19th Century, Institutions, Miscellaneous

Birthday Bonus: David the Goat

An 1836 watercolour of Fort Henry by George St. Vincent Whitmore. Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. R9266-519 Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana. (click image to go to source)

Today is my birthday, so I’ve written something short that otherwise wouldn’t fit into a typical blog post. (Birthdays are good excuses for doing stuff like this.) I’m going to write about David, the mascot of the Fort Henry Guard. Why? It mostly just has to do with my interest in Wales. Also goats are cute, although sadly I can’t supply a photo here due to copyright. I run a pretty tight ship on this blog.

David goes way back to 1842 when the 23rd Regiment of Foot, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, were garrisoned at Kingston. They were a regiment from northern Wales who brought with them their goat mascot, who was named, appropriately, Billy. As far as I know nothing spectacular happened while the Royal Welch Fusiliers were in town: they left in 1843. However, their capric legacy – check it out, it’s a real word – lingered in Kingston, like so many other things from the brief yet heady days while we were capital.

But in reality, it’s not quite accurate to say that the memory of Billy the Goat somehow remained, ghost-like, in the hearts and minds of Kingstonians until we just had to get one of our own. What happened was that in 1953, the St. David’s Society of Toronto, whose purpose is “to keep people in touch with their Welsh ‘roots’,” donated a goat to Fort Henry in memory of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. How they found out about their brief stay in Kingston, or why they thought it was important to commemorate, I don’t know. But the gift has lasted, and today David, still snowy-white, is in his tenth incarnation.

The Royal Welch Fusiliers museum is in Caernarfon Castle in Wales; I think it would be fun to go there and tell them about our custom.

Fun fact (sourced by Wikipedia, so take with a grain of salt)*: The Royal Welch Fusiliers full dress uniform was distinguished by the “flash” they wore, a bunch of black ribbons sewn on the upper back of the jacket; this custom has partial basis in another time the regiment was stationed in Canada, this time in Nova Scotia. Soldiers wore their hair in queues held in little black bags up to this point, but the practice was stopped in 1808. However, being overseas the RWF did not get this message and later returned with their outdated hairstyles. Somehow out of this, the flash was born as a way to distinguish the regiment.

*The flash is certainly real, but details may be hit or miss as with everything on Wikipedia, not to mention what 200-year-old origin stories are usually like. Here is the link which includes more information.

December 9, 2014 update: Here’s a first-hand account by a man who as a child, briefly lived in Kingston while the 23rd Regiment of Foot was in town. It’s typical soldiery stuff but still kind of fun. Source

[Kingston] was an important military post. The Twenty-third Regiment, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers – I think the full regiment – and some batteries of artillery were stationed there, in addition to the artillerymen at the fort. Frequent reviews, held near Barriefield, across the bay, were a source of much interest to the citizens. The Twenty-third Regiment had a very large fife-and-drum band – I think nearly a hundred in number, it being a hobby of the colonel’s – and the nightly tattoos (sometimes by the whole band) were great attractions. Many of the men of the Twenty-third were a rough, drunken lot, and fights amongst themselves and with some of the rougher element in the city were frequent, so people avoided the vicinity of the barracks after tattoo, when the guards were searching for drunken men.

 

Sources and Further Reading

Fort Henry’s page on David

Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum

St. David’s Society page

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