Research Subjects: Biographies

Not One in Ten Thousand Know Your Name: the Officers of the British 1st Battalion of Detachments in 1809 -- Assistant Surgeon George Beattie, 92nd Foot

By Robert Burnham and Ron McGuigan

George Beattie entered the army as a hospital mate in the 92nd Foot on 8 September 1803. Seventeen days later, on 25 September, he was appointed an assistant surgeon in the regiment.[1] He served with the regiment in various garrisons in Great Britain and went with it to Denmark in August 1807. After the Danish fleet was captured, the regiment was placed aboard the Danish ship Neptunus to sail back to England. The ship sank on 17 November. Some sources state that the ship floundered off of Denmark, while another states it was off of Holland. Although the majority of the regiment was rescued, Suregon Beattie was captured. He remained a prisoner for eight months until he was exchanged in July 1808.[2]

It is unknown when Assistant Surgeon Beattie went to the Peninsula. The 92nd Foot was part of General Moore's expedition to Sweden in the late spring of 1808 and upon its return to England, it was kept on board its transports at Spitshead through July. It sailed for Portugal in early August and debarked on 25 August 1808. Although he may have sailed with the regiment, it is not likely, since he did not arrive back in England until July. However, by January 1809, he was with his regiment's rear detachment, which consisted of soldiers who were too sick or injured to go with the regiment when it advanced into Spain in October 1809. In February 1809, this detachment was assigned to the 1st Battalion of Detachments. He was with them in the Oporto Campaign in May and the Talavera Campagin that summer. By August he was quite busy caring for the battalion's sick and wounded. Four months had taken its toll on the soldiers who were not fit enough to go with their regiments the previous autumn. By the end of the Talavera Campaign, almost 500 of its men were hospitalized.[3]

Fortunately Sergeant Daniel Nicols of the 92nd Foot, left a vivid, but none too flattering portrait of Assist Surgeon's time with the 1st Battalion of Detachments. Sergeant Nicols was wounded on the first day of the battle of Talavera.

“About four o’clock I was struck by a musket ball, which grazed my left knee and passed through my right leg about two inches below the cap of the knee. . .  as the French cannon were doing great execution at this time, and their shells had set the cornfields on fire in the plain, and the brushwood and long grass were blazing on the sides of the hill; and many wounded men, unable to get away, were burned to death.  If I had sat down no doubt the same lot would have been mine, so I kept hopping along until I came to a large white house where many wounded men were waiting to be dressed.  Here I found the surgeon of the Gordons, Dr. Beattie, who came at once to me and dressed my leg and put a bandage on it.  He then gave me a drink of water, and told me I had got it at last.  I, smiling, replied, ‘Long run the fox, but he is sure to be caught at last.’  This made many smile whose bones were sore enough.”

“I had now time to look about me, and I saw that we were going on in the plain little to our advantage.  Some of our guns were drawn to the rear to take up a fresh alignment.  Feeling very weak, I took a mouthful of water and a slice of the loaf that I got in the morning. . . I got up and hopped along for the town of Talavera.”

“I trudged along in the rear of the line towards the town with some more men in the same condition. . . I then went to the general hospital, a large convent where hundreds of men were lying in the courts and passages and on the stairs.  I lay down and put my head on the dead body of a man of the 61st Regiment, and slept amid all the uproar and bustle.  I awakened about dark, and got into one of the large rooms. . . I was wakened by the surgeons performing their operations, cutting off legs and arms.  I found myself stiff and sore.  Dr. Beattie came and dressed our wounds.”

“On the 2nd of August all the British troops marched off by daybreak – we thought to attack the enemy; but, to our horror, we found they had retreated, leaving us wounded men in a dreadful condition, without provisions, only a few surgeons, little medicine, and no attendants.  About twelve o’clock Dr Beattie came in desired every man that was able to make the best of his way after the army.”

“On the 4th the Spanish troops left the town, and took their own wounded with them, but none of the British, who were left in a very helpless condition, more especially those belonging to our battalion, as we had nobody to take charge or attend us.  I certainly blame Dr Beattie for this, as other corps left their assistant surgeon, orderlies, hospital sergeant etc., while we were destitute of any assistance.”[4]

When the 1st Battalion of Detachments was disbanded in September 1809, Assistant Surgeon Beattie escorted the remnants of the 92nd Foot back to England.  In January 1810, he became a surgeon in the 60th Foot, with a date of rank of 4 January 1810.[5]  He served less than two months when he exchanged into the 79th Foot, switching with Surgeon Drumgold, with a date of regimental seniority of 1 March 1810.[6]   Surgeon Beattie stayed with the 2nd Battalion in Glasgow, Scotland. While there he received his Doctor of Medicine from Marischal College in Aberdeen. In early 1812, he was transferred to the 1st Battalion, which was in the Peninsula.  He was with the 1st Battalion until 9 September 1813 when he was promoted to staff surgeon and assigned to the 6th Division.  He would be with them until April 1814.[7]

In addition to serving in the Oporto and Talavera Campaigns of 1809, Surgeon Beatty was also at Salamanca, Burgos, the Pyrenees, Nivelle, Nive, Orthes, and Toulouse. After the declaration of peace in April 1814, he was placed on the staff of the expedition to America as a staff surgeon. However when the force was reduced his appointment was withdrawn.[8] He returned to Great Britain and went on half pay on 24 September 1814. On 25 April 1815 was called back to active duty to be Surgeon to the Forces.[9] He was part of the British Army's hospital staff in Belgium but was not at Waterloo. On 24 February 1816, he went back on half pay, but on 5 November 1818 came off half pay to be a Surgeon to the Forces, replacing James Arthur, who went on half pay.[10]  On 25 January 1820, Surgeon Beattie went on half pay a final time. He died in Langholm, Scotland on 18 August 1837.[11] 

Notes:

[1] London Gazette: 11 October 1803

[2] Johnston, page 150; Murray, page 399

[3] Johnston, page 150; Bamford, Andrew. British Army Individual Unit Strengths 1808 - 1815: the First Battalion of Detachments.

[4] Robinson; pages 22 - 26

[5] London Gazette: 2 January 1810

[6] London Gazette: 27 February 1810

[7] Johnston, page 150

[8]WSD; Vol. 9, page 136

[9] London Gazette: 20 May 1815

[10] London Gazette: 24 November 1818

[11] Johnston, page 150; Mackenzie, pag 208

Authors' Note: Our thanks to Bas de Groot who recently provided additional information on Surgeon Beattie.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2009; last updated September 2016.

Not One in Ten Thousand Know Your Name: the Officers of the British 1st Battalion of Detachments in 1809 ]



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