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The Deserter’s stamp was introduced in the early 19th Century as a more humane method of tattooing deserters from the Army. Such marking was abolished in 1871.

In military terminology, desertion is the abandonment of a duty or post without permission (a pass, liberty or leave) and is done with the intention of not returning.

Before the Brass ‘D’ marking device was introduced, deserters were marked with a ‘D’ by:

Tracing the letter ‘D’ on the left hand side of the body, two inches below the armpit, not less than one inch long.
The skin was pierced so as to draw blood, usually with a small bundle of common sewing needles along the tracing of the letter.
Gunpowder was then rubbed into the wounds.

The Deserter’s stamp, which is part of the Keep’s collection is an early 19th Century example which was made by Savigny & co, a company established in London around 1720, who were more well known for the manufacturing of surgical instruments.

Further reading: