An army deserter gets some sympathy but precious little help from the Lord Mayor


The Seige of Lucknow, 1857

Cormack Scolland (a ‘determined looking man’) appeared before the Lord mayor at the Mansion House Police court in October 1865 accused of deserting his regiment, the 5th Fusiliers.

Scolland had given himself up to a sergeant from the Coldstream Guards at the Tower of London on the previous Monday. The sergeant was surprised but on the strength of the man’s confession he took him into custody.

Now, a little under a week later, the Mayor asked him if he still persisted in saying he was deserter and reminded him that a false statement laid him open to a penalty of three months in prison.

The soldier stated that he had enlisted in 1846 and had served in India. He was present at the siege of Lucknow (in the so-called Indian ‘mutiny’) and had served there under General Havelock with distinction. In his career of 19 years he had served faithfully and been awarded ‘two medals with clasps’.

‘What had become of his medals’ the Lord mayor asked. He had sold them for 7s each he replied.

Now the magistrate asked him why he had taken the fateful decision to desert from the army. Scolland stated that:

‘He was very much put upon by one of the sergeants, and had suffered much from his tyranny, that he felt he should have done something worse if he had not deserted. He therefore thought it was the best course to do so.’

The Coldstream sergeant stated for the record that had he have deserted the man was entitled to a pension of 1s or 1s 2d per day. That, presumably, Scolland had thrown away such was his conviction that he was a victim of bullying at work.

This drastic action earned the Lord Mayor’s sympathy: he told the soldier that he ‘was sorry to see a man that had served his country… forfeit his character in the way he had done so’. But he gave him little else in the way of help and certainly there was no suggestion that the truth of his allegation against a sergeant of the Fusiliers should be investigated.

Instead the poor man was sent to Holloway Prison (not then a women’s prison) to be dealt with by the military authorities at a later date.

[from The Morning Post , Saturday, October 14, 1865]

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