The Court Martial of Captain Robert Hedges
The Court Martial of Captain Robert Hedges, of the 67th Regiment, took place in St John’s, Antigua, between January 30 and March 13 1786. Two charges were brought against Hodges by his commanding officer, Major Browne. These alleged that he:
1. Acted unlike an officer and a gentleman, and in a manner highly disrespectful to Major Browne, and tending to mutiny.
2. Acted in many instances contrary to good order and military discipline in endeavouring to injure Major Browne, his commanding officer, in the opinion of many officers of the regiment.
Major Browne claimed that Hedges had belittled and undermined him in front of fellow officers on numerous occasions after the regiment arrived in Antigua the previous year. Browne told the court martial:
‘He [Hodges] has traduced me to every officer when he thought I might be prejudiced by such abuse. He has often, on the orders being brought to him, taken the orderly book, and throwing it with violence against the ground, turned round and said, “Damnation to him if ever he reads such orders.” The more I endeavoured to oblige the officers of the regiment, the more he exerted himself to convince them to the contrary.’
Browne claimed that Hodges had even spread gossip among the island’s inhabitants that he was an officer ‘of such infamous character, and so universally detested, that the officers of my own Corps drank damnation to me at their own mess’.
The resulting ill-feeling, said Browne, threatened the regiment’s ‘peace and harmony’ and he made arrangements for Hodges to be transferred back to Europe. This infuriated Hodges and led to a row between the two men in which the Captain acted in a ‘violent and threatening manner’. Given this, Browne said he had reluctantly decided to bring Hodges to court martial.
After hearing 23 days of evidence from other officers and the regimental surgeon, the court martial acquitted Hodges of both charges and he was released. In a remarkable reversal of fortunes, Major Browne was placed under arrest and sent back to Europe. Reflecting on the court martial, the commander of British forces on the island, Major General Thomas Shirley, described it as a ‘long and tedious business’.