54th (West Norfolk) Regiment of Foot

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For other regiments with the same number, see 54th Regiment of Foot (disambiguation).

The 54th Regiment of Foot was an infantry regiment of the British Army.

Originally formed in 1755 at Salisbury as the 56th Regiment of Foot and renumbered as the 54th Regiment of Foot.[1] It was renumbered when the 50th Regiment and 51st Regiment were disbanded.[citation needed]

Deployments[edit]

The 54th served at:[2]

  • Gibraltar Station 1756—1765
  • America 1786—1781
  • Flanders 1794—1795
  • West Indies 1796
  • Egypt 1801
  • Gibraltar 1802—1805
  • Cape of Good Hope 1806
  • Buenos Aires & Montevideo 1806—1807
  • Baltic 1813
  • France 1814—1815
  • Cape (South Africa) 1819
  • Burma & India 1824—1840
  • India (Indian Mutiny) 1857—1866 & 1871—1886
  • South Africa 1900

Events[edit]

American Revolution[edit]

During the American Revolution, the 54th Regiment assaulted Fort Griswold in Groton, Connecticut on September 6, 1781 in the Battle of Groton Heights. The battle resulted in almost 80 American soldiers being massacred by the British after the American commander, Lieutenant Colonel William Ledyard, had surrendered.

In May 1778 100 men of the 54th Regiment of Foot embarked on boats to attack saw mills at Fall River, Massachusetts. The galley Pigot and some armed boats were to provide support. Pigot grounded, but the attack proceeded anyway. A sharp skirmish ensued when the troops arrived at their objective. Even so, they were able to destroy one saw mill and one grain mill, as well as a large stock of planks and boards, other buildings, some cedar boats, and so on. They then withdrew, having lost two men killed and five officers and men wounded. As the tide returned, Pigot was floated off, but as Flora towed her off, Flora lost two men killed and a lieutenant severely wounded.[3]

Sarah Sands fire 1857[edit]

On deployment to India during the Indian Mutiny about 350 men and five women of the headquarters, 54 Regiment, were aboard SS Sarah Sands, one of the earliest iron, screw type steamers, when fire broke out on 11 November 1857.[4] The ship had been built in 1846 and had previously been chartered by the British government for the Crimean War and was again under charter transporting troops and a large amount of powder and ammunition carried in two magazines.[5] The ship was a thousand miles from nearest land and outside shipping lanes, and if lost with all aboard would have been another mystery, though messages were placed in bottles that were never found.[4] Some of the crew, which had been troublesome since sailing, abandoned ship in the two best boats leaving the fire fight to the ship's officers, remaining crew and men of the regiment.[5] The ladies were put in a boat with what provisions could be found and Private William Wiles of the regiment and ship's Quartermaster Richard Richmond risked their lives to save the regimental colors from below decks.[6]

The starboard magazine was cleared of explosives but the port magazine was reached only through suffocating smoke and volunteers led by Major Hughes cleared what they could but two large barrels of powder could not be brought up to be thrown over board.[6] At about nine in the evening the fire broke through the deck, set fire to rigging and shortly after the expected explosion of the powder occurred blowing out the after cabins, remnants of the salooon and ship's port quarter, even causing the ship's stern to momentarily dip under water. Though rafts had been prepared the remaining crew and troops continued to fight the fire through the night, cutting through the deck and using buckets to fight the fire that was beginning to turn the iron hull red hot. By nine the next morning the fire was under control but the ship's after portion was entirely burned out, with even glass in the ports melted, and flooded with loose water tanks smashing against the hull. Those in boats were recovered, the stern was strengthened with an arrangement of chain and leaks stopped with sail and steering managed by a system of six men sitting on planks rigged each side of the rudder controlling it using ropes. Thus the ship made the nearly thousand miles to Mauritius arriving on 25 November despite miseries endured with short rations of food and water. The regiment was sent to Calcutta in another vessel and Sarah Sands was repaired enough to sail for Britain and full repair to sail for Bombay as a sailing ship—where she ran aground and was so badly damaged that she was abandoned.[6]

The iron construction, aided by three iron watertight bulkheads, one constantly kept cool by troops wetting it with water, saved the ship and probably all the lives and later substantially helped remove prejudice against iron vessels.[6]

Merger[edit]

The Regiment was renamed as 54th (West Norfolk) Regiment of Foot on 31 August 1782. As part of the Childers Reforms it was united with the 39th (Dorsetshire) Regiment of Foot, to form The Dorsetshire Regiment in 1881.

References[edit]

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