by Henry Biddles
Please note that this article is copyright to Mr Henry Biddles, not the Keep Military Museum, and is published with his permission. Mr Biddles is not connected to the Museum.
Thomas Fraser Dixon was born on March 15, 1832 in York, Yorkshire, England, the first son of Lt. Col. Henry Dixon and Harriet Amelia Fraser. While little is known about his childhood, it is known that his father very much wanted him to have an Army career. The following two letters written by his father were attached to Thomas Fraser's service record requesting a commission for his son:
Letter to Lt. Gen. Lord Fitsnay Somerset
From Henry Dixon, Bt Major retired full pay
6-Lord Mayors Walk, York
April 18th, 1845
Having been induced to take the full pay retirement last year lately from my inability, with a large family to meet the difficulties and expense of the constant moves in the army, and having hoped I trust a exemplary service of thirty-two years in the army a very large portion of which was on foreign service in the Peninsula, France, North America, and the West Indies, and my family from unforeseen circumstances totally unprovided for. I am induced to hope that your Lordship will kindly submit these circumstances to the favorable consideration of his Grace the Commander in Chief, and that he will be graciously be pleased to place the name of my eldest boy (as per ...) on his list for an Ensigncy without purchase when of proper age. For which I shall ever feel myself under the greatest obligations
I have the honor to be
Your most able Lt. H Dixon
Bt Major retired full pay 81st Regt
Letter to Lord Fitsnay Somerset
From Henry Dixon, Brevet Major retired full pay
July 19, 1848
I had the honor on the 18th April 1845 to submit thru your Lordship an application to His Grace the Commander in Chief, that he would be pleased to place the name of my eldest boy on his list for an Ensigncy without purchase. In answer to which, by your Lordships letter bearing date 22nd April 1845, he was graciously pleased to direct that a memorandum I ... be made of it.
I have now the honor to state that he has finished his studies having attained the age of sixteen on the 15th March 1848.
Having a family of eight children to provide for on very small means, I earnestly hope that you will be kind enough to urge His Grace the Commander in Chief to take my long service (Thirty-two years) into his gracious consideration and appoint him to an Ensigncy without purchase.
I beg enclose a note I received unsolicited from his Tutor on his leaving him.
I have the honor to be
Your Lordship's Most Able Lt Henry Dixon
Bt. Major Retired full pay
The following memo was attached to the above letter from Thomas Dixon's Tutor:
Hookton House April 5th 1848
By dear Sir
I cannot forward your Sons last account without appraising you of my entire satisfaction with his general conduct. He is a young man of high principle and with, I fell aspired, by his diligence and integrity do audit to any appointment you may able to procure for him.
With our united kind Complements to Mrs. Dixon and yourself
Your most Faithfully
J. S. Fancett
Thomas Fraser Dixon was commissioned an Ensign April 10, 1849 with the 39th Regiment of Foot without purchase. The Regiment was located in Preston, Yorkshire when he reported for duty. The men in the Regiment were mostly young and rather undersized, and half the Regiment had less than two years of service. The non-commissioned officers needed instruction in their duties, and with very few able to read or write, it was difficult to find men qualified for promotion. Desertion had been terribly rife and was in part ascribed to the seductions of the Chartists, who were bribing men to desert. [The Chartists movement was born amid the economic depression of 1837-38 when high unemployment and the effect of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 were felt on all parts of Britain.]
In April 1850, the Regiment moved to Ireland, its good conduct at Preston being most warmly acknowledged by the local magistrates on leaving. Landing at Belfast on April 28, it remained there until November 1850, then moving to Newry, with detached companies at Armagh, Castlewilliam, Charlemont, and Downpatrick until July 1851. The Regiment was then shifted to Dublin where the detached companies rejoined; though detachments "in aid of the civil authorities" were constantly requisitioned, especially at election times. Ireland was hardly peaceful and troops had to be scattered about everywhere, though the establishment of the Royal Irish Constabulary had relieved them of much unpleasant work. Thomas was promoted to Lieutenant on February 10, 1852 by purchase. When headquarters and five companies moved to Clonmel in August 1852, the other companies were distributed between various small places in the neighborhood. When the headquarters shifted to Cork in February 1853, companies were detached to Spike Island, Youghal, Kinsale, Haulbowline, and to Camden and Carlisle Forts.
In 1851, the issue of the Minie rifle had begun. This was a muzzle-loader, firing a bullet with a cup at the base, which expanded on the explosion of the charge and fitted into the grooves. It was not altogether satisfactory and was replaced in 1855 by the Enfield, also a rifled muzzle-loader.
The Regiment's stay in Ireland was now drawing to a close. Prior to the Army reforms of the 1870's and especially before the increase of the Army in the "Fifties" when nearly thirty new battalions were raised, infantry Regiments saw far more of foreign stations than of home. In January 1854 orders were issued for the separation of the Regiment into service and depot companies. The depot companies remained behind when, on April 19, the six service companies, 24 officers and 740 non-commissioned officers and men, embarked for Gibraltar.
The Regiment's move to Gibraltar prevented their inclusion in the original force dispatched to the Crimea. Before the end of 1854, however, every regiment that could possibly be spared, either from home or from the Mediterranean garrisons, was being hurried to the Crimea to fill the fearful gaps caused by the ravages of disease. In December 1854, the 39th received orders for the front. Leaving on December 9 in the steamship Cambria, they reached Constantinople ten days later. The Cambria was considered unfit to face Black Sea winter weather, so the Regiment had to transship to the Golden Fleece screw steamer, then a great novelty, in which Balaclava was safely reached on New Year's Eve. For some days, however, the Regiment remained on board, though parties landed daily for various fatigues, among them road making at which they proved 'very handy'. They beat the navies in constructing the railway and erecting the huts, which were now arriving from England in sections. As fast as huts were ready detachments occupied them, till by January 26, 1855, the whole Regiment was ashore. Fortunately for it, the Surgeon, Dr. Barley, secured some warm underclothing for the men from a private fund, which had been established for supplying the necessities for the troops, otherwise the men must have landed most insufficiently clad.
On being ordered to the Crimea, the Regiment's establishment had been increased by an additional Major. This meant promotion to those senior Lieutenants who had recently had to see vacant companies filled by officers who had joined when they themselves were already Lieutenants, three officers with six, five and four years service respectively having lately purchased companies. With promotion thus accelerated, the average age and service of the officers became much lower, the Captains at the beginning of 1855 hardly averaging ten years service. Thomas was promoted to Captain on December 29, 1854 with 39th Regiment without purchase.
Some weeks passed before the 39th was required to go into the trenches. Since the action of October 21, the force detailed to defend Balaclava had been much increased and to this the Regiment was attached. On February 10, on an alarm of an impeding attack, the Regiment took post along with the Highland Brigade on the Balaclava heights. No attack developed, however and ten days later the 39th was ordered up to the plateau being posted to Brigadier General Barnard's brigade of the Third Division, still under its original commander General England. By this time the French had taken over the original British right, opposite the Malakoff, the British frontage being confined to the center, astride the Woronxoff Ravine and opposite the Redan. Conditions were still bad, the sick-rate was terrible high and the gaps in the original force had been filled by imperfectly trained recruits, poor substitutes for the long-service men who had won the Alma and repulsed the Russian masses at Inkerman. However, adequate supplies of every sort were now arriving, and the situation gradually improved, especially after the completion in March of the railway from Balaclava, which also relieved the troops of much labor in carrying stores.
Thanks to having escaped the worst winter weather and to being kept at Balaclava and housed in huts, the 39th suffered far less from disease than other Regiments and up to going into the trenches on February 25th had only lost 15 men, though 100 were sick, mainly from diarrhea. Nine officers and 184 men from the depot companies had arrived on February 6. They had had an uncomfortable crowded passage out on HMS Princess Royal but found the Regiment in good case.
On February 7, Thomas returned to United Kingdom for a period of five months. Thomas was then transferred to Malta. He arrived on 9 July 1855 joining two companies, which were sent there in May as a reserve, passing men on to the Crimea. Thomas served as the Regimental Aide de Camp in Malta from July 22, 1855 to May 10, 1856.
The 39th were actually the first British Regiment to leave the Crimea, embarking on May 1, 1856 in HMS Simon for Quebec, Canada. Thomas rejoined the rest of the Regiment on May 10, 1856 from Malta. Their arrival on June 26 straight from the Crimea aroused great excitement and the Regiment received a most enthusiastic welcome.
The establishment had been reduced on the conclusion of peace and was now back at 800 rank and file with 46 sergeants and 17 drummers, exclusive of a depot of 8 sergeants, 4 drummers and 150 men. The first Inspection Report from Canada, that of November 13, 1856, describes the Regiment as in good order and very well commanded, though too many men were under-sized and the young soldiers, who formed nearly half the rank and file, wanted instruction in Light Infantry work and outpost duties. Reports now inquire into the musketry: at 350 yards, the longest range, one hit was recorded in six shots, though at 100 yards the average was three hits in four shots. Irishmen exceeded English and Scots by three to two.
The Fenians (Irish nationalist) were not as yet troubling Canada and the Regiment's three years in Canada, one at Montreal and two at Quebec, passed pleasantly if uneventfully. On October 15, 1856, Thomas married Clara Georgiana Cecilia Antrobus, at the Montreal Cathedral. Clara was the daughter of Colonel Edmund William Romer Antrobus and Catherine Esther Brehaut of Quebec, Canada. Witnesses of the marriage included Major William Wolfe, Lt. Colonel William Munro, both with the 39th and Catharine Elizabeth Antrobus.(See the chapter on the Antrobus family.) Their first son Henry Antrobus Dixon was born July 24, 1857, in Montreal, Canada.
A few non-commissioned officers and men were transferred to help in forming the new 100th Royal Canadian Regiment. This was one of nearly 30 new battalions now being raised as the Crimea, followed in 1857 by the Indian Mutiny, had shown that the military establishment of Great Britain had been reduced below the level required for safety. This mainly affected the 39th by accelerating promotion, a dozen subalterns transferring to new battalions, usually getting a step. The Captains now averaged thirteen years service and just about thirty in age.
From Canada the 39th moved on October 3, 1859 to Bermuda where headquarters were quartered at St. George's with four companies on Ireland Island and one on Hamilton. Thomas served as Regimental York Adjutant in Bermuda from August 1, 1860 to February 12, 1861. Bermuda, like Canada, was a pleasant enough station, if life there was usually uneventful. In 1861, however, the outbreak of Civil War in America livened things up considerably. English sympathies were mainly with the Southerners and at times, notably when two Confederate envoys were taken off the British mail steamer Trent by a Federal warship. Great Britain seemed about to be drawn into the struggle. Bermuda too, if less conveniently placed for blockade-runners than the Bahamas, was not unaffected by their activities and for the time the station was far from being the usual Sleepy Hollow.
On December 9, 1861, Thomas was transferred to Templemore, Ireland. While in Ireland his second son, George F. Dixon was born on April 05, 1862. At the St. Gorran Church, Cornwall his gravestone inscription states:
IN LOVING MEMORY OF GEORGE FRASER DIXON DIED 12TH JANUARY 1955 AGED 92 YEARS.
ALSO HENRIETTA JANE HIS BELOVED WIFE DIED 26TH JULY 1954, AGED 87 YEARS.
THE SOULS OF THE RIGHTEOUS ARE IN THE HANDS OF GOD.
On October 15, 1863 his first daughter, Henriannia Ethelbert Dixon was born in Templemore.(She married Captain William Raymond Inglis on April 27, 1886 at St. Nicholas Church, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. He was a Captain with 9th Regiment, Royal Norfolk Regiment.) The Regiment departed Bermuda on July 26, 1864 landing at Portsmouth on August 10th. The Regiment then proceeded by rail to the new station recently established at Aldershot, Hampshire, England. While at Aldershot their third son, Thomas Bradford Dixon, was born on October 23, 1864. (See the next chapter for his story.)
Aldershot was the first station in the British Isles where a substantial force of all arms was permanently quartered and where some combined training could be given. The Crimea had at last roused the country to the need for Army reform. Musketry was now being more carefully taught, an officer being definitely detailed as battalion Instructor of Musketry. Various administrative improvements were introduced, and more care was taken of the soldiers' health. Their housing received some much needed attention and in 1867 the private's pay of 6d. per diem was increased by 1 ½d.
The 39th, however, made only a short first stay at Aldershot, moving to Dover in August 1865. February 1866 brought a move to Manchester with two companies detached to Newcastle-on-Tyne, which shifted to Weedon in July, and two companies to Chester. These all rejoined headquarters in time for the presentation on September 8, 1866, of new Colors. On November 30 the Regiment had the honor of finding two Guard of Honor when the Queen Victoria visited Wolverhamption, and three days later it left Manchester for Belfast, Ireland. Landing on December 5, head quarters and three companies proceeded to Enniskillen, four companies to Newry and three to Armagh. The Fenians were agitating Ireland and the 'civil power' was constantly requiring assistance, involving several shifts of station for the outlying companies. In August however, the whole Regiment was transferred to Dublin where it remained until April 1868, then moving to the South.
On quitting Dublin, the Regiment was again much dispersed. Originally head quarters went to Kinsale, two companies to Bantry, and one each to Bandon, Macroon, Millstreet and Skibbereen, but the demands of the civil power necessitated frequent changes. In October head quarters shifted to Fermoy and then in May 1869 to Cork. Shortly before this, the Regiment had been honored by a visit from His Royal Highness, Price Arthur. It had also been rearmed in 1868 with the Snider rifle, the British Army's first breech-loader.
The 39th was now due for Foreign Service again and on September 14, 1869 two companies left to join a Depot Battalion at Chatham. Thomas was promoted to Brevet Major on September 20, 1869 without purchase. On October 6th the ten 'service' companies, mustering 39 officers and staff, 46 sergeants, 21 drummers and 761 rank and file, embarked on HMS Crocodile for India. Actually the Crocodile only went as far as Alexandria, where the Regiment disembarked on October 22 by permission of the Egyptian authorities, and proceeded by train to Suez, whence HMS Fumna carried it to Bombay. They arrived on November 9, under five weeks from leaving England.
On landing the Regiment proceeded to Ferozepore Punjab, India, going first by rail to Nagpore, thence by bullock-dak to Jubbulpore, by rail again to Loodiana and completing it journey on foot. The Regiment remained at Ferozepore until December 1872, except for a move to Lahore in January 1870 for the visit of His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, while the usual 'hot weather' detachments went to the Hills. Edmund Antrobus Dixon was born January 4, 1870 in Ferozepore, Punjab, India. These were peaceful years in India, even the Frontier was quiet and the days were long past when a Nawab of Kurnool (term for viceroy under the Mongol rule of India) dared to disturb the peace.
Meanwhile Army reform was proceeding steadily. The outstanding reforms introduced between 1868 and 1874 by Mr. Cardwell, then Secretary of State for War, were the abolition of purchase of commissions (1871) and allowing short service (1870). Men could now enlist for six years with the Colors and six in the Reserve instead of a life term. The aligning in pairs of infantry battalions, one in each pair serving at home and training the drafts needed by the battalion abroad had shown the urgent need during the Crimean War. Each pair had a definitely localized depot, commanded by a Colonel, who was also to supervise the Militia and the Infantry Volunteers of the surrounding 'sub-district'. As a single battalion Regiment the 39th was affected by this change. Their 'link' being the 75th, one of four King's Regiments raised in 1787 at the East India Company's expense for service in India. Originally a Highland Regiment, it had discontinued the Highland dress and title in 1812. Their joint depot was to be at Dorchester, whither their depot companies now preceded.
With the abolition of purchase came more definite rules as to retirement for age, calculated to produce a more even flow of promotion. New rules for pensions and retired pay, a new method of obtaining commissions through the Militia and the abolition of the rank of Ensign. Officers now joined as Sub-Lieutenants and after a probationary period of about a year became Lieutenants, being usually antedated so as to reckon part of it for pension and retirement.
In December 1872 the Regiment left Ferozepore to take part in Army maneuvers near Attock before taking up quarters at Peshawar. When near Rawal Pindi, a case of smallpox led to its being placed in quarantine. No epidemic developing, it was able to join in the maneuvers, subsequently proceeding to Peshawar. A son, Francis Tempest Dixon, was born on August 31, 1873. Here it spent a full year, moving to Nowsheara in March 1874, whence it marched to Dagshai a year later, taking just two months on the way. While at Dagshai the Regiment had the misfortune to lose its Adjutant, Lt. Boydell, killed by a tiger when out shooting.
The Regiment remained at Dagshai, West Bengal until November 1876, taking part in Army maneuvers round Delhi in the cold weather of 1875-76. These lasted nearly two months and included a big review before His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales. Thomas was promoted to Major on August 1, 1875. A son, Arthur Gore Dixon was born on May 3, 1876 in Dagshai. In December 1876 the Regiment again visited Delhi, this time for the proclamation of January 1, 1877, of the Queen as Empress of India, after which it marched to Jhansi, dropping two companies at Gwalior enroute. They had by now been rearmed with the Martini-Henry, a better rifle than the Snider, and its adoption was accompanied by marked improvements in musketry. Thomas was promoted to Brevet Lt. Colonel on October 1, 1877. Another son, William Bertram Dixon was born in December 1878 in Landour. Lt. Colonel Dixon assumed command of the Regiment on July 2, 1879 and was formally promoted to Lt. Colonel.
An outbreak of cholera at Gwalior cost the Regiment seven men and two other detached companies at Nowgong were also affected and lost five men. Drafts of 119 and 174 men respectively arrived in December 1878 and in January 1880. This more than balanced the loss by invaliding and by transfers to Reserve, now becoming more numerous as short-service men finished their time with the Colors, now extended to seven years.
November 30, 1880, the Regiment left Jhansi for Jubbulpore, 250 miles distant, which it covered in 23 marches, averaging 11 miles a day. The Gwalior detachment had previously rejoined, and en route the Nowgong companies were picked up, though three were detached to Saugor. Women, children and invalids had been sent ahead by rail. On October 1, 1881, Thomas was promoted to Brevet Colonel.
Further Army reforms were being introduced, including one of supreme importance to the Infantry of the Line, the amalgamation into two-battalion Regiments of the single-battalion Regiments by territorial titles. The old and much-cherished numbers were discontinued for all the Line. Of these Regiments, the Militia and Volunteers of their area were to form an integral part, the Militia becoming their 3rd or 4th Battalions, the Volunteers being numbered as 'Volunteer Battalions'. Identical facings were adopted for the Regiments of each nationality, white for English and Welsh, whereby the 39th lost their time honored 'willow-green' facings and had their lace changed to 'rose' pattern. They were moreover divorced from the 75th, which recovered their original Scottish character and became the 1st Gordon Highlanders. Instead of the 75th, the 54th (West Norfolk), whom the 39th had recently met a Jhansi, now became the 2nd Battalion, The Dorsetshire Regiment. The amalgamation was faced by both Regiments in the right spirit. Colonel Hughes of the 54th wrote promptly on behalf of his officers and men to express their 'gratification' at being associated with a Regiment of such distinguished history as the 39th, 'Primus in Indis'. Colonel Dixon, in acknowledging this 'gratifying and welcome greeting' conveyed to Colonel Hughes the 1st Battalion's pride and satisfaction' at 'two such fine old corps' being 'brought together to share alike the remembrance of their proud traditions'.
The 'Cardwell system' required that under normal conditions regiments should have one battalion at home to train the drafts required by that on foreign service. Actually the changes of 1881 found both the 1st and 2nd Battalions in India and their old 'links' the 75th and the 95th, at home. The 1st Battalion, having been abroad twelve years to the 2nd's ten, was the more nearly due to return home and January 23 and 24, 1882, saw it entraining by wings at Jubbulpore for Bombay, after having transferred 71 men to the 2nd Battalion. On its departure a most flattering District Order was published by the GOC, Saugor District, who congratulated Colonel Dixon and his officers warmly on the battalion's efficiency and good conduct and on 'the fine soldier-like spirit which pervades all ranks'.
HMS Crocodile carried the battalion home in just a month, despite rough weather off Ushant, and on March 2nd it disembarked at Weymouth, where its fine physique greatly impressed the spectators, and proceeded to the Verne Citadel, Portland. Its landing strength was 17 officers, 39 sergeants, 14 drummers and 603 rank and file. Large numbers now transferred to the Reserve but were replaced from the Depot, over 250 men joining in the next four months.
The battalion had not been long at home before the very unsettled situation in Egypt developed into the military revolt headed by Arabi Pasha and led to British intervention and the dispatch of an expeditionary force under Sir Garnet Wolseley. Eventually on September 12, the battalion embarked on HMS Serapis at Portsmouth. The embarkation strength was 24 officers, 38 sergeants,16 drummers and 795 men. The Serapis was closely packed, the 1st Bluffs being also on board, but with active service in prospect overcrowding was cheerfully borne. However, on reaching Malta on September 19, all hopes were dashed by the news that hostilities were over, Arabi having been routed at Tel el Kebir six days earlier. The battalion accordingly disembarked, but on October 3 shipped again for England on the hired transport Batavia. Ten days later it was back at Aldershot and settling down to peace-time conditions.
A sign of the times was the experimental issue of some drab serge clothing to the battalion, intended to be worn on foreign service instead of the red serge jackets. It was poor in quality and badly cut, the men hated it and were so ashamed of the appearance they presented. In October 1884, the distasteful drab serge clothing was withdrawn, to the great benefit both of appearance and general efficiency. Before its withdrawal, Colonel Dixon had taken two privates dressed in it to Osborn to display it to the Queen.
Colonel Dixon went to half-pay in July 1884, when his time in command was up, being succeeded by Lt. Colonel Smyth, the last Crimean officer serving in the regiment.
On March 13, 1885, Thomas was returned to active status and was assigned to Regimental District No. 9, in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk as the Commanding Officer. Two years later, on March 15, 1887, Thomas retired with the honorary rank of Major General. In 1891 he was residing at 12 Nelson Rd, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, with his wife, Clara, and two sons, Arthur G. and Walter B. (Picture on the right.) In 1901 he was living at 96 "Staffa", The Avenue in Camberwell, London with his wife, and one son, William.
Thomas died on November 21, 1918, age 86, at his home, 7 Victoria Road, Lambeth, London. His death certificate lists him as a Major General formerly of 39th Regiment and 9th Regimental District with the cause of death as Chronic Bronchitis and Exhaustion. His son, George Dixon, living at 7 Philip's Road, Preston Lanes, reported his death.
Clara died 5 years later on January 21, 1924, age 87, at 29 Cintra Park, Penge, Croydon, Kent. Her death certificate lists her as the widow of Thomas Fraser Dixon, Army Officer (Major General) with cause of death Senile Decay and heart failure.
The following is a Letter written by Lt. W. D. Dixon late RGA, son of Thomas, dated 11 Feb 1925 to the Dorset Military Museum, in Dorset England:
"I think it just possible that some of the enclosed may prove of interest concerning the Old Regiment. I myself was born "in the Regiment" at Landour (?) in December 1878 when they were stationed there.
Record of Services of Thomas Fraser Dixon, WO 25/863/1, WO 31/454, Public Record Office, Kew, England
Atkinson, C. T., The Dorsetshire Regiment, The Thirty-Ninth and Fifty-Fourth Foot and The Dorset Militia and Volunteers, Volume I, Part I, The Thirty-Ninth, Oxford, University Press, 1947. & The Dorsetshire Regiment, The Thirty-Ninth and Fifty-Fourth Foot and The Dorset Militia and Volunteers, Volume II, Part 3, The Dorsetshire Regiment, Oxford, University Press, 1947.