RNSHS Public Lecture – Wednesday, 16 October 2013

October 16

“Nova Scotia soldier pensioners in their British Imperial context, 1812-1827″

Dr. William R. Miles, Memorial University & Dr. Michael E. Vance, Saint Mary’s University.


The Napoleonic Wars produced a mass mobilization that touched every community in the British Isles. Indeed, the scale of the mobilization was not surpassed until WWI and, as with the later twentieth-century conflict, the settlement of veteran soldiers in the Empire was viewed by many as a means to forestall potential unrest following demobilization at the end of hostilities (Cookson:1997; Fedorowich: 1995). Our paper is based on the examination of the War Office Registers that identified British Soldiers receiving their pensions in the colonies in the post-Napoleonic period. These records provide details of military service, occupation prior to recruitment, and the community of origin as well as the colony of settlement – including Nova Scotia. In the 1930s J.S. Martell made use of Colonial Office and newspaper records to itemize the various soldier settlements founded in Nova Scotia after 1812. Using the War Office records, our paper will build on this earlier work by providing particular histories of a few individual soldiers who were located in the Nova Scotia settlements. British soldier pensioners were found in the West Indies, the Cape Colony, and New South Wales as well as British North America and, as a consequence, our paper will also examine the Nova Scotia settlements within this larger imperial context.

Our research has lead us to two broad conclusions. First, that military service records are an under used source for both the social history of the army and the history of migration from the British Isles. We would argue that this is in part a reflection of the historiography of the military which has tended to focus on battles and campaigns rather than on the army as a social institution and migration studies which have too often artificially separated soldiers from emigrants. Second, that colonial settlements within the British Empire, such as those in Nova Scotia, were often inter-connected in surprising ways. Soldiers who were recruited in the same regions of the British Isles ended up settling in widely dispersed areas of the Empire and we would argue that this fact greatly contributed to the flow of information on the range of potential emigrant destinations back to the homeland and, indeed, between colonies.

Click here for a short bio of Dr. William R. Miles & Dr. Michael E. Vance.

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