Hanley enlisted in the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot in 1764, while the regiment was near Dublin. However, he may have been recruited in England. Hanley’s military career shows a common thread for musicians. He is promoted to drummer or fifer for a time and then returned to the ranks. It is probable that the men so promoted and reduced were members of the regimental band and the officers rotated them through the rank of drummer or fifer in order for all of the bandsmen to have equal access to the extra pay allotted to a drummer or fifer. (Drummers and fifers were paid at the same rate as corporals.) Only one member of the 18th Foot was identified in an official document as a “bandsman” between 1767 and 1775 and he did in fact follow this path of being rotated in and out of the rank of drummer and fifer. Not all regiments had a band of music, but the 18th Foot definitely did. Its band is recorded as having played a couple of concerts in Philadelphia while the regiment was stationed there.
Hanley’s first years in the military would have involved learning basic soldier tasks, standing guard, supporting the civil powers in Dublin and possibly learning to play the drum and fife. It isn’t clear when Hanley learned to play an instrument, but he did learn within his first five years in the Royal Irish. Most likely he was able to play one or more of the following as well: hautboy (oboe), clarinet, serpent, and/or the (French) horn if he was in the band. Military bands of the period appear often to have been made up of about eight musicians including two hautboys, two clarinets, two serpents (an early form of bass horn) and two horns. Unfortunately, the exact instrumentation of the 18th Regiment’s band hasn’t been uncovered.
Hanley would have marched from Dublin to Cork Harbour in late April 1767 and embarked for America in May from Cork. Hanley arrived in Philadelphia Harbor with the Royal Irish as a private in Isaac Hamilton’s Battalion Coy on 11 July 1767. If Hanley was already a member of the band, he would have performed at the commencement ceremonies of Philadelphia College in the spring of 1768. He was transferred to the Lt. Colonel’s Coy when the regiment was ordered to Illinois in May 1768. It is possible he was transferred so he could serve with the Drum Major and be groomed to become a drummer when a vacancy opened in the regiment. Hanley didn’t have to wait long with the toll that sickness took on the regiment in Illinois and he was appointed drummer of Cpt. Lane’s Coy on 5 February 1769. He remained with that company, which saw several captains, for the next several years; ultimately, it became Cpt. Payne’s Coy in 1771. He was reduced from drummer to private on 5 March 1772.
Hanley was stationed at the North Liberties Barracks with eight companies of the Royal Irish at Philadelphia and a company of the Royal Artillery. He remained as a private in Payne’s Coy, and potentially a member of the regiment’s band of music through the fall of 1774. He was transferred to the Grenadier Coy as a fifer on 8 October 1774 as the regiment prepared to move from Philadelphia. The Grenadier Coy and Hanley were being ordered to Boston along with two other companies to reinforce Gage’s garrison. The other five companies were to march to New York City.
While in Boston, Hanley was court-martialed on 11 February 1775 for being very drunk on the street and abusing his regimentals after Tattoo. Captain R. Hamilton presided over the court. Hanley was found guilty and sentenced to 100 lashes. For some reason, most likely prior good conduct, the entire sentence was remitted. He remained with the company at Boston and was ordered to mount guard, along with his fellow fifer, whenever Lt. Col. Bruce of the 65th Foot pulled duty. Probably, the two fifers served as additional orderlies for Bruce. As a grenadier, Hanley would have marched to Concord and then participated in the Battle of Bunker Hill. He was on duty on 7 October 1775 on Charleston Heights when the company was mustered for pay.
As a fifer, Hanley wasn’t drafted in December 1775 and was allowed to return to England. Similarly, those privates who had previously been drummers or fifers were not drafted either lending further support those men were part of the regimental band. He arrived at Portsmouth in February 1776 and was assigned as a drummer for Cpt. Hamilton’s Coy when the regiment was reorganized in southern England in the summer of 1776. He was posted to the Light Coy in 1777 and then to the General’s Coy in 1778. He was listed as sick on 6 March 1778. He was present at the Camp of Instruction at Coxheath in southern England in June to November 1778. The troops concentrated at Coxheath were prepared to thwart a Franco-Spanish invasion threat that materialized upon the French entry into the America Revolution. He was at Warley Camp in June 1779 as the drummer of the General’s Coy, but was returned to the Grenadier Coy on 26 August 1779 while still at Warley Camp. In June 1780, Hanley was present in Hyde Park, London to enforce civil order after the Gordon Riots. He remained a drummer when the Royal Irish were moved with the rest of the troops at Hyde Park to Finchley in August 1780 and was still with the Grenadier Coy during that encampment. In 1781, he was with the regiment when it was posted to the Channel Islands and in 1783, he was sent to Gibraltar. He was listed as a private in the General’s Coy in July 1784. He was listed as sick in both returns for 1784. He remained at Gibraltar through 1787. Unfortunately the returns simply drop him from the rolls at that point, and don’t mention his transfer. As a senior soldier and a musician, he was transferred to the 41st Foot purposely as that regiment was changed from a regiment of invalids to a marching regiment. Hanley was transferred to Cpt. Dicken’s Coy of the 41st Foot. He served only fourteen months with the 41st Foot before being discharged at Hilsea Barracks as “afflicted with the scurvy” on 24 March 1789.
Hanley appears to have not wished to be discharged, as he travelled to Sheerness and enlisted in Cpt. James Malcom’s Independent Company of Invalids at Sheerness. He was discharged from that company after two months service. This discharge on 9 September 1789 appears to have been permanent He was paid nine extra days pay after discharge to help him pay for his travel home. Unfortunately, after his discharge Hanley disappears from the historical record.