Research Subjects: Biographies

Not One in Ten Thousand Know Your Name: the Officers of the British 1st Battalion of Detachments in 1809 -- Assistant Surgeon Richard O’Connell 43rd Foot

By Robert Burnham and Ron McGuigan


Sometimes his name is spelled Rickard.

Little is known about Richard O’Connell, other than what appears in the London Gazette and the regimental histories.  He was most likely from Ireland and probably from County Kerry.  He was appointed assistant surgeon in the 4th Battalion Light Infantry of the Line in Ireland.[1]   Starting 1803, battalions of light infantry of the line were formed in Ireland and were part of the Light Brigade that was stationed at Curragh Kildare.[2] Assistant Surgeon O’Connell went on half-pay when the battalion was reduced on 24 July 1806; however, he was back on active duty with the 7th Garrison Battalion in London by December 1806.[3] Richard O’Connell was appointed as the Assistant Surgeon in the 38th Foot in February 1808.[4] Five months later, on 7 July 1808, he was transferred to the 2nd Battalion 43rd Foot.[5]

Assistant Surgeon O’Connell deployed with the 2nd Battalion 43rd Foot to Portugal in August 1808 and would serve with them at Vimeiro.  When the battalion was ordered into Spain in November, he was left behind in Portugal with the wounded and sick.  In February 1809, he was attached to the 1st Battalion of Detachments and would stay with it throughout its existence.  He would participate with it in the Douro and Talavera Campaigns.  Upon its disbandment in September 1809, he did not return to his regiment, but stayed in Portugal and was attached to the 52nd Foot until February 1810.[6]  In March 1810, he would be back with the 1st Battalion 43rd Foot and would fight with them for the next two years.  Assistant Surgeon O’Connell would be with the regiment at the combat on the River Coa in July 1810, where he was busy treating the 95 wounded of the 43rd Foot, Bussaco, Redinha, Sabugal, Fuentes d’Orono, and the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo.[7]

In May 1812, Richard O’Connell returned to England and would stay in the regimental depot at Colchester.[8]He returned to the Peninsula in February 1813 and was with the 1st Battalion 43rd Foot until April, when he received word that effective 25 March 1813, he was appointed Surgeon in the 45th Foot.[9]  Interestingly, Challis never gives Surgeon O’Connell credit for being present at Vitoria or any of the other battles that the 45th Foot fought in 1813.  He would campaign with them for five months until 9 September, when he was appointed Staff Surgeon to the Forces.[10]

Staff Surgeon O’Connell would stay in the Peninsula until the very end.  His final action would be at Bayonne in 1814.  He had served 59 months in the Peninsula.  Shortly after returning to England in 1814, he was placed on half-pay.  On 25 April 1815, he was returned to full pay as a Surgeon to the Forces.[11]

Staff Surgeon O’Connell would serve in the Netherlands and France during  1815 and 1816.[12]  He did not receive the Waterloo Medal, so he was probably not at Waterloo.  Shortly after he returned from France in 1816, he went on half-pay.  He most likely returned to Ireland and by 1842 was living in Kerry.[13]  He married Eliza Bruce of Scoutbush and Killroot of County Antrim.[14]  He did not receive the Army General Service Medal, which indicates that he was probably dead by 1846.


[1] London Gazette: 29 December 1804.

[2] London Gazette: 6 October 1803; Carter; Historical Record p. 110

[3] Carter; Historical Record p. 110; London Gazette: 20 January 1807

[4] London Gazette: 23 February 1808

[5] London Gazette: 12 July 1808

[6] Challis

[7] Challis

[8] Cooke; p. 217

[9] London Gazette: 30 March 1813

[10] London Gazette: 14 September 1813

[11] London Gazette: 20 May 1815

[12] Army Lists: January and May 1816

[13] Ireland : pp. 629-633

[14] Burke (1847): p. 152

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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