What happened if you died abroad in the British Army in the 1890s?
June 12, 2016 2:44 PM   Subscribe

Looking for details of the lead-up, journey, death, notification of family, etc., for British soldiers who served and died overseas in this very specific time period.

I have a (British) character in something I’m writing who I want to send to war, and to his death, around 1895. It looks as if the most plausible thing would be for him travel to Sudan as an officer with Kitchener and be lost in the Battle of Ferkeh in 1896. (I'd love it to be 1895, but I seem to have hit on one of the very few interludes of minimal Victorian warring and 1896 seems to be the nearest piece of action).

Can anyone point me to information about how this would have occurred for an individual officer? I’m guessing he would have have been stationed in officers’ quarters in Britain, been told of the forthcoming mission (and perhaps - hopefully for my plot - had a final trip home at that point? How did home leave work in the army then?), boarded a ship to Egypt and travelled up the Nile. When would he have left, and how long would it have taken for him to get there? Or would he already have been stationed in Egypt and gone from there? If he went missing in action during the battle, and a few days after was confirmed dead, would telegrams have been sent home to his family? If so, would that have happened both when he went missing and then again when he died?

FWIW, this isn’t a central character, so I need the information more for how his demise is experienced by his sister back home, than to be able to describe the detailed experience from his point of view.

As a side question - any other ideas for what a British man in his 20s might go off to do around 1895 that would result in him leaving home and then dying while away? Broadly speaking, he's middle class, though I'm somewhat flexible.

I’m pretty tied to the timing for other crucial plot reasons. 1895 is ideal, can squeeze up to a year either way if needed.

Of all the Asks I've posted, this is definitely the one I've least expected to be answered with a 'Previously'.
posted by penguin pie to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
As a side question - any other ideas for what a British man in his 20s might go off to do around 1895 that would result in him leaving home and then dying while away? Broadly speaking, he's middle class, though I'm somewhat flexible.

You've read Heart of Darkness, right?
posted by Emma May Smith at 3:22 PM on June 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


The Great Game was in full swing and what with the British Raj sneaking spies into and around Tibet and Nepal and British mountaineers trying to figure out how to get to Everest in order to climb it, you could send him abroad for those reasons to those places. See Wade Davis' Into the Silence.
posted by rtha at 3:40 PM on June 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Fascinating question. Perhaps you could chase down a few of the names mentioned here (EGYPT 1882 - 1885. SUDAN 1896-97)?
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:09 PM on June 12, 2016


The Egyptian Soudan, its loss and its recovery may also be of assistance.

It includes a description of the funeral of Lieutenant Farmar; perhaps the chaplain in attendance would have written the sister to describe her brother's burial?
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:29 PM on June 12, 2016


- any other ideas for what a British man in his 20s might go off to do around 1895 that would result in him leaving home and then dying while away? Broadly speaking, he's middle class, though I'm somewhat flexible.


Serving on a merchant ship or whaling ship? Accident at sea, storm, or pirates?
posted by Michele in California at 4:34 PM on June 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


The 1890s were still a really important time for paleontology, natural history, and archaeology. Occasionally, colonial officers were also out wandering around looking for fossils or specimens while Representing The Country. For example, Eugene DuBois was a Dutch colonial administrator in Indonesia when he found the first Homo erectus fossils. Alfred Russel Wallace's brother died of yellow fever while the two of them were separated in Peru collecting natural history specimens (though that was in the 1850s, there were people doing the same thing and dying of malaria and yellow fever and typhoid and cholera well into the 1920s). If you're interested in going the Great White Hunter route, there are a number of books they published about their exploits. If a member of the party died, the person in charge would send a letter back to the family extolling his bravery and many virtues in the face of danger.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:53 PM on June 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


If a member of the party died, the person in charge would send a letter back to the family extolling his bravery and many virtues in the face of danger.

And also hitting notes of Empire--an emphasis on a bit of England standing watch eternal over a foreign land.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:25 PM on June 12, 2016


If he doesn't have to be in the military, Googling turned up a smallpox outbreak on the RMS Cuzco in 1895. It was a passenger ship that had gone from London to Adelaide. An Englishman of that time could probably emigrate to Australia for all kinds of reasons.
posted by FencingGal at 6:22 PM on June 12, 2016


As a side question - any other ideas for what a British man in his 20s might go off to do around 1895 that would result in him leaving home and then dying while away?

I don't know if this is sufficiently different but Winston Churchill, in 1899, covered the Second Boer War as a journalist for "The Morning Post" newspaper.

Perhaps your character could do that type of thing in the Sudan of 1895 ?

Churchill was captured and made a Prisoner of War but in the course of that he came very close to getting shot to death so your character could perhaps suffer that fate ?
posted by southof40 at 8:04 PM on June 12, 2016


On a similar note to posters above, perhaps send him to India as part of either the Raj or the East India Company - it was a common dumping ground for younger sons. As a bonus, it would be fairly easy to give him some fatal tropical disease or have him offed by revolutionaries.
posted by Tamanna at 12:52 AM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


He goes to Ceylon to work in the tea business, and tumbles down the side of a steep tea plantation, breaking his neck, after one too many scotch and sodas.

He goes to Burma as a civil servant and gets food poisoning from a crab curry.

He goes to Uganda as a missionary and falls off a slippery bridge.

He is a painter who travels to the Greek islands for the light, where he dies from an infection after stepping on a sea urchin.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 2:50 AM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


William Grant Stairs 1 July 1863 – 9 June 1892 (aged 28)

"Canadian-British[1] explorer, soldier, and adventurer who had a leading role in two of the most controversial expeditions in the history of the colonisation of Africa."

"On a steamer down the lower Zambezi he had another attack of malaria which killed him on 9 June 1892. He is buried in the European Cemetery in Chinde, Mozambique at the mouth of the Zambezi River."

posted by porpoise at 10:17 AM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


any other ideas for what a British man in his 20s might go off to do around 1895 that would result in him leaving home and then dying while away? Broadly speaking, he's middle class, though I'm somewhat flexible.

PG Woodehouse was a junior clerk at the London offices of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC, today) at about this time before becoming a writer. Clerks were trained up in London for a year or two before being sent to an overseas posting; he discusses how this works in his novel PSmith in the City . If it is merely essential that he die and not what of, you could certainly send him there and give him typhoid. Bit of light googling says they got the telegraph in 1871, so that'd be a possible means of death notice.
posted by Diablevert at 12:41 PM on June 13, 2016


So many fascinating ideas. I can't pick any out as best answers as they're all brilliant - I want to write them all! I've gone for merchant navy, which may yet evolve into the Colonial Service in a subsequent draft - thanks, all.
posted by penguin pie at 3:39 PM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


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