[Sir] Garnet Joseph Wolseley (1833-1913)

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

Life
b. 4 June 1833, Goldenbridge [Golden Bridge], Co. Dublin; eldest son of namesake (Major in King’s Own Borderers/25th Foot); ed. Dublin; first worked as surveyor; commissioned in 12nd Foot, 1852; served in 2nd Burmese War with 80th Foot, and wounded in thigh at Donabyu, March 1853; lieutenant; served with 90th in Dublin; asst. engineer at Sevastopol (Royal Engineers); capt. in 1855; wounded Quarry and trenches; lost an eye, 30 Aug.; sundry medals; among the last to leave Sevastopol; ship-wrecked in Strait of Banka on the way to China; rescued and detoured to India via Singapore at time of Mutiny; served at Relief of Lucknow; engaged in leading actions of the suppression of the Mutiny under Sir Hope Grant, 1857-58; lieutenant-col., 1859;
 
travelled to Canada as special officer, 1861; issued Narrative of the War with China in 1860 (1862); visited America in wake of Antietam, 1862, and met Southern Generals Lee, Jackson, et al.; apologised for General Forrest’s massacre of black American troops at Fort Pillow (‘I do not think that the fact that one-half of the small garrison of a place taken by assault was either killed or wounded evinced any very unusual bloodthirstiness on the part of the assailants’); engaged with Fenian raids in Canada, and appt. dep. quarter-master of Canada, 1867; m. Louisa (née Erskine) of Cork, 1867, with whom one child Frances, issued Soldier’s Pocket Book for Field Service (1869);
 
commanded Red River Expedition in Northwest Territories and Manitoba, bringing with him William Francis Butler among 35 selected officers; in face of Louis Riel and the Métis; appt. adjut.-gen. at War Office, working on Army reform and the raising of territorial regts.; conducted the Ashanti campaign, 1873-74, and burnt Kumasi, after battles of Amoaful (31 Jan. 1874) and Ordahsu; received £25,000 from Parliament; made GCMG and KCB; received hon. degrees from Oxford and Cambridge; appt. Governor of Natal and reduced unrest; appt. to Council of India, 1876; promoted lieut.-gen.; high-commissioner of Cyprus; conducted Zulu War, 1879, in succession to Lord Chelmsford; gov. of Transvaal, and high-commissioner of South-East Africa; quarter-master gen. to forces, 1880; awared GCB, 1880;
 
overcame Urabi Pasha at Tel el-Kabir (Egypt), suppressing the rebellion, 1882; created Baron [of Cairo and Wolseley]; commanded expedition for relief of Gen. Gordon at Khartoum, 1884; created Viscount Wolseley, and Knight of St. Patrick, following his involvement in campaign against Russians (the Panjheh incident - Afghanistan; vide Kipling’s ‘The Great Game’); commander-in-chief in Ireland, 1890; field marshel, 1894; colonel of Royal House Guards, and commander-in-chief of forces, 1895, to be succeeded by Lord Robert in 1905; col.-in-chief of Royal Irish Regt., 1898; goldstick in waiting, 1901; d. 25 March 1913, at Menton, S. France;
 
noted for superior military planning; presumed model of Major-General Stanley in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance (1879); he successfully promoted the careers of Irish officers through “the Ring”; Wolseley is commemorated, inter alia, by Wolseley district in Winnipeg, and by Wolseley St. in Belfast; called ‘the most distinguished living representative of the English in Ireland’ by Froude in his dedication to The English in Ireland (1872-74); his family papers are held at Hove Public Library (UK) and as microfilm (NA, MG 29, E3); he is a sympathetic character in Colm Tóibín’s novel about Henry James (The Master, 2004). JMC CAB

[ top ]

Works
Narrative of the War with China in 1860: To Which is Added the Account of a Short Residence with the Tai-ping Rebels at Nankin and a Voyage from Thence to Hankow (London: Longman, Green, Longman & Roberts 1862), xiv, 415pp.front. port.

Criticism
Frederick Maurice & George Arthur, The Life of Lord Wolseley (NY: Garden City 1924); Joseph H. Lehmann, All Sir Garnet; a life of Field-Marshal Lord Wolseley (London: Jonathan Cape, 1964); Halik Kochanski, Sir Garnet Wolseley: Victorian Hero (London: Hambledon Press 1999). See also articles in Dictionary of Canadian Biography [online] & Wikipedia [online].

[ top ]

Commentary
Juan R. I. Cole, Colonialism and Revolution in the Middle East: Social and Cultural Origins of Egypt’s Urabi Movement (Princeton [1992]), writes: 'Urabi, the supposed instigator of the Alexander riots of 1882, Sir Garnet Wolseley's forces easily routed him at Tel el-Kebir, leaving 10,000 Egyptian dead and just 57 British.' (See review of same, in Times Literary Supplement, 30 April 1993.)

Dervla Murphy, A Place Apart: a Record of Northern Ireland (London: John Murray 1978): ‘In 1855, from the trenches of Sevastapol, a young soldier wrote to his aunt: “man-shooting is the finest sport of all; there is a certain amount of infatuation about, that the more you kill the more you wish to kill.” A nasty confession, all the nastier for being made with such élan. Yet one never thinks ofr that soldier as a gunman or terrorist. He survived Sevastapol, and a lot more besides, to become one of the most eminent Victorians. All his long life he frankly enjoyed killing (preferably coloured) to enrich his Queen's Empire, and his reward was to be made a Field Marshal and a Viscount. / No doubt Lord Wolseley [sic] was in many ways a good chap [...]’. (p.20.)

[ top ]

Colm Tóibín, The Master (London: Picador 2004): ‘He [Henry James] knew the military men in London. He had moved carefully and easily among the powerful, and he had listened with close attention to the English talk about politic intrigue and military valour. As he sat amid the usual collection of rich accessories and old warriors at Lord Wolseley’s house in Portman Square, he often thought of what his siste Alice or his brother William would say if they head the denest of imperial war talk after dinner, the deep [21] and hearty discussions about troops and attacks and slaughter. Alice had been the most anti-imperialist of the family; she had even loved Parnell and longed for Home Rule in Ireland. Wiliam had his Irish sentiments too and indeed his anti-English attitudes. / Lord Wolseley was cultivated, as all of them were, and he was well-mannered and fascinating with rosy dimples and piercing eyes [...]’ (p.22.) Lord Wolseley later rebukes Mr. Webster, the clever young MP who had baited James about his family roots in Bailieborough, Co. Cavan, and who - it is implied - is too intimate with Lady Wolseley, the probable source of his information about the family origins of the American writer. Tóibín writes: ‘When Webster stood up Henry say frm his face that he was flustered, that he had taken Lord Wolseley’s remark about silence to heart. Henry knew, and Webster must have known too, that Lord Wolseley had spoken as fiercely as he was capable of doing outside of a military tribunal. Also, Lady Wolseley’s defence of Webster had come to fast. It would have been better if she had not spoken.’ (p.38.)

[ top ]

Colm Tóibín, The Master (London: Picador 2004) - further [Henry James attends Lord and Lady Wolseley’s ball at Kilmainham, Dublin - Wolseley being the newly-appointed commander-in-chief]: ‘The Great Hall of the Royal Hospital basked in the glow of a thousand candles. There was music from a small orchestra, and waiters moved among the guests offering champagne. The tables were set, as Lady Wolseley had told him, with silver which Lord Wolseley had recently inherited, shipped from Lodnon specially for the occasion [43; ...] Most of the time Henry stood alone, or with another gentleman or pair of gentlemen, observing the dancing, the candles slowly burning down, the gowns and wigs increasingly tawdry in their appearance, the cheeks of the dancers burning red and the orchestra clearly tired. It suddenly struck him that what he longed for now was an American, preferably someone from Boston, a compatriot who would understand or at least appreciate, as nobody present seemed to, the strangeness here. / These were the English in Ireland. This building was an oasis with chaos and squalor all around. The Wolseleys had imported their silver as they had their guests and their manners. He liked Lord Wolseley and did not wish to Judge him harshly. Nonetheless, [11] he wished for the view of an American brought up on ideals of freedom and equality and democracy. For the first time in years, he felt the deep sadness of exile, knowing that he was alone here, an outsider, and too alert to the ironies, the niceties, the manners and, indeed, the morals to be able to participate.’ (pp.43-46.) Note that Tóibín appears to show familiarity with the Froude connection in his reference to ‘the English in Ireland’.

[ top ]

Angus Mitchell, ‘Ireland, South America, and the Forgotten History of Rubber’, in History Ireland (July/Aug. 2008), p.41-45: ‘A number of significant Irish families were involved in the rubber industry. The County Dublin-born Garnet Joseph Wolseley (1833-1913), commander-in-chief of the British army and the most important soldier of the late nineteenth century, was a close friend of King Leopold II of Belgium and collaborated with him in political negotiations and administrative organisation leading up to the Berlin Conference of 1884 [sic], where he lobbied hard in support of Leopold’s claims to central Africa. His younger brother, Frederick York Wolseley (1837-99) emigrated to Australia and develped a sheep-shearing machine that revolutionised sheep-farming there. Returning to England in 1889, he established a factory in Birmingham and engaged Hberbert Austin as foreman. By 1894 the factory had designed the first motorcar, although ill health drove Wolseley into early retirement. Shortly after his death, the machine tool side was sold to Vickers, Sons and Maxim Lt., while the motor side was taken over by Austin and restyled the Austin Motor Co., which later became British Leyland.’ (p.43.)

[ top ]

References
Dictionary of National Biography lists Sir Charles Wolseley (?1630-1714), MP or Staff. in Cromwell's Parl.; Sir Charles W. (7th Bart.; 1769-1846), reformer MP for Birmingham, 1819; Robert W. (1649-97), son of Sir Charles (1630-1714), envoy of William III to elector of Bavaria, 1692; William W. (1640-1697), col. of Inniskilling horse, 1689; defeated tit. viscount of Mountcashel at Newtown-Butler, 1689; took Cavan, 1690; present at Boyne field (1690); Aughrim, 1691; master-gen. of ordnance in Ireland, 1692; brig. of all horse, 1693; lord justice and privy councillor, 1696; William W. (1756-1842), b. Nova Scotia; went to Ireland, 1764; Jamaica and W. Indies, 1773-77; commanded company of naval brigade, Negatpatam, 1781; Fort Ostenberg and Trincomalee, 1782; comm., 1782; capt. by French and released on peace, 1783; Mediterranean, Channel Fleet; appt. rear-admiral, 1804; comm. sea-fencibles in Ireland, 1804-05; admiral, 1819; Thomas W. (?1475-1530), Cardinal. [For Sir Garnett, see later editions.]

Justin McCarthy, gen. ed ., Irish Literature (Washington 1904), gives extract from ‘Sack of the Summer Palace’ from Narrative of the War with China.

[ top ]

Notes
Karthoum: ‘General Gordon rescued Sir Charles Wilson, the officer who reached Khartoum only to find it had fallen to the Mahdi, from Lord Wolseley’s attempt to pin the last-minute failure of the Gordon Relief Expedition on him, and pins it back firmly on Wolseley and his alcoholic Chief of Staff, Sir Redvers Buller [...].’ (John Spurling, review of Michael Asher, Khartoum: The Ultimate Imperial Adventure, in Times Literary Supplement, [27] Jan. 2006). [Death of Gordon at Karthoum, 1885].

The Irish ring: For Wolseley’s correspondence with Francis Butler’s wife and further remarks, see under Butler - infra.

[ top ]

J. A. Froude, The English in Ireland (1895 ed.). ded. to Sir Garnet Wolsley, ‘the most distinguished living representative of the English in Ireland.’

[ top ]

James Joyce cites Wolseley as an Irish general who has served in the English army: ‘If Ireland has been able to give to the service of others men like Tyndall, one of the few scientists whose name has spread beyond his own field, like the Marquess of Dufferin, Governor of Canada and Viceroy of India, like Charles Gavin Duffy, and Hennessey, colonial governors, like the Duke de Tetuan, the recent Spanish minister, like Bryan, candidate for president of the United States, like Marshal MacMahon, president of the French Republic, like Lord Charles Beresford, virtual head of the English navy, just recently placed in command of the Channel Fleet, like the three most renowned generals of the English army - Lord Wolseley, the commander-in-chief, Lord Kitchener, victor of the Sudan campaign and at present commanding general of the army in India, and Lord Roberts, victor of the war in Afghanistan and South Africa - if Ireland has been able to give all this practical talent to the service of others, it means that there must be something inimical, unpropitious, and despotic in its own present conditions, since her sons cannot give their efforts to their own native land.’ [Italics mine; Critical Writings, ed. Ellsworth Mason & Richard Ellmann, NY: Viking Press 1959, p.172.]

[ top ]

Volunteers?: See Ian F. W. Beckett, Rifemen, form!: A Study of the Rifle Volunteer Movements, 1859-1908 (Pen Soerf Military 2007) and publsher's blurp: ‘Lt.-Gen. Sir Garnet Wolseley commented that history would record the formation of the Volunteers Movement as one of the most remarkable events in the century. In this study of the Rifle Volunteer Movement, the author Ian Beckett has drawn from a wide range of primary source material such as official, regimental, local and private repositories. He has been able to put into perspective the Movement within the structure of the Victorian and Edwardian social, political and military affairs from its formation in 1859 to its absorption in the Territorial Force in 1908.’ (Noticed at Pen and Sword Books, online; 08.02.2011.)  The title derives from “The War”, a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson printed in The Times on 9 May 1859 which was inspired by an unfounded expectation of a French invasion in that year, and which is considerd to have inspired in turn the formation of a multiplicity of the rifle volunteers - among which prominently such groups in America in the run-up to the American Civil War. The poem is reproduced The Poet's Corner on The Other Page [online] as well as on the S. Thomas Sumers’ Lint in my Pocket: Artillery on the Ridge webpage [accessed 08.02.2011; see copy attached]. (Irish volunteers are not mentioned in the reviewing sources.)

[ top ]

Portrait: Garnet Joseph Wolseley, d.1913, oil by Carl Sohn, possession of HRM the Queen; see Anne Crookshank, Irish Portraits Exhibition [Cat.] (Ulster Museum 1965); also see also Admiral William Wolseley (d.1845), port. by Martin Cregan [ibid.]

[ top ]