Dear Bernard & List,
Since 'John Company's' Presidencies were very largely controlled by the
military, the army took responsibility for many civil and social activities
in the country, particularly in the vicinity of the cantonments. These
responsibilities were undertaken by Warrant Officers generally acting
through Sergeants of differing titles. These were positions of significant
importance and standing and the chance to attain them was one of the
attractions of joining the Company's army rather than the King's/Queen's
Generally after a period of five or six years in the Artillery*, a worthy
soldier would be promoted to the 'Effective Supernumeries' (sometimes called
the 'Town Major's List') and generally given a 'non-combattant' role.
Mostly, this was that of Sergeant. The function of many of these seems
obvious from the name. The function of others is less so. I list below the
titles found in the Madras Presidency:
Commissariat Staff Sergeant
Quarter Master Sergeant
I have even seen reference to an 'Arrack Godown' Sergeant! Unfortunately
I've never seen a 'job description' of any of these, especially the last
one. If any one has, I would be grateful to receive it.
Missing from the above is the 'Bazar' Sergeant referred to by Bernard Ince.
Since this is a word of Persian origin, maybe it applied to the Bengal
Presidency more. I never like to guess but just suggest that his
responsibility was to ensure order and regulation of the native market for
the use of the native troops garrisoned at the station concerned.
* My experience is that the Effective Supernumeries were always taken from
the Artillery. Whether or not a soldier enlisted in England for the Infantry
or Artillery, on arrival in India (at least in Madras), a committee examined
them and chose which recruits they wanted for the Artillery.This indicates
to me that they were looking for 'officer potential' (No offence to
infantrymen who could climb the tree in the regiments).
Note: I use the current spelling of Sergeant with a 'g'. The custom was
always (?) to to spell it 'Serjeant'.
Good Hunting! - Peter Bailey