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"Isaac Chetham: From ‘Scum of the Earth’ to ...." Topic

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551 hits since 30 Aug 2017
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Tango0130 Aug 2017 4:45 p.m. PST

….Commissioned Officer in Wellington's Army

"The social order of late 18th and early 19th century Britain ordained that there was a strict distinction between the Officer class of the British Army and the rank and file, who Wellington famously described as ‘the scum of the earth'. In order to be an officer one was expected to be a gentleman born and bred. To some extent this changed during the Peninsular War when five to six per cent of the officers serving in the Army were promoted from the ranks. One such man was Isaac Chetham.

Isaac Chetham was born in Nottingham during the first half of 1781, the son of Edward and Mary Chetham (baptismal certificate in WO 42/8/C306). I have been unable to discover Edward Chetham's occupation, but as his son could read and write, and had obviously had at least a basic education, I feel that he is more likely to have been a tradesman, or skilled craftsman, than a labourer. Whatever his occupation it would appear that Edward Chetham was not in a position to purchase a commission for his son when he joined the Army in 1797, at the age of 16. None the less Isaac rose steadily through the ranks and was commissioned as an Ensign in 1811…"
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arthur181531 Aug 2017 1:45 a.m. PST

One of your best finds, Armand. Thank you for sharing it with us.
Chetham – and others like him – deserve to be remembered. I always felt that Bernard Cornwell could have written a more interesting novel about the experiences and problems faced by men who were commissioned from the ranks, but chose instead to create fantastical adventures and unlikely promotions for Sharpe.

Tango0131 Aug 2017 10:23 a.m. PST

A votre service mon ami!. (smile)


Gazzola04 Sep 2017 11:30 a.m. PST

Yes, very interesting. But if I read it right, once the fighting was over he was not worth paying for and, despite fighting for his country and being wounded more than once, received no pension. If true, it is a disgrace. (Apologies if I've got it wrong)

Well done Armand for bringing this one up.

Tango0105 Sep 2017 11:02 a.m. PST

Glad you like it my good friend!. (smile)


Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member08 Sep 2017 3:04 a.m. PST

Gazzola – The man probably received no pension because he was either not considered sufficiently disabled by his wounds; or because he was also on half-pay, which was unusual for an officer who had never purchased a commission (the point being that purchase essentially funded the officer corps). That he could afford to employ a servant might also have suggested he was not short of money.

On a broader point, it is sad to see that even the NAM is now subscribing to the "Guardianista" view that Wellington described his troops as "the scum of the earth". He actually used the term to describe some of the categories of men (mainly convicted criminals, unmarried fathers, runaway servants and apprentices, and anti-social types unwanted by their parishes) whom the Army was forced to take by a cheapskate Government trying to avoid the expense of imprisoning them. His next words were: "…but it is really wonderful that we should have made them the fine fellows that they are".

dibble08 Sep 2017 11:03 a.m. PST

Supercilius Maximus:

On a broader point, it is sad to see that even the NAM is now subscribing to the "Guardianista" view that Wellington described his troops as "the scum of the earth".

Have you been to the National Army Museum since its 'refurbishment'? I have and I was shocked! They didn't even have a museum guide pamphlet and it definitely shows signs of the heavy hand of politically correct, historically ignorant, bean counters. They shut the place down during the most militarily significant part of the decade 'the anniversaries of Agincourt, Waterloo, WWI, Somme etc' when it could have been deferred to 2019. And the place looks more akin to Tate Modern.

£24,000,000.00 GBP to make the place worse, the foyer as big as an indoor carpark and displays that can be seen in an hour or so. Oh! The labeling and information of many of the exhibits are either not there or they are scant. A great place to see a wall full of neon signs spelling out army slang words that are used in every day language.

Siborne's Waterloo diorama has again been placed where one cannot walk around it, instead one has to peer hard from yards away to see any detail of what's going on 'yonder'. As for the Napoleonic displays in general, It's mediocre with only a small display of Sir John Moore's 'Corunna' personal effects being of interest and poignancy as far as I was concerned.

Don't expect the Museum store to be packed with goodies either, it isn't. It's variety of wares for sale is scant.

I can only surmise that the people who were responsible for all matters 'refurbishment' the place had no idea at all about displays, military history or what the museum is meant to represent.

I loved that museum….I loath it now.

I can't stand the Author Andrew Roberts, but in this case, I stand full-square beside him.


When a poster picture of Jimmi Hendrix takes pride of place in his dolman, you know things have turned to ratshite!

Paul :(

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member08 Sep 2017 2:20 p.m. PST

Sorry, my mistake – it's the National Archives, not the National Army Museum, that has published this.

However, from the attached article by Roberts, I see my comments were not that wide of the mark anyway.

arthur181508 Sep 2017 2:50 p.m. PST

I, too, loved NAM and used to find all sorts of devious ways to justify taking my History classes there.
Sounds like I should give the place a wide berth in future; glad I'm retired from the classroom!
What a shame…

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