The History of the First West India Regiment
Alfred Ellis

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Some little time before the arrival, at Martinique, of the company of Malcolm's Rangers from St. Lucia, the company of that corps which had remained in the former island had been despatched, with the 3rd Battalion of the 60th Regiment, to St. Vincent. Since the month of March, 1795, that island had been devastated by a war between the Caribs, assisted by the French, and the British garrison. This war had been carried on with varying success, and the most horrible atrocities on the part of the Caribs, until the end of May, when the Commander-in-Chief, Sir John Vaughan, went over to St. Vincent from Martinique, to satisfy himself as to the state and military wants of the colony; and, finding the enemy strongly posted within a short distance of the town of Kingston itself, immediately on his return to Martinique despatched the above-mentioned reinforcement, which arrived at St. Vincent in the beginning of June.

The principal position of the enemy was at the Vigie This post was situated on a ridge, forming the south-west side of the valley of Marriaqua, and consisted of three small eminences of different heights; that nearest the sea, though the lowest, being the most extensive of them all, and that to the fortifying of which they had paid the most attention.

Lieutenant-Colonel Leighton, commanding the troops in St. Vincent, on being reinforced, determined to carry into execution a long meditated attack upon the Vigie. Accordingly, on the night of the 11th[16 - Coke; Bryan Edwards says the 8th.] of June, the troops marched through the town, and halted about ten o'clock at Warawarrow River, within four miles of the Vigie. The force was composed of detachments from the 46th and 60th Regiments, the company of Malcolm's Rangers, the St. Vincent Rangers, almost all the southern and windward regiments of the militia, and a small party of artillery. At Warawarrow River the troops were divided into three columns; and the third was further divided into small bodies to hold the passes at Calder Ridge, and prevent the escape of the enemy.

Just before daybreak, the westernmost redoubt, which overlooked the road coming from Kingston, was attacked and carried almost without opposition, the enemy retiring to their principal stronghold. The grenadiers and Malcolm's Corps had in the meantime forced their way through the bush on Ross Ridge, and being met by the light company, which had kept along the road, the whole of the British advanced against the third and strongest redoubt. At the upper end of the road a deep trench had been dug, which obstacle for some little time delayed the guns; but, by great exertions they were lifted up a bank eight or ten feet in height, and then opened fire.

For some time the enemy returned the British fire with great spirit. About eight o'clock, however, they beat a parley, and sent out a flag of truce to propose terms, which were refused. The troops were now led to the assault, and in a short time carried the works, which were defended by the French from Guadaloupe, the Caribs having retired early in the morning, and escaped to the windward portion of the island. "Never did troops display greater gallantry than did the British, militia, and rangers on this occasion."[17 - Coke.] The British killed and wounded amounted to 30; 250 of the enemy are said to have fallen. In the redoubts were taken three four-pounders and sixteen or seventeen swivels.

At the close of the action, Malcolm's and the St. Vincent Rangers were sent out to scour the valley of Marriaqua, and destroy the huts of the Caribs. This service they effectually accomplished before nightfall, having killed and taken prisoners many of the fugitives, and driven the remainder into Massirica.

A detachment of the 60th being left in the Vigie Lieutenant-Colonel Leighton, on the morning of the 13th of June, marched with the remainder of the troops, by several routes, towards the Carib district. So little opposition was made to their march, the enemy constantly falling back from ridge to ridge, that on the afternoon of the 16th they reached Mount Young, from which the Caribs fled with such haste that they left standing their houses, in all of which considerable quantities of corn were found. This carelessness of the enemy provided the British with a very welcome shelter. It was fortunate, also, that they had not attempted to dispute the hills and passes; for, had they done so, the troops would have suffered greatly, seven men, even as it was, having expired on the march from fatigue alone.

As soon as Mount Young was in our possession, the troops were busily employed in spreading devastation through the Carib district. In Grand Sable and other parts of the country, many houses were burned, and more than 200 pettiaugres and canoes destroyed. Several hundred slaves were also sent out, under the protection of military detachments, to dig up and destroy the provisions of the enemy. On the 4th of July, a detachment of the 46th and Malcolm's Rangers took, after a sharp action, the enemy's post at Chateaubellair, near Walliabon, with a loss of 14 killed and 39 wounded of the 46th, and 2 killed and several wounded of Malcolm's.

The evacuation of St. Lucia by Brigadier-General Stewart was, however, as far as St. Vincent was concerned, attended by fatal consequences. The proximity of the former island enabled the French unceasingly to pour in new reinforcements to their Carib allies in St. Vincent; and, towards the end of August, a small British post which had been established at Owia was surprised by a detachment from St. Lucia, and the whole of the guns and large quantities of supplies captured.

Encouraged by this success, Victor Hugues resolved to endeavour to wrest St. Vincent from the British, as he had already wrested Guadaloupe and St. Lucia; and, in the middle of September, he landed in St. Lucia with a force of some 800 men. These, embarked in four vessels, which escaped the Thorn and Experiment, the British ships of war on the station, landed at Owia Bay, St. Vincent, on the morning of the 18th of September; and the force of the enemy was now so vastly superior to that of the British, that it became impossible for the latter to retain their advanced positions.

Orders were at once sent to Lieutenant-Colonel Leighton to abandon Mount Young without delay, and retire to the vicinity of Kingston. They were carried into execution on the night of the 19th. Having destroyed their supplies and left their lights burning in their huts as usual, to deceive the enemy, the troops were silently put in motion. They reached Biabou the next evening, and, bringing in the detachment which was there quartered, reached Zion Hill on the 21st; being then distributed among the posts in the neighbourhood.

The retreating British were speedily followed by the Caribs and French, who drove off the cattle from several estates, and finally took up a position on Fairbairn's Ridge, by which the communication was cut off between Kingston and the Vigie. The detachment of the 60th at the latter post being short of supplies, Lieutenant-Colonel Ritche, of the 60th, with 200 of that corps and 150 of the St. Vincent Rangers, was detached to escort the necessary stores. His division had nearly reached its destination when it fell in with the enemy; a sharp action ensued, victory was on the eve of declaring for the British, when, struck by an unaccountable panic, they suddenly gave way and fled in all directions. The supplies fell into the hands of the enemy, and a number of the mules were killed.

The news of this terrible disaster spread dismay through Kingston, for it was thought that the enemy would at once attack all the British posts. It was resolved to at once abandon the Vigie; and to facilitate this step, Brigadier-General Myers, with the 46th and Malcolm's Rangers, marched from Dorsetshire Hill, and posted himself opposite the enemy, as if threatening an attack. This movement had the desired effect. The enemy called in all the detachments which invested the Vigie, and thus enabled the officer commanding that post to retreat at night through heavy rain to Calliaqua, and thence proceed to Kingston in boats.

While the troops were using the utmost exertion to strengthen the posts in the neighbourhood of Kingston, an unexpected reinforcement arrived from Martinique, on the 29th of September. It consisted of the 40th, 54th, 59th, and 2nd West India Regiments,[18 - See next chapter.] into which latter the St. Vincent Rangers were at once drafted. Major-General Irving also came over from Martinique to assume the command.

The first effect produced by the arrival of this succour, was the retiring of the enemy from their advanced position on Fairbairn's Ridge to the Vigie, where they now collected the whole of their strength. From this post Major-General Irving determined to dislodge them; and, on the night of the 1st of October, the troops marched for that purpose. One column, consisting of 750 men, under Lieutenant-Colonel Strutt, marched by the high road and took post upon Calder Ridge, on the east of the Vigie, about three in the morning. A second column, consisting of 900 men, under Brigadier-General Myers, crossed the Warawarrow River, and detached one party to proceed round by Calliaqua, and another to move up the valley, and climb the heights near Joseph Dubuc's. With this last force was Malcolm's Corps; and, to gain the point to which they were directed, it was necessary to cross a deep rivulet and ascend a steep hill covered with bushes and wood. In doing this it suffered a heavy loss, both of officers and men, from the enemy, who fired upon it almost in security under shelter of the bushes. The British, however, still pressed on, and at length arrived on the top of the Marriaqua or Vigie Ridge. During the ascent of the hill, Malcolm's Corps lost one man killed and two wounded.

In the meantime, the remainder of the second column were struggling in vain to reach the summit of the same ridge; at a point where the enemy had strongly occupied a thick wood, and thrown up a small work. Though the opposing forces were within fifty paces of each other, not an inch of ground was won on either side. Firing commenced at seven in the morning, and was kept up till nightfall. All this time the British were exposed to a violent tropical downpour of rain, which rendered the abrupt declivity so slippery that it was almost impossible to maintain a foothold on it; and, finding he could make no impression on the enemy, the general, about 7 p.m., gave orders for the troops to retire.

During the night, the enemy, from some unknown cause, abandoned the Vigie, and that so hastily that they left behind them, undestroyed, both guns and ammunition. They continued their retreat till they reached the windward part of the island, and the British in their turn advanced. For the remainder of the year, the troops were employed in circumscribing, within as narrow limits as possible, the French and their Carib allies; and, though great hardships were endured, no engagement worthy of note took place.



The terrible mortality which thinned the ranks of the British troops in the West Indies, induced the British Ministers to think of reinforcing the army with men better calculated to resist the influence of the climate. The West India Governors were instructed, therefore, in 1795, to bring forward in their respective legislatures a project for raising five black regiments, consisting of 500 men each, to become a permanent branch of the military establishment. There were already several black corps in existence, for Mr. Dundas, during a debate in the House of Commons on the West India Expedition, on the 28th of April, 1795, said that "the West India Army of Europeans and Creoles consisted of 3000 militia and 6000 blacks."[19 - In the Account of the Extraordinary Expenditure of the Army, from 25th December, 1795, to 6th December, 1796, is the following:]

These black corps were distributed amongst the various islands, and were the Carolina Corps, Malcolm's or the Royal Rangers, the Island Rangers (Martinique), the St. Vincent Rangers, the Black Rangers (Grenada), Angus' Black Corps (Grenada), the Tobago Blacks, and the Dominica Rangers. Some of them, notably the Carolina Corps, Malcolm's Corps, and the St. Vincent Rangers,[20 - "The military force in St. Vincent consists at present of a regiment of infantry and a company of artillery, sent from England; and a black corps raised in the country, but provided for, with the former, on the British Establishment, and receiving no additional pay from the island." – Bryan Edwards, vol. i. p. 428.] were paid by the Imperial Government, and were consequently Imperial troops; although none of the corps appeared in any Army List, nor were appointments thereto and promotions therein notified in the London Gazette.

The five black regiments, now proposed to be raised, were to be in addition to those small black corps already in Imperial pay, and which were to be blended into three permanent regiments. Consequently, in the Army List dated March 11th, 1796, showing the state of the army in 1795,[21 - The Army List for 1795 is dated January 1st.] we find the following eight corps, indexed under the heading of "Regiments raised to serve in the West Indies:"

Major-General Whyte's regiment was called into existence by the Gazette of the 2nd of May, 1795; Major-General John Whyte, from the 6th Foot, being appointed colonel. On the 20th of May, Major Leeds Booth, from the 32nd Foot, was appointed lieutenant-colonel; and other officers were rapidly gazetted to it. On the 8th of August, Captain Robert Malcolm, of the 41st Foot, was promoted major in Whyte's regiment. The following is the list of officers appointed to the regiment in 1795:

Major-General Whyte's Regiment of Foot.

It was intended that each of these regiments raised for service in the West Indies should have a cavalry troop, and in the London Gazette are the following:

Major-General Whyte's Regiment of Foot

August 1, 1795 Lieutenant – Powell, from the 8th Foot, to be Lieutenant of Cavalry.

August 29 Lieutenant – Powell, Lieutenant of Cavalry, to be Captain of Cavalry.

July 11 Acting Adjutant – Connor, from Lieutenant-Colonel McDonnel's regiment, to be Cornet.

But this idea was soon abandoned, and in 1797 the cavalry troop disappeared.

The 1st West India Regiment (for so it was at once styled in the West Indies, although in the Army List and the London Gazette, the designation "Major-General Whyte's Regiment of Foot" was not discontinued until February, 1798) first appears in the "Monthly Return for the Windward, Leeward, and Caribee Islands," in September, 1795, as follows:

A: Colonel.

B: Lieut. – Colonel.

C: Majors.

D: Captains.

E: Lieutenants.

F: Ensigns.

G: Chaplain.

H: Adjutant.

I: Quarter-Master.

J: Surgeon.

K: Mate.

L: Sergeants Present.

M: Drummers Present.

N: Present, fit for duty.

O: Sick.

P: Recruiting.

Q: Total.
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