An extremely rare portrait of a native private soldier of one of the West India Regiments raised by the British government in the late 18th century. Raised in 1795 as Skerrett’s Regiment of Foot and disbanded the following year, the 8th West India Regiment was re-formed in 1798 with drafts from the loyal Dominican Rangers. It was reduced in 1802 after a mutiny in Dominica (the Regiment’s Commander, Colonel Johnstone, was blamed for the mutiny and suspended) and re-raised in 1802 with drafts from the disbanded 11th West India Regiment. It was headquartered at Orange Grove and Fort George, in the suburbs of Port of Spain, Trinidad, during 1808. Companies of the Regiment were included in the British forces which captured Martinique and The Saints from the French in 1809, and Guadeloupe from the French in 1810. The Regiment disbanded in 1816. The Regiment was one of a series of black regiments raised from the slave populations and free blacks in the colonies of the West Indies from 1796 to replace the heavy losses suffered by the British army in the Caribbean, caused by the tropical environment.
‘In the late 18th century the British government calculated that a garrison of 20,000 soldiers was needed to defend its Caribbean possessions. This raised a problem for in 1793 the entire British army totalled fewer than 40,000 men. Furthermore the West Indies was not the healthiest of places for European soldiers to be stationed. Men died of typhoid during the passage from Britain and of malaria and yellow fever, known as "Yellow Jack" while stationed in the Caribbean. … A total of 69 line regiments served in the Caribbean between 1793 and 1801 and another 24 between 1803 and 1815. From 1793 to 1802, an estimated 1,500 officers and 43,500 other ranks died mainly from fevers while being stationed in the Caribbean. … Efforts were made to keep European soldiers out of some of the more unhealthy garrisons from 1803 to 1815. This resulted in "only" 500 officers and 19,500 other ranks perishing, approximately 14% of the total. To overcome the manpower and health problems African slaves were purchased or recruited to serve in the British Army. This they did alongside the local Militias in the various British territories.’ (http://www.CariWave.com)