Very Scarce 19th Century British Soldier’s Woolie from the Raj 76th Regiment of Foot, circa 1870s, a very brightly depicted image of Regimental Colors and Union Jack beneath the British Empire crown, above an elephant with howdah (chariot seat); mounted in a contemporary bird's eye maple frame.
The British Army 76th Regiment of Foot has a long and storied history. It was raised in 1787 for service in India and saw action in the Third Anglo-Mysore War and at the Siege of Bangalore (1791 - 1794), the Siege of Seringapatam (1792), the Second Anglo-Maratha War and the Siege of Aligarh (1803), the Battle of Delhi (1803), the Battle of Laswari (1803), and the Battle of Deeg (1804), in honor of which King George III renamed them the 76th Hindoostan Regiment of Foot and authorized them to have the name Hindoostan and an elephant with howdah as mascot emblazoned on their regimental colors.
They went on to serve in the Napoleonic Wars, seeing action in the Peninsular War (1808), the Battle of Corunna (1809), the disastrous Walcheren Campaign (1809), the Battle of Nivelle and the Battle of the Nive (1813), and in America in the War of 1812 at the Battle of Plattsburgh (1814). They were stationed at various times in Canada, the West Indies, Corfu, Malta, South Wales, Burma and back to India, before re-amalgamation as the Duke of Wellington's Regiment in 1881.
This woolie depicts their colors with notable career engagements up to the Battle of Nive in 1813, but conspicuously does not include the Battle of Plattsburgh in 1814, suggesting this work dates to 1813.
Image Measures: 14-3/8 in H x 18-3/4 in W
Frame Measures: 17-1/2 in H x 22 in W
Wool embroidered pictures of ships and flags and coats-of-arms are highly prized by collectors of nautical antiques, folk art, and other genera. These beautiful panels, somewhat naïve, somewhat impressionist, are colloquially referred to as sailor’s woolies. The romantic idea is that sailors would while away their leisure time below decks by weaving and hand tying these intricate yarn pictures. A nice story inspired by scrimshaw, but it is tenuous to imagine Jack Tar stocking up on skeins of bright colored yarns before weighing the anchor.
The truth is equally fascinating. When Britannia ruled the waves, and spent most of the 18th and 19th Centuries at war, they had many injured sailors laid up on shore. Before they ended up as “Chelsea Pensioners”, many spent lengthy times recovering in naval hospitals. These hospitals taught the invalid sailors this craft as physical and mental therapy. Some soldiers took up the pastime as well, so you will occasionally see woolies with regimental colors and references to The Raj and Empire. Consequently, almost all woolies are British and Naval in subject. There are occasionally other subjects, such as China Clippers, fishing schooners and very, very rarely a whale ship. It is extremely rare to see woolies by American sailors or other nationalities.