Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Walker, George Townshend

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

WALKER, Sir GEORGE TOWNSEND (1764–1842), general, born on 25 May 1764, was the eldest son of Major Nathaniel Walker, who served in a corps of rangers during the American war, and died in 1780, by Henrietta, only daughter and heiress of Captain John Bagster, R.N., of West Cowes, Isle of Wight. His great-great-grandfather, Sir Walter Walker, of Bushey Hall, Hertfordshire, was advocate to Catherine of Braganza [q. v.], the wife of Charles II.

By Queen Charlotte's desire, he received a commission as ensign in the 95th foot on 4 March 1782. He became lieutenant on 13 March 1783, and on 22 June was transferred to the 71st, the 95th being disbanded. The 71st was also disbanded soon afterwards, and on 15 March 1784 he was transferred to the 36th. He joined that regiment in India, and served with General (afterwards Sir Henry) Cosby's force in the operations against the Poligars in the neighbourhood of Tinnevelli in February 1786, being placed in charge of the quartermaster-general's department. He was invalided home in 1787, and exchanged on 25 July to the 35th foot. In 1788 he was employed on the staff in Ireland as aide-de-camp to General Bruce. On 13 March 1789 he was made captain-lieutenant in the 14th foot, but, instead of joining that regiment in Jamaica, he obtained leave to go to Germany to study tactics and German.

On 4 May 1791 Walker obtained a company in the 60th, all the battalions of which were in America; but he seems to have remained at the depôt, and in 1793 he went to Flanders with a body of recruits who had volunteered for active service. He was present at the action of 10 May 1794 near Tournay, and served in the quartermaster-general's department during the retreat of the Duke of York's army, being employed on various missions. When the army embarked for England he was made an inspector of foreign corps, and was sent to the Black Forest and Switzerland to superintend the raising of Baron de Roll's regiment. He made arrangements for the passage of the men through Italy and their embarkation at Civita Vecchia, and returned to England in August 1796.

Walker was promoted major in the 60th on 27 Aug. In March 1797 he went to Portugal, and was aide-de-camp first to General Simon Fraser (d. 1777) [q. v.], and afterwards to the Prince of Waldeck, who commanded the Anglo-Portuguese army; but ill-health obliged him to go home in June. He was inspecting field-officer of recruiting at Manchester from February 1798 till March 1799. He then joined the 50th in Portugal, having become lieutenant-colonel in that regiment on 6 Sept. 1798; but in October he was summoned to Holland to act as British commissioner with the Russian troops under the Duke of York. He afterwards accompanied them to the Channel Islands, and so missed the campaign in Egypt, in which his regiment had a share. He took over the command of the 50th at Malta in October 1801, returned with it to Ireland in 1802, and served with it in the expedition to Copenhagen in 1807, being in Spencer's brigade of Baird's division.

In January 1808 he went with it to the Peninsula, as part of Spencer's force. It was one of the regiments particularly mentioned by Sir Arthur Wellesley in his report of the battle of Vimiero. It formed part of Fane's brigade, which, with Anstruther's brigade and Robe's guns, occupied a hill in front of Vimiero, and was attacked by a strong column under Laborde. The French had nearly reached the guns when Walker wheeled his right wing round to the left by companies, poured a volley into the flank of the column, charged it both in front and flank, and drove it in confusion down the hillside (see Fyler, pp. 105–7, where his own account of the charge is quoted).

In the autumn he went to England, and the 50th was commanded by Major (afterwards Sir Charles James) Napier during Moore's campaign. He returned with despatches for Moore, but reached Coruña two days after the battle. He was made colonel in the army on 25 Sept. 1808. In 1809 he served in the Walcheren expedition, at first in command of his regiment, and afterwards as brigadier.

In August 1810 he went back to the Peninsula with the rank of brigadier-general. He was employed for a year in the north of Spain, aiding and stimulating the authorities of Gallicia and the Asturias to raise troops and take a more active part in the war (see his letters to Lord Liverpool in War Office Original Correspondence, No. 142, at Public Record Office). He had persuaded Lord Liverpool to let him take three thousand British troops to Santona, but Lord Wellesley interposed, and the men were sent to Wellington (Despatches, Suppl. Ser. vii. 268). Finding that he could do no good with the Spaniards, and having become major-general on 4 June 1811, he applied to join the army in Portugal, and in October he was given command of a brigade in the 5th (Leith's) division.

At the storming of Badajoz, on the night of 6 April 1812, Walker's brigade was ordered to make a false attack on the San Vincente bastion, to be turned into a real attack if circumstances should prove favourable. The ladder party missed its way and delayed this attack for an hour. Meanwhile the breaches, which were on the opposite side of the fortress, had been assaulted in vain by the fourth and light division; and the third division, which had escaladed the castle, found itself unable to push through into the town. Walker's brigade (4th, 30th, and 44th regiments) reached the glacis undiscovered, but was met by a heavy fire as it descended by ladders into the ditch and placed them against the escarp. The ladders proved too short, for the wall was more than thirty feet high. Fortunately, it was unfinished at the salient, and there the men mounted, by four ladders only. While some of them entered the town, Walker with the main body forced his way along the ramparts, and made himself master of three bastions. Then a sudden scare (the fear of a mine, according to Napier) made the men turn, and they were chased back to the San Vincente bastion, where they rallied on a battalion in reserve.

Walker was shot while trying to overcome this panic and carry the men onward. The ball, fired by a man not two yards distant, struck the edge of a watch which he was wearing in his breast, turned downwards and passed out between his ribs, splintering one of them. He also received four bayonet wounds. He was taken care of for a time by a French soldier, whom he was afterwards able to repay. He was so much weakened by loss of blood and by subsequent hæmorrhage that his life was for some time in danger, and he had to remain three months at Badajoz before he could be sent home. His brigade had lost about half its effective strength, but its success had decided the fall of Badajoz. Wellington in his despatch spoke of his conspicuous gallantry and conduct. On 24 Oct. he was given the colonelcy of De Meuron's regiment.

He was still suffering from his wounds when he returned to the Peninsula in June 1813. The army was in the Pyrenees, covering the blockade of Pamplona, when he joined it on 4 Aug. at Ariscun, and was placed in command of the first brigade (50th, 71st, and 92nd regiments) of the second (Stewart's) division. Stewart had been wounded in the action of Maya ten days before, and in his absence the division was commanded by Walker for a month. He was present at the battle of the Nivelle on 10 Nov., but his brigade, which had suffered very severely at Maya, was not actively engaged. Shortly afterwards he was given temporary command of the seventh (Lord Dalhousie's) division, which formed part of Beresford's corps. At the passage of the Nive and the actions near Bayonne (10–13 Dec.) this division was in second line. It helped to drive the French out of their works at Hastingues and Oeyergave on 23 Feb. 1814. At Orthes, four days later, it was at first behind the fourth division, but it had a prominent share in the latter part of the battle, and in the pursuit. Walker was wounded while leading on one of his brigades. He was mentioned in Wellington's despatch, and was included in the thanks of parliament (see Despatches, Suppl. Ser. viii. 612, for his report to Beresford).

In March he reverted to his former brigade, but in the middle of that month his own wound and the death of his wife caused him to leave the army and return to England. He received the gold medal with two clasps for his services in the Peninsula, was made K.C.B. in January 1815, and knight-commander of the Portuguese order of the Tower and Sword in May.

He was governor of Grenada from 7 April 1815 to 17 Feb. 1816. On 21 April 1817 he received the G.C.B. He was made a member of the consolidated board of general officers, and groom of the chamber to the Duke of Sussex. On 19 July 1821 he was promoted lieutenant-general, and on 11 May 1825 he was appointed commander-in-chief at Madras. He took over that command on 3 March 1826, and held it till May 1831. On 28 March 1835 he was made a baronet, and received a grant of arms commemorating Vimiero, Badajoz, and Orthes.

On 24 May 1837 he was appointed lieutenant-governor of Chelsea Hospital, and on 28 June 1838 he was promoted general. He had been made a colonel-commandant of the rifle brigade on 21 May 1816, De Meuron's regiment being disbanded in that year. He was subsequently transferred to the 84th regiment on 13 May 1820, to the 52nd on 19 Sept. 1822, and, finally, to the 50th on 23 Dec. 1839. He died at Chelsea Hospital on 14 Nov. 1842. He married, first, in July 1789, Anna, only daughter of Richard Allen of Bury, Lancashire, by whom he had two daughters; and, secondly, in August 1820, Helen, youngest daughter of Alexander Caldcleugh of Croydon, Surrey, by whom he had four sons and two daughters.

Walker was a very handsome soldierly man; his likeness is to be found in Thomas Heaphy's picture of the Peninsula heroes.

[United Service Magazine, December 1842; Gent. Mag. 1843, i. 88; Fyler's History of the 50th Regiment; Wellington Despatches; Napier's War in the Peninsula; Jones's Sieges in Spain; Royal Military Calendar, iii. 177; private information.]

E. M. L.