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Regiments of the Malta Garrison
54th (West Norfolk) Regiment

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The 54th (West Norfolk) Regiment

Introduction

The 54th Regiment of Foot was raised in 1755 as the 56th Foot, but was renumbered 54th Foot in 1757 when two of the intervening regiments disbanded.

In 1782, it was affiliated to the county of West Norfolk to become The 54th (West Norfolk) Regiment. The regiment captured Fort Marabout from the French in the Egyptian Campaign of 1801.

On 1 July 1881, the 54th Regiment of Foot amalgamated with The 39th Dorsetshire Regiment to become the 2nd Battalion The Dorsetshire Regiment.

On 17th July 1958, the Dorsetshire Regiment amalgamated with the Devonshire Regiment amalgamated with to form The Devonshire and Dorset Regiment.

The 54th (West Norfolk) Regiment of Foot

1802 —54th (West Norfolk)

31 Jan 1802 The Frigates Dido and Niger arrived from Egypt with the 13th and 2nd/54th regiments. The men suffered from dysentery and ophthalmia.

The 54th (West Norfolk) Regiment of Foot

1847 54th (West Norfolk)

3 Jan 1847 530 men, 49 women and 78 children embarked at Gibraltar in December 1846 on the transport Herefordshire. They disembarked at Malta on 3 January and marched to Fort Ricasoli through thunder and continuous rain. The regiment occupied Lower St Elmo Barracks which had been vacated by the departing 88th Regiment. It shared Lower St Elmo Barracks with the 1st/69th Regiment. The 54th were in Valletta between 15 December 1847 and 31 March 1848. The Regimental HQ was at Floriana.

The 54th Regiment arrived at Gibraltar in November 1845. While at Gibraltar the men suffered greatly from fever which eventually subsided. However, on their arrival at Malta on 3 January 1847, the same type of fever reappeared. It proved fatal to some while others were debilitated. Surgeon Dawson observed that the fever at Malta was quite distinct in type and general character from that at Gibraltar. He remarked that the fevers were peculiar to the respective stations and attacked those not yet acclimatised.

The officers were quartered in the Auberge Bavarie. In June 1847, the officers' mess was struck by lightening. The thunderbolt hit the upper storey of the building, entered Colonel Fane's bed room, and cracked the masonry above the door. It then went through the bell wire to the ground passage where it stopped at the bell. It shattered the wall of the anteroom where a regimental court martial was in progress. The lightening was then conducted along the wall to the iron bolt of the door through which it escaped into the corridor, carrying before it the pommel of the door. From the corridor it traversed through a massive stone wall, three feet thick, and descended down the staircase into the street. All the officers were in the building, but none were hurt.

Malta 11 June 1847 On Friday 11 June the sentry on guard at Sir Alexander Ball's Barracca, having partaken too freely of the juice of the grape, excited great alarm by his violent conduct. He took off the painted notice from the entrance of the garden, hung it around his neck, and having loaded his musket with ball cartridge, declared in forcible terms he would shoot any one who dared to pass the post. The NCO of the adjoining guard was sought but he, as well as those under his charge, were all more or less intoxicated and incapable of giving assistance. A message to this effect was taken to the Main Guard and after some trouble the weapon was taken from the sentry and the men placed under arrest. Three soldiers were court martial on a charge of being drunk on duty. All were found guilty. Edward Rose was deprived of a penny a day for 30 days and imprisoned for 3 months with hard labour. Thomas Soden was deprived of a penny a day for 30 days and imprisoned for 4 months with hard labour. and George Tremble was deprived of a penny a day for 30 days and imprisoned for 4 months, three of which with hard labour, and 1 month in solitary confinement.1

There were 506 admissions into the regimental hospital between 4 April and 14 December 1847. Of these, 271 cases were of Common Continued Fever and 3 of Febris Remittens. The fever appeared in June, increased during July, reached its peak in August and began to decline in September. It terminated completely in October. In addition to the large numbers admitted into hospital many had mild attacks in barracks and did not report themselves sick. The fever prevailed so generally in the regiment during the hot weather that very few escaped it.

The majority of cases were mild and responded quickly to emetics followed by cathartics and diaphoretics. Most had convalesced within three days. However, in febrile cases associated with gastric symptoms the febrile reaction was irregular, protracted, and the convalescence tedious. The illness generally set in with vertigo or frontal headaches and nausea. Chilling and shivering occurred within 12 hours of the onset and was followed with pain in the back and limbs and general debility.

Morbidity 54th Regt 1 April – 14 December 1847
Diseases Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total
Fevers 3 2 17 42 101 87 21 1 0 274
Phlegmon abscess and
Glandular
3 4 8 8 8 10 7 3 1 52
Dysentery 0 0 0 0 2 0 1 3 0 6
Diarrhoea 1 3 13 8 4 1 0 1 0 31
Cholera Sporadica 0 2 2 0 2 0 1 0 0 6
Venereal 3 4 9 7 9 1 8 5 3 49
Phthisis Pulmonalis 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1
Enteritis 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1
Hydrophobia 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1
Table I: Morbidity 54th Regt 1 April to 14 December 1847. Under phlegmon and bubo were returned cases of chronic local inflammation of the lymphatic glands and surrounding tissue attended with hardness and extensive diffuse swelling along the lymphatics. These occurred in the groin or axilla and ended in the formation of an abscess. (TNA 334/16)

There were on average 49 women and 78 children during the year. A woman died on 13 November 1847 from chronic hepatitis. According to Surgeon Dawson, the prevalent diseases among children were bowel complaints and conjunctival ophthalmia with purulent discharge. In none of the infected was the vision permanently impaired. Seven children died between 1 April 1847 and 31 March 1848, four of atrophy, two of dysentery, and one of diffuse inflammation of the deep seated glands and cellular tissues of the right side of the neck and face.

Malta 22 May 1847 A twenty year old Irish soldier was brought to the hospital in a state of collapse, affected with cramps in the legs and vomiting. He could not be revived and died the following morning. His death was attributed to drinking an immoderate quantity of cold water after returning to his barrack room very much heated from playing ball. The surgeon however was of the opinion that the case was one of "Sporadic Cholera".

Malta 15 Sep An English soldier, aged 32 years, developed tuberculosis (Phthisis) while the regiment was in Malta. He had served for 14 years of which six were in India. He was admitted to hospital on 15 September 1847 when he complained of a cough and a pain in his chest. A cavity was detected on auscultating the right lung. He was left at Malta when the 54th left for the West Indies until he could be invalided to the Army Hospital at Fort Pitt, Chatham.

Malta 5 Nov In 1847, no fewer than four cases of Hydrophobia (rabies) were reported. Surgeon Dawson recognised the malady to be so rare, that only two cases had been reported since Britain had taken possession of the islands in 1800. Of the 4 cases of hydrophobia, one occurred in a young man of the 54th Regiment.2

Pte Lloyd, aged 28 years and a shoemaker from Wales had served for five and a half years with his regiment. Surgeon Dawson narrates that Lloyd developed a disease so truly frightful, and certainly fatal, and one of which we possess so little knowledge of any practical use. Lloyd complained of sickness at the stomach with an inclination to vomit, of something in his breathing and loss of power of his left hand. He also had a prickling sensation in both arms, which rushed to the tops of his fingers. He was unable to take his medicine as he could not swallow. On attempting to drink water he felt a puffing of wind which obstructed his breath. He dreaded currents of air on his face and begged for the windows to be shut. He developed paroxysms when he would suddenly start up with a scream generally to a sitting posture, sometimes to his feet in bed, gasp violently for breath, the eyes fixed protrudingly, the angles of his mouth retracted in an extraordinary degree, the teeth gnashing, and the face expressive of the deepest anguish and suffering, the whole appearance truly appalling. After a few seconds he would relax his features, call out that the wind stops his breath and calls to God to take him. When the violent symptoms subsided he asked frequently what can be the matter with him and says he must be mad. He was extremely sensitive to touch and had a great horror of the least current of air, and men covering him with the bed cloths or moving them any way, caused him intolerable suffering unless done with great caution so as to avoid agitating the air.

On 6 November Lloyd complained of thirst and asked for a drink. Some tea was brought to him, but he would not allow it to approach him. He turned his head with a sort of shudder from it, after repeated trials he said he thought he could take it through a reed. The cold tea was brought in another vessel covered with a cloth. He took the reed in his hand and repeatedly tried to take it in his mouth but as frequently, turned his head away with a shudder and gave up, saying he could not possibly take it. He was, however, able to sit quietly in a bath in an attempt to lower his temperature. He was persuaded to take some water, but retched violently afterwards. Not thinking that he had long to live, he asked to see his comrades and disposed of a watch, ring and two silk handkerchiefs. He developed repeated paroxysms, and struggled for breath until exhausted. He died 36 hours after experiencing the first symptoms of numbness in his left arm and hand.

In June 1847, Pte Lloyd had been bitten by a two month old pup. The puppy showed symptoms of illness two days after it had bitten Lloyd. It became restless, running from one end of the shop to the other, lying down for a instant and suddenly getting up again. Its eyes watered much and it would not take any food. It was drowned the following day. A bitch belonging to the Quarter Master was killed by the men in consequence of being considered in a rabid state. It had been seen by the adjutant running about the square, its muzzle quite wet, its mouth open, snapping at everything in its way. The dog had lived in the shoemaker's shop with the puppy which had bitten Pte Lloyd.

11 Nov 1847 An Irish soldier, aged 29 years, who worked as a shoemaker was admitted to hospital with enteritis, and died on 14 November 1847. He had not responded to bleeding, extensive application of leeches to the abdomen, calomel, opium, mercurial applications and cathartic which further increased his diarrhoea. The soldier had worn a truss for a hernia. Death was thought to have been caused by pressure of the truss on a portion of the small bowel.

Venereal infections were common. Some of the cases of gonorrhoea were remarkable obstinate to treatment and were followed by troublesome strictures. Some soldiers presented with periosteal swellings, foul open sores, rheumatic pains and syphilitic iritis. The men became infected with primary syphilis while serving with a detachment in Ireland in 1844. They developed secondary syphilis at Malta, the surgeon blaming the heat of the island for their eruption. Three men were invalided to Chatham.

27 Dec 1847 501 men, 39 women and 70 children left for Barbados on the troop ship Belleisle.

The 2nd/Dorsetshire Regiment

1881 – 54th (West Norfolk)

1 July 1881 The 54th (West Norfolk) Regiment amalgamated with the 39th (Dorsetshire) Regiment of Foot to become the 2nd Battalion The Dorsetshire Regiment.

1897 2nd/Dorsetshire

12 Jan 1897 The 2nd/Dorsetshire Regiment embarked at Southampton from Enniskillen and arrived in Malta on 21 January. It had an average strength of 905 men with 751 admissions (829.8/1000 mean strength) into hospital and 9 deaths (9.94/1000 mean strength). Nine invalids returned to England.

Its average constantly sick was 40.34 (44.57/1000 mean strength). The average sick time to each soldier was 16.27 days. The average duration of cases of sickness was 19.61 days.

The 2nd/Dorsetshire Regiment was quartered at Pembroke Camp for 11 months, with detachments at Fort Chambray Gozo.

The following were buried at Rinella Military Cemetery in 1897:

  • 7 Apr Pte George David Topp aged 19 years, died at Cottonera.
  • 22 Apr Pte John George Telford Dinwoodie aged 19 years, died at Cottonera.
  • 15 May Sgt Robert Humphries aged 26 years, died at Cottonera.
  • 18 May Henry Robert Stevenson aged 9 months, died at Cottonera.
  • 10 June Gladys Gough aged 9 months, died at Cottonera.
  • 15 June Pte Harry Stevens aged 21 years, died at Cottonera.
  • 23 June Dmr Frederick Hancock aged 21 years, died at Cottonera.
  • 7 July Victor Lawrence Read aged 2 years 6 months, died at Cospicua.
  • 10 July George Ernest Read aged 6 months, died at Cospicua.
  • 5 Sept Pte Roger Downes aged 20 years 5 months, died at Cottonera.
  • 23 Sept Pte Archer Skinner aged 19 years 5 months, died at Cottonera.

1898 2nd/Dorsetshire

The 2nd/Dorsetshire Regiment had an average strength of 938 men. It had 795 admissions (847.5/1000 mean strength) into hospital with 3 deaths (3.20/1000 mean strength). 15 invalids returned to England.

Its average constantly sick was 39.01 (41.59/1000 mean strength). The average sick time to each soldier was 15.18 days. The average duration of cases of sickness was 17.91 days.

The 2nd/Dorsetshire Regiment was quartered at Pembroke Camp for 12 months.

Strength 1 July 1025 men.
Strength 1 Dec 963 men.

The 2nd/Dorsetshire Regiment had its HQ Coy at Pembroke Camp with detachments at Fort Chambray Gozo and Crete.

The following were baptised in Malta in 1898:

  • 24 Feb Henry Collins born on 19 December 1897, son of L/Sgt Francis Collins and Matilda, resident at Pembroke.
  • 10 Mar Richard Duncan Smith born on 19 February 1898, son of CSgt Richard Hemming Smith and Nancy, resident at Pembroke.
  • 22 Apr Eleanor Caroline Primrose Reade born on 19 April 1898, daughter of Pte Charles Robert Reade and Eleanor Jane, resident at Pembroke.

1899 2nd/Dorsetshire

1 Jan 1899 Strength: 750 men.

24 Jan 1899 The 2nd/Dorsetshire left Malta for Southampton and onwards to Shorncliffe England on the transport Verona. It moved to Durban from Shorncliffe on 24 Nov 1899 on the transport Simla.

The following was baptised in Malta in 1899:

  • 6 Feb Reginald Thompson born on 12 January 1899, son of Sgt James Henry Thompson and Millicent, resident at Pembroke.

Bibliography

  • Farmer J. S., 1984. The regimental records of the British Army Reprint Edition, Trowbridge, Wiltshire: Crecy Books.
  • Edwards T. J., 1980. Regimental Badges First Edition, Tonbridge, Kent: Ernest Benn Ltd.
  • Famous Units. The National Army Museum. Available from http://www.nam.ac.uk/research/famous-units.
  • Wickes, H. L, 1974. Regiments of Foot Southampton Osprey Ltd.
  • 1The Malta Times 1847, No 258 (11 June 1847).
  • 2TNA:WO 334/16, Surgeon Dawson's Annual Medical Report on the health of the 54th Regiment dated 26 December 1847.
  • James C., A collection of the charges, opinions, and sentences of General Courts Martial, from 1795 to 1820. London 1820.
  • TNA:WO 379/11. Stations of Regiments 1859–1900.
  • TNA:WO 156/115. Register of burials in the military cemetery Rinella from January 1890 to January 1908.
  • TNA:WO 156/598. Baptism Register No 16; Malta from 20 February 1898 to 17 July 1916.