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Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) (Biographical info sourced to: / Public domain

In 1757 parliament decided to reorganise the militia system established under Charles II. In future men appointed from the property-owning class, were to serve as officers in the county militia. The Lord Lieutenant for each county organised the system and the men were either volunteers between the ages of [18-45 yr’s] and if there weren’t enough a ballot was used to select them. Anyone who did not wish to serve had to find a substitute or pay a fine of £10. Although they did not serve abroad they were in effect part-time infantry regiments.

The Dorset Militia Rolls are of some interest. Until 1800 each parish was required to record the name, the rank and occupation of the man concerned, whether he was married and if so how many children he had. Finally his size was taken, the average being 5’ 5”. There were a number of exempted persons, who nevertheless listed, such as clergymen, constables, teachers, articled clerks and poor men who had two children born in wedlock. Where there was a surplus of volunteers the word ‘drawn’ is written next to the man’s name indicating they had been drawn out in the ballot and were required to serve.

The names and occupations of those eligible to serve are intermixed, agricultural labourers being listed alongside Yeoman, Land Surveyors, butchers and lawyers, a form of social mingling few would experience in real life. The 1799 return for Evershot lists William Jennings [presumably junior] and John Jennings although neither were drawn. John Martin was not included in the list suggesting that he was not resident in the village at the time.

In 1794 with the threat of French invasion the government published a “Plan of Augmentation of the Forces for Internal Defence”. fn1 The plan was directed to the various Lord Lieutenants of the counties who had to bolster their own county forces. The plan was two pronged, first there was an obvious gap in the armamentarium and was therefore aimed at raising cavalry troops. Secondly the plan sought to bolster the militia forces either by trying to raise more troops to enrol in the existing companies or to form new volunteer companies. At a meeting in Dorchester on 13th March 1794 the assembled dignitaries not only supported the governments plans but also agreed to defray the costs by voluntary subscription. These newly formed companies typically comprised some 60 to 120 men and were armed with muskets where possible and failing that – pikes.

Given the state of the country and the general distrust of the poor it is not surprising to find that the government were keen to ensure that any new companies that were formed could not be used to promote revolution. As a result the companies were “to consist of none but known respectable Housekeepers, or persons who can bring at least two such Householders to answer for their good behaviour.” Not only that but those who would be the officers had to have ‘a residence and income from land to the amount of fifty pounds a year within the county.’ To this end those who joined had to write to the Clerk of the Peace declaring that they were “seized or possessed of such an estate either in Law or Equity…as doth qualify me to act as a Captain [or whatever rank it might be] in the Local Militia of the County of Dorset and Town and County of the Town of Poole.

John Martin’s initial foray in the army was in the infantry. Gambier in her thesis has the following commission presumably found at Dorset History Centre; I the said George Earl of Dorchester do in his majesty’s name by these presents, constitute, appoint and commission you the said John Martin to be Ensign in the First Battalion of Volunteers commanded by Colonel the Earl of Digby in the Room of James Eaton promoted ….to take rank in the Army except during the time of the said corps being called out into actual service you are therefore carefully and diligently to discharge the Duty of an Ensign by exercising and well disciplining both the inferior Officers and Soldiers of that Battalion who are fiercely commanded in his majesty’s name to obey you as their Ensign and you are to observe and follow such orders and directions from time to time as you shall receive from his Majesty or any other superior officer according to the Rules and Discipline of War in Pursuance of the trust hereby reposed in you.”fn2The militia lists for Dorset, published on Ancestry, are in fact notices sent by Edward Boswell ‘Clerk to the Gen[eral] Meetings’ which were sent for publication in the London Gazette. The notice is more succinct;

Commissions in the 1st Batt Dorset Vol Infantry signed by the Lord Lieutenant

James Eaton Gent to be Lieutenant vice R Deane resigned. Dated 26th May 1807 –

John Martin Gent to be Ensign vice Jas Eaton promoted. Dated 26th May 1807”.

At the time he was 27 yr’s old.

His membership of the volunteers allows us one of the few opportunities to imagine what he looked like as the uniform consisted of ‘a scarlet coat with green facings and silver buttons with white breeches and black gaiters.’ He also war a rather feathery cap known as a Tarleton cap with a green plume. These entries are the only official records of his military service. A list of the officers in both Eastern and Western Divisions of the militia was written out the following year [1808] and his name is not on it. We have no idea why this should be as ensigns were included in the list. The obvious explanation is that with work commitments taking him away from home he simply had to give up the post at least temporarily. Even so when an officer resigned it was usually noted and there is no record of one.

The effectiveness of the militia in time of invasion went untested. Instead it was used on at least one occasion to suppress the local population as at Poole in 1800 when there were food riots in the town. The militia were chosen over regular troops possibly because they had local knowledge and were drawn from the local community. They would have been less likely to inflame the situation although there must have been a worry that they would join the protestors. Their reliability was brought into question in an episode that took place in May 1804. There were periodic false alarms of invasion and at the beginning of the month the militia were called out. As one they all headed to the Dorset coast – all except two companies. Unfortunately one of them was the Evershot company commanded by Captain John Jennings and one of whose other officers was Ensign James Eaton who Martin was to replace in 1807. Although it was a false alarm the other companies were quite naturally disgusted and the troop had to be disbanded. Luckily for John Jennings however a new company was set up at Melbury [which Melbury is not specified] and he and Eaton transferred to this one. This was the company that John Martin joined. Although they were ‘voluntary’ they were organised along strict military lines. The troops were paid, had to attend regular drill meetings and when an alarm was sounded could be called into full time ‘Permanent Duty’. In many counties such duty was limited to a period of 60 days or a rotational system put into operation so as to avoid disruption with the men’s home lives and work but in Dorset there seems to have been an open ended commitment, no doubt a major problem for a busy man like Martin.

Wikipedia. Courtesy New York Public Library.

There are no diary entries about military service until 1832 and no mention of him in the Militia records after 1807. The first diary entry comes in April 1832 by which time he has transferred from the infantry to the Yeomanry Cavalry.fn3

3rd April 1832Went to Rampisham – in the morning and to Melbury House in afternoon respg Troop work

Rather like modern day train companies the history of the Dorset Yeomanryfn4 is one of continually changing names. The first Dorset Yeomanry was formed in 1794 a year or so after the beginning of the French Revolutionary wars. Two years later they became the Dorsetshire Rangers which survived until 1802 when, after the treaty of Amiens, it was disbanded. The militia survived the peace intact but the Yeomanry was reformed in 1803 as the Dorsetshire Regiment of Volunteer Yeomanry Cavalry. In 1814, it was once again disbanded…..until reformed again in 1830. In 1833 it becameThe Princess Victoria’s Regiment of Dorset Yeomanry Cavalry’ and although Victoria was crowned in 1838 they did not get round to changing the name again until June 1843 when they became theQueen’s Own Regiment of Dorset Yeomanry Cavalry’. At some point, in what smacks of bureaucratic reorganisation it became the ‘DorsetYeomanry (Queen’s Own)’ based in Dorchester. There were various component divisions to the Yeomanry, which varied over the years and each division was in turn made up of a number of troops. One of these was based at Melbury.

‘The Yeomanry’ has a romantic connotation but it should be remembered that in 1819 the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry Cavalry had been responsible for the Peterloo massacre when 11-15 people had been killed and many hundreds injured. The Dorset Yeomanry was probably not involved in the Swing Riots of 1830 but the militia probably were, and in January 1832 the militia records show that £99 4s 6d was paid to a variety of officers forDamages by riots within the Hundred of Sherborne”. This is almost certainly a late payment and was probably paid to the militia as the cavalry was in the process of being re-formed.fn5

Why did Martin leave the infantry and move to the Yeomanry Cavalry? We simply don’t know but almost certainly it had to do with the Earl of Ilchester. Melbury House was of course the seat of Henry Fox-Strangways who, in 1808 was commissioned Captain in the Dorsetshire Yeomanry and was given a promotion to Major when it was reformed in 1830. He was later to be made Lieutenant-colonel in 1840 and ‘Lieutenant-colonel commandant’ in 1845 although quite what the difference was between the ranks I do not know. When did Martin move? This too is unknown but as we will see below he appeared to have an important post in the yeomanry and this is hinted at later in the diaries so it is probable that he joined along with the Earl in 1830. If he did indeed join the Yeomanry at this time he would have been 50 yr’s old and it is reasonable to assume that having spent a career on horse back it would have been a rational choice. He also mentions in the 1832 diary that he was deaf and this may have been another factor in his decision.

As is typical with Martin his entries are laconic and add little to our understanding of what he did; luckily in the case of the Yeomanry there are many newspaper entries which describe their activities. Meetings took place at various places and times but the most significant meeting of the year took place in late April or May. He refers to this as “Permanent duty” but his definition of this is different to that of the earlier generation in that it is confined to a period of about eight days spent in one of the larger towns. The 1832 meeting of the Yeomanry took place in May and is the most comprehensively recorded in the newspapersfn6. Preparations probably began long before the 3rd April but the next entry is from the 20th,

20th April 1832Doing Various Jobs in the Morning and went to Melbury House respg Troop in afternoon

On the 3rd May he finalised the muster roll and on the 10th he sent his horse to the Keep in Dorchester

3rd May 1832Attending the Charminster Road Men and making out a New Troop Roll for Lord Ilchester
10th May 1832IN PENCIL
Sent Colt to Keep

The current building was not completed until 1879 but it is clear that the area was called the Keep long before it was finished. On the 17th May he

17th May 1832Went to Dorchester and met with the quartermasters and Colonel Frampton resp Quarters &c
18th May 1832Went to Toller Down Fair and making out List of Troop for Billetting

These entries are of some interest as there is evidence that he fulfilled the role of quartermaster for the Melbury Troop as we will see. Finally on the 22nd May he gathered his things together before setting off for Dorchester.

22nd May 1832Maiden Newton Inclosure Went to Maiden Newton and let part of New Road to be excavated at 4 ½ d per yard – and packing up my Troop articles ½ day £1 1s 0d
23rd May 1832Permanent Duty at Dorchester
24th – 29th May 1832Do
30th May 1832Do and returned Home Paid Man looking after my Horse 12s Reced pay on Permanent Duty £2 6s 4d Paid Lodgings & Expenses on Permanent Duty £3 15s

Fortunately this meeting was very well recorded by the Dorset Chronicle and Somersetshire Gazette of the 31st May: “a finer and more effective volunteer corps was never before raised”. The muster roll “contains the names of about 350 men, who compose five troops, the Melbury, the Dorchester, the Iwerne, the Sherborne and the Vale of Blackmoor troops, respectively under the command of Major The Earl of Ilchester, Captain H Frampton ……” Martin himself is not named in this article but it was clearly an enjoyable time, “Their stay with us has greatly enlivened the town, which has consequently exhibited..a scene of continued gaiety.” It is easy to see where Thomas Hardy got his ideas from as the journalism of the time was ebulliently descriptive; “The field chosen for their exercise [the race course under Maiden Castle] has been daily thronged by a concourse of fashionable and delighted spectators”. The highlight however was on the Kings Birthdayfn7 which was “celebrated in a manner which well became the staunch and true Yeoman of Dorset and the loyal town of Dorchester. The jocund bells welcomed the morn with many a merry note and at the summons all prepared for joy and gaiety….the streets were soon thronged to an extent seldom before witnessed displaying everywhere the bevies of the young, the beautiful, the gay.”

The weather in May of course can be a bit variable but “The day was the most favourable that could possibly have been conceived; a slight breeze served to fan the air whilst “A sky all cloudless and a lustrous sun” served effectually to dissipate all fears on the score of silks and satins and all the paraphernalia of artificial gracefulness”. At midday Colonels Frampton and Bower inspected the troops who paraded in front of them in half squadrons and single file who “then performed their various evolutions and manoeuvres with a degree of exactness and rapidity which could only have been expected from a long course of training….The adroitness and precision evinced throughout however difficult the manoeuvre were such that many on the ground who had seen much active service extolled them in warm terms at the close of the review.”

In 1838 a meeting of the Melbury Troop was held on Toller Down prior to Permanent duty,

23rd April 1838Yeomanry meeting at Toller Down

It was fortuitous that Permanent Duty in 1838 took place later in the year. Barely two weeks after death and one week after her burial he was preparing for it. He spent a week there before returning home in early June and there are no reports in the newspapers of their activities. There was however hot debate in their columns of a government plan to reduce the number of regiments nationally.

26th May 1838Preparing for Permanent Duty and sent off the Maiden Newton Rent charges to Chas Pym Esq ATC
27th May 1838Went to Shaftesbury in the afternoon
28th May 1838On Permanent duty at Shaftesbury
2nd June 1838Do – returned Home

He was not finished with the Yeomanry as in October 1838 there was another meeting of the troop on Sydling Hill.

In the next diary, for 1845, he is a little more fulsome in his account of the meeting and fortunately, perhaps, because it was in Dorchester, it was covered more extensively by the Chronicle.

30th April 1845Sending out Yeomanry Notices
15th May 1845Plotting Warmwell and preparing for Yeomanry meeting
16th May 1845Yeomanry Meeting at Melbury
21st May 1845Permanent Duty at Dorchester
22nd -25th May 1845Do
26th May 1845Permanent Duty at Dorchester
27th May 1845Do- Review Day
28th May 1845Returned Home Paid at Dorchester £1 Reced Pay £4 3s 4d

The 1845 meeting was again blessed with fine weather but almost immediately was marred by a trooper thrown from his horse and breaking his leg. He was taken to the County Hospital and the regiment contributed £25 to his care. Another accident occurred on the next day when a horse “becoming restive plunged and reared, and eventually fell on his back” fortunately the riders saddle slipped round as the horse fell thus preventing him from being crushed. The highlight of the meeting was without doubt the display on Martinstown Down that took place on the Tuesday. “On the arrival of the troops they took up open orders” when at 12.15 the reviewing officer Lieut. Colonel Hankey arrived; given the circumstances he prudently brought with him “Surgeon Mackenzie”. The Chronicle was clearly impressed and indeed it must have been a splendid sight; we do not know how many took the ground in 1845 but in 1832 there were over 350 cavalry on parade. In 1845 Lieut. Colonel Hanky took up his position in the centre of the down whilst the troops went through a series of manoeuvres which were documented in great detail by their reporter;

  1. Form Line.
  2. Change front to right on fourth squadron.
  3. Wheel to right into column of troops.
  4. Form line to rear on rear troop.
  5. Change position by threes, left half back.
  6. Advance from centre in double column of troops- change direction to the right -forward.
  7. Form line to front.
  8. Close column in rear of the right.
  9. Take ground to left.
  10. Squadrons will countermarch by threes.
  11. Form inverted line to left on first squadron.
  12. Advance.
  13. Reverse the front by the wheel about of troops.
  14. Advance from left in echellon of squadrons [the carbiners will cover the advance of their squadrons dismounted.
  15. Echellon wheel to the right and advance.
  16. Form line to the front.
  17. Retire by alternate squadrons covered by carbineers. In retiring, the carbineers will have mounted supports on each flank.
  18. Form line- call in carbineers.
  19. Form close column on centre squadron – mounted skirmishers covering the formation of the column. Attack by squadrons in succession – wheel outwards by threes, and form in rear. Deploy into line on centre squadron. Attack in line. Retire. Advance in open order, and salute.

No doubt in need of refreshment after all this activity sandwiches, wine and bottled beer were “served gratuitously to a large number of ladies and gentleman” who had come to watch. The troops meanwhile retired to the town and “At three the Officers of the Yeomanry gave an elegant dejeuner at the Kings Arms to a large part of the ladies and gentlemen of the town and county…There was afterwards a grand dinner of the Officers at the Antelope Hotel” This was clearly a boozy affair as numerous toasts were made the last being to the health of Colonel Frampton who “acknowledged the toast with much spirit and effect. Other toasts were drunk and the proceedings which were very animated and passed off with much éclat..” The dinner party broke up early however “for the purposes of attending THE BALL, which took place at the Kings Arms Hotel and was kept up with unabated gaiety till four o’clock the next morning.”

A few more commitments occurred later in the year;

1st July 1845Making out Return of the 1st Troop to the Surveyor of Taxes and
10th October 1845Sending out Yeomanry Notices and working on Abbotsbury &c
20th October 1845Preparing for Yeomanry meeting
21st October 1845Yeomanry Meeting at Stratton & met the Dorchester Troop

In 1852 Martin was 72 yr’s old and was still attending the meetings, perhaps he planned it to be his last year as Edwin and John’s brother George, came home and were doubtless in attendance at the meeting at Melbury held preparatory to permanent duty.

10th May 1852At Home on Various matters Edwin & his Uncle Geo came

This meeting was attended by tragedy which he noted,

11th May 1852Yeomanry meeting Melbury Park 11 ok A Boy Killed by Mr G Templemans Mare running away under the Traces the Boy was left in the care of the Mare whilst Shooting for a Cup

The Dorset County Chronicle takes up the story “The corps went through the various exercises and evolutions under the direction of Captain Digby…At the conclusion of the exercise the men dismounted and a sliver cup and sugar basin were shot for……The pleasures of the day were somewhat dampened [sic] by an accident which caused the death of a poor lad named Job Lake aged about 16 years the son of a labouring man in the village. It appears that when the men dismounted previous to the shooting the deceased among others took charge of one of the horses which he mounted, contrary to warnings previously given him and with other lads started for a trot when the deceased took the lead in a gallop and whilst so engaged his head came into contact with a branch of a tree which hung low and he was thrown from the horse and expired in a few minutes.”

No doubt the day was somewhat dampened by the accident but the DCC could not resist a touch of sensationalism with a graphic description of the wounds “The deceased’s head was terribly shattered the right side of the forehead and temple being completely beaten in exposing the brain.”

A week later he set off for Blandford,

18th May 1852Preparing for Permanent duty
19th May 1852Permanent duty at Blandford Regiment entered the Town about ½ past 5

This typical down beat entry belies what again must have been a splendid occasion. The Sherborne Mercury on this occasion takes up the story;

The Queen’s Own Regiment of Dorsetshire Yeomanry Cavalry, under the command of Colonel the Earl of Ilchester, mustered on Wednesday afternoon on the Mill Down, and marched into quarters in this town. They were greeted on their arrival by a merry peal from the church bells. The weather being very propitious the town presented a very gay and lively appearance. A display of fire-works took place in the evening in the market place. On Friday evening the Colonel and Officers of the regiments honoured the vocal entertainment of Mr Henry Smith, with their presence. The Blandford Cornopeanfn8 band were in attendance on the same occasion.”

Milldown 2 (Large)

The Milldown at Blandford.

20th May 1852At Blandford on P duty
21st May 1852Do Dined at J J Farquharson Esq with 13 more of the Regiment there was Seven of our Troop
22nd – 23rdMay 1852At Blandford
24th – 25thMay 1852At Blandford on Permanent duty
26th May 1852Do Returned Home Received for Pay & p Corn £4 6s
16th August 1852Entering Yeomanry Pay List in orderly Book and looking over Bills &c [A Bad Wet day for the Harvest]

His career in the Yeomanry started late, when he was 52 yr’s and ended [so far as we know] when he was 72 yr’s. What precisely was his role? A clue comes from an account of a meeting of the Melbury Troop in the park;

“On Tuesday last the first troop of the Queens Own Regiment of Dorset Yeomanry Cavalry were sumptuously entertained by their noble Captain Lord Stavordale at Melbury House, and a more agreeable day has not been passed for many years.” After the usual round of reviews, inspections and shooting competitions “At 3 o’clock, the excellent band of the Regiment struck up the welcome tune,”The Roast Beef of Old England and the troop assembled in the splendid saloon at Melbury House, where a very sumptuous and substantial dinner was provided for them, consisting of every delicacy which the season afforded. The noble Captain Lord Stavordale, occupied the chair supported on his right by Col. Frampton and Quarter-Master Martin [my emphasis] and on his left by his noble father Lieut Colonel the Earl of Ilchester….”

At the end of the dinner The Earl of Ilchester rose amidst deafening cheers…His Lordship took that opportunity of presenting to their valued and efficient Quarter-Master Martin a splendid Silver Cup which had been subscribed for by his Lordship and the Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Privates of the First Troop and of which in their name he begged his acceptance “as [to use the words inscribed thereon] a token of their esteem and an acknowledgement of the services rendered for the last 13 years….Quarter-Master Martin then rose, but his feelings of gratitude for so distinguished a mark of respect from his Brother soldiers evidently overpowered him, and it was some moments before he could recover sufficiently to give utterance to words. At length, however he made some excellent and pithy remarks, and said he trusted he should hand down that handsome token of their esteem as an heir loom in his family, and he hoped none of his children, or children’s children, would ever disgrace it.”

There is no conclusive evidence but Quarter-Master Martin is almost certainly John Martin. From the diaries we learned that he met the quarter-masters, made troop lists, filled out the troop’s tax return, sent out notices to the troopers, calculated their pay, arranged billeting and so on all of which would fit with this role.

1852 appears to have been the last year that he attended and was actively involved in the yeomanry. The only entry in 1854, when he was 74 yr’s is from May; it seems to imply that although the Yeomanry had assembled he was no longer involved with it returning instead to his farming work.

10th May 1854The Yeomanry assembled in the Park Attending work people &c [sent 21 Sheep to Coker]

Those interested in the Uniform of the Queen’s Own Dorset Yeomanry can see it here

fn1 Clammer, David Dorset’s Volunteer Infantry 1784-1805 Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research 89 (2011), 6-25. Much of what follows is taken from his article.

fn2 Gambier J. Tithes, Tithe Commutation and Agricultural Improvement A Case Study of Dorset circa 1700-1850 Doctoral thesis for University of Exeter held at the Dorset History Centre.

fn3‘Troop’ being a yeomanry term.

fn4 The name used hereafter.

fn5 This point is not clear as by this time the militia and yeomanry records are intertwined both being administered by Edward Boswell.

fn6 As time went on newspaper coverage accorded to the militia disappeared almost completely and that given to the Yeomanry Cavalry reduced.

fn7 This must have been William IV’s official birthday. His actual birthday was on 26th August 1765.

fn8 A form of horn larger than a trumpet smaller than a French horn.