Tag: England

The Italian Hurdy Gurdy Men

Carlo Gatti is credited for introducing ice cream to the British as a street food. Throughout the 1850s, he peddled his sweet treats from his brightly painted cart. He and a few other ice cream vendors found such a ready market that they began bringing other Italians over to join them in the venture. These ice cream vendors were largely responsible for the popular take-away food culture that continues to thrive in some of England’s largest cities.

Carlo Gatti, 19th century ice-cream pioneer
Carlo Gatti, 19th century ice-cream pioneer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the economy in Italy took a nosedive, the trickle of Italian emigrants rapidly became a flood. Some went to America, though a large number made their home in Scotland. The established community of Italians began to bring friends and relatives in to work in the family industry. Padrones, or “benefactors”, would send agents back to Italy to recruit cheap labour for their enterprises – primarily the ice cream business. Carlo Giuliani was one of the most successful and well-known of the padrones, and he is credited with laying the foundation for the ice cream industry in Scotland.

Many Italian immigrants arrived with little to nothing, and initially made a living by begging or as itinerant musicians playing hurdy-gurdies on street corners. The hurdy-gurdy men and the beggars realized that they could make more money selling ice cream, and the padrones were all too eager to give them a barrow and take a cut of the profits.

Every morning throughout the warm summer months, the Italians would work their hand-cranks to freeze the ice cream mix they had prepared the night before, and then they would set off on their rounds. Throughout London, Manchester, Glasgow and other big cities, the ice cream vendors could be heard calling, “Gelati, ecco un poco!” This cry quickly earned them the nickname “hokey pokey men”.

While they were making more money, the immigrants were still grossly underpaid and lodged in poor conditions. During the winter months, many had to go back to working as hurdy-gurdy men to earn enough to survive. The Italians spoke little English at first, and many were subjected to mischief and abuse at the hands of local youth.

Photo credit: V & A Museum

Necessity forced the immigrants to persevere, however, and many soon became very successful. In a short 50 years between 1870 and 1920, the ice cream vendors had graduated from rickety hand carts and shabby slum shops to rather luxurious establishments. Ice cream cafes along Sauchiehall Street and in Glasgow’s city centre boasted leather-covered seats, glossy wooden booths and mirror-lined walls.

Carlo Giuliani himself was running three hugely successful cafes in Glasgow by 1890, and customers were pouring in by the thousands. He often had five or more assistants working behind the bar serving out ice cream and drinks like ginger ale.

The hand barrows slowly faded into oblivion as more immigrants moved into shops. Employees often aspired to owning their own establishment, and many would buy into a chain when they could prove their ability to turn a healthy profit. An immigrant could buy into a chain and get stocked up for about £150. Giuliani eventually established a huge network of cafes throughout Glasgow by using this system.

By 1905, there were an estimated 336 ice cream shops in Glasgow and the Italian population had reached nearly 5000. By the 1920s there was a whole new Scottish-born generation serving behind the counters of the family enterprises. At the same time, British Parliament passed the 1920 Aliens Order which required immigrants to gain a work permit before entering the country. The Italian government also passed stiff anti-emigration laws to stem the flow of its citizens. The Scottish-Italian community still thrives today, however, and their food and culture is widely celebrated

The Shotely Bridge Swordmakers

In the late 1600s, a colony of Germans quietly settled in at Shotely Bridge and set up what would become the heart of Britain’s sword making industry. The little group of families, led by the Oleys and Moles, had fled from Solingen in 1688, though no one knows why for certain. Some have suggested that they were fleeing religious persecution. Other sources indicate that they may have been escaping the wrath of a local sword maker’s guild whose secrets they had betrayed.

The Solingen 02
The Solingen 02 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whatever the reason for their arrival, they found an ideal home in Shotely Bridge. Naturally, they wanted a locale where they could maintain the secrecy of their trade, and they spent some time searching for the perfect home. They initially looked near London before making their way north, exploring along the banks of the Tyne. It wasn’t until 1691 that they came upon the sequestered spot a few miles from Ebchester. The tiny village of Shotely Bridge was remote and the very soft water of the Derwent was perfect for tempering steel.

It is quite apparent that a number of German immigrants had settled in the region earlier in the century as well, and this may be an additional factor in why the sword makers chose to make Shotely Bridge their home. The register in the nearby town of Ebchester shows an entry recording “Eleanor, the daughter of Matthias Wrightson Oley, baptized 1628.” The Wrightsons were an old family in Ebchester and it seems that a number of German Oleys had arrived in the region several decades before the Shotely Bridge settlers.

They were an overall respectable people. The quiet settlers were industrious with strong moral and religious principles. They established themselves easily, mingling freely with natives of the dale. The sword makers of Shotely Bridge quickly gained a reputation for the outstanding quality of their swords, knives and cutlery. They became widely known for their skill in engraving and gilding and the art of tempering steel – an art that was unknown in England before their arrival. There was one weapon though, that none in England could imitate: the hollow sword blade. These blades took special skill that few but the Shotely Bridge sword makers possessed.

Skull showing sword-blade trauma, 1903
Skull showing sword-blade trauma, 1903 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the Napoleonic wars began, demand for good swords rose sharply and Shotely Bridge was the primary provider of the needed weapons. Rather than manufacturing their own iron as was common at the time, the sword makers purchased high quality Swedish iron from Danmora. From this high quality iron they produced the steel used in their craft.

For many years the Germans, and particularly the Oley family, enjoyed great prosperity. They enjoyed high profits, their workmen had high wages, and there was an enormous demand for their products. When William Oley died in 1808, nearly the whole of the village and surrounding territories were owned by the Oley family.

Unfortunately, William Oley’s sons neglected the trade. Competition in the sword making industry increased, and as the Napoleonic war ended, so did the demand.

Today, most of the old German families have faded away, though a few remain. Besides a few Oleys, we can find a number of Molls (though they now spell their name Mole). Sword blades are no longer made in Shotely Bridge, however, and the art has been lost with time and neglect.

Further Reading

The Sword Makers of Shotley Bridge

Swordsmiths in England

Surnames of North East England

Short Sea Migration to the UK

As travel increased in the 19th century, British railway companies began to branch into cross-channel services. The 60 or so railway operating companies owned a huge fleet of some 1,250 ships, ranging from tugs and dredgers to cross-channel ferries and pleasure steamers. Many of the larger companies invested massively in the venture, placing a huge value on providing comfortable and dependable short sea crossings.

English: Victoria Station entrance Built in 18...
English: Victoria Station entrance Built in 1851 for the Manchester Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

British ports served as a gateway from continental Europe to Canada and the United States, thus, there was a great demand for the services that the railways offered. The railway companies met the demand by taking the shortest practicable sea route, and even constructing special harbours to connect the ship route to existing railways. Some railway companies even took ownership of strategic canals to facilitate this process.

Early in the game, the government had attempted to protect smaller existing enterprises by putting stringent restrictions in place to prevent railway companies from owning ships. Of course, the railways quickly found loopholes in the legislation by simply setting up lightly disguised subsidiary companies. The London and South Western Railway, for example, held a large interest in the South Western Steam Navigation Co, founded in 1842. The Brighton and Continental Steam Packet Co, founded in 1847, was held in large part by the London Brighton and South Coast Railway.

By 1863, however, the railways were collectively granted permission to run passenger steamers across the channel. From early on, the railways ran large operations of steamers from the ports of Goole, Grimsby and Hull in Humber. Most routes were focused primarily on cargo, meaning that there was typically room for no more than 12 passengers. The routes from Hull as well as the routes linking Grimsby with large European ports, on the other hand, ran steamers that could accommodate up to 450 passengers at a time.

The Great Central Railway (originally called the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway) became a very popular way for emigrants to journey from mainland Europe through the UK and on to their final destination in North America. The GCR ran ships to Grimsby on the East Coast from some of the most important ports in Northern Europe, including Hamburg and Antwerp, Riga and Libau. From the Grimsby port, GCR trains would take passengers to Manchester and then on to Liverpool, from which most ships sailed to the United States and Canada.

The White Hart, Alfred Gelder Street, Kingston...
The White Hart, Alfred Gelder Street, Kingston Upon Hull (Photo credit: D H Wright)

Since the Railway operated both the ships and the trains, they were able to offer combined tickets in a packet price. Emigrants from Hamburg, for example, could visit one ticket agent and buy their ticket for their short sea crossing and their train ride across the UK to Liverpool.

Quite a large number of emigrants chose this route on the GCR on their way to North America. In fact, the only comparable competition to this line was a similar package offered through the port in Hull, where emigrants – Scandinavians in particular – traveled via the Paragon Railway Station.

A huge number of Jewish immigrants came at this time from modern day Lithuania, and between 30,000 and 70,000 Russian and Polish emigrants also flowed through the Humber ports. The majority of these (as high as 63 percent) made their journey via the Grimsby steamers and trains of the Great Central Railway.

In all, Grimsby saw over 100,000 emigrants flow through its port and along its railway. When the exodus from Europe was at its pinnacle, as many as 5,000 emigrants a year flowed through the British borders, swelling the population of Grimsby from a mere 8,860 in 1851 to 40,000 by 1880.

Some of the immigrants did settle in Northern England – most of them concentrating along the travel route in Grimsby, Hull, Manchester, Leeds, and Liverpool. However, the majority of the European emigrants held tickets through to Canada or the United States and carried on with their journeys to North America after a brief period of weeks or months in England.

The Lascars of London and Liverpool

Reproduction ID: P85233 Maker: Marine Photo Se...

As the British maritime trade expanded throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, ships began to look further afield for seasoned sailors. Indian seamen – or “Lascars” – had been serving on European ships since Vasco da Gama hired an Indian pilot in the late 15th century, so naturally, the British shipping lines turned to this ready force. Throughout the 1870s, a huge number of Lascars were contracted into service for the United Kingdom, as the British East India Company recruited seamen from Yemen, Assam, Bengal, and Gujarat.

The Lascars played a valuable role throughout this period, and manned many British ships through times of war and times of peace. Their skillful ship handling ensured safe passage of merchandise as it was shipped from the Orient to London and other British ports.

Despite their skill and invaluable contribution to the commerce of the day, the Lascars were unfortunately treated very unfairly. They served on the British ships under “lascar agreements”, which gave ship owners an undue power over the Indian sailors.

Lascars were paid a pittance, making a mere 5% of the white sailors’ wages, while being expected to work at far longer hours. They were given food in smaller portions and of inferior quality. They were often quartered in the most cramped and dingy areas of the ship with the poorest ventilation.

The Lascars lived under conditions not unlike slavery, as ship owners could retain their services for up to three years at a time, transferring them from one ship to the next on a whim. They sometimes served as deck crewmen, though more often they worked as stokers below decks, as the task was deemed to be below the dignity of a white man.

Not surprisingly, there were many desertions among the lascar ranks. Others were forced to wait in England for long periods before they could find work on a ship returning to India. When the Navigation Acts were passed, many Indian sailors arriving in London could not even be reemployed for return journeys, and thus, they were simply abandoned.

Lascar and unknown ship
Lascar and unknown ship (Photo credit: ballasttrust)

The impoverished and ill-prepared Lascars would be left to fend for themselves, wandering the streets of London, Liverpool and other ports, often forced to beg in order to survive. Many took up low-paying, menial jobs sweeping streets or peddling. Initially, many would sleep out on the streets or in sheds on the docks.

Eventually, the ports at London, Liverpool, Southampton, Cardiff, Manchester, and Glasgow began to provide temporary housing for the Lascars; though these barrack homes were often filthy and pest-ridden. By the 1930s, conditions had improved somewhat, and Lascars  were able to find lodging and eventually employment through The Stranger’s Home or other similar Indian lodging houses in East London.

A substantial community of Indian sailors grew up in East London, Liverpool, and other seaport towns, and by World War I, there were 51,616 Lascars settled across Britain. As the Indian sailors integrated into the community, many of their customs and festivals became part of the British social scene. A Parsi chapel and cemetery were established, and eventually a mosque.

Many of the Lascars took British wives, and thus further integrated into the British culture and community. In fact, at one point, the Lascar seamen were almost exclusively marrying white women as there were very few Indian women in England at the time. While some expressed disgust over this interracial marriage, there were no legal restrictions against the mixed marriages. This resulted in a strong interracial community being established in Britain’s major port cities.

Immigrants Made Good – Prince Rupert of the Rhine

Prince Rupert of the Rhine, nephew of King Cha...
Prince Rupert of the Rhine, nephew of King Charles I, grandson of James I, great-grandson of Mary, Queen of Scots (Photo credit: lisby1)

Prince Rupert was born in Prague on December 17th of 1619. He was the third son of German prince Fredrick V, Elector Palatine and Elizabeth, sister of King Charles I of England. When Prince Fredrick laid claim to the throne of Bohemia in 1620, the Hapsburg Emperor answered in force and Fredrick’s family was exiled to Holland. They spent their years in the court of the Prince of Orange, where young Rupert grew up and was well-educated in mathematics, art, music, and the major European languages. He was brilliant, but headstrong, and his obnoxious antics quickly earned him the nickname “Rupert the Devil.”

Though he was academically brilliant, his passion was fully focused on the military, so at age 14, he joined the forces of the Prince of Orange at the siege of Rhynberg. Two years later, the Prince included Rupert as a member of his lifeguard during the invasion of Brabant. In 1636, Rupert and his elder brother Charles Louis (now Elector Palatine) journeyed to the court of King Charles in England. The King was impressed by young Rupert and awarded him with an honorary MA at Oxford.

He returned to Holland and continued in military service, first serving the Prince of Orange and then joining Charles Louis on a campaign to regain the electorate. The campaign ended poorly, however, and Rupert was captured by the forces of Austrian General Melchior von Hatzfeldt at the Battle of Vlotho. He was held prisoner at Linz for three years, where he whiled away the time studying military textbooks, learning the art of engraving, and carrying on an affair with the daughter of the governor of Linz.

Eventually, King Charles was able to arrange for Rupert’s release and in August 1642, Rupert and his younger brother Maurice arrived in England. Civil war has just broken out in England, and this provided Rupert with a perfect opportunity to advance his military ambitions. King Charles bestowed the Order of the Garter on Rupert and placed him in command of the King’s Cavalry.

He fought his first major battle at Edgehill in October of 1642. He was absolutely fearless and his cavalry charge routed the parliamentarians. Unfortunately, his impetuosity carried him away once more and rather than staying at the battlefield to help ensure a decisive victory, he took off after the routed enemy cavalry, chasing them too far. His dashing fearlessness served him well for the most part though, and he quickly earned an almost legendary reputation amongst the Roundheads. Some even credited him (and his dog Boye) with supernatural powers.

Though he had earned a formidable reputation through military success, his relations with his fellow commanders were tense. Most found him unbearably arrogant and impetuous, while he thought them overly cautious and direly unprofessional.

He continued to lead superbly up until his outstanding relief of the Siege of York in 1644. Just months later, however, his forces were defeated by a parliamentary army at Marston Moor. The Royalists rapidly lost York, and then the north of England. After the Royalists were once again defeated at the Battle of Naseby in 1645, Rupert advised Charles to seek a treaty with Parliament; however, the king would hear nothing of it. When Rupert surrendered Bristol to the Parliamentary forces, Charles stripped him of his commission and Rupert went into exile in Holland.

Rupert held a number of military posts throughout Europe and spent a decade in the West Indies and Germany. When the monarchy was restored in 1660, Rupert returned and was given a series of commands in the British naval forces. He was appointed admiral of the English fleet in 1673, but retired following a number of English losses.

After a serious attack of pleurisy, Prince Rupert died on November 29, 1682 at his house at Spring Gardens. He was buried at Westminster Abbey after a full state funeral.

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German Pork Butchers in Britain


Before burgers, fish and chips and kebabs came the original takeaway: German pork pies, sausages, rissoles and other ready-made foodstuffs. During the 19th century, while most European emigrants were making their way to North America, a significant number of Germans were quietly making England their new home

Pork packing in Cincinnati. Print showing four...
Pork packing in Cincinnati. Print showing four scenes in a packing house: “Killing, Cutting, Rendering, [and] Salting.” Chromo-lithograph of the cartoons exhibited by the Cincinnati Pork Packers’ Association, at the International Exposition, at Vienna.. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the Hohenloheregion in the north-east of Germany, population growth, agricultural depression and a series of crop failures provided a significant push-factor. Germans from the region began looking outward for new opportunity, with a number of skilled professional butchers making their way to England in 1817.

The butchers quickly established themselves and found a ready market in the rapidly-expanding cities of Northern England. Industrialization was leading to a burgeoning population who demanded cheap, ready-made basic foods. The butchers had arrived at an opportune moment to serve a market of factory workers who wanted a convenient, hot meal after finishing work.

The demand quickly outstripped the supply, leading more butchers to open shops across England. In Sheffield, for example, one lone butcher shop in 1817 grew to 14 shops by 1883, and 18 shops by 1914. Soon, the number of qualified Hohenlohe butchers could no longer meet the demand, so they called out to young men back home.

Young farmers’ sons were ready and able to take up the challenge. Once the winter set in, they jumped into butchery courses where they learned the art of slaughtering and butchering. Back home, their mothers taught them to produce the savory German sausages and salted, smoked and pickled meats that were in such high demand in England. With well-honed skills, the young butchers entered the British market near the middle of the 19th century.

As butchers grew wealthy, some sent letters home recruiting young women for household help. Others wrote home looking for wives. German women answered the call, bringing with them a whole set of skills and delightful family recipes to add to the butchers’ offerings.

Butchers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The German butchers and their families quickly spread to all parts of Northern England, eventually establishing themselves as far afield as Scotland and Ireland. Butcher shops were soon opened in London as well as the German community continued to spread and grow.

The demand for cheap, ready-made foods continued to grow, and in the 1870s, the immigrant butchers called for a third wave of emigrants. A whole new flock of young apprentice butchers and young girls finished school and set off for work in Britain. The boys immediately jumped into their new employment, and girls served in German households.

A 1897 newspaper ran a story documenting the phenomenon, noting “The Germans created this business amongst us … In every town there are many of them, and there is now hardly a village (…) throughout the North of England that has not one or more. Englishmen have all along been to blame for neglecting the pig as a subject of human food (….). But the German is the pork man par excellence”

At first, the Germans stayed in close, tightly-knit communities. They spoke little English, and maintained their traditions, customs and stories. Eventually, however, they realized that their enterprise would be better served by integration into British society. This allowed them to thrive even further, with some taking leading positions in pork butchers’ associations.

Unfortunately, the two World Wars brought widespread intolerance toward the German butchers. The once-thriving business went into decline, and the rich history of the Hohenlohe butchers was greatly diminished. A few establishments did make it through, like the Herterichs in Ireland and the Haffners in Burnley; however, little remains today of the once-famous German takeaway specialties.


1. New light on the German Pork Butchers in Britain (1850 – 1950)” by Karl-Heinz Wuestner, Ilshofen, Germany http://www.surrey.ac.uk/cronem/files/conf2009papers/Wuestner.pdf

All roads lead to London

Every English child can recite the story of Dick Whittington, the poor country boy who finds fame and fortune – and eventually becomes Lord Mayor of London thanks to the ratting skills of his cat.  Richard Whittington was the real-life inspiration behind the story, and while he wasn’t a poor orphan, he was a younger son with no inheritance. He set off for London, intent on making his fortune as a mercer, and ended up making his name as a successful trader. In the end, he did indeed become Lord Mayor of London and eventually a Member of Parliament.

Portraits of Sir Richard Whittington, & his Ca...
Portraits of Sir Richard Whittington, & his Cat from an original painting at Mercers Hall. 19th Century engraving printed for Alex Hogg and Co, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whether you’ve heard the historical account or the whimsical rendition, the story of Dick Whittington exemplifies the aims of so many who come to the big city seeking their fortunes. As many capital cities do, London acts as something of a magnet for the general population. The allure of the big city, the greater potential for employment and the promise of opportunity continues to draw people in, just as they once did for young Dick Whittington.

An ever-growing population

Today, London is growing more rapidly than ever. In fact, in eight short years (from 2001-2009), the population of London expanded by more than 430,000, bringing the population count over 7.75 million. London is the UK’s single most populated region, with an average of 4,900 people per square kilometer. To break that down a little further, the city of London makes up just 0.6 percent of the UK’s land area, yet it hosts approximately 12.5 percent of the UK population.

Certainly, some of the population growth could be attributed to births; however, upon further inspection, this hardly explains the massive population growth. Upon examination of the bills of mortality, historically London’s death rate has always outweighed the rate of births in the city. Thus, we can assume that the majority of London’s growth is due to migration.

The impact on London’s economy

Whether they come from abroad, smaller towns within the UK or migration from the countryside, those who migrate to London find work across a broad spectrum of industries. They can be found in upper echelons of financial and business services, as well as in humble construction jobs; however, today many of those surveyed seem to drift toward the catering and hospitality business.

Wherever they find work, migrants produce two specific positive effects on London’s economy. The first is a qualitative effect, as migrants bring new flexibility, diversity, and skill sets to the work environment. The second is a quantitative contribution to the job market, as the high numbers of labourers reduce upward wage pressure.

Unfortunately, many migrants are concentrated in the low-earning segment. While jobs are abundant, labourers are also abundant, placing a steady downward pressure on wages in an already low-paid sector. In spite of this, there has been no significant increase in unemployment rates as of yet.


Accommodation of migrants

As the population increases, accommodation becomes a serious concern. Some come into the city with the resources to buy housing; however, the high demand has put pressure on steadily-increasing housing prices. Fortunately, rents have remained somewhat stable in spite of increased demand.

Some migrants do come into the city with extremely limited resources, and are unable to find adequate accommodation. Most are not immediately eligible for social housing, making life particularly hard for migrant families. Eventually some become eligible for social assistance if their income remains low and their housing is below standard. Others, however, often face homelessness before receiving assistance.

Lord Mayors State Coach 1
Lord Mayors State Coach 1 (Photo credit: Gauis Caecilius)

The “most culturally diverse city in the world”

Migration can be an uncomfortable and politically-charged topic to discuss; however, many see the ongoing influx to be a good sign of the city’s modernity and adaptability. In spite of the various struggles that inevitably arise from ongoing migration – namely, poverty and low wages – London has remained socially cohesive and continues to look at in-migration as a positive thing.

The Mayor’s London Plan proclaims proudly that London is “the most culturally diverse city in the world,” noting that “London’s diversity is one of its great historical social, economic and cultural strengths.” With this perspective and an ongoing effort to assist new arrivals, migration should continue to have a positive impact on London.

The King’s German Legion

From the time George I ascended the throne of England in 1714 until the end of the reign of William IV in 1837, the Kings of England also ruled as Electorates over Hanover in Germany. In 1803, however, Hanover was occupied by Napoleonic troops. Though the German States had no quarrel with the French at the time, Napoleon justified his occupation of Hanover by pointing out that since it was under British rule, it was fair game.

English: A Sergeant 2nd Btn. (Light infantry) ...
A Sergeant 2nd Btn. (Light infantry) King’s German Legion, British Army, Waterloo (1815). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Due to extreme apathy on the part of the Hanoverian government, little importance had been placed on military strength in the electorate. The nominal strength of the armed forces, including infantry, cavalry, artillery and engineers was counted at 15,546. In reality, more than a third of these men were on furlough, leaving the real force at around ten thousand men. There were numerous vacancies throughout the regiments, leaving a dearth of both officers and soldiers. Fortresses had been neglected, and military discipline had relaxed almost to the point of being non-existent. Thus, when the Electorship of Hanover was overrun by French troops, the army of Hanover posed little opposition and quickly surrendered. This led to the signing of the Convention of Elbe, which formally dissolved the Electorate of Hanover.

George III refused to recognize the Convention of Elbe, however. He quickly sent off a letter to Colonel Friedrich von der Decken commanding him to raise a corps of soldiers to be called “The King’s German Legion.” In August of 1803, thousands of soldiers from the former electorate army emigrated to England to become part of the King’s legion. By December of 1803, the King’s German Legion was officially established and placed under the command of His Royal Highness Adolphus Frederick, Duke of Cambridge.

So many soldiers answered the call that they exceeded the original plans for a light corps. The King’s German Legion incorporated soldiers in all positions, including horse and foot artillery, light and heavy cavalry, light and line infantry, as well as a corps of engineers.

Though they had come from the rather undisciplined ranks of the Electoral army, the King’s German Legion became known for its outstanding discipline and fearsome fighting skills. Its cavalry ranked as one of the highest in the British army, and according to historian Alessandro Barbero, the Legion “had such a high degree of professionalism that it was considered equal in every way to the best British units.”

Edmund Wheatly, who procured a commission in the KGL in 1813 was duly impressed and noted that, “The Germans bear excessive fatigues wonderfully well, and … will march over six leagues (18 miles) while an Englishman pants and perspires beneath the labour of twelve miles.”

Though the Legion never fought on their own, they participated in numerous campaigns, lending their strength to the bulk of the British troops. They fought alongside the British in Hanover, Pomerania, Copenhagen, and Walcheren under General Sir John Moore. They then went on to serve under the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsular Campaign, fighting in the battles of Bussaco, Barrosa, Fuentes de Onoro, Albuera, Ciudad Rodrigo, Salamanca, Garcia Hernandez, Burgos, Venta del Pozo, Vittoria, San Sebastian, Nivelle, and Sicily, as well as throughout eastern Spain and Northern Germany.


Possibly the most famous, however, was their participation in the Battle of Waterloo. The 2nd Light Battalion, along with members of the 1st Light and 5th Line Battalions, dug in to defend the road at “La Haye Sainte.” Reinforcements were cut off before they arrived, and the KGL battalion was forced to defend the road and farmhouse for six hours without ammunition or reinforcement. Eventually, however, they had no choice but to retreat and abandon the farm.

After Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, Hanover once again came under British rule and was re-founded as the Kingdom of Hanover. A new Hanoverian army was formed, and some officers and soldiers of the Legion were integrated into its ranks. Others settled in England – particularly in Bexhill, where parish records show quite a number of marriages between KGL soldiers and local girls.

At its strongest point, the King’s German Legion employed approximately 14,000 soldiers and officers, though over the 13 years of its existence, the King’s German Legion counted as many as 28,000 men in its service at one time or another.

Traders and Nabobs – Migration and Trade with India

In the late 18th century, the implications of colonial expansion were being hotly debated. East India Company merchants in particular, were socially derided and criticized. These merchants, labeled “nabobs”, had amassed enormous fortunes through their business ventures in India, and effectively ruled huge territories in the name of Britain, thus increasing the trade, property and power of Great Britain. While they did serve a purpose, many looked on Britons of the East India Company as corrupt criminals at the worst, or vulgar nouveaux riches at best.

East India House in Leadenhall Street was the ...
East India House in Leadenhall Street was the London headquarters of the East India Company. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

British society saw them as despotic and given to decadence and “oriental vices”. This is partly due to the fact that European women were scarce in India until around 1837, so many of the traders took Indian wives or mistresses. Polite society at home looked on this as succumbing to the temptations of the exotic and largely unknown India.

After the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the East India Company transformed from a private trading enterprise into more of a ruling bureaucracy in India – with merchants acting as rulers or “princes” over the Indian territories. Seeing as the merchants of the EIC rarely stood higher than middle class, the elite in Britain were made increasingly uneasy about these nabobs ruling such a rich and populous resource. The Britons back home assumed that the nabobs would simply ransack the treasures of India for their own enrichment – to the detriment of the nation at large.

Toward the end of the 18th century, the nabobs were typically looked on as common criminals. For example, the anonymous satirical poem The Nabob or the Asiatic Plunderer depicts the Anglo-Indians as cruel and indifferent to the suffering of the native Indians. Some like Edmund Burke even passionately fought to defend Britain from the “vices” brought back by the nabobs from the east. He argued that the nabobs’ sole intent was to plunder, oppress and destroy India, and pressed for reform of the EIC.

Eventually, governor Lord Cornwallis and his successors did reform the way business was conducted and put much focus on overcoming nepotism and bribery among the nabobs in India. Britain also began to see the treasures of India as a way to relieve mounting British debts.

Slowly, Britain began to look on India less and less as the victim and more as a seducer and corrupter of British subjects. During the last part of the 18th century, this became ever more the sentiment toward India. Britain became convinced that India needed a “civilizing mission”, giving rise to the overwhelming notion of European superiority.

While the nabobs were no longer looked on as purely criminal, they were still considered “corrupted” by India. This caused ongoing negative sentiments toward them. The nabobs were left walking a very fine line of trying to fit into British society by masking their Indian connections while still holding on to that part of their lives. After all, many had Indian wives or mistresses and children – in fact, quite a significant Anglo-Indian community had formed.

English: Dutch East India Company Merchant Ship
English: Dutch East India Company Merchant Ship (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After living life as princes in India, some traders returned to England, hoping to expand (or at least maintain) the miniature empires they had built. While they had gained great wealth, the traders had little to no social standing in England, and they hoped to improve that as well. To their surprise, their welcome home was far from warm – in fact, the public reaction was near hostile. They were branded with extremely negative stereotypes and smeared in popular media.

The nabobs were also looked down upon for their “decadence” and “oriental tastes”. Diamonds, precious stones, gold and certain fabrics were heavily connected to the picture of the “wickedness” of the orient. Possessing these items was considered a serious lack of decorum. The nabobinas (women of the merchants) were typically condemned for their similar tastes for these luxuries.

Unfortunately, most nabobs often fared poorly financially in the end. Though some tried to live lives as country gentlemen, they were looked on as presumptuous by the ruling class. Some quickly lost their fortunes to gambling and other vices, while others like Warren Hastings even faced confiscation, disgrace and impeachment.

Forced Migration – Convicts to Australia

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the British correctional system became severely overburdened. The population of England rose dramatically, and London soon became overcrowded. Poverty and social injustice were rife, child labour and long working hours were widespread, and living conditions were squalid and filthy. Many were unemployed, and crime was rampant.

English: Black-eyed Sue and Sweet Poll of Plym...
Black-eyed Sue and Sweet Poll of Plymouth taking leave of their lovers who are going to Botany Bay (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Britain’s police and penitentiary system were practically non-existent. In fact, many government officials saw the concept of a circular prison as a very American concept, so for years, the “Bloody Code” dictated the death penalty for hundreds of crimes – many as insignificant as petty theft or minor property damage.

Fortunately, the Bloody Code was put to rest when lawmakers and judges felt that the death penalty was too harsh for many crimes. The few existing gaols of the day were so overcrowded, however, that the government converted old war ships into floating prisons moored in coastal waters. The prison hulks were horrible floating dungeons, infested with vermin and disease, poorly lit and with little ventilation.

Even by the standards of that day, the prison system soon was considered unacceptable treatment of convicts. With nowhere else to turn, the British government conceived the idea of transportation as a humane alternative to the death penalty and a practical solution to overcrowded prisons.

Initially, convicts were transported to America; however, with the onset of the American Revolution, Britain had to look elsewhere. They found a viable solution in Australia, and the first convict fleet set sail in 1787

On January 18, 1788, the fleet of ships arrived at Botany Bay, a spot that had been selected as appropriate for a penal colony. Upon arrival, however, the fleet found that the harbour was unsafe and lacked a fresh water supply, so they quickly moved on. Several days later, Captain Arthur Philip, the fleet commander, raised the British flag at Sydney Cove. A group of 751 convicts and 252 marines, along with their families, disembarked and there established the colony of New South Wales. This colony eventually became the modern city of Sydney.

Two more fleets followed quickly in 1790 and 1791. Captain Phillip, who became Governor of the colony, put convicts to work according to their particular skills and regardless of their previous crimes. Men laboured as carpenters and brick makers, farmers, shepherds, and cattlemen. Educated convicts were put to work in record-keeping.

Women, on the other hand, were considered best fit to being wives and mothers. When a female convict got married, she was freed from her servitude and released to care for her husband and subsequent children.

If convicts were well-behaved and productive, they could earn a ticket of leave, giving them greater freedom. Once a convict completed his sentence (usually seven years), he was issued a Certificate of Freedom, with which he could either return to England or settle in Australia.

New penal colonies were eventually established in Port Arthur, Tasmania and Norfolk Island. These communities were considered to be places of secondary punishment where convicts suffered harsher labor and solitary confinement.

In 1803, 300 convicts arrived in Sullivan Bay near modern-day Sorrento, Victoria. While this settlement was quickly abandoned due to poor environmental conditions, others were established and between 1844 and 1849, around 1,750 convicts arrived in the region from England.

In 1850, new convicts were beginning to arrive in Western Australia. Between 1850 and 1868, 9,668 convicts were transported to the new colony on 43 convict ships. The initial convicts were sent from the New South Wales colony in 1826 with the mission of establishing a settlement there.

By the 1830’s, opposition was growing toward the transportation of convicts to the colonies. Members of the Independent Congregation Church in England were especially outspoken and influential in ending the transportation of convicts.

By 1840, convict transportation to the New South Wales colony had ceased, and Brisbane had stopped receiving convicts the previous year. For some years Van Diemen’s Land continued to receive prisoners; however, the practice was under steady attack by the anti-transportation movement.

The last convict ship to arrive in Australia arrived on January 10, 1868. Approximately 164,000 convicts on 806 ships were relocated to Australia throughout the 80 years of convict transportation.


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