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An Account of His Majesty’s De Meuron Regiment Chapter 8: A Silhouette and War in the Mediterranean

An Account of His Majesty’s De Meuron Regiment Chapter 8: A Silhouette and War in the Mediterranean

An Account of His Majesty’s De Meuron Regiment 1795-1816

Chapter 8: A Silhouette and War in the Mediterranean


Silhouette of De Meuron Officer c 1806 (courtesy C. Bryant Esq.)

 

During 2011 the framed and coloured silhouette displayed above was discovered in France, and after assessment by experts declared to be a silhouette portrait of an officer of HM’s De Meuron Regiment. The portrait was by John Buncombe, a silhouette artist who flourished between 1795 to 1830, and lived at Pyle Street, Newport, Isle of Wight, where he specialised in military portraits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Buncombe Trade Label (C. Bryant, Esq.)

 

 

The image shows what appears to be a relatively young officer of HM’s De Meuron Regiment, and described as; ‘portrayed half length, profile to the right, wearing a coatee with French grey facings and standing collar, silver buttons, lace, embroidered buttonholes and epaulettes. A white cross belt, with oval belt plate, white shirt frill, black stock, powdered pig-tail wig or queue and a black bicorn hat dressed in silver lace binding, a black cockade and white plume’.[1]

⃰ The facings and collar would originally have been ‘azure blue’ the colour agreed for facings etc. by Brig. General P. F. de Meuron in 1800 and as shown on the illustration, A View of the British Army on the Present Establishment 1803.

The belt plate indicates His Majesty’s De Meuron Regiment and the officer of the Grenadier company, confirmed by the small grenade device of a silver ball and gilt flame on his epaulettes and the shoulder belt plate.

The white powdered queue or pigtail provides a clue towards a date of commission, as these were abolished in British Army dress regulations on 20 July 1808, and although sources tend to contradict one another in terms of the exact date they ceased to be worn, there is no doubt this De Meuron officer is sporting a queue.[2] The regiment had remained abroad from 1795 to 1806 but during one period in the UK in 1806 the De Meuron Regiment was stationed on the Isle of Wight where there was an army depot or at the Foreign Depot, Lymington, Hants.

The name ‘Jacques’ is written on the rear of the frame but other words or names are illegible. There were three officers with the first or second name Jacques serving in the regiment at the time, Jean Jacques Bolle, Jean Jacques Gaechter, Jacques Frederic Matthey, but were not listed in the Grenadier company.

The Pay and Muster Roll of the regiment taken at St. Helena on 24th May 1806, while en route to the UK, shows the two officers  listed in the Grenadier company;[3]

Captain Pierre Henri Meuron-d’Orbe: Cadet 1789, Ensign 1791, Lieutenant 1793, Adjutant 1797, Captain Lieutenant 1802, Captain 1803, placed on half pay, due to ill health pension and paid from 1812 until 1831.[4]

Lieutenant Charles de Rham: Ensign 1799, Lieut., 1802, Lieut., and Adjutant 1807-1810, Captain 1810, served in the Mediterranean, and Canada, placed on half pay from disbandment in 1816 until 1821.

One month later 24th June 1806, two additional officers are shown:

Charles Pillichody, Ensign 1799, Lieutenant 1801, transferred to a Crown Regiment later that year 1806.[5]

Abram L. Peter, Ensign 1797, Lieutenant 1800, Captain 1808, placed on half pay 1816 until 1837. [6]

The officer in the silhouette has all the appearances of a young man, the date of commission of the work is most probably circa 1806-1807 and though the officer in the silhouette could be one of those named, without further evidence, it is unlikely his exact identity will be established.

During the Napoleonic Wars, Swiss officers belonging to the De Meuron Regiment and travelling through France on home leave needed to be more than cautious. Lieutenant Charles Samuel Vitel, who had joined the regiment, aged 20 years in 1799, and originally from Les Verrieres, Switzerland, was unlucky enough to be arrested in 1806, while passing through Paris to visit his uncle Louis Borel, a suspected counter revolutionary. It was alleged that Vitel also attempted to visit those favourable to the re-instatement of the Bourbon family dynasty. He was given up by a spy to the police minister Joseph Fouche, stood trial, sentenced to death and executed by firing squad on 4th April 1807, on the plaine de Grenelle.[7] Napoleon later issued instructions to prevent any further recruitment for the British army in the principality of Neuchatel.[8] An engraved print of Charles Samuel Vitel, by P. Tompkins shows the Lieutenant dressed his Meuron uniform, his shoulder belt displaying a badge with the GR Royal cypher.

A similar fate to that of Vitel, was avoided by two officers of the regiment in 1812, when Captain Emmanuel May and Ensign Auguste e Loriel, were on leave in Bern, Switzerland. May was warned that the French Ambassador was arranging for his immediate arrest and both officers were able to make their escape. A lengthy return journey through Germany, Vienna, Sarajevo and Salonika with constant delays over passports, meant they overstayed their leave by two months.[9]

The Two Sicilies, comprising of the southern peninsula of Italy and the Island of Sicily was ruled by King Ferdinand and his wife Queen Maria Carolina, an Austrian, for whom Napoleon Buonaparte reserved an especial dislike, describing her ‘as the man in Naples’. She in turn, later related by the marriage of a grand-daughter to Napoleon, regarded him as an ‘unregenerate beast’. The Kingdom suffered a troubled existence and this was the second occasion where the Bourbon family had sought protection from Napoleon’s aggression. Napoleon declared Sicily to be ‘a bone of contention’, expressing his fear that by their ability to use the ports of Sicily and Malta the British were in a position to seal off the Mediterranean.[10] The loss of access to the Sicilian ports and harbours would have been a strategic catastrophe for the Royal Navy and British interests in the whole region.[11]

At the beginning of 1808, the De Meuron Regiment left Gibraltar and arrived at Malta, from where a detachment of 167 men would be despatched to assist in the protection of Sicily.[12]The French in 1806 had quickly overrun Naples, Southern Italy, but were defeated at Maida, further South in Calabria on 4th July 1806, by an expeditionary force led by General John Stuart. That victory was not followed up, and the French re-established themselves during May 1808, with columns numbering 20,000 -30,000 men under Marshal Joachim Murat, marching into Calabria and leaving the security bought at Maida, greatly diminished.

Arising from this latest French threat, a British force of 5,000 troops already stationed in the Mediterranean was sent between 20th to 26th April 1808 to re-enforce Messina, Sicily and bolster British troops already stationed there under General Sir John Sherbrooke. The force comprised of a number of units including the detachment of the De Meuron Regiment under Captain Lardy as well as an assortment of other foreign corps. The major concern was the island’s vulnerability from the Strait of Messina, a two mile stretch of water between Calabria, Italy and Sicily. The invasion of Sicily by the French was feasible, but their lack of naval power made the threat emanating from Italy seemingly baseless. The fortifications of Messina were believed to be insufficient to withstand siege batteries but had been strengthened by Royal Engineers during 1807 and were now adequate. The British ‘Army of Occupation’ was to occupy Sicily from 1806 to 1815, with a force at times comprising of 15,000 troops. It was whilst the De Meuron Regiment was in Sicily that the officers and men  who had served at Seringapatam, received the 1799 Seringapatam medal, without a medal suspender, on 18th July 1808, from General Sherbrooke, but not the authority to wear it until 29th August 1814.[13]

The Court of Directors of the Honourable East India Company, had instructed by General Order, the preparation of a Company medal to be granted to the troops engaged in the storming and capture of Seringapatam in 1799. It was awarded in gold to general officers, silver-gilt to field officers, silver to captains and subalterns, bronze to non-commissioned officers and men of the British Army, and in pewter or tin to Native Sepoys. Permission to wear the medal was given to the British Army on August 29th 1815. The medal was issued without names or suspension; the latter were generally added by the recipients, who wore the medal suspended from a dark orange ribbon, supposed to represent the colour of a tiger’s skin, or a red ribbon with blue edges, similar to that of the Peninsula gold medals and crosses. The original idea was to have a universal ribbon for military medals, instead of a distinctive one for each campaign and the proceedings of the Madras Military Board, dated August 9th, 1831, mention this as the ribbon worn with this medal. Thirty gold, 185 silver-gilt, 850 silver, 5,000 bronze, and 45,000 pewter or tin medals were issued after being struck in 1801-2, at the Soho Mint in Birmingham.

On the obverse of the medal, which is 1.9 inches imperial (4.8 cm) in diameter, is the British lion trampling upon the Bengal tiger; above is a banner, on which is Tippoo’s title, ‘Asadullahal Ghalib, the conquering tiger of God’ and below is the date, IV May MDCCXCIX. On the reverse, the army is shown advancing to storm the citadel; above is the sun in the meridian; in the exergue, a Persian inscription: ‘The God given fortress of Seringapatam, 28th day of the month Zikadah 1213 of the Hegira’. [14]

The medal although struck in England was not sent to India until 1808 and issued to Company forces that had participated. Crown forces that had participated did receive the medal but not the authority to wear it until 1815. Another similar medal was struck at the Calcutta Mint, and was given to troops of the Bengal Army in 1809, eighty-three gold, and 2,786 silver medals only being issued, the sun is omitted on the reverse, and this medal is thinner, with a rounded edge, and loop added for suspension.

The De Meuron Regimental strength in Autumn 1808 was;

1 August 1808 Strength: 21 Commissioned and Warrant Officers, 56 NCOs, 242 rank and file fit for duty, 19 rank and file sick, 358 total officers and men, 504 establishment.

1 Sept. 1808 Strength: 33 Commissioned and Warrant Officers, 47 NCOs, 256 rank and file fit for duty, 11 rank and file sick, 355 total officers and men, 504 establishment.

1 Dec. 1808 Strength: 24 Commissioned and Warrant Officers, 47 NCOs, 265 rank and file fit for duty, 13 rank and file sick, 366 total officers and men, 504 establishment.

The capitulation document of 1798 expired on 1st January 1809, and a renewal document dated 4th August 1809 was drawn up consisting of 14 articles which set a new period for the De Meuron Regiment’s re-engagement at seven years.[15]

That year Napoleon pressured the Swiss to stipulate that there was to be no further recruitment by the Swiss of any English, Italians or French nationals into the De Meuron, Watteville or De Roll regiments.

The strength of the regiment at the beginning of 1809, dropped to a low of 278 and although the registers show a low number of eight desertions in the Autumn of 1808 to 1809, no reason has been ascertained, [16] other than the initial service contract for soldiers in the regiment in 1799 for ten years had expired. A Sergeant Joseph Wittmer, formerly of the Watteville Regiment, transferred into the regiment in March 1809, as an Ensign, later promoted to Lieutenant, serving until 1816, when he was placed on half pay until 1833.[17] By December 1809 the regimental strength had increased to 798, with the recruitment of 500 former Swiss and German soldiers taken prisoner at Bailen in Spain, during July 1808.[18] That the regiment had an immediate future in the British Army was assured, firstly by the renewal of the service contract and confirmed in a letter from Inspector General G. Gower dated 4th November 1809.[19]

The regiment had by 1810 returned to Malta and according to the weight of evidence, took no part in repulsing the attempted French landings on Sicily. That said, the family and regimental historian states and believes that they were.[20] The French failure to secure Sicily, left the British able to dominate the central and eastern Mediterranean and to neutralise Napoleon’s plans on the Balkans and Asia Minor.

A number of officers and soldiers transferred from other British regiments to the De Meuron Regiment between 1803-1813.

Transferees to De Meuron Regiment:

Felix Bartel 28th October 1808 – King’s German Legion (KGL)
Nicholas Bourgnon – KGL (previous service in De Meuron[21]
Benoit Carron 17th December 1808 – KGL[22]
Dieudonne Castion 17th November – KGL[23]
Henry Fabritus 11th December 1811- KGL and 60th Regiment
 Conrad Faurre 20th July 1810 – KGL[24]
Francois Genevier 11th December – 1809 KGL
Antoine Grazianni 29th November 1807 – 35th Regiment
Jean Horn 28th June 1803 – 60th Regiment
Nicolas Kellar 15th May 1812 – KGL
Henry Lafinneur 15th December 1808 – KGL?
Jean Theodore Misani d 25th April 1811 – Royal Regiment of Malta (disbanded 1811)[25]
Henry Rick 15 May 1812 – KGL[26]
Benedict Rosch 28 November 1803 – 96th Regiment, Queens Own Germans.[27]
Joseph Sanspott 28 October 1808 – KGL[28]
Louis Simoneau 24 October 1814 – Chasseurs Brittanique (upon disbandment in 1814)[29]
Johan Veert 15 May 1812 – KGL

During September 1810, Ensign Frederic Graffenried, arrived in Malta where his older brother, Lieutenant Francois Graffenried was also serving in the De Meuron Regiment. Frederic spent two years with the regiment in garrison, occasionally in barracks at Florian, Fort Manoel, or Vittoriosa and was promoted Lieutenant in 1811. In his later memoir he wrote about his leisure activities while off duty:

We did not have much choice in terms of diversions, we went to see our friends in the other forts; When we were not on duty, we were not required to wear uniform, instead we wore a light white jacket, trousers and waistcoat and carried a small pointed dagger in place of the sword. In the mornings we exercised our horses in the early morning before the heat or went boating…[30]          

There was another interval for leisure when on 27th August 1811, the De Meuron officers hosted a dinner for their fellow officers from the Watteville Regiment. Both Graffenried brothers continued to serve as Lieutenants with the regiment in the Mediterranean, and Canada until 1816. Francois retired on a half pay pension until 1848, and Frederic chose to remain in Canada.

The commanding officer, Colonel Pierre Lardy, suffered a bereavement when his youngest son, Louis died in Malta in 1811. The tragedy may have prompted him to sell his commission in March 1812, to a Major George Windham or Wyndham. Lardy continued to serve in Sicily as an attaché on the General Staff, [31] whilst command of the regiment fell temporarily upon the most senior officer, Major Anthony Conrad Zweifel.[32] George Windham was recorded on the regiment strength 14th March 1812, but did not join the regiment, remaining absent until December 1812 and retiring shortly thereafter. He was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel H. Davies in March 1813, who apparently did not join the regiment yet died at Sicily in December that year. He was replaced by the promotion of Lieutenant Colonel Henri de Meuron-Bayard as commanding officer. The regiment’s effective strength at the end of 1811, was 957 men stationed at Cottonera, Malta, [33] where they were issued with replacement uniforms on 25th March 1812, the third since their transfer to the Crown in 1795. The initial uniform of a scarlet coat with blue facings and leather helmet with bearskin crest had already been exchanged in India for a scarlet style coatee, light blue facings, lace and shoulder knots, white pantaloons to the foot, black round hat with fur crest and short black gaiters.[34] Pouches, belt badges and the Shako helmet with white green or red plume bore a plate or badge bearing G.R surmounted by a royal crown, with a subscript, ‘De Meuron’s Swiss Regiment’. The regimental surgeons at Madras in 1805, had worn a uniform described as of a ‘drab colour‘ with Saxon blue facings and silver trimmings. Despite what the new contract had stipulated, no one of Swiss origin had served among the whole 24 medical personnel since the regiment had transferred; eight were German, eight French, five English and three Dutch. An officer apparently noted that, ‘the new uniform was colourful, harmonious and sparkling with gaiety’.[35]

 De Meuron Belt Plate (C. Bryant, Esq.)

 

On 12th October 1812, the Colonel of the Regiment, Lieutenant General Pierre Frederic de Meuron, living in London moved to Neuchatel, citing his ill health and where he died, aged 67 years, on 30th March 1813. His replacement as Colonel of the Regiment, appointed on 24th October 1812, was Major General Sir George Townsend Walker, who served in that capacity until disbandment in 1816. [36]

The suggestion first raised in 1802, about an amalgamation of Swiss Regiments, gained traction again when a rumour circulated that the De Meuron Regiment was to change its title to The Royal Swiss Regiment. Approaches to the Commander in Chief, Frederick, Duke of York in September 1812, by other Swiss mercenary regiments for an inclusive single Swiss Brigade fell on stony ground. The Duke of York stated that the capitulation documents of all three Swiss Regiments were different and such a change would provide no advantage or benefit, and the rumour of a change of title was denied.[37]

A return on 25th October 1812 showed:

Field Officers present-1, Captains present -6, Subalterns present -14, Rank and File (Effective) -1030. Rank and File (Establishment) – 1200; On passage – 0. At Home – 46.

A return on 25 December 1812:

Field officers present – 2, Captains present – 6. Subalterns present – 14, Rank and File (Effective) – 1028; Rank and File (Establishment) – 1200. At Home – 56.[38]

 

[1] Description courtesy of Bonhams Auctioneers, London.

[2]  J. Crook, The Very Thing, The Memoirs of Drummer Richard Bentinck 1807-1823 (Barnsley; Frontline Books, 2011) pp.5-9, fns 15 & 18; Army and Navy Illustrated 10th December 1898; Dictionary of British Military History, (London: A&C Black, 2003); H. Stocqueler A Familiar History of the British Army from the Restoration to the Present Time. (London: E Stanford, 1871) pp.103-104

[3] Ancestry.co.uk Canada, British Army & Canada Militia Muster Rolls & Pay Lists 1795-1850 WO12/11960

[4] G. de Meuron, Le Regiment Meuron 1781-1816, Le Forum Historique,(Lausanne: Editions d’En Bas 1982)  p.320; National Archive WO 25/756/72. The capitulation of 1809 used the term pension.

[5] Ancestry.co.uk Canada, British Army & Canada Militia Muster Rolls & Pay Lists 1795-1850 WO12/11960, p.273; de Meuron, Le Regiment Meuron1781-1816, Le Forum Historique,(Lausanne: Editions d’En Bas 1982) p.323-326.

[6] Ancestry.co.uk Canada, British Army & Canada Militia Muster Rolls & Pay Lists 1795-1850 WO12/11960 p.273; de Meuron, Le Regiment Meuron1781-1816, Le Forum Historique,(Lausanne: Editions d’En Bas 1982) p.323-326.

[7] Journal of the Dutch Burgher Union of Ceylon Vol. LIV Jan-Dec 1964; de Meuron, Le Regiment Meuron1781-1816 Le Forum Historique, (Lausanne: Editions d’En Bas 1982) p.199

[8] British Library General Reference 12275.aa.19. Calcutta Review 1903.

[9] National Archive, it is possible that Roland Nicholas Auguste de Loriel in the National Archive entered the regiment as a cadet and was an Ensign in 1812. https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C4397506 (visited 30/11/20)

[10]  D. Bingham, Selection of the Letters and Despatches of Napoleon, (London: Chapman & Hall 1889) 3 Volumes. Vol. II p.198-199

[11] W. Clements, The Defences of Sicily 1806-1815, (Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, 87-No.351, 2009, pp.256-272

[12] G. de Meuron, Le Regiment Meuron, pp.200-202

[13] W. Stewart, War Medals & their History (London: Stanley Paul, 1915) pp.12-18; P. Duckers, British Military Medals (London: Pen & Sword, 2009) p.18; The Medal Year Book 2013, (Honiton: Token Publishing,) p.115

[14] D. Hastings Unwin, War Medals and Decorations, Issued to the British military and naval forces and allies from 1588 to 1910. (London: L. Upcott Gill, 1910) pp.32-33.

[15] Appendix V Capitulation document of 1809.

[16] TNA WO 25/677 part II; WO 1/306

[17] WO 7/78; G. de Meuron, Le Regiment Meuron, p.331; A Nichols, Wellington’s Switzers, (Huntingdon; KT Publishing Ltd, 2015) p.73

[18] J. McCormack, One Million Mercenaries (London, Leo Cooper 1993) p.167; Yaple, SAHR Vol 50 no. 201 Spring 1972, pp.15-16.

[19] TNA, WO 1/699, fol. 55-60; G. de Meuron, Le Regiment de Meuron 1781-1816. p.203

[20] G. de Meuron, Le Regiment Meuron, p.203.

[21] TNA WO97/1178/153, b. Delemont, Switzerland, service in De Meuron 1794-1815, discharged aged 45 years.

[22] TNA WO97/1178/210 b. Carfel, Flanders served in De Meuron regt.1808-1816 discharged aged 27 years

[23] TNA WO97/1178/212 b. Mors, Brabant. Served in De Meuron regt, 1808-1816 discharged aged 34 years.

[24] TNA WO97/1178/359 Conrad Fahr alias Faure b. Fribourg Germany, served 1810-1816 De Meuron Regt.

[25] TNA WO 25/756/73, Misani had previously served in the 60th and Froberg Regiments.

[26] TNA WO97/1180/340 Henry Rick b. Zurich, served in De Meuron regiment 1812-1816

[27] TNA WO97/1180/360

[28] TNA WO97/1181/15 Joseph Sanspott, b. Fouchan discharged 1815 aged 29 years.

[29] TNA WO 25/774/13 Ensign Louis Simoneau on promotion to Lieutenant. 1811-1816 Half pay to 1829

[30] G. de Meuron, Le Regiment Meuron, pp.203-204

[31] G. de Meuron, Le Regiment Meuron p.313; TNA WO/25/746/26 unfortunately only records his statement of service as Lieut., Colonel up to 8th December 1809. He died at Egham in Surrey 1827.

[32] Promoted Major 21/10/1803; Linder, The SwissRegiment Meuron at the Cape and Afterwards 1781-1816. (Cape Town: Castle Military Museum, 2000) p.71; Atkinson, SAHR, FOREIGN REGIMENTS IN THE BRITISH ARMY, 1793-1802: PART VI, Vol. 22, No. 91 (Autumn, 1944), pp.265-276

[33] TNA: CO158/21 confusingly a letter from Downing St to GOC Malta dated 6 Oct. 1811 states, ’the 7th battalion King’s German Legion is now embarking and will proceed to Malta….when they arrive the Regiment De Meuron is to be embarked for Sicily.’

[34]D. Fitz – Enz, The Final Invasion Plattsburg the War of 1812’s Most Decisive Battle (New York: Cooper Square Press 2001) reprinted University of Nebraska 2009. Fitz-Enz makes a comment that when the De Meuron regiment were at Chambly, Canada in 1813, ‘they were splendid in their red coatees, the entire breasts of which were royal blue.’ p.62

[35] G. de Meuron, Le Regiment Meuron, p.204.

[36] G. Townsend Walker 1764-1842. Commissioned 1782 into 95th Regt. Commanded 50th Regt. 1799. Commander in Chief Madras Army 1831. Lieut., Governor RCH 1837, Dictionary of National Biography Vol., 59

[37] A. Nicholls, Wellington’s Switzers, (Huntingdon: K. Trotman Publishing, 2015) pp.141-142.

[38] Royal Army Medical Corps, Regiments of the Malta Garrison, https://www.maltaramc.com/regmltgar/meuron.html