The Black Drummers of the 29th Foot Regiment
For many years the 29th Regiment was distinguished by its fine corps of black drummers. Ten black boys were presented to Colonel George Boscawen by his brother. Admiral Lord Boscawen, who obtained them at the capture of Guadeloupe in 1759. Permission for their retention was given by His Majesty, and they were a feature of the 29th until 1843. Owing to practical difficulties, the custom then had to be dropped.
Everard’s History of the 29th Regiment makes several references to the existence of black drummers in the Regiment, but recent research, mainly at the Public Record Office by Mr John Ellis in connection with his studies for a master’s degree, has added considerably to this information. The following is an extract of Mr. Ellis’ research.
The first mention of black drummers in Everard’s history is in 1759, when 8 or 10 boys taken at the surrender of Guadeloupe were presented by Admiral Boscawen to his brother who was commanding the 29th at the time. The Admiral thought that “blacks would prove very ornamental as drummers.” However, information from the PRO about two men discharged with pension in 1780, and one in 1790, credits them with lengths of service which would have commenced before 1759, but possibly not in the 29th. Eight were listed on a muster roll of 1765 when the Regiment left Ireland for service in North America, with one drummer on the strength of each company.
In 1768 the Regiment was sent from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Boston where there had been protests against the new taxes imposed by the British Government. One of the duties of drummers, black or white, was to administer corporal punishment. On 6 October 1768 the Boston Evening Post commented: “To behold Britons scourged by Negro drummers was a new and very disagreeable spectacle.” Following the “Boston Massacre” of 1770 the 29th returned to England in 1773 and was stationed at Dover. Ten black drummers were present when the Regiment was inspected in 1774, when, it was said, three or more of the original blacks remained.
The next list, containing ten names, dates from 1791 when the Regiment was reviewed at Windsor. At least five more were serving at that time, according to other information relating to enlistments and discharges. The review report states: “The drummers, black, beat and play well.”
Black Drummers of the 29th Foot (c. 1830)
In 1795 the members of the Regiment available for overseas service were sent to Grenada as the 1st Battalion to quell a revolt, and a 2nd Battalion was formed from ineffectives and those who had not returned from service with the Fleet. The 1st Battalion, much reduced by battle casualties and disease, returned the following year and joined the 2nd Battalion, which was disbanded. Before leaving Grenada six black drummers were transferred to the West India Regiment. As none of their names had appeared on any previous roll, it can be concluded that they had been enlisted locally.
In 1802 the 29th left for service in Nova Scotia (Canada) and in 1805 three black drummers were enlisted in Halifax, to join at least eight others already serving. The Regiment returned from North America in 1807 and was stationed at Deal, where a visitor wrote: “We were enlivened by their excellent band; and their Corps of black drummers cut a fierce and remarkable appearance while hammering away on their brass drums.” The next year the 29th arrived in Portugal at the start of the Peninsular campaign, in which two black drummers died and three survived to be awarded the Military General Service Medal 1793 - 1814 when it was instituted in 1848; the relatives of those who had died in the mean time could not receive it.
After the war the numbers of black drummers declined steadily. In 1821 an inspection report on the Band said there were only four “men of colour.” A year later it was said that 11 vacancies were reserved for black boys who were on their way from Africa, but there is no record of their enlistment. In 1829 there were “three black musicians, the remnant of a Corps of black drummers, two of whom had been 27 years in the Corps.” By 1833 but two remained, and the last one, George Carville, died in 1843 in India, whilst still serving.
The illustration shows how the drummers were dressed in the 1830s, when flamboyant styles were popular in a time of peace. On active service the drummers would have worn proper military uniform. The original watercolour was painted by Percival William Reynolds (1860 -1937) from a description by Major Murchison who served in the 29th from 1831 to 1852, for part of which time he was Sergeant Major of the Regiment.
The following is a list of all black drummers whose names are known, as far as possible in date order of their enlistment.
|JOHN CHARLOE||Born St Kills 1719. Enlisted 1751? Listed as serving as Drummer 1765, 1774. Discharged with pension in 1780 after 29 years service. Name also spelt Charlow.|
|JOHN BACCHUS||Born Jamaica 1726. Enlisted 1752? Listed as serving as Drummer 1774. Discharged with pension in 1780 after 28 years service. Probably a different John Bacchus was listed as dead in 1796, presumably still serving at time of death.|
|JOSEPH PROVENCE||Born St Domingo. Enlisted 1755? Listed as serving as Drummer 1765, 1774, 1791. Discharged with pension in 1790 after 35 years service.|
|JOHN BLENHEIM||Listed as serving as Drummer 1765.|
|LUSHINGTON BARRE1T||Listed as serving as Drummer 1765, 1774. Died 1787.|
|JOHN ARCHER||Listed as serving as Drummer 1765, 1774 and 1791.|
|WILLIAM ARCHER||Listed as serving as Drummer 1774, 1791. Reported dead in 1797.|
|JAMES ARCHER||Listed as serving as Drummer 1791. Transferred 10th Light Dragoons 1793.|
|SAMUEL WALKER||Reported dead 1781.|
|THOMAS WALKER||Listed as serving as Drummer 1765, 1774. Possibly other name of Samuel Walker above.|
|THOMAS OTHELLO||Listed as serving as Drummer 1765, 1774. Drowned 1777.|
|JOHN RUFAEL||Listed as serving as Drummer 1765. Deserted 1770.|
|ROBERT BAIRD||Born Jamaica 1738. Enlisted 1766. Discharged with pension 1792.|
|JOHN MACNELL||Listed as serving as Drummer 1774. Name also spelt MacNeil or McNeil.|
|JOHN JUBO||Born in Africa. Enlisted 1776? Discharged with pension as lame 1782 aged 21 after 6 years service.|
|WALTER OTHELLO||Listed as serving as Drummer 1784. Discharged 1796.|
|JOSEPH OTHELLO||Listed as serving as Drummer 1785.|
|HUGH BACCHUS||Born 1774. Enlisted 1785 underage; man?s service 1792. Transferred to 98th Foot 1807.|
|THOMAS BOHANNON||Born Madras, India 1770. Enlisted 1788. Discharged with pension 1816. Mil GS Medal with clasps VIMIERA, TALAVERA, ALBUHERA. Died 1862. Name also spelt Bobannon.|
|THOMAS RETFORD||Listed as serving as Drummer 1791.|
|JOHN LLOYD||Listed as serving as Drummer 1791.|
|THOMAS MURPHY||Listed as serving as Drummer 1791.|
|JOSEPH WRIGHT||Listed as serving as Drummer 1791.|
|ISAAC DREW||Listed as serving as Drummer 1791. Reported dead in 1795.|
|HENRY GREENBANK||Transferred to 4th West India Regt 1796.|
|JOHN BAPTIST||Transferred to 4th West India Regt 1796.|
|JOHN DOUGLAS||Transferred to 4th West India Regt 1796.|
|JOHN LEWIS||Transferred to 5th West India Regt 1796.|
|PETER MACAY||Transferred to 5th West India Regt 1796.|
|RICHARD SMALL||Transferred to 5th West India Regt 1796.|
|THOMAS CAREY||Listed as serving as Drummer 1791.|
|ROBERT GLOVER||Born Antigua. Enlisted 1793. Died in North America 1814.|
|JOHN SAMPSON||Born 1782 Barbados. Enlisted 1798. Murdered in Aberdeen 1807 whilst on recruiting tour.|
|JAMES STARLING||Born 1784 Dominica. Enlisted 1798. Died 1811 in the Peninsula.|
|JOHN DAINE||Born Nevis. Enlisted 1799. Died 1811 in the Peninsula. Name also spelt Deane or Dames.|
|JOHN FREEMAN||Born Antigua 1783. Enlisted 1800. Discharged with pension 1818. Mil GS Medal with clasps ROLICA, VIMIERA, TALAVERA, ALBUHERA.|
|PETER ASKINS||Born St Domingo 1791. Enlisted 1800. Discharged at own request 1831. Mil GS Medal with clasps ROLICA, VIMIERA, TALAVERA, BUSACO, ALBUHERA.|
|JAMES KEARNEY||Born Cape Breton, Nova Scotia 1787. Enlisted 1805. Discharged with pension 1824.|
|JAMES PATISON||Born Halifax, Nova Scotia 1791. Enlisted 1805.|
|GEORGE WISE||Born Halifax, Nova Scotia 1791. Enlisted 1805. Served in Peninsula (Rolica, Vimiera, Talavera, Albuhera). Gibraltar and war against United States 1814. Discharged with pension 1835. Possibly died before 1848 when GS Medal was instituted.|
|ANTHONY GIBSON||Born Jamaica 1795. Enlisted 1815 in Ireland. Discharged in Dublin 1818 on reduction in establishment.|
|BENJAMIN JUMONT||Born Pennsylvania 1793. Enlisted Waterford, Ireland 1815. Died 1823.|
|DONALD MORRISON||Born Ponticherry, India 1797. Transferred from 22nd Foot in St Helena 1819. Discharged with pension Bombay 1827.|
|GEORGE CARVILLE||Born Limerick, Ireland 1805. Enlisted 1823. Died in India 1843, the last black drummer.|
|HENRY TITE||Born Waterford, Ireland 1804. Enlisted 1825. Discharged with pension at Chatham 1830.|