Henry Peter was born at St. Merin, Bodmin, Cornwall in around February 1812. Henry was recruited in London for the 90th
Regiment of Foot (Perthshire Light Infantry) on the 13th of May 1831 with his enlistment papers being signed by Sergeant Major
Best, he was given a bounty of £3 for enlisting. Henry was given the regimental number of 790, the system of regimental
numbering only just having been introduced a few months previous.
Having just returned from overseas service in the Ionian Islands the 90th were at this time at Portsmouth. Henry, along with No.
791 (Private Robert Smith, recruited in London the day after Henry), march to Portsmouth between the 1st and 6th of June and
appear on the musters of the service companies on the 7th. The stay at Portsmouth is short as the 90th march to Winchester on
the 7th of September (the unit was under-strength at that time with only 424 men) and remain there for only 3 weeks before
proceeding back to Portsmouth on the 1st of October 1831. The men board ships at Portsmouth for passage to Scotland, Henry
and the majority of men boarding the ships HMS Confiance and the transport ‘Marshall Bennett’ on the 10th of October (arriving
on the 15th), the remainder of the men boarding the HMS Columbia with transport ‘Cygnet’ on the 6th of October and arriving on
the 10th. Once disembarked the regiment march to Edinburgh where they are to remain for a short period.
Between the 3rd and 12th of January 1832 the regiment moves in small groups (Henry in a group of 46 men between the 5th and
6th) to it’s new station at Glasgow. Private Peter has obviously shown his ability as he is promoted to Corporal on the 29th of
March 1832 at Glasgow, it’s probable that his ability to read and write (his trade at enlistment was clerk) gave him something of an
advantage over his peers. The musters show that he is on regimental duty in April and he spends 18 days in hospital in the month
of May. The stay in Glasgow was to be short as the troops march to the docks at Glasgow in two groups and the next day
disembark on the beach at Belfast in Ireland, the dates for this passage were the 13th –14th of July 1832 and the 25th –26th July
1832. Corporal Peter spends 5 days in hospital in August and is on guard over the October Muster, by which time the 90th
Regiment has moved yet again. On the 8th of October the regiment boarded a ship at Belfast Quay and the next day disembarked
at Dublin Quay, from there they went into barracks.
As with all units in Ireland the regiment had responsibility to send out detachments of men to outlying areas, Corporal Peter is in
just such a detachment sent from Dublin to Drogheda (86 men under Colour Sergeant David Wilson) on the 16th of December
1832, the march lasted 2 days. The detachment returned to Dublin on the 24th and 25th of December, however Henry had been
left sick at Drogheda and returns by himself in the last 2 days of the year. New colours were presented to the 90th Regiment at
the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham on the 21st of January 1833 by Lt. General Sir Hussey Vivian (Commander of forces in Ireland),
Henry was almost certainly present at that parade and may have known Vivian better than most. The musters of March 1833 show
Corporal Peter as being the orderly to ‘Comm. General’ in which position he remains for 4 months, becoming the Garrison Orderly
in July of 1833. On the 16th of August 1833 he is detached (with 112 other men) in a company under Captain W. Eubank to
Kilkenny, the detachment leaving George St. Barracks and arriving in Kilkenny on the 19th . The return trip to Dublin (the 90th
now resident in Palatine Square Barracks) is carried out in the period from the 12th – 16th of September, just in time to join a
regimental move to Kilkenny on the 18th to 21st of September!
On the 24th of November 1833 the regiment detach Corporal Peter to recruiting duty and by the end of December he is in Carlisle,
this is a short stay however as he is back at Dublin on the 2nd of January 1834 and with a party of 3 other men rejoins the 90th
at Kilkenny on the 6th. Henry is on furlough from the 15th of February 1834 to the 30th of March 1834, he is plainly a trusted
soldier in a time when desertion was rife. The 90th were kept busy in this period, marching to Naas in late April 1834 (detachments
at Carlow, Athy & Ballinglass) and spending 3 weeks at Maryborough on election duty in May. The period at Naas is then quiet until
the 90th return to Dublin in March of 1835. Corporal Peter is promoted to Sergeant in order to fill the post of Sergeant Paymasters
Clerk which was opened up by the discharge of No.9 William Thompson on the 28th of April, again his ability to read and write is
shown to be an advantage. Henry takes up his post on the 1st of May 1835. Henry takes advantage of another period of furlough
from the 6th to the 22nd of June 1835, on his return he would have been informed of the regiment’s orders to proceed to Ceylon.
The 90th Regiment leave Beggars Bush & St. George’s Barracks on the 29th of August 1835 and march to the North Wall Quay
where they board ships, disembarking at Cork beach the next day. The regiment are based at Cork barracks to await transport, 2
companies under Captain Suckling boarding the ‘Valleyfield’ in October. The remainder of the regiment (including Sgt. Peter) board
the ‘Sir Charles Malcolm’ on the 16th of November at Cork but the ship does not sail because it was discovered it leaked, the men
are still kept on the ship for 3 weeks until disembarking on the 1st of December. This is not to be the last problem the Henry was
to have with ships. The ‘Sir Charles Malcolm’ eventually sails on the 5th of December on route to Plymouth, the decision to repair
the ship having been made. After disembarking at Plymouth on the 11th of December 1835 the men are based at Plymouth until
the 4th of January 1836 when they continue their journey to Ceylon.
The ship passed the Matree islands on the 5th of May 1836, sighted Ceylon on the 21st and landed on Sunday the 22nd of May
1836, the start of a nearly 10 year spell on the island. The regiment take up garrison at Colombo (the companies under Suckling
having arrived 2 months previous) where the unhealthy conditions soon begin to take a toll on officers and men. Paymaster
Sergeant Peter is on guard at the December 1836 muster and on New Year’s Day 1837 he takes up a post as a company sergeant
and gives up the post of Paymaster Sergeant, as such his rank becomes substantive. The unhealthy climate gets to Henry as is
admitted to hospital on the 29th of March 1837 but is back in active duty a few days later. The regimental routine is quickly
established and occurrences in the musters are scarce as there is no need to record journeys (there being no allowances paid for
travel in Ceylon). Henry is on guard over the May 1837 muster and over the period from October to December 1837, Duty in May
and June 1838 and all over the period from September 1838 to February 1839, most of this time he remains at Colombo with the
HQ of the regiment, the 90th marching to Kandy in January 1839. Whilst in Kandy the regiment suffer greatly from opthalmia,
several losing their sight entirely and a great number of men being invalided home, Henry was to suffer from this much later.
The periods of duty and guard continue, Henry is on duty from November 1839 to February 1840 and in March of 1840 he goes
onto the staff at Badulla, a detachment that was to last all of that year and into the start of 1841. On the 1st of February 1841
Henry is promoted to Colour Sergeant and joins his company on detachment at Newera Ellia where they remain until November. At
that time they march to Colombo where the remainder of the 90th Regiment have also arrived from Kandy. There is nothing in the
musters during the following period at Colombo except 9 days in hospital in the period April-June 1842 and guards in April and
In January 1844 the 90th march back to Kandy, Colour Sergeant Peter however remains with his company at Colombo and the
following month he is the senior NCO with the detachment at Trincomalee under command of Captain M. Geale & Lieutenant J.M.N.
Walter. After nearly 10 years in Ceylon the regiment are finally told they would be relieved in November 1845 and the 15th Foot
duly arrive in January of 1846. The bulk of the regiment board the ‘Mariner’ on the 16th of February 1846 and bar a few deaths on
board they have an uneventful trip to Simons Bay at the Cape, where they arrive on the 3rd of April. The remaining company (the
6th) board the ‘Maria Soames’ at Colombo and picks up the detached companies at Trincomalee (where Henry has been for over 2
years) on the 12th of March 1846, the following passage describes the journey….
All went well for several days, even weeks had passed, in one afternoon the ship was overtaken by a sudden pest of the most
violent character, the sails were split, the royal and top-gallant masts snapped off. In a moments broken spars, torn sails, rigging,
and blocks were swinging in mid-air in most dangerous confusion, rendering the task of shortening the remaining sails most
difficult and hazardous. Meanwhile the storm increased to a hurricane-no sails could stand against it, and the vessel rolled and
laboured so much, that it was deemed expedient to cut away the mainmast by the board. Before attempting this, it was of course
necessary to ease off broadside to the gale, where the vessel lay in the trough of the sea, the huge waves breaking over her ;
directly the mainmast was overboard, an endeavour was made to bring the ship's head up into the wind, so as, if possible, to
remain hove-to ; unfortunately in the attempt the rudder-head sprung, and all steering power was lost. In this dilemma, all that
could be done was to lash hammocks and strips of canvass in the mizen shrouds, to assist in keeping the ship's head a little up in
the wind. The storm was most furious, and from its disabled state, there was little or no hope of the ship being saved-even the
crew despaired, especially when it was discovered that there was much water in the hold. The pumps had been worked by relays of
the 90th men, but it was no longer possible for them to remain on deck-moreover, the pumps became more or less out of order.
The men, women, and children were all battened down below, for fear of their being washed overboard, and their demand for
drinking water became frequent and most urgent, the heat between decks being excessive. It devolved upon the subaltern officers
for nearly three days and nights to hand water, which had unfortunately become impregnated with salt, down the main-hatch
whenever a moment's opportunity could be seized for lifting the tarpauling and other coverings from a small portion of the
hatchway. The sufferings of those below were most distressing to witness ; stripped to their skin and in a violent perspiration,
they crowded beneath the hatchway, each one with outstretched hands hastily plunging a basin into or towards the bucket as it
The hurricane continued in full force, and it was supposed that the ship had been carried along into the very centre of its fury ; its
position was unknown, for during the three days the storm continued not a single gleam of light broke through the clouds, and of
course no observation could be taken. All hands despaired of life. The crew, worn out by their unavailing efforts, came aft and
mixed with the officers ; only the mizen and fore-lower masts were standing, the latter with the foreyard attached, but swinging
violently from side to side. The captain, wishing to preserve this spar, ordered the foreyard to be lashed, but none of the crew
would make the attempt. He then most courageously went forward alone and got on to the forecastle, seized the foreyard as it
swung past his head, but not having time to lash it to the mast he was carried overboard, and as the ship's head dipped violently
into the sea he was lost to sight under the tremendous waves, but reappeared as the vessel heaved up, still clinging to the end of
the foreyard. In this manner he swung two or three times across the bows and into the waves on either side of the ship,
occasionally touching the deck with his feet, but failing, time after time, to secure either himself or the spar. At last he managed to
seize a rope's-end and lashed the yard to the mast.
As the hurricane increased in strength more disasters occurred. The starboard cabin was stove in; the Government Agent, an
officer of the Royal Navy, broke his arm, which was set, under most adverse circumstances, by Assistant Surgeon Maclise; the
rudder was carried away, and the skylight of the saloon was burst open by a tremendous sea shipped on the poop. However, on
the third day a gleam of light pierced the massive clouds and hope revived; the waves were still breaking over the wreck, but the
wind, by slow degrees, moderated, and the following day was comparatively fine. The soldiers and women, who had been all this
time battened down, had suffered fearfully, as nothing could be done in the way of supplying fresh air. At length one dead body
was passed up, then another and another-in all sixteen-who had been suffocated or had died from exhaustion during the three
days and nights this most dreadful storm had lasted. Those who had remained on deck were all suffering, more or less, from
exposure and from constant wet-showing itself especially in swelled legs and feet. After the storm had subsided the decks were
ventilated and washed, and those who were able had plenty of work to do, chiefly at the pumps, as there was reported to be
fourteen feet of water in the hold; but the chief difficulty to contend with was the want of a rudder; however, some spars were
found and bolted together and then shaped into the proper form. Then arose another difficulty-the new rudder had to be fixed in
its place. An examination of the stern-post led to the discovery of the pintails and gudgeons of the old one some depth below
water, but there seemed no means of getting them, and their recovery was about to be abandoned when a man of the name of
Gunnion, a private in the 90th, volunteered to dive, and after many attempts, attended with great danger from the sharks, which
could be seen on all sides, he succeeded in regaining the much-wanted articles. The rudder was then placed in position, and the
foreyard, in saving which the captain had so boldly risked his life, was rigged as a jury mast, sail was made, and in about a
fortnight's time the crippled vessel reached the Mauritius.
As soon as the history of the shipwreck was known at Port Louis the greatest possible sympathy and kindness from all persons
were shown to the sufferers. The men were placed in barracks in the Fort, and for some time were excused all duties. The officers
and men of the 12th Regiment, then quartered in the island, received their comrades of the 90th with open arms ; indeed, nothing
could have been kinder than their attention in every way. The Governor, Sir William Gomm, invited the officers for a week or ten
days' stay with him at his country residence, called Reduit, where they were provided with every comfort they could require. After a
stay of two months, during which time the Maria Somes was repaired, the three companies re-embarked and sailed for the Cape of
G.0. issued by Lieut.GenI. Sir W. Gomm,
Mauritius, 25th April, 1846. No. 41.
The Lieut.-General has had under his minute observation the several reports called for, relative to the disasters which have befallen
the detachment 9oth Light Infantry, consisting of three companies embarked from Ceylon on board the Maria Somes hired
transport, in the month of February last, for the purpose of proceeding to England, and forced to take refuge in the port of this
island, for repairing the damage sustained by the vessel from the hurricane which it encountered on the 27th ultimo and three
These reports have been perused with a painful and very lively interest so forcibly exemplifying the vicissitudes to which the British
soldier is exposed in the ordinary discharge of his duty to his Sovereign and to his country, calling for a display of a variety of
energies rarely, if ever, excelled by the troops of other nations.
Thus, while the British soldiers on the continent of India were pursuing a course of almost unexampled triumphs on the junction of
the Punjaub, the gallant men of the 90th Light Infantry were undergoing the yet severer trials of constancy and endurance under
extreme perils and distress ; but the sound heart, undauntable energy, and a trust far higher, never failing, brought them out of
the conflict victorious, as they ought to be.
Deplorable as has been the loss of life through the adoption of measures had recourse to for the general safety, it is the opinion of
competent naval authority on the spot, to whom the details have been referred, that the sacrifice under the circumstances was
unavoidable, but the stern necessity brought out into yet stronger relief the confidence placed by the men in the judgment,
presence of mind, and watchfulness over their welfare by their officers; and these again gave proof by their example that such firm
confidence was well reposed.
The Lieut.-General assures Captain Mann, the officers, and soldiers under his command, that it will be his gratifying duty promptly
to forward the reports before him for submission to his Grace the Duke of Wellington, to whom every record tending to elevate
the character of the British soldier before the world is so precious.
The Maria Soames sailed from Mauritius on the 20th of May 1846 and landed at Grahams Town in South Africa on the 8th of June.
Once in South Africa they became embroiled in what would become known as the Kaffir Wars for which a medal was issued in 1853.
Again we turn to the regimental history:-
The three companies which were on board the Maria Soames arrived at Graham's Town at this period, and were employed on
outpost duty until the 23rd of June, when they were formed up and, with part of the 7th, 91st, Cape Mounted Rifles, Burghers,
and Hottentots, took the field, under the immediate command of Sir Peregrine Maitland, and encamped at the mouth of the Fish
On the 6th of July, a force, under the command of Major Yarborough of the 91st, composed of 150 men of the 91st and part of
the 90th, made its first march from Fish River mouth along the shore to the mouth of the Reka, where they encamped ; on the
15th they arrived at the Buffalo River after a most trying march, the waggons with supplies and tents being so far behind that for
four days the men had no meat, and the officers only such food as their horses could carry. For a time the division halted to enable
supplies to come up, and on the 17th, the regular infantry, under General Maitland, proceeded to the Dike flats, via King William's
Town, en route to the Amatolas to intercept the Gaikas. On the 21st of July, they encamped four miles from King William's Town,
and on the 19th of August were at Fort Beresford.
In August, Colonel Slade, and Lieutenants Davies, Butler, Meredith, and Wyvill arrived at the Cape from England, and joined the
regiment; the detached companies were called in, and moved by the Fish River on Block Drift, where a force, composed of the
27th, 46th, part of the 91st, and a battery of artillery, was encamped, of which Colonel Slade, on arrival, took the command. While
in this permanent camp, two companies of the 90th, under Captain Bringhurst, were sent off across the Kei to harass the enemy;
on their return they found the river impassable, owing to the rains having flooded it, and had, consequently, to bivouac on the
bank, with scarcely any provisions and no cover, for three days, before being able to rejoin the head-quarters at Graham's Town.
About the 13th of September, the division under Sir Peregrine Maitland moved towards the mouth of the Fish River, which it
reached on the 19th.
In October, the 90th, under Lieutenant-Colonel Slade the 45th, under Lieutenant-Colonel Erskine, a troop of the 7th Dragoon
Guards, and some artillery, once more moved inland, advancing on Block Drift. By the end of November, all the principal Gaika
Chiefs had given in.
On the 23rd of October, at Fort Beaufort, the Swellendam Native Infantry, numbering 350 men, mutinied, and marched off in the
direction of Graham's Town ; they were immediately followed by Captain Ward, of the 91st Regiment, with six sappers and two
artillerymen, and a 3-pounder howitzer, who hoped to stop them at a bridge outside the Fort; in this, however, he was not
successful; the mutineers passed over at the double, and on three rounds of blank being fired, they rushed up a hill near the
bridge, and turned to defend themselves. In the meantime, a few mutineers, who had followed behind the gun were attempting to
pass it; Captain Ward rushed in amongst them and seized one man, opened the pan of his firelock, and after a struggle secured
him; he also took another, and kept both of them prisoners.
Soon after, eighty men of the 90th, who where at Fort Beaufort on escort duty, came up to Captain Ward's assistance, who
immediately directed them to follow the mutineers, when an order was received from Colonel Richardson to cease the pursuit, as
Mr. Beaver, a clergyman, and Mr. Calderwood, a missionary, had offered to follow the insurgents and induce them to return-a
difficult task, in which they were partially successful.
January the 6th, 1847, orders were received for the 90th to embark for England immediately. The regiment accordingly having
concentrated, marched for Graham's Town en route to the coast, where it was hoped that transports would be in readiness to
receive it. However, on arrival at Port Elizabeth, it was found that the Thunderbolt in which they were to embark, had not yet come
in. Its advent was anxiously awaited until the 3rd of February, when the ship appeared in sight, having on board Sir Henry
Pottinger and Lieutenant-General Berkeley. The men of the regiment were eagerly watching her approach, imagining that the
moment was at hand when they would leave a country in which they had toiled and suffered through a wearisome war with but
little chance of credit. Their hopes were, however, doomed to be disappointed, for in rounding Cape Receif, the vessel struck upon
a sunken rock, and leaked so badly, that she had to be driven ashore. There was so much water in the ship that the furnaces were
extinguished, and she only had just sufficient steam left to drive her towards the beach.
In spite of pumps, worked day and night, where the Thunderbolt touched ground there she remained. The water in her did not
decrease, and the engineer suspected that the sea-pipe must be open. Should such be the case, until it was closed all labour must
prove unavailing, and as the vessel was full of greasy opaque water, it seemed impossible for anyone to reach the engine-room.
Private Gunnion, 90th Light Infantry, came forward and offered to make the attempt. After receiving- precise instructions as to the
situation of the pipe, he descended, and naturally lost his way in the filthy liquid, but with indomitable pluck, he went down again
and again, and eventually succeeded. The pipe was open, he closed it, and the quantity of water in the ship was reduced, but the
injuries she had sustained were of so serious a nature, that she had to be broken up.
The words of one who saw the 90th at this time may well be quoted:-
The appearance of the 90th on leaving the colony is so totally different to what it presented on its arrival here, that it goes far to
prove the good effect of the Cape climate on constitutions debilitated by Indian service. Under every disadvantage of fatigue,
privation, and a residence under canvass in the height of an African summer, with the thermometer at times 157° in the open air,
the 90th, on their march from Graham's Town to the coast, presented a perfect picture of a regiment of British veterans.
I saw them in my evening ride on the 5th of February, as they toiled up a steep hill before me, with their long line of waggons and
dusky waggon drivers. How cheerful they looked! I envied them as I turned my horse's head back to the land of banishment and
anxiety! I could not help uttering- the words, happy 90th, God speed you!' aloud, as the last waggon passed me, and an old
soldier with a bronzed cheek and white hair saluted me by way of 'thank you for your good will.'
How little they anticipated their disappointment at Algoa Bay. In a few days the President came into the Bay, on board of which,
the regiment embarked, proceeding to Cape Town, where it was quartered, in daily expectation of leaving for home. However,
affairs on the frontier again looking serious, the 90th was sent by wings in the ‘Rosamond’ to the mouth of the Buffalo River that
commanded by Major Eld landing there on the 28th of July.
In April, Lieutenant and Adjutant Davis had been appointed superintendent of native police-a force which he rendered very
efficient; in June, their conduct in the field was put to the test. The Gaika chief, Sandilla, having stolen some cattle from Fort Hare,
two troops of the 7th Dragoon Guards, two companies of the 45th Regiment, and 80 of the Kaffir police, under Lieutenant Davis,
were sent to demand compensation. The chief's herds were seized, but on the return of the party, it was waylaid by the enemy,
and most of the beasts retaken ; during the fight, the police fought bravely, and did good service against their countrymen.
An order arrived from England in July, that soldiers of the 27th, 90th, and 91st Regiments, desirous of settling in the country, or
wishing to serve as non-commissioned officers in the additional companies of the Cape Mounted Riflemen, were to state their
wishes to the Government; one hundred men of the 90th volunteered to remain in the country; and on the next outbreak of
hostilities in 1852, they were nearly all of them murdered by the Kaffirs.
The right wing of the regiment which left for Buffalo Mouth, after the three companies, under Major Eld, had landed, was caught in
a hurricane and driven into Algoa Bay, where it was detained for a day or two. On landing at Buffalo Mouth, two companies, under
Captain Gale, were left there, the remainder pushing on to the Goolah heights to rejoin the left wing.
The regiment remained near the coast until January, 1848, when, after being inspected at Buffalo Mouth by Sir Harry Smith it was
sent in wings to Cape Town, whence after a period of 2 weeks it embarked on the 'General Hewett' and sailed for England. The
regiment arrived at Spithead on the 18th of April 1848 after an absence of 13 years.
From Spithead the 90th proceeded to Gravesend where they disembarked on the 25th of April 1848. From Gravesend the men
proceeded to Chatham and went into barracks. In the period of July to September 1848 Colour Sergeant Peter spends 6 days in
hospital. On the 27th and 28th of July the regiment march to London via Maidstone and there proceeded by rail to Ashton-under-
Lyne where 3 companies and the HQ were to be based. There were also detachments at Stockport, Colne, Sheffield, Bradford and
Barnsley. The companies at Ashton were called upon to deal with the Chartist rioters in this period. It would appear that Henry
Peter had gone on detachment at Colne as he is shown as travelling from Colne to Bradford on the 23rd of January 1849. Henry
travels from Bradford to Ashton on the 20th to 23rd of June and remains there for the next 10 months.
On the 17th of April 1850 the regiment move from Ashton to Manchester where they remain for most of the next 12 months. In
March of 1851 the regiment board ships and disembark at Dublin, moving inland to Buttervant. The stay at Buttervant is short
however (3 weeks) before the 90th move to Cork with detachments out at Haulbowline, Spike Island, Mill Street & Bandon. On the
14th of August 1851 it is decided that Henry would revert to Sergeant (to be replaced by 2246 Sergeant Edward Simpson), the
reason for this reversion is not stated but may be due to poor health. Henry has been suffering with poor health with 11 days in
hospital in August and a further 11 days in the period October to December 1851. Sergeant Peter goes on furlough from the 15th
of December 1851 to the 30th of January 1852. This is nearly the last occurrence in the musters, Sergeant Henry Peter goes
before a regimental board at Cork on the 26th of May 1852 where he is ordered to be discharged due to failing health and weak
eyes (the result of his service at Kandy).
The description of No. 790 Sergeant Henry Peter at discharge is given as 40 years and 3 months old, 5ft 7 in tall, light brown hair,
grey eyes and a fresh complexion. The last entry in the musters puts him as being on route to the invalid depot at Dublin, he is
then struck off the paylists of the 90th Regiment.
Musters & paylists, 90th Foot, 1831-52 (WO 12/ 9193 to 9212)
Chelsea Pension records, WO 97/ 994
‘Records of the 90th Regiment’, Delavoye, 1898
|Henry Peter - 90th Foot - Served 1831 to 1852