21st March 1794 - Thomas Harkness enlists in Antrim (his home town and place of birth) as an 18 year old labourer to a newly
formed unit of cavalry under command of Lt. Colonel J.S. Blackwood. This unit was titled as the 33rd Regiment of Light Dragoons,
the highest numbered cavalry regiment ever formed in the British Army. This unit was to be short lived as it was disbanded on the
31st of May 1796, effective men being transferred to the 4th Dragoon Guards, 6th Dragoons, 12th Light Dragoons and 27th Light
3rd April 1796 – Thomas Harkness of the 33rd Light Dragoons is transferred to the 12th Light Dragoons, at that time based in
Nottingham, the unit moved to Croydon in the Summer of 1796.
The 12th Light Dragoons were selected for service in Portugal and left England in the winter of 1796, travelling with the 26th Light
Dragoons and the 1st, 18th, 50th & 51st Regiments of Foot. They arrived in Portugal in early 1797 and were then stationed at
Lisbon until the Winter of 1800 when they were selected to join the expedition under General Sir Ralph Abercromby to expel the
French from Egypt. Thomas Harkness was at this time in Captain Tenison Lyons’ Company and would remain so for the remainder
of his service, Lyons it appears wasn’t in Egypt and the senior Troop officer would have been Cornet George Horton.
The convoy sailed from Lisbon and arrived at the Bay of Marmorice in Asiatic Turkey on the 11th of January 1801, anchoring up in
a large bay surrounded by tree covered mountains. On disembarking from the ships the 12th were issued Turkish mounts which
were of a very inferior sort, the Commanding Officer Lt. Colonel Archdall at this point volunteered his men as infantry, however the
need for mounted men was so urgent that 300 of the better beasts were used and the remainder of the men remained
dismounted. The 12th and 26th Dragoons were formed into a Brigade under Brigadier Finch and the troops were re-embarked
onto vessels, sailing from the bay on the 23rd of February 1801.
The Fleet arrived off the coast of Alexandria in early March, and laying into the Bay of Aboukir they disembarked on the 8th of
March and immediately defeated a large force that had been sent to oppose their landing at that place. Advancing towards
Alexandria the force camped on the 12th near Mandora Tower and the following day engaged and routed the enemy in a grove of
date trees, the Dragoons losing 1 man killed and two wounded with four mounts killed. On the 18th of March, whilst a large
number of the Regiment were absent watering the horses, Colonel Archdall was informed of an enemy reconnoitring party
approaching, he duly collected together 60 men with a picquet of a further 20 and advanced to meet the French. After marching for
3 miles Archdall found himself faced with 150 French Hussars and Infantry, without hesitation he detached 12 men under Lt.
Levingston to attack the left flank whilst he charged the centre with the main body. The first charge broke the infantry, the
Hussars fleeing on their superior horses and the Dragoons gave chase. Sadly on their return the infantry had reformed behind a
sand-bank and fired into the Dragoons, Archdall and one sergeant were wounded (Archdall lost his arm) and two officers (Captain
Butler & Cornet Daniel) and 7 men were taken Prisoner. The command of the 12th Light Dragoons passed to Lt. Colonel Robert
On the 21st of March the British repulsed an attack on their position which sadly resulted in the loss of General Abercromby who
was mortally wounded, in this action the 12th sustained 7 wounded. After reaching the vicinity of Alexandria, the 12th passed
through Rosetta and thence along the banks of the Nile where they attacked the French fortification at Rahmanie where they
sustained several dead men and horses. Whilst at the Fort at Rahmanie, Lt. Drake and 30 men were watering horses when they
heard a shot, proceeding to its location they found a party of French 22nd Dragoons and Arabs skirmishing, however before they
could charge the French surrendered and were taken prisoner.
Advancing along the Nile towards Cairo the army reached Algan and Nadir on the 16th of May. At this place Colonel Browne was
informed by Bedouin Arabs that a party of French were in the desert nearby and he quickly sent a small detachment under Lt.
Francis Raynes with another under Lt. Catson following soon after. The remainder of the regiment with the 26th Dragoons (250
men total) then followed on at the trot with the Infantry and Artillery advancing to their rear. The main party came across a much
numerically superior enemy, and with the Infantry and Artillery not in sight, Major Wilson of the Dragoons rode forward under a
flag of truce to offer the French the chance to surrender with the guarantee that they would be allowed to return to France. After
originally refusing, the sight of the Dragoons arrayed to attack changed their minds, and a party of 28 officers, 570 rank and file,
the colours, 1 four pounder gun, 300 horses and 500 camels fell into the hands of the Cavalry Brigade.
Continuing to advance the Army reached the pyramids on the 8th of June where they had the misfortune to use the Sphinx for a
bit of musketry practice! After staying a few days the army moved on to Cairo where the 12th Dragoons took up station on the
left of the river for the siege to begin, the French however gave up the capital of Egypt quite quickly, the general feeling being that
they were sick of the country and wanted to return back to France. From Cairo the army moved on to Alexandria, which place they
surrounded and took in September, the French being to all intents and purposes now dismissed from Egypt. For their part in the
operations in Egypt, the 12th Light Dragoons were later given Royal Permission to bear the battle honour ‘Egypt’ and allowed to
wear a Sphinx on its guidons and accoutrements.
By December 1801 the 12th Light Dragoons were at sea on route back to England, arriving in Gosport, and travelling on the 15th
of February 1802 to Weymouth where they are present for the muster of the 24th of February 1802.
26th April 1802 – 485 Officers and men of the 12th Light Dragoons are ordered from Weymouth to Bristol where they embark on
transports for passage to Ireland. By the end of May 1802 the HQ are present at Clonmel.
30th May 1802 – Harkness is part of a 92 man detachment at Carlow. He remains at that place until September when he is sent to
Kilmainham Hospital for medical evaluation which shows him to be unfit for further service.
22nd September 1802 – Private Harkness of Captain Tenison Lyon’s Company is discharged at Clonmel due to ‘his being afflicted
with a chronic opthalmia contracted in Egypt’. He is granted a Kilmainham Pension due to his being discharged for medical grounds
associated with his service. Harkness was 24 years old at that time and he signs with a cross to confirm that he had received all
arrears of pay, clothing etc. and that he had received seven days of pay to defray expenses linked to his passage to Kilmainham
14th August 1811 – After 9 years as an out-pensioner Thomas Harkess rejoins the army in the ranks of the 3rd Garrison
Battalion. At some point in the next few years he transferred to the 11th Royal Veterans Battalion, no doubt in 1813 when the 3rd
Garrison Battalion embarked for service in Malta.
24th July 1814 – Private Harkness of Captain Harrison’s Company, 11th Battalion Royal Veterans is discharged at Hythe, Kent on
account of an order being received by the Commanding Officer from the War Office dated 24th June 1814 to disband the Regiment.
Harkness is at that time listed as being 38 years old, 5ft 8in tall, brown hair, hazel eyes, fair complexion and a labourer by trade.
His service with the Garrison/Veteran Battalions was 2 years and 345 days.
1847 – Harkness, now a veteran in his 70’s is issued a Military General Service medal with bar for Egypt. There are 5 officers and
40 men issued medals or clasps on the roll. Sadly as Harkness lived his life in Ireland there are no genealogical sources easily
available to show when he died and his family life outside the army.
WO 12 - Paylists & Musters, 33rd & 12th Dragoons
‘Historical Records of the 12th Dragoons’ – Richard Cannon, London, 1847
WO 118 – Kilmainhaim Discharge papers
WO 121 – Return of men discharged from the 11th Royal Veteran Bn.
WO 100/12 – Medal roll for the MGS to the 12th Light Dragoons.
33rd Dragoons, 12th Light Dragoons, 3rd Garrison & 11th Royal Veteran Battalions.