Home Search Index of men A-Z

The E.J. Boys Archive

Added 17.7.11. Info added 24.9.11, 7.3.2014.

688, Sergeant James DUNCAN - 17th Lancers

Birth & early life

Born at Renfrew, Scotland, on the 5th of January 1823, and christened there on the 17th of January 1823, the son of a gardener, George Duncan, and his wife Christian Nichol.

1841 Census

Levenside House, Dumbarton.

William Smith, 25, Overseer.

George Duncan, 45, Gardener.

Christian Duncan, 35.

James Duncan 18, S [econd?] Gardener.

George Duncan, 15, Cloth Bleacher.

Robert Duncan,10.

Peter Duncan, 8.

Andrew Duncan, 1.

[PB, March 2014: It is as yet impossible to view images the Scottish Census entries online, and transcriptions are not always accurate.]

 . Click to enlarge.

Strathleven (formerly Levenside) House, 1879. James Duncan was working with his father here as a gardener in 1841, shortly before he enlisted.

(Click on image to enlarge)


Enlisted at Edinburgh on the 23rd of March 1842.

Age: 19 years 3 months.

Height: 5' 9".

Trade: None shown.


In 1846 he was Mounted Orderly to Colonel Sir Charles O'Donnell.

From Private to Corporal (as Rough-Rider), 10th of May 1848.

Corporal to Sergeant, 25th of June 1850.

Promoted to Cornet (without purchase) on the 21st of November 1854, ante-dated to the 5th of November 1854.

Adjutant (by appointment), 21st of November 1856.

Lieutenant (without purchase), 10th of April 1857.

Embarked for India from Cork aboard the S.S. "Great Britain" on the 8th of October 1857.

The musters for July-September of 1858 show no particular service movement during the whole of this period.

In action against the rebels at Zeerapore on the 29th of December 1858 and at Baroda on the 1st of January 1859.

Captain: 28th of October 1859

Exchanged into the 19th Hussars, 9th of August 1865.

Major and on to half-pay, 1st of April 1870.

Appointed Fort Major, Edinburgh Fort, on the 4th of July 1873.

Lieutenant-Colonel, 10th of October 1877.

Lieutenant-Colonel (Rtd), with full pay, 15th of March 1879.


Entitled to the Crimean medal with clasps for Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman, Sebastopol, and the Turkish medal. Also the Mutiny medal without clasp.

Awarded the Sardinian Al Valore medal. The citation for the medal reads:

"Served in the Eastern campaign of 1854-55 up to the end of the war, and including the affair of the Bulganak, the battles of the Alma, Balaclava (horse killed) and Inkerman (horse killed). Also the Siege of Sebastopol. Was never absent from the Regiment."

Also awarded the 5th Class Order of the Medjidie.

Duncan was also recommended for the award of the Legion D'Honneur, but was unsuccessful. A Confidential Memo from Horse Guards dated the 31st of December 1855 stated:

"It being intended to distribute a certain number of Decorations of the French Legion of Honour to Non-Commissioned Officers and men of the Cavalry Regiments they have been proposed as the most deserving of the Fifth Class."

The Memo ended with the request that seven further names of N.C.O.s or Privates as considered most deserving be transmitted as soon as possible. In answer to this the Commanding Officer of the regiment sent the following:

"17th Lancers. Ismid, December 28th 1855:

Sir, - In compliance with the confidential letter dated 24th December 1855 directing me to send to the Brigadier General Comg. the Cavalry the name of that person in this Regiment including all Ranks (with the exception of Lt Colonel prior to 25th of Octr. 1854, of Officers. N.C. Officers and Privates whom I consider most entitled to distinction for 'distinguished prowess in conjunction with our Allies', I have the honour to bring to your notice Cornet James Duncan who was present at the Alma, Balaclava (horse killed) and Inkerman (horse killed), also at the Tchernya. This Officer has never been absent from the Regt. since it landed in the Crimea.

I have the honour to be, Sir,

Your most Obedient Humble Servant,

H.R Benson, Major Comg .17th Lancers."

Extract from an unknown source published in 1856:

"At the time of the proclamation of peace an order was given for all the soldiers of the regiment who had been out on duty during the whole of the campaign to parade on the square. Out of the 300 men of the 17th Lancers who left England, only 25 non-commissioned officers and men answered to the muster call, together with Adjutant James Duncan, who was the only officer of the regiment out during the whole of the time."

Further detailed medal information archived.


Member of the Balaclava Commemoration Society in 1879.


James Duncan appears on a group photograph of a number of 17th Lancer officers said to have been taken in 1856. [Image to be uploaded.]

Life after service

1881 Census

[Chertsey?] House, Earlswood Road, Reigate Foreign, Surrey.

The 1881 Census shows him as aged 58, a Major. Rtd. List, 19th Hussars, born in Scotland, with his wife Caroline, 54, born Gatton, Surrey. They were probably living in a flat or apartment since there were at least 8 others, listed in a separate household, in this building.

Death & burial

Died on the 28th of May 1883 at Reigate, Surrey, aged 60.

Extract from the Surrey News for the 2nd of June 1883:

"Died on May 28th, at Earlswood Road, Reigate, Surrey, Colonel Duncan (late 19th Hussars) in his 60th year, of heart trouble. He leaves a widow to lament his loss. Friends will please accept this, the only intimation."

The records of the Reigate and Banstead Cemeteries Department show that he was buried in the Cemetery of St. Mary's Church, Chart Lane, Reigate (grave number W8188), on the 2nd of June 1883. His wife, Caroline, was buried in the same grave on the 23rd of April 1908, aged 83 years.

[The EJBA contains a photograph of the gravestone, to be uploaded. The stone, once erect, has now broken in two, most of it being face downward. All that is readable on the smaller part is "James Dunc---" and the top of the next line down which cannot be read.]

Arrears of pension were paid to his wife, Mrs. Caroline Duncan. In his will he left his personal estate of 1,417 to his widow.

[RM: His wife Caroline Duncan appears in the 1901 Census as a "Pensioner" aged 74, living in Reigate, Surrey.]

Further information

New on the site Search Index of men D
For further information, or to express an interest in the project, please email the editors, Philip Boys & Roy Mills, via info@chargeofthelightbrigade.com