Grenadier private of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment of Fencible Infantry

 In June 1803, Brigadier-General John Skerrett, still in command of His Majesty’s troops in the Colony, was ordered to raise a fencible regiment in Newfoundland. (A ‘fencible’ unit was one which served in the area of its origin, and was considered a unit of the line with regular force soldiers.) This call to arms was consistent with similar arrangements throughout the British Empire in response to aggression by Napoleonic France.

Skerrett was ordered to raise ten companies many of whom were recruited from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment that had been only recently disbanded. The new Regiment was to be the Newfoundland Regiment of Fencible Infantry. Officers who joined the Regiment and who had previous service with the recently disbanded Royal Newfoundland Regiment included Captains Van Cortlandt, Tremlett, Lelieve, Hierlihy and Lieutenants LeBreton, Weeks, Skinner, Gethings and Walsh.

By 1806 the Regiment numbered nearly seven hundred men and were renamed The Royal Newfoundland Regiment when the title “Royal” was conferred by King George III. The next year they were loaded aboard transport ships and sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia where they remained in garrison for one year before being sent to Quebec in 1807.

Regimental Colour (L) and King’s Colour (R)

That same year the British Government began the practice of stopping all ships on the high seas fearing that some might be providing supplies to France. Many Americans were outraged and by 1812 the United States had declared war on Great Britain.

Because of their extensive experience as both soldiers and sailors over half of the Regiment consisting of five companies were posted to Kingston, Upper Canada (Ontario) for service aboard ship, the remainder were assigned to detachments at Quebec, Prescott, Fort George and Fort York.

In May 1812, weeks before outbreak of the war with the United States, Major-General Sir Isaac Brock Commander of his Majesty’s Forces in Upper Canada divided up the Regiment into smaller companies placed in defensive positions from Prescott to Amherstburg (at the mouth of the Detroit River). Some were even employed as Marines onboard naval vessels on the Great Lakes, and these troops were identified as His Majesty’s Provincial Marine.