Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Walpole, Robert (1808-1876)

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WALPOLE, Sir ROBERT (1808–1876), lieutenant-general, colonel of the 65th foot, third son of Thomas Walpole of Stagbury Park, Surrey, sometime envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary at the court of Munich, by Lady Margaret (d. 1854), eighth daughter of John Perceval, second earl of Egmont, was born on 1 Dec. 1808. Spencer Horatio Walpole [q. v.] was his elder brother. Educated at Dr. Goodenough's school at Ealing and at Eton, Robert received a commission as ensign in the rifle brigade on 11 May 1825, and was promoted to be lieutenant on 26 Sept. of the following year.

Walpole served during the earlier part of his career with his corps in Nova Scotia (1825–36), Ireland, Birmingham during the bread riots (1839), Jersey, and Malta (1841–3). He was promoted to be captain on 24 Jan. 1834, major on 31 May 1844, and lieutenant-colonel on 2 July 1847, in which year he was appointed to the staff as deputy-adjutant and quartermaster-general at Corfu, where he remained until 1856, having been promoted to be colonel in the army on 25 Nov. 1854.

In 1857 Walpole went to India to take part in the suppression of the mutiny. He arrived at Cawnpore early in November, and commanded, under Major-general Windham, a detachment of the rifle brigade at the Pandu Nudda (26 Nov.). On 28 Nov., in command of the left brigade, he defeated the right attack of the Gwalior contingent, and Windham in his despatch of 30 Nov. 1857 reported that Walpole had ‘achieved a complete victory over the enemy and captured two 18-pounder guns.’

Walpole commanded the 6th brigade of the army under Sir Colin Campbell at the battle of Cawnpore on 6 Dec. 1857. The brigade was composed of the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the rifle brigade and a detachment of the 38th foot. Crossing the canal and moving along the outskirts of the western face of the town, Walpole successfully prevented the enemy's centre from supporting their right, which had been turned by the British 4th and 5th brigades. On 18 Dec. Walpole, with a detached corps of the army, consisting of the 6th brigade with the addition of a field battery, a troop of horse artillery, and a company of sappers, marched through the Doab, captured Etawa on 29 Dec., and on 3 Jan. 1858 reached Bewar, where Brigadier-general Seaton's force, which had arrived already, came under his command. Walpole, with the combined force, joined Sir Colin Campbell at Fathgarh on the following day.

While Sir Colin Campbell made preparations for the siege of Lucknow an attack was feigned on Bareli to keep the Rohilkhand rebels in check, and Walpole was sent with his force to make a demonstration against 15,000 rebels assembled at Allahganj on the banks of the Ramganga river, a mission which he carried out to the satisfaction of the commander-in-chief.

In February 1858 Walpole's force crossed the Ganges with the rest of the army into Oudh on the way to the siege of Lucknow, at which Walpole commanded the third division, comprising the 5th and 6th brigades. He occupied the Dilkusha position on 4 March, and moved under Outram across the Gumti early on the morning of the 6th to take the enemy in reverse. On the evening of the same day he encamped about four miles from and facing the city. On 9 March, after a heavy cannonade, he attacked the enemy's left, driving the rebels to the river and joining the British left at the Badshah Bagh. On the 11th Walpole gained a position commanding the iron bridge. He surprised and captured the camp of Hashmat Ali Chaodri of Sandila, together with that of the mutinous 15th irregulars, and took their standards and two guns. He retained the positions he occupied, and kept up an enfilading fire, raking the positions which the commander-in-chief was assailing on the other side of the river. When Outram entered Lucknow on the 16th, Walpole was left to watch the iron and stone bridge, and repulsed a strong attack made upon his pickets.

After the capture of Lucknow Walpole was sent in command of a division, consisting of the 9th lancers, the 2nd Punjab cavalry, the 42nd, 79th, and 93rd highlanders, the 4th Punjab rifles, two troops of horse artillery, two 18-pounder guns, two 8-inch howitzers, and some engineers, to march through Rohilkhand. He left Lucknow on 7 April, and on the 15th attacked Fort Ruiya, and was repulsed with considerable loss, although the enemy evacuated the fort the same night. Walpole's conduct of this operation has been severely censured, and Malleson, in his ‘History of the Indian Mutiny,’ not only asserts that the second in command, brigadier Adrian Hope, who was killed in the attack, had no confidence in his chief, but that Walpole was altogether incompetent as a general in command. There is no evidence for either of these assertions; Walpole was not a great commander, but the strictures passed upon him were undeserved. On the occasion in question Walpole undervalued his enemy, and in consequence many valuable lives were lost; but the commander-in-chief was fully cognisant of all that took place, and, so far from withdrawing from Walpole his confidence, he continued to employ him in positions of trust and in important commands. Walpole reached Sirsa on 22 April, and defeated the rebels at Allahganj, capturing four guns. On the 27th he was joined by the commander-in-chief, marched on Shahjahanpur, which, on the 30th, they found evacuated by the enemy, and pushed on without opposition, reaching Miranpur Katra on 3 May. Walpole commanded the troops under Lord Clyde at the battle of Bareli on 5 May, when he was wounded by a sabre cut, and his horse was also wounded in three places. He commanded the Rohilkhand division from 1858 to 1860, and commanded in person at the fight of Maler Ghat on the river Sarda on 15 Jan. 1859, when, with 360 men, 60 only of whom were Europeans, he entirely defeated 2,500 of the enemy and took two guns.

For his services in the Indian mutiny Walpole received the medal with clasp for Lucknow; he was made first a companion, and then a knight commander, of the order of the Bath, military division, and he received the thanks of parliament. In 1861 he commanded the Lucknow division, but in the same year was transferred to the command of the infantry brigade at Gibraltar. He was promoted to be major-general on 30 May 1862; brought home in 1864 to command the Chatham military district; selected to command at the volunteer review in 1865; relinquished the Chatham command in 1866; was promoted to be lieutenant-general on 25 Oct. 1871, and was selected for command at the autumn manœuvres of 1872.

Walpole died on 12 July 1876 at the Grove, West Molesey, Surrey. He married, on 29 Jan. 1846, Gertrude, youngest daughter of General William Henry Ford of the royal engineers. He had nine children. Two sons and three daughters, with their mother, survived him. A watercolour portrait of Walpole, by Alfred Edward Chalon [q. v.] (1826), and an oil portrait by John Phillip [q. v.] (1847), both in rifle-brigade uniform, were formerly in possession of the widow, Lady Walpole of Hampton Court Palace.

[War Office Records; Despatches; Kaye's History of the Sepoy War; Malleson's Hist. of the Indian Mutiny; Shadwell's Life of Lord Clyde; Defence of Lucknow; Grant's Sepoy War; Cope's Hist. of Rifle Brigade, 1877; Annual Register, 1876; private sources.]

R. H. V.