The Queen's in the Bombay Army

June was not a good month in which to arrive in India, especially for soldiers in tight fitting scarlet jackets and shako headdress who had not experienced the heat of midsummer and the humidity of the impending monsoon. Nevertheless on disembarking on 7th June 1825 the Queen’s formed up and marched in style to the cantonment at Colaba Point, away from the turmoil of the city of Bombay, with drums and fifes leading the column. Soldiers’ families and the sick followed with the oxen drawn baggage carts which had been provided by the Company’s officials. Officers’ ladies and their families travelled separately under private arrangements. The day was dry and overcast. Next day the monsoon set in with unusual severity.

The orderliness and cleanliness of the cantonment provided a welcome relief from the bedlam of hawkers, pimps, beggars and would-be servants which had greeted their disembarkation. Many of the latter spoke a sort of English. Some displayed testimonials provided by their previous employers. One signed by an English officer, read:

“The bearer of this, one Khoda Bux by name, is the most infernal scoundrel under the sun; he attached himself to me on my first landing, and cheated me in every way he possibly could for a week. On my finding out and dismissing him he had the impudence to ask me for a character; and I have therefore given him this, hoping that it may be of service towards any gentleman to whom he may offer himself, as an insight into his character.”

It was the custom of the country to share whatever paid work was available to the fullest extent and even an unmarried lieutenant living adjacent to the mess in which he took his meals was likely to be expected to employ:

A kitmaghar


table attendant

A dhobi



A mussalchi


torch bearer & dishwasher

A syce



A sirdar bearer


house attendant

A chowkidar



A mahler



A bishti


water carrier

A classie


tent pitcher


and during eight months of the year four coolies for pulling the punkah and watering the tatties (screens of grass fitted into the doors of the bungalows during the hot weather and kept constantly wet). It was as well that on their arrival in India officers’ pay was increased to the level of the British officer in the Company’s

Grenadier Company Corporal.
Grenadier Company Corporal.
(Click to enlarge)

The regiment was now part of the East India Company’s army in the Bombay Presidency. There were three such Presidency armies, those of Bengal, Bombay and Madras. Their Commander-in-Chief was at Calcutta where he was a member of the Governor-General’s council. The four cavalry and twenty infantry regiments from the United Kingdom then stationed in India were divided between them and were referred to as the royal regiments. Back in England few realised the considerable size of the Company’s forces. In all they consisted of some 18,000 Indian cavalry, half of them irregulars, and 100,000 regular Indian infantry consisting of 74 Bengali, 52 Madras and 26 Bombay battalions. There were also six European infantry battalions, two in each army. They consisted predominantly of soldiers from the royal regiments who had enlisted in order to remain in India, although in the previous century there were also many French, Dutch and Portuguese, whose countries had been associated with India.

The Company’s forces also included artillery, engineers, doctors, a veterinary branch and agencies for procuring horses, bullocks and fodder. Each army had its corps of sappers and miners whose English officers had trained at the Company’s college for artillery and engineer officers at Addiscombe in England. Artillery regiments tended to have both European and Indian batteries. This reflected a compromise between the reluctance of the Company’s Court of Directors in London to train Indians in such powerful weapons, and the preference of the Presidency governments to enlist Indians who cost far less. The basic pay of a sepoy was seven rupees a month, increased after long service, and was regarded as both good in itself and a reliable payment. The Company’s British officers did not purchase their commissions. Promotion was by seniority and Company pensions were paid after twenty years service.

Queensmen may have recalled that in 1661 King Charles’ dowry included the Portuguese ports of Bombay and Tangier. Soldiers were sent from England to garrison both of them. When the Tangier garrison was withdrawn it became the Queen’s Regiment, but the fate of the four companies sent to Bombay was very different. Philip Mason describes what happened in his fascinating account of the Indian Army entitled a Matter of Honour. In 1668 King Charles gave Bombay to the East India Company but no provision was made for the return of the garrison. Bombay was far from England and the soldiers had been many years away from home. They were paraded and ordered to ground their arms as the King’s men and take them up if they wished as the Company’s. That they did, to become the Company’s Europeans. Nearly two hundred years later, when the Company was dissolved after the Indian Mutiny, their successors transferred back to the Crown. At that time they were known as the 1st Bombay Fusiliers, which subsequently became the 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers and was disbanded in 1922.

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