Uniforms & Equipment
Specific details of dress and equipment of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment of Fencible Infantry no longer exist. The official letter authorizing the raising of the regiment in 1803 specified only that in pay, clothing, arms, and accoutrements the new corps was to be on the same footing as his Majesty’s Regiments of the line. Throughout the campaign seasons in the harsh Canadian climate, far from a ready source of supplies, the Royal Newfoundlanders would actually have had anything but a precise uniform appearance. In winter, regular uniform clothing was supplemented with fur caps, mitts, moccasins, and warm leggings.
The main components of the uniform were the red tunic, stovepipe shako, and either white (in summer) or grey wool (in winter) trousers. Over the top of the tunic the soldier wore the necessary accoutrements for making war, namely white leather cross-belts carrying his cartridge box, and bayonet, a canvas bread bag for his small personal items, and a blue painted wooden water canteen.
Bulger’s Company wears a uniform as illustrated in the photo on the right. Some of the uniform items are made by members of the regiment themselves, while others are obtained from seamstresses or tailors. Muskets can be obtained from several different suppliers. The estimated cost for a complete uniform (including a musket) is about $1,600. However, new recruits usually start with the most basic items, and gradually accumulate a more complete uniform over a period of time.
By 1802 the soldier’s brick red coat had developed from a long skirted garment with wide curved lapels into a single-breasted jacket or coatee. It was cut quite tight, square at the waist with a short skirt which was turned back to expose the white serge lining of the tunic. The tunic had a stiff stand-up collar that opened at the throat to show the heavy black leather neckstock that forced the soldier to keep his chin up. The collar, epaulettes, and cuffs of the tunic were faced with dark blue wool, signifying a royal regiment, and the buttonholes were trimmed with red, white, and blue lace particular to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. White wool tufts were worn at the corners of the epaulettes to signify a battalion company, with laced wings instead of the tufts for flank and grenadier companies. A total of 10 regimental buttons of white metal secured the front of the tunic with a further 20 adorning the cuffs, the slash pockets, the epaulettes, and the small of the back.
Two sizes were used, 5/8th inch buttons down the front, and 15/16th inch elsewhere on the coat.
Although of coarse finish, the woollen broad cloth used in the tunic was of substantial weight “real good soldier’s cloth… being supposed to weigh… one pound nine ounces per yard”. The colour was obtained by dying with madder. The cloth used for sergeants’ coats was of a much finer finish, and of a brighter scarlet (closer to the superfine cloth used in officers’ uniforms). With exposure, the dye faded, and therefore coats were “turned” i.e. the coat seams were ripped, lace and lining removed and cleaned, the cloth reversed and the whole garment re-sewn inside out.
Regimental tailors worked from 6 am to 8 pm on these tasks (they were excused from all other duties) and in 1813 received two pence for a pair of wings and one shilling for a coat. The soldier was entitled to a new coat each December 25th., but it is not likely that they received them regularly here in British North America.
Before 1800, the soldier’s headgear was a tricorn cocked felt hat. This was replaced by a shako, which was a cylindrical black lacquered leather hat about 7 inches high, with a black leather peak. The front carried a rectangular stamped brass plate, 6 inches by 4 inches, which bore the Royal Cypher enclosed in the Garter and surmounted by a Crown. On the front of the shako, centred above the plate, and extending upwards from the top was either a white over red worsted plume (for battalion men), or green (for light infantry), or white (for grenadiers). At the base of the plume was a black rosette with a regimental button.
In 1806, a felt shako of similar shape and dimensions, with the same adornments and a black lacquered leather peak, replaced the leather cap. This was commonly referred to as the stovepipe shako and was probably worn by the Newfoundlanders throughout the War of 1812 even though the “Belgic” or “Waterloo” shako was approved for British infantry in 1811.
White woollen knee breeches were worn with black knee-length canvas gaiters. Trousers were worn for fatigues, and gradually replaced the breeches. Some trousers were white, and buttoned up the outside like a pair of gaiters. In some cases when uniform supplies could not be obtained, the trousers were made locally of brown or grey homespun, or striped cotton ticking. As trousers became accepted for campaign dress, grey calf-length gaiters were worn underneath with black leather ankle boots, or “beef boots” as they were sometimes called. Boots of this type, with the rough side out, have been found by archaeologists at Fort Malden, Amherstburg, in which the sole is fastened to the upper not by stitching, but by small wooden pegs.
Accoutrements consisted of:
- a round wooden water canteen, painted blue and sealed with beeswax to make it watertight. It was marked with the British broad arrow sign, and the regimental name
- a white leather cross belt carrying a black leather cartouche (cartridge) box. This was worn suspended from the left shoulder with the belt diagonally across the body so that the cartouche box was on the right side.
- a white leather cross belt carrying a three-sided bayonet in a scabbard. This was worn suspended from the right shoulder with the belt diagonally across the body so that the bayonet and scabbard were on the left side.
- a brass regimental plate covering the point where the cross belts overlap
- a white canvas bread bag (haversack) to which is attached a tin or pewter drinking mug, The bag was also worn on the left side of the body and suspended diagonally from the right shoulder.
- a brass chain holding the pick and whisk (musket cleaning tools) slung from a tunic button.
Beneath the tunic a white (or striped) cotton shirt was worn. To carry his kit from one barracks to another, the soldier wore a backpack made of black canvas. It was carried on the back just below the shoulders, and was secured by white straps and topped by a rolled grey blanket. For fatigue wear, he wore a white wool jacket, waist length with blue epaulettes, while plumb and ugly on his head he wore a round red and blue wool forage cap with a red tuft on the top. In winter, a long grey woollen overcoat with a cape was issued.
For more about uniforms see The American War 1812-1814. Osprey Military Men-at-Arms Series, 226. By Philip Katcher and Bryan Fosten, published by Reed Consumer Books Ltd., London, England, 1990. Forty pages, 8 full colour plates.