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Recollections of the old 61st

by Percy MacQueen
(Back Badge, 1952)

The Editor has invited me to set down what I know of my father's service in the ranks of the 28th and 61st during the period from 1856 to 1868. I have to rely on references my father made to his service, rather casually, over 50 years ago, and memory is apt to be deceptive - and on a few of his papers which are still in my possession.

of these papers, the most interesting is his "Soldier's Account Book" - giving details of terms of pay, pension and rewards for good conduct; and reading these one is reminded that in those days a soldier enlisted for life. Each page of the account is allotted to a year and showed his dealings with the Regimental Savings Bank and the clothing issued to him. Apparently he received yearly a tunic and a pair of boots; generally received one pair of trousers a year, sometimes two, cloth and serge; and the cap or shako was expected to last for two years.

In 1856 my father, Archibald McQueen, was aged 19; he was strongly built and 5ft 7 in. in height. He was working as an accounts clerk in a firm in Princes Street, Edinburgh. He threw up this job, crossed over to Dublin and there enlisted in the 28th Foot, the date being 28th May. He was stationed at Fermoy and at Parkhurst, IOW. In March 1857 he volunteered to the 61st, to which regiment he was transferred in April and he embarked on the sailing ship Roman Emperor on passage to India. She carried detachments of the 61st and 87th Regiments under the command of Major Ring, and McQueen was appointed acting hospital sergeant for the voyage, which was round the Cape and lasted 4 months. On landing at Karachi he was appointed acting pay sergeant of the detachment of 90 men of the 61st during their march through Lahore to Delhi under the command of Lieut. T.E. Gordon. The march, like the voyage, took 4 months.

In February 1858, they joined the Headquarters of the 61st at Delhi. The 61st had taken an active part in the capture of Delhi in the previous September and were so reduced by sickness and fighting casualties that they were unable to form a part of the force with which Sir Colin Campbell relieved Cawnpore in December following. The rebel leader, Tantia Topi ("Tanti Topi" as the men called him), then fled to Jhansi and was besieged there by Sir Hugh Rose. He escaped and collected a force of 20,000 men, which Sir Hugh Rose defeated in April 1858. Tantia Topi was obliged to seek refuge in the jungles of Rajputana and Bundelkhand, where for 9 months he eluded the British pursuit.

In January 1859 the 61st took part in this pursuit. We learn from letter written by Captain John Sloman that a column was formed at Delhi under command of Major Redmond of the 61st. To this column the 61st contributed a wing 400 strong, to which Captain Sloman was appointed Adjutant. He had commanded the Light Company, and from his letters, and from what McQueen told me, there is no doubt that a part, at least, of this wing was formed into a Camel Corps. McQueen, who was then serving as a private in the Light Company, had an unpleasant experience of being run away with on camel-back. One morning when they were assembling for the march the camels on which he and his friend were mounted bolted down into a nullah. His friend was thrown off and killed and he was carried away into the desert. Being unable to stop his camel, he first threw down his equipment, then his gun and finally putting his hands on the saddle between his legs he gave a vigorous shove and jumped clear of the animal. Fortunately, the column found him later in the day.

In April 1859 the 61st left Delhi for Poona, which station they reached in June 1859, after a 3 months march. During this time McQueen suffered from dysentry and was compelled to fall out frequently during the march. He said that at the end of a long day the men were so parched with thirst that they would drink anything they could find, often plunging their heads into the dirtiest water, even if it were covered with a green scum. While in barracks at Poona an epidemic of cholera broke out in the Regiment. When the men felt the first intimations of cramp they would be walked briskly up and down by their comrades. Cholera also broke out on board during the voyage of the Regiment to Mauritius.

In June 1859 McQueen was promoted corporal in the Light Company and in January 1860, sergeant paymaster clerk. The subsequent movements of the Regiment, as seen from his 'Soldier's Account Book" were: Mauritius 1859, Plymouth 1861, Aldershot 1862, Jersey 1863, Curragh 1865, Dublin 1866, Quebec 1866, and Bermuda 1867. McQueen had been promoted colour-sergeant in 1863 and quartermaster-sergeant in 1866. In 1868 he was commissioned as Quartermaster and left the 61st for the 98th (North Staffords). He received his military training in a good school and I am sure he was sorry to leave the Regiment. His CO, Colonel J.P. Redmond, of the 61st, wrote to Colonel Peyton, commanding the 98th, as follows: "Had there been a vacancy for a Quartermaster in this Regiment I should most certainly have recommended him for the post."

McQueen served for 16 years as a commissioned officer, retiring in 1884 with the rank of major. He obtained the appointment of Actuary of the Savings Bank at Southampton, which he held till his death in 1899.

From "Sergeant Crennan's Recollections"
(Back Badge, 1958)

"We marched from Delhi for Bombay on 14th January 1859. It was a very long, fatiguing march, right through the Mahratta country, Central India, through the Ghauts to Bombay (about 900 miles). We arrived at Bombay the latter end of April and encamped on the Esplanade close to the 78th, both Regiments waiting for embarkation for England. The order came that we were not to go home that year; we were to go to Poona. We marched accordingly and arrived at Poona, a very nice station in the hills. But through some mistake our baggage went some other road. There we were for seven days without a bed or as much as a towel to wipe your face in. During this time that great enemy to man made its appearance - the cholera. We lost a great many men and it was just dying away when the order came - we were to march back to Bombay.

We marched back to Bombay, through it and strait on board of a ship for Mauritius. The HQ and staff and right wing of the Regiment embarked on board of a steamer called the Oriental. The vessel was small, dirty and very bad rations. We had a great deal of rain and no place to lie down. Men used to be walking about with their bed under their arm, watching for a chance to lie down. If you got up in the night for any necessary purpose your place was sure to be taken up. What with the heat and so much rain and the crowded state we were in, that terrible disease, the cholera, broke out very bad indeed. I am sorry to say we lost the finest men in our Regiment on board that ship, men that went out with the Regiment to India and scarcely ever a day in hospital, always under the Colours when anything to do, what I call good soldiers in every point.

We had to run into Point Galle (Ceylon) for to get fresh rations, to see if that would do any good. We remained there two days and then proceeded on our journey. I am happy to say that the sickness began to decrease and when we arrived at the Mauritius we had not a death from the cholera for nine days, but we had to ride in quarantine to complete the twenty-one days without a death. It was the latter end of June 1859."