On the 23rd May 1858 Buller was gazetted as Ensign in the 2nd Battalion of the 60th Rifles. On the 14th July, three lads, C. Gosling, A. Borthwick, and Arthur Morris, joined the Rifle Depot at Winchester. Late in the evening a fourth made his appearance, and, as if to assert his independence at the very outset, dined at mess in his travelling clothes. It was Redvers Buller. In the early days of his service he does not seem to have gone out of the way to ingratiate himself either with his seniors or contemporaries. He was respected, for he showed great force of character, but was, perhaps, hardly among the most generally popular. He was very contradictory, and rather irritated people by his love of argument, though it was admitted that there was always force in his assertions; and being addicted to laying down the law he gained the sobriquet of ‘ The Judge.’ [What actually gave rise to the name was his quotation of his ancestor Judge Buller’s dictum, ‘ The greater the truth the greater the libel.’ To his brother subalterns Redvers seemed entitled to be called Judge Buller no less than was his forebear]. He was fond of horses, fond also of cards.
Early in January 1859, Buller sailed to join his Battalion in India. Disembarking at Alexandria he went overland to Suez, where he again took ship for Calcutta, and saw no more of Egypt until the war of 1882. He joined the head-quarter wing of his Battalion at Benares, going up thither by bullock train, in command of a convoy of women and children. At one of the halting places, where there was no doctor, a woman asked the young ensign to prescribe for her baby who was suffering from a slight ailment. Buffer was a little at a loss, but, after mature reflection, informed the mother that in his own case, on similar occasions, he found the restringent power of port wine. The woman eagerly took his advice and the baby was given a glass of port, with results which, it is to be hoped, were to its advantage!
The last embers of the Mutiny were not, at that time, entirely stamped out, and flying columns stiff scoured the country. But though the conditions must have been very much those of active service, it does not appear that young Buffer saw any shot fired.
One who was at that time a subaltern in the 60th writes:’What struck me most with Buffer was his determination and the perfect control he had over his temper, so great indeed that I wondered if he had a temper or not, and often tried to get it out, but having on one occasion succeeded, I did not try again. I remember an instance in which he showed this determination and self-control in conquering a vicious horse. At Benares there was at that time a very fine horse known as the Man-eater, having killed two syces, and as his name implies, a perfect devil. His trick was to rear at the moment he was mounted and throw himself back on his rider; then—cat-like—get on his feet so quickly as to be able to tackle the rider on the ground with his fore feet and teeth. Buller bought him for ten rupees and started to teach him manners. I was present, I think, on every occasion until the cure was complete. The modus operandi was as follows : The horse was brought out of his stables by three syces, one with a twitch on his lip and the others with a twitch on his ear. He was saddled with an ordinary hunting saddle, and had a strong snaffle bridle and a slip rein from the knee D at each side of the saddle through the ring of the bit, thence through a ring on the martingale, and up and over the neck. Buller in breeches, gaiters, and spurs, but with no whip, got into the saddle with some difficulty, took the slip rein in his left and the ordinary rein in his right, nodding to the syces to let go, and immediately pressing the horse with his knees to go on. In a second the animal tried to rear, but his head was pulled down between his knees by the slip rein and the spurs driven into him, when he plunged and kicked for a good five minutes. The moment he quieted a little, the pressure of the knee was again applied, and the scene repeated itself over and over again for more than an hour, when at last, on receiving the pressure of the knee, he gave in and went quietly where required. Every morning for a week this performance went on, except that each morning the horse gave in sooner, and I think it was on the sixth morning that he gave in without a battle, and never again attempted to rear with Buller on his back. I have never witnessed such an exhibition of coolness and determination on the part of a rider.’
On the 28tli February 1860, the Battalion embarked for China, Ensign Buller being on board the Hougoumont. He never visited India again. Twenty years later, when on the point of embarking to join the same Battalion in Afghanistan, he was stopped by order of the Duke of Cambridge. In 1898 he was pressed to accept, but declined, the post of Commander-in- Chief in India.
After a few weeks spent in Stanley Barracks at Hong Kong, the Battalion re-embarked to join the combined British and French force assembling at Talien Bay, in the Gulf of Pechili, with a view to the enforcement of the treaty made with the Chinese Government two years previously [The British force was commanded by Lieut.-General Sir Hope Grant. In a number of the Illustrated London News of that date may be found a picture of the General and his staff. Among the latter is a short individual of hirsute appearance, and adorned, to his evident satisfaction, with a pair of the enormous whiskers known as ‘ Piccadilly weepers.’ The name underneath is Colonel Wolseley! Those who have only known the trim Field-Marshal in later life would be puzzled to find any resemblance to their friend, who, by the way, states in his autobiography that this was the best managed campaign he ever saw.]. Preparations being complete, the Army once more embarked on the 24th July, and on the 1st August landed unopposed at Pehtang, twelve miles north of Taku. In the subsequent brief campaign, which ended in the occupation of Pekin, the only two things recorded of Buller are that the rank and file of his company were devoted to him, and that he quarrelled the whole time with his Captain. As the latter was not the wisest of men the fact does not entirely take one by surprise. Buller could have seen but little fighting, and for years afterwards refused to wear the Chinese medal. Still he did gain his ‘baptism of fire' and a letter from him gives a quiet and dispassionate account of his first action, showing that he was as cool at nineteen as in after life.
During his stay in China two misadventures attended the ensign. He was so nearly drowned that he was thought dead when pulled out of the water: and a horse kicked out his front teeth, thus making his speech a little indistinct for the rest of his life.
The 60th was the last regiment to leave Pekin on the 9th November, when it marched to Tientsin. At this place it was cut off by the ice and forced to remain through the winter. It was not until the end of September 1861 that the Battalion—having lost by death 101 N.C.O.’s and men—went down the Pei-ho river in gunboats and embarked for England in the Simoom, which eventually sailed from Hong Kong on the 2nd November. The ship encountered a hurricane soon after starting, and looked like going down. A passenger remarks: 'There was not a movement on deck, eleven hundred men awaiting the result calmly and steadily, although they knew every moment might be their last.’ On the 3rd January 1862 it touched at the Cape of Good Hope, and Buller got his first glimpse of the country upon which he was destined to leave so indelible a mark. We have seen that on his voyage out he had landed in Egypt. It is curious that in his first tour of foreign service he should have visited the two countries which eventually proved to be the principal scenes of his future distinction. Spithead was not reached until the 24th February, after a voyage little short of four months.