A Dinner in the Officer’s Mess

A regiment of the Sussex Militia had been quartered on the town: for, the invasion scare being stronger than ever that year, troops as been stationed everywhere along the coast to drive of the French, should they try to effect a landing…But since their duties were in reality not too onerous, the officers could be seen at most hours of the day on the Steine, strolling beside the lady visitors, while the ranks entertained their maids in some less fashionable spot…Miss Burney [Novelist & Diarist Frances "Fanny" Burney]had hardly arrived before she was invited, together with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale, Dr. Delap and one or tow others, to dine at the officers’ mess, held at the Old Ship Tavern. The hosts provided an excellent meal, which she appreciated, yet never realizing how much trouble they must have incurred in the batter; because, although plenty of good fresh fish and mutton could always be obtained in Brighton no delicacies, not even fruit and vegetables, could be procured without difficulty
After dinner they went out on to the parade ground, where the regiment was mustering in a delightfully informal and friendly atmosphere, quite different from that which attends such proceedings to-day. The whole of the company, so drunk that the men could not stand upright, was giggling uncontrollably…Captain Fuller [John "Mad Jack" Fuller], after making an unsuccessful attempt to restore order, turned to the ladies and said sympathetically, ‘These poor fellows have just been paid their arrears, and it is so unusual for them to have a sixpence in their pockets that they know not how to keep it there”. And, far from subsiding, their merriment only increased, for a high wind was blowing and the ladies’ dresses and caps were disturbed in a way that struck the men as deliciously funny.  In the end Captain Fuller himself succumbed and burst out laughing too.
Brighthelmstone
May 26, 1779

The Sussex militia, of which the Duke of Richmond [Charles Lennox (1735-1806)]is Colonel, is now here. Mr Fuller, a very intimate young friend of Mr Thrale, who is Captain of a Company belonging to it, Dined with us.  He is a young man of a very large fortune, remarkably handsome, and very gay, sensible, unaffected and agreeable.

They took us to the Parade before Tea, to see the soldiers mustered, a ceremony the officers are obliged to go through every night.  We then returned here and had a chatty and comfortable Evening.

Monday [24 May] was a Field Day, and Captain Fuller invited us to Breakfast with him, before we proceeded to the Downs.  We did so, -- that is Mrs and Miss T. and I, for Mr Thrale was not up in Time [Henry & Hester Thrale and daughter Hester Maria known as Queeney].  Captain Fuller’s apartments are on the Steyn, and he had hid men all drawn out before the House, and under arms, against we came.  He is a very pleasing young, man I like him very much.  He gave us Eggs, Tea and Chocolate for Break fast: he told us that Eggs made the fashionable officer’s Breakfast at Brighthelmstone, as being good for the Voice, which they are obliged to exercise as much as their persons, in giving the Word, and so forth.
After this, Mrs Holroyd [Mrs Abigail Holroyd (Way)] called in her Carriage to take us to the Downs; where was to be the shew.  Captain Fuller escorted us on Foot.  He belongs to the light Infantry, and was pretty well worked, I believe, with the heat and the exercise before he had done.
Altogether, the morning was pleasant. Major Holroyd,[John Baker Holroyd ] who acted as the General, was extremely polite, and attentive, and came to us between every evolution, to explain and talk over the manoeuvres.  Captain Fuller, too, whenever he was at liberty, favoured us with his Company, -- so we were very grand, and very military.

On our return, we went to the Major’s. His House is on the Steyn, and the best, I believe, in the Town , both for situation and fitting up.  After this, Mrs and Miss Thrale paraded me about the Town, and took me to the principal shops, to see the World.

When we came Home, Capt. Fuller called to excuse himself from Dining here, on account of Business with his men.  He got into chat, however, and stayed mere than an Hour.  He wanted me violently to play to him, -- but I am less able than ever so to do ,as I literally never touch a key, lest I should be heard.

We drank Tea and spent he Evening at Major Holroyd’s . They took us to the Parade, to see the muster, and there we were joined by Capt. Fuller, who went with us to the Major’s . There were , also, 3 other officers, Mr Lucius Concannon, an Irish Lieutenant, a staring, smiling man, of few words; Mr Godfrey, a very handsome, conceited Youth, and Mr John Fuller [John "Mad Jack" Fuller's first cousin, John Trayton Fuller], a heavy Sussex Headed young man.

Captain Fuller was, again, quite vehement with me to play, -- and I had great difficulty, indeed, to escape, -- he said he would watch me the whole Time I remained here, and set spys to watch if I was not to be caught privately, at the Piano Forte; ‘And I have 75 servants here,’ he said,’ all in my Livery,--‘ meaning his Company, as you probably guess! – Mrs Holroyd and Miss Thrale both performed, -- and then I was assaulted, and reassaulted, and the Major said he would Head a File of musqueteers against me – upon which , all the Officers arose, and came to me in a body, joining the petition, --I tried to run for it, but was stopt by a detachment, --Mrs Thrale joined with them, till, taking my Hand, she found I actually shook, and then she go me off.

Tuesday I accompanied Mrs and Miss Thrale to Lewes, a town about 8 miles from Brighthelmstone, where we went to see Mrs Shelley, a Cousin of Mrs Thrale.  But found her not at Home.  We then proceeded to Dr Delap [Rev John Delap (1725-1812) poet and playwright], a clergyman, of whom I expect to have more to say in a Day or 2, as he is to visit us, and bring a M.S play with him!—Mr Shelley met us in our way, and invited us back to his House, --and while we were returning Captain Fuller came up to the Coach Door , and invited himself to dine with us.  He was at Lewes, with all the Sussex officers, to wit upon the Duke of Richmond; Mrs Thrale offered him the vacant seat in the Coach , and we went on to the Shelley’s [Philadelphia & Henry Shelley and their six children].
They have a large and charming House in this Town; Mrs Shelley is just a good sort of Woman, she has a great family,  of very fine Children.  We spent all the morning with them, and then with our Captain came Home, and had a most agreeable ride.
The Country about this place has a most singular appearance; there is not a Tree within several miles, but hill rises above Hill in quantity innumerable. The sea is the great object from all parts.
In the Evening of Tuesday we had a large party , consisting of the Bishop of Peterborough his Lady, the Holroyds, Miss Firth and our light Infantry Captain.
The Bishop is a man of very mild  manners, and most courteous demeanor; his Lady is pretty and lively.  They, Mr Thrale and Mrs Holroyd, played Cards form Tea to supper, and the rest of us formed into occasional little parties.
Miss Burney liked this young man, none the less, and, summing up, found him to possess ‘figure, understanding, education, vivacity and intelligence’.  Although he was only twenty-one, he spoke like the father of his company, and appeared to treat them as he would a family of nice but naughty children.  ‘I have been cutting off the hair of all my men,’ he said to her a couple of days later, when they met at the library. ‘And why?’ ‘Why the Duke of Richmond ordered that it should be done, and the fellows swore that they would not submit to it – so I was forced to be the operator myself.  I told them they would look smart again when they had got on their caps; but it went much against them—they vowed at first, they would not bear such usage; some said they would sooner bee run through the body, and others that the Duke should as soon have their heads, I told them I would soon try that, and fell to work myself with them.’ ‘How did they bear that?’ ‘Oh, poor fellows, with great good nature when they found his honour was their barber: but I thought it proper to submit to hearing all their oaths and all their jokes; for they had no other comfort but to hope I should have enough of it and such sort of wit.  Three or four of them, however escaped, but I shall find them out.  I told them I had a good mind to cut my own hair off too, and then they would have a Captain Crop.  I shall soothe them to-morrow with a present of new feathers for all their caps.’ That the men resented the Duke’s orders is not surprising; at that date it could have only have been a personal whim. The army, as a whole, retained their queues until the second decade of the following century, keeping them till long after they had been discarded by civilians.

Margaret Barton & Osbert Sitwell, Brighton,(1935) pp 82 -84
West Street, Brighton
Home of Henry & Hester Thrale
Henry Thrale
Major John Baker Holroyd,
1st Lord Sheffield
Frances "Fanny" Burney
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