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Home arrow Historical arrow Technology arrow Transport arrow More about the ox cart

More about the ox cart Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Tuesday, 26 February 2008

The ox cart was a general means of transport and often used to carry the sick and wounded.

Here are some descriptions noted in "Wellington's Doctors" by Martin Howard (Spellmount, ISBN 1-86227-143-7) 


These carts were resorted to because of the lack of anything better and soon became notorious among the soldiers. Few Peninsular diarists fail to mention them. Surgeon Henry Milburne gives one of the better descriptions.

"A more inconvenient, ill-constructed, clumsy carriage cannot be well conceived. The body of the carriage is merely a platform of rough boards, which is placed upon two wheels, rather lower than the front ones of an English wagon, composed of pieces of timber, pinned together, and secured by others nailed across - these do not revolve on the axle-tree but are fastened to it, the whole of which turns in grooves, sometimes secured with iron. The pole, passing between the oxen, is fastened to a yoke bound to their horns, so that the poor animals draw by their head, or rather it may be said that they pull the machines forwards. The shocking inconvenience of such a jolting conveyance for sick and wounded persons may easily be conceived; added to which the noise they make is the most disagreeable possible, the revolution of the axle-trees producing a kind of humming monotonous sound, something similar to the drone of a bagpipe, which may be heard at the distance of a mile or upwards." 1

Rowlandson's ox cart
"A wounded officer being evacuated to the rear in the Peninsular" *

Joseph Donaldson described the noise as like the grating of an iron door on rusty hinges.2 Apparently, the Portuguese did not grease the wheels as they thought that the excruciating sound frightened away the devil. The normal jolting motion was often increased as pieces broke off from the circumference of the wheels. Progress was intolerably slow, usually about two miles an hour. 

Although the ox-carts were castigated by all those soldiers unfortunate enough to have to use them, they did have certain advantages. They were light, relatively easy to repair, and specially built to withstand the poor roads of the country. The local peasants were able to drive them and could be encouraged to mend them. Most importantly, they were available in much greater numbers than any other form of wheeled transport. An immense amount of them were brought into service, some on long-term hire as part of the permanent transport of the army, others on a more temporary basis by requisition from the district. The latter process was fraught with difficulty as not all owners were willing to surrender their carts for the carriage of British supplies and sick, and many were no more happy at the prospect of accompanying the carts far from their own homes. Local magistrates often laboured diligently to provide the necessary vehicles, but contretemps  were inevitable.

Because of unresolved problems in requisitioning sufficient local carts, Wellington ordered the construction of additional carts of an improved pattern which were entrusted to drivers employed directly by the commissariat. It is not clear to what extent this 'commissariat car train' was used for casualty evacuation.


Milburne, H.  "A narrative of circumstances attending the retreat of the BritishArmy under the Command of the late Lieutenant General Sir John Moore"  London, 1809

2 Donaldson, J  "Recollections of the eventful life of a soldier" London, 1856 

* an illustration by Thomas Rowlandson for "The Military Adventures of Johnny Newcome", published by David Roberts, London, 1816. Thomas Rowlandson (July 14, 1756 – April 22, 1827) was an English caricaturist, better known for his unflattering representations of  establishment figures and situations. He was an accomplished illustrator and artist. This is a interesting "serious" illustration which seems to be quite accurate.


Last Updated ( Tuesday, 26 February 2008 )
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