" A most elegant and
superb ball": Hospitality of the 8th Regiment's Officers at the
Opening of the War of 1812
by Robert Henderson
Of all the regiments serving in North America, the 8th Regiment of Foot was the most noted for their hospitality. The diary of Henry Porter (NAC, MG 24, H78) contains a number of entries noting him dining in the 8th officers' mess. One entry was as follows:
Quebec, 30 March 1812- "returned home to dress for a most elegant and superb ball given at the Barracks by Col. Young and the officers of the King's (8th Regt.) 200 covers laid at supper. Several of the company did not retire until 8 in the morning."
In April 1812, this regiment's officers threw quite an elaborate ball and supper in Montreal for the social elite:
"On Monday evening last the officers of the King's Regt. gave a splendid ball and supper to a very numerous company in the attic story of the Officers' new barracks. The ceiling, walls, and orchestra were entirely covered and partitions formed with flags. The upper wall was covered by the standard of England, against the middle of which was placed a transparency of his Majesty, supported on each side, by the colours of the regiment. The floor was painted in black and white cheques, interspersed, at the upper and with the plume and motto of the Prince of Wales; in the center with the badge of the regiment; and at the lower end with military trophies. The whole arch of the building was divided into a dancing and supper room, except a small part of the dancing room taken off for a drawing room, which was handsomely furnished. The cardrooms were on the middle floor. The supper was in a very superior style, and the festivities of the evening altogether highly gratifying. The company did not retire 'till late the next morning." -Montreal Herald, 12 April 1812.
To entertain to such a degree it is presumed that the officers of the 8th tended to be financially well-off. This is reflected in shipping returns showing a number of civilian servants accompanying officers of this regiment to the Canadas (examples: Ensign Hylton with wife and maid servant, Lieutenant O'Flanagan with wife, 4 children, and maid servant [in addition to soldier servants]- a sign of considerable means for junior officers, NAC, MG 15, Treasury 28 vol. 11 (selections), Out-letters, 1813-14, pp. 4-5).
Entertaining hundreds of guests in Canada demanded a sizable number of dining 'tools' in the form of place settings, candle sticks, punch bowls, tureens, serving platers, glasses, and so on. From the accounts above, the 8th officers obviously had a great abundance of these implements. In July of 1812, mother nature decided to greatly reduce these stocks:
"The thunderstorm of yesterday evening was felt with peculiar violence on the plains of Abraham, where the King's Regiment [8th Regiment] was encamped. It commenced a five o'clock. The rain descended in such torrents... A number of tents were overturned, including the hospital marquee; the occupiers of which. in common with many other were forced to abade "the pedings of the pitiless storm." Hats, caps, drums, haversacks, canteens &c. were carried away and in a few minutes the "general camp, pioneers and all" were drenched to the skin; these disasters were easily remedied; a battle and kind landlady cures all again; but others had occupied not so easily replaced. The Marquees of the King's mess were laid prostrate; the tables and sideboards upset, and more than 2/3's of a fine set of cut glass and a newly imported set of Blue China-ware shivered to atoms. A hundred guineas would not make good the damages sustained." -Montreal Herald, 11 July 1812.
Whether is event hindered the 8th desire to entertain is uncertain. It is presumed the war years did not present opportunities to entertain to level the 8th did at the beginning of 1812.
Copyright The Discriminating General 1997
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