The British in the West Indies
The British Government was forced to defend it's colonies in the West Indies
from their foundation from other European Powers. In the 1790's four-fifths of British overseas investment went to the development
of it's colonies in the area. For this the government received approximately £31.5 million in taxes and duties. This was further
increased by revenue raised from associated trade and commercial activity.
In the late 18th century the British government calculated that a garrison
of 20,000 soldiers was needed to defend it's Caribbean possessions. This raised a problem for in 1793 the entire British army
totaled fewer than 40,000 men. Furthermore the West Indies was not the healthiest of places for European soldiers to be stationed.
Men died of typhoid during the passage from Britain and of malaria and yellow fever, known as "Yellow Jack" while stationed
in the Caribbean.
The other killer was "New" Rum. The sugar producing machinery and distilling
equipment had a high lead content which contaminated the rum. The rum was also improperly distilled and was therefore more
of a "moonshine", containing deadly fusel-oil alcohols which are poisonous. This situation was not helped by the soldier's
belief that drinking rum prevented them circuming to yellow fever. The over-consumption resulted in many soldiers suffering
from diseases associated with alcoholism - encephalities, liver cirrhosis, liver necrosis, nephritis, anemia, peripheral neuritis,
and gout - though not always correctly diagnosed by the army surgeons at the time.
An example of the effect it had on British soldiers occured in 1808 when the
entire Royal Marine garrison at Marie Galante was incapacitated by excessive consumption of rum. The men in question had to
be replaced by captured French slaves!
During the American Revolution between October 1776 and February 1780, 12
regiments were sent from Britain to the Caribbean. The number of soldiers totalled 8,437. Of these 931 died during the passage,
which gives a fatality average of 11% for each regiment. Many who did arrive were rejected as unfit and sent back to
Britain, either because of their age or they were infirm. A total of 69 line regiments served in the Caribbean between 1793
and 1801 and another 24 between 1803 and 1815.
From 1793 to 1802, an estimated 1,500 officers and 43,500 other ranks died
mainly from fevers while being stationed in the Caribbean. Another example of the death toll while serving "King and Country"
is the year 1796 when some 41% of European soldiers died within a year of arriving.
Efforts were made to keep European soldiers out of some of the more unhealthy
garrisons from 1803 to 1815. This resulted in "only" 500 officers and 19,500 other ranks perishing, approximately 14%
of the total.
To overcome the manpower and health problems African slaves were purchased
or recruited to serve in the British Army. This they did alongside the local Militias in the various British territories.
Further recruitment of various nationals from France, various German States,
Holland and Irish Catholics took place to help overcome the shortage of manpower during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic
Wars. Manpower was also supplemented by the British Army recruiting condemned prisoners, deserters and prisoners of war into
It was from this location that the 1st (Royal Scots) were sent to the aide of General Sir George Prevost. At
the outbreak of hostilities with the United States Prevost, Brock or Sherbourne had only the 41st and 49th regiments, colonial
regiments and provincial militias for defence. The Royal Scots and the 100th Regiment were sent to reenforce the area. After
time in the indies and the trip to Quebec most of the 1st Regiment was unfit for service until January of 1813.