Ralph Pearce

Vol. 3 No. 1 - 1975

Ralph Pearce

alias Richard Harlow

by T J Malcomson

You drove me from my house and trade in Lurgan and forced me to sail across the black ocean.

The villain of Robert Graves' two novels, "Sergeant Lamb of the Ninth" and "Proceed, Sergeant Lamb," was a Lurgan man, Ralph Pearce, alias Richard Harlowe. These novels give a fascinating first hand account of the experiences of an Irish soldier, serving with the British forces in the American War of Independence. Although presented in the guise of fiction, they are based on two books published by Roger Lamb in Dublin in 1809 and 1811, supplemented by a mass of contemporary records, including journals kept during the way by three officers of Lamb's regiment. In a foreword to "Proceed, Sergeant Lamb," Graves assured his readers that he had "nowhere wilfully falsified geography, chronology or character."

Roger Lamb, the narrator of the story, was born in Dublin in 1753. While engaged as a clerk in a Dublin counting-house, he began to bet on cock-fights. On one occasion he lost a guinea which had been entrusted to him by his father for the discharge of a debt. Then, having been made drunk by a recruiting sergeant, he found himself at the age of seventeen in 1770, enlisted as a private in the 9th regiment of foot.

Lamb's first posting was to Waterford. He and three other recruits were marched there from Dublin, 75 (Irish) miles in six days, by Corporal Buchanan. On this march, Lamb struck up a friendship with one of the other three recruits, a delicate young Lurgan man, of some education, named Richard Harlowe. Some time later, the recruits were transferred to Saintfield, County Down, where Lamb was quartered in an inn.

At that time, there was a very beautiful girl, Kate Weldone, living with her father at Newtownbreda. Lamb "conceived a great passion for Miss Kate" but her father made it clear to him that he had no hope of winning her hand until he was at least a corporal. Once when her father was absent, Lamb visited the home and found Kate in a grief-stricken state. When he tried to console her, she offered to do anything in world for him if he would risk committing a crime for her sake. Lamb was reluctant to do this but, eventually, he yielded to her entreaties and swore by his honour that he would do for her whatever lay in his power.

At that time there were rumours that his unit was to be sent to America and, as a precaution against having to take too many wives aboard the transport, Major Bolton issued an order to prevent private soldiers marrying without the written consent of an officer of their company. Clergymen of the area were informed accordingly. Unknown to Lamb, Kate was in love with Harlowe and she asked Lamb to forge an officer's signature on a form of consent to their marriage. Lamb had been trapped into doing something very distasteful to him and, although he honoured his oath, from then onwards he and Harlowe were at emnity towards each other. Harlowe and Kate were married and Lamb was driven to drinking, gambling and idleness.

With four other regiments, the Ninth embarked at Cork for Quebec on 26th April 1776 and Mrs. Harlowe was among the wives who elected to go with them. Their role in Canada was to assist in repelling any attempted invasion by the American revolutionary forces but, as there was little trouble there, they moved south and were soon engaged with the enemy.

John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and the second President, estimated that, at the start of hostilities, only one third of the people supported the revolution; one third were still loyal to King George the Third; and the other third were uncommitted. Efforts were made by both sides to secure defections from the ranks of their opponents and these efforts seem to have been greater when directed to Irishmen serving with the British forces; N.C.O's being offered commissions in the colonial army - Lamb was offered and rejected a post as schoolmaster in a colonial family. The most important defection during the war was, of course, that of General Benedict Arnold who defected to the British army.

Earl of Cornwallis

In due course, Lamb was promoted sergeant and, being a man of intelligence with a "clerkly hand," he became a general factotum; surgeon, tooth drawer, copier of despatches, confidential clerk to the Earl of Cornwallis, etc. He thus had great opportunities of knowing exactly what was happening. He and Corporal Terry Reeves were appointed to a special mission to study the skills and habits of the Indians and, presumably, to enlist their support on behalf of the British forces. Lamb was enrolled in the Mohican tribe and was given the name Otetiani (always ready).

While on this mission, he and Reeves came upon a party of Indians with whom there was a white woman - Kate Harlowe. Two of the Indians were discussing which of them was to have her as his squaw, but Reeves settled the dispute by claiming that Kate was Roger Lamb's wife. She told Lamb that she had deserted her husband because he was consorting with an Indian squaw and, during the remainder of their stay with the Indians, Lamb and Kate lived together as husband and wife. Kate begged Lamb to stay with her but his duty demanded that he should rejoin his regiment and this he did. ("I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not honour more.")

At a later stage in the war, Lamb was given another special mission; to search for stores and baggage. This took him past a log house in which Kate was giving birth to their child, a daughter, but much to Kate's annoyance, he again refused to allow his love for her to divert him from his mission. Before leaving her, how-ever, he gave her a silver grout for the baby.

Following the surrender of General Burgoyne's army at Saratoga on 17th October, 1777, Lamb was a prisoner of war for about a year. He and "Smutchy" Steel decided to attempt an escape and, with some reluctance and only because his knowledge of German might prove helpful, they agreed to accept "Gentleman Richard Harlowe" as a member of the party.

Their escape was from Boston to New York and at New York Lamb was welcomed by Major Andre who gave him the privilege of choosing the regiment in which he wished to serve. Lamb chose the 23rd Foot and at his request "Smutchy" Steel was posted to the same unit and Gentleman Richard to a different unit. (This was the Major Andre who was hanged by the colonists as a spy on 2nd October 1780 and whose remains were interred in Westminster Abbey in 1821.)

One of the scenes in the story which should be of most interest to local historians is that in which Sergeant Lamb came upon Alexander Birdie addressing Gentleman Richard Harlowe in a "thick Ulster brogue".

"Don't think I do not know your bonny face, Ralph Pearce, or exult in having you here in my power at last, though be sure I should be glad enough to have Colonel Pearce, your father, sitting next to you, who drove me from my house and trade in Lurgan town, and forced me to sail here across the black ocean. Come now, Ralph Pearce, you who married my little sister, Molly, against your father's wish and mine, and who threw her off when he threatened to disinherit you, and who afterwards cheated at the cards and was dismissed from your regiment, and trafficked with the Pretender, and went back to poor Molly to rob her of the jewels you had given her and broke her heart - tell me now, Ralph Pearce, for I am anxious to know - will you die with an easy heart?" When Lamb intervened to protect Harlowe, Birdie brought his gun to his shoulder and aimed at Lamb, but before he could fire, he fell dead from a flying tomahawk thrown by a concealed Mohican.

Lamb was on the force which defeated the colonials at Camden. In this engagement the left wing was commanded by young Lord Rawdon (later Earl of Moira) who, according to Lamb, was reputed to be "the ugliest man in Europe and the bravest." After Camden, they pursued General Greene's army for 300 miles. Lamb and a party of ten men made a bayonet charge against some Virginians who were firing at them from a breastwork of brushwood. He saw an American officer flying across their front and pursued him. When the officer turned and threw up his hands Lamb saw that it was Richard Harlowe.As a traitor, Harlowe did not deserve any quarter and Lamb shot him through the head, afterwards drawing Harlowe's sword from the scabbard, and with an effort, breaking it across his knee in detestation.

The next time Lamb and Kate Harlowe met, she was mistress to the Earl of Cornwallis. Lamb informed her of the death of her husband and of the circumstances in which he had died and he asked Kate to marry him. She agreed to do so when she was free from her entanglement with Cornwallis, but she was killed shortly afterwards.

The Earl of Cornwallis was forced into the surrender of his army at Yorktown, Virginia, on 18th October 1781, and Lamb again found himself a prisoner of war. Towards the close of the war, the British troops were ill-fed and badly clothed and consequently, Lamb's second escape was much more exhausting than the first. However, he succeeded in leading his eight fusilier companies through about a thousand miles of hostile country to freedom.

On 5th December 1783, Sergeant Lamb with the Royal Welch Fusiliers sailed from Sandy Hook for Portsmouth. From Portsmouth they went to Winchester and there, Lamb requested his discharge. An effort by Colonel Balfour, to persuade him to remain in the army, failed and Lamb returned to Dublin on 19th March 1784. At St. Anne's Parish Church, Dublin, on 15th January 1786, he was married to Mrs. Jane Crumer, widow of a soldier accidentally killed in the United States and they had a number of children. Dr. Chadwick, a former Dean of Armagh, was a grandson.

Before his marriage, Lamb revealed to Jane the story of Kate Harlowe and the lost child. About ten years later "a charming young creature whose face and form recalled those of Kate at her most charming," sought him out having obtained his address from a soldier of the Ninth. It was his daughter and she had with her his silver groat wrapped in paper on which was written: "The gift of Roger Lamb, Sergeant of the Ninth Regiment, to his daughter, Eliza Lamb. K.H." With Lamb's consent, Eliza married a man in the band of a militia regiment.

In Dublin, Lamb was appointed Master of a Methodist Free School in Whitefriar Street and he held this position for over thirty years. In 1809, he was awarded a pension of one shilling a day from Chelsea Hospital.