Was your ancestor a student or staff member at the Royal Military Asylum (RMA) in Chelsea or the Royal Hibernian Military School (RHMS) in Dublin? Search through the admissions, apprentice, and schoolmaster ledgers, spanning the years of 1803-1932, to uncover your ancestor’s records. These registers can provide you with significant biographical information including a birth date, service information, religion, and occupation.
This collection contains over 27,000 transcripts, covering several record sets. You can search by first name(s), last name, year, regiment, place, and source. Please note that some of those fields are not always populated. Therefore, if your search is returning zero results, try searching by name only. Also, keep in mind that there are occasional transcription errors, particularly surrounding dates. To ensure that you can find your ancestor within these records, try searching a range of dates. In transcribing these records, the original idiosyncratic spellings have been retained from the original.
Depending on which record set the transcript belongs to, different information is available:
Royal Hibernian Military School admissions 1847-1932 - Includes information about students outside the normal admission details, such as whether they went on to enlist, what trade they were taught, and the name of their fathers’ regiments. There are also names of various pupils captured from the 1911 Irish census.
Did you know?
By searching in our Ireland Census 1901 and 1911 record sets by the location “Phoenix Park,” you can discover more pupils who were enrolled at RHMS. You can uncover age, birth place, religion, and literacy level, as well as family members by exploring these census records. Both can be found in the Useful Links & Resources section.
This record set also includes the Royal Hibernian Military School Staff List 1864, which includes the following information:
Wages (£ S D)
Royal Military Asylum apprentice ledgers 1803-1840 / Royal Military Asylum (Chelsea) admissions 1803-1901
Father’s first name(s)
Mother’s first name(s)
Apprenticeship end date
Army Schoolmasters 1847-1876 – These records include both enrollment ledgers for the RMA schoolmaster program and school punishment ledgers.
Notes and observations
Bond and witness
Status / position
Reason for punishment
Punished by whom
In 1765, following the Seven Years War, the philanthropic Hibernian Society opened the Hibernian Asylum, and in April 1769, the society petitioned and was granted a charter from King George III to open an establishment in the aid of orphans and children of soldiers. The Royal Hibernian Military School (RHMS), originally called the Hibernian Society of the Orphans and Children of Soldiers, located in Phoenix Park, Dublin, opened its doors in 1769 with 90 boys and 50 girls in attendance.
RHMS students fell into four different categories:
Both parents living (father possibly on foreign service) -- A contributing factor to the destitution of military families centered on those called away on assignments overseas. Only six families would be selected, by drawing lots, to accompany a battalion sent abroad. Those left behind were without support and easily fell into a state of destitution, which would lead them to call on the aid of RHMS.
By 1816, their numbers had soared to 600 students, due in large part to the casualties sustained during the Napoleonic Wars, and by 1922 the campus had expanded from three acres to thirty-three. The school remained coeducational up until 1853 when the female students left for enrollment in their own establishment, the Drummond School, located in the village of Chapelizod.
In the mid-nineteenth century, children as young as 12 could enlist in the Army but generally enlistment began at the age of fourteen for those who so desired it. The percentage of those who enlisted straight from school fluctuated over the years. Between 1800 and 1850 around seven percent enlisted. That number increased dramatically to fifty percent between 1850 and 1897.
Talks about moving the school to Northern Ireland began in 1921. However, the cost was prohibitive and so the school was moved to Shorncliffe, Kent, in 1922. Their original premises were then taken over by the newly founded Republic of Ireland. Having decided not to take on any new students, RHMS merged with the Duke of York’s Royal Military School in 1924.
Many of the school’s records, which were stored in London, were destroyed during the London blitz in 1940. Surviving admissions registers are now in The National Archives and have been transcribed by Peter Goble.
Between 1832 and 1918, there were over three hundred boys rejected for admission. There were several reasons a child could be rejected, which were often included by the applicant’s name in the register. Some reasons for rejection include being mentally deficient, medically unfit, or failing to meet the required level of education. Note that some were registered for admission but failed to actually appear. There are records available for rejected applicants between 1840 and 1918. These applicants are often referred to as the “lost boys” of RHMS. The fate of these lost boys is unknown. The excessive poverty throughout the British Isles in the nineteenth century was pervasive and rejection from RHMS would have been a burden for any of the child’s surviving family.
The Royal Military Asylum (RMA) was founded in 1801 by Royal Warrant and opened its doors to students in 1803, with 52 female students and 78 male students. Until 1909, it was located in Chelsea, London. Similar to the function of the Royal Hibernian Military School (RHMS), the RMA aimed to educate orphans of British servicemen in the regular army who were killed in the Napoleonic Wars. Furthermore, the school was based on the model of RHMS. Its first influx of orphans came from an orphanage in the Isle of Wight, which had been operated by Major General George E. B. Hewett. In 1892, the RMA became the Duke of York’s Royal Military School and transitioned to an all-boys school.
Monitorial teaching was employed at the RMA. This system involved a teacher giving a lesson to a small group of monitors who would, in turn, teach the material to their fellow students. This explains the distinction between “student” and “monitor” in the records.
Peter Goble transcribed these records and estimates that there are 2.5 million descendants of the RMA children in today’s population.
Upon reaching the age of 14, students, both male and female, were meant to leave the institution. Boys who chose not to enlist and female students who had turned 14 presented a unique challenge to the RMA, as they lacked a means with which to provide for themselves. The indentured apprenticeship program was a solution to this problem.
Indentured apprenticeships were governed by an act of parliament, which stated in part that the length of an apprenticeship would be seven years. Captain J. Lugard administered the apprenticeship program for the RMA. He would assign apprenticeships to those students who were not enlisting or being discharged on other grounds.
For the female students, the majority were enrolled in housewifery apprenticeships and sent to homes in Chelsea. Some were specifically apprenticed as servants and likewise sent to private homes. Not all apprenticeship appointments were local, several were sent as far off as Barbados and India.
There were more than 300 trades that called for indentured apprentices. This offered a vast array of occupations, some now obscure, such as calico glazer and mantua maker. Between 1805 and 1826, the majority of the boys who entered the program were assigned as boot and shoe maker apprentices.
Inducements were offered to both apprentices and employers to encourage them to complete the apprenticeships. Employers that took on re-apprenticed students (those who had been returned to the RMA by a past employer for some reason, such as bad behavior) were offered ten guineas, which equated to room and board for a year. Apprentices that finished their service and could produce a certificate to that effect were offered five guineas.
The officers of the RMA could also take on apprentices. Colonel Williamson took on four musicians, among them the world-famous clarinetist, Henry Lazarus, who you can find in these records.
Not all apprenticeships were made equal. Among the worst placements were those in the cotton industry. Apprentices faced long hours, unsanitary conditions, inadequate food supplies, and work that was physically demanding and damaging.
Punishment Ledgers for 1847
The RMA kept ledgers of the offences and their corresponding punishments that were doled out to misbehaving students. By 1874, the severity of punishments had greatly lessened. For instance, one student’s offence was “going out improperly dressed on Sunday 14th although warned not to do so by Sgt Porter.” For his punishment, he was “admonished and forgiven.”
By comparison, in the 1852 punishment ledger a student received 18 cuts (or lashes) and 2 days in the black hole (solitary confinement) for encouraging another boy to use shameful language to his sergeant.
Around 1840, space was made at the RMA to open an army schoolmaster training school. The course was advertised in the national press and volunteers were screened for admission. Applicants who were accepted were required to sign a bond before beginning the course. This was used as assurance that students would not give up the course part-way through. Students were also required to pledge that upon graduation they would enlist and serve for ten years, teaching at whatever military unit they were posted to.
The outcome of the first batch of students was not promising; only fourteen of the twenty-nine enrolled made it to graduation and enlisted. The system of evaluating potential students was not standardised; meaning the evaluation undertaken at one recruitment center could be quite different from that of another recruitment center. Applicants were tested on eight subjects: reading, scripture, English history, ancient history, geography, arithmetic, geometry, and algebra. An applicant was required to sit for an examination paper but with the unregulated system of evaluation, there was opportunity for an applicant to have someone else write the paper for him.
In time, the selection committee was able to attract a higher caliber of applicant and the school became a success. For many years, the schoolmaster positions were filled for some two hundred battalions, squadrons, and batteries. In 1870, the first nationally financed education system, under the Elementary Education Act, was instituted. As such, the demand for teachers grew and those schoolmasters who completed their required years of service in the Army were then assured employment in the national school system.
These records were sourced from Peter Goble.