In Search of Reginald Heber

A Narrative


A Serendipitous Voyage of Research and Internet Discovery


By Jim Yaworsky


This story starts many years ago - in 1975, in fact, when I first viewed ³The Man Who Would Be King² in its theatrical release. The film, based on a short story by Rudyard Kipling, made a terrific impression upon myself and my friends. 

The heroes ­ two discharged gunnery sergeants on the loose in Victorian India ­ are the very epitome of the self-reliant ³rankers and N.C.O.ıs² of the British army - untutored men who built the Empire. 

I note that to this day in interviews of Michael Caine ­ one of the filmıs co-stars ­ he consistently answers the question ³which of your films do you think the most of² (or variation thereof) by stating that he considers this film the best one heıs ever been in. 


The theme music of the film is worked around a song sung in several scenes in the film, the most memorable being by Sean Connery (³Daniel Dravitt²) whilst the two intrepid heroes are crossing a snowfield in the mountains of the Hindu Kush; then in the finale  as Connery/³Dravitt² prepares to meet his fate - and ³Peachy² (Michael Caine) joins in.


The song sung in the movie made an impact on all my circle of acquaintances.  One musically-inclined fellow made a point of tracking it down and playing it on the guitar at residence functions. 

He told us the song was ³Minstrel Boy² ­ but I was always uneasy with the fact that while the music was obviously the same, nevertheless the words of every version of ³Minstrel Boy² that I ever came across in subsequent years didnıt fit my memory of what Connery and Caine had actually sang in the film. 

I could vaguely remember lines going:  ³Šwent forth to warŠ a kingly crown to gainŠ  stalwart bandŠ blood red banner,² etc.    These stirring lyrics had seemed to fit the ethos of the movie much better than what I was hearing when ³Minstrel Boy² was sung, much as I like the ³standard² verses of the song that I kept coming across.  I considered the movie lyrics of my memory to be the ³lost stanzas² of the song ­ or perhaps, written just for the movie by some 1970ıs script writer...


We now fast forward 20 years or so.  A thread of discussion on the War of 1812 e-mail group (current e-address somehow turned to consideration of the song from The Man Who Would Be King.  I did some searching on the Internet and discovered that ³Minstrel Boy² was written just before the War of 1812.  As I found various web sites dedicated to compilations of music and lyrics, I decided to make a determined effort to track down the ³lost stanzas² to Minstrel Boy.


Instead of discovering the ³missing lyrics², however, I discovered that the song actually sung in The Man Who Would Be King, while borrowing the tune of ³Minstrel Boy², was nevertheless considered another separate song altogether.  It was in fact a Christian hymn called ³The Son of God Goes Forth to War² with lyrics written by Reginald Heber, whom I learned was an Anglican Cleric who became the first Bishop of Calcutta and died there in 1823.  

This was useful information towards the discussion on the War of 1812 e-group, because it helped definitively establish that ³The Minstrel Boy² must have been composed and given public circulation very early in the 19th Century ­ before 1812, in fact ­ so it was a song in ³general release² in time to be known by the soldiers in the War of 1812.  


What I found out and Œcut and pastedı from a website and then posted to the e-group, follows:


The Son of God Goes Forth to War

Words: Reginald Heber, 1812. This hymn was sung in the 1975 movie ³The Man Who Would Be King,² which was nominated for several Academy Awards.


The Son of God goes forth to war, a kingly crown to gain;

His blood red banner streams afar: Who follows in His train?

Who best can drink his cup of woe, triumphant over pain,

Who patient bears his cross below, he follows in His train.


That martyr first, whose eagle eye could pierce beyond the grave;

Who saw his Master in the sky, and called on Him to save.

Like Him, with pardon on His tongue, in midst of mortal pain,

He prayed for them that did the wrong: Who follows in His train?


A glorious band, the chosen few on whom the Spirit came;

Twelve valiant saints, their hope they knew, and mocked the cross and flame.

They met the tyrantıs brandished steel, the lionıs gory mane;

They bowed their heads the death to feel: Who follows in their train?


A noble army, men and boys, the matron and the maid,

Around the Saviorıs throne rejoice, in robes of light arrayed.

They climbed the steep ascent of heaven, through peril, toil and pain;

O God, to us may grace be given, to follow in their train.



1) Lyrics written in... 1812!!!!  Does it get better than this???  It is therefore the equivalent of the latest catchy song from the hit parade, for us.

2) Reginald Heber: "Born: April 21, 1783, Malpas, Cheshire, England. Died: April 3, 1826, Trichinopoly, India, of a cerebral hemorrhage while bathing.  

Heber attended Brasenose College, Oxford, where he won a number of awards in English and Latin. He received a fellowship to All Souls College, and later became rector in Hodnet, Shropshire, England. In 1823, he became, somewhat reluctantly, Bishop of Calcutta, India. He wrote over 50 hymns in his lifetime." 


The lines featured in the movie come from the first and third stanzas of the hymn.  Mystery solved!  Having satisfied my desire to find the song from the film, things rested for a few years.


Fast forward to 2002. 


I was transcribing ³A History of the Services of The 41st (the Welch) Regiment, (Now 1st Battalion the Welch Regiment.) From Its Formation, in 1719, to 1895² by Lieutenant and Adjutant D.A.N. Lomax, published at Devonport in 1899 (the transcript of which can be found on the 41st Website). 

While typing up lists of officers from the 18th Century, to my amazement, I found ³Reginald Heber² listed as ³Chaplain² of the 41st Regiment of Foot!  Specifically, on a list of the officers of the Regiment as of 15 February, 1787, Reginald Heber is listed as Chaplain, as of 3 May 1771.

The 41st was reorganized as a ³marching regiment² (i.e a normal regiment available for general service, as opposed to an ³Invalid² regiment composed of veterans and used for garrison duties in the United Kingdom), in 1787.  A list of the officers of the Marching Regiment as of 25 December 1787 shows only 2 holdovers from the old Invalid regiment: the Colonel, Archibald McNab, and ­ Reginald Heber, Chaplain. 

A list of the officers as of 10 January 1794 still shows Reginald Heber as Chaplain, one of only 6 officers still left from the December 1787 list and in fact the only officer left from the Invalid Regiment & thus almost certainly the only man in the entire regiment whose service predated the 1787 reorganization.

The next list in Lomax that actually names all the officers is from 12 February 1813.  At that point, no chaplain whatsoever is listed.  So Heber the Chaplain was on the books of the Regiment from May 1771 to at least January 1794 ­ a considerable period of time.


So where did this information leave me?  I was excited by this possible connection to the composer of the Hymn.  It was obvious that ³Reginald Heber² the Chaplain couldnıt be the Bishop who wrote  ³Son of God², for the Bishop was not born until 1783.  I was left idly speculating what connection there might be.


Recently (2003) I obtained a copy of the Osprey ³Warrior Series² book #67 - ³The Cossacks ­ 1799 ­ 1815² by Laurence Spring (Osprey Publishing Ltd, London, 2003).  Reading it four days ago, I was astounded to find an English travellerıs observations of the Don Cossack homelands in that timeframe being quoted extensively.  The traveller was namedŠ ³Reginald Heber².  This was really too curious!  Could it have been the Bishop?  The Chaplain?  Or some other member of what was probably an extensive family of reasonably well-to-do English gentry?


Having heard of the wonders of a Google search, I decided it was time to get serious and track down what connection, if any, these diverse sightings of ³Reginald Heber² had to each other. 


I typed in Œreginald + heberı for my search query.  This pulled up 62 screens worth of links, constituting many hundreds of web-site references.  And of course, these listings were not nicely lined up in chronological order ­ or any particular order whatsoever, for that matter.  So I started down the lists, checking out promising websites, seeing what I could find.


I found some references to Hebers who fought in the English Civil War. It was even noted that Bishop Heber was a descendant of a brother of a ³Captain Heber² who was the focus of one of the web-sites I found.  The family was prominent ­ or at least, solid English gentry - long before the Napoleonic Wars.


I found many hundreds of references to Bishop Reginald Heber.  I discovered more fully that he is one of the most significant composers of hymns to ever walk the face of the planet. 

Some of the hymns I immediately recognized, including one, ³Holy, Holy, Holy² which appeared on numerous sites identified as one of the ³top ten² hymns of all time and which I imagine virtually every reader of this short article will also immediately recognize. 


I found out Bishop Heber was also a poet of note, that he hobnobbed with many famous figures of the Romantic Movement, and he wrote a famous account of his travels in India.  This last fact piqued my interest as regards the ³Cossack connection².


It also turns out that a lot of people so admired Bishop Reginald Heber that they chose to name their offspring after him. 


Reginald Heber Smith, for example, is considered the founder of the ³legal aid² movement in the United States for a famous article on the subject he wrote in 1919; he was a Justice of a Supreme Court of I forget which State, and an annual award and scholarship given in his name appears in the curriculum vitae of dozens of American lawyers and jurists over the past decades. 

In fact, I ended up getting quite annoyed with all the hoopla over this fellow and his subsequent followers.  He and his award-winners had almost as many ³hits² clogging up my search for the Bishop, the Traveller, and the Chaplain, as did the Bishop himself!  Well, actually, I exaggerate. 

Bishop Heber had far more sites devoted to his hymns than all the other sources of ³hits² on the search put together. 


But there were other individuals named after the Bishop as well, however, including an American Civil War general from New Jersey, etc etc etc.. so the search had its tedious aspects.  As an aside, I had always assumed the song being played by the Union regimental musicians at the Sunday Morning service in the movie ³Gettysburg² was ³Minstrel Boy² but it occurs to me that it is far more likely, given the fact it was a church service, that they were playing ³Son of God².


I found out that Malpas, Cheshire, is not far from Chester.  From websites associated with Malpas, I found out that the Bishopıs father was also an Anglican cleric.  I found out the Bishopıs father was also named ­ Reginald Heber.  The hunt was up and the scent was hot!  The Bishopıs father was a cleric, had the right name, and was living at the right time to be the Chaplain!


I found the mother of Reginald Heber, father of the Bishop, was named Mrs. Mary Heber, and she was buried in Marton, which is near Skipton in Lancashire.  Web sites dealing with that area informed me that Reginald Heber the father was born in 1728 in West Marston and died in 1804 ­ again, the correct time frame for Heber the Regimental Chaplain.  ³Marton Hall² was described as ³the residence of the Hebers for many generations².  

I found out that somebody named Reginald Heber published ³An Historical List of Horse Matches Run and of Prizes Run for in Great Britain and Ireland in 1752² and another reference for this Reginald Heber as publishing ³The Racing Calendar for 1755².   Was this the future father of the Bishop, indulging in some sporting activity as a young man before settling down to his chosen vocation?  As will be seen shortly, the Bishop also had a fling of adventure before settling down.


I was accumulating more and more information, all of it starting to tie together very nicely.


Persistence was necessary, however, to tie it all up, and in this case, it finally paid off. I came across a reference to Heber on a site dealing with a parish in Chelsea, London.

Chelsea is of course the location of the Royal Hospital for Invalids ­ source of the 41stıs personnel for the first decades of its existence as an Invalid Regiment.  In fact, the Hospital is usually just referred to as ³Chelsea² and British army ³Invalids² were usually first ³Chelsea Pensioners².  This could not be a coincidence! The mystery was apparently about to be solved.


Details of the history of the parish of Chelsea are extensive on the website   It contains such juicy tidbits as the fact the parish provided a ³living² of 390 pound sterling a year for its curate, which was a considerable sum of money in the mid-18th century. 

Then, I read that the ³Wealthy Dr. Reginald Heber² partially rebuilt the Rectory House in the 1760ıs, and said Dr. Heber was minister of Chelsea Church from 1766 to 1770, when he ³inherited a Shropshire estate².  And finally: he is noted as being ³the father and namesake of the Bishop of Calcutta². 


Bingo!  The connection seems clear.


I stayed on the Google search and learned a few more details.


I discovered that the Bishop, from a biography by presumably a daughter or niece dating from 1830, had made a series of European travels; specifically: August 1805, April 1806, and June to July, 1806.  He is noted as travelling in Norway, Turkey, Hungary, andŠ Russia.  So the Bishop is indeed the ³Cossack connection².  I found out that the Bishop married the daughter of the Dean of St. Asaph Cathedral in Rhuddlan, in St. Maryıs Church on April 14, 1809. 


The picture is seemingly complete.  The Bishop starts life as a member of a wealthy and reasonably well-connected gentry family.  He travels Europe as young man, making very astute observations of the lands and peoples he visits, before settling down as a cleric.  He writes poetry, travelogues that to this day are valuable sources of information, and some of the finest Hymns in the English language.  He dies far too young.


I decided to refine the Google search.  I typed in ³Reginald Heber² + ³Chelsea².   Much to my amazement, the Google search engine found chapter 2 of Lomax on the 41st website, and found the listings of Chaplain Heber.  It should be noted that while the chapter contains the words ³Reginald Heber² and ³Chelsea², all three words are never linked together in one sentence in Lomax.  This Google feat strikes me as much more impressive than merely finding a needle in a haystack! 

I also note that itıs probably a good idea to run a Google search on any topic you are really interested in at least twice, because the 41st website didnıt come up on my first search.  Or at least, I think it didnıt ­ when youıre checking 62 screens of ³hits², itıs possible to miss something!   The Œrefinedı search only brought up 4 screens, which was far more manageable.  So taking a bit of time to refine your search is probably a good idea ­ though there were things I found out from the broader search that did not appear on the narrower one, as well.


The total time to make the Google search and track down the specifics on the Chaplain and the Bishop ­ about three hours.  Pre-internet/pre-Google: finding this information might have been impossible, or might have taken years.  It certainly would have taken the resources of at least one truly major research library ­ probably in London, England. 


Those who want answers to arcane questions fast live in good times!


I do note, however, that I entered the search with a good idea of what I wanted to find out, and enough background knowledge so that I could react to identify unanticipated potential sources of information, such as the Chelsea parish website.



So ­ Reginald Heber the Chaplain of the 41st was the father of Reginald Heber the Hymnist and Bishop.  Reginald Heber the Hymnist and Bishop was also the traveller to the lands of the Cossacks, amongst other exotic places.



One last consideration: is it possible that the military allusions in the lyrics of The Son of God were based on or inspired by the experiences of Reginald Heber (the future Bishop) of the 41st Regiment of Foot - whether as an Invalid or Marching regiment - via his father, its Chaplain for many years? 


The Chelsea connection leaps to mind, but it is very unlikely this could be a factor.  The Bishop was born after his father had moved on from Chelsea to another parish.  Plus, even when the Chaplain was also minister of Chelsea, the Regiment itself was serving around Portsmouth at the time in any event.

There is also the strong likelihood that the Chaplain probably didnıt perform much by way of official duties that required his actual attendance with the Regiment.  They canıt have seen much of him.  What we see is that particular English institution: a ³living² where one gets a title and a salary but seemingly doesnıt have to perform much in return.  It appears this was a ³living² of the worst sort to the modern mind: the crass would say it meant Chaplain Heber was probably getting paid for no work.

How did one get such a benefit in late 18th Century Britain?  It came down to your social position and whom you knew ­ your social connections.  The answer to how Reginald Heber in particular got this particular ³living² can probably be found in official correspondence currently buried in the Public Record Office in Kew, London. One would probably have to have good knowledge of the ³whoıs who² of Government in the late 1760ıs and be able to read between the lines of the document(s) to see why the patronage was exercised in Heberıs favour.


Did the Chaplain take his son when attending some regimental functions in Portsmouth?  Is it speculation stretched too far to even suggest this possibility? 


Still, one would think that surely Reginald Heber the father would have attended, as Chaplain, at least some regimental functions attendant upon the birth of the new regiment in December 1787, such as its first inspection, or its receipt of new Colours which Lomax tells us took place 12 March 1789?   After all, he was still Chaplain of the Regiment until at least 1794.

Still, however many functions the Chaplain might have attended in Portsmouth, the Regiment left for Cork in May 1789 when the future Bishop was only 6 yrs old.  No Heber is likely to have seen the whole Regiment again before the Chaplain died in 1804, for there is no record of the Hebers leaving England during the time the Regiment served in Ireland, the West Indies, Ireland again, then the Canadas. 

So the evidence seems fairly clear that opportunities for the Bishop to have interacted with the 41st in any way as a child would have been limited, to say the least.

Did the future Bishop see the newly-formed 2nd Battalion while it was still in the UK in 1813?  By that time, his father, the former Chaplain, had been dead 9 years.  This seems quite unlikely.  And the lyrics had been written by him the year before in any event.

Did the Bishop see the Regiment in Calcutta before the Burma War of 1822?  While it might be nice to think so, of course, the hymn by that point had been written a decade before. 

So it seems that whatever his military inspiration for the lyrics of the hymn, it was not the 41st specifically in the Bishopıs mind.  Perhaps (said tongue firmly in cheek) it was the Don Cossacks?


My Google search suggests more leads that remain to be followed.  The best would appear to be to track down and read the 1830 biography of the Bishop. That volume undoubtedly has a lot of information in it, if not the answer to any and every lingering question. 

But for the moment, my little investigation has gone as far as I want to go.  There are other more pressing questions to be tackled next.


My 25 year search for the words of a song has led to the shedding of some light on the last serving member of ³the 41st(Invalids)², and some interesting reflections on the role of chaplains, and patronage in the late 18th Century.  This is part of the fascination of such research: you can never be totally sure what unexpected paths will open before you, when you start the journey.


As a closing observation, it would perhaps be appropriate to remark upon another Œfloaterı with the Regiment in the late 1780ıs (i.e. someone ³on the books² for one reason or another, but not actually doing duty with the Regiment on a daily basis).  This individual also exemplifies Œpatronage in actionı.  He is Lieutenant Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington. 

This young officer apparently spent his entire time as an officer of the Regiment stationed far from the Regiment acting as an aide-de-camp to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.  In other words, ³living it up² in high society circles with probably less than onerous duties to perform. He was merely passing through the Regiment, putting in necessary time called for in the Regulations as a ³lieutenant² before being allowed to continue further purchases on his way up the ladder of ranks of the officer corps of the Army to the Lt. Colonelcy of the 33rd.  Thatıs when Sir Arthurıs serious soldiering would begin. 



The Œhard evidenceı I uncovered in my quest could have been conveyed in a few paragraphs.  What I have tried to convey in this article by tracing the route and steps taken to discover that information is some of the excitement and sense of discovery in researching back in to such matters. 

It was fun to discover the connections between a famous movie, its ³featured² song, that songıs composer, and the personnel and services of a Regiment that groups of dedicated volunteers on both sides of the Atlantic are proud to currently be commemorating by re-enacting their experiences. 

And it is important to note that ³re-enacting² is more than just dressing up and pretending to be a soldier.


-Jim Yaworsky   July 2003                                                back