Rifle Brigade group, Montreal, QC, 1865; William Notman (1826-1891); 1865, 19th century; I-15545.1; © McCord Museum.
The Rifle Brigade in Canada (1865)
The Montreal Gazette, 14 May 1927
Sir Leopold V. Swaine, who once commanded the Rifle Brigade, came out to Canada in 1865 with a battalion of his regiment, and camped over at Point Levis for a few months, helping the Royal Engineers to construct field-works. After they had been there for some six weeks or more, men began to desert, as the U.S.A. frontier was within such easy reach. Swaine consulted with his commanding officer and got his sanction to open all letters that came for men from the United States. Most, if not all of these, contained offers of high wages if the men would come and work for the writer. These were, of course, all burnt. But, in three and a half months, they tried between ten and fifteen men by district court-martial for desertion; awarded something like twenty years' imprisonment with hard labor, fined them over £50 for loss of kit, and flogged three men, awarding one hundred and twenty-five lashes. One of the three kept a diary of their wandering, which showed that, for the three days they were away, they had continually walked in a circle and had never been more than three miles from camp.
One day, when the working parties came in for dinner, they reported than an American had been attempting to set fire to some huts. He was stopped from doing so, but claimed that they were his own property and heavily insured. After mess that evening an individual entered their tent and drawled out a request to know who was the boss of the establishment. He was a bit incoherent and had evidently been doing himself well at supper. They were quite sure that he was the man who had been reported in the morning so they surrounded him, and someone mentioned the fact that there was a pond handy. So they carried him triumphantly through the camp, swung him three times, and launched him into space.
Next morning a message came from the Colonel saying that he wished to see all the officers of the regiment in the mess tent at twelve o'clock. When they were all assembled he began: "I have had a visit this morning from an American gentleman, who gave me an account of the disgraceful manner in which he had been treated by the officers of this battalion. Mr. Swaine, you will be good enough to tell me who were the ringleaders in this affair." Swaine replied, "I was one, sir," and all the subalterns present re-echoed his words. On hearing this, the Colonel said, "I confine all officers to camp for the day."
The 1st battalion was quartered at the time at the Citadel at Quebec, and immediately after lunch the culprits were sent over to invite them all to come to tea and to bring anyone else they could think of. Among them were the Colonel and his wife. They had a glorious time, only marred by the fact that they were all invited to dine at the Citadel the same night, and had a hard time inventing previous engagements. Years afterwards the Colonel confided that the American had owned up to being drunk.
In the ensuing winter they had to learn to march on snowshoes, with the result that when the commanding officer gave the words "Fours right," nearly half the men fell on their noses.
In 1866 the Fenians began to give trouble, and they were ordered to St. Armands. Apparently the only casualty was the killing of some old woman who was stone-deaf, and who was seen trying to escape in the darkness and who continued to run in spite of repeated orders to halt. The Royal Fusileers gave her a great funeral, and, thirty years later, when he was a Major-General, the author received the Fenian medal, inscribed to Lieutenant Swaine.