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Thread: Presentation 1822 Pattern Royal Artillery Sword - Article & Research

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    Presentation 1822 Pattern Royal Artillery Sword - Article & Research



    This is one of the most recent additions to my collection, and apart from sharing some pictures for general interest, I thought I’d also share some details of my research process. While undertaking this historical detective work I learned an important lesson about not making easy assumptions when researching swords, and this may be of benefit to other collectors.


    The Sword

    This piece was advertised towards the end of last year on the website of a well-known UK dealer. It is a presentation 1822 Pattern Royal Artillery Officer’s sword, made by Wilkinson and serial numbered 14851 for the year 1867. It is of “patent hilt” type, in which the blade continues at nearly full width into the handle (giving the alternative name “solid tang”), and in which the grip is formed of “scales” or slabs fastened on either side by rivets which pass through the tang portion: the result is a much stronger assembly than that given by the more common construction of a “rat tail” tang secured by a pommel nut. The solid tang patent was originally taken out in 1853 by the Birmingham firm of Charles Reeves, but as early as 1854 a working relationship existed between the Wilkinson and Reeves companies: John Latham, the Wilkinson general manager, describes in his diary a visit to Reeves in October of this year, and Wilkinson proofing equipment was in place at Reeves’ Aire Street premises during the period 1850-1863. It is thus reasonable to assume that Wilkinson was paying Reeves a royalty for use of his solid hilt patent during the time when this sword was made, and the wording “Patent Solid Hilt” appears on the ricasso underneath the Wilkinson name and address (although not specifying whose patent).



    Although the grip scales (made of an early composite material) were in reasonably good shape when I purchased the sword, it was missing its grip wire, and after some thought I decided to have this renewed at Pooley Sword – to my eye it now looks more complete, albeit a little shiny, but more importantly the process is easily reversible should any future owner prefer no modern additions. No other work was needed as blade, hilt and scabbard were all in a clean, original state.



    The sword has a 34 ½” x 1 ⅛” blade of the type known in the Wilkinson catalogue as “solid”. This term is unconnected with the solid tang feature, referring rather to the fact that the blade is flat-sided, with no fullers or other complex profiling. This blade type was often favoured for presentation swords as the flat surface allowed for easier etching and more legible inscriptions, undistorted by fullers. The blade shows signs of sharpening on its cutting edge for the last 12”, and on the back edge for approximately 9”. It is etched on one side with the winged thunderbolt device and title of the Royal Artillery, and on the other with the Garter arms, “VR” cypher and Corps motto “Ubique” (Everywhere). The presentation inscription is in an ornate panel some 2” from the ricasso, and is worded “From W.E.S. 15 K.H. to W.W.S. R.A.”. There is also a family crest showing a unicorn’s head issuing from a ducal coronet.



    The blade also has a “centre of percussion” mark on its back edge (formed from a C, an arrow and a P), marking out a section of the blade between 13” and 15” from the point. This was used to indicate the most effective part of the blade to strike an opponent with during the cut, and is often described as being similar to the “sweet spots” of a tennis racquet.

    To round off the description of the sword: the scabbard is of steel, with twin suspension rings and German (or nickel) silver throat, the latter an attempt to reduce blade edge blunting caused by frequent contact when the sword was drawn and replaced. This was less successful than the wood- or leather-lined scabbards adopted - following local custom – by the British Army in India, but was still an improvement on the all-steel or even iron scabbards previously in use.




    The Research

    I began to research this sword in advance of purchase, and immediately made a small but significant error: I perhaps naturally assumed that the donor “W.E.S” was related to the recipient, “W.W.S.” – perhaps a father or uncle who shared the same surname. This wasted much time since detailed consideration of all the “possibles” revealed no such obvious link! Once the theory was discarded it was possible to return to the subject with an open mind and reconsider the most likely candidates for giver and recipient.

    I began with the donor: clearly the “W.E.S.” was either a serving or retired member of the 15th (The King’s) Regiment of Hussars. On balance I felt the former was more likely (if they were no longer on the strength of the regiment the wording would more likely have been “late 15th Hussars”), so I consulted the 1867 Army List and fairly quickly found a strong “possible” in the form of Major William Edington Stuart (Cornet Nov. 1851; Lt. Sep. 1855; Capt. Feb 1858; Major Apr. 1864). At this point my false assumption took hold and I spent many hours with Victorian Army Lists, the London Gazette and various newspaper archives, looking for a “W.W. Stuart” in the Royal Artillery. Having no luck I then retraced my steps, trying to find any other candidates for “W.E.S.” in the 15th Hussars, in case my original identification had been wrong. These attempts also met with no success but, as often happens in historical research, generated a number of false trails which resulted in additional wasted effort as initially promising candidates were investigated at length before being rejected.*

    Eventually I reached the conclusion that the recipient’s last initial could not stand for Stuart, so I returned to the Army Lists and London Gazette looking for any officers commissioned into the Artillery in or around 1867. Here at last I uncovered a candidate: William Whitmore Smith, who was gazetted from the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, on 15 January 1867. Further leg-work confirmed there were no other Artillery officers with the exact initials “W.W.S.” and a “significant” date (such as first commission or promotion) of 1867 in this or subsequent Lists. Finally, research with a fellow collector into the family crest confirmed that the unicorn device present on the sword also featured in the crests of several branches of the Smith family. I was now fairly confident that the sword was given by Major William Edington Stuart to the newly-commissioned Lieutenant William Whitmore Smith…but why? A little internet searching soon provided a likely answer.

    One of the first results presented when entering the term “William Whitmore Smith” into a search engine is his father’s entry in the Dictionary of National Biography. Michael William Smith (1809-1891) was commissioned as an Ensign in the 82nd Foot in 1830, but exchanged into the 15th Hussars as a Lieutenant in August 1835. After a series of promotions he gained the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in March 1850, but was down to half-pay when the Crimean War broke out with Russia four years later. Nevertheless, although as far as I can tell his regiment remained in the UK throughout the period of the campaign, Smith travelled to the Crimea as a volunteer, commanding a unit of Osmanli Irregular Cavalry and receiving the Order of the Medjidie (2nd Class) from the Sultan of Turkey for his services.

    The link was now starting to form: I had already found and copied down the outline of William Edington Stuart’s career from a later Army List, and the Osmanli Irregular Cavalry reference struck a chord. Sure enough, I found that Stuart too had served in this formation (obviously the officers of the 15th Hussars were keen not to be left out of the action), and had also received the Order of the Medjidie (in his case 4th Class). M.W. Smith was thus W.E. Stuart’s commanding officer, both in the 15th Hussars and during the Crimean War, and it seems likely then that the sword represents a gift from Stuart to the son of his old comrade and C.O. on the occasion of the boy’s commission into the Artillery.**

    To complete the picture of Smith senior: he went on to serve with distinction during the Indian Mutiny, commanding a brigade of the Rajputana Field Force in pursuit of the rebel leader Tantia Topi, and fought in the capture of Gwalior, during which the famous Rani of Jhansi was killed. Smith then led his forces against those of Man Singh of Narwar, whom he eventually surprised and defeated at Koondrye in November 1858. During this campaign Smith was several times mentioned in despatches and in 1859 received the Companion of the Bath (C.B.) in recognition of his services. He was a prolific writer on military tactics, particularly those of the Cavalry, but also on all-arms co-operation and military sketching, and served with the Army until his retirement as a full General in 1879 (in a nice touch he had returned to his old regiment, the 15th Hussars, as its Colonel in 1883).

    With the now almost certain identification of William Whitmore Smith as the sword’s owner, completing the details of the rest of his career was relatively simple, primarily through use of the online London Gazette:

    • Captain – 18 Dec 1878
    • Major – 27 Aug 1884
    • Lt-Colonel – 3 Jan 1894
    • Brevet Colonel – 4 Jan 1898
    • Half-pay – 4 Jan 1899
    • Retired – 29 Sep 1903

    Smith saw service in the Second Anglo-Afghan War with the Jamrud column (D-A Battery, Royal Horse Artillery), from the outbreak of the war in 1878 until February 1879, for which he received the “Afghanistan 1878-80” medal; the signs of sharpening detected on the sword’s blade presumably date from around this time. He died in December 1938 at Aldershot at the ripe old age of 91, having married Frances Mary de Mussenden Leathes of Suffolk in October 1885. I don’t have much more information on the man or his career, and I suspect that in this case, and despite his long life and service, the owner of the sword is probably of less interest to history than either his father or the giver.

    All the above research was carried out before I obtained a copy of the Wilkinson proof book entry for the sword, and it was gratifying to find the details exactly supported the conclusions I had already reached (often it doesn’t work like that! ). For the record, the relevant parts of the entry read:

    P[atent] T[ang] flat solid blade

    Med
    [iu]m P[atent] T[ang] Art[iller]y - a reference to the grip size and hilt type

    Major Stewart pro W.W. Smith

    Coincidentally, the blade was proved on 15 January 1867, the exact date of Smith’s commission as a Lieutenant.


    (Image provided by www.armsresearch.co.uk)


    I hope collectors will find the above of interest and that it might inspire more people to delve into the hidden histories of swords in their care. In researching this piece I have been aided by many previous SFI postings and email discussions with Robert Wilkinson Latham; in particular the information on the relationship between the Reeves and Wilkinson firms and the introduction of the patent hilt design. Gordon Byrne also provided vital assistance in helping me to identify the family crest of the Smiths, in the face of further confusion caused to both of us by the unicorn’s more than passing resemblance to a goat!



    Footnotes:

    * One such was Walter William Marriott Smith, also commissioned in 1867 into the Royal Artillery, and whose career progression mirrors that of William Whitmore Smith in many details. I finally ruled this officer out for two main reasons:

    • No links found to 15th Hussars
    • Lower probability that a middle initial would have been missed off the sword’s presentation inscription


    ** The Crimean War portion of the research brought to mind one former and one serving officer of the 15th Hussars who also played important parts in the campaign: James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, who had commanded the 15th from 1832 to 1833, and who led the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade, and Captain Louis Edward Nolan, “galloper” to Lord Raglan, who initiated it!
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  2. #2
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    Superb research work, John. Thanks for opening yet another historical 'window'!

    M~
    mark@swordforum.com

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    "Those who beat their swords into plowshares usually end up plowing for those who don't."
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    Fantastic work and a fantastic sword (which I remember drooling over when I saw it on the dealer's website). Well done John,
    Matt

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    I have discovered a reference ro the blade etch panel in the Blade Rubs Indices BUT alas the actual blade rub of the presentation inscription has long since got wet, torn, etc etc and shows no detail whatsoever- It is black!!!!
    However the Presentation Sword Index gives Major WE STUART for SMITH 1867 and Rowe's Notebook gives a very small cutting from an envelope showing the Goat head crest but again alas too faded to reproduce. (It was common practice for the etches to copy crests from customers envelopes and writing paper.)

    Not much help I am afraid.

  5. #5
    Thanks for the kind word John, really nice historical piece and interesting to see the re-wire job on the grip. Enjoyed the writeup very much and consider that associated family history is very important when British Army and Indian Army are concerned, as army service was indeed part of the culture, extending as it did in many cases for a number of generations of the one family; take out one generation, and future would not exist.

    One thing is for sure...you got the right crest; not to be confused with the very rare and lessor known, goat-i-corn or the other associated crest called uni-goat.

    Gordon

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Wilkinson-Latham View Post
    I have discovered a reference ro the blade etch panel in the Blade Rubs Indices BUT alas the actual blade rub of the presentation inscription has long since got wet, torn, etc etc and shows no detail whatsoever- It is black!!!!
    However the Presentation Sword Index gives Major WE STUART for SMITH 1867 and Rowe's Notebook gives a very small cutting from an envelope showing the Goat head crest but again alas too faded to reproduce. (It was common practice for the etches to copy crests from customers envelopes and writing paper.)
    Still, useful corroboration of the other facts - thanks, Robert!

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  7. #7
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    A wonderful research project that brought the history of this man and his sword back to life. Great work!
    "You can't please everyone, so you have to please yourself." Ricky Nelson

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    I remember looking at this one and thinking, "I really don't want to have to look through the RA list, but I bet the proof entry will have names." The difference in the "S" in Stuart and the "S" in Smith threw me off. Glad it went to good home. Fabulous research into unraveling the mystery of the connection between the giver and the receiver. And I think the re-wire job fits just fine.
    Cheers,
    Mike

  9. #9
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    A Wilkinson with patent hilt and great history, what more can one ask for! The grip wire job looks great.
    By accident I discovered how to antique the grip wire. I had cleaned a grip and the covering required blackening. Using black shoe dye I had a good result but the dye seeped into the grip wire. Since the wire had been cleaned bright, the black dye made the wire look antique as it did before cleaning. Possibly by using a fine brush, the grip wire could have that aged look, depends what look you want.
    History of not just the owner but also giver and father really expands the historic view of the sword, I have not seen a better lengthy and detailed review. Should be possible to find many original newspaper articles in relation to the people around the sword.
    This is what interests me most with sword collecting, as it does most or all of us on this forum.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by MikeShowers View Post
    I remember looking at this one and thinking, "I really don't want to have to look through the RA list, but I bet the proof entry will have names." The difference in the "S" in Stuart and the "S" in Smith threw me off.
    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the kind words...I think the reason for the difference in lettering is that, once the etcher had marked out the two Ws with their flamboyant right-hand branches, there was then no room for the top part of the curlicue of the S on the second set of initials, so he just snipped it!

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

  11. #11
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    John
    The etching of the presentation panel was entirely done by hand, hence the adjustment of the 'S' to fit.
    No etch plate pull, just the fantastic artistry and brush of W Rowe.

    Here again is his sketch of his work space on 1st Floor at 27 Mall Mall showing the tools of the trade for hand etching. (Sword mounting in the basement!)
    Attached Images Attached Images  

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    Robert, did Wilkinson use any special name or note for the type of 1821 guard shown above with the extra sword strap slot? What I mean is, how did they record whether a sword was to be with or without the extra slot?
    Regards,
    Matt

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    Matt


    The option was offered to have the sword knot (as normal) on the guard at the top of the grip AND at the base of the guard as in this example- They are rare to find like this example. I have only every seen one other Light Cavalry 3 bar sword with these features. I have a feeling that it may be a regimental thing but certainly a Light Cavalry thing!

  14. #14
    I have two 3-bar guards with this feature; a P1821 RA sword and a P1821 LC sword.

    The LC sword is a Wilkinson and no mention is made of the guard:





    The RA sword was sold by Phillips so no proof entry to help us:


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    One must remember that the Proof slips are just that and any further information is a bonus!

  16. #16
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    Thanks.
    Yes out of around 10 three-bar hilts that I own, two of them have this feature, one a Wilkinson from 1893 and the other a Pillin:

    Matt
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    I have two of these three-bar hilts, as well. One is an 1870s light cavalry (Third Hussars, actually) import from Germany (http://www.swordforum.com/forums/sho...al-owner-found) and the other a new-to-me 1870s Royal Artillery sword by a maker yet-to-be-determined.

    John, an admirable piece of research. I can well appreciate the work invested. I have just completed my research on the aforementioned RA sword, and feel as if I've spent most of the last month staring at the names of RA officers. You perseverance is admirable.

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    This is turning into an interesting bit of data gathering...of my eight 3-bar hilts, four have the additional slot: the presentation RA sword described above (1867); a slightly non-standard Indian army LC pattern (1887); and two standard 1822 RA patterns (1878 and c.1890). Three are by Wilkinson and the last (the c.1890 sword) by Thurkle.

    John
    "If I can't be a good example to others, at least let me be a horrible warning".

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    All three of my Wilkinson P1821's have this feature: RA sword (1859), LC patent hilt (1867) and a standard LC (1876).
    Cheers,
    Mike

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    Obviously by the number of 3 bar sword with the extra sword knot slot reported, old age had made me less observant!!!!!!

    THIS DRAWING IS A STANDARD RA WILKINSON HILT - NOT THE ONE WE ARE DISCUSSING. APOLOGIES
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    Last edited by Robert Wilkinson-Latham; 01-15-2012 at 10:58 AM.

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    Wilkinson Drawing of STANARD 3 Bar Hilt (Not the one with extra slot

    Great apologies to all- More haste less speed!!!!!!!!

    This style but elongated towards the pommel was also used on the 10th Hussar sword. (1912 pattern but with 3 bar hilt)
    Attached Images Attached Images  
    Last edited by Robert Wilkinson-Latham; 01-15-2012 at 10:59 AM.

  22. #22
    Gentlemen,

    This additional slot is a feature applied to the majority of Wilkinson 3-bar (and some 4-bar guards) officers swords that I have recorded, and was certainly a feature that existed before proof numbers started in 1854. I have also noticed the same feature on the guards of swords sold under the name of other makers?? or maybe merchant/ outfitters (Pillin being one that comes to mind), and often wondered if the actual swords were the product of the Wilkinson firm. My observations include sword patterns made for Light Cavalry, Royal Engineers and at least one 3-bar hilted sword that was made for an officer who served in the Infantry. I also note the fact that to the extent of my observations, contemporary 3-bar hilted Light Cavalry swords sold under the name of Garden & Son do not have this feature.

    Gordon

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    Quote Originally Posted by gordon byrne View Post
    I have also noticed the same feature on the guards of swords sold under the name of other makers?? or maybe merchant/ outfitters (Pillin being one that comes to mind), and often wondered if the actual swords were the product of the Wilkinson firm.
    Hi Gordon,
    I'm not clear what you are suggesting here - that Wilkinson made swords for Pillin? If so, then I don't think so, purely by the fact that Pillin swords tend to have a 'look' about them which is quite different to the Wilkinson 'look'. Having said that, it seems quite likely that someone (like Wilkinson) started the fashion for that slot and other makers (like Pillin) copied it.
    Garden seem to have been quite confident in their own designs and I can see them being less likely to follow other company's fashions.
    Regards,
    Matt

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    How were the swords knot used with these swords? Did they use both slots or one?
    Last edited by Will Mathieson; 01-17-2012 at 06:37 AM. Reason: spelling

  25. #25
    Hi Matt,

    I'm not suggesting as such... but rather question, who actually made the guards (swords) with this same feature, and take on board your comments about Pillin. as they do have a different look. My first exposure to a sword with this feature was over twenty years ago, and ever since then, I always look at the guards to see whether or not thay have this same feature, As it appears it was never part of a registered design, I guess the feature was open to be used by any maker, or requested by any custmer of any maker or supplier. If a sword came via an out-fitter, it could well have been made by Wilkinson, but otherwise, I guess it was a feature that was open to be used by anyone. It certainly existed on Wilkinson guards before the Mutiny, and maybe taken up by other makers in the post mutiny period as a viable option for the position for attachment of the sword knot (wrist strap).

    Gordon

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