Garnet Wolseley

From New World Encyclopedia

Garnet Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley
1833 - 1913
Garnet Wolseley.jpg
Field Marshal Lord Wolseley
Place of birth Golden Bridge, County Dublin
Place of death Mentone, France
Allegiance Flag of United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1852 - 1900
Rank Field Marshal
Battles/wars Second Burmese War
Crimean War
Indian Mutiny
Second Opium War
Fenian raids
Ashanti campaign
Anglo-Zulu War
Urabi Revolt
Mahdist War

Field Marshal Garnet Joseph Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley KP OM GCB GCMG VD PC (June 4, 1833–March 25, 1913) was a British army officer. He served in Burma, the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny, China, Canada, and widely throughout Africa - including his brilliantly executed Ashanti campaign (1873 - 1874). He was instrumental in modernizing the British army and creating it into a formidable fighting force. The British Empire at this time stretched across the globe, and Wolseley saw service on four continents.

The reality of colonialism was exploitative and—until the conquered people submitted to the colonial rule—it was also brutal. What the British called the "Indian Mutiny," was a pure and justified war of independence to the Indians; the Ashanti in west Africa and the Zulu in South Africa against whom Wolseley campaigned were simply defending themselves against colonial domination. And the imperial British grew wealthy at the cost of the colonies Wolseley helped to conquer. On the other hand, Wolseley's military leadership played an important role in the process of knitting together many different people as subjects of the British monarch within the Empire on which the sun never set, and Wolsely played a significant role in establishing what was later called the Pax Britannica. Despite all the ills of an imperial system imposed on unwilling subjects, the British Empire left a positive cultural, literary, legal and political legacy that helped to knit together peoples of different religions and races.

Early Life

Wolseley was the eldest son of Major Garnet Joseph Wolseley of "the King's Own Borderers" (25th Foot.), he was born at Golden Bridge, County Dublin. Educated in Dublin, he obtained a commission as ensign in the 12th Foot of the the Suffolk Regiment in March of 1852, and was transferred to the 80th Foot Regiment of the Staffordshire Volunteers with which he served in the Second Burmese War. He was severely wounded on the nineteenth of March, 1853, in the attack of Donabyu, was mentioned in dispatches, and received the war medal. Promoted to lieutenant, Wolseley transferred into the 90th Light Infantry, then stationed in Dublin.

Military Career

The Crimea

Wolseley accompanied the regiment to the Crimea, and landed at Balaklava in December 1854 and was selected to be an assistant engineer.He served with the Royal Engineers in the trenches during the Siege of Sevastopol and was promoted to "captain" in January of 1855 after less than three years' service. Wolseley was wounded at "the Quarries" on June 7, and again in the trenches on August 30.

After the fall of Sevastopol, he was employed on the quartermaster-general's staff, assisted in the embarkation of the troops and stores, and then was one of the last to leave the Crimea in July of 1856. For his services he was twice mentioned in dispatches, was noted for a brevet majority, received the war medal with clasp, the 5th class of the French Légion d'honneur, the 5th class of the Turkish Mejidie, and the Turkish medal.

After six months' duty with the 90th Foot at Aldershot, he went with it in March 1857, to join the expedition to China under Major-General Ashburnham. He embarked in the transport Transit, which was wrecked in the Strait of Banka. The troops were all saved, but with only their arms and a few rounds of ammunition, and were taken to Singapore; whence, on account of the Indian Mutiny, they were dispatched with all haste to Calcutta.

The Indian Rebellion

Wolseley distinguished himself at the relief of Lucknow under Sir Colin Campbell in November of 1857, and in the defense of the Alambagh position under Outram, taking part in the actions of December 22, 1857, of January 12 and January 16, and also in the repulse of the grand attack of February 21. That March, he served at the final siege and capture of Lucknow. He was then appointed deputy-assistant quartermaster-general on the staff of Sir Hope Grant's Oudh division, and was engaged in all of the operations of the campaign, including; the actions of Bari, Sarsi, Nawabganj, the capture of Faizabad, the passage of the Gumti and the action of Sultanpur. In the autumn and winter of 1858 he took part in the Baiswara, trans-Gogra and trans-Rapti campaigns ending with the complete suppression of the rebellion. For his services he was frequently mentioned in dispatches, and having received his Crimean majority in March of 1858, was, in April 1859, promoted to be a lieutenant-colonel, and received the Mutiny medal and clasp.

1882 caricature from Punch

Wolseley continued to serve on Sir Hope Grant's staff in Oudh, and when Grant was nominated to the command of the British troops in the Anglo-French expedition to China of the year 1860, accom­panied him as the deputy-assistant quartermaster-general. He was present at the action at Sin-ho, the capture of Tang-ku, the storming of the Taku Forts, the Occupation of Tientsin, the battle of Pa-to-cheau and the entry into Beijing (during which the destruction of the Chinese Imperial Old Summer Palace was begun…). He assisted in the re-embarkation of the troops before the winter set in. He was mentioned, yet again, in dispatches, and for his services did receive the medal and two clasps. On his return home he published the Narrative of the War with China in the year 1860.


In November of 1861, Wolseley was one of the special service officers sent to Canada in connection with the Trent incident. When the matter was amicably settled he remained on the headquarters staff in Canada as assistant-quartermaster-general. In 1862, shortly after the battle of Antietam, Wolseley took leave from his military duties and went to investigate the American Civil War. He befriended Southern sympathizers in Maryland, who found him passage into Virginia with a blockade runner across the Potomac River. He met with the Generals Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, and Stonewall Jackson, all of whom impressed him tremendously.

In the year 1865, he became a brevet colonel, was actively employed the following year in connection with the Fenian raids from the United States, and in 1867 was appointed deputy quartermaster-general in Canada. In 1869 his Soldiers' Pocket Book for Field Service was published, and has since run through many editions. In the year 1870, he successfully commanded the Red River Expedition to establish Canadian sovereignty over the Northwest Territories and Manitoba. Manitoba had entered Canadian Confederation as the result of negotiations between Canada and a provisional Métis government headed by Louis Riel. The only route to Fort Garry (now Winnipeg), the capital of Manitoba (then an outpost in the Wilderness), which did not pass through the United States was through a network of rivers and lakes extending for six-hundred miles from Lake Superior, infrequently traversed by non-aboriginals, and where no supplies were obtainable. The admirable arrangements made and the careful organization of the transport reflected great credit to the commander, who upon his return home was made a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG) and a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB). However, it should be noted that the English speaking troops under Col. Wolseley's command in effect laid a reign of terror on Metis families in the Red River, with harrassment, beatings, and threats of death perpetuated by the rowdy and sometimes drunken soldiers.

Appointed assistant adjutant-general at the War Office in the year 1871 he worked hard at furthering the Cardwell schemes of army reform, was a member of the localization committee, and a keen advocate of short service, territorial regiments and linked battalions. From this time until he became commander-­in-chief, Col. Wolseley was the prime mover in practically all of the steps taken at the War Office for promoting the efficiency of the army, under the altered conditions of the day.


In the year 1873, he commanded the expedition to Ashanti, and, having made all his arrangements at the Gold Coast before the arrival of the troops in January of 1874, was able to complete the campaign in two months, and re-embark them for home before the unhealthy season began. This was the campaign which made his name a household word in England. He fought the battle of Amoaful on January 31 of that year, and, after five days' fighting, ending with the battle of Ordahsu, entered Kumasi, which he burned. He received the thanks of both houses of Parliament and a grant of £25,000; he was promoted to major general for distinguished service in the field; and he received the medal and clasp and was made GCMG (Grand Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George) and KCB (Knight Commander of the Bath). The freedom of the city of London was conferred upon him with a sword of honour, and he was made honorary DC.L of Oxford and awarded the Doctor of Laws degree of Cambridge universities. On his return home he was appointed inspector-general of auxiliary forces, but had not held the post for a year when, in consequence of the indigenous unrest in Natal, he was sent to that colony as governor and general-commanding.

In November of 1876, he accepted a seat on the council of India, from which in 1878, having been promoted lieutenant-general, he went as high-commissioner to the newly acquired possession of Cyprus, and in the following year to South Africa to supersede Lord Chelmsford in command of the forces in the Zulu War, and as governor of Natal and the Transvaal and the high commissioner of South-East Africa. But, upon his arrival at Durban in July, he found that the war in Zululand was practically over, and, after effecting a temporary settlement, he went on to the Transvaal. Having reorganized the administration there and reduced the powerful chief, Sikukuni, to submission, he returned home in May of 1880 and was appointed quartermaster-general to the forces. For his services in South Africa he received the Zulu medal with clasp, and was made a GCB (Grand Cross of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath).


In the year 1882, Wolseley was appointed adjutant-general to the forces, and, in August of that year, given command of the British forces in Egypt to suppress the Urabi Revolt. Having seized the Suez Canal, he then disembarked his troops at Ismailia and, after a very short and brilliant campaign, completely defeated Arabi Pasha at the battle of Tel al-Kebir, thereby suppressing yet another rebellion. For his services, he received the thanks of Parliament, the medal with clasp, the bronze star, was promoted for distinguished service in the field, raised to the peerage as Baron Wolseley of Cairo and Wolseley received from the Khedive the 1st class of the order of the Osmanieh.

In the year 1884, the now full general, Wolseley was again called away from his duties as adjutant-general, to command the Nile Expedition for the relief of General Gordon and the besieged garrison at Khartoum. The expedition arrived too late; Khartoum had fallen, and Gordon was dead. In the spring of 1885, com­plications with Imperial Russia over the Panjdeh Incident occurred, and the withdrawal of that particular expedition followed. For his services there, the Baron received two clasps to his Egyptian medal, the thanks of Parliament, and was created a viscount and a knight of St. Patrick.

Wolseley continued at the War Office as adjutant-general to the forces until the year 1890, wherein he was given the command in Ireland (at that time de jure a part of the UK under the Act of Union which had created the United Kingdom but, by the 1880s, had begun down the path to Irish political independence with the policies of Premier Gladstone, in particular the First Home Rule Bill). He was promoted to be a field marshal in the year 1894, and was nominated "colonel" of the Royal Horse Guards in 1895, in which year he was appointed by the Unionist government to succeed the Duke of Cambridge as "commander-in-chief of the forces." This was the position to which his great experience in the field and his previous signal success at the War Office itself had fully entitled him. Field Marshal Viscount Wolseley's powers in that office were, however, limited by a new order in council, and after holding the appointment for over five years, he handed over the command-in-chief to his fellow field marshal, Earl Roberts, at the commencement of the year 1901. The unexpectedly large force required for South Africa, was mainly furnished by means of the system of reserves which Wolseley had originated; but the new conditions at the War Office were not to his liking, and, upon being released from responsibilities he brought the whole subject before the House of Lords in a speech. Wolseley was appointed colonel-in-chief of the Royal Irish Regiment in the year 1898, and, in 1901, was made gold­stick in waiting.

Later Life

Wolseley enjoyed writing and often contributed to periodicals, he also published The Decline and Fall of Napoleon (1895), The Life of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough: To the Accession of Queen Anne (1894), and The Story of a Soldier's Life (1903), giving, in the last-named work, an account of his career down to the close of the Ashanti War.

He died on March 26, 1913, at Mentone on the French Riviera. He was buried in Saint Paul's Cathedral, and an equestrian statue of him on the Horse Guards' Parade, Whitehall, London, was unveiled in 1920.


Wolseley Barracks, at London, Ontario, is a Canadian military base (now offically known as ASU London), established in the year 1886. The site of Wolseley Hall, the first building constructed by a Canadian Government specifically to house an element of the newly created, in 1883, Permanent Force. Wolseley Barracks has been continuously occupied by the Canadian army since its creation, and has always housed some element of The Royal Canadian Regiment. At present, Wolseley Hall is occupied by The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum and the Regiment's 4th Battalion, among other tenants. Wolseley is also the name of a Senior Boys house at the Duke of York's Royal Military School, where, just like Welbeck college, all houses are named after prominent military figures.

Wolseley Avenue is a street in Montreal West, a part of Montreal which was lain out in the early years of the twentieth century.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Kochanski, Halik. Sir Garnet Wolseley: Victorian hero. London: Hambledon Press, 1999. ISBN 9781852851880
  • Maxwell, Leigh. The Ashanti Ring: Sir Garnet Wolseley's campaigns, 1870-1882. London: L. Cooper in association with Secker & Warburg, 1985. ISBN 9780436274473
  • Wolseley, Garnet, and Adrian W. Preston. The South African journal of Sir Garnet Wolseley, 1879-1880. Cape Town: A. A. Balkema, 1973. ISBN 9780869610404

External links

All links retrieved April 17, 2024.

Preceded by:
HH Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar
Commander-in-Chief, Ireland
Succeeded by:
The Lord Roberts of Kandahar
Preceded by:
HRH The Duke of Cambridge
Commander-in-Chief of the Forces
Succeeded by:
The Lord Roberts of Kandahar


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