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Royal Engineers
Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis

Early Life and Enlistment

Bartholemew Beckett was born on the 20th of March 1823 near the town of Gibraltar in the Province of Andalusia. Since he was born near Gibraltar, it is most probable that his father was a soldier who was stationed there at that time. This assumption is further borne out by the fact that young Bartholemew attested for service in the Army at Woolwich, Kent on the 20th of November 1837. On that date he joined the Royal Sappers and Miners as a Boy Soldier at the age of 14 years, 7 months and 29 days. Woolwich was the home of the Royal Artillery and also home, at that time, to numerous units of the Royal Sappers and Miners. Bartholemew’s father may have been either a "Gunner" or a "Sapper." Since young Beckett joined the Royal Sappers and Miners, it is very likely that his father was also a member of that Corps.

Home Service

Beckett was assigned the duties of Bugler and continued to serve as a Boy Soldier until the 20th of March 1841 when he attained the age of 18 years. On that date he was admitted to the ranks and continued to serve as a Bugler. Bugler Beckett became Private Beckett on th 1st of October 1844 and assumed the duties of a Miner on that date.

Private Beckett was awarded Good Conduct Pay at the rate of one penny (1.d) per day on the 20th of July 1846. On the 15th of January 1851 Beckett was promoted to the rank of 2nd Corporal. His service papers do not indicate his stations of assignment but it is safe to assume that he served at Home from the time of his initial enlistment until his departure for Australia in 1857. During this period it appears that he developed skills as a draughtman; skills which he would employ for the remainder of his military service. It also appears that he was engaged on work for the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain for a portion of this time.

In May of 1853 Lieutenant Andrew Clarke, R.E. too up duties in Melbourne as the Surveyor General of Victoria. As Surveyor General he was under constant pressure to survey areas of crown land all over the colony so that they could be offered for sale, or set aside as reserves. Lieutenant Clarke knew that these local surveys had to be connected as soon as possible by triangulation. In the hope of easing his shortage of surveyors’ assistants, Clarke applied in August of 1853 for not fewer than thirty men of the Royal Sappers and Miners selected from the companies of the Corps then engaged on the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain. Only half a dozen could be spared to be sent to Australia.

Service in Australia

2nd Corporal Beckett was one of the half dozen men in the detachment that arrived in Australia on the 27th of September 1854 for surveying duties with Lieutenant Clarke. In addition to Beckett the detachment consisted of a Sergeant and four Privates, along with six wives and seven children. 2nd Corporal Beckett was obviously married at this time.

Beckett continued to work for Lieutenant Clarke on survey duties for a number of years. On the 17th of October 1856 the officers of the Royal Engineers and the Other Ranks of the Royal Sappers and Miners were amalgamated to form the Corps of Royal Engineers. This organizational change had no effect on Beckett’s duties. He was awarded Good Conduct Pay at 2.d per day on the 20th of March 1857. Exactly one year later he was awarded Good Conduct Pay at 3.d per day.

Lieutenant Clarke left Australia in August of 1858 and returned to England. The survey work which was under way by his detachment of Royal Engineers was continued under the direction of a civilian commissioner. Beckett’s survey duties continued into 1859 when their work was finally terminated. Only four of the original six men of the detachment remained. Two others had died in the intervening years. In March of 1859, having completed 18 years of service in the ranks, Beckett was authorized the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. On the 1st of March 1860 Beckett was awarded Good Conduct Pay at 4.d per day.

On the 13th of June 1860 Captain Peter Henry Scratchley, R.E. arrived in Melbourne with 21 men of the 4th Company, Royal Engineers. 2nd Corporal Beckett was assigned to Captain Scratchley’s command. Captain Scratchley’s detachment immediately set to work on preparing gun battery positions at Williamstown and Sandridge, and on the seawall of the fort on Shortland’s Bluff at Queenscliff.

Beckett was promoted to Corporal on the 1st of January 1861. During this year Captain Scratchley helped to raise and train the Victorian Volunteer Engineers. Corporal Beckett and the other Non-Commissioned Officers and Sappers of the 4th Company provided technical instruction in the raising of this new Corps.

In December of 1861, for financial reasons, it was decided that all Royal Engineers in Australia except one Sergeant Foreman of Works, one Corporal Draughtsman, and one Sapper Clerk-Bookkeeper would be sent to New Zealand. Beckett was the Corporal Draughtsman selected to stay behind. After the departure of the remainder of the men of the 4th Company, Beckett was attached to a Royal Artillery battery and placed on furlough pending his discharge from the Army. The reason that Beckett was attached to the Royal Artillery was due to the fact that the government of Victoria would not pay for a Royal Engineer to command the remaining engineer soldiers in the colony. The soldiers were given the option of taking their discharges in Victoria and staying on as civilians. This option was chosen by Beckett as he was very close to completing his required 21 years of service.


On the 20th of March 1862 Beckett was awarded Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 5.d per day and on the 30th of April 1862 a Regimental Board convened at Melbourne to consider the discharge of Corporal Bartholemew Beckett based on his having completed upwards of 21 years of service with the Colours. The Board consisted of Captain P.H. Scratchley, R.E. as President and Lieutenant L. Herbert Nugent, R.A. and Ensign E.B. Robinson, 40th Regiment as Members. The Board reckoned his total service as 21 years and 42 days, of which 7 years and 245 days had been service abroad in Australia.

The Discharge Board noted that his conduct while in service was "Very Good" and that he was in possession of five Good Conduct Badges. His name did appear in the Regimental Defaulters Book but he was never tried by Court-Martial.

Corporal Batholemew Beckett was discharged from the Army by authority of His Royal Highness the General Commanding-in-Chief in an order dated Horse Guards, 21st of July 1862. On the date of his final discharge his total service was reckoned at 21 years and 134 days. This period of total service did not include his time spent as a Boy Soldier from the date of his enlistment until his 18th birthday. He was discharged at Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. His age on discharge was 39 years, 1 month and 10 days. At the time of his discharge Beckett was described as being 5 feet 6 inches tall with a fair complexion, grey eyes and red hair. He had no scars or other distinguishing marks. After leaving the Army Beckett indicated that his intended place of residence would be Victoria, Australia.


1. Public Record Office File WO97/1359. War Office Form 83, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 30 April 1862.

a. Proceedings of a Regimental (Discharge) Board.
b. Character and Conduct.
c. Detailed Statement of Services.
d. Final Description.

2. Mc NICOLL, R. The Royal Australian Engineers, 1838 to 1902: The Colonial Engineers. The Corps Committee of the Royal Australian Engineers, Canberra