Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Bingham, George Charles

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1415539Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement, Volume 1 — Bingham, George Charles1901Ernest Marsh Lloyd

BINGHAM, GEORGE CHARLES, third Earl of Lucan (1800–1888), field-marshal, born in London on 16 April 1800, was eldest son of Richard, second earl, by Elizabeth, third daughter of Henry, third Earl of Fauconberg of Newborough, and divorced wife of Bernard Edward Howard, afterwards fifteenth Duke of Norfolk.

Lord Bingham was educated at Westminster, and was commissioned as ensign in the 6th foot on 29 Aug. 1816, He exchanged to the 3rd foot guards on 24 Dec. 1818, went on half-pay next day, and became lieutenant in the 8th foot on 20 Jan. 1820. He obtained a company in the 74th foot on 16 May 1822, again went on half-pay, and on 20 June was gazetted to the 1st life guards. He was given an unattached majority on 23 June 1825, and on 1 Dec. was appointed to the 17th lancers. He succeeded to the command of that regiment as lieutenant-colonel on 9 Nov, 1826, and held it till 14 April 1837, when he went on half-pay. During the term of his command the regiment remained at home, but he himself witnessed the campaign of 1828 in the Balkans, being attached to the Russian staff. The order of St. Anne of Russia (2nd class) was conferred on him.

He was M.P. for county Mayo from 1826 to 1830. On 30 June 1839 his father's death made him Earl of Lucan, and in 1840 he was elected a representative peer of Ireland. He was made lord lieutenant of Mayo in 1845, and for several years devoted himself mainly to the improvement of his Irish estates. He became colonel in the army on 23 Nov. 1841, and major-general on 11 Nov. 1851.

In 1854, when a British army was to be sent to Turkey, Lucan applied for a brigade, and on 21 Feb. he was appointed to the command of the cavalry division. It consisted of two brigades—a heavy brigade under James Yorke Scarlett [q. v.] and a light brigade under Lord Cardigan [see Brudenell, James Thomas]. The latter was Lucan's brother-in-law; but there was little love between them, and no two men could have been less fitted to work together. There was soon friction. Cardigan complained of undue interference, and Lucan complained that his brigadier's notions of independence were encouraged by Lord Raglan.

At the battle of the Alma (20 Sept.) Lucan was present, but the cavalry was not allowed to take an active part in it. When the army encamped in the upland before Sebastopol the cavalry division remained in the valley of Balaclava, to assist in guarding the port. On 25 Oct. the Russians advanced on Balaclava in force and captured the redoubts in front of it, held by Turkish troops. Their cavalry pushed onward, but the main body of it, numbering at least two thousand, was soon driven back by the brilliant charge of the heavy brigade (nine hundred sabres), made under Lucan's direction. Owing to some misunderstanding the light brigade remained inactive, instead of improving this success. The Russians retired slowly, and Raglan sent an order that the cavalry should advance and take advantage of any opportunity to recover the heights. It was added that they would be supported by infantry.

Having placed the heavy brigade on the slope of the heights in question, which were crowned by the captured redoubts, and having drawn up the light brigade across the valley to the north of them, Lucan was waiting for the approach of the infantry when a fresh order was brought to him: 'Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop of horse artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate.' From the terms of this order and the verbal explanations of its bearer. Captain Nolan, Lucan gathered that the advance was to be along the north valley, at the farther end of which the defeated Russian cavalry was now drawn up behind twelve guns, while other Russian troops occupied the heights on each side of it. Though impressed with 'the uselessness of such an attack, and the danger attending it,' he felt bound to obey. He sent forward the light brigade, and followed with two regiments of the heavy brigade to cover its retirement. In the course of its charge and return the light brigade was reduced from 673 to 195 mounted men, the two heavy regiments suffered seriously, and Lucan himself was wounded in the leg by a bullet.

Raglan said to him, when they met, 'You have lost the light brigade!' and stated in his despatch of the 28th that 'from some misconception of the instruction to advance the lieutenant-general considered that he was bound to attack at all hazards.' Lucan remonstrated against this censure in a letter of 30 Nov., which he declined to withdraw, and in forwarding that letter to the secretary of state, Raglan found fault also with the execution of the orders which Lucan supposed himself to have received. The government decided, 'apart from any consideration of the merits of the question,' that Lucan should be recalled, as it was essential that the commander of the forces should be on good terms with the commander of his cavalry. He returned to England at the beginning of March 1855, and applied for a court-martial, which was refused. He vindicated himself in the House of Lords on 19 March, and his case was discussed in the Commons on the 29th.

In the camp he was generally regarded as an ill-used man (Russell, p. 348). Though without previous experience as a leader of cavalry in war, no longer young, and with some faults of temper, he had shown himself 'a diligent, indefatigable commander——always in health, always at his post, always toiling to the best of his ability, and maintaining a high, undaunted, and even buoyant spirit under trials the most depressing' (Kinglake, ch. lxv.) The second report of the Crimean commissioners——Sir John McNeill and Colonel Tulloch——reflected to some extent on Lucan as regards the delay in providing shelter for the horses; but he was able to satisfy the Chelsea board of general officers that he was in no degree to blame for this. He had remonstrated against the position chosen for the cavalry camps, because the distance from the harbour endangered the supply of forage, and it was the want of forage that ruined the horses. In 1856 he published his divisional orders and correspondence, under the title 'English Cavalry in the Army of the East.'

He received the Crimean medal with four clasps, the Legion of Honour (3rd class), the Medjidie (1st class). He was made K.C.B. on 5 July 1855, and colonel of the 8th hussars on 17 Nov. He had no further military employment, but he was promoted lieutenant-general on 24 Dec. 1858, general on 28 Aug. 1865, and field-marshal on 21 June 1887. He was transferred to the colonelcy of the 1st life guards on 22 Feb. 1865, and received the G.C.B. on 2 June 1869. When the lords and commons disagreed upon Lord John Russell's oaths bill for admitting Jews to parliament, in 1858, Lucan found a solution of the difficulty. He proposed the insertion of a clause empowering each house to modify the form of oath required of its members, and a bill on this principle was passed by both houses in July. It was thus that a bitter political controversy of very longstanding came to an end.

He died at 13 South Street, Park Lane, on 10 Nov. 1888, and was buried at Laleham, Middlesex. In 1829 he had married Anne, seventh daughter of Robert, sixth earl of Cardigan, by whom he had two sons and four daughters; she died on 2 April 1877.

A portrait of him, as lieutenant-colonel of the 17th lancers, was presented to the regiment by his son, the fourth Earl of Lucan, and is reproduced in Fortescue's 'History of the 17th Lancers.'

[Times, 12 Nov. 1888; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage; English Cavalry in the Army of the East; Kinglake's War in the Crimea; Russell's letters to the Times; Hansard, 3rd ser. vol. cxxxvii.; Report of the Chelsea Board.]

E. M. L.