Field Marshal Garnet Wolseley, handwritten letter from Thorold, Canada, 1866
Offering an interesting view of military life and promotion prospects
This is a handwritten letter from Garnet Wolseley (1833–1913), a major figure in the late Victorian British Army, sent from Thorold, Ontario, in 1866 in the aftermath of the Fenian raids of 1866 carried out by the Irish republican Fenian Brotherhood.
The letter is on eight sides on two sheets of paper measuring 18.5 × 11.5cm when folded, and it has been folded vertically, with lighter folds to the horizontal. It is written in black ink on blue paper, with the lion and unicorn crest embossed to both sheets. It is to an unnamed maternal uncle of Wolseley's, living in Ireland (surname of Smith).
In the letter, Wolseley writes that he is back in camp, "Here I am living in a tent again, a state of existence that I always feel most natural to me, even under the greatest amount of discomfort" and that his time may soon be up and he will be on half-pay but the "Regiment's General of Militia Col Macdougall is a friend of mine is thinking of retiring from that berth, and in writing home about it the other day to the Military Secretary he said “he had less compunction in giving up his appointment, since there was in this country an officer so well calculated to succeed him as Col Wolseley.”" and that he is also up for the post of QMG, "I have also a chance of succeeding Col Lysons as Deputy QMG which I should prefer, but as such is an appointment sought after by so many and always given to much older officers than I am, I don't think I shall get it, although I am now writing to Sir John Michel about it, and I know that he would do what he could for me, as he thinks highly of my abilities as shown by his selection of me for commands, a circumstance that is most unusual with Staff Officers". He then talks about his personal life, and on to his cousin (the Uncle's son, initialled GWS) and how he doubts he can help with George's promotion. He did get the QMG position in 1867.
Here is the full text, square brackets have been used where I haven't been able to make out exactly what is written but it's only ever a word or two.
Couple of Observations, Thorold, 1st September 1866. Garnet Wolseley.
My Dear Uncle
Many thanks for your note of the 9th ultima. It always affords me pleasure to receive a letter from you. Here I am living in a tent again, a state of existence that I always feel most natural to me, even under the greatest amount of discomfort, and now that I have everything my own way I am all the better off and more really happy. I must now commence telling you something that I don't want known to anyone for I tell you many things that I never mention to others, not even my mother, as I am always afraid of open mouths and women are not [?? something for reticence?]
As you know my term of service expires here on the 11th January. If I am relieved then, I may be on half-pay for a long time and since nine shillings and sixpence a day is not an agreeable prospect. Well, the ?: Regiment's General of Militia Col Macdougall is a friend of mine is thinking of retiring from that berth, and in writing home about it the other day to the Military Secretary he said “he had less compunction in giving up his appointment, since there was in this country an officer so well calculated to succeed him as Col Wolseley.” of course I don't build upon getting it but if I should succeed I should indeed be fortunate. Having seen so much service and being fortunately so well off in “scandals”, bear a great weight here and would I know ensure my being very strongly recommended for the post by the authorities here. I have also a chance of succeeding Col Lysons as Deputy QMG which I should prefer, but as such is an appointment sought after by so many and always given to much older officers than I am, I don't think I shall get it, although I am now writing to Sir John Michel about it, and I know that he would do what he could for me, as he thinks highly of my abilities as shown by his selection of me for commands, a circumstance that is most unusual with Staff Officers: indeed I am the only instance I have ever known of its being done.
Now upon matters of a more tender nature: I am getting on well – rivals, no where, and every encouragement shown by the ladies relations, which before were my obstacle. They look after her very closely & she never does anything without her confessors advice, so whether I should have a chance or not, I never can decide: difference of religion is the great difficulty – I want her to come here for a few days but I don't yet know if she will – she talks of going to Rome for the winter: if she does I think I shall go also & once there I should have her away from all those who watch her so closely. All our relations would of course like her to go into a nunnery and so have her money – Everybody here thinks I am engaged to her but I am far from being so. However you may rest assured that I will give you early information. I know that I have written so much about self, I must answer you about GWS. I think he has a good chance of it, but as for my doing anything in the matter I tell you [??] that the Popes Bull against this comet has as much influence about that heavy body as anything I could do would be more for his chance of success. You know my dear Uncle that there is nothing in my power I would not do for you, so I am you will not attribute what I say to any disinclinations on my part to serve you. It would indeed be a great loss [?] to give up his A.D.C.,—[?] for such things are not to be had every day. I enclose a note for my aunt which please give her with my best love and ever my dear uncle believe me your attached nephew, G J Wolseley.
Garnet Wolseley rose from shopkeeper's son to Field Marshal. His father, Major Garnet Joseph Wolseley of the King's Own Scottish Borderers (25th Foot), died when Garnet was seven depriving him of being educated in England. He was eventually commissioned into the 12th Foot in 1852, and saw a great deal of foreign service: Second Burma War, Crimea, Indian Mutiny, and the Second China War, which enabled him to display his exceptional abilities. his staff duty in Canada included him being in charge of training camps during the Fenian Raids, and as Deputy Quarter Master General. His reputation was enhanced by this service, added to which he wrote Soldiers' Pocket Book for Field Service (1869) which was an immediate success and remained in print for many editions, he collaborated with Cardwell on army reform, and it is even thought he was the model for W S Gilbert's "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" song from The Pirates of Penzance. His later career saw him in South Africa to repair the disaster after Isandhlwana, and then Egypt in 1882 to relieve General Gordon. Such was his reputation for efficiency that he was the inspiration the army phrase "all Sir Garnet" meaning all is in order.
The letter is in good condition. There is some tanning along the vertical crease of the first side but otherwise the letter remains in strong readable condition.
Further images are available on request.Sold