Draft Act of 1801 by Sir Jerome Fitzpatrick, the National Archives, UK, WO 43/269.
By Jennine Hurl-Eamon, Lynn MacKay, Jerome Fitzpatrick
In: Women, Families and the British Army, 1700-1880 Routledge, 2020
Sir Jerome (a.k.a. Jeremiah) Fitzpatrick (1740–1810) was a physician most known for his work to reform prisons in Ireland. He turned his attention to the army when he was asked to monitor a fever outbreak on a troopship in 1790. His efficiency resulted in his 1794 appointment as inspector of health for the army. He concentrated his attentions on the health of soldiers leaving for campaign and this led him to notice the economic situation faced by their families. From 1794 on, Fitzpatrick lobbied the authorities to make separate provisions for Irish soldiers’ families. He argued that they faced greater hardships than other soldiers in the army, since Ireland did not have a poor relief system to provide for them upon their husbands’ embarkation or death. His proposals were continually rejected. The Irish administration argued that it was a British problem, while the British officials pointed out the many difficulties of implementation. These included not only the cost to taxpayers and the difficulty of administering the funds in the absence of a poor relief system, but also the resentment that might be felt by non-Irish soldiers. Despite this resistance, Fitzpatrick did manage to persuade the Duke of York to provide one-time assistance of twenty-six shillings to each wife and child left behind at a few embarkations during July and August of 1800. Fitzpatrick’s draft act shows the prominence of Irish among the recruits to the British army and advances a theory as to why Irish women were more likely to follow their soldier husbands on campaign. At the same time, it shows the growing middle class distaste for women in combat zones. Fitzpatrick shared many officers’ desire to prevent enlisted men from marrying, and his draft act was careful to stipulate that it was only the men who had married before their enlistment who were entitled to this support. Wives were presented here as an economic burden, rather than as performing any important supportive role to the troops.