Shakos in Canada:
the Case of the 13th & 64th Regiments,
1813 - 1815
York Light Infantry Volunteers wearing
the white tropical shako, c. 1813, by Charles Hamilton Smith.
Headdress in the British Army, 1791 – 1813
1791 British soldiers serving in tropical regions often wore European
headdress unsuited to the climate. One
of the few official concessions (apart from lowering the brims of the
soldiers’ cocked hats to shade the head) was the insertion of thin
leather cushions into the crowns of the hats to protect against the sun, a
marginal improvement ordered in 1761.
During the late 1780s some units in
were allowed to have “a
small white round hat,” probably made of white felt, although this
exception does not appear to have been generally extended to regiments in
increase of British military strength in the
advance of the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars in 1793 soon
prompted the adoption of a more suitable headdress for service in warm
climates. Accordingly, a
clothing warrant published on
that each recruit “enlisted for a Regiment on foreign station” (i.e.
) was to be issued a larger
“round hat” as part of a ‘slop’ uniform provided at the
The same circular also ordered the general adoption of round hats
for tropical service, listing its dimensions and materials:
Our will and pleasure further is,
each soldier of our Regiments serving in warm climates shall be
furnished in future with a black round hat, with a false lining; not
less than six inches in height, nor less than four inches in the
brim; bound with black tape and lace…
Use of round hats was further ratified by a second clothing warrant
, reiterating that recruits
were to be given “one plain round hat and cockade.”
Notwithstanding these austere regulations, the hat could often be
quite gaudy; sketches of British Troops on Martinique and in the Low
Countries in 1794 and later drawings made by Private Porter of the 61st
(South Gloucestershire) Regiment in Egypt show round hats variously
ornamented with bearskin crests, white bands, and sometimes plumes.
1801, copy by Percy Sumner after Private Porter
(Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library,
photo courtesy of René
by the turn of the nineteenth century use of the hat among the rank &
file declined. During the
Egyptian campaign of 1801 only those units accompanying General Baird from
Cape of Good Hope
utilized them, few being
issued to regiments arriving from
The 1802 clothing regulations confirmed this trend, officially
abandoning their use in hot climates in favour of ‘stovepipe’ shakos;
troops in both Indies were henceforth to receive a cap, cockade and tuft
as part of their annual clothing allotment.
Elsewhere, round hats with fur crests remained the prescribed
undress headgear for officers in
British North America
from 1800 to 1811, while
plainer versions continued to be used informally by officers in the
throughout the period.
was not until deliberations over the design of the ‘New Pattern’
(later termed ‘Belgic’) shako took place in the summer of 1811 that
consideration was again given to a tropical pattern headdress for troops
in warm climates.
Even then, the improvement to the soldier’s comfort was arguably
negligible, as the Board of General Officers clung to the inherently
impractical shako in spite of its inadequacy, merely proposing a
‘tropical’ version of the new cap.
The pattern piece submitted to the Prince Regent (later King George
IV) for approval in March 1812 was of standard Belgic shako form,
described in an inventory of the monarch’s effects conducted in the
– made of Drab [brown] Coloured Felt – Brass Plate in Front – with
Embossed GR and Crown – the Front bound with Leather – Tan Leather
Poke [brim] and Fall [foldable neck covering] – white worsted Chain Cord
and Tassels – white worsted Tuft.
white felt variant of the cap was also manufactured.
Charles Hamilton Smith depicted one such shako with a black band
and brim in a print of the York Light Infantry Volunteers published in
August 1813, notwithstanding inspection reports from the
the regiment in fact wore the brown felt model.
Alternatively, a portrait of Assistant-Surgeon John William Brown
of the 1/89th Regiment painted in late 1813 shows him sporting
an entirely white shako, including the brim.
Those worn in
apparently had an inner lining of tin which rusted easily and made the cap
uncomfortably heavy, a curious feature given iron plates in the European
model intended to protect the head from blows were abandoned for those
very reasons in February 1812.
John William Brown, 1/89th Regiment (
Regardless of colour, fittings were the same as for the black European
version. Caps for officers and
sergeants were similar to those of the rank & file, albeit made of
finer materials. Like the
black model, the tropical pattern was presumably issued with a “Cap Case
of prepared Linen to be worn in Wet Weather” given it too was expected
to last for two years before replacement.
the best intentions of authorities in
, white or
drab-coloured felt headgear had shown itself unequal to the rigours of
tropical climates as far back as the 1780s, and the tropical Belgic shako
proved likewise to be a complete failure.
Whether white or brown, the shako’s light-coloured felt was
easily damaged by moths and other insects, while conditions in the hot,
humid climates for which it was intended revealed a vulnerability to
It was therefore ordered discontinued on
12 October 1813
pattern headdress being replaced as before by the common black shako.
by accident or design, these unusual shakos were occasionally shipped to
theatres far from the
to meet the demands of the
British Army and its dependencies for military headgear as the Napoleonic
Wars reached its climax. In
decidedly un-tropical northern
at least one unit of the
reconstituted Hanoverian Army, Field Battalion Bennigsen, received white
Belgic shakos in the summer of 1813.
Some even found their way to
13th & 64th Regiments in
1813 - 1815
At the beginning of the War of 1812 the 13th (1st
Somersetshire) and 64th (2nd Staffordshire)
Regiments were veterans of lengthy service in the fever-ridden
The 64th Regiment had been in the
where it had participated in several expeditions and the capture of
while the 13th Regiment served in the brief campaign against
the French on
Owing to the “progress of Hostilities in
the fall of 1812 these two regiments (garrisoning the
were earmarked for redeployment to
regiments from the island were to be dispatched to reinforce
Despite the troops at
acclimatised to the North American conditions these orders were abruptly
changed by authorities in
1813, with the 13th Regiment being ordered to
and the 64th
to this confusion it was not until May when the two regiments embarked
The 13th Regiment, described as a “fine body of men”
approximately 650 rank & file strong arrived at
on 20 June.
Such was the need for reinforcements in
regiment was hurriedly dispatched to
carrying only minimal equipment, where it joined the Left Division
defending the frontier south of the city.
Conversely the 64th Regiment arrived in full at
on 1 June,
immediately garrisoning the town and forming (under command of
Lieutenant-Colonel Sir John Wardlaw) the escort for the funeral of Captain
James Lawrence of the captured American frigate U.S.S. Chesapeake
on 8 June.
arrived directly from the
with little chance to reequip, both regiments’ clothing was
ill-suited to the Canadian climate. In
Regiment’s white tropical-issue shakos were the source of considerable
concern for its commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel William Williams.
Hoping to capitalise on the 100th (H.R.H. the Prince
Regent’s Count of Dublin) Regiment’s requisition of caps from stocks
available from the Commissariat for the Canadian militia,
Williams wrote from
on 7 August
13th Regiment have brought with them to this Country White Caps
which were intended for the West Indies and are calculated to last two
years, but as I am most desirous not to wear them here; may I beg leave to
ask your being so kind as to lay my request before His Excellency the
Commander of the Forces that he may be pleased to allow me to have out of
the Commissary’s Stores sufficient Black Caps to complete the regiment.
others had begun to notice the regiment’s irregular headdress.
Major-General Sir Roger Hale Sheaffe reported to Governor-General Sir
George Prevost on 8 August that “their Caps for the year are such as are
issued to Regiments in the
White.” Sheaffe initially
sought to have the caps dyed black, which he found to be “very
expensive,” and therefore proposed simply that the 13th
Regiment should be permitted to “wear them as they are” rather than
deplete the Commissariat’s stores.
Prevost, ever a stickler for regulations was nevertheless unwilling
to have the oddity continue, and on 12 August his Military Secretary
forwarded approval of Williams’ request:
am honoured by the Receipt of your Letter of the 7th instant
which has been laid before the Commander of the Forces – His Excellency
is pleased to approve of the 13th Regt being supplied with
Black Felt Caps from the Commissariat Store at Montreal in exchange for an
equal number of White Felt Caps which have been supplied from England for
that Corps & Maj Genl Sir R.H. Sheaffe has been requested the
necessary Orders accordingly.
acknowledged the receipt of Prevost’s order on 16 August, and set about
issuing new caps to the regiment.
Thereafter, the 13th Regiment wore black ‘Belgic’
shakos until it departed
spring of 1815.
Regiment’s tropical dress provoked similar dissatisfaction amongst
military authorities, highlighted by an inspection on
15 June 1813
worn by the officers is not conformable to the King’s regulations, as
they wear white pantaloons and round hats, but caps, and grey pantaloons
for the officers, and grey pantaloons are also making for the regiment.”
The white shakos of the men appear not to have been remarked upon
at this time, presumably because they were considered normal in light of
the regiment’s recent Caribbean service, whereas the officers’
non-regulation round hats were an object of criticism.
Nevertheless, resources were less abundant in
, and the
men had to make do with their tropical-issue headdress.
much to their being clothed for
the men having served “for many years in the
John Sherbrooke, the Lieutenant-Governor judged them “ill calculated to
support the severity of the North American climate” and in March 1814
proposed to send the regiment back to
the 64th Regiment remained in
duration of the war. That July
the biannual inspection report noted “Officers and men wore white
shakos as ordered for corps serving in the West Indies,” indicating that
not only had the officers acquired white caps after their arrival in 1813
to match the rank & file, but that regiment had been unable to replace
their tropical headdress after more than a year of service in British
Assuming their 1812 or 1813-issue tropical caps were
entirely worn out by 1815, the regiment likely received black Belgic
shakos prior to their departure to
I would like to thank René
Chartrand for his kind assistance in providing information (particularly
with regards to the 64th Regiment) and photographs which
allowed me to complete this article.
May, R. & Embleton, G. Wolfe’s Army (
1997), p. 43. These were
described as “bladders,” and thus were presumably made from
leather or animal viscera inflated with air.
Strachan, H. British Military Uniforms 1768 – 1796 (London, 1975), pp. 196,
citing Adjutant-General to Trapaud, St. John, Gordon, Murray &
Marsh, London, 13 April 1789, National Archives of the United Kingdom,
War Office 3/27, pp. 49-50.
Ibid, p. 26, citing “Warrant on clothing for foreign stations,”
8 July 1791
NAUK, WO 30/13B, n.p.
Ibid, p. 199, citing “Warrant for establishing certain regulations
relative to clothing for recruits,”
16 December 1795
NAUK, WO 26/36.
Barthorp, M. Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign 1798 – 1801 (
2002), p. 20; Lawson, C.P. A History of the Uniforms of the British Army (
1967), vol. V, p. 9.
A Treatise On Military Finance,
Containing the Pay and Allowances of the Army and Instructions and
Regulations for Paymasters; With a Supplement in Which is Detailed the
Pay of Generals, Staff, and Medical Officers with Their Various
Allowances, and All the Official Finance Documents that Have Been
Issued During 1804 (London, 1805), pp. 349-50, 354.
Chartrand, R. British Forces in
– 1815 (
1998), pp. 11, 45.
Myerly, S.H. British
Military Spectacle: From the Napoleonic Wars Through the
1996), pp. 107, 251, citing “Report of the Board of General
13 July 1811
NAUK, WO 7/56, p. 121.
Head-Dress of the British Army, 1812,” Journal
of the Society for Army Historical Research 49 (Winter, 1971), p.
’s Army: The Uniform of the British
Soldier, 1812 – 1815 (
2002), plate 48.
Carman, W.Y. “A Likeness
of Assistant Surgeon John Brown, 89th Foot by John
Buncombe,’ Journal for the Society of Army Historical Research 49 (Spring,
1971), pp. 191-3. The 1/89th
were stationed in
1813 – 1816, hence Brown was painted wearing a tropical pattern
shako prior to his departure from
The original portrait is now in the possession of the
Chartrand, R. “White
Tropical British Shakos 1813 – 1814,” Military
Collector & Historian 58, No. 2 (Summer, 2006), p. 116, citing
an inspection report of the 89th Regiment at Bangalore, May
1814, NAUK, WO 27 / 130; Cattley,
A. “The British Infantry
Shako,” Journal for the
Society of Army Historical Research 15, No. 60 (Winter, 1936), pp.
Circular Order, Horse Guards,
, Library and Archives
Record Group 8 I, vol. 1168, pp. 225-6.
This order clearly indicates use of the “cap case” was
integral to prolonging the shako’s service life to two years.
Chartrand, R. British Forces in the
1997), p. 9.
Hofschroer, P. The Hanoverian Army of the Napoleonic Wars (
1995), pp. 39, 46.
19 December 1812
LAC, RG 8 I, vol. 677, pp. 294-6.
Ibid, p. 296;
13 February 1813
LAC, RG 8 I, vol. 678, p. 182.
28 June 1813
LAC, RG 8 I, vol. 703, p. 105; Garrison Order,
21 June 1813
LAC, RG 8 I, vol. 1203 ½ H, p. 159.
Cook, H. The
1970), p. 32.
Freer to Sheaffe,
12 August 1813
LAC, RG 8 I, vol. 1221, p. 33.
Williams to Freer,
7 August 1813
LAC, RG 8 I, vol. 838, p. 1.
Sheaffe to Prevost,
8 August 1813
LAC RG 8 I, vol. 679, pp. 357-9.
Freer to Williams,
12 August 1813
LAC, RG 8 I, vol. 1221, p. 35.
Sheaffe to Freer,
16 August 1813
LAC, RG 8 I, vol. 552, pp. 140-1.
Inspection Report of the 64th Regiment,
15 June 1813
NAUK, WO 27 / 117. This
and the subsequent citation from WO 27 are courtesy of René Chartrand,
to whom I am indebted for the information.
29 March 1814
LAC, RG 8 I, vol. 1022, p. 78.
Inspection Report of the 64th Regiment,
, July 1814, NAUK, WO 27 / 130.
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