Serjeant Major

George Cann

George Cann was born in 1810 (approx.) at Willisden, Middlesex, England.

Cann joins the Royal Sappers and Miners and obviously dedicates himself to being a Career Soldier.

By 1854, Cann has been promoted to Corporal and is sent to the Seat of War at the Crimea with the 7th Company of Sappers and Miners.

"Early in the morning a corporal and five sappers were sent to the Inkermann light-house battery on the extreme right of the French position, to open embrasures and fit the work to share in the bombardment.  It was manned at the time by British Artillerymen, and the sappers were despatched to the battery at the instance of the adjutant of the siege-train.  Two embrasures only were cut through, when the eager gunners opened fire on the enemy.  So weak an armament brought upon it a crushing cannonade, which effected considerer able mischief before the Russian fire could be drawn off to other batteries. Corporal Ramsay - "a valuable man" - "one of the best corporals at the right attack, and a most efficient sapper" - was killed by a round shot, which made a trough in his chest and tore out his heart.  Of this non-commissioned officer Lieutenant-Colonel Tylden thus wrote: "This morning corporal Ramsay was killed while at his duty in charge of a detachment opining embrasures of the battery opposite to the light-house at Inkerman: and such is the character this non-commissioned officer bore, and such the very high opinion entertained of his merits and services since he joined the siege, that I am inclined to submit to the Major-General commanding Royal Engineers, that some recognition of his merits be recorded in corps orders".  Impressed with the justice of this suggestion, Lord Raglan gave directions that his name and deeds be recorded at Chatham.  Private William Taylor was severely wounded in the right hand.  Two casualties out of this weak brigade induced the artillery adjutant to relinquish the employment of the men by day in so fatal a spot.  At night the work was completed by four sappers under the foremanship of Corporal George Cann."

-- History of the Royal Sappers and Miners :
from the formation of the corps in March 1772
to the date when its designation was changed
to that of Royal Engineers in October 1856.
Pgs, 268 -269

"Before daylight on the 21st, the furthest screen in the Russian series, about fourteen yards in front of the captured pits, were taken by a  detachment of 100 men from the guard of the trenches, under an adjutant, accompanied by a small band of twelve volunteers as a working party consisting of four men of the 19th Regiment, four of the 90th , and three of the sappers, under the direction of Corporal George Cann of the 7th Company.  The covering party was directed not to fire but to use the bayonet.  All having mustered on the open, the adjutant gave the word to advance.  On went the stormers at the charge, and jumping into the screen, which fortunately had  been vacated, they took possession of it unassailed by a single shot.  Quietly the destroying party set to work, and before returning to the trenches, completely uprooted the ambuscade.  The parapet had been formed of discarded casks, crested with large sand-bags made of old sails, specimens of which were brought away by the men to show the expedients adopted for Russian protection"

-- History of the Royal Sappers and Miners :
from the formation of the corps in March 1772
to the date when its designation was changed
to that of Royal Engineers in October 1856.
Pg. 287

"Other non-commissioned officers were detached  to the hospital-stations on the Bosphorous as overseers.  Serjeant Barnard was at Pera, Serjeant Lynn at Kulalee and Corporal Cann at Ismid.  Corporal Cann continued at Ismid till May, 1856, when the troops were withdrawn.

 "He had for the last few months sole charge and direction of the various works required at that station; and fulfilled that charge in a most satisfactory manner".

 Such was the report of Major E.C.A. Gordon, of the engineers."


-- History of the Royal Sappers and Miners :
from the formation of the corps in March 1772
to the date when its designation was changed
to that of Royal Engineers in October 1856.
Pg. 383

Promoted to Acting Serjeant-Major, Cann travels to British Columbia on board the Thames City, with the bulk of the Columbia Detachment.

As a Serjeant Major, Cann's Regimental Pay per Diem would have been 3s. 10 1/2d. plus Working Pay per Diem 3s. to 5s.

The newspaper which was written on board wrote a parody of a Society page report of the costume ball that was held on the troop deck on the 11th of November, 1858.

Fashionable Intelligence

"On Thursday evening last, a grand ball was given in the "City", which was very numerously attended. Amongst the company we noticed the General Commanding-in-Chief, with his two Aides-de-camp, Sir George Can't the Inspector of Infantry and lady..."

-- 13th November, 1858, from
The Emigrant Soldier's Gazette and Cape Horn Chronicle

As to voyage continued, entertainments became more important for the bored crew and passengers.  Cann steps onto the stage one evening.

"The rapturous encore accorded to Serjeant-Major Cann on his first appearance needs no eulogium from us.  But to those who were denied the pleasure of hearing him we have but to say that our worthy S.M. was in full tune, that his black eye was all perfection, and that the lovely episode in the life of a broom-seller was most musically narrated to a pleased and gratified audience."

-- 18th December, 1858, from
The Emigrant Soldier's Gazette and Cape Horn Chronicle

Cann is also included in the Epic poem/song written by Second Corporal Sinnet.

"I'll sing ye lads a Falkland sang,
Wi' thumpin' chorus loud and lang,
I'll tell ye o' the gleesom' thrang,

"At Huthlicaut's braw weddin' O.
The first that cam' was Geordie Cann . . ." 

-- excerpt from "Huthlicaut's Wedding",
sung by Corporal Sinnett at a theatrical entertainment on 4th March, 1859, on board the Thames City

After landing in BC, the RE go to work on their Duties.  As the Detachment surveyors are the first to see the Lands to be later sold at Auction, Cann takes some of his Pay and purchases land.

Originals, 1859, 0.5 cm

Sale book of rural lands, October 5th, 1859, Records of lands sold to Sgt. Wm. McColl and Sgt. Major George Cann of theRoyalEngineersand a Capt. MacLean, Charles Good and Governor James Douglas (Manson Island lands).

BC Archives

The RE begin the work of making the Cariboo road in 1862 and Cann is one of the section commanders.

Royal Engineers Camp
Yale 12th June 1862

To: Captain Luard
Royal Engineers


I require as early as possible for the Yale Waggon Road -

- 1000 Feet Fuze
- 6 Crow Bars, "small", similar to those in Carpenter's Chest

We are also out of Rum.  Captain Grant told me before he left for Lillooet that he had send by express for Rum which has not yet arrived.  I borrowed 3 Gallons from a Merchant at Yale.

The water is raising very fast.  I am afraid we shall have to shift Camp tomorrow as it is within a foot of the Tents -

I have the Honer
To be Sir
Your obd't Servant
George Cann
Act'g Serj't Major
Royal Engineers


Royal Engineers Camp
Yale 23rd June 1862

To, Captain Luard
Royal Engineers


Required for the Yale Works: 20 Barrels of Powder and 200 lbs. 6" Spikes and 100 lbs. 5" do.  Likewise, 50 lbs 3" Nails

I am told that 8 more men is at Emery's Bar I have just sent the Train for their Baggage.  I have commenced this morning the other side of the Bluff.  The Detachment is all very Steady.  I have no complaints whatever to mention.

I have a small Magazine that I can place 40 Barrels of Powder in safety.  At present I have Powder enough to last 8 or 10 days but I don't like to be short.  The Fuze come just in time as I was out.

George Cann
Acting Srjt. Major, RE


Governor Douglas, in a letter to the Secretary of States for the Colonies in 1863, writes: 

"The arduous part of this undertaking--excavating the mountain near Yale by Royal Engineers under Sergeant-Major George Cann, and it has been completed in a manner highly creditable to themselves and to the officers who directed the operation."   

According to Woodward: Acting Serjeant Major Cann and his wife returned to England, November 1863.

The 1881 British census reports:

George CANN
Age: 71
Birth Year: 1810 (approx.)
Birth Place: Willisden, Middlesex, England
Occupation: "Superannuated Engineer H.M.P."
Marital Status: Widowed
Dwelling: Jeffrey St., Gillingham, Kent, England
Also resident: Daughter Ann Cann, 33, unmarried, housekeeper
Grandson George Gray, 19, Apprentice boilermaker