Jason Clarke Antiques

Crimean War Period Beckwith Cavalry Carbine owned by Captain Forster 4th Dragoon Guards - Charge of the Heavy Brigade


For sale, a private purchase Crimean War period Brunswick type cavalry carbine by Beckwith of London belonging to Captain Francis Rowland Forster of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards surviving officer of The Charge of the Heavy Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava.

This superior quality carbine sports a 25” Damascus steel barrel with fixed sights terminating at a rare and early Brunswick first pattern type back action lock plate both of which are engraved to the famous gunsmith, “Beckwith, London”. Similar also to the Brunswick it has a brass butt plate, patch box and trigger guard and particular to cavalry use, it has a saddle bar and ring and a captive ramrod to assist with reloading whilst on horseback.

The rifle has decorative engraving to the majority of the fittings and is further engraved to, “Capt F. Rowland Forster to the inside of the patch box lid and it remains in superb condition throughout.

Captain Forster joined the 4th Dragoon Guards in February of 1840 as a Cornet, was promoted to Lieutenant in March of 1842 and made Captain in January of 1847, the rank which he held when his regiment were given orders to sail for The Crimea.

Following the British Army’s successful landing and the ensuing Battle of Alma in September of 1854, the British Army took the town of Balaclava as its supply base and headquarters. With the Russian defeat and their subsequent retreat back upon the coastal town of Sevastapol, plans were formulated to counter attack and repulse the British from their newly established base of operations. The Russian advance of 25,000 men under General Liprandi signalled the beginning of The Battle for Balaclava which took place shortly after on the 25th of October 1854.

The battle is perhaps the most famous of the numerous actions that took place in the two year campaign and is also known for the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade and The Thin Red Line but it was the Turks defending the outer defences of the town that took the initial brunt of the attack at dawn. Being outnumbered by ten to one, it wasn’t long before the Ottoman troops collapsed after some furious fighting and the Russians established themselves in three of the six redoubts that sat upon the ridge between the north and south valley above the town.

Following the initial success, the Russian heavy cavalry advanced to the right of the captured redoubts and a squadron was sent to charge the 93rd who were the only infantry regiment available to support the fleeing Turks. This charge was turned by the force of the 93rd’s volleys and led to the historic and enduring title of The Thin Red Line. The rest of the Russian Brigade were meanwhile unaware of the British Heavy Brigade positioned at the base of the ridge on the other side and were moving in support of the fleeing Ottoman troops by virtue of an order from Lord Raglan.

Lieutenant Colonel Scarlett began leading the squadron of heavies at the head of the 5th Dragoons followed by The Greys, The Inniskillings and The 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards bringing up the rear and it was in this order that the Brigade began the uphill charge against its opponents. The Russians were slow to respond and attempting to form a pincer movement to envelop the initial charge of The 5th Dragoons, The Greys & The Inniskillings they were met on their right flank by the 4th in support. This final movement was led by Colonel Edward Hodge, Forster’s commanding Officer and his diaries and a letter written by Forster himself some ten years later to Hodge, provide an on the spot account. Captain Forster was in command of the regiment’s first or right squadron during the action;

“When we moved down by the side of the vineyard to attack the Russians, we were in column of troops or squadrons left in front. At the bottom of the vineyard where we wheeled to the left, we were certainly in column of troops, as I remember perfectly your ordering me, when my squadron had passed through some broken ground at the end of the vineyard, to front-form my squadron and charge immediately on the flank of the Russians and that you would bring up the second squadron after me”.

The Fourth’s charge headed by Captain Forster was so effective on the right wing of the Russian cavalry that they quickly emerged on the other side of their target and Forster, “tried to get some our men to rally and reform” but the Russians had by this time, resumed some order and retreated by virtue of the British Field Artillery that was brought to bear on them.

Scarlett’s Brigade including the Fourth were then directed to the head of the North Valley in support of the Light Brigade who were ordered on the historically bloody charge directly towards the Russian guns lined up at the opposing end and on either side of the valley.  

So successful was this action that the entire brigade lost just one man killed and 5 wounded during the initial charge. They lost a further 5 men killed and 93 wounded whilst in support of the Light Brigade’s foolhardy attempts to dislodge the Russians from their newly won redoubts.

Forster, for his part must have made a significant impression on his superiors throughout the day as he is listed as having shortly after received a promotion to Brevet Major and it is around this time that Roger Fenton, the first British war photographer now world renowned for his documenting of the Crimean campaign arrived. His appearance in March 1855, some five months after the battle of Balaclava was sadly too late to provide documentary evidence of the action but he did spend some time with the 4th Royal Irish Dragoons and by virtue of Forster’s rank and access to Fenton, some images remain of him.

A Colonel Hodge letter of 11th May 1855 relates;

“I hope that you will receive the photographic views of my hut and camp all safe. The man who did them has, I think returned to England. He has taken with him the original plates and he says that he will give copies of them at five shillings each to any of our friends who wish for them, and better done than those he did here. His address is as follows: Mr R Fenton, Photographer to the British Museum, 2 Albert Terrace, Albert Road, Regent’s Park. He did a very good thing of myself, Webb, Forster, sitting down at the door of his marquee, and a white horse of Forster’s being held by a servant. Then there is another of Webb, Forster and myself, with Mrs Rogers, and Webb’s servant and pony. We are standing at the door of Webb’s hut. He also did some others of the officers in groups, which are extremely good. I hope he will keep his work and carry the plates back with him to England”.

 Hodge was mistaken as to Fenton’s whereabouts but he did leave the centre of operations to accompany the army on an expedition to The Kertsch, an attempt to cut the Russian supply lines. He remained in The Crimea until June 1855.

Nevertheless, the first image related by Hodge shows just the scene described and from this we can deduce that Captain Forster is the man seated in front of Fenton’s tent (see images). The other reflects a scene outside of Captain Webb’s hut and Forster can be seen at the centre of the picture in profile looking towards Webb standing in the doorway. Copies of both these prints can be found in The Royal Collection.

The 4th Dragoon Guards embarked from The Crimea in December of 1855 and made their way to Constantinople, finally returning to England in June 1856 where they were inspected by Queen Victoria and then ordered to Leeds and then Manchester in the following year. Forster must have embarked slightly earlier in September as the Dublin Evening Mail reports that Major Forster’s arrival in Dublin was daily expected where he had been newly appointed as ADC to Major General Sir JC Chatterton himself a distinguished Peninsular War veteran.

Forster was afterwards awarded the Crimea medal with clasps for Balaclava, Inkerman and Sebastapol, the Sardinian and Turkish medals and a 5th class of the Medjidie.

Little more is known of his later military career, he remained with the 4th Dragoon Guards and achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1861 and was placed on half pay by 1865. He finally retired in 1874.

After leaving the army, he resided at Park House, North Circular Road, Dublin and acted as Master of the Horse to several Lord Lieutenants of Ireland as well as Chief Ranger at the Curragh.

He died at the age of 88 on the 16th of August 1910 leaving a substantial will of £16,054 which also included two pictures of the Empress of Austria that were presented to him by Queen Victoria and shares in the Leopardstown Club and Baldoyle Racecourse Company. He was laid to rest in Dublin’s Mount Jerome cemetery where his newspaper obituary relates that wreaths were sent by The Earl & Countess of Aberdeen, The Marquis of Londonderry, The Marquis of Northampton, The Earl Spencer and the Countess Cowper. Testament to the good standing of this brave and long surviving veteran of the Crimea campaign.

Given the dates for Forster’s captaincy and the engraving, this private purchase Beckwith cavalry carbine is likely to have been manufactured between 1847 and 1854 and would have accompanied Forster to the Crimea. Although there was never a standard British Army Brunswick rifle pattern allocated to the cavalry regiments, its invention covered the period between flintlock and the percussion rifles that succeeded them so would have been an obvious choice of pattern for Forster to commission. It is so similar to the 1837 first pattern (the Baker rifle’s successor) that it could not have been manufactured at any date prior. We do also know that Beckwith were one of the manufacturers of the famous Baker rifle for the British Army.

The business of the gun maker Andrew Beckwith was situated at 58 Skinner Street and apart from the superior quality of its output, was famous for having been ransacked during the Spa Field riots in 1816. Freshly whipped up by radical speeches, a mob surrounded Beckwith’s shop with a view to arming themselves. It culminated with one of Beckwith’s customer being fatally wounded and the most part of the shop inventory being taken. The ensuing trial led to a number of executions.

By 1835, the founder William Beckwith had died but the business remained under family ownership and was run by his widow Elizabeth and son Henry.

In itself, this cavalry carbine is a rare and unusual pattern and remains in superb condition, but its exceptional provenance makes this a unique item. Weapons owned by Heavy Brigade chargers are perhaps rarer than those encountered by their Light Brigade counterparts and with the addition of period Crimean campaign images of Forster undertaken by Roger Fenton and contemporary letters, it brings this piece to life in a way that is almost impossible in the case of other period weaponry.

A museum piece of superb quality, condition and provenance, owned by an officer who played a key role in the Charge of the Heavy Brigade, endured the same cannon fire as the Light Brigade shortly afterwards and went on to take part in both the Battle of Inkerman and the Siege of Sevastapol.

In the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson:

“Glory to each and to all, and the charge that they made! Glory to all the three hundred, and all the Brigade!”

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