In 1820 the Honourable East India Company's ships "William Fairlie" and "Thomas Coates" conveyed the regiment to Madras. There Cholera was raging, and the fist victim was Sergeant-Major Patrick Kelly. From Madras the regiment marched to Bangalore, and in this favourite station remained till 1824. Mr. J. Rawlings, who served as a Private at this time, states that on the march through Naikenary Pass the detachment with which he was, had nearly all their muskets stolen by dacoits. He also asserts that whilst in Bangalore four officers of the Regiment were killed in duels.
A change from this mischievous idleness came with the declaration of war against the King of Burma in 1824. Early that year a force was collected at the Andaman Islands under Major-General Sir Archibald Campbell, with Brigadier McBean, His Majesty's 54th as second in command, which entering the river Irrawaddy, captured Rangoon and occupied the surrounding country. In the autumn a second force, commanded by Brigadier Morrison, C.B., assembled at Chittagong in Eastern Bengal, to drive the Burmese out of Arracan, and then co-operate with General Campbell in Upper Burmah.
From the Madras Presidency were sent the 54th Foot, 10th and 16th Madras Native Infantry, a Mugh Levy, some local horse, and detachments of Artillery and Engineers; while Bengal furnished the 44th Foot, 26th, 42nd and 62nd Native Infantry.
Brigadier McBean, 54th, was second in command. A flotilla of gun boats and pilot vessels under Commodore Hayes with a large convoy of country craft was prepared to enable the expedition to act in the numerous creeks by which the country was intersected. It was January 1825 before the whole could be collected at Coxe's bazaar in Chittagong.
An advance party was now pushed to the banks of the Naf, a broad river which separates the province of Chittagong from Arracan. On the Burmese side of the river was the fortified post of Mungdoo. In the Calcutta Gazette we read - "January 12th. Our force is now on the move, the 62nd Native Infantry reached Ramoo on the 10th, His Majesty's 44th on the same day, the 26th Native Infantry march on the 13th, the 10th Madras Native Infantry on the 13th by water with His Majesty's 54th.
Although no important opposition was apprehended from the enemy, the advance was impeded by difficulties which proved formidable foes at each stage of the operations. The country over-run by jungle and thinly inhabited, offered no roads and no resources. Supplies and transport had to be collected from great distances with much labour and expense; the rainy season long protracted and severe in those countries, delayed the formation of a military road from Chittagong to the frontier. By the end of January, however, the whole force was encamped on the Naf, though much of the transport was still behind.
While this movement was in progress, a small detachment of the 54th embarked for their health on board the Honourable Company's Cutter "Matchless", took part in a gallant, but unsuccessful attach on the Burmese island of Ramree, made by a small force under Lieutenant-Colonel Hampton, Madras Native Infantry, and Captain Hardy, Indian Navy. Captain Hardy in his report writes - "The Sergeant and six Privates of His Majesty's 54th Foot on board the Honourable Company's Cutter "Matchless", volunteered to serve with our Marines under Lieutenant Bell, and they are of course included in the orders and letter of thanks, copies of which I forwards. I regret to say one of them fell, and another was wounded; the others I would forward by the "Meriton", but they have expressed a wish to remain till their comrades are well. I have consented to their application, as we are all under orders for Arracan."
On the 1st February, General Morrison ordered the passage of the Naf to be commenced, and the troops to enter Arracan. The 54th was selected to lead, with detachments of Pioneers and Artillery, and three Regiments Native Infantry. A description of the opening scene of the Campaign is given by an eye-witness, and it's brightness contrasts in a striking degree with the picture of sickness and suffering presented by it's close. "It is not east to imagine a more picturesque sight than the crossing of the British troops at Mungdoo, when taken in combination with the wild feature of the surrounding scenery. The atmosphere was clear, the sun shone brightly, and a stiff breeze curled the waters of the Naf, as the various craft, gun-boats, proas, and rafts crowded with red coats and blue, and exhibiting at every turn the gleaming flash of the arms, pushed off from the place of embarkation. It was a stirring spectacle; the boats, laying over, their sails distended, the "Pluto" with all steam up breasting the current, with the rafts in tow; and the cruisers and transports lower down, anchored in the stream, their flags bravely flying. Opposite to us as we advanced lay stretched out the green woods and undulating mountains of Mungdoo, skirting the broad estuary; with every here and there a column of smoke slowly ascending, signals of the enemy, as we supposed. "Such was the scene I have endeavoured to describe, and if any of the few who survive, read this, they will not think, I am sure, that I have put too much colour in my brush."
The stockades were found to be abandoned, and the troops rested for a fortnight, whilst the main body crossed the Naf. On the 12th February General Morrison marched with part of his force for the estuary of the Meyoo, the next important stream to the south of the Naf, and reached it on the 22nd; whilst he detached the Madras Brigade, including the 54th, under Brigadier McBean to proceed with the Commodore by sea, direct to the Arracan river. This expedition encountered a cyclone on the 17th February which lasted for two days, and drove the fleet back to Mungdoo. The 54th was in serious danger, and lost all their baggage and camp equipage, which had to be thrown overboard. A fresh start was, however, made by the Commodore, and he reached the mouth of the Arracan river.
Learning that there was a stockade up a branch of the river, at Chamballa, defending the approach to the capital by water, Commodore Hayes stood up the stream with part of his flotilla, having on board Captain Grindley's company of the 54th, and opened a fire on the enemy, which was returned with spirit. After a heavy fire was kept up for two hours, the falling tide obliged the Commodore to drop down the river, having lost six men killed and about thirty wounded. Among the casualties were three of the 54th killed, and two wounded. Commodore Hayes writes in his report - "I am impelled by a common sense of justice due to the troops, to express my admiration of the steady and gallant conduct of H. M.'s 54th and the Madras details," and he mentions Captain Grindley and Lieutenant Coote. In this fight the gun boats were brought within pistol shot of the stockades.
Meanwhile General Morrison had been continuing his advance by land towards Arracan. Being joined by the Madras Brigade, he advanced on the city by the east bank of the Arracan river, and on the 25th March he reached the foot of the Padho hills, where a large force of Burmese was entrenched to bar the land approach to the capital. A reconnaissance was made that evening to ascertain the situation of the passes through the hills. The troops were told off in four columns; in the right column under Brigadier Colquhoun Grant, C.B., of H. M.'s 54th was the greater part of the Regiment, while two companies 44th, two companies 54th, with some Pioneers, formed the left column under Captain Leslie of the 54th.
At daybreak on the 26th the troops moved to the attack. Captain Leslie on the left, ascended the main branch of the river, at first in boats; but when these grounded the men landed, and skirted the hills, were directed to turn the right of the enemy's position. The right and centre columns moved direct on the passes leading through the hills. It was only after advancing well into the forest clad hills, that any sign of the enemy appeared, except that the tolling of a gong or the distant report of a jingal had been occasionally heard. Suddenly, wild shouts, and wilder firing announced that the summits of the hills were occupied in force. The Light Companies of the Native Regiments who covered the advance, carried the heights, and held them till the main body came up, when the Burmese fell back.
The force then bivouacked for the night within a mile-and-a-half of the enemy's camp at Manhattie, having been nine hours under arms. On this day the 54th had two men wounded.
On the morning of the 27th March, as soon as the fog had dispersed, the advance was resumed. The enemy's position was a Peninsula projecting into a broad river which was fordable only at low tide. The banks were steep and defended by sharp stakes. Deep entrenchments stretched across the front, well protected from enfilade by epaulments. In rear were hills covered with stockades and fortified pagodas. In front of the works was a small eminence held by a Burmese outpost. The Light Company of the 54th led the advance, and supported by the 44th, speedily drove the enemy from the outpost. The retreat of their advanced post was the signal for the Burmese Artillery to open, but their fire was subdued by the British; and the main body of the troops moved up the brink of the river. Brigadier Grant was now ordered to ford the stream and attack. The resistance of the Burmese was feeble, but the troops found a great difficulty in climbing the steep banks faced with stakes in order to enter the works. No sooner, however, had the British made good their footing, than the enemy trooped out in the direction of the city of Arracan. A few were overtaken and killed. In this day's fighting the 54th had one Sergeant killed and nine men wounded.
Two days were now spent in reconnaissance, and the 31st was fixed for the attack on the city. The defenders occupied a line of the hills strong by nature, and wherever practicable, scarpments, abattis, masonry wall and other means had been used to render it still stronger. The city stood on elevated ground within a circle of low hills. In one corner was the fort surrounded by three concentric walls of massive masonry.
A single pass led towards the city through the range of hills before described, and this pass was defended by several batteries and 3000 infantry. The whole garrison was estimated at 8000 to 10000 men.
The assaulting party was commanded by Brigadier McBean, and the 54th again led the advance. The morning was raw and chill, and a heavy fog hung over the deep ploughed fields over which the troops moved towards the city. When the mist at length dispersed, there was disclosed to view a line of hills, forest clad, with their sided scarped perpendicular and their summits lined with stockades. Black coated warriors manned this formidable position, with here and there, a gilded umbrella, gleamed as a standard against the sky. Loud shouts and beating of silver-toned gongs greeted the approach of the British, then a gun opened, which was duly answered, and the fire became general along the whole front. Brigadier McBean directed his advance on the pass leading to the city, and halting under cover of a tank fringed with jungle, detached the Light Company of the 54th to storm a rock flanking the mouth of the pass. The ascent was almost perpendicular, and the enemy's fire swept the front, fortunately ill directed. Desperate efforts were made to reach the top, and lieutenant Clarke and some of the light-bobs of the 54th succeeded in getting their hand on the crest, but were unable to keep their hold, and were thrown back on their comrades below. Huge stones were hurled from above, supplemented by musketry fire, and flights of stones fired from bows. Finding all their efforts unavailing, the party retired on the main body. Here also a check occurred. The troops were subjected to heavy fire by which all attempts to force the pass by direct attack were prevented. A heavy Artillery fire was then opened, but eventually the British had to retire out of gun shot, the Burmese remaining masters of their position. It was now determined to make a night attack on a fortified conical hill, on the enemy's right, which formed the key of the position. At nightfall on the 2nd April, Brigadier Richards, Bengal Infantry, set out with 1000 men by a difficult path through the woods. To divert the enemy's attention a heavy cannonade was opened on his front. Brigadier Richards safely reached his destination and carried the hill. The Burmese now abandoned their position in all parts, and fled to the jungles. Arracan was thus gained, and the campaign was virtually at an end. Twenty-nine iron, and twelve brass, guns were captured. The loss of the 54th in these operations was, Killed 1 Sergeant and 2 men; wounded 3 officers and 24 men, including Lieutenant Clarke, who had been severely bruised in the attack on the pass that he was invalided to England.
Two, out of the four provinces of Arracan, had now been cleared of Burmese, and it only remained to dislodge them from the remaining two, Ramree and Sandowe. Brigadier McBean with a force, of which four companies 54th formed part, was dispatched with Commodore Hayes for this purpose. The service was performed without opposition, and the detachment rejoined General Morrison at the end of April, when the 54th with the Madras Brigade was stationed at Manhattie.
The entire occupation of Arracan was thus effected, but the proposed junction with Sir Archibald Campbell's force on the Irrawaddy proved unfeasible. Several reconnaissances of the route were attempted, the most important of which was made by the Light Companies of the 44th and 54th, with some Native detachments under Lieutenant-Colonel Buckle of the Bengal Army. The detachment proceeded by water to Talak at the foot of a mountainous tract dividing Arracan from the Ava territory. Thence they marched for four days over rugged mountains, where even water was scarce, and men and cattle suffered severely. At Akowyn they learned that the Burmese were in great force, and the exhausted state of his detachment rendering a further advance, under such circumstances, impracticable, Colonel Buckle returned to Talak.
Up to this time there had been comparatively little sickness, but when the rains set in, fever of a virulent type made its appearances, and increased, till scarcely a man of the European Regiments, 44th and 54th, remained fit for duty.
The following tables show the state of the Hospitals:-
|Strength of the two Regiments||Admissions||Deaths||In Hospital|
A Medical Commission was subsequently assembled to investigate the cause of the terrible sickness. The type of fever closely resembled that of the west coast of Africa. One peculiar feature was the vomiting of quantities of large and disgusting worms. This was probably the result of bad flour supplied for the troops from Calcutta, and it is undeniable that improper food and unnecessary privation aggravated the natural unhealthiness of the country, and the unavoidable hardships and exposure of such a campaign.
The deaths among the officers were very numerous. A roll of those who died during the Regiment's service in India is given on a subsequent page (see further on), but the following notices are extracted from the Calcutta Gazette.
"21st November, 1825. At the mouth of the Arracan river on board the hospital ship "David Clark" on the 31st October Lieutenant Thomas Fraser of His Majesty's 54th Regiment. Few have fallen victims to the climate more justly, and sincerely regretted. In him were united many amiable qualities, and perhaps never a heart more dear than his. He has served for upwards of eleven years with the corps, and his loss is keenly felt by his brother officers."
"At Arracan on the morning of the 2nd December, after an illness of 16 days, Captain John James Grindley of His Majesty's 54th Regiment, an old and gallant soldier, who served upwards of thirty years; and whose unassuming manners, joined to a temper highly cheerful and social rendered his company most engaging, and endeared him not only to his brother officers but to society at large."
The Governor General of India in Council in expressing his approbation of the services of the army at the close of the Burmese war thus refers to the particular duties performed by the force under General Morrison.
"Similar and no less impediments ultimately opposed the advance of the fine army under Major-General Morrison over the mountains of Arracan into the valley of the Irrawaddy, but the capture of Arracan afforded an earnest of what would have been effected, had opportunity offered, by the judgment, prudence and skill of the commanders and officers of that division, and the valour, zeal and integrity of the troops of which it composed.
"The Governor General in Council deeply laments the sickness which attacked and utterly disabled for further effective service the south-eastern division of the arny, and the loss of many brave officers and man, who fell victims to the noxious climate of Arracan.
"In testimony of the high sense entertained by the Governor General in Council of the services of the troops by whom the provinces of Assam and Arracan were captured, His Majesty will be solicited to grant to His Majesty's 44th and 54th Regiments the distinction of bearing on their colours 'Arracan'." This permission was not accorded, but these Regiments were subsequently ordered to bear on their colours the word 'Ava', in commemoration of their services during the Burmese war, and the men engaged were eligible for the Indian war medal with clasp for 'Ava'. A grant was made for six months' batta to all who had served twelve months during the war, in Burmese territory, and three months to those who had served for six; and the heirs and assigns of those who had died were entitled to receive shares.
On Februrary 24th 1826 a treaty was signed between the HONORABLE EAST INDIA COMPANY on the one part, and HIS MAJESTY the KING of AVA which ended the first Burma War.....Ed.
On the 8th October 1827, the Governor General informed the Army that the Houses of Parliament had passed a vote of thanks to the troops engaged in the Burmese war, and that the Honourable East India Company had authorised a second grant of batta on the same conditions of the first.
From Madras the regiment marched to Cannanore under Major John Moore; Colonel Sir William McBean, K.C.B., being in command of a district. Here, the following year, new colours were received; and Lieutenant-Colonel Mildmay Fane obtained the command.
In 1831, the silver lace hitherto worn was changed for gold, in compliance with the Horse Guard's order, restricting silver lace to Militia and Yeomanry.
At Cannanore and at Trichinopoly the 54th completed it's long tour of Indian service. It was brought to Madras to prepare for embarkation in December 1839, and the following notice appears in the Madras Spectator of the 18th of that month.
"Major-General Sir Robert Dick, K.C.B., K.C.H., reviewed His Majesty's 54th on the island on Monday morning. He was received with a salute of thirteen guns from a piece of ordnance captured by the 54th at Fort Marabout, in Egypt, on the 21st, 1801. The 54th is the only regiment in the British service allowed such a distinction."
In accordance with the usual practice, all men under thirty-five years of age, desirous to remain in India, were permitted to volunteer to other corps.
|Rank and Name||Place||Date|
|Lieut. and Adjutant Dowdal||Bangalore||13th December 1822|
|Lieut. Robert Holt||Neilgherries||9th August 1823|
|Captain Thomas Coote||Wallajabad||23rd May 1824|
|Lieut. W Clans||Madras||5th June 1824|
|Assist. Surgeon M Fynan||Madras||22nd August 1824|
|Captain George Black||Madras||26th September 1824|
|Assist. Surgeon G Leich||Arracan||12th march 1825|
|Lieut. George Fenton||Arracan||15th August 1825|
|Lieut. Frederick Consedine||Arracan||11th September 1825|
|Lieut. Thomas Fraser||Arracan||31st October 1825|
|Lieut. William Moore||Arracan||22nd November 1825|
|Captain James Grindley||Arracan||2nd December 1825|
|Ensign H C Serjeant||Calcutta||2nd December 1825|
|Captain A Burnett||On passage from Arracan||4th January 1826|
|Captain H B Armstrong||Killed in action Bhurtapore||18th January 1826|
|Pay-master E G Smith||Madras||29th September 1826|
|Captain Edmond Evanson||London after being invalided||17th December 1826|
|Lieut. Burrows Kelly||Cannanore||12th may 1828|
|Captain Kelly||Cannanore||7th August 1828|
|Captain Thomas Kennedy||Bolarum||18th November 1828|
|Lieut. Robert Dodd||Cannanore||20th may 1829|
|Ensign Joseph Calder||At sea||8th January 1830|
|Ensign Edward Wheatstone||Cannanore||27th December 1830|
|Captain A Barbauld||Cochin||22nd February 1831|
|Lieut. Richard Burton||Trichinopoly||8th July 1832|
|Ensign Brabazon||Trichinopoly||3rd May 1833|
|Lieut. James Lawless||Neilgherries||1st September 1834|
|Assist. Surgeon Thompson||Trichinopoly||12th July 1835|
|Ensign Taylor||Trichinopoly||21st July 1835|
|Captain Phillip Mandilhon||Trichinopoly||1st August 1836|
|OFFICERS OF THE 54TH REGIMENT, ARRACAN 1st JANUARY 1825|
|Issac Gascoigne (General)|
|William Macbean||Colquhoun Grant|
|James Leslie||George Black||Frederick Gascoyne|
|John James Grindley||John Campbell||Alexander Burnett|
|William Cox||Philip Mandilhon||James Henry Welch|
|Edward Alleyn Evanson|
|Robert Woodgate||Richard Relly||John Grey|
|Joseph C. S. Leyfield||Charles Highmore Potts||Edward Nugent|
|Thomas Fraser||Charles Hill||John Clark (Adjutant)|
|James Lawless||John Griffiths Bevan||Frederick Thornbury|
|John Norman||C. W. Thomas||Pryce Blake|
|Joseph Tynam||Burrows Relly||R. Tyrrell Rob. Pattoun|
|R. Gethin Creagh Coote||William Moore||George Fenton|
|Frederick Considine||Henry William Harris||Ernest Augustus Slade|
|Charles Tobin||Henry Rose Clark||George Holt|
|John Beach Dodd||Charles Warren|
|Moore F Fynan||George Leich|
|OFFICERS OF THE 54TH REGIMENT, MADRAS 1st January 1835|
|Issac Gascoigne (General)|
|Mildmay Fane||John Reid|
|John Clark||Ranald Macdonald|
|William Cox||Philip Mandilhon||J H Welsh|
|Charles Hill||James Lawless||W B Bernard|
|F Thornbury||John Norman||Aylmer Dowdall|
|R T R Pattoun (Adjutant)||Edward Wells||George Holt|
|J B Dodd||John Stoddard||Garnet Mann|
|Frederick Parr||Emilius Ross||J Reid Turner|
|John Mellis||James T Bayley||Robert Parr|
|A C Anderson||John Ross Wheeler||Henry Brown|
|Uriah Boyd||C B Vance||W B Farrant|
|J Brett Chalk||Donald Macdonald||Launcelot E Wood|
|H D Williams||Samuel Reid|
|Arthur Herbert||Reginald H Dyke||S Phillips|
|Bowland Moffat||W Taylor||C F Heatley|
|G F Long||Montague Barbauld|
|Henry Thomas||Francis Moran MD|