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Uniform Buttons, French or British

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Uniform Buttons, French or British

Postby Monique » August 15th, 2016, 1:57 am

I'm an archaeologist from Sydney, Australia, and we have excavated several military buttons which we catalogued as "British Regiment of Foot" uniform buttons, depending upon the number. The buttons were excavated from The Rocks in Sydney, the site of first European settlement. The buttons were made considerably earlier than any of the appropriate Regiments of Foot served here, by at least 30 years and some of the Regiments never came to Australia. We assumed that the buttons came out here on 'slops clothing' for the convicts, but I'm beginning to doubt that. I am unsure if the metal buttons on old uniforms would have been left on the jackets or removed before shipment.

I've since found out that the French regiments of 'The Line"(?) used buttons that, to me, look identical. I have very little knowledge of French Military, so this is a new line of research, any advice on that would be appreciated.

We wish to use the buttons in an exhibition of Colonial Military in The Rocks, so I'd like the opinion of the members of the Forum on whether these buttons are British, or could possibly be French. I've attached some photographs of the best preserved buttons.
The buttons have been buried in Sydney's rather acidic soil for about 150 years, so they aren't in great condition.
Any advice, information or leads would be greatly appreciated, I'd be grateful for even pointing me in a direction for further information and research.
Thanks in advance,
Monique
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Re: Uniform Buttons, French or British

Postby Monique » August 15th, 2016, 2:05 am

Buttons reposted below. I had the size wrong.
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18 button small.jpg
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11th Button Small.jpg
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Re: Uniform Buttons, French or British

Postby FBC-Elvas, Portugal » August 15th, 2016, 8:06 am

A warm welcome to the Forum Monique. An intriguing find. Several of our members should be able to help you with your query.

Sarah
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Re: Uniform Buttons, French or British

Postby OXFORDMON » August 15th, 2016, 6:49 pm

A warm welcome to the forum Monique.

The buttons are most likely French, I found the one pictured in a French army camp in the Pyrenees that was used in 1813.

Andy
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"Thus the war terminated, and with it all remembrance of the veteran's services" Gen W F P Napier.
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Re: Uniform Buttons, French or British

Postby jf42 » August 15th, 2016, 7:45 pm

There are two questions. One of which must be, which of the British regiments numbered 11th, 18th and 23rd served in New South Wales? I believe only the 11th North Devonshires can be candidates, being stationed there between 1845 and 1857.

The other question has to be, what on earth would French soldiery, from three separate regiments, be doing in NSW?

It is important to state at the outset I know nothing about buttons, British or French, but I find the question intriguing.

Looking about the internet, as you have probably done, that plain button style can be found on very similar items associated with both British and French regiments on campaign in North America, circa 1780; the decorative terminal fronds of the ring enclosing the numerals being a little more elaborate in the case of the French examples, and that corresponds with the terminal fronds on the examples you have posted.

In a British context, the style appears mainly to to span a period circa 1780-1830 but I have also seen it associated with a British regiment 1830-1881. The later the date, the more likely we would expect to find regimental emblems displayed, e.g. the Harp of Erin for the 18th Royal Irish; the Prince of Wales' Feathers for the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

Beats me.
Last edited by jf42 on August 17th, 2016, 6:30 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Uniform Buttons, French or British

Postby Monique » August 17th, 2016, 5:24 am

Dear jf42,
Thanks for your reply.
The 11th Regiment did serve in Sydney, however their uniform buttons had changed by the time they came out. These buttons date to the 1810s I believe.
Your 2nd question is very apt, why would French Soldiers be in The Rocks? They weren't.
I had assumed that the buttons came on second hand uniforms that were sent out here to clothe the convicts, it still seems the most likely explanation. However, would relatively expensive buttons be left on the old uniforms?
Perhaps people bought the old uniforms with them when they migrated or were transported out here?

The biggest question that this has raised for me is why would the French and the British be producing the exact same military numbered buttons at the same time? There's thousands of ways to depict a number on a button.

Small things can open u a whole new world of research.
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Re: Uniform Buttons, French or British

Postby jf42 » August 17th, 2016, 7:00 am

Monique wrote:Dear jf42,
Thanks for your reply.
The 11th Regiment did serve in Sydney, however their uniform buttons had changed by the time they came out. These buttons date to the 1810s I believe.
Your 2nd question is very apt, why would French Soldiers be in The Rocks? They weren't.
I had assumed that the buttons came on second hand uniforms that were sent out here to clothe the convicts, it still seems the most likely explanation. However, would relatively expensive buttons be left on the old uniforms?
Perhaps people bought the old uniforms with them when they migrated or were transported out here?

The biggest question that this has raised for me is why would the French and the British be producing the exact same military numbered buttons at the same time? There's thousands of ways to depict a number on a button.

Small things can open u a whole new world of research.


Yes: the 11th; too late for those buttons. That sentence got lost in the mix.

As for the common French and British button design, the aesthetics of uniform design tended to transcend national and political divides and were influenced by the quirks of individual taste, international fashion and prestige. The similarity is remarkable, though. I would say it is more likely that the British copied the French than the other way round. Possibly the design was valued for its simplicity and cheapness of manufacture as well as the ease of producing uniformity across the board. Somebody will correct me but I think button design would still have been a regimental matter at the time this design was used.

In fact, Inspecting generals did complain, for instance, that a regiment might be wearing hats "too much in the French style"- although their objection was not so much the style was French, but that the hats did not conform to regulation and were too small to stay on the head. Mais trés élégant!

I am reminded of the famous complaint sent by the Duke of Wellington from the Peninsula, that he didn't mind what uniform was ordered for the troops as long as it served to distinguish friend from foe. A practical and distinctive cap worn by the British light dragoons for twenty five years or more had recently been exchanged for a shako with the same profile as that worn by French light cavalry, with the result that he narrowly missed being taken prisoner by a French patrol while out on recconnaissance.

Buttons probably wouldn't have made much difference either way!
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Re: Uniform Buttons, French or British

Postby 1812 » August 17th, 2016, 9:19 am

Tricky things buttons.

In the British army buttons were indeed a regimental matter. They were often ordered from local sources. However they seem to have a limited number of designs, the one shown in the photos above, oak leaves surrounding the numerals or oak leaves surmounted by a crown. French buttons were also bought by the regiment but had a standard design. On this basis the odds are that the buttons shown are French.

A good indicator could be the colour of the brass used. English brass was distinctly yellow in colour but French brass had more copper in the alloy and was redder in colour. Difficult to tell from the photos which these are.

It might be possible to find which pattern of button was worn by the British regiments with the numerals shown but that is beyond my resources.

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Re: Uniform Buttons, French or British

Postby jf42 » August 17th, 2016, 10:45 am

The 23rd wore Prince of Wales' Feathers on their buttons from fairly early on; certainly from the late C18th.

One might have expected a Harp of Erin on the buttons of the 18th Royal Irish but I don't know.

However, neither were posted to NSW, so they can't be in frame anyway.

Thanks for identifying those fronds, Mike. "Very like an oak leaf, my lord."
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Re: Uniform Buttons, French or British

Postby 1812 » August 17th, 2016, 11:23 am

jf42.

Poor sentence on my part. I intended to identify three common designs:
fronds
wreath
wreath and crown.

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