William Crawley Yonge in middle age
WILLIAM CRAWLEY YONGE - A Waterloo Man
If people have heard of William Crawley Yonge it is probably only as the father of the once fashionable Victorian writer Charlotte Mary Yonge. There is a separate article about her on this website
The Yonge's like many gentry families did not produce great figures to grace our nations history books but did produce men excelling in the sphere of
life in which they found themselves, whether as a clergymen, physicians, lawyers, sailors or in William’s case a soldier.
story shows that it is not just the famous that make up the ongoing story of England. His story is of a man who did his duty and lived through one of the most tumultuous periods of English history and witnessed at first hand the great event of the battle of
Waterloo and was involved one pivotal part, the attack of the French Imperial Guard.
He was baptised William Crawley Yonge on June 26 1795, the 8th of 9 children, all of whom survived into adulthood. His parents were the Reverend Duke Yonge 1750-1823 and Catherine née Crawley (who was
of mixed English and Huguenot stock) of Flaxley Abbey, Gloucestershire.
He grew up in Cornwood, Devon, on the edge of Dartmoor, where his father was the rector from 1793 to 1823. The vicarage where he grew
up is still there but is now a private house.
His daughter Charlotte, wrote of his youth:
“Cornwood is a very beautiful
place on the borders of Dartmoor. The vicarage stood on the side of a steep hill with a precipitous bank covered with brushwood and ferns descending to the Yealm. Higher up the stream is a lovely ravine full of rock and wood, the river dashing through and
beyond lies the wild moor. It was a place of outdoor freedom....It was a well disciplined home too. Mrs Duke Yonge was the briskest and most active of women... All her children called her Ma’am."1
He was educated at Ottery St Mary, where the head was George
Coleridge, of the poet's family. and then on to Eton College.
letter dated the 2nd February 1793, which was two years before William
was even born, from William’s father to his lifelong friend Pole Carew of Antony House , Cornwall, comments on the likely outbreak of war. We all know the war with a short break lasted for over twenty years but to appreciate that a solder fighting at
Waterloo was not even born when it began, really brings it home. The letter reads in part:
".... I am sorry to see such formidable preparations
for war, horrid war. I am not politician deep enough to discover what business we have to fight these French democracies. What quarrel we have with them? If we go to war with all the villeins that disgrace human history, I fear we shall have our hands full.
I think we shall contribute to unite the French among themselves.”2.
During his childhood, William would have been aware of the war from an early age, it was part of life and if he did not go into the Royal Navy, then the army was an obvious career for a young man looking for
William fired up by accounts of his naval cousin George
Crawley (who was once locked up in Plymouth Gaol for exceeding his powers as a press gang officer) was originally intended for the Royal Navy but his godfather Sir William Young (same family but the branch using the spelling "Young") who was port admiral in
the early 1800’s at Plymouth persuaded him otherwise, saying that a sailors life was a miserable one.
to join the British Army, was also undoubtedly influenced by the fact that his cousin Elizabeth Yonge had married Sir John Colborne commander of the 52nd Regiment of Foot and his brother Duke had married Sir John's sister.
The war and invasion was very real to the entire family and probably exciting for a boy with a sense of adventure.
“Cornwood was near enough to Plymouth to be affected by the war. During the fear of invasion a store of guineas was kept in the house and everything was ready to send the entire woman into the heart of the Moor. One remembrance that has been handed
on to me is of a ship coming into Plymouth with gold candlesticks taken from a Spanish prize.3
He left Eton at 16 and according to Charlotte, studied mathematics and military drawing under Malvoti. The correct reference is in fact, probably to Malortie de Martemont, a French Royalist émigré who was professor
of fortifications at Woolwich. He was gazetted by purchase as an ensign in the 52nd Regiment in May 1812.
As well as having to have the necessary funds would be officers also had to have the support of the Colonel of the regiment that they wished to join. With Colonel Colborne being very much connected with the Yonge family there was presumably
little problem there!
The 52nd was an elite regiment and as part of the Light Division and there was a unique relationship
between officers and men.
Sir John Moore wrote:
“It is evident not only the officers, but that each individual soldier, knows perfectly what he has to do; the discipline is carried on without severity, the officers are attached to the men and the
men to the officers." 4.
He joined the 52nd outside San Sebastian in 1812. The 52nd only had a minor role
in the attack on San Sebastian, it was William’s however first sight of action.
Charlotte Yonge records in her autobiography, obviously repeating what her father had told her:
“He joined in the midst of the siege of St Sebastian and his first experience of war was crossing a bridge on which the enemy’s guns
were firing. He hesitated to bend his head below the shelter of the parapet and old soldiers had to advise him not to expose himself to danger unnecessarily. He kept a journal dutifully at that time but in dreadful schoolboy writing and with wonderfully little
in it, though the sight of it served in after life to assist his recollections."5.
The journal is unfortunately lost
William was promoted to Lieutenant
29th April 1813. He was to be involved in four battles of the Peninsula campaign Nivelle, Nive, Orthes and Toulouse.
BETWEEN THE WARS
Napoleon’s abdication & exile to Elba in 1814, the Peninsula Army was disbanded. The 52nd stayed in France until 17th June when it left on the H.M.S. Dublin. It arrived in Plymouth on June 28th. On the same day the Regiment marched to Tavistock where it stayed until July 11th, During which time it is likely William saw his parents, and then on to Chatham barracks.
PRELUDE TO WATERLOO
January 4th 1815 his Regiment marched to Portsmouth and took ship to Cork where vessels carrying troops for service in North America, were to rendezvous. Because of contrary winds, the departure was delayed and when news came that Napoleon had arrived in France
from exile in Elba, in February 1815, the ships were redirected to Portsmouth, arriving on March 22nd. Shortly new orders were received and the 52nd sailed direct for Ostend arriving on March 31st.
With all Europe
on the move and preparing for war, even though William would doubtless have had his nerves, it was also probably for a professional solder, the prelude to the most exciting and fulfilling time of his life, a time which he very likely looked back on with nostalgia.
A newspaper report of the time gives a flavour of this.
“The letters from Paris indicate a state of increasing composure, but
those from Rouen, Dunkirk and many other places are full of expressions of alarm and in the latter, the desertions from Ney and Macdonald are calculated as high as 22,000 men It is said among other things that Fouche and Maret have both joined him [ Napoleon]
This we disbelieve but the reports in the South of France are full as confident of his success as those of Paris are of his discomfiture. Last night Brussels papers to the 18th and Frankfurt papers to the 14th were received by express. Movements of British
troops have taken place from Ostend to Furnes to make room for regiments expected to arrive from England.”6.
52nd MARCHES TO WAR
From Ostend the 52nd
marched to Brussels on April 4th, to Grammont on the 7th. and then May 27th it joined other units at Lessines and stayed there until the 16th June.
On the 16th the 52nd were at their morning parade, when orders were given to march off and at 7.30 on the evening of the 17th the 52nd was located to the east
of village of Merbe Braine, in reserve well away from the front line. Merbe Braine has now been absorbed into the outer suburbs of Brussels
In his account of
Lord Seaton and the 52nd William Leeke, a junior ensign & nephew of Mr Bargus, gives the following account:
"Our servants made a bed of straw on the wet ploughed field and all four of us. Yonge and I lay down, and being covered in our boat cloaks tried to go to sleep It was very hot and there was heavy rain I think
it was a little after four, we were ordered to fall in again. We piled arms and remained for the night...... My friend Yonge shared my boat cloak and straw with me and we consequently both of us got very wet"7.
the crisis of the Battle came at 7.00 pm the 52nd were towards the end of the British line on the far left of the French and had played
little part in the fighting.
From about 14.30 the first Prussians
appeared, which helped ease pressure on British left. By 19.00 the French had held Prussians sufficiently that Napoleon felt he could concentrate on British and so he committed his last reserve, the hitherto-undefeated Imperial Guard, to roll up the British
line away from the Prussians. By now the 52nd had been moved up to the right flank of the British front line.
Five battalions of the Imperial Guard were involved. The Imperial Guard separated into
three distinct attack forces. It was with the third attack that the 52nd was involved. The Imperial Guard had been first met by the
British Guards but they were now low on ammunition and had to retreat back to their lines.
Colborne realising that the “thin red line” could be swamped by the mass movement of the Guards, ordered the 52nd to leave its position on the British front line and swing out so it was strung out in a line parallel to the charge of the Imperial Guard. Caught by surprise by the flanking fire and then a charge of the 52nd, they hesitated and retreated.
At the same time with the Prussians appeared on the battlefield in increasing numbers, there was a collapse of French morale and the French retreat turned to a rout. The 52nd advanced across battlefield, they
crossed road south of La Haye Sainte and up to La Belle Alliance farm, which had been Napoleon’s HQ, but was by now abandoned. The battle was won.
THE 52ND SLIGHTED - How History was rewritten
Many commentators then and subsequently have written about the retreat of the French Guard and what caused it but it is instructive to see what I junior officer who was there felt.
In his privately published “Memories of Field Marshall Lord Seaton" which I
had been searching for years and finally tracked down a couple of years ago, in the Newbury Library, Chicago, William wrote:
"Then too, was invented the story of “Up Guards and at them.” It was a piece of gossip picked up in the Camp by Sir Walter Scott, on his visit to
Paris, first appearing in his “Paul’s Letters to his Kinsfolk” and from then adopted by Alison as a historical fact, in truth they never came in contact at all with the Imperial Guards, and were in no way instrumental in their repulse."8.
quotes from a letter written by William Yonge to Colonel Bentham in November 1853.
[Seaton] kept watching the heavy column advancing saw no attempt at preparation to meet it. He said there is nothing else
to do but to endeavour to stop them by a flank attack and that if something of sort not done our line would be penetrated. How is it possible that this fanfaronade of Guards charging the head of this column can have the smallest foundation in truth.
As to Lord Seaton I think there was never a man so ill used.”9.
THE FINAL WORD
William's daughter Charlotte wrote of this issue in her autobiography
“He [Colborne] thought the final exchange would have been fully explained and the honour awarded to the 52nd……. Gossip
has picked up and invented “up Guards and at them”…. But the crisis of Waterloo has become a vexed question."10.
injustice William wrote many letters to the Secretary of War. In one letter he wrote:
While the ensigns of the Guards were made lieutenants on the pretence of the 1st Guards having repulsed the Imperial Guard, the lieutenants of the regiment that actually did the work were made ensigns."10.
of course had a financial consequence for William for an ensign’s pay was lower than that of a lieutenant’s.
ON TO PARIS
Charlotte also recounts
what happened to William in the hours and days following the battle:
“That night of victory was spent in the open field, in the clothes the officers and men had fought in. all the offices luggage was plundered by the Belgium’s during the battle. The only thing ever recovered
was William Yonge’s box empty of all save his bible and prayer book, which was found in a loft in Brussels. His friend Mr Griffith’s found a pony tied to a post, with a saddle bag containing two coarse women’s shifts and this was the only
change of linen anyone had as they marched straight on for Paris. In preparation for entering the City they halted at St Cloud and thee all the officers got into one pond and passed the single razor in their possession from chin to chin.”11
Shortly before the first anniversary of the battle a Waterloo medal was issued to all combatants. In June 1971 William's Waterloo medal was sold at Sotheby's. The Regimental museum could not afford to go
above £200. It was sold to an anonymous private buyer for £236.
In 1847 a General Service Medal was
issued for those who had served in the Peninsula. William’s medal had four clasps for the battles of Nivelle, Nive, Orthes and Toulouse.
ARMY OF OCCUPATION
“They encamped in the Champs E’lysees and the opportunity William Yonge then had of studying the collections of Napoleon’s robberies in the Louvre gave him for life a great taste and appreciation
of art 11.
in Paris, one of the tasks he was given was to be put in command of a detachment given the task of supervising the removal back to Venice, of The Horses of St Mark, which had been seized by Napoleon from that City in 1797. Trouble was feared from the Parisians
but in the event the removal went without incident.
wanted his wife to be, a step sister to Sir John Colborne, to come out to Paris, careful chaperoned by Sir John's wife but his mother in law to be Mrs Bargus was not having her daughter going to Paris chaperoned or not!
POST WAR ARMY SERVICE
William was placed on half pay for an ensign, on the reduction of the Regiment, when it returned from France early in 1818. He rejoined the 52nd on full pay from the 25th November 1818. Then he served for a time with the
17th Regiment in Ireland. In 1822 he gave up active service in the army and then went on to half pay 13 Feb 1823.
In 1847 he completed a report as to his fitness for any future service and wrote:
"I retired at my own request under a Regulation made shortly previous. Permitting Captains of 20 years and Subalterns of 12 years service either to sell their commissions or retire on half pay, receiving the difference' any service
including the two years allowed for Waterloo, exceeding the term required.
consider that my age necessarily renders me incapable to a certain extent for active duty of the rank I held especially as my heath suffered from service in the Peninsula, and I have a hernia which I contracted when on duty a short time before I retired, though
I cannot say that these circumstances amount to a total disability
I have two a daughter
aged 24 and a son aged 17. Neither capable of maintaining themselves." 12.
This was of course some years before Charlotte’s first successful commercial novel, The Heir of Redclyfe which was published in 1853.
MARRIAGE – end of a career
William married Fanny Bargus 25th October 1822 at Otterbourne old church, Hampshire. Fanny was a step sister of Sir John Colborne and William was the brother
of sir John’s brother in law the Reverend Duke Yonge. John Colborne and Sophia Leeke, sister of ensign Leeke of the 52nd, were witnesses.
It was this marriage
which led William to give up the Army. Though his father wanted him to continue his military career, his mother in law to be, did not consider that being an infantry officer, as opposed to a cavalry officer, was of sufficient social cachet.
So at the age of twenty seven this adventurous but punctilious and rather austere young
man settled down to life as a very small scale farmer , medical advisor to the poor as there was no parish doctor, church architect, teacher to his children, helper in the local Sunday School and book collector.
Also he was a J.P for many years and a cornet in the North Hant’s Yeomanry from 1836 to 1840.
He was to spend the rest of his life in the small Hampshire village of Otterborne and only making occasional holiday visits to his Devon childhood haunts.
His daughter Charlotte wrote of his character and life:
“He was grave and external observers feared him... his great characteristic
was thoroughness. Whatever he took in hand he carried out to the utmost, whether it was the designing of a church, the fortification of Portsmouth, or the lining of a work box or teaching his little girl to write....he got on perfectly well with my grandmamma
who was always mistress of the house, when I first remember him... he was employing himself as his active mind, carpentering, gardening and getting the little bit of a farm into order and also acting as parish doctor”13.
It was a life which was probably unfulfilling, giving little scope for his undoubted
energies. Developing the budding literary talents of his daughter was probably a major interest. One suspects that Waterloo was probably seen by him as the high point of an otherwise uneventful life.
His time with the North Hants Yeomanry was not without incident administratively. There is correspondence involved the Duke of Wellington, who was Lord Lieutenant for Hampshire.
"Dec 6 1836
I rec'd with this application
to your Lordship, acknowledgement fee, H.M pleasure the name of W.C. Yonge to be appt'd Cornet in the North Hants Yeomanry. By some accident no commission was signed.
In the meantime the N. Hants Yeomanry was turned out for service. W.C. Yonge did duty with it as a Cornet under the belief that he had been appointed. Pay was drawn for him
and he signed the pay abstracts and rec’d pay for the troop which he did duty.
The War Office have notified
that he had not a Commission and had not been gazetted as an officer in the Corps. Under these circumstances it has occurred to me that the only method to set right the affair would be that we date W.C. Yonge’s Commission as the 25th September before
the Corps was called out.
I could not tale this course without your Lordships knowledge but the mistake having
occurred it appears to me that the only way we can apply effectual remedy to all the inconveniences resulting from it
[To] Lord John Russell 14
Nov 4th 1836
I beg leave to endorse for your Graces signature a commission for Mr Young as cornet in the North Hants Yeomanry Cavalry dated the 25th Sept as authorised by Lord John Russel's letter of the 12 – Mr.
Young is mentioned in Lord John’s letter as a “De Yonge” Esq but should have been named “William Crawley Yonge Esq” which is the way in which I have made out the Commission.
[To] The Duke of Wellington "15.
A problem with the spelling of
the name which members of the Yonge family live with to this day!
With other members of the family he
was, in later life, part owner of the Plymouth Patent Sugar Refining Company. It was not a commercial success and later folded with debts of £44,000. His brother James was always full of brilliant ideas, which never materialised to make his fortune and
William was usually the one to introduce a note of realism into his brother's projects.
Right to the end of his life, in he continued to take
an interest in military affairs. One of his frequently expressed concerns was about the state of the British Army. In his privately published work “Memoirs of Lord Seaton”, he wrote:
"Unfortunately with us [the
British] Officers of high rank are seldom proficient in this [military] knowledge, which is to be acquired only in the full course of regimental duty and especially in command of a Regiment of the
Line. For as staff employment and commissions in the Guards afford the most ready and rapid means of climbing to the top, without encountering much of the labours and hardships of the profession, these for the most part become monopolised by men of interest
and fortune and thus furnish the large proportion of general officers, who early obtain that rank without having had during their progress much opportunity of learning on what the efficiency of the solder and the service really depends; while the promotion
of regimental officers being in the corresponding degree retarded, very few indeed of these become generals until they are no longer fit for active service." 16
Reflecting his interest and training in military drawing and maps (he drew a map of his native village of Cornwood when only 16) he wrote to the then Chancellor,
Gladstone, a paper on need to fortify Portsmouth Dockyard. Gladstone was critical of “Palmerton’s Follies” so not surprising there is no record of a reply. The following extracts give the flavour:
"Excuse for this intrusion and for any presuming to express an opinion on this subject, I have to say that as an officer of the Light Division,
I served in the Peninsula War and at Waterloo, that I was formerly rather an earnest student of Fortification under one of the Woolwich professors and that though retired from the Army, circumstances have occasioned me still to take an interest in it etc, etc.
my letter has "been" into great length, [9 pages] I feel that there is still much that may require explanation and should you deem what
I have said so far worthy of your attention, that you would desire to be further informed, I shall be very glad to have the honour of waiting on you at any time you may be pleased to appoint. I shall be in Town on Thursday and Friday at 48 Cadogan Place, or
I could come up any time next week." 17.
On the death of the Duke of Wellington in 1852 William was among an elite group of old Waterloo veterans who were in the funeral procession. Also there was his son Julian who was in the Rifles
Charlotte Yonge refers to his concerns about Portsmouth,
in her autobiography so one can just imagine military matters and Waterloo in particular coming up in the family circle, which coupled with her adoration of her father, helps to explain why unusually for a woman writer the Army featured so positively in so
many of her novels, that is apart from the Guards for whom she had an abiding dislike!. The Guards Officers are not treated well in her novel Heartsease.
In March 1896, 81 years after Waterloo and 41 years after her father died she wrote to an American admirer.
“My father fought at Waterloo and I grew up with many army traditions from him and his colonel Lord Seaton.”
In her novel Clever woman of the Family published in 1865, perhaps reflecting her father’s attitude
to life, she wrote
“It is the discipline and Constant Duty that make the solder and are far more valuable than exceptional doings.”
From the beginning to the end of her life, Waterloo remained a topic of key importance for Charlotte. It figured in her very first book published in 1839 "Le Chateau de Melville."
Other books she wrote with a military theme were "The Young Stepmother” and “Kenneth or the Rear
Guard of the Grand Army”
William died on the February 1854 of
a stroke just as his son was sailing to the Crimea for a less than glorious involvement in the Crimean War. Among those attending his funeral was Sir John Colborne.
His wife died in 1868. William and Fanny had seven children one of whom died in infancy. They had three sons but there are no continuing descendants on the male line. One daughter
Louisa Alethea married a Henry Bowles and it is believed there are descendants of that family.
R I Yonge @ 2016
1. page 12 Charlotte Mary Yonge Her Life and Letters by Christabel Coleridge Macmillan 1903
2. Cornwall Record Office Pole Carew Correspondence CC/K/23
3. page 14. Charlotte Mary Yonge Her Life and Letters Letters by Christabel Coleridge Macmillan 1903
4. The diary of Sir John Moore quoted by Michael Glover in The Peninsular War 1807–1814: A Concise Military History, David & Charles 1974,
page 20. Charlotte Mary Yonge Her Life and Letters by Christabel Coleridge Macmillan 1903
6. Morning Chronicle 21st March 1815 – British Library 19th Century British Newspapers
7. Pages 15 and 16 Lord Seaton's Regiment at Waterloo by Rev William Leeke Hatchard and Co 1866 Vol 1
8. Newbery Library, Chicago Ref U045.975
Page 102 of Lord Seaton’s Regiment at Waterloo by Rev William Leeke published 1866
10. page 25 Charlotte
Mary Yonge Her Life and Letters by Christabel Coleridge Macmillan 1903
11 pages 25-26 Charlotte Mary Yonge
Her Life and Letters by Christabel Coleridge Macmillan 1903
12. National Archives Services of Retired Officers
Returns WO 25/823
13. pages 52-53 Charlotte Mary Yonge Her Life and Letters by Christabel Coleridge Macmillan
14. University of Southampton Wellington Archives 7 7/2/45
15. University of Southampton Wellington Archives 7 7/2/58
16 Newbery Library, Chicago Ref U045.975
Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre Sir William Heathcote (with letter from W C Yonge) to William Gladstone 2057/F8/111/A/72