More details about this service member are in my question Were British Army families stationed overseas enumerated in any Census returns?

Alfred Clarke, b. 1840, from Brighton, Sussex, England, service No. 178/2, served in the Royal Artillery, as shown in his entry from the Chelsea Pensioners British Army Service Records 1760-1913, images accessed on Find My Past.

One of the loose sheets, with a heading MILITARY HISTORY SHEET, has an outline of his service:

  • Home 26 August 1858 to 6 April 1860
  • China 7 April 1860 to 9 May 1861
  • Home 10 May 1861 to 8 February 1875
  • India 9 February 1875 to 11 May 1881
  • Home 12 May 1881 to 2 Aug 1881

I would like to know the British Army's custom for entering these dates. Does the 11 May 1881 end date for his India service mean that his unit departed from India in May, or does it indicate their arrival in England?

When Alfred's unit was assigned to China service, does the 7 April 1860 start date reflect the date the unit left the UK for China, the date the unit arrived in China, or something else? It seems likely that the date could reflect the effective date of the orders for the unit. If I investigate the records of the Royal Artillery, might I be able to find those orders?

My research 'to do' list includes

Update to the research plan:

Find My Past has GRO Regimental Birth Indices (1761 to 1924) consisting of:

As well as the usual Volume and page reference you'd expect for a GRO index, these list the regiment, which is extremely useful for sorting out same-name military dependents. If your service member is on Home duty and has school age children, you may be able to find some of them in the National School Admission Registers & Log-Books 1870-1914. I am currently cross-checking the birth dates from one of these registers against the GRO Regimental indexes and Ireland Birth and Baptisms information on Family Search, to cross-check against Alfred's list of postings.


2 Answers 2


I have been trying to check up on one of my Army pensioners (Private Samuel Bateman, 834, 49th Regiment of Foot) - he is recorded as 2y 10m on "China / Eastern Expedition" (the embarrassing-to-us-now First Opium War).

The 49th were in India before sailing for China - there are separate accounts of the 49th's history in that campaign These have "India, Calcutta. 6th April 1840 embarked on 'Mahomed Shah', 'Suliman', 'Blundell', 'Mermaid' & 'Isabella Robertson'" then, for the return, "sailed on the 20th December [1842] for Singapore arriving the 1st January 1843, then Calcutta in February [1843] from where they marched to Dum Dum."

Slightly to my surprise, April 1840 to February 1843 appears to make 2y 10m - and that covers the journey to China, the actions there and the journey back from China to the previous base of India.

This implies that the dating convention used starts with the beginning of the journey out from previous base and finishes with the return to previous base. (And yes, I know there's a case I'm not covering of return to a new base!) For your chap, I suggest therefore, that the dates of his tours to India and China refer to dates at ports in the UK. Thinking about how bureaucrats work, that makes sense - most allowances would be paid outside the UK - "overseas" starts at Dover.

The purple sheet for Alfred headed "Enlisted for the R Regiment of Artillery" shows that he was in "4 Bde" pretty much throughout his career. This means "4 Brigade". To a genealogist like myself, rather than a military historian, the RA (Royal Artillery) is consistently inconsistent with its nomenclature. Batteries are "always"(?) grouped into Brigades but the "unit of allocation" that appears on personnel papers seems to change.

My grandpa was in the new units of the Royal Field Artillery part of the RA during WW1 and they used Brigades as the unit of allocation. Each Brigade was split into 4(?) Batteries but they were just lettered A, B, C, D and had no existence outside the Brigade. On the other hand, the big guns in the Royal Garrison Artillery were grouped into Batteries and that was their unit of allocation - a battery could be moved around from one Division to another. So sometimes it's Brigade that's important, sometimes it's Battery. And I suspect that you just have to muddle through to find out which is appropriate and what the books tell you about - but I wouldn't be surprised if you don't find out anything lower than 4 Brigade.

That may be as clear as mud but it's one of these things where people say "If you think you know what's going on, you obviously don't". The real military experts do, of course, but that's not me!

  • 1
    Alfred is demobbed in 1881 which is before the reorganization that took place on 1 July 1899. Since I posted this question, I've discovered that Alfred's sons also joined the RA (their attestations show ages of 15 years and some months) so as it turns out, I need to know the organization both before 1899 and after. But that's another question. :-)
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Jul 28, 2014 at 19:11

Find My Past has GRO Regimental Birth Indices (1761 to 1924) consisting of:

Since writing the question, I have found Alfred's children in the registrations listed above, plus the following:

The ecclesiastical registers or Royal Artillery registers are consistent with the information found in Alfred's service papers. All of these have been helpful in showing where the family might have been posted during Alfred's home service or his service in India.

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