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MILITIA, TROOPS, AND POST-OFFICES
Excerpt from "A view of the past and present state of the island of Jamaica. . .," by John Stewart, 1823.
Port Royal harbour is the station for the men of war; and here there is a dockyard, storehouses, and conveniences for careening ships.
The number of regular troops usually stationed here in war time is about three thousand, and in peace about two thousand, which last number the island supports. In this number are included about two hundred artillerists. The governor, if a military man, is commander in chief of the forces; if not, a commander in chief is appointed, who, in the absence or on the death of the governor, becomes, pro tempore, lieutenant-governor. The head-quarters of the troops are at Up-Park Camp, in the vicinity of Kingston. One regiment is usually stationed on the north side of the island, the head-quarters of which are at Falmouth. Formerly the head-quarters of the regiments stationed in the county of Cornwall was the site of Trelawny Maroon Town, one of the most healthy spots in the island, which however has been given up, probably on account of the great expense attending the conveyance of provisions and stores thither,-an object surely more than counterbalanced by the preservation of the troops from disease.
Besides the white troops employed in the West Indies in war-time, there were eight West-India regiments, composed of negro soldiers, commanded by regular white officers.
There are some excellent fortifications in this island, the principal of which are the fortifications at Port Royal, Fort Augusta, and the fort called the Twelve Apostles. But many of the forts at the out-ports are neglected, and suffered to fall into a state of dilapidation and decay.
There is here a tolerably well-disciplined militia, and it is pretty numerous, considering the limited white population. From eight to ten thousand effective men (including about two thousand free people of colour and blacks enrolled with the whites) might, upon an emergency, be brought into the field.*
* The number in 1816 was 8900; at present it is somewhat more.
Each parish has its regiment of foot, and one or two troops of horse. To each of the regiments are attached two field-pieces and a company of artillery. The officers are, as has been said, appointed by the governor, on the recommendation of the colonels; and so numerous are the candidates for commissions, that it is not unusual to see a battalion of about three hundred men have about fifty commissioned officers attached to it, besides nearly an equal number of non-commissioned officers; that is, one commissioned and one non-commissioned officer to every seven men. Among the former there are usually one colonel, two lieutenant-colonels, and two or more majors. The legal qualifications for a commission are two years service in the ranks, and a certain income; but these regulations are not always attended to. In the recommendations to commissions much depends on petty local interests and connexions- on the favour and affection of the colonels, or their friends: without such interest or favour, merit and long services are rarely of any weight in such appointments. There may be exceptions; but this is the general system. The governor, who is the sole granter of commissions, has no power of discriminating as to the justness of the claims of those who apply for them; he has only to confirm the nomination of the colonels. The granting of commissions in the militia is a source of considerable emolument to the governor's secretary; the prices are as follow-commission of a general £30; of a colonel £21; of a lieutenant-colonel £15, 15s.; of a major £12, 10s.; of a captain £8, 5s.; of a lieutenant £5, 10s.; of an ensign, adjutant, and quarter-master, £3, 5s. &c.
The cavalry is tolerably well mounted, but it would be found far less effective in actual service than the infantry. Neither the men nor the horses are sufficiently well-trained to face a well-disciplined enemy; and the Maroon war showed, that, in an active warfare carried on in the interior, they were of little other use than the carrying of despatches, A few years ago a motion was made in the House of Assembly for reducing the troops of horse; but it was overruled.
The Jamaica militia differs in several respects from the militia of the mother-country. It is not raised by ballot, and no man can avoid the duty of serving by procuring a substitute; but every male between the age of sixteen and sixty, if not incapacitated by accident or infirmity, or exempted by official situation, or some convenient sinecure, is obliged to enrol himself in it. The regiments cannot be put on permanent duty except by the laying on of martial law: the regular routine of their duty, by the militia law, is attending drill once a month, and field-inspections once a quarter. When on permanent duty the militia receives pay * and rations. Arms and accoutrements are furnished by government, but the men must find their own regimentals. Mutiny and desertion, during martial law, are punishable with death, but ordinary offences by fines and imprisonment.
*2s. 6d. currency a day.
Three inspecting major-generals (one for each county) are appointed, from amongst the oldest militia colonels, to review and inspect, once a year, the horse and foot militia,-each regiment and troop in its respective parish. Sir Eyre Coote, when lieutenant-governor of Jamaica, appointed regular officers to superintend the military affairs of the counties; and both he and Sir George Nugent, as well as Lieutenant-general Morrison, personally inspected the militia during their respective governments. They saw and judged with the eyes of experienced soldiers, and accordingly suggested many alterations and improvements which would never have occurred to an unmilitary general; and a marked and rapid improvement of the militia took place in consequence of this attention to it. But the militia generals do not like the interference of regular officers with their commands; they view it as an invasion of their rights; the title and authority of general have irresistible charms to them, with whatever trouble and difficulty its duties may be attended. Such indeed is the fondness for dignified situations and high-sounding titles, that one man sometimes holds the different situations of major-general of militia, assistant-judge of the grand court, and custos rotulorum and chief judge of the court of common-pleas, without being either a soldier or a lawyer.
As a safeguard against the danger of entrusting military commands, in actual service, to men ignorant of the science of tactics and its practical details, a scale of regular and colonial rank is very properly established during martial law. According to this scale, a lieutenant-colonel of the line takes the colonial rank of major-general, and the command of the troops, both regular and militia, of the district; a major takes the rank of brigadier-general, and a captain, of lieutenant- colonel, &c. All this is highly necessary. A militia general, who has never made military tactics his particular study, nor has seen other service than that of the parade, though he might make a tolerable shift to wade through the duty of a review, would prove but an awkward leader on the day of battle. An experienced captain of regulars would certainly be a far more safe and able commander. A small mistake in the evolutions of a battalion may be easily rectified by a little consultation on the parade; but, in the face of an enemy, it is not quite so trifling an affair. The soldier will always follow with alacrity and confidence the officer who, he knows, will direct him with skill and promptitude; while, led by one who knows his duty but by halves, he can feel none of that inspiring confidence,- conscious that his mistakes, his demurs, and delays, must produce inevitable discomfiture and disgrace. Besides, it usually happens, that, by the time a militia officer arrives at the rank of general, he is too far advanced in years to be fit for the duties of active service: yet it is by no means uncommon to see men on the verge of seventy volunteering their services (for the law allows them to retire at sixty) as major-generals and colonels of regiments,-so fond are they of the "pomp, pride, and glorious circumstance of war." The veteran, who has seen the actual tug and turmoil of war, is glad, when honour will permit him, to repose under the shade of his laurels. Not so those parade warriors-they have no thought of retiring; and should a considerate governor, in consequence of their superannuation, decline their further gratuitous services, it would be regarded as an inexpiable affront.
In Kingston, and in several of the parishes, the militia regiments are, very properly, under arms by dawn of day, and their duty is over by about nine o'clock, when the sun begins to be oppressively hot; but, in other parishes, instead of this humane regulation, the regiments are drilled during the very hottest time of the day, viz. from nine to twelve, to the endangering of the health, if not the lives, of the men.
During the existence of martial law, in actual warfare, or where the invasion of an enemy is expected, commissioners are appointed in the different parishes for regulating and furnishing necessaries for the troops: they consist of the most opulent and respectable of the old inhabitants, who are authorised to make requisitions of slaves, mules, oxen, and carts, from the plantations, for the transporting of baggage and provisions for the army-to purchase such provisions, and to impress whatever else may be promptly and unavoidably required.
The uniform, arms, and accoutrements of the militia, are much the same as those of the regulars, only that hats are worn instead of caps by the battalion companies. During the Maroon war this was found to be a most unwieldy and inconvenient mode of equipment, and it was accordingly exchanged for one in the style of that of a rifleman. In a hot climate the equipment ought to be as light and convenient as possible: on the parade it may be very well to prefer the gaudy and gorgeous to the useful; but the veteran who has seen some hard campaigns learns to appreciate the latter. At present some of the militia regiments have rifle companies attached to them; but if half of the militia were converted into sharp-shooters, it would become a far more effective corps. It is well known how terrible an enemy the American riflemen were in the war of independence; and America-at least that part of it which became the theatre of war, -is not half so much intersected with woods, mountains, rocks, and ravines, as Jamaica. Such indeed is the topographical nature of this country, that, though an enemy might be in possession of the towns, and even the fortifications, the interior could easily be defended against a very superior force. Nature affords innumerable situations here that may be deemed impregnable, without the assistance of art or the efforts of labour.
Though regular troops must be much more effective than the militia here, in a contest with an external and regular foe, yet in a warfare like that with the Maroons, the latter are better adapted than any troops of the line: they are more accustomed to the country and inured to the climate; they are more in the habit of traversing the woods, and more familiarized to the haunts and recesses they afford. Regular troops are taught to face danger without flinching or seeking for refuge from it; but this very bravery, or rather steadiness, which is the soul of discipline, in warring with a civilized foe, often proved the destruction of parties of regular soldiers, who were sent to watch the motions of the Maroons, or drive them from their haunts; while in their extreme caution and art of concealment consisted the principal generalship of these savages. The militia were more cautious; on marching through dangerous defiles, where they apprehended an ambuscade, they stole guardedly along, having recourse, like their barbarous adversaries, as occasion required, to the natural defences of rocks and trees. During this contest, a body of armed slaves, called black-shot, usually attended the expeditions of the whites: they behaved with great fidelity, and were exceedingly useful, as an advance-guard, in scouring the woods and discovering the retreats of the Maroons.
The post in this island is by no means so well regulated as in the mother-country. A mail arrives but once a week from Kingston at the different parts of the island, Spanish Town excepted. It is conveyed on a mule, the post-man (a negro slave) riding another, at the average rate of about seventy miles in the twenty-four hours. This very slow travelling is in a great measure owing to the delays in forwarding the mail at the intermediate post-offices: the more of these there are between any two places, the longer the post is in performing the journey. As the mules which convey the post are in general well-trained, accidents seldom occur, and very few instances of attempts to rob the mail have been known, though the post-men go quite unarmed; but it is sometimes placed in jeopardy by the swelling of the rivers in consequence of heavy rains. There are forty post-offices throughout the island, besides the general post-office. The rate of postage is 1s. 3d. and 7 1/2d., according to the distance, for single letters.
The letters from Great Britain are conveyed, monthly, by the packets: these are fast-sailing ship-rigged vessels, of from two to three hundred tons burthen, well armed and manned, especially in war-time. They have been known to run the passage direct to Jamaica in twenty-four days. A master of a packet is entitled to one hundred guineas if he arrives in Jamaica on or before the twentieth of each month. All foreign post-letters for Jamaica, as well as those from the British possessions, must pass through the general post-office of Great Britain.
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