A Sergeant of a Cavalry Regiment

Image credit: National Army Museum

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In the early to mid-nineteenth-century British army, a Caribbean posting was to be feared. During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars over 90 per cent of the 45,000 white officers and men who died there were killed by disease rather than enemy action.

The high mortality rate led the Army to raise regiments of black soldiers for service in the region, in the hope that they might be better suited to the climate. Although some free men were recruited, the Army mainly relied on the slave trade to provide recruits for these units. Between 1798 and 1806 the Army was the single biggest purchaser of slaves. It bought 6,376 slaves, an estimated 7 per cent of all slaves sold in the British West Indies during this period. With the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 and emancipation of slaves in 1834, the Army recruited free black men into the ranks.

National Army Museum



A Sergeant of a Cavalry Regiment




oil on canvas


H 85.6 x W 65 cm

Accession number

NAM. 1960-12-168

Acquisition method

gift from Cecil Constant Philip Lawson, 1960

Work type



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