The Royal Military College, Sandhurst
Until 1870, the usual way for an officer of the cavalry or infantry to obtain his commission was by purchase. A new candidate had to produce evidence of having had "the education of a gentleman", to obtain the approval of his regimental colonel, and to produce a substantial sum which was both proof of his standing in society and a bond for good behaviour. When a promotion vacancy occurred, the senior officer of the immediate lower rank in the same regiment had the first claim to be promoted, subject to being able to produce the as appropriate sum laid down by Parliament for the rank in question. Promotion to colonel and above was by seniority without purchase. Staff appointments, which carried promotion, were by selection, not purchase, but an officer reverted to his regimental (normally purchased) rank on expiry of tenure. When an officer left the Army, the price of his last commission was refunded, thus realising a large capital sum for investment elsewhere. The system was subject to abuse, as very rich men could pay their juniors not to take up their right to promotion, but had the advantage of allowing wealthy officers to obtain command of a regiment in their twenties, while at the peak of their fitness and energy. By contrast, in the Board of Ordnance corps, where promotion was by seniority, it was common to find officers in their forties still serving as subalterns.
The Junior Department of the Royal Military College (RMC), formed as a college of gentlemen cadets, began in 1802 at Remnatz, a converted country house at Great Marlow. When the experiment proved successful, a new site was purchased at Sandhurst Park, Berkshire, where the new RMC was first occupied in 1812. The purchase system was still in force, but gentlemen cadets who completed the course and were recommended by the College authorities were granted their first commissions without purchase. Moreover, when there were more candidates than vacancies, RMC cadets were given priority. Despite these advantages, the RMC gained a reputation for disorderly behaviour comparable with unreformed public schools of the period, with the average age of the cadets being about fifteen, although the age was gradually raised until the College was closed in 1870. In that year the purchase system was abolished and first commissions were, for a time, awarded by written competitive examination. The buildings were used to train successful candidates in military skills while they waited to join their regiments, but this did not prove satisfactory, and in 1877 the examination became for appointment to the RMC as a cadet, rather than for a commission. In practice the cost of the college fees was much the same as that formerly charged for an ensign's commission, and this, plus the school fees required in preparation for the entry examinations, meant that the social composition of the Army's officers remained unchanged. The RMC was not large enough to train all the subalterns needed by the Army, so an alternative route, favoured by those who failed entry to the College, was to obtain a commission by nomination in the Militia. It was then possible to transfer to the Regular Army after a period of full-time service and passing the College's final examination.
In 1880 the dress of RMC cadets was based upon that of line infantry and comprised scarlet tunics with the dark blue facing's associated with Royal approbation. Glengarry caps were adopted as undress head wear in 1874, and for full dress the blue, universal helmet was worn, having replaced the long standing shako in 1878. There were no collar badges, but there was a special RMC badge for both types of headdress, as well as buttons and waist belt clasps.