The Life of Colour Sergeant Knight.

This is an extended article from what I posted on Facebook earlier this week.

In July 1856 at the end of the Crimean War the returning troop gathered at the Military camp at Aldershot for a Victory parade through the streets of London.  Early photography pioneers Robert Howlett and Joseph Cundall were also at the camp and in a series called “Crimean Heroes 1856” captured in this new medium some of these conquering heroes.

The picture below is of Colour-Sergeants J Stanton, Kester Knight and W Bruce, of the Royal Sappers and Miners freshly returned from Turkey, all three were grizzled veterans and had served in the Crimea for the duration of the War.

Colour-Sergeants J Stanton, Kester Knight and W Bruce, Royal Sappers and Miners, 1856

Colour-Sergeants J Stanton, Kester Knight and W Bruce, Royal Sappers and Miners, 1856

Kester Knight was born 1827 in Haslemere Surrey and was apprenticed as a carpenter. On the 12th May 1846 aged 19 he joined The Royal Sappers and Miners at Woolwich and listed carpenter as his profession.

Knight proved to be a model solider and steadily moved up the ranks, While posted in Gibraltar he was promoted to 2nd Corporal on the 9th July 1851 and then full Corporal on the 23rd February 1854.

During the spring and summer of 1854 the clouds of war were gathering across Europe as the empires of Britain, France and Russia fought over the dying carcass of the Ottoman Empire. With public opinion across Britain demanding war the British Government dispatched its biggest Army overseas since the Napoleonic Wars.


 

The Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856), also known in Russian historiography as the Eastern War of 1853–1856 (Russian: Восточная война, Vostochnaya Voina), was a conflict in which Russia lost to an alliance of France, the United Kingdom, the Ottoman Empire, and Sardinia. The immediate cause involved the rights of Christian minorities in the Holy Land, which was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. The French promoted the rights of Catholics, while Russia promoted those of the Orthodox Christians. The longer-term causes involved the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the unwillingness of the United Kingdom and France to allow Russia to gain territory and power at Ottoman expense. It has widely been noted that the causes, in one case involving an argument over a key, have never revealed a “greater confusion of purpose”, yet led to a war noted for its “notoriously incompetent international butchery.


 

Part of this force included Engineers and men of the Miners and Sappers who had been stationed at Gibraltar since 1849, Corporal Knight landed on the Crimean peninsular with the rest of his regiment on 14th September 1854. They immediately set about getting the stores ashore and setting up a camp for the army.

The British and French Armies marched in land and fought the first major battle of the campaign on the banks of the Alma  and repulsed the Russian defenders but failing to follow up the beaten and retreating Russians gave them the chance to retreat to the safety of Sebastopol and its large Star Fort.

Believing that the Northern approaches to the city were too well defended the British and French Commanders agreed to attack the city from the south. As the army settled down for the siege of the city the men of the Royal Engineers and Miners and Sappers came into their own.

Trenches, gun emplacements and the army encampment were all built and by the 26th of October the British had 73 guns ready for the bombardment of the city walls. Corporal Knight would’ve lead work parties of infantrymen who would dig trenches and build gun embrasures under the direction of a Royal engineer officer (one who would later be Lord Wolseley).

He would also have fought of Russian raiding parties who would sortie out from the city to try and destroy trenches, guns or capture the tools carried by the men.


As a further consequence, the front was not protected by sentries, so that a sortie or surprise of some sort was just might have been anticipated. As we have seen there was a sortie and the surprise was complete, but Wolseley was equal to the occasion.

The working-party, finding themselves surrounded, cast down their tools or arms and bolted to a man. In vain the officers did all the could to stop the stampede. Wolseley seized by the belt one man who was in the act of flying, but was instantly knocked down by another fellow who took this irregular method of releasing his comrade, Wolseley found there was nothing between himself and the Russians but the gabions which they were pulling down with celerity.

Looking about him with the intent of rallying his men, he found that he was alone; all had fled, the officers, recognising the futility of resistance without their men, being the last to retire.

Lord Wolseley, A memoir.


On the 1st of April 1855 Knight was promoted to Sergeant and 4 months before peace was declared he was promoted to Colour-Sergeant.

For his service in the Crimea, Knight was awarded the Queen’s Crimea (Inkermann and Sebastopol clasps), the Turkish Crimea Medal and the French awarded him the French Médaille Militaire his citation reading

Joined the Army at Scutari in May, 1854. Present at every bombardment. Specially selected by Colonel Tylden for important daily duties in the trenches of the right attack, and was subsequently strongly recommended by him for promotion which he received”. 

He sailed for home on the 19th January 1856.

He was home for less than a year before sailing for China in time for the start of the Second Opium War.


The Second Opium War, the Second Anglo-Chinese War, the Second China War, the Arrow War, or the Franco-British expedition to China, was a war pitting the British Empire and the Second French Empire against the Qing dynasty (present day China), lasting from 1856 to 1860.


 

Little is known of Knight’s service in China but he served a total of three years in china and was awarded The China Medal 1857-1860 with clasps for Taku Forts 1860 and Pekin 1860.

After returning to Britain in the Autumn of 1861 he was posted to the Royal Engineers depot at Chatham and on the 6th May 1862 received his final promotion to Sergeant Major.

His army service was exemplary and on his regimental record a note was added which stated:

Conduct has been very good and he was in the possession of one good conduct badge when promoted and would had he not been promoted have now been in possession of five good conduct badges. 

After serving for 22 years 295 days and being awarded the Meritorious Service Medal in 1869 Sergeant-Major Kester Knight retired.

Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle January 20th 1869

Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle January 20th 1869

In 14th July, 1878 Knight he was rewarded for his service with a post of Yeoman of the Guard at the Tower of London. He lived at the tower with his wife and was one of 39 Yeomans on duty when a Fenian terrorist attacked the Tower with dynamite.

Yeoman Warder Kester C. Knight http://www.soldiersofthequeen.com/

Yeoman Warder Kester C. Knight  Water Lane not far from the Traitor’s Gate in the Tower of London.

 

The Cornishman Thursday 29th January 1885

The Cornishman Thursday 29th January 1885

Knight was a Yeoman for 16 years before dying on the 11th June, 1894 at the Tower. So ended the life of this remarkable Victorian solider.

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5 thoughts on “The Life of Colour Sergeant Knight.

  1. I am thrilled to see this description of a great British soldier. Kester Knight was, I believe, my great great grandfather. His son Edwin had a son called Stan, who married my grandmother. Thank you for posting this account of his life.

    The story in our family is that when in China Kester was General Gordon of China’s batman. Gordon was summoned back to England by Queen Victoria, and then dispatched to Khartoum, Sudan, which at the time was an Anglo Egyptian protectorate, under attack by the Turkish ‘Mad Maji’. Gordon of course died in Khartoum, and Kester returned to England alone. As a homage to Gordon of Khartoum he adopted the name, and became Kester C. Gordon Knight.

    Sadly I have no information to back up the claim that Kester was General Gordon of China”s batman, it is just family lore, and you know how inaccurate that can be! Can you find any information about that?

    Where are you getting your information, and, if I may inquire, why are you interested in Kester Knight? Are you also related?

    Christopher Knight.

    • Hi Christopher, Many thanks for your kind words about the article. I have had a copy of the picture for a few years and decided to investigate the men pictured. Luckily for me the internet held a wealth of information on your Gt Gt Grandfather Kester Knight.

      I found his military record that detailed his service and then searched the British Newspaper archive for any mentions of him which as you can see I found. I then contacted a friend who is a Beefeater at the Tower and he found the picture of Kester in their archives. As for Kester being Gordon’s batman, he was certainly in China at the same time as Gordon but couldn’t have traveled to the Sudan as he had already retired from the Engineers and was already a Beefeater at the Tower. Still great to have that him in your family history, a great old solider.

      Nick

  2. I don’t know if my brother has been in touch with you ( just as he sent us the link to your article ) but Kester was in fact my great grandfather and we have always known about him but to see these images and read you article was simply wonderful, but I wondered if you could help me at all with one things we have always been told about him. All the men in our family since Kester have been given the middle name of Gordon and that we have been told was because Kester was Gen,Gordon of Khartoum’s Batman and had distinguished himself in his service to Gen.Gordon. Is there a way you know or could to find out if that is true? or else tell us where we should be looking? Many thanks and best wishes – Nicholas Gordon Knight

    • Hi, Nicholas. thank you for your kind words on the article. I haven’t found any record of Kester being Gordon’s batman but he certainly served in China at the same time as Gordon so it could be true but he was long retired from service by the time Gordon was sent to the Sudan. I will check with the Royal Engineers museum to see if I can find any record of it.

      Thank you,
      Nick

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