Research Subjects: Biographies

Not One in Ten Thousand Know Your Name: the Officers of the British 1st Battalion of Detachments in 1809 -- Lieutenant Robert Gresley Lavers 91st Foot

By Robert Burnham and Ron McGuigan

Robert Gresley Lavers was born in either late 1786 or 1787.  He was commissioned as an ensign in the 91st Foot, without purchase, on 27 August 1804.[1]  He would be initially stationed in Perth, with the newly raised 2nd Battalion.[2] On 31 October 1805, Ensign Lavers was promoted to lieutenant, without purchase.[3] By 1808, he was stationed with the 1st Battalion in Ireland. On 15 June 1808 the regiment embarked at Monkstown and sailed for Portugal, where it landed by 5 August.[4]

Lieutenant Lavers fought with the 1st Battalion 91st Foot at Roliça and Vimeiro.  On 15 October 1808, he was one of the 171 soldiers of 91st Foot in hospital at Quillos, mostly likely sick dysentery. On 29 October, there were among the sick at Quillos, 47 cases of dysentery, 2 of typhus, 3 with intermittent fever, 1 with pulmonia, 1 with veneral disease, 3 with wounds and ulcers, and 12 convalescents. When the regiment marched into Spain November, he was one of the 3 lieutenants, 1 surgeon, 6 sergeants and 130 other ranks left behind under the command of Captain Walsh.[4a]  

In February 1809, Lieutenant Lavers was attached to the 1st Battalion of Detachments in Captain Walsh's Company which consisted of 3 officers (Captain Walsh, Lieutenant McDougal, and Lieutenant Lavers), 2 sergeants and 88 men, most of them from the 91st Foot. Lieutenant  Lavers would serve with them at the Douro but was not present at Talavera according to the monthly return of 1st Battalion of Detachments. He was left behind sick.[4b]  

After the 1st Battalion of Detachments was disbanded in September 1809, Lieutenant Lavers returned to Great Britain.  He would be stationed with the 1st Battalion 91st Foot in a variety of places in southern England over the next two years, including Canterbury, Ramsgate, Ashford, and Chatham.[5] 

In the autumn of 1811, Lieutenant Lavers was seconded to the staff as an Acting Assistant Commissary General for the British army in Portugal.[6] This was an unusual appointment and was probably driven by financial reasons.  He was 9th on the seniority list for lieutenants and with both battalions of the 91st Foot stationed in Great Britain, his prospects for being promoted to captain were dismal.  However, as an acting Assistant Commissary General, he would the pay and privileges of a captain.[7]  It is unknown where he served in the Peninsula.  Every infantry brigade, cavalry regiment, and artillery brigade had a commissary officer assigned to it.  Additionally, there were at least 37 supply depots scattered throughout Portugal.  Lieutenant Lavers was probably assigned to one of the depots and not with the divisions.  When the Army General Service Medal was authorized, he received credit for only one battle that was fought in 1812 and 1813 – the Nivelle, which was fought on 10 November 1813.  If he was with a brigade or regiment, he would have most likely had participated in several battles during that time.[8] 

Lieutenant Lavers returned to Great Britain in December 1813 and would stay on detached duty until July 1814, when the 1st Battalion 91st returned.  He would be stationed in Ireland with them until the regiment left for Belgium in April 1815. [9]   Although he was the senior lieutenant in the regiment, Lieutenant Lavers did not participate in the Waterloo Campaign.[10] 

Lieutenant Lavers was promoted to captain by purchase on 8 January 1818.[11] He had been a lieutenant for over 12 years. By 1821, he was the 5th senior captain. He would go with the regiment to Jamaica in 1822, where he commanded the 8th Company. In the regimental history, he is listed as having "survived Jamaica". Of the 9 Captains and the Adjutant who went to Jamaica with the regiment in 1822, 3 died, 3 exchanged into other regiments, 2 retired, and for one, nothing is mentioned. The other survivor was Captain Robert Anderson.[12]

On 29 April 1828, Captain Lavers was court-martial for two charges of "highly unofficer-like conduct" while in command of a detachment in Jamaica. He violated the Articles of War when he convened a court-martial for two of his soldiers, Corporal Matthew Quinn and Private James Hay. Both were found guilty and Corporal Quinn was reduced to private and given 150 lashes, while Private Hay was sentenced him to 200 lashes, but subsequently reduced the punishment to 100 lashes. Captain Lavers was found guily of both charges and the court sentenced him to be placing at the bottom of list of all captains in his regiment. In other words, he lost all seniority.

On 1 May 1828, Major General John Keane, the commander of all British forces in Jamaica, did not like the sentence and ordered the court to reconsider. The court did and Captain Laves was sentenced to be cashiered, but with a recommendation that he be granted clemancy by his royal majesty. King George IV agreed with the court but with a suitable admonition.

The results of the court-martial was published in the December 1828 issue of the Naval and Military Magazine. It makes interesting reading:

Horse Guards, 4th Sept. 1828.

At a General Court-martial, held at Up Park Camp Barracks, Jamaica, on the 28th April, 1828, and on subsequent days, Capt. Robert Gresley Lavers, of the 9lst regt., was arraigned upon the under-mentioned charges, viz.—

"1st, For highly unofficer-like conduct, when in command of a detachment of the 91st regt., at Montego Bay, in having carried into execution, on the 8th March, 1828, the sentence of a detachment Court-martial, held by orders, awarding two hundred, lashes to private James Hay, of the said detachment, without the previous approval of his Commanding Officer, although he, Capt. Robert Gresley Lavers, was also the President of the said detachment Court-martial; such conduct being a direct violation of the 14th and 15th articles of the 16th section of the articles of war.

"2d, For highly unofficer-like conduct, when in command of a detachment of the 91st regt. at Montego Bay, in having carried into execution, on the 12th March, 1328, in part, (amounting to the reduction and infliction of one hundred lashes,) of the sentence of a detachment Court-martial, held by his orders, awarding reduction to the state of a private, and one hundred aud fifty lashes, to Corporal Matthew Quinn, of the said detachment, without the previous approval of his Commanding Officer, although he, Capt. Robert Gresley Lavers, was also the President of the said detachment Court-martial; such conduct being a direct yiolation of the 14th and 15th articles of the 16th section of the articles of war."

Upon which charges the Court come to the following decision:—

"The Court haviug attentively heard, recorded, and most deliberately weighed and considered the whole of the evidence produced in support of the charges against Capt.Robert Gresley Lavers of the 61st regt., together with the prisoner's defence, and what he has brought forward in support thereof, is of opinion as follows: viz.

"With respect to the first charge, that he, the prisoner, Capt. Robert Gresley Layers, of the 91st regt., is Guilty.

"With respect to the second charge, that he, the prisoner, Capt. Robert Gresley Layers, of the 91st regt., is Guilty.

"The Court having found the prisoner, Capt. Robert Gresley Lavers, of the 91st regt., Guilty of both the charges brought against him, which being a direct violation of the Articles of War, does sentence him, the prisoner, Capt. Robert Gresley Lavers, of the 91st regt., to be placed at the bottom of the rank of captains in the 91st regt."

The Court having met, pursuant to adjournment, the President laid before the Court the following letter, received from Maj.-Gen. Sir John Keane, commanding the forces:—

"Head Quarters, 1st May, 1828.

"Sir,—I have read with attention the proceedings enclosed, which I return herewith.

"The Court having found Capt. Lavers Guilty of both charges, and pronouncing them a direct violation of the Articles of War, \ feel bound to call upon the Court to re-Consider their award. I therefore desire the Court will revise its sentence.

"I have, &c.

(Signed) "John Keane,
Maj.-Gen. commanding.

"To Lt.-CoI. Moffatt, President of Court-martial."

"The Court proceeded again to deliberate on the foregoing opinion delivered by them, and, after attentively re-considering the same, does now sentence him, the prisoner, Capt. Robert Gresley Layers, of the 91st regt., to be cashiered his Majesty's service.

"The Court, having now fulfilled its very painful duty, in passing that sentence upon- an old officer which a violation of the Articles of War requires, cannot close its proceedings without taking into consideration the long and faithful services of Capt. Lavers, a period of twenty-four years, many of which on actual service;—his haying fallen into error, from a misconstruction of his Commanding Officer's directions;—his actions having been solely with a view of preserving the discipline and order of his company, and an over-anxious zeal for the good of the service under peculiar circumstances; and unanimously recommending him to his Majesty's most gracious clemency and consideration."

His Majesty has been pleased to approve and confirm the finding and sentence of the Court; but, in consideration of the recommendation of the Court, of the long service of the prisoner, and of the fact, that the offence of which he has been found guilty, may be ascribed to his anxiety to check disorder, and to a misapprehension of the verbal directions which had been given to him by his CommandingOfficer, Lieut.-Col. Sutherland, his Majesty was further most graciously pleased to exteud his clemency to the prisoner not, however, without a suitable admonition, which should make Capt. Lavers duly sensible of his Majesty's displeasure on an occasion in which service, however meritorious, and zeal, however remarkable, cannot justify ignorance of his Majesty's regulations, and of the principles by which his Majesty's army is governed.

The General Commanding-in-Chief directs that the foregoing charges preferred against Capt. Robert Gresley Lavers, together with the finding and sentence of the Court, and his Majesty's commands thereon, shall be entered in the General Order Book, and read at the head of every regiment in his Majesty's service.

By command of the
Right Hon. Gen. Lord Hill,
Herbert Taylor, Adj.-Gen. [13]

Captain Lavers returned to the British Isles with the 91st Foot and served with it in Ireland -- still in command of the 8th Company. On 24 May 1834, he is shown as marching from Mallow to Limerick, where he arrived on 27 May.  On 7 January 1835, his company was required to assist the Civil Power at Montmellick, from where they marched to Birr on 24 January 1835.[14]

By 1835, two officers who were junior to him had been promoted to major within his regiment.[15] It is dificult to say if it was because he could not afford to purchase the next step in rank or if his court-martial had an impact on his ability to advance in rank. On 24 July 1835, Captain Lavers retired from the army by the sale of his commission.[16] He had served for over thirty years. By 1843 he had emigrated to Australia and in 1844 was appointed a commissioner of peace, wow was someone either elected or appointed to keep the peace and administer justice.[17 A few years later he would emigrate to British Guinea and would be a justice of the peace and a stipendiary magistrate.  Captain Lavers died in New Amsterdam, British Guinea, on 7 November 1849.  The next day, a notice was placed in the Berbice Gazette

"Died - At New-Amsterdam, Berbice, on the 7th inst., aged 62, Robert Gresley Lavers, Esquire, J.P. and S.M. late Captain 91st Regiment of Foot.  He was with his Regiment at the passage of the Douro, at Vimiera, Nivelle, and through the brilliant career of that gallant corps on the Peninsula."[18]

Captain Lavers received the Army General Service Medal with claps for Roliça, Vimeiro, and Nivelle.[19]

Notes:

[1] London Gazette: 4 September 1804

[2] Groves: p. 7

[3] London Gazette: 2 November 1805; Army List: June 1809

[4] Groves: pp. 7, 9

[4a] Dunn-Pattison: pp. 35, 79

[4b] Ibid; p. 43

[5] Challis; Groves: p. 11; Army Lists: July 1810

[6] Challis: Army Lists: November 1811

[7] Ward: p. 71

[8] Ward: pp.  83-84; Mullen: 499

[9] Groves: p. 14

[10] Groves: p. 40

[11] London Gazette: 27 January 1818

[12] Dunn-Pattison: p. 124

[13] "Captain R.G. Lavers 21st Foot". Naval and Military Magazine. December 1828. Pages CXIX - CXX [Author's note: the magazine had Captain Lavers in the 21st Foot instead of the 91st Foot.]

[14] Dunn-Pattison

[15] A List of the Officers of the Army and of the Corps of Royal Marines. London: War Office; 1835. Page 275

[16] London Gazette: 24 July 1835

[17] "New Commission of the Peace". Morning Chronicle published in Sydney, New South Wales; 24 February 1844. 10 August 2013.

[18] Begbie, Tikwis. “Robert Gresley Lavers Esq.” British Guiana Colonists Index "L" . 29 November 2008.

[19] Mullen: p. 499

 

Acknowledgment: I would like to thank LTC Gary Donaldson for contributing to this article.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2009; Updated July 2009 & August 2013

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



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