Ensign Robert Bakewell

by | Feb 23, 2015 | News | 0 comments

Ensign Robert Bakewell (part 1) – Introduction 

Robert Bakewell served with the 3rd Battalion, 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot in the Duke of Wellington’s army in Portugal and Spain from June 1810 to September 1811, and again in 1815.

He was from Castle Donington in Leicestershire.  As a young man he spent some time, unsuccessfully, in London. While there he had enlisted in a militia regiment, 5th Loyal London. On returning home he found, to his surprise, that his father had purchased a commission for him in the 27th.

Officer's cross belt plate

Officer’s cross belt plate

He travelled to the regiment’s depot in Ballyshannon in September 1810, and then marched with a detachment to Cork for passage to Lisbon.  He served with the regiment in Portugal and Spain for 11 months before his health broke down and he returned to England. He resigned his commission soon after the purchase of a lieutenancy.  However he rejoined the regiment in 1815 and, although missing Waterloo, he served in the occupation army in Paris.

His account of his experiences in Ireland, Spain, Portugal and France has recently been published from manuscripts in the Inniskillings Museum. The book is called ‘The Exploits of Ensign Bakewell’ edited by Ian Robertson and can be purchased from the Books section of our website shop https://inniskillingsmuseum.com/shop/books/

The Exploits of Ensign Bakewell

The Exploits of Ensign Bakewell

In the run up to our Waterloo exhibition in June 2015, we shall be serialising excerpts from the book in our newsletter.

Ensign Robert Bakewell (part 2) – An Irish funeral

We then set off to Cahir, where there are ruins of an old castle

Cahir Castle, Co Tipperary

Cahir Castle, Co Tipperary

…..After about fivemiles we met the largest Irish funeral I have ever witnessed, led by almost 80 women, the front row carrying what appeared to be a large kite, placed on the top of a staff 12 or 13 feet in length, decorated all over with military plumes. The rest walked in pairs, each with an olive branch. Behind them came some 80 or more men in their shirt sleeves and with white muslin handkerchiefs tied round their hats. Then followed the coffin (which bore the name of a Miss Stapleton) and a crowd of men, women and children, who made a most hideous sound, which they term the Irish cry: the whole party must have consisted some four or five hundred.

Cahir Castle, Co Tipperary

Cahir Castle, Co Tipperary

Ensign Robert Bakewell (part 3) – On meeting the locals in Portugal and Spain 

I was provided next morning with a billet in a private house. The owner showed me into the parlour in which were his wife and daughter, and welcomed me according to their custom, by kissing my cheek repeatedly, and hugging me by throwing his right arm under my left and slapping me on the back.  This kissing and hugging and slapping is their habitual way of salutation rather than what we are used to, when shaking hands is the friendly way of introduction.  I thought possibly this hugging system might be the convention with the ladies also, but when I approached them, the owner stepped forward and said ‘No signor’, explaining it was not the practise to clap and kiss with females.

Spanish Ladies

Spanish Ladies

The Spanish ladies have generally good and genteel figures, but they are not as fair as the British ones: the climate being so much hotter, the sun darkens their complexion.  As side-saddles are not used here at all, they ride astride as do the men, and wear drawers of a kind of calico.  They dress expensively, and are great people for wearing feathers.

Ensign Robert Bakewell (part 4) – In Action

Badajoz, Bakewell was at the first siege.

Badajoz, Bakewell was at the first siege.

Bakewell actually saw little action: his most notable occasion was when his company was surprised at night by French troops.

At about 3.0 Coppinger, pulling at my coat, awoke me to say that the enemy was in the street, where firing as thick as hail was soon heard.  Grabbing our hats, we sallied forth to regain our regiment some quarter of a mile distant, by then forming up under General Cole himself, who as we came up thundered out ‘For God Almighty’s sake men form yourselves or it will be all over with us.’ 

Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole who commanded the 4th Division in Wellington's army.He was a younger son of the Earl of Enniskillen

Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole who commanded the 4th Division in Wellington’s army.He was a younger son of the Earl of Enniskillen

Balls were flying around us in all directions, and Captain Dobbin, commanding the company says, ‘Bakewell, we must now either bite the dust or be dragged to a French prison: damn a pin if I was given to choose.’There was a lucky escape. Though outnumbered disciplined volleys drove off the French.

Cole's monument in Enniskillen

Cole’s monument in Enniskillen

Most of Bakewell’s time was spend as liaison officer looking after arrangements for the sick and wounded and arranging for the burial of the dead.

Amongst our duties was to get coffins made for officers, for the inhabitants had never made one, and it was only with difficulty we could make them understand their shape and construction.  The first they ran up was for Lieutenant Castile. We placed him within, nailed down the lid, and a fatigue party started to carry him downstairs but, on the descent, his feet pushed out one end and his body slipped through and fell to the bottom, leaving the empty coffin on their shoulders!

Officer 1805

Officer 1805

Bakewell refers to wearing the cocked hat when in action, though the shako had become popular with officers when on campaign

1810 Shako

1810 Shako

Ensign Robert Bakewell (part 5) – Normal daily rations.

Each man, from the colonel down to the private, would receive 1lb of beef, pork or mutton: 1.5lbs of bread and a pint of wine.

Bread, meat and wine. Also included are a 1803 pattern sword, favoured by the officers of the flank battalions, the knapsack, water bottle, mess tin and dirk made from a bayonet, belonging to an Inniskilling officer killed in Spain in 1813.

Bread, meat and wine. Also included are a 1803 pattern sword, favoured by the officers of the flank battalions, the knapsack, water bottle, mess tin and dirk made from a bayonet, belonging to an Inniskilling officer killed in Spain in 1813.

A little extra!

We noticed several bullocks approaching apparently from the enemy lines: nine of them strayed through the centre of our regiment. Three of us took our men’s muskets and cartouche boxes and pursued the herd across open country for at least three miles, when after repeated firing at them, eight bite the dust: indeed a providential supplement to our rations.  Our regimental butchers, who cut them up for us, claimed their hearts for their trouble, which together with the kidneys and tongues are always allowed them.   The officers selected some of the best cuts and gave the men the rest.  The following week an officer with a flag of truce came to claim their restitution at which request the Field Officer commanding the Light Division returned one quarter of one of the beasts, together with a few bottles of spirits, telling the Frenchman that they were all cut up and largely consumed, but hoped he would accept the part sent back, on receipt of which he was observed to doff his hat and retire.

At about 2 o’clock I saw a sergeant of the 40th stopping a peasant with a large jug in his hand, who made some resistance.  I went to see the cause of the fuss, at which the sergeant decamped.  However I seized the vessel myself, and finding it full of sweetened milk, mixed with fruit, I took my fill without a second thought.

Ensign Robert Bakewell (part 6) – An Execution

We were ordered to parade to witness the execution of Private James Mulligan of the 27th, sentenced to be shot for desertion and attempting to join the enemy.  The culprit, under escort, and dressed in white from head to foot, now approached us, on ground set as a square, the Division forming three sides of it.  After the solemn procession had marched in slow time along the whole line, Mulligan was left standing in the centre on a pile of earth already dug for his grave.  

When a priest approached to ask whether he had anything to say that might mitigate his punishment, he answered in the negative.  The guard of a dozen or so rank and file then marched twenty paces in front of him and, at the drop of a white handkerchief, discharged a volley. As the muskets had been charged with bolt, his body was mangled in a most shocking manner.  

Before returning to quarters, the Division was deliberately marched past the corpse to let each soldier see the awful spectacle, which would have been sufficient deterrent to any prospective deserters.

Re-enactment group firing squad

Re-enactment group firing squad

Ensign Robert Bakewell (part 7) – Football (not Association Football!)

Football was much played. Captain Smith, who commanded the Grenadier Company, challenged other captains in the regiment that 20 of his men would play the best of three games with 20 chosen men from any other company for a bet of 100 dollars (Portuguese). Captain John Pring, who commanded the Light Company accepted. 

Two poles, about six feet in length were placed about two yards apart at each end of the field which was about one mile in length.  A ball was thrown up in the centre and the contending parties had to kick it between one of the goals before either could claim to win the game.  The 5ft 8 inch men were too fast for the 6ft ones and the two games were won with ease by the Light Company.  

The two companies then united, with 40 men proposing to play 40 of any selected from the remaining eight companies.  This was accepted and a great game it was, but neither side could claim victory: after playing for two days, twelve hours each day, both sides gave it up, neither of them able to kick the ball between the posts. So they agreed to a draw.

Football (not Association Football!)

Football (not Association Football!)

Ensign Robert Bakewell (part 8) – The Duke of Wellington

His Lordship arrived about 11.00, accompanied by his staff, when the Division was first put through the manual, platoon and the usual manoeuvres, after which he complimented us on the precision in which they were undertaken.  It was generally believed that whenever an inspection by our Commander-in-Chief took place, an engagement was in contemplation. (His Lordship appears to be about the middle stature: from 5ft9 to 5ft10 inches: a little corpulent and of rather fair complexion.)

An original sketch of Wellington by Woodeville who was a prolific 19th century painter of military scenes.

An original sketch of Wellington by Woodeville who was a prolific 19th century painter of military scenes.

Ensign Robert Bakewell (part 9) – In The Field

We encamped in fields…..  A line was fixed where the men’s muskets were to be piled, and we were ordered to sleep within five paces of them.  The officers were allowed to settle down further away, but still near enough to join instantly in case of surprise.  Our habit was to throw a blanket over our shoulders and take our rest at the root of a tree or under some hillock that would secure us from the wind.

Re-enactment group's piled muskets and packs

Re-enactment group’s piled muskets and packs

Ensign Robert Bakewell (part 10) – Booty

400 prisoners had just surrendered and were drawn up about ten yards in front of us.  They were ordered to drop their packs and, leaving them open, turn to the right about and halt ten yards away. Our men then paced forward and having been told to take what they wanted from the bulging packs, found a deal of plunder, notably sheets, table cloths and other linen, apart from valuables and curiosities.  We helped ourselves to most of the contents, found very seasonable: for the linen served to make plenty of pantaloons and gaiters; and the knives, spoons, etc were of good quality.

Ensign Robert Bakewell (part 11) – In Paris

While there Bakewell did a lot of sightseeing and enjoyed the good food and wine.  He also found the attentions of young ladies impossible to resist. 

Lots of French girls visited our tents, offering fruits of various kinds, which we could buy at a very reasonable price: others came to make assignations…… On returning to our tent at about 11.00 and just as I was about to fling myself down between my blankets on my bed of straw, I heard a female voice from outside murmur that she was lost. Naturally, I replied

‘Entre Mademoiselle’. But as soon as daylight appeared, I found she wanted no instruction about which way to go: but similar incidents occurred on most days.

Bakewell's diary. While he just missed Waterloo, he records the fate of his fellow officers.

Bakewell’s diary. While he just missed Waterloo, he records the fate of his fellow officers.

This concludes the serialisation of Ensign Robert Bakewell’s Diaries. The book, ‘The Exploits of Ensign Bakewell’ edited by Ian Robertson, can be purchased from the Books section of our website shop:


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