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1204 Private
Royal Sappers and Miners
(later Sapper, Royal Engineers)


Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
2004. All Rights Reserved.


An unsuccessful search was made for Private Thomas Wood's service papers in the War Office files, WO97, at the National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office) at Kew, Richmond, Surrey. In order to piece together this narrative of Private Wood's service, it was necessary to consult the muster rolls and medal rolls to determine in which company of the Royal Sappers and Miners he served during his time in the Army. Therefore, the data contained in this work was obtained from a number of files found in the National Archives; namely, WO11/139, WO100/23 and WO11/168. Unless otherwise noted, the details presented in the following sections have been obtained from these files.

Unfortunately, the muster rolls do not contain the detailed information normally found in the soldier's service papers. In this particular case, Wood's Medical History would have been of great value since it appears that he was in bad health during his time in the Army. His health was so bad, in fact, that he was invalided out of the Army before completing his term of enlistment. Additionally, family and personal information is not available in the muster rolls. Such information as his approximate age, parent's and/or wife's names and addresses, children, if any, and his physical description are not available without the WO97 records. This research work then, is the author's best attempt to put together the service of Private Wood during his almost six years of Army life. Hopefully additional information about him may come to light through further research in the future.


Little is known about the early life of Thomas James Wood except that he was born in London and that prior to his enlistment in the Army he worked as a Smith. Assuming that he was eighteen years of age at the time of his enlistment, his year of birth would be approximately 1836.


Thomas Wood enlisted as a Private in the Royal Sappers and Miners at Woolwich on the 5th of April 1854.[1] He subsequently was assigned Regimental Number 1204 and was transferred to the School of Military Engineering at Brompton Barracks for his recruit training.


Home Service (1854)

On the 1st of December 1854 Private Wood was transferred from the Chatham Detachment of the Royal Sappers and Miners Depot and was posted to the 1st Company, Royal Sappers and Miners. The officer commanding the 1st Company at this time was Captain James Frankfort Manners Browne, R.E. The company remained at Chatham until January of 1854 when it prepared to embark for active service in the Crimean war.

The Crimea (1855-1856)

Private Wood departed with his company from Plymouth on the 7th of January 1855 aboard HMS Princess Royal. On the 8th of February 1855 the company arrived off the coast of Cape Chersonese on the Crimean Peninsula and there it cross-shipped to HMS Terrible. On the following day the company disembarked from HMS Terrible at Balaklava.

The 1st Company, Royal Sappers and Miners arrived too late to take part in the battles at the River Alma (20 September 1854), at Balaklava[2] (25 October 1854) or at Inkermann (5 November 1854). The company was primarily involved with engineer works associated with maintaining the port facilities at Balaklava and with the siege operations before Sebastopol. The siege of the Russian fortress at Sebastopol by the British and French armies under Lord Raglan and General St. Arnaud, respectively, had begun on the 28th of September 1854. The fortress was defended by a large force of Russians under Prince Mentchikov, with General Todleben, a German-born Russian, as his principal engineer officer. The besiegers were too few for a complete investment of the fortress, and although the harbour was closed by the British fleet under Sir Edmund Lyons, the Russians were able to obtain reinforcements and provisions from the north side of the harbour throughout the siege.

The allied batteries opened fire on the fortress on the 17th of October 1854 and from that time until the 8th of September 1855, the town was more or less continuously bombarded. On the 8th of September the Malakov, an important part of the Russian southern defences, was stormed by the French. On the same day the British stormed the position known as the Redan, but they were repulsed. The defences of Sebastopol became untenable as a result of the French success at the Malakov, which caused the Russians to set fire to the town, sink their fleet and cross the small estuary of the River Tchernaya on which Sebastopol stands. The allies were able to enter the fortress unopposed on the following day.[3],[4]

During the siege of Sebastopol the companies of the Royal Sappers and Miners were primarily involved with constructing saps and artillery emplacements, trenching, road construction, port construction and maintenance and support of infantry assaults on the Russian fortifications. The engineering effort for one of these assaults, against the Quarries, on the 6th of June 1855 was under the general supervision of Private Wood's commanding officer, Captain Browne.[5] Since Browne was the commander of the 1st Company, it may be that men of his company, including Private Wood were present with him during the assault. The company muster roll indicates that Wood was present with the company during June and July of 1855 and was not in hospital as was the case in April, May and August of that year.

On the 26th of March 1855 Private Wood was authorized the award of the Crimean War Medal with clasp [SEBASTOPOL].[6] Because of its late arrival in the Crimea, this is the only clasp to which the officers and men of the 1st Company were entitled. Additionally, it would appear that he also may have been entitled to the Turkish Crimean Medal issued by the Sultan of Turkey to officers and men who had taken part in the war. If Wood did receive this medal, its whereabouts is unknown.

The medal awarded to Private Wood was issued
only with the clasp [SEBASTOPOL]

The hardships suffered by the allied troops during the winters of 1854/1855 and 1855/1856 are well known and have been told many times over in the writings dealing with the work of Florence Nightingale in the Crimea. Wounds and sickness sent many men to hospital in Balaklava, where the medical facilities were extremely poor even by mid-Victorian standards. Thomas Wood was not in the best of health from the day he entered the Army, as will be seen in Section 7 of this research work. His ailments were probably made much worse by the poor sanitary and harsh weather conditions prevalent in the Crimea during the war. In any case, he remained with the 1st Company in the Crimea until the end of the war and beyond. Unfortunately, the natures of his illnesses are not known from the muster roll entries.

Malta (1856-1859)

The 1st Company, Royal Sappers and Miners left the Crimea on the 30th of May 1856 aboard the Steam Transport Foyle bound for the island of Malta. At the time that the 1st Company arrived at Malta, the company was commanded by Captain and Brevet Major Whitworth Porter, R.E., who had also served in the Crimea in 1855. Other officers in the company at that time included Lieutenant John Mervin Cutliffe Drake, R.E. and Lieutenant Henry William Hart Davies Dumaresq, R.E., both of whom also had served in the Crimea.

On the 1st of October 1856 the gallant services of the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners were rewarded at the close of the Crimean War by the grant of the title Royal Engineers. In the London Gazette of the 17th of October 1856 the change was thus announced:-

"The Queen has been graciously pleased to direct that the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners shall henceforth be denominated the Corps of Royal Engineers."

This reorganization put the non-commissioned officers and other ranks in the same Corps as the officers. As a consequence of this royal grant the rank and file were no longer known as Privates, but Sappers.

Sapper Wood served with the 1st Company, Royal Engineers on Malta until early December of 1859 when it was determined that his recurring illnesses were in fact a serious problem. On the 4th of December 1859 he was discharged as unfit for further service. On the following day he embarked aboard HMS Perseverance, bound for England. He was officially "invalided" while aboard ship on the 6th of December 1859.[7]

Home Service (1859)

Sapper Wood arrived in England on the 19th of December 1859 and was posted to the Adjutant's Detachment of the Royal Engineers' Depot at Chatham. He was discharged from the Army as an Invalid sometime before the end of that month.


a. Promotions: Private Wood did not receive any promotions during his time in service.

b. Conduct: Due to the unavailability of his service papers, it is not known if Private Wood received any Good Conduct Badges during his time in service. The records of the 1st Company, Royal Engineers show that he was absent without leave from his appointed place of duty on the 12th and 13th of June 1858 while serving on the island of Malta. For this infraction he forfeited two day's pay. This is the only known breach of discipline discovered during Wood's time in service, at least from the information available on the muster rolls that have been reviewed.


a. Education: Private Wood does not appear to have earned any Certificates of Education during his time in service, although this can not be confirmed without examining his non-existent service papers.

b. Qualifications: Thomas Wood enlisted a Private in the Royal Sappers and Miners and was posted to the ranks as a Smith. On the 1st of October 1856 he was redesignated as a Sapper in the Royal Engineers. The records of the 1st Company do not indicate that he earned any additional qualifications during his time in service. The muster roll of the 1st Company while serving on Malta shows that Wood's trade was listed as "Smith" and presumably he served in this capacity while in the Army.


The following medical information was taken from the muster rolls of the 1st Company, Royal Sappers and Miners during Private Wood's time in service:


Date of


Period of Hospitalization
Or Treatment


7 April 1854

Shown "sick" on muster roll.



April 1855

In hospital - ailment not specified.

Remained in hospital until sometime in May 1855.


August 1855

In hospital - ailment not specified.

Remained in hospital until 1 September 1855.


10 February 1856

In hospital - ailment not specified.

Released from hospital on 25 February 1856.


March 1856

In hospital - ailment not specified.

Remained in hospital for five days.


April 1856

In hospital - ailment not specified.

Duration of stay in hospital unknown.


May 1856

Listed as "sick" on muster roll.

Returned to duty sometime in June 1856.


February 1859

In hospital - ailment not specified.

Spent 47 days during the months of February and March 1859 in hospital.


July 1859

In hospital - ailment not specified.

Spent 66 of 92 days in hospital during the months of July through September 1859.

With so much lost time on his record, one must wonder whether Wood was a malingerer or whether he was a man with chronic health problems. His company officers and the medical officers who treated him between 1854 and 1859 must have believed his medical complaints were legitimate. Given the bad weather conditions and poor sanitary conditions in the Crimea, they probably expected that his health would improve when his company was sent to Malta. Unfortunately this did not happen and he subsequently was recommended for discharge as unfit for further service.


Thomas James Wood was discharged from the Army at Malta on the 4th of December 1859 after being judged medically unfit for further service. His total service at various postings was reckoned as shown in the table below:


Period of Service

Woolwich and Chatham

5 April 1854 to 6 January 1855


7 January 1855 to 5 June 1856


6 June 1856 to 18 December 1859


19 December to ? December 1859

It should be noted that the muster roll for his company in the final quarter of 1859 shows that he was discharged while he was still in Malta and that he was "invalided" aboard ship on the day after he sailed from Malta. This appears to mean that during the voyage from Malta to England he was actually a civilian, yet he was still under military control for a number of days while at Chatham before he was finally discharged as an Invalid. This is a rather complicated series of events that is not easy to follow and shows some if the idiosyncrasies that existed in the Army's personnel system in the mid-Victorian period.

Thomas Wood's total service at home and abroad is shown in the table below.


Period of Service

Home Service

Approximately 287 days

Service Abroad

4 years and 346 days

Total Service

About 5 years and 268 days



1. CONOLLY, T.W.J. Roll of Officers of the Corps of Royal Engineers From 1660 to 1898. The Royal Engineers Institute, Chatham, Kent, 1898.

2. GORDON, L.L. British Battles and Medals. Spink & Son, Ltd., London, 1971.

3. HARBOTTLE, T. Dictionary of Battles. Stein and Day, New York, 1971.

4. PORTER, W. The History of the Corps of Royal Engineers. Volume I. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1952.


1. Muster Roll & Pay List for April 1854 for the Detachment of the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners Stationed at Woolwich (WO11/139).

2. Nominal Roll of Non-Commissioned Officers and Privates of the Royal Sappers and Miners Who are Entitled to Receive a Medal for Service in the Crimea (WO100/23).

3. Royal Engineers Muster Roll and Pay List for the First Company for the Month of June 1858, Commanded by Major W. Porter at Malta.

4. Return of Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, Buglers and Sappers of the 1st Company, Royal Engineers during the Quarter from the 1st of October to the 31st of December 1859 (WO11/168).


London Gazette, 17 October 1856.


[1] It is possible that he enlisted on the 7th of April 1854. Conflicting dates appear on two of the muster rolls.

[2] No Royal Sappers and Miners were present at this action. The battle honour for this action went primarily to the Light and Heavy Cavalry Brigades and the 93rd Foot (2nd Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders).

[3] HARBOTTLE, p. 225.

[4] GORDON, p. 164.

[5] PORTER, p. 455.

[6] Medal Roll WO100/23.

[7] "Invaliding" by the definition of the time meant the sending or returning home, or sending to a more healthy climate, those soldiers rendered incapable of active duty by wounds, sickness or some other medical or physical reason.