James Pipon 1805-1808

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James Pipon 1805-1808

This article by A J N Young was first published in the 1984 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

In the first part of the story of James Pipon (James Pipon of Noirmont in the Commissariat - 1797-1804) he was seen in relatively subordinate positions. In this second section of his career he has assumed greater responsibilities, both when in charge of a large area in the west of England and once again abroad as Senior Commissary for the expedition to north Germany, followed by a long spell in London.

This period of Pipon's service in England is particularly well documented through two of his letter books and much of the correspondence to which they refer. He was in charge there from April 1804 to October 1805, with a break of three months during the summer of 1805. During this time an important event in James' life took place, for he was married to Elizabeth Dobbyn Hodges at the church of St Laurence Pountney, London.


His letter of appointment gave him two initial tasks, to set up storehouses at Bristol and Gloucester. This was to be done, needless to say, at the lowest possible rent. He lived at first at Bristol, but soon moved to Bath, a pleasant city indeed, and also the Headquarters of the Commanding Officer of the area, Major-General Tarleton.

The Bristol store soon proved to be unsatisfactory, one of the first of a long chain of misfortunes which dogged James throughout this period, through no fault of his own. Not long after many quarters of oats and 80 bags of biscuit had been deposited he had to report that "an innumerable quantity of corn weevils have crept out of the ceilings and floors so as to render it necessary to vacate this magazine and hire another". However, a better store was found and we hear nothing more of note from Bristol.

Pipon was obviously concerned at this bad start in his new post, for later in this letter to Deputy Commissary General Bullock in London he wrote: "I hope you will excuse my having taken up so much of your time in attending to my explanation, as it is with the wish to inform the Comm General that this incident which I am about to remedy could not be foreseen and that I trust not to incur any blame".


This slight trouble at Bristol was nothing compared with the problems which arose at Gloucester. The first storekeeper there, Charles Jones, proved incapable of carrying out his task properly. He appears to have been not well enough educated to cope with the paper work, as examples of his spelling show. "I waited on the Mayor and he would not here me", for instance, and "No person is employed in this building nor as been since the piers were erected."

James visited him in May and saw the mayor, as well as the owner of the store. But returns still came in late and often wrongly completed. When corrected, Jones took umbrage and sent in his resignation. Pipon wrote, in accepting this, rather sadly but with evident annoyance: "After the trouble I have taken to instruct you, and I should have hoped by this time successfully, I am surprised you should make me this return."

The new storekeeper, Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Alcock, a very different stamp of man, though efficient, brought no great relief to James, as he plied him with letters of a most tedious nature. They are long-winded, full of small details and queries, and expressed in flowery style. On taking over at the end of June, for instance, he wrote: "Accept my thanks, Sir, for your obliging offer to assist with any further explanations I may deem necessary, but from your very clear and simple instructions to Mr Jones (of which he has afforded me the perusal,) I think the line of duty too clearly marked to render that trouble necessary."

Referring later to Pipon's assurances of his zeal and ability, he wrote:" on the former you may depend, the latter time will exhibit". Other characteristic expressions of Alcock's seem quaintly pompous for the circumstances, for example: "He persisted in his determination to carry out his plan, accompanied by many observations of which I do not choose to become the vehicle".

The person referred to here was a third cause of anxiety to James, and of course to Alcock himself. This was a Mr Charles Pugh, owner of the store which he took over, but which he soon decided was inadequate. Mr Pugh made difficulties over the form of notice he was given and threatened to take legal action to obtain his rights. On 31 October he presented a bill in the presence of witness declaring that if it were not met he would proceed next day to Bristol, take out a writ and have Pipon arrested. Alcock had "apprehended that Pugh might be troublesome. His is clever", he added, "and may be vindictive". However Pipon had taken good care to obtain the support of Deputy Commissary General Bullock in London in this matter. Evidently nothing more came of it, as no further letters on the subject are to be found.

Even the new store was to have its share of misfortune. Owing to the arrival of the winter coal supply, to which priority had to be given, the carrier engaged by Alcock to move the stores had no horses available. When at last the sacks were being off-loaded into the loft, part of the floor collapsed, sinking into a workshop beneath. Luckily noone was there at the time, but Alcock said he had left only minutes before.

Volunteer Regiments

Apart from these and other common problems of the Commissaries in England at this time, Pipon was burdened with much extra work in connection with the Volunteer Regiments which were being raised in every county and city to serve in the event of invasion. The Commissaries had to procure returns of wagons, carriages and horses and settle with the Officers Commanding for the cost of providing seats to make the various vehicles fit for the transport of troops. There were also returns of manpower to be rendered. As the Severn District was very large, including the whole of South Wales and extending northwards into Worcestershire and Herefordshire, and south into parts of Somerset, the work involved was considerable, covering, as it did, no fewer than 22 units.

There can have been none of the sense of urgency in this district which James had experienced in Kent, so close to France, and he had often to write requesting speedier reporting of the information needed as, for example, this to Monmouth and Gloucester: "I am again to request that you exert yourself to transmit to me those returns for your County with the least delay possible." He told Deputy Commissary General Bullock: "To my letters addressed to the Deputy Lieutenants or Magistrates at each of the principal towns in the six Welsh counties I have only received an answer from Lord Dynevor, Lieutenant for Carmarthen. I much apprehend that any measures taken in the other counties of Wales may be equally tardy".

All in all it must have been with feelings of relief that James heard in October 1805 that he was to report to London and would be promoted and proceed on foreign service, though the latter news was probably less acceptable to one so recently married. The account of his journey is of interest, showing the routes and cost of travel in those days. He left Bath on 19 October and took the coach via Devizes, Marlborough, Hungerford, Newbury, Reading and Hounslow, up the old Bath Road, at a cost of £8 10s 9d, with an overnight stop.

North German Campaign

On arrival in London James learnt from Mr Secretary Huskisson that he was to go to north Germany as Deputy Commissary General for a large force. This meant his having an assistant and five others under him, with his pay increased to £2 per day. He travelled at once to Ramsgate to embark in the frigate Ariadne, but he found, not surprisingly, that this ship had already sailed, so he had to move on to Deal, and after some delay reached Cuxhaven on 8 November.

Meanwhile, on 10 October, only a few days before the Battle of Trafalgar, embarkation orders had been issued for 6,000 men of the King's German Legion and other British troops, including 2,000 men of the Brigade of Guards. In command of this force was none other than Lieut-General George Don, a man to be beloved of Jerseymen, a fact not of course known to Pipon at the time. Early in November it was decided to dispatch another 12,000 troops, and overall command was then entrusted to Lord Cathcart, Commander-in-Chief in Ireland, who took over on Christmas Day.

The story of this expedition is worth examining, if only as an example of the way in which the hopes of politicians can be so rudely frustrated with much wasted effort, expense and discomfort to the troops concerned.

Pitt, having concluded a triple alliance (Third Coalition) of Britain, Austria and Russia, planned first to occupy Hanover, with the support of Prussian and Swedish troops, and, secondly, if conditions proved favourable, to march on Holland, a country which Britain felt instinctively must be rescued from Napoleon's clutches. Meanwhile, events had occurred which were to make these plans unattainable. Deciding in August 1805 to abandon the idea of invading Britain, Napoleon, acting with extreme speed and skill, marched his armies from France towards Austria. This led in late October to the surrender of a large Austrian army under General Mack at Ulm and on 2 December to the important and crushing defeat of the Russians and remaining Austrians at the battle of Austerlitz.

French diplomatic pressure soon persuaded Frederick William of Prussia, an indecisive man, not to join in any invasion of Holland. The King of Sweden not only held Frederick William in contempt, but was himself mentally unstable. After Austerlitz, the Russians could also make no contribution. The British Commander was put in an impossible position, so when, to add to the difficulties for Britain, Pitt died on 23 January 1806, the whole British force was ordered to abandon the campaign and re-embark as soon as possible.

Lord Fortescue, the historian of the British Army, wrote of the whole affair as "an egregious farce", adding: "How anyone could expect for a moment that a mixed force in great measure dependent on the wills of such men as the Kings of Sweden and Prussia could operate successfully against such a master of energy and action as Napoleon, it is difficult to see".

Problems of the Commissariat

It was unfortunate, therefore, for Pipon that his first senior appointment should have been under such unsatisfactory conditions. In the cold, wet northern winter, with the river Weser frozen over more often than not, and roads, such as they were, choked with mud or snow, he had to provide food and forage for thousands of troops and hundreds of horses. Further, he was supposed to be making preparations for similar supplies to be available when the campaign proper should open, about which the Commander-in-Chief himself was necessarily in the dark. It is no wonder that when he returned to London it took a good 18 months to complete the accounts, and it is greatly to his credit that he carried out the task satisfactorily, as can be seen from the large quantity of documents surviving among his papers.

The problems he faced were quite different from those of his previous overseas service in Egypt. In Europe there were plenty of contractors ready to do business with an invading army, because not all the stores required could possibly be supplied from England. On arrival, Pipon was at once approached by the firm of Kulencamp and Co of Bremen, who had been agents for the British Army in 1793-4. They found him lodgings and supplied all his requirements for office furniture, movable boxes, printed pro-formas and other stationery, to his own specifications. They claimed a commission of 2 per cent as previously granted and commended themselves in ornate language as follows: "Be convinced that the interest of Government lays us on heart and that we shall endeavour to execute your order at the best terms and to your satisfaction".

Similar language was used by the firm of Lindemann and Macnamara of Emden. After claiming that their extensive personal connections at Hamburgh, Bremen, Holland etc. would enable them to supply the British Army with every article of subsistence it might require, they concluded: "Permit me, Sir, to assure you that any object in this offer is not the acquirement of unreasonable profits." However, as they said that they wanted 2½ per cent commission, Pipon wisely turned them down.

Apart from the basic activities of the Commissariat, Pipon was much exercised during these three months with other important problems. The first was the provision of cash. An order of 10 November fixed the rate of exchange at 5½ rixdollars or thalers to the pound sterling, but the army was paid in pistoles, worth 5 dollars each. Many documents give evidence of the extra time needed to calculate this exchange rate correctly, not only because the rixdollar was divided into 24 'good' groschen, each of which was worth 12 pfennigs. Accuracy down to the smallest coin was of course insisted upon.

Money was raised in Hamburgh by the firm of Thornton and Parish. When it is realised that Hamburgh is some 100 kilometres from Bremen, where Pipon was stationed, and in which area most of the army was billeted, and much cash had to be transported in wagons over moderate roads in wintry conditions, it is not surprising that Messrs Kulencamp and other agents complained of payments being in arrears. Thirty kilometres was reckoned by the Regulations to be a good day's work for wagons in good road conditions, so the journey from Hamburgh would take at least three days.

Wagon train

James' second important duty was to obtain the services of a properly organised wagon train, for which he managed to conclude the contract on 10th December. All the conditions had been already laid down in a lengthy document of which a copy has survived. In brief, and to give some idea of the cost involved, fifteen 'Brigades' were recruited, each of ten four-horse wagons. Each was controlled by a mounted 'Brigadier' found by the contractor. Provision of strong linen covers to protect the stores from the weather proved a difficulty. This was overcome, but only at that extra expense which the Commissaries were always being enjoined by the Treasury to avoid.

Movement of provisions having been arranged, the third question was the bread supply. At first expensive contracts were concluded, but this so concerned the Treasury chiefs that when they heard of the increase of the force being sent to Germany they ordered Sir Brook Watson, Commissary General in London, to organise the dispatch of a field bakery. This was to be large enough to supply 50,000 men, twice as many as ever disembarked. Six chief bakers and 168 common bakers were to be recruited locally, but 25 ovens, 11 feet by 9 feet, obtained in England were to be shipped as soon as possible; but it would take five weeks for them to reach their destination. Here is a further example of the muddle and waste caused by the hasty conception of an overseas expedition without due attention to the supply problems involved.

As if all these and other duties were not enough for any man, James next had to face criticism from Sir Brook Watson himself of his method of organising the delivery for the contracted supplies. He had thought it best for contractors to supply the troops in their scattered locations direct, accepting vouchers from the quartermaster or other responsible person on delivery. Sir Brook, however, said the correct procedure was for the contractors to deliver into specified magazines, their vouchers being the receipts given by the keepers of the magazines only. He even added in his letter: "This mode of supplying the Army is unprecedented and is much complained of, as are the prices, which appear to be extravagantly high".

Fortunately for James he was supported in his action for supplying the troops, first by General Don who, in a long and able letter dated 8 January 1806, stated: "Certainly it would have been the grossest absurdity on my part, had I allowed magazines to be formed on the line of my intended operations, as this would have instantly discovered to the enemy the points of my attack".

General Don wrote again in Pipon's favour: "I am sure if the individuals composing the Army were fully informed of the great scarcity which exists here, they would be astonished at the regularity of the issues and the goodness ofthe supplies". Lord Cathcart also supported Pipon's system. He thought that to supply the Army by forming magazines and field bakeries would be a great expense and in the uncertainty prevailing could become a very great loss to the Government.

In view of the rising costs and continuing difficulties of feeding and foraging so large a force on foreign soil, the Commissaries were probably glad when orders arrived towards the end of January 1806 to re-embark the Army, a feat which was achieved by mid-February, Pipon meanwhile being much exercised in providing supplies on the various routes to Cuxhaven, along which the troops were ordered to march. Lord Cathcart sent him a full instruction as to the winding up procedure he was to adopt after the Army had left. This included the inevitable reminder about economy. "You are instructed to restrict the expense of carrying out the remaining business of closing the accounts to the narrowest limit".

Return to London

Another month was spent in settling matters with contractors, disposing of surplus stores by auction and selling troop horses, many of which had been in the Army's hands for barely three or four weeks. He left for London in the third week of March.

One human touch in the midst of all these official papers is worthy of mention. In a letter from Bremen dated 13 March, Hermann Heyman, the Consul, wrote to James: "I must confess my departure from you really tutched (sic) my mind. Separation is natural in this world and therefore we must bear it with Patience, but what I felt was out of mere Regard and Friendship for you ... may good God have granted you a safe and happy journey."

On arrival in London James established an office at 35 Queen's Square, Bloomsbury. He was occupied in completing the accounts for the North German Campaign to the Treasury's satisfaction until the end of 1807, which shows the immense amount of paperwork involved, all of which took about six times as long a period as that of the campaign itself. He moved his office several times, as rental statements show, perhaps because he needed less space, as he was able to dispose of his documents gradually to Government offices.

A personal note of interest is that in January 1807 he was granted two months leave in order to accompany his family to Bath on account of their poor state of health. This may have been connected with the birth of his first child, James Kennard, in the following May.

One matter which arose several times was the proper disposal of the money raised by the sale of troop and other horses. Even in November 1807 the Adjutant of the 3rd German Light Dragoons, then at Ramsgate, inquires plaintively how his Regiment is to deal with the proceeds of a sale which had taken place at Bremervorde on 6 and 7 February 1806, a year and a half previously. Major Rosskilde wrote at the same time from the island of Zealand, Denmark, that he had only just received the details of this and other such sales "from board of ship". One wonders where these papers had been lying all this time unattended.

Irritating problems on all sorts of subjects cropped up from time to time, and it is easy to understand the hours of research which might be needed to find the correct reply. Furthermore, there was an immense amount of copying to be done by the clerks. For instance, the War Office asked the Commissariat to inform the Secretary at War of the proportion of the sum of £2,1l7 6s 5d issued by them, under Lord Cathcart's warrant for the 6th Battalion of the line of the King's German Legion, which was required for greatcoats.

How public accounting was even then governed by rules requiring strict accuracy is shown by a letter from the Audit Office regarding an account rendered by one of the assistant commissaries, Englebach by name, regarding which he wrote to Pipon: "There certainly was a halfpenny underdeducted from my voucher No 6, which I had left out purposely to avoid fractions, not imagining it worth anybody's while to notice such a trifle. As, however, you insist upon it's insertion, I have given you credit for it in the Account Current, thus avoiding the tediousness of copying over and over again a volume of papers".

Delay in issuing payments due to officers and other ranks was common. We find, for instance, that a humble hospital attendant, John Garrack, did not receive the money to which he was entitled, £7 14s 8d, till October 1807.

The end of this part of the Pipon story came when he was officially placed on half pay as from 1 January 1808. However, Mr Harrison at the Treasury wrote: "In alleviation, their Lordships will keep your present application for employment in their recollection with a view of availing themselves of your services in the Commissariat Department, when occasion may arise for them."

James did not have long to wait. In July he was appointed Senior Commissariat Officer to sail with the expedition to Portugal under Sir Arthur Wellesley.


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