PRESENTING THE COLOURS IN 1848 | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong


This first appeared in issue #2 of 'History Notes', compiled by the late Phillip Bruce. It is reproduced here on Gwulo by kind permission of Mr Bruce's family.

The first presentation of colours to a regiment in Hong Kong took place in 1848 and the event was recalled in the 1930s by local historian Jarrett.

"The regiment concerned was one of the earliest to garrison the colony, the 95th Foot, now known as the Second Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters.

The day, February 15, 1848, proving remarkably fine a numerous concourse of spectators assembled to witness the ceremony, 'on the Parade Ground at the new Barracks', and a little after four o'clock the regiment formed line at open order and received Major General D'Aguilar, CB, and staff. The band then trooped playing 'Savourneen Deelish', and returned with 'Auld Lang Syne'.

The grenadiers closed ranks and advanced 20 paces to the front, preceded by the band playing 'The British Grenadiers', then wheeled to the left, and proceeded to the centre of the line where they again wheeled to the left and faced the old colours. Having opened ranks, the two Ensigns with the old colours advanced to within a few paces of the grenadiers. The whole battalion then presented arms, the band playing 'God Save The Queen', after which the grenadiers closed ranks, and bringing their left shoulders forward so as to enclose the cold colours, moved off parallel to the line, the band playing 'The British Grenadiers'. On clearing the left of the line, the subdivisions received the word 'Right turn, left wheel, - halt', and the battalion received the word, 'Present arms', after which the grenadiers moved off in slow time in the usual manner...

Upon arriving at the centre of the line, the Ensigns with the colours assumed their usual place, and the grenadiers proceeded to their post on the right, and when formed, presented arms as the rest of the line.

The regiment next formed three sides of a square; and an alter of drums having been raised, the new colours were brought from the rear, and delivered for the consecration.

The Reverend Mr Steadman then came forward, and proceeded with this impressive ceremony on the conclusion of which the Majors handed the colours to Mrs and Miss Campbell, who, after a few appropriate words, delivered them to the Ensigns, Charlston and Minchin, who received them kneeling.

Major General D'Aguilar then rode forward, and having thanked the ladies for their kindness, addressed the Colonel, officers and men. This having been replied to by Colonel Campbell, the battalion re-formed line, the new colours remaining at the place of consecration guarded by the two officers next in seniority to the Colonel, Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Walter and Captain Champion.

The grenadiers again moved out to the front, and proceeded to the centre to receive and troop the new colours. Upon the arrival of the new colours at the centre of the line, the old colours then in charge of two Colour Sergeants, proceeded to the right of the line with the grenadiers, who, after presenting arms, marched with the old colours and delivered them over to the Regimental Guard, the band playing 'Auld Lang Syne'. Upon the grenadiers rejoining the line, the battalion broke into open order and marched past in slow and quick time; after which the line advanced and presented arms. The regiment then returned to quarters.

That did not conclude the celebrations. The old chronicles record that in the evening a ball was given by the officers.

The following day, February 16, at 2pm, a plentiful dinner of roast beef, plum pudding, with a pint of wine for each man, was provided for the privates by Colonel Campbell; and in the evening, sergeants with their wives, 'and a number of respectable civilians', sat down to a very handsome entertainment got up under the superintendence of Mr Dugdale of the Hong Kong Club. The regimental band was in attendance after dinner, when an adjournment was made to another room, where dancing was kept up with great spirit till past 11 o'clock when the party was reluctantly compelled to separate.

At the colour ceremony, the Rev Mr Steadman's address to the assembly was, in part, as follows:

'Soldiers of H.M. 95th Regiment - You are assembled here today to witness one of the most interesting and imposing ceremonies in which a regiment can be called upon to participate.

'The receiving of its colours naturally forms a remarkable period in the history of any corps, and must arouse in every bosom sentiments of loyalty and affection to our Gracious Queen by whom they are committed to your keeping; and I doubt not these will be honourably kept by you with as great gallantry and devotion as ever characterized British troops. On this point, however, it would be unbecoming in me to address you, and especially at the present time.

"But, soldiers, when you remember the solemn manner in which these colours are consecrated, and confided to you as a sacred pledge by the agency of religion, and we trust also with the blessing of Almighty God, you will, I am sure, consider too how much it is your duty, not only to defend them to the last by your bravery in battle, should your services be required; but also in time of peace to act as Christian soldiers, who recognise the sacred principles of religion in their daily life.'

Mr Steadman's remarks then took the form of a sermon, and he concluded with a prayer.

When presenting the new colours, Mrs Campbell, in her own name and that of Miss Campbell, spoke to the following effect:

'Colonel Campbell and the 95th Regiment - Miss Campbell and myself feel much interested as well as gratified in having the honour of presenting these colours to a regiment we have known so long, confident they are entrusted to those who will ably protect and guard them under every circumstances; and should the corps be called into active service, I feel assured they will do honour to their Queen and country, and fully maintain the high reputation already gained by the British army in all parts of the world.

'Our best wishes are offered for the honour, welfare, and happiness of the 95th Regiment.

'We deliver these colours, gentlemen, to your safe keeping, and trust in God that if ever they are unfurled in war, it will be in a just and righteous cause.'

General D'Aguilar then addressed the regiment:

'Colonel Campbell, officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the 95th Regiment - It is with feelings of no ordinary satisfaction that I am called upon to take part in the honourable ceremonial of this day.

'My long friendship for General l'Estrange, the Colonel of the Regiment (and whom I am too happy to represent on this occasion), my personal esteem for your immediate Commanding Officer, and my entire respect for the Ladies who have graced these proceedings with their presence, and honoured the regiment by presenting to it these colours in person - all these things have contributed to make me justly proud of the place assigned to me on this flattering occasion. (Mrs Campbell had handed the Queen's and Miss Campbell the Regimental Colour to the Ensigns appointed to receive them).

'Soldiers! The ceremonial which you have witnessed is not one of mere form. It has been consecrated with religious solemnity, in order to impress more strongly on your minds your highest military duties. It inculcates loyalty to your Queen, obedience to your officers, devotion to your country.

'The colours which you have received this day are composed of the three colours of the United Kingdom. They are a type of that union which forms our strength in peace and our defence in war. It will be your duty, under all circumstances and in every situation to consider them as your headquarters, to look upon them as your home in garrison, your rallying point in the field, and to defend them to the utmost, as your predecessors in arms have done, who nobly fought and bled in the service of your country. The same honourable career is open to yourselves; all you want is the occasion, and I feel satisfied that you will profit by it.

'But of one thing be assured, there is no road to distinction in war that is not founded upon discipline in peace. If you mean to defend these colours with success - if you mean to emulate the conduct of the old 95th, whose name you bear, if you will rival them in honour and renown, and aspire, like them, to the character in the highest sense of the word, of British soldiers - you must be governed by the same principle that has governed them at all times. That principle is - subordination. You must observe all the rules of discipline and good order laid down for your obedience to your officers, and your uniform correct behaviour in quarters, that you are worthy candidates for honour in the field. The general good conduct of the 95th since it was placed under my command, and my long antecedent knowledge of it, satisfy me that it is to be depended upon at all times; and I take occasion in this place to say, if recent occurrences had led to a demand for your exertions, that I should have been proud and happy to have found myself with Colonel Campbell at your head.

'Soldiers! I will not detain you longer. I will only impress upon you with my last and latest words to maintain discipline.

'If you wish to defend these colours with success; nay, more, if you wish to preserve these colours from reproach, maintain discipline; and, strengthened by its aid, may your arms be blest by Providence with victory, and yourselves pursue a long career of honour and renown in the service of a grateful country.'

Colonel Campbell replied:

'General D'Aguilar - the gratifying duty devolves upon me to acknowledge, in the name of the 95th Regiment, the very kind and complimentary manner in which you have been pleased to address us; and I am happy to have it in my power to concur in the good opinion you have so handsomely expressed of the good feeling manifest in the corps. I can safely assert that the same unanimity has existed ever since I have had the honour of being placed in command of the regiment, a period of nearly 17 years. And if I have on a very rare occasion of discipline, I have never been disappointed in receiving the cordial assistance of my officers, as well as ready obedience from the soldiers. It is true the 95th Regiment (I mean the young 95th) have it not in their power to talk of sieges and battles lost or won; but this is not their fault, and I must be allowed in justice to say that whenever they may be more actively employed in the field, the opinion you have formed and so handsomely expressed will prove to be well founded; and that the banners this day entrusted to their care by our gracious Sovereign the Queen, will be honourably guarded and defended while the corps exists.

I beg to thank you, Sir, for the kind notice you have been pleased to take of my humble services, and I feel gratified. it only requires to look around and view those handsome and commodious buildings, where every comfort has been provided by you for the soldier, and to proceed a little farther to see the splendid hospital - in fact, a palace - you have provided for the sick soldiers, to acknowledge that you are entitled to grateful remembrance for all these comforts, which have already saved so many valuable lives; the recollection of which will ever prove a cheering thought to yourself, as well as a lasting monument to record the anxious care and interest you take in the soldiers' welfare.

To you, Mr Steadman, I beg to offer in the name of the officers and soldiers of the 95th Regiment our most grateful thanks for the impressive and kind exhortation you have just delivered to the corps; and although I must confess that in the service, sometimes irregularities will occur, still it has ever been my anxious wish to impress on the minds of those under my command that the best Christian always makes the best soldier. I now, again, Reverend Sir, tender you our sincere and best thanks and acknowledgments.

The ladies who assisted in the ceremony of presenting the new colours, must naturally be supposed to feel much interest; and I am sure their good wishes, although briefly, have been sincerely expressed.