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A British Soldier's Account

of the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion

Excerpts from

Stirring Incidents in the Life of a British Soldier: an autobiography

by Thomas Faughnan, late Colour-Sargeant 2nd Battalion, 6th Royal Regiment

(Toronto: Hunter, Rose and Company, 1883)

[Thomas Faughnan was born in Fearnaught, County Leitrim, Ireland, in 1830. He joined the British Army in 1847 and became a professional soldier, until his discharge with pension, after 21 years service, from the 2nd Battalion, 6th Royal Regiment, where he had served as Pay Master and Colour Sergeant. Judging from the several testimonials to him in his book he was well thought of and of excellent character. Faughnan served in Ireland, Gibraltar, the Crimea .... he penned an ode to Florence Nightingale whom he greatly admired ..., Egypt, the Ionian Islands, and the West Indies. His account of the Regiment's stay in Jamaica and the Morant Bay Rebellion follows.]

Chapter 27

On the 4th March, 1864, the 2nd Battalion 6th Royal Regiment embarked on board of H. M. S. Orontes for Jamaica, in the West Indies. At two o'clock in the afternoon we steamed out of the harbour and bid farewell to the Ionian islands. The weather was fine and clear, the water blue and smooth; our ship glided onwards at the rate of ten knots an hour, soon leaving the land far behind. In the evening the moon shone forth in all her glory and brightness on the face of the smooth, blue waters of the Mediterranean.

[Faughnan then describes the voyage past Mount Etna, Gibraltar, and Madeira, stopping at Cape Teneriffe, and some description of life aboard ship as they continue on their long journey to the West Indies.]

On the morning of March 31st, we sighted Cape de Verde Islands, and by two in the afternoon we took in coal at Port Grand, St. Vincent; here we had a good view of African negroes, who coaled our ship with baskets which they carried on their heads. They were very tall and powerfully built men, with no clothing except a little around their loins. What a contrast in the scenery between this place and Madeira! Here are barren rocks, and not the faintest indication of vegetation to be seen in any direction, although its formation is somewhat similar.

The town, if it can be so named, consists of a few straggling houses and the stores of the coal contractors, situated along the shore, while stretching away behind are several high, rough and jagged peaks and mountains, affording a fine background for the barren and uninteresting coast scenery.

Next day, at eight o'clock, we reached Santiago, another island of the same group; here we stayed for two or three hours. The houses, with a few exceptions, were poor specimens of habitations, nearly all built of stone, and one story high. The interiors present only a few articles of absolute necessity; of home comfort or cleanliness, in our sense of the word they seem to have no idea.

The population appear to be made up of an intermixture of Portuguese settlers and negroes, who cultivate little patches of land in the valleys where are produced a few tropical fruits.

During the voyage our drum-major and a private fell down the hatch-way; the soldier was killed, and the drum-major severely injured so much that it laid him up for ever afterwards.

After parade next morning, the bell tolled, and the regiment were present to pay their last tribute to their comrade. The ship's captain read the beautiful and appropriate service for a burial at sea, and on reaching that portion, "we commit his body to the deep", it was slid out of the port, wrapped in a hammock, with a round shot at its feet, into the bright, blue, deep sea, to be seen no more until that day when the sea shall give up its dead.

On the 12th we cast anchor in the harbour of Trinidad, where two companies were landed on detachment. The town has no pretensions to size or elegance, it is, however, most picturesquely situated along the shore of island, backed up by a curiously shaped hill with a large pitch lake on its summit. This is a very important port of the West Indies, particularly for the mail service, some eight or ten different lines reaching here monthly.

At four o'clock in the evening we left the anchorage under sail and steam, with a fresh evening breeze, running along at twelve knots an hour. On the 18th April, 1864, at 7 o'clock a.m., the island of Jamaica was in sight. At nine o'clock we took a pilot on board to navigate the vessel through the intricate and dangerous narrows between the reefs. As the ship approached and rounded Port Royal, we cast anchor in Kingston harbour at eleven a. m. As we lay at anchor, the sight was indeed beautiful, the city with its white houses peeping out from amongst the dark green foliage; with Newcastle looming up in the distance with its white wooden barracks, on the side of St. Catherine's peak, with its lofty summit towering towards the heavens, the mountains covered with forests of mahogany, cedar, yellow sander and coffee plantations, and the valley covered with large green plantations of sugar-cane. Nature was indeed looking charming; the view in every direction was exquisite, -- look where we would there was nature's beauties before us. The entrance to the harbour at the end of Port Royal, broken into little islands, where tradition says a town was submerged by an earthquake, the sparkling sea running here and there into creeks, bays and inlets, together with the evergreen foliage of tropical trees and flowers, made up a very attractive landscape, which gave us a most favourable impression of Jamaica. Directly in front of us are the landing-place and jetties, where several vessels are flying the flag of Old England.

At four o'clock in the afternoon we disembarked and formed on the quay, where we were surrounded by a conglomeration of the inhabitants of all shades of colour. After detailing two companies for detachment, one at Port Royal and the other at Uppark Camp, we marched off to Newcastle, a distance of 18 miles, seven of which were up a steep mountain, zigzag foot-path. The weather being so hot we did not attempt to march during the heat of day. The word being given, we marched off with the band playing, followed through the streets by a motley of negroes, mulattoes, and creoles, raising a cloud of dust as we advanced. After a very fatiguing march of ten miles we halted at a place called the gardens, where we piled arms and rested for two hours, resuming our journey at one o'clock in the morning, up a mountain road which tried many of our best marchers, arriving at Newcastle barrack at sun-rise, very much fatigued after the march during the close, warm night. But as we marched up the mountain the wild scenery surpassed anything that I have yet seen, and compensated somewhat for the fatiguing march; -- the mountain side clothed with the loveliest tropical fruits, hanging over our heads as we stooped under them by the way, bananas, mangos, tamarinds, pine-apples, pomegranates, bread-fruits, oranges, lemons, coffee and sugar-cane; while the air was perfumed with the aroma of the sweet smelling rose-trees, oleanders, fuchsias, myrtles, ferns, and odoriferous magnolias, with the deep gullies at our feet where the sparkling waters jump and foam as they rush in torrents down the steep rocks, towards their ocean home.

One must travel a long way indeed before he meets with prettier scenery or a place that will surpass in fragrance and loveliness the floral beauty and picturesque landscapes of this island.

Chapter 28

The barracks or camp were situated on a high ridge of St. Catherine's mountain, called Newcastle, famous for its exhilarating pure air, with immensely deep gullies on each side; each wooden hut, built on terraces, one above the other, consists of one room. The officers' quarters were neat little isolated cottages, surrounded with lovely flowers, trees and shrubs. The parade ground was a large terrace which had been excavated and levelled with a nice mound round its lower edge, forming a promenade as well as a drill ground. We had one large wooden building where divine service was held by all denominations in their turn; it also served as a schoolhouse and lecture hall. The married sergeants' quarters were distributed on each side of the ridge, in separate little cottages, with flower gardens to each. The means by which the troops were supplied with water was a novel and most clever proof of the engineer's skill. From the upper end or source of the gully stream, which was many feet above the barracks, the water was conducted along the brow of the ridge by means of a large trough of bamboos resting on trestles, passing into a large reservoir situated a little above the barracks, from which pipes conducted the water to respective quarters and rooms. Before this improvement, the water had to be carried from the bottom of the gully in large leather bags by donkeys and was doled out to the troops daily. Above the barracks on a flat side of the mountain, Col. Hobbs apportioned a garden for each company, which we reclaimed an cultivated, raising almost all sorts of vegetables, viz.: yams, cocoas, sweet potatoes, cauliflowers, cabbages, potatoes, celery, lettuces, etc., beside pine apples and strawberries, with a variety of lovely flowers.

Many of the officers and most of the colour-sergeants kept horses. Being the wine and mess sergeant to the officers, I had the privilege of keeping four horses, which I frequently hired out to the officers. These horses enabled us to travel through the mountainous country for many miles.

On Christmas Eve of 1864, one of our much respected comrades, Qr-M Sergeant. Thomas Bellinton, died of heart disease, much regretted by the battalion, leaving a wife and three small children to mourn his untimely end.

In the beginning of 1865, Colonel Elkington was appointed Deputy-Adjutant General at Kingston. During the summer we had an exhibition in the hall, of fancy, useful, and ornamental articles, manufactured by the soldiers of the battalion; and the number of articles, as well as the skill manifested in their manufacture, was very much admired by the visitors from the city of Kingston, and the surrounding country. Among some of the distinguished visitors present, whose names the author entered in his note book, were Governor Eyre and lady, General O'Connor and lady, Deputy Adjutant-General Lieutenant-colonel Elkington and lady, and others. Some of the articles on exhibition were wonderfully good, and sold at a high price. A Lancashire weaver made a miniature loom out of the bones which he saved from time to time, and wove a miniature web of fine texture on it to the amusement of those present. This was bought for fifteen pounds. William Sugden, a carpenter, made a model of the cantonment of Newcastle, which was sold to Rev. Mr. Fife for fifteen pounds. Henry Foreman, made a model battery from bone -- sold for ten pounds; Corporal Gilchrist, a bed quilt, sold for nine pounds. Other articles such as fancy work-boxes, shirt buttons, and several articles of furniture and wearing apparel, too numerous to mention, were exhibited and sold. In June, 1865, Sergeant James Rance, Officers' Mess Sergeant, died of heart disease, leaving a wife and four children to mourn his loss. I, being the senior Colour-Sergeant in the battalion, was chosen and appointed to the vacancy caused by his death. Sergeant-Major Robert Hyde was promoted to Quarter-Master, and Colour-Sergeant Neale appointed Sergeant-Major in his place.

We had a market every Wednesday and Saturday round the canteen, when the negroes from the country brought in all sorts of produce, some on donkeys, but most on their heads. A line of black women might be seen on those days, very early in the morning, coming to market along the narrow mountain path, with baskets of yams, cocoas, plantains, bananas, pine-apples, mangoes, oranges, lemons, bread-fruit and pomegranates, besides provisions in abundance. These people come miles with their loads, and barefooted, their clothes tucked up to their knees by a handkerchief tied round a little below the hips, securing them in graceful folds, with a light, gay handkerchief on their heads. They wear light, showy garments, and are very fond of any common jewellery, which they wear in their ears and on their fingers.

We were enjoying every comfort in this delightful station, when we were aroused by a report that the negroes had broken out in open rebellion at Morant Bay. It appears, from what we could learn afterwards, that a local preacher, named George W. Gordon, had been for some time urging the black population of Saint-Thomas-in-the-east to rise in rebellion against the Government, telling them there were back lands which they could get, and urging them to pay him money for the purpose of agitation. This, it is said, was the doctrine he preached in his chapel. And a few compatriots of his named Paul Bogle, William Bogle, William Burie, James Burie, and others, were engaged in swearing in, drilling, and organizing forces in order to attack the white population, when at dinner on Christmas night, kill them, and take their wives. But an accident occurred which fortunately, nay, providentially, brought this base conspiracy to light.

On the 7th October, 1865, which was Saturday, and market day at Morant Bay, a Court of Petty Sessions was held in that town. A man who had been convicted by the court for some crime, afterwards interrupted the proceedings of the court, and when the police endeavoured to arrest him, he was rescued from their hands by the mob. For this act warrants were issued against two ringleaders named Bogle and several others.

On Tuesday, the 10th, six or eight policemen and some constables proceeded to Stony Gut to execute the warrants; they found Paul Bogle, who, after the warrant for his apprehension had been read to him, told them that he would not go with them. When they proceeded to arrest him, he cried "Help here!" and immediately a body of men, from four to six hundred in number, rushed out from Bogle's chapel and attacked the police; these men were armed with muskets, pistols, cutlasses, pikes, sticks and stones. The police were overpowered and severely wounded by the mob. In the meantime information of this rising was at once sent to the custos, Baron Von Ketelhodt, who applied to the Governor for military aid.

On the 11th, a meeting was held at Morant Bay, at twelve o'clock, and proceeded with its business till about four, when it was disturbed by the noise of a large crowd approaching; a few volunteers were drawn up outside the Court House; the crowd advanced; the Riot Act was read by a magistrate, when stones were thrown at the volunteers, who fired at the mob and retired into the Court House, when the infuriated rebels surrounded the Court House and set fire to it.

.......The letter of Baron Von Ketelhodt, written on the 10th October, requesting military aid was taken by the authorities into immediate consideration, and within twenty-four hours of its receipt the 2nd Battalion 6th Regiment was on the march to Morant Bay, where troops were also landed from Spanish Town, and martial law was proclaimed in the affected district. After the troops had arrived, they took many of the rebels and had them tried and executed or flogged, according to the nature and degree of the offence. George William Gordon was arrested on the 17th and placed on board H. M. S. Wolverine, and conveyed to Morant Bay, where he was tried by a court martial on the 20th, and on the 21st found guilty and executed on the charge of high treason against Her Majesty Queen Victoria. Paul Bogle was apprehended on the 23rd, and on the 24th was conveyed a prisoner to Morant Bay, where he was tried and executed with other leaders. ......... The social circle in England were divided and controversy began to rage on the question. In order to satisfy the public and settle the question, the Crown issued a commission of inquiry.

On the 30th December the Commission issued to Sir Henry Storks, William R. Gurney, Q. C., and Mr. J. B. Maul, requiring them to make full inquiry into the "origin, nature, and circumstances of the disturbances, and respecting the means adopted in the course of the suppression of the same, and respecting the conduct of those concerned in such disturbances or suppression". The gentlemen selected were a sufficient guarantee to the public that the inquiry would be what it was wished it should be, -- full, searching, and impartial.

The Commission opened at Kingston, Jamaica, on January 23rd, 1866, and closed its prolonged sittings on March 25th. ... . They arrived at the conclusion that there was on the part of the leaders of the rioters a preconcerted plan, and that murder was "distinctly contemplated". They nevertheless find that there was no general conspiracy against the Government, and the inference is, that the riot, though of considerable magnitude and danger, was not the result of any very long standing organization, and that it was foolish, barbarous, and wicked in its origin, although of a local character.

Those who wish to know more about the question can find it by a search, with moderate diligence, in the blue books, or the pigeon-holes of the war office. What I assert here is from my own knowledge and experience, being present during the affair.

Sir Henry Storks was the guest of the officers of the 6th Royal Regiment for several days after the inquiry was finished. After the insurrection, the Maroons were entertained in the city hall, as a mark of approbation and gratitude for the manner in which they assisted in quelling the rebellion.

At the end of January, Colonel Hobbs took ill and got deranged in his mind, when he was placed in the sanitarium under surveillance. In February he was sent to England, accompanied by his wife and family, with two hospital orderlies to guard and tend him. During the voyage, watching an opportunity when walking the deck, he jumped head first down the ash-shoot. The ship hove to at once, boats were lowered to try and rescue him, but he could not be found; he sank to rise no more till that day when the sea shall give up its dead. The regiment was deeply affected at this sad intelligence. He was very much respected by all classes, and his loss to the regiment was much deplored.

In the summer of 1866, the Marquis of Lorne (now Governor-General of Canada) visited Jamaica, when he and his tutor were guests of the officers of the 6th Regiment at Newcastle. He was tall and slight, and very intelligent, with fair hair, and about eighteen years old. During the three years we were in Jamaica we had one office (Ensign Newman) and three privates die with yellow fever.

On the 24th March Her Majesty's Ship Tamar arrived at Kingston Harbour with the 84th Regiment, to relieve the 2nd Battalion 6th Regiment. On the 25th we marched from Newcastle to Uppark Camp, and there remained until the 1st April 1867, when we embarked on board the Tamar for Cork. At 2 p.m. we weighed anchor and steamed out of harbour, rounding Port Royal, homeward bound; when well clear of the land we picked up the trade winds and ran on merrily through the Tropics towards the Azores, at the rate of twelve knots an hour, full of the hope of speedily seeing the coast of Ireland.

[Faughnan's comments on the rebellion must be considered in the context of the time, as well as the fact that it was his duty to help put down the insurrection. According to the official figures, twenty-two people were killed by the rebels, including the Custos, Von Ketelhodt, and thirty-four wounded. The response to this outbreak, however, was quite savage. Again, official figures show that 439 people were killed by Government forces, in many cases without a trial; an additional 600 men and women were flogged and nearly 1,000 homes were destroyed.]

This page was transcribed by Dorothy Kew.

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