One of the Museum’s latest acquisitions, donated by the National Army Museum, is a mannequin in the form of Sergeant George Rose. For the last few weeks George has been camping out in the French Wars gallery of the Museum, between the Peninsular War case and Waterloo display. His story is fascinating and quite unique, and so the staff were unanimous in making him August’s object of the month.
Born a slave in Spanish Town, Jamaica, in 1787, George Rose escaped to England by the time he was 22 years old. In August 1809, he joined the 2nd Battalion of the 73rd Regiment of Foot in London. In Rose’s years with this Regiment he served in Germany, the Nertherlands and eventually at the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo in 1815. Rose was wounded in the Netherlands in 1814 and again at the battle of Waterloo, where he took a severe wound to his right arm.
In April 1817 the 2nd Battalion of the 73rd Regiment was disbanded. At this point, Rose transferred to the 42nd, making him one of very few known soldiers to have served with both the 73rd and the 42nd during the early 1800s. During his time with The Black Watch Rose again saw extensive service, from Ireland to Gibraltar to Corfu and Malta. In 1829 he was promoted to a Corporal and in 1831 promoted to Sergeant, making him the most senior black soldier known to be serving in a British regiment at this time.
In 1836 the Regiment returned to Scotland, and Sergeant Rose was discharged in Glasgow. He applied for a pension and it was recorded then that he was permanently incapacitated from military duty, including a weak right arm due to an old gunshot wound. Rose received 23p per day as a Chelsea out-pensioner, reflecting his rank and length of service.
For the next decade or so he remained in Glasgow, preaching on Glasgow Green as a member of the Primitive Methodists. In 1849 Rose returned to Jamaica, where slavery had been abolished in the 1830s. Rose spent 13 years as a missionary before retiring from the active work of the ministry in 1862. He died on 27 July 1873 near Spanish Town, Jamaica, where he was born.
The life of George Rose was well researched and written about by Mr John D Ellis, who published an article about Rose in the May 2001 edition of the Red Hackle. As well as recording these facts about Rose’s life, Ellis explores themes of racial attitudes and opportunities in the military in the early 1800s and puts forth his own theory as to why George Rose achieved such high rank with The Black Watch at the time.
Ellis says “Whilst the fact that Rose is the only black soldier known to achieve Senior NCO rank is a sad indictment of early nineteenth century “racial” attitudes, paradoxically, it is a tribute to the open mindedness of Lieutenant Colonel Munro and the men of the 42nd, that he was both selected for and accepted in that rank.” His article is highly recommended and can be found on pages 16-17 of the May 2001 Red Hackle.
You can visit Sergeant Rose at the Museum 7 days a week in gallery 3 and learn more about the period and the regiments that he served with.