Henry McGilchrist
the Kettle Drummer of the 3rd Kings Own Dragons 17741810

All pictures are thumbnails, click for larger view.

The 3rd King's own Regiment of Dragoons

Now renamed the Queen's Own Hussars originally formed in 1685 as The Queen Consort's Regiment of Dragoons, the 3rd Hussars won their first battle honour at Dettingen in 1743.They suffered heavy losses charging French cavalry, which outnumbered the Regiment by ten to one, but finally overcame to drive the enemy from the field and at the same time capture two silver kettle drums, replicas of which are still held by the Regiment.The 3rd Hussars were active in all the major battles of the Napoleonic Wars, including those of the decisive Peninsula Campaign front 1808-1814.

The Dragoons

The Regiments of Dragoons, although listed as Cavalry were in fact Mounted Infantry and as such were expected to dismount and fight on foot as required. They were equipped with a shorter sword that the Cavalry and were also armed with a musket. A Royal Warrant of 1684 ordered that, whilst in garrison, they were to be classed as Foot and in the field regarded as Horse. To this end they still manoeuvred to the beat of a drum, the trumpet still reserved for the regiments of horse. The original regiment would have comprised of six to eight troops. Each troop was comprised of sixty soldiers, one Quartermaster, two Sergeants three Corporals, two drummers and two Hautboys (oboe players), besides commissioned officers. 

The drummer of the Dragoons was the counterpart of the Trumpeter of the Horse and although mounted as the rest of his troop was not a Kettle Drummer. He beat on a single large infantry pattern side drum slung on his right shoulder and resting on his left thigh. The drummer was responsible for beating the executive orders whilst in quarters and in the field however it is unclear what the duties of the Hautboys were. The instrument was a primitive form of oboe and emitted a piercing noise and although common in civilian circles was only used by the military exclusively in the Dragoons and Horse Grenadier Guards. 

Although fine when dismounted, the drum was at a disadvantage when the Dragoons fought as Horse to this end in 1765 all Dragoon regiments were ordered to replace their Drummers with Trumpeters. The transition from mounted infantry to Horse was now complete and the dragoons joined the ranks of Cavalry. The training of these Trumpeters was clearly seen as a matter of importance and in 1766 each regiment had to send two of their Trumpeters to Horse Guards to be perfected in their regimental duties as Trumpeters [I]. The change from Drummers to Trumpeters presented a problem for the 3rd Dragoons regarding the captured a pair of silver Kettle-Drums[II], In order to still parade these drums one troop would lose a Trumpeter. It was not until Christmas day 1778 that George III granted an additional man and horse to the establishment as in other regiments having kettle-drums. 

Henry McGilchrist – Kettle-Drummer.

Henry McGilchrist a Negro[III] born Jamaica in 1755 was enlisted as a Trumpeter in 1774[IV] at Greenwich whilst the regiment was at Black Heath Camp. The returns of 1776 list “one black kettledrummer[V] and the description books of this period list two blacks with the rank of Trumpeter, Henry Mcgilchrist[VI] and John Downes another Jamaican [VII]. The discharge papers of John Downes make no mention of him being a Kettle Drummer although being discharged after the establishment of the rank. It is therefore likely that Henry was the Kettle-Drummer mentioned in 1776 and possibly from his enlistment in 1774

The established rank of Kettle-Drummer was effectively a Sergeant according to the Musters of 1799-1806, (the only ones examined in detail as yet). The 1806 - 1809 muster[VIII] shows  Henry McGilchrist Trumpeter (Kettledrummer) paid £8 5s for 90 days, ( An ordinary private received £5 12/6 and a Serjeant £9 15s). 

The Period of Henry’s Service

The period, 17741810, for which Henry was the Kettle-Drummer of the 3rd Dragoons was one in which the regiment appeared to see no active service abroad. They tended to move around the country quite a lot and the itinerary gleaned from the 1771-1781 description book demonstrates this :-.

The regiment was in Kettering by June 1774 and from October to March 1775 Northampton In April 1775 they were in Darlington and by May Dalkeith,in Oct 1775 the troop was at Edinburgh Castle but back at Dalkeith by Jan 1776 in March 1776 they were at Coventry and remained there March 1777 In April 1777 they were in Newbury and June Sturminster, June Dorchester where they remained until Mar 1778. In April they were in Salisbury, June Hertford, West Stow camp in August Huntington in August and Stamford December. March 1779 York July Lewes and August Brighton Sept Lewes and Chichester Dec 1779.June 1780 Brighton and Chelsea July Paddington Sept - Mar 1781

At this period there was no established police force and the army regiments stationed at home served that purpose. They assisted in maintaining law and order and in the enforcement of customs and excise laws. They had no regimental barracks and would be billeted on the local population, when in a particular area it was common for the troops to be dispersed to nearby towns.

Henry was discharged to pension in November 1810 for “being rhumatic and worn out from length of service”, aged 56 he was possibly no longer fit for active service and by the Spring of 1811 the 3rd Dragoons were with Wellington on the Peninsula.

The Kettle-Drummers today

The tradition still survives although the original Dettingen drums were destroyed by fire in the Tower of London in 1855. The existing drums, copies of the originals, were bought by the Officers in 1856. Made by Messrs Distin of London in solid silver they are unique musically in so far as they can be tuned to seven different keys by simply turning one screw. From 1828 the drums have always been displayed without banners because uniquely the Regiment’s battle honours are displayed on the drums themselves so replacing the regimental guidon.

I am indebted to the 3rd Hussars regimental museum in Warwick for some of the detail contained in this appendix.


[I] The Trumpeters had to be versatile for when dismounted they were to “ form a band of musick  consisting of 2 french horns, 2 clarinettes and 2 bassoons

[II] The Battle of Dettingen is a highly significant victory for the British Army, being the only time in modern history that a British Force has been led into battle by a reigning monarch: King George II.

[III] OPR Scotland Ref Glasgow Lanark 644/1/15/18 -4 Sept 1773 - Henry McGilchrist a Negro Man Baptised Witnesses M Corse & Bob Edwards

[IV] PRO WO25/275  3rd Dragoons description book 1771-1781 –Trumpeter Henry McGilchrist 5'6" age 19 born Peacley, (Pauley writing difficult), Pen, Jamaica. Enlisted by Major Whyte 25 May 1774 at Greenwich a Labourer Black Eyes/ Black Hair / Black Complexion

[V] PRO WO12 / 564 Musters and PayList 1771-1781

[VI] PRO WO25/275 1772-1781 - Transferred to Captain Rooker's Troop Trumpeter Henry McGillchrist 5'6" age 19 Born P?au?ley pen Jamaica Enlisted By Major Whyte 25 May 1774 at Greenwich a Labourer Black/Black/Black

[VII] PRO WO25/275 1772-1781 - Discharged 4 June 1779 Trumpetter John Downes 5'6" age 25 born Jamaica West Indies - Enlisted by General Fitzroy 27 Nov 1772 at London trade a labourer Black eyes/Black hair/Black Complexion

[VIII] PRO ref: WO 12/374