant-Major James McGillewrie to be Adjutant with rank of Ensign

Lieutenant John Connor

103rd Foot

Joseph Blake, Gentleman

Ensign Christopher  Busteed

Promoted to Lieutenant, 69th Foot[13]

The replacement of the officers was so complete, that even the paymaster, quartermaster, surgeon, and assistant surgeon were removed from the regiment.[14] Only one officer was not forced to move -- Captain George Brown.  He was in the regiment, but had never joined it, because he was still at the Royal Staff College.  Thus he was not tainted by the scandals.[15]  This was a windfall for Captain Brown.  In six months, he went from the junior captain in the regiment to the most senior.  And he was only 22 years old!

The number of new officers coming into the regiment from different regiments and with different uniforms – rifle green, Cameron Kilts, and redcoats with a variety of facings, gained the regiment the nickname the “Elegant Extracts”, which it was known by until it was amalgamated many years later.[16]

Captain Brown would go with the 85th Foot to the Peninsula and he would fight at San Sebastian, Nivelle, Nive, and Bayonne.  His luck continued.  In the following year, because he was the senior captain, he was able to purchase a majority on 26 May 1814, when Major Ferguson was promoted into the 3rd Foot.[17]  George Brown was 23 years old when he became a major. 

The regiment was soon sent to North America and participated in the Chesapeake Campaign under the command of General Ross.  Major Brown led the advance guard of the light brigade at the battle of Bladensburg and was wounded twice – slightly in the head and so severely in the groin, they thought that he would not survive his wound. [18] For his gallantry at Bladensburg, Major Brown was promoted to brevet lieutenant Colonel on 26 September 1814 – at the age of 24![19]

Over the next forty years, George Brown would serve in a variety of positions.  He would be promoted to lieutenant general on 11 November 1851[20] and serve as the commander of the Light Division in the Crimea from February 1854 to June 1855. He was promoted to general for distinguished service antedated to 7 September1855.[21] He would end his career in Ireland as the Commander-in-Chief.

George Brown would become a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1838,[22] a Knight Commander in 1852, and a Knight Grand Cross in 1855.  He was also a Knight of the Royal Guelphic Order of Hanover which he received in 1831.  He also received the Army General Service Medal (Silver Medal) with seven clasps: Vimeiro, Talavera, Busaco, Fuentes d’Orno, San Sebastian, Nivelle, and Nive.[23]

Sir George Brown died on 27 August 1865.


[1] London Gazette: 4 February 1806; Hart’s Annual Army List: 1858.

[2] Hart’s Annual Army List: 1858; London Gazette: 23 September 1806

[3] “Brown, Sir George (1790-1865). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. III; New York: Oxford University Press, 1960. p. 4

[4] Levinge, Richard G.  Historical Records of the Forty Third Regiment, Monmouthshire Light Infantry.  London: W. Clowes & Sons, 1868. p. 299

[5] Ibid; p. 125 - 128

[6] Hart’s Annual Army List: 1858; London Gazette: 25 June 1811

[7] London Gazette: 7 July 1812; Royal Military Calendar vol. 5 page 79

[8] Barrett C.R.B. The 85th King’s Light Infantry. London: Spottiswoode, 1913. p. 71

[9] Ibid; p. 72

[10] Ibid; p. 55

[11] Ibid; p. 72

[12] London Gazette: 30 January 1813; London Gazette: 9 February 1813; London Gazette: 23 February 1813; London Gazette:  9 March 1813; London Gazette: 23 March 1813; London Gazette: 20 April 1813; Barrett: pp. 468 - 539

[13] London Gazette: 9 February 1813

[14] Annual Army List: May 1813

[15] Barrett; p. 73

[16] Ibid; p. 73

[17] Hart’s Annual Army List: 1858; London Gazette: 31 May 1814

[18] Barrett, pp. 140 – 143; Brown; p. 4

[19] Hart’s Annual Army List: 1858; London Gazette: 4 October 1814

[20] London Gazette: 11 November 1851

[21] London Gazette: 4 April 1856

[22] London Gazette: 19 July 1838

[23] Mullen; p. 312


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