Departure of the 6th Regiment for the Frontier

A recent addition to the Military Collection is an intriguing water-color dating from around 1850. It depicts soldiers marching to the left with a group of officers behind them saying their goodbyes to their sweethearts. There are various speech bubbles, from a soldier saying ‘I say Bill, did you cock my eye, I remember such a go’, to an NCO behind him saying ‘No talking Jones if you please’. The ladies and their officers are being more romantic: a lady with her arms raised says ‘Good bye my love, make haste good bye’; a kneeling officer says to his lady ‘Friend of my soul, think of me when I am far away, and promise to write to me often’. Another exclaims ‘Say my dearest that you love me and I will follow you to the Frontier’. An officer says to a girl seeking a memento, ‘Spare but a part of my locks as you have taken all of my whiskers’. On the right a mounted officer says ‘Come Peter and Edward we must fall in so take a last farewell and come on’.

It is likely that it was drawn by an officer in the regiment with the speech bubbles referred to in jokes. The uniforms have blue facings which were changed from yellow when they became a Royal Regiment in 1832. The also look to be wearing Albert Shakos with a peak to the front and back. It was introduced in 1844 and in use until 1878.

The regiment took part in the 7th and 8th Xhosa Wars (1846 – 1853) in South Africa and also fought in India in 1857. The picture almost certainly refers to the Eastern Frontier of the Cape Colony, and it was likely painted in Cape Town in May 1850 when the the regiment embarked for King Williams Town, the center for frontier operations, after some months in the city.

The artist was probably Lieutenant Robert Provo Norris of the 6th Regiment, who was killed on the Frontier on October 14th, 1851 after he was shot through the abdomen as he lead his men into battle near the edge of a deep ravine. The image and hand-writing match similar works and letters in Norris’s archive which is in the Yale Center for British Art. An amateur artist, he seems to have had difficulty drawing figures from the front, hence many of them are in profile.

[Source: Sean Clarke, Christopher Clarke (Antiques) Ltd; Elisabeth Fairman, Yale Center for British Art]

Comments are closed.