Home Page

5272 CORPORAL JOHN SALSBURY
ROYAL ENGINEERS
by
Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis, 1999

Early Life and Enlistment (1839 - 1859)

John Salsbury was born in April of 1839 in St. Saviour’s Parish near London, in the County of Surrey. He was a miner by trade prior to enlisting in the Army.

As a miner, John Salsbury would have been a prime candidate for recruitment into the Royal Engineers as this was one of the trades much sought after by the Corps. Salsbury was enlisted for the Royal Engineers at Woolwich, Kent on the 1st of February 1858. Two days later he was administered the Oath of Attestation.

At the time of his enlistment, Salsbury was 18 years and 10 months of age. He was 5 feet 8 inches tall with a chest measurement of 37-1/4 inches. During his initial physical examination his pulse was measured at 70 beats per minute and his respiration at 16 inspirations per minute. The results of his spirometer test was 226 inches. The examining physician noted that Salsbury’s muscular development was good and that he showed no previous marks of having had smallpox. He did have a mark indicating that he had been vaccinated as a child.

Following the final approval of his enlistment, John Salsbury was assigned Regimental Number 5272 and the rank of Sapper in the Royal Engineers. He was then sent to the School of Military Engineering at Brompton Barracks, Chatham, Kent for his initial training as an engineer soldier.

Service on Corfu (1859 - 1865)

After a year of training at Chatham, Sapper Salsbury was assigned to duties on the island of Corfu, arriving there in June of 1859. One of the Ionian Islands, Corfu was located off the coast of southwest Albania and northwest Greece. This 229 square mile island had been under British administration since 1815 and remained so until 1864 when it became a part of Greece. Like so many other of the British island possessions such as Malta, Cyprus, Ceylon, Jamaica, Bermuda and Mauritius, Corfu was valued for its seaport. Royal Engineer units normally assigned to such islands were Fortress Companies, whose mission was to assist in the defence of the harbours.

No information is provided in his service papers with regard to his unit of assignment on Corfu at this time. On the 3rd of February 1861 Salsbury was awarded Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 1.d. per day. On the 23rd of March 1861 he was admitted to hospital on Corfu after suffering a contusion from an unknown cause. He was released from hospital on the 6th of April 1861 after losing 15 days of duty time.

Service at Aldershot (1865 - 1866)

The British government turned Corfu over to Greece in 1864. Sapper Salsbury returned to England early in 1865 and was assigned to duties at Aldershot. Aldershot at this time was home for a Cavalry Brigade and three Infantry Brigades. The Commander Royal Engineers (C.R.E.) at Aldershot was Colonel J.L.A. Simmons, C.B. Again, his service papers provide no information regarding his unit of assignment.

It did not take him long to fall in with the ladies of the evening in town. He was admitted to hospital on the 24th of February 1865 with a case of primary syphilis. He was treated in hospital for a period of 54 days and was released back to duty on the 18th of April. On the 3rd of February 1866 Sapper Salsbury was awarded Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 2.d. per day. It should be noted that the Army during the Victorian period did not consider the affliction with a venereal disease as bad conduct. It was considered a "line of duty" illness and no stigma was attached to the soldier who came down with it. Despite the loss of 54 days of duty time in hospital, Salsbury was still awarded Good Conduct Pay on the anniversary of his eighth year of service.

Service at Southampton (1866 - 1872)

On the 9th of February 1866 Sapper Salsbury was reassigned to duties at Southampton. No details are given in his papers regarding his unit at Southampton although it is known that this was the headquarters of the Ordnance Survey. Given the fact that Salsbury later performed duties as a Surveyor, it is safe to assume that he was probably assigned to Ordnance Survey headquarters at this time.

Salsbury re-engaged at Southampton to complete 21 years of service on the 3rd of December 1867. On the 3rd of June 1870 he was awarded Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 3.d. per day.

Service at Oxford (1872 - 1879)

Sapper Salsbury was assigned to a detachment at Oxford on the 21st of June 1872, probably on surveying duties. He was promoted to 2nd Corporal on the 14th of June 1873 and was awarded Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 4.d. on the 3rd of February 1874.

John Salsbury completed 18 years of service on the 2nd of February 1876 and became eligible to receive the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. He was promoted to the rank of Corporal on the 12th of July 1876.

Discharge (1879)

Salsbury completed 21 years of service on the 2nd of February 1879 and was awarded Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 5.d. on the following day. Having completed his second term of limited engagement in the Army, he submitted his claim for discharge.

A Regimental Discharge Board convened at Southampton on the 19th of February 1879 to review Salsbury’s claim for discharge. Salsbury was not present at the Board proceedings. The Board was composed of Colonel R.M Parsons, R.E. who acted as President, and Lieutenant Colonel C.P. Carey, R.E. and Captain W.S.G. Burke, R.E. who were both members. The Board recommended that Corporal Salsbury be discharged and the proceedings of the Board were then reviewed by Colonel A.C. Cooke, R.E., Commanding the Survey Companies, Royal Engineers. Colonel Cooke approved the Board’s recommendations.

John Salsbury was 39 years and 10 months old when he was discharged. He was described as being 5 feet 10 inches tall with a fresh complexion, grey eyes and fair hair. He had no distinctive marks or scars on his body. His trades on discharge were listed as Miner and Surveyor.

Salsbury’s total service was reckoned at 21 years and 17 days on the date that his discharge board convened. He had a total of 5 years of service abroad (on Corfu). He had lost only 69 days of duty time in hospital during his military service.

His conduct was described as "Very Good" and his habits as "Very Temperate." At the time of his discharge he was in possession of five Good Conduct Badges. His name did not appear in the Regimental Defaulters Book, and he was never tried by court martial. Salsbury was also in possession of the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal and he was awarded a gratuity of 5 Pounds along with the medal. There is no indication in his military records that he was in possession of a Certificate of Education of any class and it is not known whether he was married. John Salsbury’s intended place of residence after discharge was listed as 281 Weston Street, Dover Road, London.

Salsbury’s discharge papers were received in the Secretary’s Office, Royal Hospital Chelsea on the 5th of March 1879. His discharge received final approval at Horse Guards on the 11th of March 1879. At the time of his final discharge his total service was reckoned at 21 years and 37 days.

John Salsbury saw no active service while in the Army and did not serve in any campaigns. The Long Service and Good Conduct Medal he received is the only medal to which he was entitled.

REFERENCES

Books

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. FARWELL, B. Mr. Kipling’s Army: All the Queen’s Men. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1981.
3. GRIERSON, J.M. Scarlet Into Khaki: The British Army on the Eve of the Boer War. Greenhill Books, London, 1988.
4. MERRIAM WEBSTER. Geographical Dictionary, Springfield, MA, 1997.
5. PORTER, W. The History of the Corps of Royal Engineers. Volume II. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1952.
6. SKELLEY, A.R. The Victorian Army at Home: The Recruitment and Terms and Conditions of the British Regular, 1859-1899. McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal, 1977.

Documents

WO97/1856. Soldier’s Service Papers. Public Record Office, London.

a. W.O. Form 83. Proceedings of a Regimental Discharge Board.
b. Form F. Medical History.
c. Detailed Statement of Services.

Maps

1. AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION. AA Motorists Atlas of Great Britain. Basingstoke, 1984.
2. BAEDEKER, K. Great Britain Handbook for Travellers. Karl Baedeker, Publisher, Leipzig, 1910.
3. BARTHOLOMEW, J. Reference Atlas of Greater Lonon. John Bartholomew & Son Ltd., Edinburgh, 1957.

Periodicals

HART, H.G. The New Army List, April 1864. John Murray, London, 1864.