The Last Victims Of Waterloo? Sea Horse Tragedy 1816

The Wreck of the Sea Horse, Tramore, 1816

On January 30th 1816 Waterloo veterans met a watery grave

As a second-generation Irishman whose parents live in deepest Tipperary, it is almost obligatory that my visits to Ireland include an excursion to Tramore in County Waterford. Its lovely sandy beach, funfair and (one-time) myriad of slot machine arcades providing something for all ages, PLUS the added bonus of Dooly’s truly excellent fish and chip shop – supplies the perfect end to any day trip. They don’t serve seahorse, but you don’t have to look far to see them in this town.

Yet, amidst my nostalgia for Tramore, the presence of a shipwreck on the beach (when I was a lad) was always a stark reminder of the perils facing mariners daring to enter her waters. To this end I have long appreciated why each side of Tramore Bay has so many large beacons – one of which is be-topped by a ‘Metal Man’ which I was wrongly informed had been erected as a kind of corporate stunt. Compounding things further, I always assumed that Tramore’s cute seahorse emblem was just an obligatory tacky seaside symbol, on a par with saucy postcards, donkeys and kiss-me-quick hats.

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Tramore Seahorse Logo – not tack, but genuine respect

But thanks to the magnificent people of Waterford, a monument is about to be unveiled which not only makes me humbly eat my words about Tramore and its logo, but is also a very sincere and poignant memorial for a maritime disaster of the highest order, which occurred on 30th January 1816 involving the ill-fated transport ship Sea Horse.

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The new Sea Horse Memorial at Tramore

Whilst walking the promenade at Tramore this weekend I came across this delightful stone-built memorial commemorating the bicentennial of the tragedy of the sinking of the Sea Horse – when 363 lives were lost as she foundered during a storm in Tramore Bay. The story of the Sea Horse is very sad, not least for the 2nd Battalion, 59th (2nd Nottinghamshire) Regiment – who were all but wiped out in the icy waters of Tramore Bay. This Battalion (formed in 1806) had been garrisoned in Ireland until 1814 when they were called up to form part of the army of occupation in Paris. After Napoleon’s escape from Elba, the 2/59th were present at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18th 1815. In this bloodiest of battles, the 2/59th were fortunately spared – having not been called into action by the Duke of Wellington.

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The 2/59th Regiment – Escaped death at Waterloo (but not for long)

In the aftermath of Napoleon’s final defeat, peace and subsequent demobilisation – the 2/59th sailed back to Dover, making the short journey to Ramsgate, for embarkation upon the Sea Horse which was commissioned to return them to barracks in Ireland. The full story of what happened to the 2/59th is recounted by the Lancashire Infantry Museum. It reveals that Sea Horse was one of a convoy of ships wrecked along the Irish coast that fateful night – raising the overall death toll in this regiment to 550 souls.Their account highlights one important event – in itself a tragedy – but which triggered the horrendous loss that ensued:

At 4pm Ballycotton Island was seen at about 12 miles distance. On board the Sea Horse, the Mate, John Sullivan, who was the only person aboard with knowledge of the approaching coast, climbed the foremast to spy out the land, but he fell, breaking his legs and arms. He died three hours later in his wife’s arms; a loss of local knowledge which was to have tragic consequences for his ship….

Local knowledge was indeed essential because the treacherous bay of Tramore could easily be mistaken for the calm waters of the Waterford Estuary – which lay just east of where the Sea Horse ultimately foundered

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Shipwrecks were almost daily reported in the early C19

Contemporary newspaper reportage of what was at that time (and perhaps until the sinking of the Lusitania) Ireland’s worst maritime disaster, was scant. All I could find was a report in the Morning Post (6th February 1816)

The transport Sea Horse sailed from a port in England a few days ago bound for Waterford or Cork, with a large detachment of the 59th Regiment, consisting of about 16 officers, 287 men, 33 women and 31 children… On the morning of the 30th ult the vessel was driven into Tramore Bay by a desperate gale from the south. The severity of the weather had compelled her to cut her mizen mast, before she came within the bay… she continued beating off with a view to get around Brownstown Head, and thus to reach the harbour in safety, but totally without effect. The top fore-mast fell, killed the mate, and broke the leg of one of the seamen. Two anchors were thrown out but these were dragged by the violence of the storm, and rendered totally unavailing. The vessel was then driven forward, within half a mile of the shore, in presence of hundreds of people, who could give the unhappy persons on board no aid. It was low water at the time, about one pm, which on such a beach, rendered every chance of escape almost utterly hopeless. Much of them on board then retired below, and resigned themselves to their awful and impending fate. The vessel struck upon the sands… and in a few minutes went entirely to pieces. There were 363 drowned and only 31 saved… One of the [surviving] officers clung onto something belonging to the ship… had nearly abandoned himself to his fate, when a countryman rushed into the sea, at the peril of his life, and rescued the stranger from death… It was not within the compass of human power to prevent the sad catastrophe..

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363 lives were lost in Tramore Bay

Captain Gibbs was one of the few survivors and later wrote a full narrative of events. He said of his fellow passengers

There was no disturbance amongst them, most were saying prayers, women were heard encouraging husbands to die with them, and a sergeant’s wife, with three children clasped in her arms, resigned herself to her fate, between decks.

Children fared worst of all, for many had been placed in trunks by their parents in futile hope they might float to safety. One large chest was later recovered containing the bodies of 4 tots – another child was found in the arms of his father who had refused to give him up to save his own skin. Corporal Malone (a survivor) found his son amongst many bodies piled upon the shore, and he removed his shirt to wrap the naked boy for burial.

Christ Church Tramore

Sea Horse Memorial in Christ Church, Tramore

For those left behind, the human cost can perhaps best be summed up via this advertisement from the Morning Post (February 10th 1816), which reveals the awful situation to which one widow was plunged. If only I had a time machine to help the family of ship’s carpenter Russell from Rotherhithe, who had only recently joined the Sea Horse crew and by his death left a wife and 6 children

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An uncertain fate awaited the bereaved families

To conclude, I have to say that I felt a immense pride and admiration for the people of Waterford when I learned how much this awful event is woven into their cultural history, and how fitting and respectful their hard work to memorialise the victims has been. As for me, I now understand why the Sea Horse logo so aptly befits Tramore – and I’ve finally realised that the ‘corporate’ bigwigs I believed responsible for the Metal Man – were in fact Lloyds of London who erected these maritime beacons in 1823 on the orders of the Admiralty in London, as a direct consequence of the Sea Horse disaster.

metal man tramore

So, if you are ever in Ireland and fancy a day out – why not go down to Tramore and see for yourself their heartfelt recognition for the loss of 363 souls who might, in a less tolerant society, have been disdained as soldiers from an army of occupation – rather than desperately sad victims of mother nature’s wrath.

 

For Further Information

Ivan Fitzgerald’s Blogspot is absolutely the best resource for information on the Sea Horse – not least for this 1820s poem lamenting the loss of life in Tramore Bay

tramore poem

For information as to where the wreck of the Sea Horse rests visit Wreck Site, or you might like the Sea Horse Commemoration Facebook Page. James Donahue has written a great piece on why the Sea Horse tragedy still resonates today

The Sea Horse Tramore Blog is a voluntary group comprising of various local bodies in Tramore dedicated to the memory of this event, and the Waterford Chamber of Commerce considers it to have ‘left a lasting mark upon the people of Tramore’

I have strayed off usual territory a bit here, but if your interest is The Battle of Waterloo, you might like to read about Wellington and Fitzroy Somerset or the history of the Waterloo Medal. Or if you are more of a landlubber like me, some information on London stagecoaches might be in order

 

6 Reasons why France should salute the Iron Duke

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With the celebrations of the bicenntenial of Waterloo almost upon us, it obvious that France should commemorate the end of Napoleon’s fascinating rule rather than focussing on what was a decisive military defeat. However it should not follow that the Duke of Wellington should be portayed as the ‘baddie’ responsible for drawing the curtain down upon one of the most exciting periods in French history. To do so would be an injustice to the Iron Duke given that he was a confirmed Francophile – whose dispute was directly with Napoleon, and concern for the French citizens was always paramount.

wellington at waterloo

The recent creeping campaign to undermine Wellington’s role at Waterloo is, to me, bad enough. But the attendent lack of recognition for his important role in PROTECTING France both during and after the conflict is a step too far.

Thus I have drawn up six brief reasons why Wellington ought to receive some grudging Gallic recognition

1. Military Training

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Arthur learned his trade in France

Anyone familiar with the life and career of the Duke of Wellington will know that at the age of 16  (when simply known as Arthur Wellesley) he enrolled at the French Royal Academy of Equitation in Angers. It was in France that Arthur first showed any signs of talent. At Angers Arthur learned equestrian skills and became very fluent in French, which was to serve him well in future. Crucially Arthur met fellow students, some of whom were victims of the French Reign of Terror – others who rose through the ranks to fight against him under Napoleon – he never forgot the friendships made or the bonds he felt towards France

2. Wellington the Francophile

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Wellington adored French art and furnishings

Wellington’s love for the French people extended way beyond the ties of personal friendships. For he was also a great admirer of French culture, and particularly its art and furnishings. Whilst Napoleon was exiled to Elba in 1814 Wellington was in Paris – not lording it over the people, but negotiating fair prices to buy works of art including French Buhl furnishings. He set an example by not acting as the commander of an army in occupation, but immersing himself into the cut and thrust of Parisian life and becoming a consumer – paying the going rate without quibble.

3. Military Campaign in France 1813-14

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Wellington’s civilised entry into Toulouse, 1814

Towards the end of the Peninsular War in 1813 Wellington went to great lengths to ensure his armies pouring into France acted with absolute decorum towards the peasantry. Anything taken was always paid for, crops were not trampled down, and the British-led army refrained from hostilities expected from any invading army.

4. After the Battle of Waterloo

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Horrific aftermath of Waterloo

Anyone who thinks that Wellington lacked emotion towards his troops would be well advised to read the correspondence of Thomas Creevey (1768-1838), better known as the Creevey Papers. Though Creevey was not a fan of Wellington, he describes the Iron Duke returning to the fields of Waterloo and Quatre Bas in the days following the battle to aid and assist French and Allied troops alike. Wellington is horrified to find one French soldier unattended and went to his aid – apologising for his situation and calling for medical assistance. The pain Wellington felt for Waterloo encompassed all participants; he never demonised the French.

5. Respect for the enemy

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Wellington could not stop Bourbon vengeance : Marshall Ney

Throughout the Peninsular War Wellington held a more than healthy respect for French generals opposing him in the field. To those who claim that Wellington was over-cautious it might be argued that he was wise to avoid meeting renowned military leaders –  unless it was on his own terms. One such general, Marshall Ney, survived to rejoin Napoleon at Waterloo – having been retained by the restored Bourbon monarchy. After Waterloo the Bourbons decided to make an example of Ney. When Wellington heard he went to great lengths to appeal for clemency, but the King refused to speak with Wellington – & Ney was executed by firing squad. His death divided opinion in France, but showed Wellington to be a man of honour. The Duke’s respect for the enemy went right to the top – and certainly cut both ways. For, when his number was up, Napoleon offered to surrender to Wellington only. I have always thought it a shame that Wellington passed up the opportunity to meet Napoleon at this time as I am sure their conversation would have been legendary.

6. Protection of Paris

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The British – a very civilised army of occupation

Perhaps the most important, yet easly forgotten, role Wellington played in the war against Napoleon was by his presence at Paris. Arriving from the east: Russian, Prussian and Austrian armies were intent upon revenge for the many atrocities their armies and people endured at Napoleon’s hands -and it was almost second-nature for ordinary soldiers to rape and plunder the vanquished population. But while Wellington was around, there were be no horrific reprisals. Draconian punishments befell any British soldier seen to undermine relations with their hosts – and this policy was greatly influential in restraining other occupying troops. This ultimately helped to restore good relations on all sides. The Congress of Vienna stands up very well because of this international civility, especially compared with the bitterness and revenge that bedevilled the Treaty of Verseilles a century later.

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The Louvre, Paris c.1815

In some respects it may be argued that Wellington’s admiration for France went too far – for he played a major role in preventing art treasures amassed at the Louvre being reclaimed by those from whom Napoleon had seized them.

Conclusion

It was a good thing for France that the Duke of Wellington saw his task as the defeat of Napoleon and not a vendetta against its people.  Whatever the ifs and buts about his credit for the Battle of Waterloo, the Iron Duke WAS crucial in protecting France and enabling her to restore relations with the rest of Europe. Though the people of France could never love Wellington, I hope at least they can acknowledge that he was not the worst of enemies to have at a time of military defeat.

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Bringing back the Bourbons? – Not so popular there Arthur!

If you have enjoyed this post you may be interested in Wellington and Fitzroy Somerset at Waterloo or to know how Wicked William rated his illustrious uncle.

Find out more about the production of the Waterloo Medal, via Wellington’s brother Wellesley-Pole

For news, views and information on this year’s Waterloo celebrations visit Waterloo 200 or Waterloo2015 – not forgetting the simply splended Unseen Waterloo

If you live in London, why not visit Apsley House and see the Duke of Wellington’s home

Last but not least, I must mention Geraldine Roberts’ book Angel and the Cad, which is launched by MacMillan on June 18th – Yes, the bicenntenial of Waterloo!!  – in which the Duke of Wellington & Waterloo feature heavily.

Any comments or feedback, as ever, would be greatly appreciated. Otherwise tune in for more Wellesley-related articles!

3 Savile Row – Its role in British history

 

Within These Walls: 6 Layers of History

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No 3 Savile Row, Mayfair

Let me introduce you to a Grade II listed mansion house in London’s Mayfair that has recently been in the news due to an unsuccessful campaign to prevent its conversion into an Abercromby & Fitch childrenswear store. Knowing the history of this grand old building it is somewhat ironic to find that an American transformation has materialised. For the truth is that this building has some very interesting and important connections.  Since its construction in 1733 this house has been occupied by people who have helped shape the course of British military and cultural history. Let’s go inside…

1. Admiral John Forbes (1714-1796)

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John Forbes was Wellesley-Pole’s father in law

John Forbes began his naval career at the age of 13 and progressed up through the ranks until he became Admiral of the Fleet from 1781 until his death. This was an era when a great many servicemen returned from war incapacitated, and disability was not considered a barrier to high office. Even though Forbes was unable to walk and rarely seen in society he still managed to exercise overall control of the British Navy – and he did so by holding meeting as his house at 3 Savile Row, where he had lived from around 1760.

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Execution of Admiral Byng (1757)

Forbes most important contribution to British history came when he was involved in the trial of Admiral Byng, who was blamed for the loss of Minorca in 1756. He was tried and found guilty of failing to “do his utmost” to prevent the defeat. When Byng was sentenced to death an appeals for clemency was angrily refused by King George III. Forbes was the only Admiral to refuse to sign Byng’s death warrant though his action failed to prevent Byng’s execution by firing squad on 14 March 1757. Such was the effect upon the public mind that this was the last time a serving naval officer was executed on this charge. Forbes fearless refusal to bow to enormous pressure singled him out as a compassionate man of principle and made him a role model for fairer treatment of naval personnel.

In 1784 Forbes twin daughter Katherine married 3rd Lieutenant William Wellesley-Pole in a ceremony at 3 Savile Row with guests including Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington. Wellesley-Pole inherited the house in 1797 but decided to rent it out

2. General Robert Ross (1766-1814)

ross

Perhaps Wellesley-Pole’s most famous tenant was Robert Ross a famous British general who is best known across the water in the United States. Irish-born Ross lived at Savile Row until 1805 after returning from action at the Battle of Alexandria (1801). He was subsequently present at the Battle of Corruna (1809) before serving under Arthur Wellesley during the Peninsular War. Despite being seriously wounded at the Battle of Orthes on 27th February 1814, Ross agreed to lead command a British expeditionary force to attack the United States

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Hard to believe even today – Britain burning down the White House (1814)

Having routed the Americans at Bladensburg (27th August 1814) Ross advanced into Washington DC where he destroyed all the public buildings including the White House. For this act Ross is perhaps the best remembered of all British soldiers ever to set foot on American soil.

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The death of General Ross

It was not to end well for Ross as he was killed by American snipers near North Point on 12th September 1814. He is buried in the Old Burying Ground at Nova Scotia but has a monument inscribed to him in St Paul’s Cathedral.

3. The Duke of Wellington (1769-1852)

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When Arthur Wellesley returned from 8-years service in India the first place he stayed was with the Wellesley-Pole family in Blackheath, for he was at that time unmarried and had no London home. However, he was to repeat the exercise in 1814 when he triumphantly returned from the Peninsular War following Napoleon’s surrender and exile. It’s very telling that the newly ennobled Duke of Wellington chose Savile Row rather than his own marital home. Imagine if you can the thousands of people who gathered outside, mounting a daily vigil to catch a glimpse of their conquering hero. Wellington remained at Savile Row for a month before returning to Paris.

4. William Wellesley-Pole (1763-1845)

wwp by pistrucci

Wellesley-Pole owned 3 Savile Row between 1797 and 1842. In his role as Master of the Mint Wellesley-Pole presided over the introduction of new silver currency that was to remain in circulation from 1817 right through until decimalisation in 1971.

shilling

The humble shilling must surely be on of the greatest symbols of Britishness. Wellesley-Pole he also helped to create the instantly recognisable St George & Dragon motif designed by Benedetto Pistrucci which is still in use today.

double sovereign

5. The Bowler Hat (1849)

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Quintessentially British – The bowler hat

Perhaps the greatest stereotypical representation of the English gentleman must be the wearing of a bowler hat. No 3 Savile Row can claim the distinction of being recognised as the place where the bowler hat originated. William and Thomas Bowler are credited with creating the first prototype for the bowler hat in 1850, but it is generally acknowledged that the hat was after a design by British soldier and politician Edward Coke, who was fed up with seeing his gamekeeper’s hats continually knocked off by low-hanging branches when out riding. When he was in Town, Coke lived at 3 Savile Row.

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Bowler hats have travelled up the social spectrum

Initially very popular with the Victorian working classes, the bowler hat went on to become standard uniform for middle-class businessmen, and by the 1960s it had elevated to the aristocratic realm.

6. The Beatles (1969)

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On January 30th 1969 the Beatles played their last ever public performance on the roof of Apple Records HQ at No 3 Savile Row. Just a year earlier the Beatles paid £500,000 to purchase the mansion and they are said to have spent the best part of 18 months living there leading up to that famous rooftop escapade.

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Not surprisingly, to this day 3 Savile Row is still considered a tourist attraction for Beatles fans and there has been a steady clamour for a blue plaque to recognise their use of this building.

Conclusion

Whilst researching this post I came across a reference to Lady Hamilton, Admiral Nelson’s lover, stating that she too once lived at 3 Savile Row. But I have not included her in this blog as I can’t see where she would fit in this timeline, unless she rented the property before General Ross. However, I think there is sufficient here to demonstrate that we should hold Savile Row dear not just because of the Beatles, or to keep American tailoring out of this important British fashion location, but because of its connections to everything British: from the stiff upper lip (Forbes), to military escapades (Ross & Wellington), the British currency (Wellesley-Pole), Quintessentially British headwear (Bowler hat), not to mention The Beatles.

In fact No 3 Savile Row has given us a wealth of characters and symbols that mean a lot to our notion of Britishness.

Kier Holdings paid £20 million for the mansion in 2009 but its fate today remains undecided. Who knows what the future holds…

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If they knew their history, these chaps would be wearing bowler hats!

Links

A marvellous set of 1950s photographs showing some amazing interiors of No 3 Savile Row

For more info on General Ross I recommend War of 1812 website

The Daily Telegraph has written a splendid history of the bowler hat

Until such time as Geraldine Roberts Angel and the Cad is published by MacMillan, my main focus on this blog will be Wicked William’s father Wellesley-Pole. There is much to write about Wicked William so stay tuned on that score!

However, you might like to know about Wicked William and the Epping Hunt, or why the Duke of Wellington considered him lamentably idle – alternatively you could always read about the death of a Regency Prizefighter

I hope you have enjoyed this post and would be most grateful for any feedback for any additional information you may be able to provide to fill in the gaps.

The Mint with a ‘Pole’ (1814-1823)

Introduction: How and why Wellesley-Pole became Master of the Mint

Intro | Waterloo Medal | Pole & Pistrucci | The Great Re-coinage | Exit & Legacy

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An outcast redeemed: William Wellesley-Pole (c.1814)

When Wellesley-Pole took up office on 29th September 1814, this was to be the first and only time that the Master of the Mint qualified as Cabinet rank. In this period the Government was dominated by peers with only exceptional outsiders breaking into their elite circle. By any standards Wellesley-Pole’s appointment was unusual. He was neither a peer (nor even a supporter) of Lord Liverpool’s administration – yet he was handed an unexpected seat in the heart of government doing a job previously considered second-rate. So why was Wellesley-Pole brought in from the cold, and what motivated Lord Liverpool to make the role of Master of the Mint a Cabinet position? To answer this we must go back 2 years:-

 

perceval death

Spencer Perceval’s murder: the opening shot in a ministerial crisis

The Battle of 1812

Lord Liverpool came to office in the summer of 1812 in the aftermath of the assassination of prime minister Spencer Perceval. But he did so at the expense of the Richard Wellesley who spectacularly fell from grace after his memo critical of Perceval’s war effort was leaked to the press at the worst possible time:

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Richard Wellesley’s attack on Perceval coincided with announcement of his death

Initially Lord Liverpool proposed Wellesley-Pole to join the Cabinet as Minister for War, which would have put him in charge of Arthur [Lord Wellington]’s campaign in Spain. But the Prince Regent felt placed in an awkward position and refused to accept Wellesley-Pole because ‘he could not reward one brother, and abandon the other’. Heavy of heart Wellesley-Pole wrote to Liverpool on May 21st

I shall ever retain a just sense of your great kindness towards me [but] I could not serve without subjecting myself to difficulties and inconveniences which I am bound by every principle of affection to my brother to avoid.

Meanwhile in the Peninsula Wellington took the news badly, pronouncing himself ‘confoundedly vexed’ that Wellesley-Pole chose to follow his brother out of office, instead of staying and fighting for his place. Wellington’s antipathy towards Liverpool was such that he broke contact with London during its state of flux declaring ‘I will not tantalise you by entering on our plans for the remainder of the campaign.’ Ironically for all sides Wellington’s victory at Salamanca in July 1812 actually served to cement Liverpool’s shaky administration, putting an end to any realistic prospect of Richard Wellesley seizing power.

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Wellington’s victory at Salamanca just about saved Lord Liverpool’s administration

Cometh the hour, cometh Wellesley-Pole (1814)

The main reason Wellesley Pole was asked to re-join the Government was because of an urgent need to improve relations between Liverpool’s administration and the Wellesleys. After 1812, Liverpool’s government was insulated by the inability of opposition groups to unify against them. However, when Napoleon surrendered and was exiled in 1814, Arthur (by now Duke of Wellington) made it clear to the Prime Minister that he would not support an administration that excluded his brothers. The risk of being at odds with the hero-of-the-hour was too great; bridges must be built. So, after his triumphant return to England in June, Liverpool acceded to Wellington’s request to bring Wellesley-Pole into the Cabinet.

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With victories like this, you can ask for anything

On this occasion Wellesley-Pole clearly benefitted from patronage via the Duke of Wellington, but Liverpool’s decision to place him in charge of the Mint was really not a token gesture. In fact it was a pragmatic and eminently sensible move. Liverpool already had a personal association with the Mint, serving as Master between 1799 and 1801. His father Charles Jenkinson chaired a long-running Select Committee dedicated to enhancing Mint practices. Currency reform was vital, becoming more acutely necessary as the war reached a conclusion. Replacing the silver currency required the Mint, the Exchequer, Prime Minister, bankers, and the Prince Regent to work in harmony. The aim was to preserve the banking system whilst it underwent a vital blood transfusion. These unique circumstances may explain Liverpool’s decision to elevate Master of the Mint to Cabinet rank. He knew Wellesley-Pole met the criteria required, having worked closely with him before. Wellesley-Pole was a good administrator, loyal and discreet, had Exchequer experience, and (best of all) commanded the Prince Regent’s respect.

Appointing Wellesley-Pole therefore enabled Liverpool to appease the Duke of Wellington, but it also gave him the ideal person to tackle serious and urgent problems which threatened to destroy Britain’s post-war economy.

The State of the Mint to 1814

In 1787 the Mint began a slow process of modernisation. Jenkinson’s Select Committee examined the state of the coinage and existing working practices. He was assisted by Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), President of the Royal Society – a post he held for 42 years. The Royal Society traditionally exercised control over currency manufacture. The Mint comprised of disparate departments with strict, almost medieval, working practices. The Royal Society acted like a glue to keep these elements working together and to oversee innovation and improvement.

 banks

Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) was to become Wellesley-Pole’s greatest fan

When Jenkinson’s Committee was established, it was so long since silver coins had been mass-produced that Mint employees feared the know-how was lost. Eventually in 1804 a system was perfected for producing standard weights and alloy mixtures. Around the same time, Matthew Boulton invented a steam-driven coining press. He operated from a factory in Birmingham, supplying copper coinage throughout Britain and Ireland. To modernise the London operation a new Mint was constructed at Tower Hill incorporating steam technology, which was completed in 1810.

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The new Royal Mint at Tower Hill

Boulton’s steam press system and use of highly-skilled engravers overcame the problem of counterfeit copper coins. Also an Act of Parliament in 1803 introduced draconian fines for simple possession of fraudulent coins. But forgery of silver currency continued unabated. Up until this time the best engravers only worked on large value coins. No regard was given to the quality of lower denominations. ‘From the Mint’s point of view the manufacture of coin had to satisfy two, and only two, criteria: coin must be of proper fineness and of accurate weight.’ It is little wonder that forgers thrived.

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Napoleon’s brief trip home, 1815

Almost as soon as Wellesley-Pole began his duties, Napoleon escaped from Elba and hostilities with France resumed. During this period Wellesley-Pole asked the Commons to approve the construction of houses ‘to accommodate… persons who had been ‘imported’ from Birmingham, for the purpose of managing the machinery of the new Mint. At a meeting with Banks to discuss new currency designs, Wellesley-Pole was introduced to an Italian engraver named Benedetto Pistrucci, of whom we shall hear more.

The Battle of Waterloo was to present Wellesley-Pole with his first opportunity of proving his worth, and he did not waste it. Tune in for part two to find out how the Waterloo Medal was conceived, the extraordinary speed in which it was manufactured, and its unique innovation.

For more information about this exciting era in the history of the Royal Mint please visit their website or the Royal Mint Museum, whose director Dr Kevin Clancy is a widely renowned and respected numismatist.

If you are interested in Wellesley-Pole, you may be interested to read about his ‘creation’ of Royal Ascot

You might like to know how Lord Liverpool got the better of the Wellesleys (again), or why The Duke of Wellington considered Wellesley-Pole’s son (Wicked William) ‘lamentably ignorant and idle’

Finally, the growing legions of Wellesley-Pole fans undoubtedly wondering why he’s never been written about should be thrilled to bits to know that our hero is very much a ‘best supporting character’ in Geraldine Roberts’ forthcoming book Angel and the Cad : Love, Loss & Scandal in Regency England

Sources Used:

[1] Butler I., The Eldest Brother: The Marquess Wellesley 1760-1842 (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1972)

[2] British Library Manuscrips Add.MSS 37296

[3] Longford E., Wellington: Years of the Sword (London: Panther, 1971).

[4] Craig J., The Royal Society and the Royal Mint in, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, (London: The Royal Society, V19, No 2– Dec 1964).

[5] Selgin G., Steam, Hot Air & Small Change: Matthew Boulton and the Reform of Britain’s Coinage,in Economic History Review (London: Blackwell, 2003)

[6] Challis C., A New History of the Royal Mint (Cambridge: CUP, 1992)

[7] Hansard, 25/Apr/1815