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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

Directory Listings





Parish Records




War Memorials

England woke up ; at a single meeting of bankers and merchants at the Royal Exchange, £ 46,000 was subscribed for the defence of the country ; the King added his name for £ 20, 000, the Queen £ 5, 000, and the Bank of England subscribed £ 200,000, and soon the National Defence Fund amounted to more than two millions. Hitherto the Volunteer ing had been on a small scale, but in 1789 it sprang into full development. Parliament passed many acts that session relating to the enrolment of volunteers, and for the guidance of the Lieutenancy of Counties in securing the country from invasion. A manuscript Volume among the County papers at Exeter contains the minutes of the proceedings taken by the Magistracy of Devon to carry out these acts, and 1 am indebted to Mr A. H. A. Hamilton, who has carefully perused them, for much of the information on this subject I have made use of. 1 will follow the events as they occur in relation to these County papers. The first general meeting of the Lieutenancy and Magistrates was held at the Castle on 13th April.

The Lord Lieutenant (Lord Fortescue) took the chair, and there were 34 other justices present of whom seven were clergymen. The first business was to read a letter, from Mr Secretary Dundas (afterwards Viscount Melville) containing proposals " For rendering the body of the people instrumental in the general defence, saving property, and distressing the enemy by removing the means of subsistence from threatened parts of the country, as also for insuring necessary supplies to His Majesty's forces, and facilitating their movement in case of invasion without making any expensive preparations. 


2. Orders were sent to ministers, church wardens, and overseers of every parish to furnish complete returns of all men between the ages of 15 and 60, and to distinguish those who by reason of infirmity were incapable of active service, also those acting in existing Volunteer Corps, also all aliens and Quakers. 


3. To make return of names of all males under 15 and above 60, and of all females, stating such as, from infancy, age, or infirmity, were incapable of removing them selves in case of danger. 

4. It was ordered that a general open standing Committee or the Lieutenancy and Magistrates, with the General Officers and Commissaries of the District, shall meet twice a week at Exeter and communicate constantly with meetings to be held in every sub-Division of the County.

At the next meeting a letter was read from the Lord Lieutenant desiring that all proposals of service should be laid before the Committee and compared with the rules and plans of the Government previous to being transmitted to him. 

2. Proposals were received from certain gentlemen of Exeter for raising two more Companies of Volunteers ; and from Plymouth for raising one more, to be under the command of Philip Langmead, Esq.

Then at subsequent meetings followed proposals from various quarters, offering to raise Troops of Cavalry, and Companies of Infantry. It must be remembered that only towns within six miles of the sea at this time had Volunteers. Among those accented we find the following : 

Plymouth Independent Rangers under Captain Julian ;

Plymouth Engineers and Artificers. 

Barnstaple Troop of Cavalry under R. Newton Incledon, Esq. ; 

Barnstaple Company of Infantry under Captain George Barber. 

Buckland Monachorum Company of Infantry under Jonathan Elford. Esq. 

Ashburton Company of Infantry under Walter Palk, junr., Esq. 

Kingskerswell Company of Infantry under Captain Drake.
Ipplepen Company of Infantry under Captain Neigle. 

Bovey Tracey Company of Infantry under Captain Crane. 

Dartmouth Field Artillery under Henry Studdy, Esq. 

West Alvington Pioneers. 

Starcross and Exmouth Seamen offered to serve as bargemen. 

Exeter: Eight Companies of Infantry under Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Granger ; 

Exeter  - Several other companies which afterwards formed a regiment under Colonel Wright.


26th April, 1798. Mr Secretary Dundas wrote to the Lord Lieutenant suggesting the arming of all gamekeepers and persons skilful in the use of fowling-pieces, in case of invasion to act as sharp- shooters, on the understanding that they would only be called out in case of invasion. Each Parish was required to nominate in vestry assembled, two or more persons not less than sixty years of age, " To whose care and humanity and superintendence might be committed the women, children, and infirmed persons, with full power and authority to provide every necessary for their maintenance and support. " Returns were required, under heavy penalties, of all live and dead   stock.

15th May, 1798. Matters looked still worse, and Lord George Lennox, commanding the Western District, sent Major General Simcoe to point out to the Committee: 

1. The expediency of arranging a plan for driving off all cattle from such part of the county as might be exposed to the inroads of enemy. (This was to remove the chance of the enemy finding enough food to sustain them as they marched through the land)

2. Each Parish to appoint overseers of Cattle. 

3. The Magistrates and Overseers of Cattle in each sub-division of the county to fix upon proper places of assembly for the cattle, waggons, carts, and horses of such parishes, tiding the road each parish would use in proceeding to the place of assembly, not being less than twelve miles from sea. 

4. General Simcoe produced, a list of County Bridges to be reserved for troops.

5. He also pointed out that Dartmoor from its position would offer a secure place for the greater part of the county should the enemy land on the coast of the English Channel ; and if they landed on the Bristol Channel coast, Exmoor would render equal security. The inhabitants east of the Exe were instructed to retreat into Somersetshire, by making their first day's march to the highlands of Black Down. The next place in the history of Volunteers was the extension of the area of their service. Up to this date the condition of service was confined to the County of Devon, and in the case of the early Exeter Corps to the defence of the city only. The military authorities saw the impossibility of mobilising the Volunteers, even to a small extent, who had enlisted under these conditions. The County Committee were, therefore, instructed to accept no offers except for service throughout the military district. It was, how ever, ultimately arranged for all Volunteers to accept the new conditions, but cities or large towns should be allowed to maintain a local corps composed of respectable housekeepers only, to aid the civil power to protect property. Most of the Corps appear to have been willing to extend their services to the Military District. 


In January, 1799, it was resolved that no further offers should be accepted. Each Parish was required to appoint a man and horse to act as guide. The battle of the Nile and the extinction of the Irish rebellion seem to have quieted mens' minds for a time. But in April,  Devonshire was again astir, for the Committee of Secrecy of the House of Commons reported that undoubted intelligence had been received that plans of an invasion and insurrection in Ireland were being made in France. That the utmost diligence was being observed in the ports of France in preparing another expedition to co-operate with the rebels in Ireland, that it was intended at the same time to land a French force at different parts of the coast. That the instructions to Tate, who was taken prisoner in Wales, in 1797, and those of General Humbert, who landed in Ireland, and who had been destined to command an expedition against Cornwall, had fallen into the hands of the Government and were as follows : 

The French army  was to land in Cornwall and to cross the Tamar as quickly as possible, and to establish itself in the district between it and the Exe, or as we should say in the South Hams. The "passes and mountains " (Dartmoor) would afford an easy and safe retreat from the pursuit of the enemy. Thus Dartmoor was selected both by the French Directory and by the English officers for a place of refuge. There indeed, in the Dartmoor prisons, many French soldiers and sailors were destined to find a safe retreat. The French General was particularly enjoined to tell as many falsehoods as possible. He was always to inform the guides he dismissed that he was going by a different road from that he intended to pursue, and enquire the way to towns and villages he had no intention of visiting. In order to create consternation he was now and then to take possession of some small town or harbour and lay it under contribution. The soldiers were only to carry their arms, ammunition, and bread; for they would everywhere find linen, shoes, and other articles of clothing. They might change horses when required, the gentlemen's seats would serve as magazines. The expedition was to move so swiftly that the English troops would not be able to come up with it, if necessary to fight "then to remember they were Frenchmen and to strike a great blow." 

By day, in the open 1,200 Frenchmen might attack 2,000 English; at night they might attack four or five thousand. From a post not entrenched they ought to dislodge 800, but to avoid it if entrenched and defended by cannon. By night, patrols were to fire houses in different quarters to puzzle the enemy. In crossing rivers each soldier must hold fast to the tail of the coat of the man in front with his left hand and carry his musket in his right. The General was to maintain himself in Devonshire, and cut off communication between Dartmouth, Plymouth, and Portsmouth ; if compelled to quit the district, he was  to force his way into Wales and communicate with Ireland. General Humbert was also instructed' to distribute money and drink among the poor to ascribe all their wretchedness to the Government, to help them to revolt and plunder the property of the rich "whom they always regard with an eye of envy." Then follows this curious passage: 'It is, however, necessary to observe, that however regardless the English people are of morality, they are attached to their laws, and respect their magistrates ; it will, therefore be expedient to spare the property belonging to, or in any way connected with, the civil and municipal magistracy." The English labouring people and rabble, who may be induced to espouse the French cause, are to be formed into separate Corps under French officers, but not to be mixed with the legion, that no native may be acquainted with the state of our force. Any town or village refusing a supply of provisions to be given up to pillage. The inhabitants to be compelled to act as guides and punished on the spot in case of refusal. Deserters and prisoners to be invited to enlist; if they refuse, their hair and eye- brows to be cut off, and if again, taken to be shot. Such were to be the proceedings of the Missionaries of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.


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