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A tribute to Trotter Knapsack by Richard Tennant BCMH

Date added: 17 Aug 2016


Richard Tennant BCMH

Waterloo 200
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Trotter Knapsack

The image on the main page shows several types of knapsack. Those on the top and that on the lower right are the earlier styles of ‘folding / envelope’ pack, whilst that on the lower left purports to be the replacement ‘Trotter Knapsack’.

According to the National Army Museum :                     “The infamous Trotter pack was constructed of black lacquered canvas, reinforced with leather at the corners and fastened rather like a suitcase. Internally the pack was braced by wooden batons, which gave it a smart appearance, but made it uncomfortable to wear. The edges dug into the spine. The cross straps, which were buckled across the chest to join the shoulder straps together, caused constriction of breathing and sometimes resulted in 'pack palsy'. This would occur when the shoulder straps dug hard into the armpit and resulted in nerve damage.”

In the Napoleon Series Archive it states :                      “The so-called Trotter knapsack, named after the manufacturer, was adopted in 1805 (some sources say 1802) though it probably never completely replaced the envelope knapsack during the Napoleonic period.”

However exchanges in the Napoleonic Wars Forum and other websites reveal :                                                 Pierre Turner details three knapsacks during this period :   c 1795 (succeeding c 1750 & 1770) - One held by NAM;    c 1800 - One held by NAM;                                              c 1815 (preceding four extant variations, 1830 – 54)

“In 1811 a Board of General Officers recommended a new knapsack …..”

The knapsacks worn by the British troops from 1812 (distributed after 1812) were based on the pattern lodged by the Board of Ordnance in George Street, London, and as each regiment bought their own from individual suppliers, albeit based on this pattern, the quality and dimensions would have varied. The 2nd Battalion, 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards for example, bought their knapsacks from Bicknall & Moore of Bond Street. When six companies were sent to the Low Countries in November 1813, they still hadn't received enough of the new pattern to issue them to two companies.

No knapsacks of the 1811 pattern survive and nothing is known of them, except that they did not have a wood frame and the Trotter company was not involved in their design, as the company ceased trading in 1806.                                                             There is no evidence for a pack with wooden boards before about 1826.

The drawings of Lt Col Charles Hamilton Smith, published in 1812/13 depict the folding type. Reconstructions of a ‘Trotter Knapsack’ are based primarily on the knapsacks shown by Denis Dighton in his painting ‘The Defence of Hougoumont’ painted in 1815. Dighton’s painting is included in the NAM’s collection:  Defence of the Chateau de Hougoumont by the flank Company, Coldstream Guards,                      ... 975-05-7-1.

Osprey Publishing MAA107 ‘Infantry Equipments (1) 1808-1908’, by Mike Chappell, perpetuates this story, and creates a highly plausible reconstruction, as has Stuart Reid in WAR20 ‘British Redcoat (2) 1793-1815’.

Whole fantasies have been created around the discomfort of carrying this particular object. Certainly the cross straps on British packs, which were buckled across the chest to join the shoulder straps together, could cause problems – but this was not due to the ‘Trotter knapsack’.

With acknowledgements to Frank Packer for information on the Trotter company. (Soldiers' Accoutrements of the British Army 1750-1900, p 70)

“The Trotter knapsack turns out to be a fallacy, endlessly copied by authors following God knows which person first wrote down this idea… it may have been from a misreading of a document back in 1929.”             Source : Napoleonic Wars Forum -                                                          Posted 9th September 2012 by Pete from Sidney, Australia.

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