Before We Had Cell Phones

We’re kicking off a new series with an excerpt from Rory Muir’s most excellent new biography, Wellington: The Path to Victory 1769 – 1814 concerning news of the Battle of Salamanca – 22 July, 1812:

“First reports of the battle reached London at the beginning of August in a message from Sir Home Popham. John Wilson Croker (above), the Secretary to the Admiralty, recalled: `I myself passed a few painful hours when a blundering telegraphic dispatch announced the battle of Salamanca as won by the French and `Wellington killed.’ This was a Sunday in August 1812. Parliament was up – no minister in town – nobody at the Admiralty but my single self; and there I was for four cruel hours, sitting on a corner of the Admiralty garden-wall watching the slow telegraph and as Homer says `eating my own heart.’ They were the most painful hours I ever passed, and I had the tremendous secret all to myself – first because I had no one to tell it to, and secondly that it was not tellable to anyone, in the confused and imperfect state in white it was coming up.’

“The mistake was corrected that afternoon, but newspapers the following day could only report the bald fact that the battle had been fought and won, and the anxious public had to wait another fortnight until, on Sunday 16 August, Wellington’s ADC Lord Clinton arrived in London in a chaise bedecked in laurel, carrying the captured French eagles and flags, and the official dispatch giving full details of the victory. An excited crowd assembled outside Lord Bathurst’s house in Mansfield Street and the tidings soon spread. Lady Wellington ran to Lord Bathurst’s from her house in Harely Street to hear the news, and on being told that her husband was safe she nearly fainted. The following night the capital was illuminated and jubilant crowds filled the streets. Lord Wellesley (Wellington’s brother, Richard) ventured out to enjoy the scene and was recognized and cheered wherever he went, basking for a moment in the reflected glory of his younger brother.”

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