British Garibaldian Red Shirts

British Garibaldian Red Shirts



[002944] [British Garibaldian Red Shirts]. Small Collection of Papers Relating to the British Garibaldian Volunteer Legion. Various: No Publisher, 1860. First Edition. Various. Unbound. Documents. Good. Three documents relating to the British Garibaldians in Italy, together with a later printed document celebrating their exploits.

Firstly, a manuscript pass with ink stamps, dated December 9th 1860, in Salerno, signed by the Commander Chas. Stanhope Smelt, allowing a Sergeant Martin and a Corporal Ferguson to travel to Naples for twenty-four hours.

Secondly, an autograph application from Caserta, dated November 2nd 1860, by Corporal Grenadier Charles Bell to the Colonel of the British Volunteer Legion, requesting that “it being my intention to leave the Brigade I should feel obliged by having the discharge pass required to enable me to proceed to Naples on my way to England” and thirdly a printed and part manuscript railway boarding pass for truppe Garibaldi (Garibaldi troops).

Also included is an advert for an excursion of the British Garibaldians in 1864, issued from the Arundel Chop House in the Strand, for a visit to Rye House, with Garibaldians to “appear in Private Dress with their colors, and their friends with Rosettes’ (conjugate blank torn with loss of about a sixth of the page).

To circumvent legal restrictions on the recruitment of volunteers in England, advertisements were issued describing the Legion as “a select party of English excursionists” intent to “visit” Italy, and noted that the Excursionists would be armed “as the country is somewhat unsettled” (Finn, After Chartism, page 206). About eight hundred men volunteered for the Legion, being described as “earnest liberals, desperadoes, and rogues” (Smith, Radical Artisan, page 136), and “hard drinking roughs from the slums”, (Pemble following Trevelyan and quoted in Sutcliffe, British Red Shirts: A History of the Garibaldi Volunteers (1860) in Arielli and Collins, Transnational Soldiers: Foreign Military Enlistment in the Modern Era), whose military contribution was “minimal” (Finn, op cit, page 207). Despite this, Sutcliffe goes on to note that Trevelyan’s “damning verdict appears to have been more nuanced: beyond the notorious ‘roughs’ he also acknowledged the existence of an ‘other half’ within the British Legion, defined as ‘old soldiers, volunteers and general enthusiasts’, who ‘could not, by their own better conduct, save the Legion from acquiring a name for disorder. The ‘other half’, according to some primary sources analysed, may well have been the silent majority which did not make the headlines”, where the volunteers, “animated by internationalist principles, feeling part of a transnational community where British workers in the spirit of ‘brotherhood’ would help Italian workers achieve Italy’s freedom” (Sutcliffe, op cit).

Certainly one of the men named here, Charles Stanhope Smelt, was a promoted to Second Lieutenant in the British Army in 1847 (from the London Gazette)