The Devil's Own Mess

Officers Mess Silver from the 88th and 94th 'Connaught Rangers' Irish Regiments

Image descriptionOfficers' Mess of the Royal Irish Regiment, in recent times

The officers mess silver of the famous Irish regiment, the Connaught Rangers (also known as 'the Devil's Own') may be seen only very occasionally, as it is sometimes on display – once every few years – at the National Army Museum in Chelsea (London).

Individual officers of the 'Devil's Own' Regiment (the Connaught Rangers) traditionally marked important events such as promotion, marriage and retirement by making gifts to their brother officers. These gifts where usually for the officers mess dining table.

The 88th Regiment, or  'Connaught  Rangers,' were raised in Ireland , under a commission bearing date 25th of September 1793 , by Colonel the Hon. Thomas de Burgh (the Irish Earl of Clanricarde).

Image descriptionColonel John Thomas de Burgh, 13th Earl of Clanricard

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Scarcely had a year elapsed before this regiment saw war service, and it is highly improbable that, within so short a space of time, any silver plate was bought by or given to the Regiment.

Only a few small articles of plate dating from that epoch remained to the Regiment. Among these may be mentioned a silver wine-funnel bearing the date-letter of 1783 and the assay-hall mark of the city of Edinburgh , which was evidently purchased by the mess in the year 1817, when the Regiment was quartered at Edinburgh .

Then there is the bottle stands or coasters, bearing date-letters of 1798 and 1810. Both these seem to have been purchased in or after the year 1817. Finally there are three narrow scoops of 1804, 1813, and 1817 which had no mark, but evidently dated from about 1804-1805, and two meat skewers, ornamented with the regimental crest, bearing the date-letters of 1805. In the latter year The Connaught Rangers were quartered at Eastbourne under Lieut.-Colonel the Hon. Alexander Duff. It is probable that these items may have been bought about 1805, but as all the regimental baggage was 'lost' at the unsuccessful campaign against the Spanish at Buenos Ayres in July 1807, even these articles may only have come into the possession of the mess about 1817 to 1819.

The regiment's service of silver plate is nearly all of King's pattern, and even up to modern days articles have been made to match those of 1819.

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The first large consignment of plate was purchased in 1819 at Edinburgh , from a London firm, when the Regiment, lately returned from a long campaign, founded its first standing mess.

From 1793 to 1817, a period of twenty-four years, The Connaught Rangers served their country in different lands. India , Egypt , South America , North America , Holland , Spain , Portugal , France , and the West Indies were among the countries in which the Regiment served during the first twenty-four years of its existence.

In those times of campaign following campaign no regular mess was established, except at Campo Mayor in Portugal in 1809. Here the 88th set the example, which was speedily followed by other regiments, of forming a regimental mess and as the early historian describes it: "A marked friendliness and cordiality reigned throughout the corps in consequence thereof." Even this attempt to form a Battalion mess was somewhat rudely disturbed by the advance of France's Marshal Massena in the summer of 1810. From this period until the end of the war it was one continual move, and the mess formed at Campo Mayor was kept up with indifferent success.

Image description"The Devil's Own" 88th Regiment at the Siege of Badajoz, Spain 1812

When the Peninsular War ended in 1814 the Regiment embarked in the Gironde on the 15th of June, and sailed direct for Quebec , which it reached in the August following.

After serving in the operations in North America the 88th embarked at Quebec on the 8th of June 1815 for passage to Europe .
The battle of Waterloo had decided the contest in Europe before the arrival of the 88th, nevertheless the Regiment was ordered to proceed, without disembarking,  to France.    Landing at Ostend , it marched to Paris and took over quarters at St. Denis, and later at Valenciennes .
No article of silver plate marks this epoch in the Regimental History, except for two snuff-boxes given about 1809 and 1815.

At the end of the spring of 1817 The Connaught  Rangers returned to Britain from Valenciennes and took over quarters in Edinburgh. Here the first consignment of silver plate was ordered for the mess.   Colonel the Hon. Alexander Duff presented a large soup tureen, which remained in the mess until dismandment in 1922.   Certain officers also presented another silver soup tureen to match that presented Colonel Duff.

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The King's pattern Service of plate was made in London and delivered to the  Regiment  when  quartered at Hull , Mancester, and Stockport , where the Regiment was quartered in the summer of 1819 after leaving Edinburgh .

The next large consignment of plate was made in London in the year 1826, having been ordered in the previous year, and forwarded out to the Regiment at Corfu in the Ionian Islands.

For nearly two years (1826-1828) the Regiment was concentrated at Corfu , but in 1828 three detachments were sent out to the neighbouring Islands of Ithaca , Cerigo, and Santa Maura, and in September of that year the headquarters of the Regiment were moved to Cephalonia.

Small purchases were made in the years 1823, 1825, 1827, and in 1830 evidently to make good losses.

In 1839-1842 Captain E. R.  Jeffreys (promoted General in later years), was Mess-President, and a large amount of silver plate, all of King's pattern was made in those years.

This was mostly the work of George Adams, spoon-maker, of London .

This order was sent out to the Regiment, then stationed at Malta. Again in 1844 certain articles of silver plate were ordered from Malta; these included tea-spoons, gravy-spoons, and salt-spoons.

On the 21st of February 1847, the Regiment arrived at Barbadoes, sending out a detachment to British Guiana on the 18th of March 1847. The Rangers moved from Barbadoes and British Guiana on the 28th of February 1848 to Trinidad , and afterwards to St. Vincent and Grenada in the same year. During this sojourn in the West Indian Islands a fire took place and some silver was unavoidably lost, but there is no clue to the extent of damage on this occasion.

In 1850 the Regiment left the West Indies for Halifax , Nova Scotia. Here, in 1851, a large fire occurred and a great amount of silver plate was burnt. A large silver salver, which had been in the mess for some considerable time, was lost in this conflagration and Lieut.-Colonel H. Shirley (afterwards General Sir H. Shirley, K.C.B.) presented a similar salver to match that lost in the fire. Several small articles, such as Major Vandeleur's snuff-box, Mr. Hicks' snuff-box, and a large proportion of the Service of plate, were saved. The Mess-house was on this occasion completely destroyed. The Regiment sent in a claim for damages to the amount of £1,500. The War Office refused to allow more than £233, os. 6d. The reason for this absurd reduction was that the articles then in use in the mess were "much too expensive." It still remains to be told exactly what silver was lost in this fire, as there are now no traces of the amount of the mess property at that date.

On the 3rd of April 1854 The Connaught Rangers proceeded on war service to join the Eastern Army, and for over two years were absent from England . During this period no mess silver was bought. The silver plate belonging to the Regiment was stored at home until the arrival home of the Regiment from the Crimea on the 19th of July 1856 , when it went into quarters at Aldershot . Here another large order was put in hand, also with a London firm. This consignment was hardly finished when the 88th got Orders to sail for India on the event of the Indian Mutiny in the following year (1857).

The Regiment's silver plate was left behind in England and stored when the Regiment left for India on the I5th of July in that year. For nearly two years the mess was broken up and company-messing was instituted.

In 1859, when the 88th marched into quarters at Delhi , only certain articles were brought into use. From 1859 to 1870 practically no silver plate was acquired by the mess, the consignment purchased in 1856 proving sufficient.

On the 18th of November 1870 The Connaught Rangers embarked at Bombay for conveyance to England , which they reached on 21st of December 1870.

Image descriptionCigar box presented by Colonel Lord John Taylour
to the Officers of the 94th Regiment (2nd Connaught Rangers) 1877

In this year another large consignment of silver plate was bought. From 1870 to 1877 the Regiment served in England and Ireland, and in 1877 proceeded on Service to South Africa. During this period there were many presentations to the mess, but no new service of plate was acquired during this period. In 1876 the first of the silver goblets were presented, while the last, was presented in 1879.

To India the Regiment proceeded in 1879, and after serving in India nearly twelve years sailed for Aden in 1890, and returned to England in 1891. No additions to the Service of plate mark this period (between 1879 and 1891).

In 1892 the mess was unfortunate in losing some valuable silver plate by theft at Pembroke Dock, amongst which was the large silver salver given by Sir Horatio Shirley, K.C.B., in 1851 to replace one burnt in the fire at Halifax, Nova Scotia, in that year.

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Since 1892 there were few additions to the Service of silver plate, with the exception of the purchase of the dessert knives and forks which were bought at Sheffield in 1896. The donations of plate since then included many splendid articles of silver plate.

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