The Chelsea Out-pensioners in the Early Eighteenth Century
February 11, 2021 @ 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
ORDINARY MEETING OF FELLOWS LECTURE
A Well-recorded people – The Chelsea Out-pensioners in the Early Eighteenth Century
by Andrew Cormack FSA
The lecture will be based on the research for my recent doctorate and the title, intriguingly, I hope, contrasts my research with that undertaken by many Fellows of the Society based upon archaeological discoveries of material culture for which, in many cases, there is no substantiating contemporary written record. The extensive archives of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea provide a remarkable view into the lives of a section of the labouring classes who chose soldiering as their occupation. Very little is known individually about these people, and they are generally considered as a mass because they were predominantly illiterate and therefore left no personal record of their experiences. However, the Hospital recorded a great deal about them in terms of the length of their service, their age at enlistment and what had happened to them – wounds, injuries and illnesses – that brought about their discharge from the Army. The talk also explains how a highly complex pension system was administered, what checks were made, how payments were dispensed and what fraudulent practices were attempted by recipients and those paying the pension; all of this in an age when the modern conveniences of banking and communications did not exist.
Once accepted onto the Chelsea Out-pension, discharged soldiers were still subject to recall by the War Office for garrison duty in the largely coastal fortifications in Great Britain -Tilbury, Hull, Tynemouth, Carlisle, Chester, Plymouth and the Channel Isles. Many of these fortifications are now in the care of English Heritage and some have been the subject of archaeological investigation. However, next to nothing is recorded about the men who were formed into Invalid Companies and were sent to garrison these posts, but they are traceable because they were all Out-pensioners of the Royal Hospital.
My research has opened up aspects of soldiering, the lives of the working poor from which soldiers were largely drawn, the notion of charity in the C18th and the difficulties of administering a scheme that covered the whole of the British Isles. It provides essential background information for a thorough understanding of the Other Ranks (non officers) of the British Army of this period.