Is this a portrait of Lord Cardigan as St George?

St George slaying the dragon. A portrait of Lord Cardigan?

St George slaying the (Russian) dragon. A portrait of Lord Cardigan?

I would have posted this yesterday but had a technical hitch.

So, yesterday was St George’s Day, and I was reminded of this rather wonderful sculpture on the front of an impressive building less than a mile from me in Southwest London. Formerly the Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum for Girls, it was built by Prince Albert’s Royal Patriotic Fund for the  “Education and Training of three hundred Orphan Daughters of Soldiers, Seamen and Marines who perished in the Russian War, and for those who hereafter may require like succour.”

Quite a number of Light Brigade orphans were sent here, including the daughters of William Bassett, 11th Hussars, Joseph Moore, 13th Light Dragoons Thomas Soames, 13th Light Dragoons, Richard Dollard, 17th Lancers, and George Flowers, 17th Lancers.

The architect was Major Rhode Hawkins, working in an overtly medievalist style. The foundation stone was laid by Queen Victoria on 11th July 1857 and the first phase was completed in 1858. The result was judged to be ‘bold, picturesque and effective’ by The Building News (8 October 1858). The first inmates were received on 1 July 1859.

An early “artist’s impression” of the building when work began in 1857 features not a sculpture but a clock. I haven’t been able to find out when or why the decision was made to substitute St George, or indeed who made the sculpture, but it was a striking choice.


Artist’s impression of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum for Girls, showing a clock on the central tower. Illustrated London News, 15 July 1857.

Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum for Girls, now the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building, photographed in 2010.

Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum for Girls, now the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building. Notice St George high on the central tower.

St George was an obvious choice of image for this “Patriotic” asylum for girls whose fathers had only recently died in the Crimean War – after all, as England’s patron soldier-saint, his martial and chivalric virtues in defence of a maiden in distress were well-known. There is a long and deep royal connection (St George’s Chapel, Windsor; the Order of the Garter. And George also has multiple associations with the “East”: with his homeland, Turkey; with the Crusades to recapture Jerusalem; and possible even with the defeat of Russia, that dragon from the East.

St George saving a maiden in distress. Paulo Uccello, about 1470. National Gallery, London.

St George saving a maiden in distress. Paulo Uccello, about 1470. National Gallery, London.


Cardigan “Taking the Russian Guns” (detail), Thomas Jones Barker, first exhibited 1877. Army Staff College, Camberley.

In short, St George fits perfectly into the medievalist romanticism of the architecture. That said, the living conditions inside were no less “medieval”:

Life for the orphans was extremely harsh. Their work included pumping water by hand from an underground rainwater system in the rear courtyard up to the lead-lined slate water tanks in the towers. They had to launder all the clothes. Their heads were shaved to discourage head lice and they were made to assemble in the courtyards every morning to be hosed down with cold water. The patented warm air heating system failed to work. Fireplaces were added to the staff rooms but no heating was provided to the dormitories.

[, accessed 23.1.2015)]

But is St George modelled on Cardigan? George is almost always portrayed young and clean-shaven, yet this St George is a mature, rather fatherly older man. Moreover, explicit references were indeed made just after the Charge to Cardigan as the inheritor of Richard I’s “lion heart”. (It was Richard who brought St George and his red cross back to Britain.) And of course it’s the trademark moustache that’s surely most suggestive.

Lord Cardigan's trademark moustache

Lord Cardigan and his trademark moustache

But if is indeed Cardigan, shouldn’t St George be on horseback? This is indeed a little odd as almost all previous images (and there many)  depict George mounted. But of course the Asylum would be taking girls not only from all regiments of the army, not just the cavalry, and also from the navy and marines. Surely depicting St George on horseback would have been both too obvious and too potentially divisive? (Besides, the erect St George fits the space better.) Anyway, many subsequent depictions of St George on war memorials (and there are any) after the First World War show him standing erect.

An even more persuasive objection is that Cardigan should have been the last to be chosen as a “father figure” to the girls. He himself had no legitimate children (hence his famous line when embarking on the Charge, “Here goes the last of the Brudenells”), only (according to his biographer John Sweetman writing in the DNB) a number of illegitimate ones. Undoubtedly brave in battle, he was, as Anglesey put it it, also “an insufferable cad… he behaved towards women like an insensitive, overbearing, over-rich, spoilt child.’ [A History of the British Cavalry, vol.2, p.109].

So not such a good “father figure”, then. Even at the age of 65, having fallen badly while hunting and thereafter suffering seizures, his “taste for flirtation hardly diminished…he seduced Sir William Leeson’s young wife, and in 1857 took as his mistress Adeline De Horsey” [Sweetman, DNB]. Cardigan was 60 and the glamorous Adeline Horsey de Horsey (you couldn’t make it up) was twenty-seven years his junior. But his reputation in 1857, while the building was going up, was still relatively intact.

The Countess of Cardigan, formerly Adeline Horsey de Horsey.

The Countess of Cardigan, formerly Adeline Horsey de Horsey.


Interestingly the couple themselves had a pronounced taste for medievalist sculpture – see their bizarre tomb at Deene Church (I have posted more images here).


I have yet to visit, but it would be good to know if there are any explicit references to St George.


Trumpeter James Donoghue: from the Charge of the Light Brigade to a Victorian Black and White “Midget Minstrel” show

Scale model of James Donoghue. (Alexander's Toy Soldiers:

Scale model of James Donoghue. (Alexander’s Toy Soldiers:

I’ve just spent a week exploring the life and times of the Charger 1064 James Donoghue, a Trumpeter in the 8th Hussars. The journey took me to a rather surprising place – the world of the late Victorian “Black and White Minstrel Shows”. Or rather, of “midget” minstrels – professional child performers.

Like so much that gives me pleasure in researching the lives of the Light Brigade, I had no idea where or when the trip would start. In this case it was a brief comment in a letter in which Donoghue claimed that it was he (and not Martin Lanfried or anyone else) who had sounded the Charge at Balaclava (he didn’t, and neither, almost certainly, did anyone else). And that he had been Lord Cardigan’s Field trumpeter throughout the War (he was Colonel Shewell’s).

So Donoghue was making bold – perhaps even ludicrous – claims. But what turned out to be most intriguing was the comment that at the time of writing (1892), James “O’Donoghue” was working as a “drill-instructor, ‘Midget’ Minstrels” in Newcastle.

A letter from James

A letter from James “O’Donoghue” claiming he sounded the Charge at Balaclava (Newcastle Courant, 16 April 1892).

A number of Chargers (including William Pennington, Nathan Henry, and Joseph Doughton) are known to have made something of a living from “personal appearances”, usually in uniform, and perhaps giving highly melodramatic recitations of Tennyson’s poem. Some acted as living witnesses in support of great dioramas and mechanical models of Crimean battles, some joined in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows.

In most cases their participation was the result of penury in later life, but also perhaps the pursuit of a little glory and quite a lot of fun. As one of Donoghue’s obituaries said, having moved in later life from Warrington to the village of Penketh, where he lived in “comparative retirement”, eventually he

…became tired of the quiet life of a village and was engaged by a public entertainer to lecture from town to town on his experiences in the Crimea, in which capacity he was very successful, his graphic description of the dangers and excitement of a military life never failing to interest.

[Warrington Guardian, 21st of November 1894.]

The reality was even more colourful. He had joined  Montague Roby’s Midget Minstrels, a “Christy” or “Coon” show on the lines of the “Black and White Minstrels”. Formed circa 1887, the troupe’s principal selling point was that thy were children and teens (not, incidentally, “dwarves”, as the proprietor often had to stress):

The boys appear in the burnt cork and black hair of the ordinary “nigger” minstrel, whilst the girls are tastefully attired in ordinary short frocks.

[“Roby’s Midget Minstrels”, The Era, 24 January 1891.]

The girls do not, as it is technically termed, “black up,” and for this relief “much thanks,” the blacking being confined to the male members of the troupe. The girls are charmingly costumed in the Minnie Palmer style of dress, while the boys wear Eton suits and extravagantly large white collars. The programme included much the same class of items that generally make up similar entertainments.

[“The Midget Minstrels in Nottingham”, Nottingham Evening Post, 24 November 1891.]

According to R.J. Broadbent’s Annals of the Liverpool Stage, the Minstrels “did wonderful business” in Liverpool for seventeen consecutive weeks from Christmas 1889. Local press coverage over the next few years shows they travelled widely in the following years, including to Nottingham, Halifax, Sunderland, Sheffield, York, Guernsey and London.

A contemporary diary reports:

“there are 16 boys and girls (some about 7 or 8 years old) and they do most wonderful things. Two little girls have most beautiful voices…They sang (the whole troupe) the ‘Anvil Chorus’ out of ‘Il Trovatore’. The best thing was Longfellow’s ‘Excelsior’, which they sang and acted to the life. They had beautiful scenery and everything to make it look real. It looked like a piece of opera. They acted ‘The old Virginey home’ to finish up. So amusing.”

[The Diary of Elizabeth Lee: Growing Up on Merseyside in the Late Nineteenth Century, entry for 2nd of March 1889.]

Programme for a performance of Montague Roby's Midget Minstrels, 1890. James Donoghue was the troupe's

Programme for a performance of Montague Roby’s Midget Minstrels, 1890. James Donoghue was the troupe’s “drill instructor” at this time. Notice the “Grand Opening Chorus” is titled “To Arms! Prepare”. [McCann Collection, Royal Academy of Music.]

It is hard to say exactly what Donoghue did as the Midget Minstrels’ “drill-instructor”, but several of the turns had an obvious military theme. For example, the “Grand Opening Chorus” in 1890 is listed in the programme as “To Arms! Prepare”, which is suggestive. And the finale in 1890-1891, Snooks, is said to have been a humorous romantic sketch involving the heroine’s love for an army lieutenant, on the hunt for an army deserter. Presumably Donoghue, who had been born in a barracks (his father was a soldier in the 5th Dragoon Guards) and had served for more than 15 years, was able to create a degree of verisimilitude to the children’s performances.

James Donoghue treads the boards

But Donoghue’s role was not exclusively in drilling the young actors. According to a number of reports, James Donoghue also appeared on stage as part of the show:


James “O’Donoghue” on stage in Sunderland, 1892.

The Midget Minstrels

…During the evening Miss Freear recited “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” and then introduced Serjeant James O’Donoghue, one of “The Six Hundred.”

[Sunderland Daily Echo, 5 January 1892.]

The Midget Minstrels

…”The Charge of the Light Brigade” is again recited by Miss L.B. Freear, who, at the close, in a few well-chosen remarks, fittingly introduces Sergeant James O’Donoghue, on of the Balaclava heroes, and drill instructor to the Midget Minstrels, who, as field trumpeter to Lord Cardigan on that memorable day, sounded the celebrated charge at which, as the poet says, “all the world wondered.”

[Huddersfield Chronicle, 10 September 1892.]

Some of the local press coverage is quite detailed about Donoghue’s role in the performance, with particular reference often being made to his uniform and medals (“As each medal was named in turn there was a fresh outburst of cheering from the audience”):

The Midget Minstrels in Huddersfield

…Miss Louie B. Freear gave a well emphasised recital of “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” with orchestral effects, and at the close introduced a hero of the charge to the audience in the person of Sergeant James O’Donoghue, late of the 8th Hussars, and now drill instructor to the troupe.

In introducing the veteran – who wore the uniform of his old regiment with the once familiar sling jacket – Miss Freear explained that at the time of the charge Sergeant O’Donoghue was field trumpeter to Lord Cardigan, and therefore sounded the celebrated charge.

On his breast he wore five medals. The first was the Crimean medal, with four clasps – Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman, and Sebastopol; second, the French Legion of Honour from Napoleon III for valour and distinguished bravery; third, the Turkish Medal; fourth, the Indian Mutiny Medal with clasp for Central India; and fifth, the medal for long service and good conduct.

As each medal was named in turn there was a fresh outburst of cheering from the audience, and at the close the veteran retired amid a scene of much enthusiasm…

Huddersfield Chronicle, 30 August 1892.]

Louie Freear in a favourite role, as a

Louie Freear in a favourite role, as a “slavey” (household drudge), photographed in the early 1900s.

Louie Freear in Chinese costume photographed in the early 1900s.

Louie Freear in Chinese costume photographed in the early 1900s.

I have yet to find any images of Roby’s Midget Minstrels, but a number of fine photographs exist of Louie Freear taken about ten years later, when she was still appearing in similar roles. [These and other portraits of her can be seen on the National Portrait Gallery’s website here (accessed 22.4.2015).]

The Midget Minstrels in Nottingham

In the second portion the programme the item most deserving commendation Miss Louie reciting “The Charge the Light Brigade.” Miss Freear’s elocution was all that could be desired, and she evinces good dramatic powers. The recitation was accompanied by the orchestra, some of the effects being quite startling, and at times the instruments were rather too loud for Miss Freer to be properly heard. However, Mr. Kennon, the conductor, kept a watchful eye upon his forces, and the effect was very good.

After concluding the recitation, Miss Freer introduced to the audience Sergeant Jas. O Donoghue, late of the 8th Hussars, who rode in the memorable charge. The veteran, in his uniform, looked every inch a soldier, and he was heartily cheered.

At the time of the charge O’Donoghue was field trumpeter to Lord Cardigan, and therefore sounded the celebrated charge. He wore the Crimean medal, with four clasps for Alma, Balaclava, Inkermann, and Sebastopol; the French Legion d’Honneur from Napoleon III, the Turkish Medal, Indian Mutiny Medal, with clasp for Central India, and a long service and good conduct medal, altogether a fine record.

[Nottingham Evening Post, 24 November 1891.]

So James Donoghue may never actually have sounded the “Charge!” at Balaclava, but he certainly relived the events nightly on the music-hall stage.


I am grateful to Chris Poole for drawing my attention to the Newcastle Courant letter. I am also currently in correspondence with Rowan Gibbs, whose genealogical researches have led him to research  a number of Crimea-related theatrical promotions in the 1850s, such as “Wladislaw’s Mechanical Exhibition of the late War” and “Hamilton’s Panorama”. I hope to say more about these in the near future.

“It was the maddest thing that was ever done” – the Charge from a Russian point of view.


There are many eyewitness accounts of the Charge of the Light Brigade from the British point of view – at least 70 or 80 – but very few from the Russian side. But my colleague Roy Mills has just come across this rather remarkable recollection from a Russian Hussar (“Ivan Ivanovitch”) who experienced both Heavy Brigade and Light Brigade Charges, which was published in The Newcastle Courant in January 1892.*




“We were so sorry for them … they were such fine fellows, and they had such splendid horses. It was the maddest thing that was ever done. I can’t understand it. They broke through our lines, took our artillery, and then, instead of capturing our guns and making off with them, they went for us.

I had been in the charge of the Heavy Brigade in the morning, and was slightly wounded. We had all unsaddled, and were very tired. Suddenly we were told ‘The English are coming.’

‘Confound them!’ we said. My colonel was very angry, and ordered his men to give no quarter. I was lying at some distance with my wound bandaged when I saw them coming. They came on magnificently.

We thought they were drunk from the way they held their lances. Instead of holding them under their armpits, they waved them in the air, and of course they were easier to guard against like that. The men were men were mad, sir. They never seemed to think of the tremendous odds against them, or of the frightful carnage that had taken place in their ranks in the course of that long, desperate ride. They dashed in among us, shouting, cheering, and cursing. I never saw anything like it. They seemed perfectly irresistible, and our fellows were quite demoralised.

The fatal mistake we made in the morning was to receive the charge of your Heavy Brigade standing, instead of meeting it with a counter shock. We had so many more men than you that had we continued our charge downhill instead of calling a halt just at the critical moment, we should have carried everything before us. The charge of your Heavy Brigade was magnificent, but they had to thank our bad management for the victory.

We liked your fellows. When our men took prisoners they used to given them vodka: awful stuff it was! More like spirits of wine than anything else. Your fellows used to offer us their rum in exchange, but we did not care for it, it was too soft and mild. The Russian soldier must have his vodka.

The Russian belief that the British must have been drunk was widely reported at the time – the Charge seemed so gratuitously suicidal that surely no cavalryman would ever have embarked on it unfortified. But it is interesting to see it linked to the sight of lances being waved apparently ineffectually in the air rather than dropped to the terrifying “Engage infantry” position (which meant Lancers were always used in the front line of an attack).

Perhaps Ivan Ivanovitch only saw the Lancers some time after they had arrived at the guns, or had passed through and were milling about? In a melee, the lance was redundant – it was far too long, heavy and unmanageable to be used as a weapon.

(That said, paintings and engravings of the first ranks of the Chargers generally show the 17th Lancers holding their lances in every position other than lowered for attack. See for example, one of the best-known images of the Charge, by Richard Caton-Woodville (1896), above.)

Ivan Ivanovitch also describes how British prisoners of war first encountered the devilish drink “vodka”. But this probably deserves a blog in its own right.


* Ivan Ivanovitch’s account can also be found in Colonel Anstruther Thomson, 80 Years’ Reminiscences (1904), pp.176-177).