THE WELLINGTON CONNECTION: THE HYDE PARK SQUATTER

 

Duke of Wellington

The following letters were all addressed to Lady Salisbury –

Walmer, October 11, 1850

“I sent my instruction to my Deputy Ranger yesterday of which I will send you a copy as soon as I can get one! You will see that they settle the affair. I have another likewise at the Office of Woods about the Squatter in Hyde Park, and I hope to shake that Lady off without very much difficulty. But we must proceed with caution and Regularity. . . . . .”

Walmer, October 13, 1850

“I have had nothing very interesting to tell you in the last two days! My time has been principally occupied by the Mad Men and Mad Women by whom I am pestered constantly! It is quite curious with what a number of Insane persons I am in relation. Mad retired Officers, Mad Women, etc.! I found last session that there is a Society established for the protection of those who are insane, or charged with insanity, and the Head of which is a Madman; one of the Percevals.
“I have heard no more of the Squatter! If you remember there is on the right hand side of what is called the Rotten Row, that is the Riding Road up the Park to Kensington Gardens and Kensington, a Mound or Bank which retains the water in what is called the Serpentine River! This house is placed on this mound, or rather in a Space scooped out of its thickness! for I have never seen the house!
“I rather suspect that the Woman had been allowed to establish a sort of stall on this Spot for selling oranges, cakes, etc. It is situated near a fountain, and that she has contrived to build Houses on the spot on which she had been permitted to have a stall for the sale of her oranges and Cakes. However she became established, I entertain no doubt that it will be a troublesome job to remove her! and I have determined that I will go to work regularly.”

Walmer, October 15, 1850

“You will be surprised to learn that I am going to London. I am going there on the principle that the only animal who is never allowed to have any rest is the Duke of Wellington . . . I propose to avail myself of the opportunity of getting upon my horse and taking a look at the position of the Squatter in Hyde Park.
“When Sir Harry Smith was in England a year or two ago, he reminded me of my old Practice with the Army.
“When there was any difficulty and they came to me to report it, and to ask what they should do, my answer was, `I will get upon my Horse and take a look; and then tell you!’ Accordingly, as soon as I shall reach my own House to-morrow, I will get upon my horse and take a look at the position of this Squatter! and I think that I shall have no difficulty in pointing out the mode as settling that one! . . . . ”

 

London, October 17, 1850

“. . . .  I arrived in town prosperously yesterday afternoon; and in conformity with my intention mounted my horse and went to take a look at the position of the Squatter! She is not exactly at the Fountain, very little further on; and higher up the Bank! I entertain no doubt that it will not be difficult to remove her if necessary! But I hope that we shall prevail upon her to move off without the necessity of compulsion . . . . As long as the Duke of Cambridge was Ranger, and since his Death, nobody ever thought of wanting Police in the Parks; but now that I am Ranger, everybody has discovered that they cannot walk or take the air in security. . . . ”

Walmer, October 18, 1850

” . . . . . I went to take a look at the Squatter’s Premises in Hyde Park! They are quite distinct from the Fountain with which you are acquainted in which there is a spring of pure water! This last is lower down the Bank and nearer Rotten Row . . . . . ”

London, November 15, 1850

“. . . . Before I went to Bed at night, I received the usual summonses to attend Christenings, Dinners, Concerts, etc., this day and to-morrow. In short, there is no end of the demands upon my time . . . I have the pleasure of informing you we have got rid of the Squatter in the Park. She has quitted her Residence, which has been pulled down and the ground on which it stood or rather fell has been levelled.”

This was not the end of the matter. The Squatter, namely a Mrs. Ann Hicks, was subsequently arrested in August of 1851 for selling refreshments outside the Crystal Palace. She claimed that her grandfather had rescued King George II from drowning in the Serpentine and that her family had subsequently been granted life tenancy in the Park. Her case was heard and dismissed by the House of Commons and a public appeal raised enough funds to purchase Mrs. Hicks passage to join her family in Australia.

 

THE DEATH OF WELLINGTON AT WALMER

The Duke of Wellington by Count d’Orsay

The Duke of Wellington died at Walmer Castle on September 14, 1852

 From The History of Walmer and Walmer Castle by Charles Robert Stebbing Elvin (1894)

“The Duke of Wellington was Lord Warden (of the Cinque Ports) for nearly four and twenty years, and during all that time rarely missed coming to Walmer after the prorogation of Parliament, staying usually till about the middle of November; and, before leaving for Strathfieldsaye, generally held at Dover a Court of Lodemanage, to discuss and settle the affairs of the Cinque Ports’ pilots.

” . . . The Duke was accustomed to rise early, but, on September 14th, 1852, when his valet called him as usual at six o’clock, he found the Duke particularly drowsy, and thought it best to leave him undisturbed for an hour longer. He therefore withdrew, but remained within hearing. It was fortunate he did so, for soon after he was alarmed at hearing groans from the Duke’s room, and on re-entering was requested to send for Dr. Hulke of Deal, who came, prescribed some simple remedies, and, seeing nothing serious in the Duke’s condition, departed. Shortly after this, however, the Duke became much worse, and messages were despatched for further help. On the return of Dr. Hulke with his son and Dr. McArthur, they found his Grace breathing laboriously, unconscious, and very restless. To assist respiration he was raised and put into his easy chair, where for a time he breathed more freely; but the end was very near, and at five and twenty minutes past three he expired. A message had meanwhile been sent to London for Dr. Williams, who only arrived in time to find the mortal remains of his illustrious patient laid out upon his little camp-bed.

English Heritage

“The Union Jack now drooped at half-mast high upon the castle ramparts; announcing to the world that the Iron Duke, the nation’s idol was no more. The body of the departed hero remained at Walmer Castle until the eleventh of November, in the irregularly-shaped room shown in the engraving; which still retains the name of “The Duke’s Room.” The scene at Walmer, subsequent to the removal, cannot be better described than in the following extract from a contemporary record, which conveys a most graphic idea of all the solemn proceedings of this time :—” In the small irregularly shaped death-chamber lay the body of the Duke, inclosed in an outer coffin covered with crimson velvet, and with handles and funeral decorations richly gilt. On the lid, near the head, rested the ducal coronet, and beyond it the pall, gathered back, to give visitors a complete view. The coffin rested on a low stand, covered with black cloth, round which candelabra with huge wax lights and plumes of feathers were arranged. The walls and roof of the small apartment were, of course, hung with black cloth, the single deep-recessed window closed, and candles, reflected against silver sconces, barely relieved the gloom of the sombre display. Visitors entering at one door passed by the end of the coffin, and then out at another without interruption. The ante-chambers and corriders were also darkened, hung with black, and lighted with candles placed at intervals on the side walls.

“The first day for admission of the public was Tuesday (Nov. 9th). Through the low strong archway of the entrance the visitors passed, first, along the curved glass-covered passage, then through the dimly lighted anterooms into the chamber of death, and then along corridors and down staircases and across the garden on to the beach. All the way at a few paces distance from each other on either hand, the guard of honour of the Rifle Brigade were placed, each man with his arms reversed, and leaning in a sorrowful attitude on his musket. Along the beach, as far as the eye could reach towards Deal, a long train of visitors dressed in mourning passed and repassed throughout the day, while from greater distances conveyances arrived and took their departure in quick succession.

“The stream of visitors continued throughout the Tuesday, and until four o’clock in the afternoon of the following day; during which time upwards of nine thousand people are said to have visited the chamber of the late Duke to witness the lying in state. But about 7 p.m. on Wednesday (Nov. 10th), the body was removed to Deal Station, en route for London, under an escort of about 150 men of the Rifle Brigade, commanded by Colonel Beckwith, and attended by mourning coaches in which were seated the Duke’s eldest son and successor, Lord Arthur Hay, Captain Watts, Mr. Marsh of the Lord Chamberlain’s office, and others.

“As the funeral cortege prepared to leave the grounds, the solemn booming of the minute-guns resounded from the castle walls; while the wind brought back the echo from Deal and Sandown, where the like honour was paid to the memory of the deceased. Down the “sombre avenue,” lighted by the lurid glare from the flambeaux with which a body of men led the way, and through the silent crowds who lined the road undeterred by chill darkness of a November night, winded the slow procession; moving with measured tread, until at length they reached Deal Station; the melancholy march of a mile and three-quarters having occupied no less than one hour and a half. There they were awaited by Mr. James Macgregor, M.P., the chairman of the South-Eastern Railway Company; and the hearse having been transferred to a truck, the journey onward to London was resumed at a quarter past nine.

“On arriving at the Bricklayers’ Arms station, the hearse with the coffin was removed to Chelsea Hospital, under an escort of the 1st Life Guards; and there the remains of the Duke continued to lie in state till removed for the Grand State Funeral which took place on the following Thursday, November 18th.

“In 1861, shortly after the appointment of Lord Palmerston (as Lord of the Cinque Ports), several articles were removed from (the Duke of Wellington’s room at Walmer) to Apsley House, with the consent of Lord Dalhousie’s executors, in consequence of a threatened sale by auction; but these have all been recently restored, through the generosity of the present Duke of Wellington, as related further on; and “The Duke’s Room” is once again as it used to be, even to the yellow moreen curtains and the orignal bedding and chair-cover. The bookshelves have, however, been wisely covered with glass doors, and so converted into a cabinet, in which many articles of interest are kept under lock and key; including the Duke’s set of his own printed despatches, in twelve vols., the first volume of which has been despoiled of its title-page by some thief, or thievish collector, for the sake no doubt of the autograph. This cabinet also contains, among other things, two pairs of “Wellington” boots, and a volume of Statutes relating to the Cinque Ports, of the date of 1726. The latter was presented to the Duke of Wellington by Lord Mahon, and contains the autograph of each. One pair of the “Wellingtons,” described in the schedule of heirlooms as a pair of “Field Marshall’s ‘Wellington’ boots,” are believed to be the same that were worn by the Duke at the Battle of Waterloo. The famous camp-bedstead has now a green velvet coverlet, presented by the Countess of Derby in 1893.

“The engravings in this room include portraits of Mrs. Siddons, Mr. Burke, and Lord Onslow, as well as the Duke’s print of the Chelsea pensioners reading the Gazette announcing the victory at Waterloo; and in the adjoining dressing-room, is a curious piece of work, made by the Duke’s house carpenter and shown at the Exhibition in 1851, being the representation of Strathfieldsaye House, in the form of a picture, composed it is said of 3,500 pieces of wood. The Duke of Wellington thought so much of this picture that it used to hang during his lifetime in the dining-room.”

THE WELLINGTON CONNECTION: Lord Londonderry

The following correspondence is from The Despatches, Correspondence, and Memoranda of Field Marshal Arthur, Duke of Wellington

Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, Lord Londonderry

Wellington’s letter to Mr. Bankhead
London, 9th Aug.. 1822

Dear Sir: I called upon you with the intention of talking to you about Lord Londonderry, and of requesting you would call upon him. He promised me that he would send for you, but, lest he should not, I entreat you to find some pretence for going down to him. I entertain no doubt that he is very unwell. It appears that he has been overworked during the session, and that his mind is overpowered for the moment and labours under a delusion. I state the impression made upon me in the interview I have just had with him. I told him that this was my impression, and I think it is his own, and he will probably communicate it to you; but, lest he should not, I tell you what I think, begging you never to mention to anybody what I have told you.  I am setting out this moment for the Netherlands; I would have stayed with Lord Londonderry, but he would not allow me. I shall be very much obliged to you if you will write me a line and have it left at my house to let me know how you find him, and particularly if you think I am mistaken.

Ever, dear Sir, yours most faithfully,
Wellington

Mr. Bankhead to Field Marshall the Duke of Wellington
Lower Brook Street, 9th Aug., 1822
My Lord,

I am this moment (8 o’clock) returned to my own house from Lord Londonderry’s, where I have been for two hours; and I lose not a moment in answering the letter which your Grace has condescended to write to me. Thirty years intimacy with Lord Londonderry makes me know his peculiarities intimately. His nerves are never unstrung unless when he has some bodily indisposition. I conceive that at this moment he has a preternatural fullness of the vessels of the head, and that this (rather than the wear and tear of work) makes him nervous. I have had him cupped, and he experiences the greatest possible relief in the feelings of his head and of his mental competency.
He is gone down to Cray with Lady Castlereagh, and I purpose to see him there to-morrow. Perhaps a feverish affection of a few days may follow this casual derangement of the system, but knowing the natural soundness of Lord Londonderry’s constitution, I have no doubt but that by quietness and ordinary care of a few days he is likely soon again to be reinstated in his general health.
I know that Lady Londonderry has written a few lines to your Grace before she left St. James’s Square.
I have the honour to be,
your Grace’s most obedient humble servant,

Charles Bankhead

 

To the Duke of Wellington from the Marchioness of Londonderry

Lady Amelia Anne Hobart, Marchioness of Londonderry
London, 9th Aug., 1822.
My Lord: From your kind feeling with respect to Lord Londonderry I am sure you will be glad to hear that he saw Bankhead, who ordered him to be cupped. The blood resembled jelly, and he was instantly relieved, and I have hopes that he will be well in a few days; but I really think he was upon the verge of a brain fever.
Yours most sincerely,
A.Londonderry
 

 

Lord Fitzroy Somerset, afterwards 1st Baron Raglan

Lord Fitzroy Somerset to Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington.

London, 12th August, 1822.

My Dear Lord

It is with great concern that I have to announce to you the melancholy intelligence of the death of Lord Londonderry, which took place, by his own hands, this morning between seven and eight o’clock.
I enclose a copy of Bankhead’s statement, which will show you what occurred from the time you first sent him to attend Lord Londonderry, and will prove to you that you were right in the apprehensions you expressed to Bankhcad that his mind was not what it ought to be.
Lord Liverpool, whom I saw as soon as he arrived from Combe Wood, desired me to communicate this lamentable event to you, and to express to you his wish that you should return to England immediately. He is in the greatest distress. His first idea was to set off for Scotland immediately, and break the intelligence to his Majesty himself; but upon reflection he has thought it best not to leave London, but to depute Mr. Peel to do that office for him. He laments your absence amazingly, and would have requested you to go to the King if you had been in the way. As it is, however, his Majesty is better prepared for the shock than anybody else, for he mentioned to Lord Liverpool on Saturday, that he had seen Lord Londonderry the day before, and was quite convinced that he was not right in his mind, and that he felt great alarm for the consequences of the break up of such a mind as Lord Londonderry’s.
    Lord Liverpool has written to the King, and entreated his Majesty not to make any arrangement for filling Lord Londonderry’s office till his return from Scotland, assuring him that
he will keep the machine going till that time in the best way he can.
I understand from Bankhead that Lady Londonderry apprehended the possibility of Lord Londonderry’s making away with himself, and placed everything out of his reach that she thought him likely to make use of; but unfortunately he had in one of his despatch-boxes the knife with which eventually he put an end to his life. He had got up in the night and gone into the dressing-room to wash his face, and then returned quietly to his bed.
I presume you will be able to arrive here between Thursday and Friday. Lord Liverpool looks forward to your return with great anxiety. Lord Westmorland and Lord Maryborough are the only ministers in town. The latter would have written to you, but Lord Liverpool has employed him to write to Lord Harrowby and Lord Wellesley; and as I am writing, he thinks it unnecessary to do so.
Your most faithful and affectionate,
Fitzroy Somerset
Enclosure-
Fife House, 12th Aug., 1822.
From the time Dr. Bankhead first saw Lord Londonderry on Friday evening last he was satisfied that his head was seriously affected, and that he laboured under very general mental delusion. He had been cupped in his house in St. James’s Square on that evening, from which he seemed much relieved; and in the quiet of the evening Lord and Lady Londonderry went down to Cray, Dr. Bankhead promising to follow them the next day, and to stay at Cray all Sunday. On Friday night Lord Londonderry was restless, and asking many questions during the night, which manifested incoherence and delirium. On Saturday morning he took some opening medicine which Dr. Bankhead had sent him, remained in his bed all the day, and was kept particularly quiet, using slops only as nourishment, and barley-water as drink.

When Dr. Bankhead arrived at Cray in the afternoon of Saturday he found Lord Londonderry rather better from the favourable operation of the cooling medicine, but still there was heat and fever, great thirst, and an unusual watchfulness and suspicion of manner, and a constant anxiety lest he should not be well enough to go abroad in the appointed time. He asked several questions very irrelevant and quite at variance with his usual calm manner. In the night of Saturday he had some refreshing sleep, but on the whole of Sunday his fever still continued, as well as the delirium and unhappiness of mind and manner. Dr. Bankhead quitted his room about midnight, leaving his Lordship tolerably comfortable, and Lady Londonderry in the room with him, both retiring to rest. Dr. Bankhead slept in a room close to his Lordship, and on the morning of this day, about 7 o’clock, Lady Londonderry’s maid called him, saying that Lord Londonderry wished to see him. Dr. Bankhead instantly repaired to the bedroom, but found that his Lordship had that moment gone into the dressing-room adjoining to the bedroom. On entering this instantly, the Doctor saw Lord Londonderry standing opposite to the window with his face to the ceiling, having on his dressing-gown. The Doctor immediately ran towards him, saying, “My dear Lord, why do you stand so?” upon which, without turning, he answered, “Bankhead, let me fall upon your arm; it is all over.” In the agony of the moment, Dr. Bankhead caught him on his arm, and, dreadful to relate, saw a short-bladed knife in his right hand fiercely clenched, with which he had deeply divided the carotid artery; and from the sudden effusion of blood he fell instantly from Dr. Bankhead’s arms on his face upon the floor, and was instantly dead without a struggle.

The Duke of Wellington
The Duke then wrote:
13th Aug., 1822.
I saw Lord Londonderry frequently during the last days of his life.
I dined with him on Saturday, the 3rd of August, at Cray, and sat next to him at dinner. There was a very large party, and I thought Lord Londonderry was in particularly good spirits at dinner.
I had occasion, both before and after dinner, to talk to him on subjects on which the delusions of his mind would have appeared, if he had at that time laboured under any. They related to certain anonymous letters received by Mr. Arbuthnot and others of the Treasury, which were known to come from a person by the name of Jennings, who had been under examination before a committee of the House of Commons; and although I thought Lord Londonderry was cold in his manner on the subject of some of these letters, which was not unusual with him, I never saw him more decided or more clear in his opinion. I saw a letter from him to Mr. Arbuthnot on the same subject the next day, Sunday, the 4th of August, in which he expressed himself with more than usual clearness and decision.
I did not see Lord Londonderry on Monday the 5th, but on Tuesday the 6th he came to the Ordnance office early, to a meeting of certain persons to consider of the means of reforming the commissariat in Canada. Upon this occasion I thought him very low. He took no part in the discussion, and manifested no interest in it. After the meeting had broken up he waited to talk to Mr. Arbuthnot and me about Jennings’s letters, about which he showed that he felt more than I thought he had on the preceding Saturday, but there was no appearance of agitation respecting them.
I met Lord Londonderry at the Cabinet on Wednesday the 7th of August. The subject of discussion was the instructions for himself on his mission to Vienna. Lord Liverpool read them to the Cabinet, and there was some discussion upon them; but Lord Londonderry took no part in the discussion, and he appeared very low, out of spirits, and unwell. There was, however, no appearance of agitation. After the Cabinet was over I went into Mr. Beckett’s, and after leaving him I met Lord Londonderry as he was coming out by the back door of his office. We walked together through the Park and the Ordnance office to his own house. Lord Londonderry was remarkably low and silent. He held me by the arm, but scarcely said a word; but there was no symptom of agitation.
After leaving him at his door I returned to my office, and in about half an hour went to Carlton House to take leave of the King previous to my departure for the Netherlands. I found Lord Londonderry at Carlton House. The King was gone out, and I walked with Lord Londonderry back to his own house, where I left him. He was equally low as before.
I had occasion, in about an hour afterwards, to go to my own house, and as I was returning down the Park I stopped to speak to his Royal Highness the Duke of York, who was in his buggy. Lord Londonderry came up the Park on horseback, and joined us, and in a few seconds I left him and the Duke of York together; he then appeared very low and out of spirits.
I did not see him on Thursday the 8th of August.
On Friday the 9th I was proceeding on horseback through St James’s Square from the Ordnance office to my own house, to set out for the Continent at about four o’clock in the afternoon. Lady Londonderry called to me, and was talking to me from her window, when Lord Londonderry passed me in rather a quick and hurried pace, and told me he wanted to speak to me. I followed him into his house and his room.

I cannot give a better account of what passed in this interview than by copying a letter which I wrote to Mr. Arbuthnot (who had left London that evening) immediately after it was concluded, before I set out for Dover:—

Charles Arbuthot
London, 9th August, 1822.
My Dear Arbuthnot
“I am just setting off, but I cannot go without making you acquainted with the impression made upon my mind by an interview I have just had with Lord Londonderry.
“It appears to me that his mind and body have been overpowered by the work of the session, and that he is at this moment in a state of mental delusion. He took me into his house to talk to me about the same story that he told to you and to Lord Liverpool; and, strange to say, he imagined from my manner at the last Cabinet and afterwards walking home with him that I had heard of something against him and believed it. He thought the same of the Duke of York; and he told me some strange story of a man telling him this day that his horses were waiting for him when he was coming out of Carlton House, of his not having ordered his horses to town, and of the arrival of the horses, and of his being informed of their arrival, as proofs that the person who had ordered up his horses, and that the person who informed him they were waiting, thought there was so much against him that he ought to fly the country. This impression was so strong upon his mind that he rung the bell to desire that inquiry might be made as to who had ordered up his horses, and the delusion was not removed till he was informed that the horses were not in town.
“He is certainly very unwell, and I did not conceal from him my opinion that he was so, and that his mind was not in its usual and proper state. I offered to stay with him, but he would not allow me, as he said it would make people believe that there was some reason for it. I begged him to send for Dr. Bankhead, and, between ourselves, I have informed Dr. Bankhead that it is my opinion that he is labouring under a temporary delusion. He cried excessively while talking to me, and appeared relieved by it and by his conversation with me, and he promised me to see Bankhead.
“I am afraid that he has mentioned the story above referred to, to more persons than Lord Liverpool, you, and me. I have entreated him to say no more about it to anybody, but I fear he will.
“I write you all this in order to urge you to see him as soon as you can after you will return to London and observe him well, and see if his mind is quite right. If it is not, and he should go abroad, I think you ought to make him take Bankhead with him; and, if that is not accomplished, I think you ought to mention the matter to Planta. Otherwise, it is my opinion that this impression of mine should never go beyond ourselves.
“He is quite clear and right about public matters, but agreed with me that his mind had been overpowered by the work of the session, and that he was labouring under a delusion.

“Destroy this letter, and believe me, etc. Wellington.”

The remains of the noble Marquess, after lying in state for several days, were removed from his house in St. James’s Square, followed by the Ministers of State, principal Nobility, and private friends of his Lordship, in carriages, and interred, with funeral pomp, in Westminster Abbey, on Thursday, the 22d of August, 1822.

SIR FREDERICK CAVENDISH PONSONBY

This post was originally published on June 18, 2010.

When one thinks of the great British soldiers at the Battle of Waterloo, one naturally conjures up visions of the Duke of Wellington, Alexander Gordon and, of course, the Marquess of Anglesey, but one rarely thinks of Sir Frederick Cavendish Ponsonby, whose Waterloo experience is, in my opinion, one of the most remarkable.

Here is the exceedingly dry manner in which Sir Frederick is summed up in The Waterloo Roll Call By Charles Dalton:

Aftds. Maj.-Gen. Sir Frederick Cavendish Ponsonby, K.C.B. and K.M.T., Gov. of Malta. 2nd son of Frederick, 3rd Earl of Bessborough, by Lady Henrietta, 2nd dau. of 1st Earl Spencer. Bn. 6th July, 1783. Cornet 10th Lt. Dgns. 1800. Maj. 23rd Lt. Dgns. 1807. At head of this regt. distinguished himself at Talavera, in 1809. Lt.-col. of the regt. 1810. At Barossa, with a squadron of German dragoons, he charged the French cavalry covering the retreat, overthrew them, and took two guns. Lt.-Col. 12th Lt. Dgns. 1811. Again signally distinguished himself at the battles of Salamanca and Vittoria.

From this, one would have nary a clue of the truly death-defying experience of this officer, a favorite of the Duke of Wellington’s. Ponsonby was the the second son of the 3rd Earl of Bessborough and Henrietta (Harriet) Spencer, whose sister was Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Sir Frederick’s own sister was the notorious Lady Caroline Lamb. Talk about your Regency soap opera – Lady Bessborough had had a brief affair with Richard Brinsley Sheridan and another with Lord Granville Leveson Gower, with whom she had two children before marrying him off to her niece, Lady Harriet Cavendish.

But I digress . . . . . .

In 1815, Frederick was 33 years of age when he was called to accompany Lord Castlereagh (above) to the Congress of Vienna, which sat after Napoleon’s first abdication to restore the balance of power in Europe and to divide the spoils. The Congress was showing signs of violent disagreement, when to the horror and amazement of Europe, Napoleon escaped from Elba and landed at Cannes. The French Army rallied to him regiment by regiment as he marched through France toward the capital. He entered Paris on March 20, while the King and his family fled. Those English familites who had gone to Brussels to economize after the war knew that they were in a terrible position when Napoleon, who by then commanded an army of 535,000 men, marched to join it on the Belgian frontier on June 12.

At Waterloo, Sir Frederick was attached to the 12th Light Dragoons, who were ordered, along with the 16th Light Dragoons, to charge down a slope to support the withdrawal of the Union Brigade of heavy cavalry, which was being led by his second cousin, William Ponsonby, who lost his life that day. It would have been all too easy for Sir Frederick to have met his own death, as well. In fact, he would presently, and within a very short span of time, be presented with several ways in which he could have lost his life.

The best account of what occurred is the one given by Sir Frederick himself, as written in a letter to his mother by Lady Shelley:

Dear Lady Bessborough,

You have often wished for some written account of the adventures and sufferings of your son, Colonel Ponsonby, on the field of Waterloo; the modesty of his nature is however no small obstacle in the way. Will the following imperfect sketch supply its place until it comes? The battle of the 18th of June was one morning alluded to in the library at Althorpe, and his answers to many of the questions which were put to him are here thrown together, as nearly as I can remember in his own words.

“The weather cleared up at noon, and the sun shone out a little just as the battle began. The armies were within 800 yards of each other; the videttes, before they were withdrawn, being so near as to be able to converse. At one moment I imagined I saw Bonaparte; a considerable staff was moving rapidly along the front of our line. I was stationed with my regiment, about 300 strong, at the extreme of the left wing, and directed to act discretionally; each of the armies was drawn up on a gentle declivity, a small valley lying between them.

‘”At one o’clock, observing, as I thought,unsteadiness in a column of French infantry of 1,000 men or thereabouts, which was advancing with an irregular fire, I resolved to charge them. As we were descending at a gallop we received from our own troops on the right a fire much more destructive than theirs, they having begun long before it could take effect, and slackening as we drew nearer. When we were within 50 paces of them, they turned, and much execution was done amongst them, as we were followed by some Belgians who had remarked our success. But we had no sooner passed through them, than we were attacked in our turn before we could form, by about 300 Polish Lancers, who had come down to their relief—the French artillery pouring in amongst us a heavy fire of grape-shot, which, however, for one of our men killed three of their own. In the melee I was disabled almost instantly in both my arms, and followed by a few of my men who were presently cut down—for no quarter was asked or given—I was carried on by my horse, till receiving a blow on my head from a sabre, I was thrown senseless on my face to the ground. Recovering, I raised myself a little to look round, being I believe at that time in a condition to get up and run away, when a Lancer, passing by, exclaimed : ” Tu n’es pas mort, coquin,” (You’re not dead, naughty) and struck his lance through my back. My head dropped, the blood gushed into my mouth; a difficulty of breathing came on, and I thought all was over. Not long afterwards (it was then impossible to measure time, but I must have fallen in less than ten minutes after the charge) a tirailleur came up to plunder me, threatening to take away my life. I told him that he might search me, directing him to a small side pocket, in which he found three dollars, being all I had. He unloosed my stock, and tore open my waistcoat, then leaving me in a very uneasy posture. He was no sooner gone, than another came up for the same purpose, but assuring him I had been plundered already, he left me. When an officer, bringing on some troops (to which probably the tirailleurs belonged) and halting where I lay, stooped down and addressed me, saying he feared I was badly wounded, I replied that I was, and expressed a wish to be removed into the rear. He said it was against the orders to remove even their own men, but that if they gained the day, as they probably would, for he understood the Duke of Wellington was killed and that six battalions of the English army had surrendered, every attention in his power should be shown me. I complained of thirst, and he held his brandy bottle to my lips, directing one of his men to lay me down on my side, and placed a knapsack under my head. He then passed on into the action, and I shall never know to whose generosity I was indebted, as I conceive, for my life. Of what rank he was I cannot say; he wore a blue great-coat. * By-and-bye another tirailleur came, and knelt down and fired over me, loading and firing many times, and conversing with great gaiety all the while. At last he ran off, saying: ‘Vous serez bien aise d’entendre que nous allons nous retirer. Bon jour, mon ami.’ (You will be glad to hear that we are going to withdraw. Good day, my friend)

“Whilst the battle continued in that part, several of the wounded men and dead bodies near me were hit with the balls, which came very thick in that place. Towards evening, when the Prussians came up, the continued roar of cannon along their and the British line, growing louder and louder as they drew near, was the finest thing I ever heard. It was dusk when the two squadrons of Prussian cavalry, both of them two deep, passed over me in a full trot, lifting me from the ground, and tumbling me about cruelly—the clatter of their approach and the apprehensions it excited may be easily conceived. Had a gun come that way, it would have done for me. The battle was then nearly over, or removed to a distance. The cries and groans of the wounded all around me became every instant more and more audible, succeeding to the shouts, imprecations, and cries of ” Vive l’Empereur,” the discharges of musketry and cannon, now and then intervals of perfect quiet which were worse than the noise. I thought the night would never end. Much about this time one of the Royals lay across my legs—he had probably crawled thither in his agony—his weight, convulsive motions, his noises, and the air issuing through a wound in his side, distressed me greatly—the latter circumstance most of all, as the case was my own.

“It was not a dark night, and the Prussians were wandering about to plunder, and the scene in “Ferdinand Count Fathom” came into my mind, though no women, I believe, were there. Several Prussians came, looked at me, and passed on. At length one stopped to examine me. I told him as well as I could, for I could speak but little German, that I was a British officer, and had been plundered already. He did not desist, however, and pulled me about roughly before he left me. About an hour before midnight I saw a soldier in an English uniform coming towards me. He was, I suspect, on the same errand, but he came and looked in my face. I spoke instantly, telling him who I was, and assuring him of a reward if he would remain by me. He said that he belonged to the 40th Regiment, but that he had missed it. He released me from the dying man, and being unarmed, he took up a sword from the ground, and stood over me, pacing backwards and forwards.

“‘At 8 o’clock in the morning some English were seen at a distance. He ran to them, and a messenger was sent off to Colonel Harvey. A cart came for me—I was placed on it, and carried to a farmhouse, about a mile and a half distant, and laid in the bed from which poor Gordon, as I understood afterwards, had been just carried out. The jolting of the carriage and the difficulty of breathing were very painful. I had received seven wounds; a surgeon slept in my room, and I was saved by continual bleeding—120 ounces in two days, besides a great loss of blood on the field.

“The lances from their length and weight would have struck down my sword long before I lost it, if it had not been bound to my hand. What became of my horse I know not. It was the best I ever had.”

As it happened, Lord and Lady Bessborough had been on a Continental tour in the months prior to Waterloo and were coming slowly home when the news reached them on July 8 that their son had been desperately wounded at the Battle of Waterloo. Lady Bessborough (at right) made a forced journey to Brussels to nurse him, and Lady Caroline Lamb joined her there. To her credit, Lady Bessborough nursed her son as he recuperated, but Lady Shelley’s letter quoted above indicates that mother and son had not the opportunity, or the inclination, to then discuss Posonby’s harrowing experience.

A few days later, that old gossip Creevey wrote:  “On Tuesday the 20th . . . Barnes and Hamilton would make me ride over to see the field of battle, which I would willingly have declined, understanding all the French dead were still on the field—unburied, and having no one to instruct me in detail as to what had passed—I mean as to the relative positions of the armies, etc. However, I was mounted, and as I was riding along with Hamilton’s groom behind me about a mile and a half on the Brussells side of the village of Waterloo, who should overtake me but the Duke of Wellington in his curricle, in his plain cloaths and Harvey by his side in his regimentals. So we went on together, and he said as he was to stop at Waterloo to see Frederick Ponsonby and de Lancey, Harvey should go with me and shew me the field of battle, and all about it. When we got to Waterloo village, we found others of his staff there, and it ended in Lord Arthur Hill being my guide over every part of the ground.”

If Creevey’s tour of the ground so soon after the battle seems goulish, here’s a letter written by the recuperating Sir Frederick’s own sister, Lady Caroline Lamb (above), to the Viscountess Melbourne from Brussels, 1815. It is a pouty letter which brilliantly displays Caroline’s petulance and immaturity in the face of so much heartbreak.

“Dearest Lady Melbourne  . . . The great amusement at Bruxelles, indeed the only one except visiting the sick, is to make large parties etc; go to the field of Battle and pick up a skull or a grape shot or an old shoe or a letter, etc.; bring it home. W[illia]m has been, I shall not go —unless when Fred [Ponsonby] gets better,etc; goes with me. There is a great affectation here of making lint etc.; bandages—but where is there not some? etc; at least it is an innocent amusement. It is rather a love making moment, the half wounded Officers reclining with pretty ladies visiting them—is dangerous. I also observe a great coxcombality in the dress of the sick— which prognosticates a speedy recovery. It is rather heart-breaking to be here, however, etc; one goes blubbering about—seeing such fine people without their legs etc.; arms, some in agony, etc; some getting better. The Prince of Orange enquired much after all his acquaintance; he suffers a great deal, but bears it well. The next door to us has a Col. Millar, very patient, but dreadfully wounded. Lady Conyngham is here—Lady C. Greville—Lady D. Hamilton, Mrs. A. B. Smith, Lady F. Somerset, Lady F. Webster most affected; Lady Mountmorress, who stuck her parasol yesterday into a skull at Waterloo. . . .”

Sir Frederick recovered and went on to enjoy a close relationship with the Duke long after the battle, as shown in the following letter the Duke wrote to Lady Shelley:

London, September 21, 1821


My Dear Lady Shelley, I write to tell you that there is some prospect that the King will go out of town on Saturday, and in that case we might be able to go to you on Saturday evening, and stay till Tuesday or Wednesday. I will let you know positively to-morrow. Shall I bring down Frederick Ponsonby, who was going with me to S. Saye? Ever yours affectionately,  W.

Sir Frederick married Lady Emily Charlotte Bathurst, daughter of Henry Bathurst, 3rd Earl Bathurst of Bathurst and Lady Georgina Lennox, on 16 March 1825. On 27 May 1825, he was promoted major-general, commanding the troops in the Ionian Islands and on 22 December 1826, he was appointed Governor of Malta, holding that post for eight and a half years. Sir Frederick died on 11 January 1837 at the age of fifty-three.

* This French officer was Major de Laussat of the Imperial Guard Dragoons, as Sir Frederick would learn in 1827 when the two met socially and soon after, through a conversation regarding the experiences of each during the Battle, discovered the coincidence of their first meeting upon the field.

THE WELLINGTON CONNECTION: CREEVEY AND WATERLOO

The following is diarist Thomas Creevey’s account of his meeting with the Duke of Wellington after the Battle of Waterloo originally published in The Creevey Papers (1909):

“About eleven o’clock, upon going out again, I heard a report that the Duke (of Wellington) was in Bruxelles; and I went from curiosity to see whether there was any appearance of him or any of his staff at his residence in the Park. As I approached, I saw people collected in the street about the house; and when I got amongst them, the first thing I saw was the Duke upstairs alone at his window. Upon his recognising me, he immediately beckoned to me with his finger to come up.*

Arthur Blundell Sandys Trumbull Hill, 3rd Marquess of Downshire

“I met Lord Arthur Hill in the ante-room below, who, after shaking hands and congratulation, told me I could not go up to the Duke, as he was then occupied in writing his dispatch; but as I had been invited, I of course proceeded. The first thing I did, of course, was to put out my hand and congratulate him [the Duke] upon his victory. He made a variety of observations in his short, natural, blunt way, but with the greatest gravity all the time, and without the least approach to anything like triumph or joy. —’ It has been a damned serious business,’ he said. ‘Blucher and I have lost 30,000 men. It has been a damned nice thing—the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life. Blucher lost 14,000 on Friday night, and got so damnably licked I could not find him on Saturday morning; so I was obliged to fall back to keep up [regain ?] my communications with him.’

“Then, as he walked about, he praised greatly those Guards who kept the farm (meaning Hugomont) against the repeated attacks of the French; and then he praised all our troops, uttering repeated expressions of astonishment at our men’s courage. He repeated so often its being so nice a thing—so nearly run a thing, that I asked him if the French had fought better than he had ever seen them do before.—’ No,’ he said, ‘they have always fought the same since I first saw them at Vimeira.’ Then he said:—’By God! I don’t think it would have done if I had not been there.’

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington c.1815 by Sir Thomas Lawrence

“When I left the Duke, I went instantly home and wrote to England by the same courier who carried his dispatch. I sent the very conversation I have just related to Bennet.  I think, however, I omitted the Duke’s observation that he did not think the battle would have been won had he not been there, and I remember my reason for omitting this sentence. It did not seem fair to the Duke to state it without full explanation. There was nothing like vanity in the observation in the way he made it. I considered it only as meaning that the battle was so hardly and equally fought that nothing but confidence of our army in himself as their general could have brought them thro’. Now that seven years have elapsed since that battle, and tho’ the Duke has become—very foolishly, in my opinion—a politician, and has done many wrong and foolish things since that time, yet I think of his conversation and whole conduct on the l9th—the day after the battle—exactly the same as I did then: namely—that nothing could do a conqueror more honor than his gravity and seriousness at the loss of lives he had sustained, his admission of his great danger, and the justice he did his enemy.

“I may add that, before I left him, I asked whether he thought the French would be able to take the field again; and he said he thought certainly not, giving as his reason that every corps of France, but one, had been in the battle, and that the whole army had gone off in such perfect rout and confusion he thought it quite impossible for them to give battle again before the Allies reached Paris.”
* It may seem improbable that the Duke should have made himself so accessible to a mere civilian on such a momentous morning; but there is ample confirmation of Mr. Creevey’s narrative from the Duke’s own lips. In 1836 he described the circumstance to Lady Salisbury, who noted it in her journal  as follows:
“‘ I was called,’ said the Duke, ‘about 3 in the morning by Hume to go and see poor Gordon’ (in the same inn at Waterloo),’ but he was dead before I got there. Then I came back, had a cup of tea and some toast, wrote my dispatch, and then rode into Brussels. At the door of my own hotel I met Creevey: they had no certain accounts at Brussels, and he called out to me :—” What news?” I said :— “Why I think we’ve done for ’em this time.”
The dispatch was begun at Waterloo and finished at Brussels, evidence of which remains in the draft of the original now at Apsley House, which is headed first “Waterloo,” that is struck out and “Bruxelles ” substituted.