Artifact Spotlight: Sergeants’ Mess Composite Photo c.1886

Today’s artifact spotlight is by former Regimental Sergeant Major and Chief Warrant Officer (Ret’d) Shaun Kelly, Assistant Curator.

The object I have chosen as an artifact of interest is this photo (above) of the Sergeants’ Mess in 1886. It is a composite photo meaning photos of individuals are cut-out and stuck on a watercolour or charcoal sketched background and then re-photographed (much like Photoshop).

Sergeant Major Waring G. Kennedy
Sergeant Major Waring G. Kennedy
Sergeant Major George Crighton
Sergeant Major George Crighton

It was chosen because it shows the sergeants at a time when at least 30 of them had just recently returned from the rigours of the North West Rebellion 1885, (NW Canada campaign), it has five serving or future Sergeant Majors and a number of other interesting details. The date is likely 1886 as both Sgt Major Cunningham and Sgt Major Crean are present and the sergeants are wearing their North-West Rebellion medals.

Members of the Sergeants' Mess circa 1886
Members of the Sergeants’ Mess circa 1886 (click to see larger version)

From left to right the Sergeant Majors are:

  1. Warring G. Kennedy was Sergeant Major from 1891-92 and served as a corporal during the NW Canada campaign.
  2. George Creighton served as Sergeant Major from at least 1912-15 and served as a Pte during the NW Canada campaign.
  3. Samuel Corrigan McKell served as Color Sergeant during the NW Canada Campaign and was mentioned for saving a wounded soldier while under fire. He was appointed as Sergeant Major in 1889 but unfortunately died the next year. He is buried in St James Cemetery in Toronto and has a large tombstone erected by his comrades.
  4. John F.M. Crean was Sergeant Major from 1886-89 and served as Color Sgt during the NW Canada campaign. After his time as Sgt Major he received his commission, then left the QOR and joined the West Africa Frontier Force.  He died in Toronto at 47 years of age after 6 years in Africa.
  5. Patrick Cunningham (formerly of the 16th Foot) was Sergeant Major from 1877 to 1885, including as Sergeant Major during the NW Canada campaign.
  6. Charles Swift was Bugle Major from 1876-1923 and is the only one in the picture that served at both Ridgeway and the NW Canada Campaign. He is the regiment’s longest serving Bugle Major.
Sergeant Major (later Captain) John F.M. Crean
Sergeant Major (later Captain) John F.M. Crean
Sergeant Major Samuel Corrigan McKell
Sergeant Major Samuel Corrigan McKell

Other interesting information:

  • There are 28 Sergeants, 15 Color Sergeants, 13 Staff Sergeants including 2 Sergeants Major, 1 dog, and 1 unknown Sergeant (name being cut-off in the picture);
  • Color Sergeants are what we now call Company Sergeants Major although the Companies were less than half the size of a modern day 120 soldier Company. In 1886 a Company normally had around 50 soldiers, two Officers and two or three Sergeants. The regiment at the time consisted of at least 10 companies;
  • Hospital Sergeant Staff Sergeant Hall
    Hospital Sergeant Staff Sergeant Hall

    Sergeants Major, Quarter Master Sergeants, Armoury Sergeants, Hospital Sergeants were all appointments that a Staff Sergeant could be assigned. As staff, they weren’t part of the Companies but may have paraded at their local armoury with them. Note that all the Staff Sgts are carrying swords as well as the sergeant’s cane. The Hospital Sergeant, Staff Sergeant Hall, can be seen seated in the bottom right of the shot, if you look closely you may see the red cross armband;

  • 30 sergeants have NW Canada 1885 medals;
  • 4 Sergeants fought at Ridgeway but would not be awarded medals until 1899;
  • Note the two Sergeants in the rear facing away from the camera, they are equipped with the long sword-bayonet normally worn by duty staff and are likely sentries;
  • The gun emplacements are facing the shipping channel and are quite likely at the south end of Fort York, as the water was much further in-land in those days;
  • It is unknown who owned the dog in the lower left of the photo however, the menu from the reunion dinner for the veterans of the North-West Field Force that took place in October 1885 had a picture of a similar dog and its name was “Poundmaker”.
Sergeant Major Patrick Cunningham
Sergeant Major Patrick Cunningham
Bugle Major Charles Swift
Bugle Major Charles Swift

See an almost complete list of Sergeant Majors here.

3 thoughts on “Artifact Spotlight: Sergeants’ Mess Composite Photo c.1886”

    1. Thanks Harry, I have been trying to get a listing of all the Sergeant Majors and came across this amazing photo. Larry Hicks needs some of the credit he was able to photograph the picture despite it still being behind glass in its frame.


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