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Royal Engineers

Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis, 2000.

William Rochead enlisted as a Sapper in the Royal Engineers in Glasgow District, Scotland on the 3rd of December 1860. He was assigned Regimental Number 6520. At the time of his enlistment he was 24 years and 10 months of age. He was 5 feet 6-1/2 inches tall. Upon enlistment he received a total levy payment of one Pound, 12 Shillings and 6 Pence.

In January of 1861 Rochead reported to the Royal Engineer Depot at Chatham in Kent. On the 1st of April 1861 he was transferred to the 35th Company, Royal Engineers. The 35th Company (one of the four companies stationed at Chatham)[1] had been a Service Company since July of 1858. Sapper Rochead was assigned to the company on the same day that the 35th was designated a Depot Company. He remained in Chatham with that company until the unit was moved to Gibraltar in July of 1861. On the 1st of September 1861 Sapper Rochead was transferred to the 33rd Company, Royal Engineers while in Gibraltar.

Rochead served with the 33rd Company at Gibraltar until March of 1866. In June of 1863 he was placed under guard for committing an offense of an undisclosed nature. He spent November and December of 1863 in hospital. In early October of 1864 Rochead was again placed under guard while awaiting trial by court-martial. He was convicted and sentenced for his offense and spent the period from the 8th of October to the 3rd of November 1864 in the military prison on Gibraltar. He performed his duties during the year 1865 without any further disciplinary incidents, but in January of 1866 he was again placed under guard for an offense.

The 33rd Company left Gibraltar for Malta in April of 1866 and served there until March of 1870. Sapper Rochead spent October and November of 1866 in hospital and was confined to a garrison cell from the 7th to the 13th of December 1866 and again from the 19th to the 25th of December. He was confined to the guardroom from the 6th to the 16th of February 1867 and was finally sent to the military prison at Malta for a period from 17 February to 31 March 1867.

Rochead with shipped to St. George's Bay and was placed under guard from the 1st of May to the 30th of June 1867. During this period he was under the administrative control of the 1st Battalion, 60th Rifles for pay purposes. During the period from the 1st of July to the 23rd of September 1867 he remained at St. George's Bay under the administrative control of the 14th Regiment.

Sapper Rochead returned to duty with the 33rd Company at Malta in October of 1868 and actually kept out of trouble for a whole year. He was listed as sick in quarters in October of 1868 and on the 31st of December of that same year he was granted Good Conduct Pay at 2 penny (2.d) per day. He re-engaged to complete 21 years of service on the 2nd of January 1869 and by the 27th of March had already forfeited one penny of his Good Conduct Pay. On the 17th of November 1869 he lost the second penny.

The year 1870 was one of the worst yet for Sapper Rochead. He was confined to the guardroom from the 22nd to the 25th of February, he spent the 26th of February to the 8th of March in the military prison, and the 9th of March in the guardroom again.

In April of 1870 the 33rd Company returned home to England and was stationed at Aldershot. Rochead returned to duty for a short while and committed yet another offense for which he was placed under guard in July of 1870. He managed to get through the remainder of the year in good form and even got through most of 1871 before being confined to a cell at Aldershot from the 2nd through the 3rd of December 1871.

The company was transferred to Chatham in January of 1872 and in July of that year Sapper Rochead was sent for duty at the NCO Mess. He returned to duty at his company in August.

On the 1st of November 1872 Rochead was transferred to the 39th Company, Royal Engineers. This company was also stationed at Chatham. On the 18th of September 1873 Sapper Rochead embarked for Africa to take part in the Gold Coast Expedition (Ashantee Campaign). Sapper Rochead remained on the rolls of the 39th Company at Chatham until the 19th of November 1873 when he was transferred to the 28th Company, Royal Engineers, which was already enroute to the Gold Coast. The 28th Company, under the command of Major R.O. Jones, R.E., arrived in the Gold Coast on the 10th of December 1873.

The Royal Engineer officers who participated in the Ashantee Campaign were:

Major Robert Home
Major R.O. Jones
Captain R.N. Buckle
Lieutenant M.S. Bell
Lieutenant H. Jekyll
Lieutenant G.F. Mann
Lieutenant M.W. Skinner
Lieutenant E.W. Cotter

Major Home was the Commander Royal Engineers (C.R.E.) for the expeditionary force.

The objective of the Ashantee Campaign was to reach Coomassie, the headquarters of the Ashanti tribe and the residence of their king. Between Cape Coast Castle[2] and Coomassie (a distance of about 160 miles) there was a mere track, passable by natives, but utterly impracticable for troops. It was necessary, therefore, for the engineers to cut a roadway through the jungle the entire distance. The principle adopted was to establish stations at the most convenient distances, to allow the troops to pass from one to another after a day's march. At these stations huts were erected and rough fortifications constructed to enable them to be held by small parties against the attack of hostile natives. The ground was also cleared around these fortifications to allow for observations and fields of fire. Bridges were thrown across the innumerable streams encountered, and in some instances, notably that of the River Prah, these structures were of considerable size and importance.

The advance on Coomassie began on the 5th of January 1874 and was completed on the 4th of February 1874. The campaign was a success, but only at the cost of much suffering and sickness. The work of the engineers was carried out under depressing conditions amidst the heat and the pestilential swamps that lay between Cape Coast and Coomassie. The sickness rate among the British was extraordinarily high, with some units suffering losses of as much as 98 percent to illness.

At the conclusion of the operations the 28th Company returned to Cape Coast in forced marches which they made in advance of the main body of the expeditionary force. The company made the passage home to England on board the Himalya, arriving at Chatham in March of 1874. For his participation in the Ashantee Campaign, Rochead was awarded the campaign medal with no bar. The bar [COOMASSIE] was only awarded to those men who crossed the River Prah and to those who took part in the actions at Amoaful and Ardahsa on the 31st of January and the 4th of February 1874, respectively. Sapper Rochead apparently remained behind with portions of his company at one of the stations on the line of communication, while other members of the 28th Company accompanied the expeditionary force on the final advance on Coomassie. The officers who qualified for the [COOMASSIE] bar included Major Home, Captain Buckle and Lieutenants Bell and Cotter.

The whole of the line of communication for the campaign had been under the charge of Major Jones as regards the engineer work, and the pressure on him had been very great. Major Home, the C.R.E., wrote the following of the work done by Major Jones:

Major Jones had, during the advance, supported the Engineers in front in every

way, by sending up tools and provisions, and during the homeward march every post and station was found amply supplied... 41though debarred from sharing in the final capture of Coomassie, Major Jones contributed greatly to the safe return of the troops. and testimony should be here borne to the large quantity of work he performed. "

Obviously, these same words could have been used to described the work performed during the campaign by Sapper Rochead and the remainder of the rear element of the 28th Company, Royal Engineers

After his arrival in England, Rochead went on furlough from the 5th of May to the 15th of June 1874, and upon his return to duty had one penny of his Good Conduct Pay restored on the 16th of June when he was transferred to the 32nd Company, Royal Engineers at Glasgow. According to the medal roll, Rochead received his Ashantee medal after his arrival in Glasgow.

Rochead's period of service in Glasgow was without disciplinary incident. He took a number of leaves and furloughs while in Glasgow, probably because he was in his hometown. These periods of authorized absences included leave from 1-4 January, 17- 28 February, 1-2 March, and 18-20 July 1875 and furloughs from 1-3 January and 1-29 February 1876. He was hospitalized in May of 1876 and had the second penny of his Good Conduct Pay restored to him on the 16th of June 1876, a testament to his improved behavior since being stationed in his hometown.

On the 8th of May 1876 Rochead was transferred to the 9th Company, Royal Engineers under the command of Captain J.G.S. Davis, R.E. There were signs at this point that his health was failing him, perhaps as a result of the conditions he had to endure during the Ashantee Campaign. He was hospitalized again during the period from July to September 1876 and again in October 1876. He went on another furlough between the 15th of November and the 31st of December 1876 and again from the 1st through the 15th of January 1877. He took leave again from the 14th to the 16th of July 1877. He was taken gravely ill shortly thereafter and died in hospital in Glasgow on the 5th of October 1877. At the time of his death he left the sum of three Pounds, 18 Shillings and 11-1/2 Pence to his next of kin.

During his 17 years of service Sapper Rochead. never received a promotion. From his disciplinary record this is not hard to understand. Between time served under guard and in prison, time spent in hospital, and time spent on leave and furlough, it is a wonder that he was allowed to remain with the Colours, much less re-enlist in 1869.


 The following information was provided by Alex Rochead, the great, great nephew of Sapper William Rochead:

 William Rochead was born in the Parish of New Monklands, near Glasgow.  His parents were James Rochead (or Roughead) and Janet Rochead. 

The 1851 Census of Scotland for the Parish of Baldernock shows the Rochead family living at 14 Castle Hill.James Rochead, age 36, is shown as a farmer and head of the family.  His wife Janet, age 45, and three sons, William (age 14), Robert (age 12) and John (age 5) also are shown as members of the family. The Rocheads employed a house servant by the name of Jean Morton (age 30).

The 1861 Census of England shows Sapper William Rochead, R.E. living at Brompton Barracks, Chatham, Kent shortly after his enlistment in the Royal Engineers.He is listed as being unmarried.

The 1871 Census of England shows Sapper William Rochead, R.E. serving at Aldershot.  He is listed as being unmarried.


[1] The other companies at Chatham at that time were the 33rd, 34th and 36th Companies.

[2] The British port facility on the Gold Coast.

[3] Captain R.N. Buckle, R.E. was killed in action during the campaign.


(1) Public Record Office: WOII/185,189,193,197,201,209,213,217,221,224, 226, 229, 232, 236, 239, 241, 245, 318-337, 363, 372-3, 384, 393, 412, 423 Regimental Muster Rolls.

(2) PURVES, T. The 9th, 1787-1960. The History of the British Army's Only Remaining Parachute Engineer Unit. Tom Purves, Nottingham, 198-.

(3) PORTER, W. History of the Corps of Royal Engineers. Volume H. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, 1952.
(4) GORDON, L.L. British Battles and Medals. Spink & Son, Ltd., London, 1971.