Torrens, Arthur Wellesley (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 57
Torrens, Arthur Wellesley

by Robert Hamilton Vetch

TORRENS, Sir ARTHUR WELLESLEY (1809–1855), major-general, second son of Major-general Sir Henry Torrens [q. v.] and of Sarah, daughter of Colonel Robert Patton, governor of St. Helena, was born on 18 Aug. 1809, and was a godson of the Duke of Wellington. In 1819 he was appointed a page of honour to the prince regent. He passed through the Royal Military College of Sandhurst, and obtained a commission as ensign in the grenadier guards and lieutenant on 14 April 1825. He was appointed adjutant of the second battalion with the temporary rank of captain on 11 June 1829. He was promoted to be lieutenant in the grenadier guards, and captain on 12 June 1830. He continued to serve as adjutant of his battalion until 1838, when he was appointed brigade-major at Quebec on the staff of Major-general Sir James Macdonell, commanding a brigade in Canada, and took part in the operations against the rebels at the close of that year. He was promoted to be captain in the grenadier guards and lieutenant-colonel on 11 Sept. 1840, when he returned to England.

Torrens exchanged into the 23rd royal Welsh fusiliers, and obtained the command on 15 Oct. 1841. On the augmentation of the army in April 1842 a second battalion was given to the regiment. The depot was moved from Carlisle to Chichester, where, with two new companies, it was organised for foreign service under Torrens, who embarked with it at Portsmouth for Canada on 13 May, arriving at Montreal on 30 June. In September 1843 he proceeded, in command of the first battalion, from Quebec to the West Indies, arriving at Barbados in October 1843. The battalion was moved from time to time from one island to another, but for two years and a half Torrens commanded the troops in St. Lucia and administered the civil government of that island. The sanitary measures adopted by Torrens for the preservation of the health of the troops met with unprecedented success, and were considered so admirable that correspondence on the subject was published in November 1847 by order of the Duke of Wellington, commander-in-chief, for the information and guidance of officers commanding at foreign stations. Torrens declined the offer of the lieutenant-governorship of St. Lucia as a permanent appointment, preferring to continue his service in the royal Welsh fusiliers.

Torrens sailed with his battalion from Barbados in March 1847, arriving at Halifax (Nova Scotia) in the following month. The battalion returned to England in September 1848, and was stationed at Winchester, where, on 12 July 1849, Prince Albert presented it with new colours, which Torrens duly accepted on behalf of the regiment. In April 1850 Torrens moved with the battalion to Plymouth, and in the following year relinquished the command. On 1 Jan. 1853 he was appointed an assistant quartermaster-general at the Horse Guards, and became a member of a commission which in the spring of the year investigated the military economy of the armies of France, Austria, and Prussia.

On his return Torrens was nominated a brigadier-general to command an infantry brigade in the British army in Turkey in the war with Russia. He joined the fourth division under Sir George Cathcart at Varna just before its embarkation for the Crimea. He was at the head of his brigade both at the battle of Alma and at the battle of Balaklava, where he was engaged in support of the cavalry and lost some men in recapturing two redoubts. On the morning of 5 Nov. 1854 he had just returned from the trenches when he was apprised of the enemy's attack from the valley of Inkerman, and, under the direction of Cathcart, he attacked with success the left flank of the Russians, his horse falling under him, pierced by five bullets. Just before Cathcart was struck down by his mortal wound he loudly applauded the daring courage and bravery of Torrens, calling out ‘Nobly done, Torrens!’ Torrens was still in front, cheering on his men, when he was struck by a bullet, which passed through his body, injured a lung, splintered a rib, and was found lodged in his greatcoat. He was invalided home. He received the medal and clasp, the thanks of parliament, was promoted to be a major-general for distinguished service in the field on 12 Dec. 1854, and was made a knight commander of the Bath, military division.

On 2 April 1855 Torrens was appointed deputy quartermaster-general at headquarters, and on 25 June the same year was sent as a major-general on the staff to Paris as British military commissioner; but his health, enfeebled by his wound, broke down, and he died in Paris on 24 Aug. 1855. He was buried in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise, a number of French officers, including Marshals Vaillant and Magnan, attending the funeral, when an oration was delivered by the Comte de Noé.

His widow, Maria Jane, youngest daughter of General John Murray, whom he married in 1832, erected a monument to him in St. Paul's Cathedral.

Torrens published ‘Notes on French Infantry and Memoranda on the Review of the Army in Paris at the Feast of Eagles in May 1852’ (London, 1852, 8vo).

[War Office Records; Despatches; Kinglake's Crimea; Gent. Mag. 1855; Conolly's Fifiana, 1869; Répertoire Historique des Contemporains, Paris, 1860; Cannon's Records of the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers; Allibone's Dict. of English Literature; Russell's Diary in the Crimea.]

R. H. V.