By 1794 the effects of the French Revolution had made themselves felt in England, and several elaborate plots were formed to supersede Parliament by a National Convention after the French model, and to abolish the Monarchy. Great distress prevailed in the country which always forms the best weapon of revolutionists. The rate of interest rose to seventeen per cent, the Bank of England only saved itself by the suspension of cash payment. Monge, the French Minister of Marine, threatened to land in England with 50,000 red caps of liberty, and to overthrow the Government of the country. Toulon, which we had assisted to garrison against the Republicans, was evacuated after a gallant defence by 12,000 men of five different nations, over a line of outposts extending 15 miles in circumference, against an army of between thirty and forty thousand men.
The Eleventh, now our Devonshire Regiment, formed part of the garrison under Lord Mulgrave, and distinguished itself in several sorties, especially that on 30th November, 1793, when the French were driven from their batteries and guns spiked. In this affair, Napoleon Bonaparte, then an artillery officer, received a bayonet wound in his thigh ; thus the first contact the future Emperor made with a British Battalion was with our Devon Regiment; and he did not again come face to face with us until the battle Waterloo, although he is said to have watched some of the battles in the Pyrenees from a distance. It was at this crisis that the Government called on the different counties to take steps for the defence of the Kingdom, and a meeting of Magistrates was called by Lord Fortescue, the Lord Lieutenant, and presided over by the High Sheriff, J. S. Pocle, Esq., on the 22nd April, 1794, when the following suggestions were discussed and adopted :
1 To augment the Militia by Volunteer Companies, as was practised in the last war and by Volunteers being added as Privates to existing Companies.
2 To form Volunteer Companies in particular towns, especially in those near the coast.
3 To raise Volunteer Troops of *Fencible Cavalry officers to have temporary rank only arms, accoutrements, and clothing to be supplied by Government. Levy-money to be furnished by persons raising troops, and horses to be paid for at a reasonable price by the Government. Persons raising two troops to have temporary rank of Major, or six troops of Lieutenant-Colonel.
4 Infantry Companies to consist of 71 men, viz. :
1 Captain; 2 Lieutenants; 3 Sergeants; 3 Corporals; 2 Drummers ; 60 Privates.
20 men in each company to have firelocks, the remainder to be armed with pikes 8 feet long. Unless called out not to be removed more than five miles from home. In time of invasion only to act in the County. It was resolved " That we are at all times ready to stand forward in a constitutional manner for the defence of the country. "
2 That this is a time of crisis,&c.
3 That a County Committee be formed, and that all subscribers of 20 pounds or more be members.
4. That Sub-Committees be formed in different districts, to consist of subscribers of £5.
The meeting of this sub-Committee occurred 2ud May, 1794. Sir Stafford H. Northcott, Sheriff, in the chair.
It was reported that subscriptions amounted to :
In the county, £8,300 8s; City of Exeter, £1,239 17s making a total of £9,540 5s.
It was stated that the South Coast was most liable to immediate attack and it was resolved. to apply to Government for an engineer to report. Also for guns, carriages, and traces that country horses might move them. That Volunteer Artillery be raised to man guns. Also advisable to raise Volunteer Infantry. Further, that the offer of Exmouth to raise a Company be accepted. That Cullompton be not accepted until it be decided whether any but seaport towns shall raise Volunteers.
30th May. It was reported that Exmouth having raised 60 men nominated James Coldridge, Esq., captain ; and Nicholas Barnwell, Esq., as Lieutenant.
Mr Alderman Kitson reported a roll of seventy men of the City of Exeter, ready to learn military duty on the following terms, viz: 1st, to nominate their own officers ; 2nd, to be provided with arms and outfits ; 3rd, be paid if marched twenty miles from Exeter, or if called out. These terms appear to have been accepted for Colonel Mackenzie was nominated to command, Benjamin Honyman to be Captain, Alderman Walke, Lieutenant, Jonathan Barnet ensign. Major Winchester reported 80 men from Teignmouth. Rev. W. Jenkins reported eighty men from Sidmouth. Sir Bourchier Wrey reported a company from Barnstaple. It being resolved that inland towns be permitted to volunteer, subject to the decision of the War Office. Dr Honeywood reported a Company at Honiton to which Major Winchester was nominated Captain, James Townsend, Lieutenant, and E. Blagdon, Ensign.
It was reported that subscription to date totalled £13,055.
It was resolved that:
"Right Honourable Lord Clifford as chairman of the Internal defence Committee, should preside at the next meeting on the 10th of June."
I0th June, Lord Clifford in the chair.
The Committee ratified resolutions of former meetings. Many towns reported ready to raise Companies.
Resolved "'Not to encourage any situated more than six miles from the sea owing to the scarcity of arms.
Name rolls of volunteers offering their services were presented from Plymouth, Torrington, Bideford, Newton Bushel, Axminster, and Cullompton. Subscriptions: county £12,621, city £1,432, total £ 14,053.
July 8th: Standards were ordered for troops of Yeomanry. A Company of Infantry accepted at Kenton August 13th, Mr Gary applied to raise a corps of men, and a battery of artillery at Torquay. It was settled that the following accoutrements were necessary for each man. viz: One pouch and shoulder belt; one magazine belt and bayonet frog ; one fire-lock sling ;one brass breast plate (plain)
September 3rd: A second Company was accepted from Exeter.
October 7th: The Committee ordered an inspection of the Southern Corps by Colonel Mackenzie.
November 4th: Colonel Mackenzie reported on his inspection; the men were able to fire volleys and to salute well.
1795. 7th January: Returns showed 2 Troops of Cavalry, 23 Companies of Infantry to have been raised and equipped by subscription.
March 3rd, the Lord Lieutenant, Earl Fortescue, ordered monthly returns from each Corps
7th April, 1795: the 12 Corps in the eastern part of the county were formed into a Battalion, under Col. Mackenzie.
2nd June: Colonel Orchard, of Hartland Abbey, reported that he had inspected his own Regiment, viz., Corps at Fremington, Westleigh, Northam, Hartland, and two companies at Bideford. This appears to be the six Western Companies of the North Battalion.
* "Fencible" = short for (civil) defence.