Research Subjects: Biographies

Not One in Ten Thousand Know Your Name: the Officers of the British 1st Battalion of Detachments in 1809 -- Lieutenant George Brown 43rd Foot

By Robert Burnham and Ron McGuigan


George Brown was born on 3 July 1790 at Linkwood, near Elgin, Scotland .  He was the third son of George Brown, the provost of Elgin.  He was commissioned as an ensign in the 43rd Foot on 23 January 1806.[1]  While in Sicily, he was promoted to lieutenant without purchase on 18 September 1806.[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.  After the battle of Vimeiro and the liberation of Lisbon, the 2nd Battalion went into cantonments and lived very well.  Possibly too well.  According to the regimental history, “Dysentery was very prevalent amongst the men, owing probably to the indiscriminate use of light wines, abundance of fruit, and exposure to the heavy night-dews.  A return being called for, it was found necessary to leave behind 8 sergeants, 13 corporals, 2 buglers, and 190 privates.”[4]  Lieutenant George Brown was left in charge and subsequently missed the Corunna Campaign.   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[5] -- at Talavera while repulsing the French attack on the Cerro de Medellin.  His company consisted of 4 sergeants and 100 rank and file, of which 10 were lost.[6]  He joined the 1st Battalion of the 43rd Foot at Campo Mayor in September 1809.[7]  Over the next 22 months he would see action on the River Coa, Busaco, Redhina, Casal Nova, Foz d’Arrounce, and Sabugal.  After Sabugal, Lieutenant Brown assumed command of his company when his company commander was seriously wounded.   He also noticed the conduct of one private in particular and recommended him for promotion to corporal, earning Brown his appreciation.   The new corporal would go on to write Memoirs of a Sergeant Late in the Forty-third Light Infantry Regiment.[8] He fought with the regiment at Fuentes d’Onoro, but on 20 June 1811 he became a captain in the 3rd Garrison Battalion[9] and returned to England in August. Once in England he attended the Royal Staff College. 

In 1812, Captain Brown exchanged into the 85th Foot with a date of rank of 2 July 1812.[10]  This was a fortuitous move for him, because the regiment had a reputation for dueling and other misdeeds by its officers – including horsewhipping and fighting with NCOs.  Shortly after Captain Brown exchanged into the regiment, 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] 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.[12]  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!

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.[13]  George Brown was 23 years old when he became a major.  As a major, he would not know rest.  The regiment was sent to North America and participated in the Chesapeake Campaign under the command of General Ross.  Major Brown was wounded twice at the battle of Bladensburg ( Maryland) – slightly in the head and so severely in the groin, they thought that he would not survive his wound.  For his gallantry at Bladensburg, Major Brown was promoted to Brevet Lieutenant Colonel on 26 September 1814 – at the age of 24![14] 

Colonel Brown would continue on active duty for many years. In 1823, he purchased an unattached half-pay lieutenant colonelcy, with a date of rank of 17 July. [15] He would become a lieutenant colonel in the Rifle Brigade on 5 February 1824.[16] an Extra Aide-de-Camp to the King and brevet colonel on 6 May 1831.[17] In 1841, he was an extra Aide-de-Camp to Queen Victoria and was promoted to major general on 23 November.[18] With the promotion, he assumed the position of Deputy Adjutant-General to the Forces.[19]  In 1850, he became the Adjutant-General  to the Forces and served in the position from 8 April 1850 to 12 December 1853.[20] While as the Adjutant-General, he was promoted to lieutenant general on 11 November 1851.[21]  From February 1854 to June 1855, he led the Light Division of the Eastern Army in the Crimean War.  As its commander he would be wounded at the battle of Inkerman on 5 November 1854.  He commanded the expedition to Kertch from May to June 1855 and led the assault on the Redan at Sevastopol on 18 June 1855.  General Brown was considered for command of the army in the Crimea in 1855, but was not appointed to its command.

Lieutenant General Brown was promoted to general for distinguished service antedated to 7 September 1855.[22] In 1860, he was appointed to command all forces in Ireland and served there until 1865. He died on 27 August 1865 at his birthplace, Linkwood. 

General Brown was a Commander of the Bath in 1838,[23] a Knight Commander of the Bath in 1852, a Knight Grand Cross of the Bath in 1855, and a Knight of the Royal Guelphic Order.[24] He was the Colonel of the 77th Foot from 1851-1854, the 7th Foot from 1854-1855, the Colonel-Commandant of the 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade from 1855-1863, the 32nd Foot in 1863, and the Colonel-in-Chief of the Rifle Brigade from 1863-1865.[25]

Sir George Brown would receive the Army General Service Medal with clasps for Vimeiro, Talavera, Bussaco, Fuentes d’Onoro, San Sebastian, Nivelle, and Nive. [26]

The best description of Sir George Brown’s character was in his obituary:  “Sir George Brown was a soldier of the Wellington school, and consequently a strict disciplinarian.  His manner was thought by some to be too abrupt and peremptory, and he was by no means a popular character whilst he held office at the Horse Guards.  But those who knew him intimately were well aware that much of this roughness was merely assumed, under the idea of supporting discipline, and it is certain that as an individual he was ever ready to do any kindness in his power.  Though he enforced the ‘Regulations’ with unpalatable strictness whilst in command in the East, he was at least equally anxious to provide for the welfare of his men, and when wine for the sick was not forthcoming from the commissariat, he supplied it at his own expense.  He also was a liberal contributor to the Drummond Institute for soldiers’ daughters, and that he had a feeling for the higher ranks also. . .”[27]


[1] London Gazette: 4 February 1806

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

[3] Brown; p. 4

[4] Levinge; p. 106

[5] Ibid; p. 299

[6] Ibid; p. 125 - 126

[7] Ibid; p. 127 - 128

[8] Memoirs; p. 129

[9] Hart’s: 1858; London Gazette: 25 June 1811

[10] London Gazette:  7 July 1812; Royal Military Calendar: 1820 vol. 5 page 79

[11] Ibid; p. 72

[12] Barrett; p. 73

[13] Hart’s: 1858; London Gazette: 31 May 1814

[14] Brown; p. 4

[15] London Gazette:  1 August 1823

[16] London Gazette:  13 February 1824

[17] Hart’s: 1858; London Gazette:  10 May 1831

[18] Hart’s: 1858; London Gazette:  23 November 1841

[19] London Gazette: 23 November 1841

[20] London Gazette:  12 April 1850;  16 December 1853

[21] London Gazette: 11 November 1851

[22] London Gazette: 4 April 1856

[23] London Gazette: 19 July 1838

[24] Hart’s: 1841 p. 110; Shaw vol. 2 p. 32

[25] Leslie; pp. 48, 73, 106, 139, 140

[26] Mullens; p. 312

[27] Urban; pp. 643 - 644


Placed on the Napoleon Series: February 2009

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

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