Whatever happened to “Alma” & “Inkermann”?

Roger Fenton, “Colonel Brownrigg and the two Russian boys, Alma and Inkermann” (1855)


“Alma” and “Inkermann” (standing)

WHEN I SAW THIS IMAGE at the excellent “Shadows of War” exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery in November 2018, I couldn’t help wondering about the two little boys. Who are they? What are their real names? And, of course, what happened to them once the war was over?

Yet there was curiously little information in the caption to the photograph, or in the audio commentary, or in Sophie Gordon’s fine book that accompanies the exhibition.

Photograph of Colonel Brownrigg by the entrance to a tent with two young Russian boys called Alma and Inkermann. Colonel Brownrigg, wearing military uniform, sits on a metal chair facing partly left with his left hand resting on a gun. One boy sits on a log and the other stands beside him to the right with his right arm wrapped around a tent pole.

[Source: Royal Collection Trust: Roger Fenton, “Colonel Brownrigg and the two Russian boys, Alma and Inkermann, 1855. There is another (rather less intimate) Fenton photograph of Brownrigg here. ]

I have spent the last couple of weeks trying to find them.

Continue reading


Who was “Captain Jack”, and was he really “One of the Light Brigade”?

A terrific (and very well-illustrated) article has just been published on the “Yesterday’s Papers” website about the Crimean War story, Captain Jack; or One of the Light Brigade. The article is by Robert J Kirkpatrick, author of From the Penny Dreadful to the Ha’penny Dreadfuller (2013 and other studies of Victorian popular literature

Roy and I have been trying to help Robert to establish whether Captain Jack’s author and publisher, George Emmett (and/or one of his brothers), was ever in the Light Brigade, and whether the Shot and Shell works, starring Captain Jack, were written (as was claimed) from direct experience.
Here’s the intro, to give you a flavour:


THE SERIAL Captain Jack; or One of the Light Brigade was a story about the Crimean War written by George Emmett and first published in The Young Englishman’s Journal in 1868. It was inspired by the success of publisher Edwin J. Brett whose Boys of England, launched in 1866, had become an extremely popular weekly boys’ story paper.

EMMETT BROTHERS. George was the eldest of five brothers who established their own publishing concern in London and for a few years were Brett’s greatest rivals. All five brothers — George, William, Henry, Thomas and Robert — wrote for their own papers, with George becoming the most prolific and the best-known.

GEORGE EMMETT. Captain Jack, which was also published in 21 weekly one-penny parts, was the first in a sequence of six war stories by George Emmett which were later grouped together as Shot & Shell. A Series of Military Stories. It was generally regarded as an authentic account of the Battle of Balaclava and the Charge of the Light Brigade, as well as being a vivid and powerful story. It had all the hallmarks of an eyewitness account, and it seems to have been accepted at the time that it was, indeed, based on personal experience. A contemporary of the Emmetts, fellow author and publisher John Allingham (better known by his pen name “Ralph Rollington”) wrote in his memoir A Brief History of Boys’ Journals (1913) that “George Emmett in his younger days was an officer in the Cavalry, and fought at the Battle of Balaclava, where he was wounded.”

George also suggested that he had been a cavalry officer present at the siege of Lucknow in the Indian Mutiny in 1857, as recorded in his story The King’s Hussars, A Tale of India, serialised in The Young Englishman’s Journal in 1869. Other sources repeat the claim that he had served in the army — reviews of his stories in the press occasionally referred to him as a soldier and a man who had seen active service, while a review of a third story, For Valour, or How I Won the Victoria Cross, referred to him as “an old Lancer” more…

The rest of the article, and a number of other articles about the Emmetts, can be viewed here:


Any further information anybody can provide will be highly prized. For example, does anyone have a copy of the text, particularly the Charge section? I would very much like to compare it to other accounts, particularly from eyewitnesses.

A new wife for 1199 Sergeant Major John Allen, 13th Light Dragoons, and the birth of Canada.

It’s odd how some seemingly small genealogical find can generate a lot of new research and take you into some very unexpected places.

Last month the EJBA was contacted by Craig Smith, seeking further information about John Allen, a possible relative. John Allen, the son of an agricultural labourer from Berkshire, had enlisted in the 13th Light Dragoons in 1843, his horse was killed under him in the Charge at Balaclava in 1854, and he later served in Canada* (where one of his children was born). You can read his page on the Lives of the Light Brigade website here.

Very helpfully, Craig sent an image of a marriage registration he’d found dated 30 October 1877 for Martha Allen, aged 25, daughter of “John Allen, Sergeant Major 13th Light Hussars”.


The marriage of John Allen’s daughter Martha in Aberdeen in 1877. I have transcribed this on John Allen’s page on the Charge site.

This was particularly interesting because until now there was nothing in the EJBA about  any marriage John Allen might have contracted before the Crimean War – only of one between himself and Harriet Littleton afterwards, in Dublin in 1859. If she was 25 in 1877, Martha (this was also John’s mother’s name) must have been born around 1852. According to Census records, John Allen was at Piershill Barracks, Leith, Scotland in 1851, which is presumably where John and Martha’s mother Catharine (nee Morrison) met. Morrison is a very Scottish name.


John Allen, photographed in later life, when he was Troop Sergeant-Major to the Leek and Biddulph Queen’s Own Yeomanry.


It seems likely that Catharine died within a few years of marriage but I have not been able to find out anything more about her, or of Martha’s life before she married.


* Canada? Yes, quite a number of Crimea men spent time there.  John Allen probably went out to Canada in 1866, because of British fears at the end of the American Civil War (1861-5) of regiments of battle-hardened Fenians swarming over the border into Canada in the hope of forcing the British to concede an Irish Republic.

A fanciful depiction of the "Battle of Ridgeway", also known as the "Fenian Raid", 1866.

A fanciful depiction of the “Battle of Ridgeway”, also known as the “Fenian Raid”, 1866.

One such raid, the Battle of Ridgeway, took place around this date 149 years ago (1st – 3rd June 1866) – and will be commemorated by a huge re-enactment next year.

There were a number of such raids or invasions, but they were not a success. Indeed, they had the paradoxical effect of unifying Canadians against the USA (which was seen to have colluded, or at least turned a blind eye to the Fenians). In 1867, the year after the Battle of Ridgeway, the provinces joined in  a Confederation. Soon after, John Allen and his second wife Harriet, and their young children (one if them, Alice, born in Toronto) returned to England.

John and Harriet had five children together, and went on to run two pubs in Leek, Staffordshire. (He was also the Sergeant Major in the local Yeomanry.) The pubs are still there, though both have now been renamed:  the Swan Hotel has become the “Green Dragon” and the Queen’s Arms is now called “The Blue Mugge” .

Here are some references:






War as entertainment (2): Joseph Doughton with Wladislaw’s Mechanical Panorama, 1856

This blog follows on from the last, which covered Joseph Doughton’s time as a lecturer in “Hamilton’s Grand Moving Panorama of the War in Russia”. In August or September 1856, Doughton moved from Hamilton’s to another travelling show, “Wladislaw’s Mechanical Exhibition of the War in Crimea”. This was the company whose name on the title page of his 1856 memoir (the Narrative of Joseph Doughton, late of Her Majesty’s 13th Light Dragoons, one of the heroes wounded at Balaclava in the Gallant Cavalry Charge) has puzzled me for some time.


Doughton’s time at Wladislaw’s was brief and probably unhappy. He appeared in court a number of times, once because of  what may or may not have been the theft of one of his “trophies”, a Cossack gun he had brought back from the Crimea which he lent to the exhibition, and another time when he was locked in dispute with his employers – who fired him  in early December 1856 after only three months. It’s a revealing story. Continue reading

Is this a portrait of Lord Cardigan as St George?

St George slaying the dragon. A portrait of Lord Cardigan?

St George slaying the (Russian) dragon. A portrait of Lord Cardigan?

I would have posted this yesterday but had a technical hitch.

So, yesterday was St George’s Day, and I was reminded of this rather wonderful sculpture on the front of an impressive building less than a mile from me in Southwest London. Formerly the Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum for Girls, it was built by Prince Albert’s Royal Patriotic Fund for the  “Education and Training of three hundred Orphan Daughters of Soldiers, Seamen and Marines who perished in the Russian War, and for those who hereafter may require like succour.”

Quite a number of Light Brigade orphans were sent here, including the daughters of William Bassett, 11th Hussars, Joseph Moore, 13th Light Dragoons Thomas Soames, 13th Light Dragoons, Richard Dollard, 17th Lancers, and George Flowers, 17th Lancers.

The architect was Major Rhode Hawkins, working in an overtly medievalist style. The foundation stone was laid by Queen Victoria on 11th July 1857 and the first phase was completed in 1858. The result was judged to be ‘bold, picturesque and effective’ by The Building News (8 October 1858). The first inmates were received on 1 July 1859.

An early “artist’s impression” of the building when work began in 1857 features not a sculpture but a clock. I haven’t been able to find out when or why the decision was made to substitute St George, or indeed who made the sculpture, but it was a striking choice.


Artist’s impression of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum for Girls, showing a clock on the central tower. Illustrated London News, 15 July 1857.

Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum for Girls, now the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building, photographed in 2010.

Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum for Girls, now the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building. Notice St George high on the central tower.

St George was an obvious choice of image for this “Patriotic” asylum for girls whose fathers had only recently died in the Crimean War – after all, as England’s patron soldier-saint, his martial and chivalric virtues in defence of a maiden in distress were well-known. There is a long and deep royal connection (St George’s Chapel, Windsor; the Order of the Garter. And George also has multiple associations with the “East”: with his homeland, Turkey; with the Crusades to recapture Jerusalem; and possible even with the defeat of Russia, that dragon from the East.

St George saving a maiden in distress. Paulo Uccello, about 1470. National Gallery, London.

St George saving a maiden in distress. Paulo Uccello, about 1470. National Gallery, London.


Cardigan “Taking the Russian Guns” (detail), Thomas Jones Barker, first exhibited 1877. Army Staff College, Camberley.

In short, St George fits perfectly into the medievalist romanticism of the architecture. That said, the living conditions inside were no less “medieval”:

Life for the orphans was extremely harsh. Their work included pumping water by hand from an underground rainwater system in the rear courtyard up to the lead-lined slate water tanks in the towers. They had to launder all the clothes. Their heads were shaved to discourage head lice and they were made to assemble in the courtyards every morning to be hosed down with cold water. The patented warm air heating system failed to work. Fireplaces were added to the staff rooms but no heating was provided to the dormitories.

[http://www.rvpb.com/history.htm, accessed 23.1.2015)]

But is St George modelled on Cardigan? George is almost always portrayed young and clean-shaven, yet this St George is a mature, rather fatherly older man. Moreover, explicit references were indeed made just after the Charge to Cardigan as the inheritor of Richard I’s “lion heart”. (It was Richard who brought St George and his red cross back to Britain.) And of course it’s the trademark moustache that’s surely most suggestive.

Lord Cardigan's trademark moustache

Lord Cardigan and his trademark moustache

But if is indeed Cardigan, shouldn’t St George be on horseback? This is indeed a little odd as almost all previous images (and there many)  depict George mounted. But of course the Asylum would be taking girls not only from all regiments of the army, not just the cavalry, and also from the navy and marines. Surely depicting St George on horseback would have been both too obvious and too potentially divisive? (Besides, the erect St George fits the space better.) Anyway, many subsequent depictions of St George on war memorials (and there are any) after the First World War show him standing erect.

An even more persuasive objection is that Cardigan should have been the last to be chosen as a “father figure” to the girls. He himself had no legitimate children (hence his famous line when embarking on the Charge, “Here goes the last of the Brudenells”), only (according to his biographer John Sweetman writing in the DNB) a number of illegitimate ones. Undoubtedly brave in battle, he was, as Anglesey put it it, also “an insufferable cad… he behaved towards women like an insensitive, overbearing, over-rich, spoilt child.’ [A History of the British Cavalry, vol.2, p.109].

So not such a good “father figure”, then. Even at the age of 65, having fallen badly while hunting and thereafter suffering seizures, his “taste for flirtation hardly diminished…he seduced Sir William Leeson’s young wife, and in 1857 took as his mistress Adeline De Horsey” [Sweetman, DNB]. Cardigan was 60 and the glamorous Adeline Horsey de Horsey (you couldn’t make it up) was twenty-seven years his junior. But his reputation in 1857, while the building was going up, was still relatively intact.

The Countess of Cardigan, formerly Adeline Horsey de Horsey.

The Countess of Cardigan, formerly Adeline Horsey de Horsey.


Interestingly the couple themselves had a pronounced taste for medievalist sculpture – see their bizarre tomb at Deene Church (I have posted more images here).


I have yet to visit, but it would be good to know if there are any explicit references to St George.

Trumpeter James Donoghue: from the Charge of the Light Brigade to a Victorian Black and White “Midget Minstrel” show

Scale model of James Donoghue. (Alexander's Toy Soldiers: http://www.ats-uk.net/www.ats-uk.net/info.php?p=24

Scale model of James Donoghue. (Alexander’s Toy Soldiers: http://www.ats-uk.net/www.ats-uk.net/info.php?p=24

I’ve just spent a week exploring the life and times of the Charger 1064 James Donoghue, a Trumpeter in the 8th Hussars. The journey took me to a rather surprising place – the world of the late Victorian “Black and White Minstrel Shows”. Or rather, of “midget” minstrels – professional child performers.

Like so much that gives me pleasure in researching the lives of the Light Brigade, I had no idea where or when the trip would start. In this case it was a brief comment in a letter in which Donoghue claimed that it was he (and not Martin Lanfried or anyone else) who had sounded the Charge at Balaclava (he didn’t, and neither, almost certainly, did anyone else). And that he had been Lord Cardigan’s Field trumpeter throughout the War (he was Colonel Shewell’s).

So Donoghue was making bold – perhaps even ludicrous – claims. But what turned out to be most intriguing was the comment that at the time of writing (1892), James “O’Donoghue” was working as a “drill-instructor, ‘Midget’ Minstrels” in Newcastle.

A letter from James

A letter from James “O’Donoghue” claiming he sounded the Charge at Balaclava (Newcastle Courant, 16 April 1892).

A number of Chargers (including William Pennington, Nathan Henry, and Joseph Doughton) are known to have made something of a living from “personal appearances”, usually in uniform, and perhaps giving highly melodramatic recitations of Tennyson’s poem. Some acted as living witnesses in support of great dioramas and mechanical models of Crimean battles, some joined in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows.

In most cases their participation was the result of penury in later life, but also perhaps the pursuit of a little glory and quite a lot of fun. As one of Donoghue’s obituaries said, having moved in later life from Warrington to the village of Penketh, where he lived in “comparative retirement”, eventually he

…became tired of the quiet life of a village and was engaged by a public entertainer to lecture from town to town on his experiences in the Crimea, in which capacity he was very successful, his graphic description of the dangers and excitement of a military life never failing to interest.

[Warrington Guardian, 21st of November 1894.]

The reality was even more colourful. He had joined  Montague Roby’s Midget Minstrels, a “Christy” or “Coon” show on the lines of the “Black and White Minstrels”. Formed circa 1887, the troupe’s principal selling point was that thy were children and teens (not, incidentally, “dwarves”, as the proprietor often had to stress):

The boys appear in the burnt cork and black hair of the ordinary “nigger” minstrel, whilst the girls are tastefully attired in ordinary short frocks.

[“Roby’s Midget Minstrels”, The Era, 24 January 1891.]

The girls do not, as it is technically termed, “black up,” and for this relief “much thanks,” the blacking being confined to the male members of the troupe. The girls are charmingly costumed in the Minnie Palmer style of dress, while the boys wear Eton suits and extravagantly large white collars. The programme included much the same class of items that generally make up similar entertainments.

[“The Midget Minstrels in Nottingham”, Nottingham Evening Post, 24 November 1891.]

According to R.J. Broadbent’s Annals of the Liverpool Stage, the Minstrels “did wonderful business” in Liverpool for seventeen consecutive weeks from Christmas 1889. Local press coverage over the next few years shows they travelled widely in the following years, including to Nottingham, Halifax, Sunderland, Sheffield, York, Guernsey and London.

A contemporary diary reports:

“there are 16 boys and girls (some about 7 or 8 years old) and they do most wonderful things. Two little girls have most beautiful voices…They sang (the whole troupe) the ‘Anvil Chorus’ out of ‘Il Trovatore’. The best thing was Longfellow’s ‘Excelsior’, which they sang and acted to the life. They had beautiful scenery and everything to make it look real. It looked like a piece of opera. They acted ‘The old Virginey home’ to finish up. So amusing.”

[The Diary of Elizabeth Lee: Growing Up on Merseyside in the Late Nineteenth Century, entry for 2nd of March 1889.]

Programme for a performance of Montague Roby's Midget Minstrels, 1890. James Donoghue was the troupe's

Programme for a performance of Montague Roby’s Midget Minstrels, 1890. James Donoghue was the troupe’s “drill instructor” at this time. Notice the “Grand Opening Chorus” is titled “To Arms! Prepare”. [McCann Collection, Royal Academy of Music.]

It is hard to say exactly what Donoghue did as the Midget Minstrels’ “drill-instructor”, but several of the turns had an obvious military theme. For example, the “Grand Opening Chorus” in 1890 is listed in the programme as “To Arms! Prepare”, which is suggestive. And the finale in 1890-1891, Snooks, is said to have been a humorous romantic sketch involving the heroine’s love for an army lieutenant, on the hunt for an army deserter. Presumably Donoghue, who had been born in a barracks (his father was a soldier in the 5th Dragoon Guards) and had served for more than 15 years, was able to create a degree of verisimilitude to the children’s performances.

James Donoghue treads the boards

But Donoghue’s role was not exclusively in drilling the young actors. According to a number of reports, James Donoghue also appeared on stage as part of the show:


James “O’Donoghue” on stage in Sunderland, 1892.

The Midget Minstrels

…During the evening Miss Freear recited “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” and then introduced Serjeant James O’Donoghue, one of “The Six Hundred.”

[Sunderland Daily Echo, 5 January 1892.]

The Midget Minstrels

…”The Charge of the Light Brigade” is again recited by Miss L.B. Freear, who, at the close, in a few well-chosen remarks, fittingly introduces Sergeant James O’Donoghue, on of the Balaclava heroes, and drill instructor to the Midget Minstrels, who, as field trumpeter to Lord Cardigan on that memorable day, sounded the celebrated charge at which, as the poet says, “all the world wondered.”

[Huddersfield Chronicle, 10 September 1892.]

Some of the local press coverage is quite detailed about Donoghue’s role in the performance, with particular reference often being made to his uniform and medals (“As each medal was named in turn there was a fresh outburst of cheering from the audience”):

The Midget Minstrels in Huddersfield

…Miss Louie B. Freear gave a well emphasised recital of “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” with orchestral effects, and at the close introduced a hero of the charge to the audience in the person of Sergeant James O’Donoghue, late of the 8th Hussars, and now drill instructor to the troupe.

In introducing the veteran – who wore the uniform of his old regiment with the once familiar sling jacket – Miss Freear explained that at the time of the charge Sergeant O’Donoghue was field trumpeter to Lord Cardigan, and therefore sounded the celebrated charge.

On his breast he wore five medals. The first was the Crimean medal, with four clasps – Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman, and Sebastopol; second, the French Legion of Honour from Napoleon III for valour and distinguished bravery; third, the Turkish Medal; fourth, the Indian Mutiny Medal with clasp for Central India; and fifth, the medal for long service and good conduct.

As each medal was named in turn there was a fresh outburst of cheering from the audience, and at the close the veteran retired amid a scene of much enthusiasm…

Huddersfield Chronicle, 30 August 1892.]

Louie Freear in a favourite role, as a

Louie Freear in a favourite role, as a “slavey” (household drudge), photographed in the early 1900s.

Louie Freear in Chinese costume photographed in the early 1900s.

Louie Freear in Chinese costume photographed in the early 1900s.

I have yet to find any images of Roby’s Midget Minstrels, but a number of fine photographs exist of Louie Freear taken about ten years later, when she was still appearing in similar roles. [These and other portraits of her can be seen on the National Portrait Gallery’s website here (accessed 22.4.2015).]

The Midget Minstrels in Nottingham

In the second portion the programme the item most deserving commendation Miss Louie reciting “The Charge the Light Brigade.” Miss Freear’s elocution was all that could be desired, and she evinces good dramatic powers. The recitation was accompanied by the orchestra, some of the effects being quite startling, and at times the instruments were rather too loud for Miss Freer to be properly heard. However, Mr. Kennon, the conductor, kept a watchful eye upon his forces, and the effect was very good.

After concluding the recitation, Miss Freer introduced to the audience Sergeant Jas. O Donoghue, late of the 8th Hussars, who rode in the memorable charge. The veteran, in his uniform, looked every inch a soldier, and he was heartily cheered.

At the time of the charge O’Donoghue was field trumpeter to Lord Cardigan, and therefore sounded the celebrated charge. He wore the Crimean medal, with four clasps for Alma, Balaclava, Inkermann, and Sebastopol; the French Legion d’Honneur from Napoleon III, the Turkish Medal, Indian Mutiny Medal, with clasp for Central India, and a long service and good conduct medal, altogether a fine record.

[Nottingham Evening Post, 24 November 1891.]

So James Donoghue may never actually have sounded the “Charge!” at Balaclava, but he certainly relived the events nightly on the music-hall stage.


I am grateful to Chris Poole for drawing my attention to the Newcastle Courant letter. I am also currently in correspondence with Rowan Gibbs, whose genealogical researches have led him to research  a number of Crimea-related theatrical promotions in the 1850s, such as “Wladislaw’s Mechanical Exhibition of the late War” and “Hamilton’s Panorama”. I hope to say more about these in the near future.

“It was the maddest thing that was ever done” – the Charge from a Russian point of view.


There are many eyewitness accounts of the Charge of the Light Brigade from the British point of view – at least 70 or 80 – but very few from the Russian side. But my colleague Roy Mills has just come across this rather remarkable recollection from a Russian Hussar (“Ivan Ivanovitch”) who experienced both Heavy Brigade and Light Brigade Charges, which was published in The Newcastle Courant in January 1892.*




“We were so sorry for them … they were such fine fellows, and they had such splendid horses. It was the maddest thing that was ever done. I can’t understand it. They broke through our lines, took our artillery, and then, instead of capturing our guns and making off with them, they went for us.

I had been in the charge of the Heavy Brigade in the morning, and was slightly wounded. We had all unsaddled, and were very tired. Suddenly we were told ‘The English are coming.’

‘Confound them!’ we said. My colonel was very angry, and ordered his men to give no quarter. I was lying at some distance with my wound bandaged when I saw them coming. They came on magnificently.

We thought they were drunk from the way they held their lances. Instead of holding them under their armpits, they waved them in the air, and of course they were easier to guard against like that. The men were men were mad, sir. They never seemed to think of the tremendous odds against them, or of the frightful carnage that had taken place in their ranks in the course of that long, desperate ride. They dashed in among us, shouting, cheering, and cursing. I never saw anything like it. They seemed perfectly irresistible, and our fellows were quite demoralised.

The fatal mistake we made in the morning was to receive the charge of your Heavy Brigade standing, instead of meeting it with a counter shock. We had so many more men than you that had we continued our charge downhill instead of calling a halt just at the critical moment, we should have carried everything before us. The charge of your Heavy Brigade was magnificent, but they had to thank our bad management for the victory.

We liked your fellows. When our men took prisoners they used to given them vodka: awful stuff it was! More like spirits of wine than anything else. Your fellows used to offer us their rum in exchange, but we did not care for it, it was too soft and mild. The Russian soldier must have his vodka.

The Russian belief that the British must have been drunk was widely reported at the time – the Charge seemed so gratuitously suicidal that surely no cavalryman would ever have embarked on it unfortified. But it is interesting to see it linked to the sight of lances being waved apparently ineffectually in the air rather than dropped to the terrifying “Engage infantry” position (which meant Lancers were always used in the front line of an attack).

Perhaps Ivan Ivanovitch only saw the Lancers some time after they had arrived at the guns, or had passed through and were milling about? In a melee, the lance was redundant – it was far too long, heavy and unmanageable to be used as a weapon.

(That said, paintings and engravings of the first ranks of the Chargers generally show the 17th Lancers holding their lances in every position other than lowered for attack. See for example, one of the best-known images of the Charge, by Richard Caton-Woodville (1896), above.)

Ivan Ivanovitch also describes how British prisoners of war first encountered the devilish drink “vodka”. But this probably deserves a blog in its own right.


* Ivan Ivanovitch’s account can also be found in Colonel Anstruther Thomson, 80 Years’ Reminiscences (1904), pp.176-177).

Balaclava’s Greatest Hits: Trumpeter Lanfried sounds the Charge …

Trumpeter Lanfried, photographed late in life.

Trumpeter Lanfried, photographed late in life.

I’ve always wanted to write a blog about developments in the “Lives of the Light Brigade: The EJ Boys Archive” and the related Charge of the Light Brigade website, but I’m such Old Technology myself, and so allergic to instruction manuals, that until now the prospect has been too forbidding. Too many things to learn, too many decisions to be made.

But I’ve hit on a plan. I’ll try to write shortish pieces fairly regularly to reflect some of the material I’ve come across or been contacted about. (I frequently receive emails from people who come across the site, chiefly wanting to know more about an ancestor, or suggesting amendments and additions.) The articles I write are likely to be fairly rough and ready visually and technically, but I hope to get the hang of it as I go along.

Today I heard about an article by Peter Aspden in the Financial Times (“Sounds of the past, ways of the future“, 9 Jan 2015) that refers to (but does not name) Trumpeter Lanfried, 17th Lancers, the only person who rode in the Charge (160-odd years ago) whose voice we can still hear today. (There are many photographs, of course, but no moving images of Chargers, so far as I know, though a film was made of them before WW1 that has since disappeared. But that’s for another day.)

You can listen to the recording here.

‘I am Trumpeter Lanfried. One of the surviving trumpeters of the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava. I am now going to sound the bugle that was sounded at Waterloo, and sound the charge as was sounded at Balaclava on that very same bugle… on the 25th of October, 1854.’

The article begins:

‘The woman’s voice is stilted, funereally slow, but full of portent. “When I am no longer even a memory, just a name,” it says, “I hope my voice may perpetuate the great work of my life.” Then a long pause. “God bless my dear old comrades of Balaclava and bring them safe to shore. Florence Nightingale.”

‘Hundreds flocked to the town and village squares of England to hear the sensational recording that had been freshly cut in the summer of 1890. Not so much for the message, but for the medium. The wax cylinder toured by George Gouraud, an associate of Thomas Edison, was the iPhone 6 of the late Victorian era.

‘Listeners huddled around Gouraud to be wowed by his latest playlist. There was, in addition to Nightingale’s prescient missive, a reading by Lord Tennyson of his “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, and the plaintive call to that very charge, played by the bugler who had first blown those doom-laden notes. Here was history made vivid in a completely new way.’

The EJBA contains quite a lot about Trumpeter Lanfried’s life, his antecedents and descendants, and about the recording.

Notice Martin Lanfried does not claim to have sounded the Charge at Balaclava – the evidence is overwhelmingly against anyone having done so, in spite of numerous claims to the contrary (including his own gravestone). Nor that the trumpet he is playing was ever at Balaclava. Or does he? It really is quite ambiguous.

Martin Lanfried was born in Gibraltar on the 25th of August 1834, probably the son of Bandmaster Lanfried of the 60th Rifles. He enlisted at Dublin on the 10th of November 1844, when he was just 14 (and only 4′ 10″ in height). Ten years later he was shot through the right arm during the Charge at Balaclava. A bullet, striking his pouch, glanced off and killed his horse. (He was brought out of action by 1149 James Mustard, also 17th Lancers. This act kept them in close friendship all their lives, and every signed copy of the Balaclava Dinner menus seen have their signatures next to each other.)

After he recovered from his injuries, he went out to India on Brunel’s S.S. “Great Britain” to suppress the “Mutiny” there. He was discharged in 1865, and went to live in the Brighton area, where he worked as a Draper’s clerk and as a musician, married twice, and had at least seven children.

In later life, Lanfried (along with the few surviving Chargers) became quite a celebrity, and was often asked to sound the Charge – for example on October 27th 1890 at a special Variety Performance. The Times reported the following day:

‘At a given moment, some of the famous “Six Hundred” to the number of 30 or 40, appeared on the stage, when Trumpeter Landfried sounded the “Charge” as he did on October 25th 1854, whereupon Mr. Charles Warner came forward and recited Lord Tennyson’s poem, with much feeling. The veterans, who appeared in civil garb, were loudly cheered, and by way of response, they waved their hats and shouted “Hurrah”.’


Martin Lanfried (variously referred to in life and since as “Landfrey”, and “Landfield”, but by now firmly cited as “Landfried”) died in Hove and was buried, with full military honours, in grave N. 171 Block F. Section, on 13 December 1902. The stone bears a rather witty inscription on the stone, referring directly to the sounds he made in life:

‘Here lies a soldier of the King and of the King of Kings.


Who from his 15th year he served his country in the 17th Lancers at Sevastopol, the Alma, Balaclava – sounding the charge at the latter engagement – and in the Indian Mutiny, and retiring as Trumpet-Major in 1865. Joined the 1st Sussex R.G.A. (Vols.), becoming Bandmaster in 1890.

Born 25th August 1834. Died 8th December 1902.

God grant that he may sleep sound from the “Last Post” until “Reveille”.’

Let me know what you think of this first blog. It’s a start.