The social order of late 18th and early 19th century Britain ordained that there was a strict distinction between the Officer class of the British Army and the rank and file, who Wellington famously described as ‘the scum of the earth’. In order to be an officer one was expected to be a gentleman born and bred. To some extent this changed during the Peninsular War when five to six per cent of the officers serving in the Army were promoted from the ranks. One such man was Isaac Chetham.
Isaac Chetham was born in Nottingham during the first half of 1781, the son of Edward and Mary Chetham (baptismal certificate in WO 42/8/C306). I have been unable to discover Edward Chetham’s occupation, but as his son could read and write, and had obviously had at least a basic education, I feel that he is more likely to have been a tradesman, or skilled craftsman, than a labourer. Whatever his occupation it would appear that Edward Chetham was not in a position to purchase a commission for his son when he joined the Army in 1797, at the age of 16. None the less Isaac rose steadily through the ranks and was commissioned as an Ensign in 1811.
Isaac was one of those who responded to a circular return sent out by the War Office in October 1828 to retired officers on full, or half, pay. This return is held at The National Archives (WO 25/753/49) and it gives considerable insight into the Army career of a man who fought in many of the major battles of the Peninsular War.