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An Excellent Young Man: the Reverend Samuel Briscall 1788-1848

Michael Glover describes how, respectable clergymen were in short supply as chaplains when Samuel Briscall attracted the Duke of Wellington’s notice.

Wellington’s army in the peninsular campaigns suffered from a large number of shortages and, in its commander’s view, not the least serious of these was the small number of chaplains attending the army. ‘I am anxious upon this subject,’ he wrote in 1811, ‘not only from the desire which every man must have, that so many persons as there are in this army should have the advantage of religious instruction, but from a knowledge that it is the greatest support and aid to military discipline and order.’

As a result of the shortage, to Wellington’s mind, Methodism was spreading in the army. In the Guards, ‘the men meet in the evenings and sing psalms: and I believe a serjeant now and then gives them a sermon. These meetings likewise prevail in the rest of the army’. Wellington was prepared to admit that this ‘is a better way of spending their time than many to which they are addicted; but it may become otherwise’.

It would be difficult for colonels to interfere in such ostensibly innocent proceedings, nor could his interference, in any case, be ‘so effectual as that of a respectable clergyman’. Unfortunately, respectable clergymen were in short supply:

‘I have one excellent young man in this army, Mr. Briscall, who is attached to head quarters, who has never been one moment absent from his duty; but I have not yet seen another who has not applied, and made a pitiable case for leave of absence immediately after his arrival; and apart from Mr. Denis at Lisbon, who was absent all last year, I believe Mr. Briscall is the only Chaplain doing duty with the army.’

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