Stewart, Herbert (DNB00)

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STEWART, Sir HERBERT (1843–1885), major-general, born on 30 Jan. 1843, was the eldest son of the Rev. Edward Stewart, rector of Sparsholt, Hampshire, by Louisa, daughter of C. J. Herbert of Muckross, co. Kerry. His father was grandson of the seventh Earl of Galloway. He entered Winchester College in 1854, went into commons as a præfect in 1861, and was captain of the eleven in 1862. He was backward as a scholar, but his schoolfellows describe him as pre-eminently a leader. He entered the army as ensign in the 37th foot on 24 Nov. 1863. He became lieutenant on 18 July 1865, and was adjutant from 17 July 1866 to 11 April 1868, when he was promoted captain. The regiment was then serving in Bengal, and from 15 Aug. 1868 to 28 Nov. 1870 Stewart was aide-de-camp to Major-general Beatson, who commanded the Allahabad division. He also acted as deputy assistant quartermaster-general in Bengal from 27 Jan. 1872 to 18 Oct. 1873.

In the summer of 1870 there was an outbreak of cholera, and Stewart, who happened to be alone at headquarters, at once issued orders for the dispersion of the troops into camps. The measures taken were specially commended by Lord Napier, the commander-in-chief, and, having learnt that they were due to Stewart's judgment and promptitude, he employed him in the quartermaster-general's department in 1872–3. During this time Stewart explored some of the country on the north-west frontier.

He returned to England towards the end of 1873, having exchanged into the 3rd dragoon guards on 18 Oct. He had become keenly interested in his profession. He entered the staff college in 1877, and in April of that year, to qualify himself the better for staff employment, he was admitted a student of the Inner Temple, where he kept twelve terms. At the end of 1878 he left the staff college, before the final examination, to go out to South Africa as a special-service officer.

On 26 Feb. 1879 he was appointed brigade-major of cavalry in Natal, and he served in the latter part of the Zulu war. He advocated a cavalry raid on Ulundi instead of the slow advance in force which was actually made. He did not take part in this advance, as his brigadier, General Crealock, was left behind to guard the frontier and the line of communications. Seeing little prospect of promotion, he was seriously meditating retirement from the army; but on Sir Garnet Wolseley's arrival the outlook improved. Through the instrumentality of General Colley, who had heard of him in India, Stewart was attached to Wolseley's staff, and found in him a fast friend. He was mentioned in despatches and received the medal with clasp and a brevet majority dated 28 Oct. 1879.

He afterwards took part in the operations against Sekukuni, as principal staff officer to the Transvaal field force. Colonel Baker Russell, who commanded it, reported that ‘the energy and power of hard work displayed by him were marvellous, and the skill, tact, and temper he showed in dealing with the very various and conflicting elements of which the force under my command was composed, were beyond praise’ (London Gazette, 16 Jan. 1880). From 7 Feb. to 25 May 1880 he acted as military secretary to Sir Garnet (afterwards Lord) Wolseley in Natal and the Transvaal. He was made brevet lieutenant-colonel on 24 July 1880.

He thereupon returned to England, but went back to South Africa in the beginning of 1881, when the Boers of the Transvaal, with some of whom he had been serving twelve months before, had risen to recover their independence. He was appointed assistant adjutant and quartermaster-general on 7 Jan., and joined the force under Sir George Pomeroy Colley [q. v.] at Mount Prospect about 20 Feb. as chief staff officer. He shared in the disaster on Majuba Hill on the 27th, and attributed it to the neglect to make some simple entrenchment upon which the men might have formed. He proposed this, but it was thought the men were too tired, and no collision with the Boers was anticipated. In the rush that took place he was knocked over, fell down the side of the hill, and lay hid in a wood till night. He then tried to make his way back to the British camp, but failed, and he was discovered next day and made prisoner by a Boer patrol. He was well treated, and was released with the rest of the prisoners at the end of March (London Gazette, 3 May and 10 June).

Stewart was promoted major in his regiment on 1 July 1881. He was appointed aide-de-camp to Lord Spencer, as lord-lieutenant of Ireland, from 9 May 1882, but left Ireland on 4 Aug. following to take part in the Egyptian campaign which followed the rising of Arabi Pasha. He was brigade major of the cavalry brigade sent out from England, and when a second brigade arrived from India he was made assistant adjutant-general of the cavalry division. After the victory of Tel-el-Kebir on 13 Sept. 1882, the cavalry was pushed on rapidly to within a few miles of Cairo, largely owing to Stewart's energy, and he was sent forward with fifty men to the Abbasiyeh barracks, outside Cairo. The troops in those barracks at once surrendered, and Stewart sent for the governor of Cairo, the chief of police, and the officer in charge of the citadel, and told them to arrange immediately to hand over the town and citadel. That same night, the 14th, the citadel was occupied by a detachment sent in under Captain Watson, R.E., and next day Lord Wolseley telegraphed home that the war in Egypt was over. Stewart was three times mentioned in despatches (London Gazette, 8 Sept., 6 Oct., and 2 Nov.), and was described by Lord Wolseley as ‘one of the best staff officers I have ever known.’ He was made brevet colonel, C.B., and aide-de-camp to the queen (18 Nov.), and received the medal for Egypt, with clasp and bronze star and the Osmanieh order (third class).

At the close of the war (on 3 Nov. 1882) he resumed his post as aide-de-camp to Lord Spencer in Ireland. He remained there till 17 Jan. 1884, when he was selected for the command of the cavalry in the force sent to Suakim under Sir Gerald Graham. As brigadier from 12 Feb. to 17 April he was at the action of El Teb (29 Feb.), in which the cavalry made some dashing charges, the relief of Tokar which followed it, the action at Tamai, and the advance to Tamanib. He had made a reconnaissance on the Berber road on 22 March, and was convinced that the mounted troops could push through to Berber. At Graham's request he prepared a scheme for the advance, which he was eager to carry out, but the government thought the risk too great. He was mentioned in despatches (London Gazette, 27 March, 3 April, 6 May), received two additional clasps, and was made K.C.B. on 21 May.

He was assistant adjutant and quartermaster-general in the south-eastern district in England from 18 April to 1 Sept. 1884, when he went back to Egypt with Lord Wolseley, to take part in the expedition for the relief of Khartoum. He was sent up the Nile to Dongola to command the troops there, obtain supplies, and organise the camel corps. He arrived there on 29 Sept., and did what he could with the shifty mudir of Dongola. In December the news from Gordon made Wolseley decide to push part of his force across the desert to Metemmeh, while the remainder continued its advance up the river. Stewart was chosen to command the desert column. He was appointed brigadier on 24 Nov., and reached Korti with part of the camel corps on 15 Dec.

As the number of transport camels was insufficient for the stores thought necessary, it was decided to form in the first place an intermediate depot halfway across the desert, at the wells of Jakdul. On 29 Dec. Stewart started from Korti with about eleven hundred men and two thousand two hundred camels. He reached Jakdul on 2 Jan. 1885, having marched ninety-eight miles in sixty-four hours. Leaving a guard there for his stores, he returned at once to Korti. The exhaustion of the camels and the want of food for them delayed his movements, but on the 12th he was again at Jakdul with a larger force. On the 14th he set out for Metemmeh, with about eighteen hundred men, of whom nearly two-thirds belonged to the camel regiments and 135 were cavalry. He had three guns and 2,888 camels. His orders were to occupy Metemmeh, leave a garrison there, and return to Jakdul. A small detachment was to be sent up from Metemmeh with Sir Charles Wilson in Gordon's steamers to Khartoum, not to remain there, but to encourage the garrison by the sight of British troops.

On 16 Jan., while Stewart was marching from Jakdul, the enemy were found to be in force near the wells of Abu Klea. Stewart formed a zereba and encamped for the night, and next morning advanced in square. The ground was undulating, giving a good deal of cover to the Arabs, and fifteen hundred or more of them made a sudden charge upon the left and rear faces of the square. Owing to the lagging of the camels, which were inside the square, the rear face had bulged out, and the men were not in such close order as elsewhere. The Arabs broke in here, and by the time those of them who were in front were killed and those behind driven off, the British force had lost 168 officers and men.

A small post was made at Abu Klea to shelter the wounded, and on the afternoon of the 18th the column resumed its march. Metemmeh was twenty-three miles off, and Stewart hoped to reach the Nile a little above that place before daybreak. But the night was dark, a belt of acacia bush had to be traversed, men and beasts were fatigued, and next morning he was still some miles from the river. Seeing that the Arabs meant to resist his further advance, he ordered a zereba to be formed for the baggage. While this was being done the enemy gathered round and kept up a hot fire, and about 10 A.M. on the 19th Stewart received a wound which obliged him to hand over the command to Sir Charles Wilson. He lingered for nearly a month, and strong hopes were entertained of his recovery, but he himself recognised from the first that the wound was mortal. He died on the way back from Khartoum to Korti, on 16 Feb., and was buried near the wells at Jakdul.

He lived long enough to learn that the expedition had been too late to save Khartoum, though by no fault of his. He also learnt that he had been promoted major-general for distinguished service, and he received with special pleasure, shortly before his death, a telegram of congratulation from the boys and masters of Winchester. In the telegram reporting his death, Lord Wolseley said: ‘No braver soldier or more brilliant leader of men ever wore the Queen's uniform.’

On 19 Dec. 1877 he married Georgiana Janet, daughter of Admiral Sir James Stirling [q. v.], and widow of Major-general Sir H. Tombs, V.C., and he left one son.

There is a mural monument to Stewart in St. Paul's Cathedral, by Boehm, appropriately placed behind the recumbent figure of Gordon in the north aisle of the nave. It is in three panels, the centre containing a medallion of him in high relief. There is also a memorial to him at Winchester, a gateway into the cloisters from the school quadrangle bearing his arms and the college arms, and inscribed, ‘In Memoriam Herberti Stewart.’ His portrait was painted by Frank Holl, R.A., and engraved by D. Wahrschmidt.

[Times, 21 Feb. 1885; Royal Engineers' Journal, 1881, p. 125; Maurice's Campaign of 1882; Colvile's Sudan Campaign; Wilson's From Korti to Khartoum; Cooper King's Story of the British Army, 1897, pp. 390–3; private information.]

E. M. L.