On 18 June 1815 a battle was raging in present-day Belgium. At Mont-Saint-Jean, some fifteen miles south of Brussels, Napoleon Bonaparte’s French army came up against a coalition under the command of Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington. Napoleon had escaped from exile on Elba one hundred and twelve days earlier and had marched to Paris to regain control of France before going straight on the offensive and leading an army into the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Seventh Coalition was formed to stop him with Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia each vowing to send troops to stop the French Emperor. It all came down to this day in mid-June. On that momentous day Napoleon suffered a decisive defeat and days later his second reign as Emperor of the French came crashing to an end. The Duke of Wellington’s multinational army included soldiers from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Hanover, Nassau, and Brunswick, and together with the indispensable Prussians under Generalfeldmarschall Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, they defeated Napoleon for the final time. Wellington decided to name the battle after the small nearby town where he had set up his headquarters. In doing so, he would etch the word ‘Waterloo’ deep into the national consciousness.
But what does this have to do with Southampton, I hear you ask?
One very tenuous link is that the great-great-great-great-grandson of a Waterloo veteran was born in Southampton one hundred and seventy-six years after the battle… My great-great-great-great-grandfather, Henry Hammond, was wearing the famous green jacket of the 95th Rifles on that historic day as his battalion gave chase to Napoleon’s elite Imperial Guard during the closing stages of the battle. Henry was in one of the two companies of the 3rd Battalion. One of his comrades, Thomas Knight, later recorded an account of the battle in which he wrote:
‘Out of 205, the number in our two companies who had entered in the morning, 172 had been killed and wounded, five out of six lieutenants, and one captain killed, and one wounded.’
Henry and Thomas were very lucky to escape unharmed. Before joining the British army, Thomas Knight had grown up in Somerset where his father had bound him to be a weaver’s apprentice. The only issue with that was the fact that Thomas didn’t want to be a weaver. He wrote: ‘Not liking such a quiet life, I ran off, when fourteen years old, to Southampton, and entered a Shields collier’, which was a type of ship. After that he ran off again to Ramsgate, and then Canterbury, where he worked as a grocer for a while. Thomas said that a number of sergeants had tried to get him to enlist in the army on account of him ‘being always a sharp sort of a fellow, fond of a frolic’, but it was not until ‘two Rifle Brigade men came to the town on furlough. Their green jackets and their fine stories were too much for me; so I agreed to join the third battalion of their corps…’ He was only sixteen.
After their distinguished service at Waterloo, the 95th Rifles became the Rifle Brigade. My ancestor, Henry Hammond, who had joined the 3rd Battalion as a seventeen-year-old in 1813, remained with them until the battalion was disbanded in 1819. He then re-enlisted with the 2nd Battalion and served with them until 1834, when he left the army and settled down near Canterbury to start a family. He died there in 1878 aged eighty-two, some sixty-three years after the battle.
Also present on that June day in 1815 was a man named William Hewett.
William was born in 1795, the third son of George and Julia. George Hewett followed in his own father’s footsteps when he joined the British army in 1762. In 1771 he took part in the First Carib War, a conflict between the native inhabitants of the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent and British military forces and in 1780, during the American Revolution, Hewett took part in the successful siege of Charleston in South Carolina. By 1807 he was Commander-in-Chief of India and in 1813, two years before his son William would take part in the Battle of Waterloo, he was appointed as Commander-in-Chief of Ireland and created a Baronet.
Sir George Hewett retired to a grand mansion called Freemantle Park which was located just outside of Southampton. Some of his children also resided there at one time or another, including William. Sir George died there in 1840 at the grand old age of eighty-nine. Forty years earlier he had been given the colonelcy of the 61st Regiment of Foot for life and it was a coincidence that on the same day he fell ill his regiment arrived at Southampton from India. Sir George had been looking forward to greeting his men on the dockside but unfortunately his illness prevented his doing so. The illness became so severe that his children were called for, and William would have been at his father’s side when he died. Sir George Hewett was buried in a vault in the catacombs of the relatively new St James’ Church in Shirley and the remains of his daughter, Frances, who had died thirteen years earlier in 1827, were removed from the catacombs of All Saints’ Church on Southampton High Street and reinterred with her father in the new family vault.
George’s widow, Julia, continued to live at Freemantle Park until her death in 1848 at the age of eighty-eight. Old age appeared to run in the Hewett family. The family home, which lay ‘only one mile and a half from the fashionable watering place, Southampton’ was put up for auction in the year after Julia’s death and it was described in the Brighton Gazette:
‘… consisting of an excellent residence, of handsome elevation, situate in a finely-timbered and richly undulated park, with beautiful lawn, pleasure grounds, with umbrageous and gravel walks, garden, hot and succession houses and grapery, lake stored with fish, ornamental woods, and rich meadow, pasture, and arable land, enclosed by park pailing, with well-arranged farm buildings. The residence is approached by carriage drive through lodge entrance, and is arranged with every regard to comfort, convenience, and elegance, with numerous principal and secondary bed rooms, elegant drawing rooms of handsome dimensions, commanding fine views, including the Southampton river, a singularly beautiful dining room (the great beauty of the county) entirely formed of choice and highly-polished marbles, library and gentleman’s room, with a profusion of domestic offices, coach-house, stabling, and out-buildings. The whole estate about 117 acres.’
In 1853 the house was demolished by its new owner, Sampson Payne. Payne was a town councillor, a property developer, and a future of Mayor of Southampton. The land was sold to housing developers and as a result the area of Freemantle began to grow as a suburb of Southampton. A portion of the mansion’s grounds survive as Freemantle Lake Park, and if you have ever wondered about the story behind the naming of Payne’s Road, Sir George’s Road, or Hewitts Road (even though it’s spelt wrong), then here’s your answer.
Sir George’s son, William, who would have spent time at Freemantle Park, followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by joining the British army as a teenager. By 1815 the nineteen-year-old was a captain in the 3rd Battalion of the 14th Regiment of Foot and on the morning of 18 June they were positioned on the extreme right of the British line, near the Nivelles road. It was a young battalion, with many of the men under the age of twenty. Many had never fired a shot in anger. Now, after a sleepless night in the rain and mud, these men would face one of history’s greatest military commanders. Hewett himself had only been a captain for around two months, but on 18 June 1815 he donned his red coat and prepared to take part in what would become one of the most significant battles in British history. The gravity of the situation would not have been lost on the young Hewett. If Napoleon could defeat Wellington and Blücher then he would be free to march north and capture Brussels. Whilst Britain and her allies may well have regrouped and defeated Napoleon at a later date, they could not take any chances when they knew a strong France would threaten Britain’s interests both at home and overseas.
The battle began. For several hours Hewett’s battalion were hardly affected by it. At around three o’clock in the afternoon they got the order to advance and so they marched into an open valley in front of a line of French cannon. As they formed a square in their new position they were subjected to a bombardment of shot and shell but despite coming under fire they held their position for the duration of the battle. One officer and twenty-one men were wounded, and seven men were killed. Captain William Hewett made it through the storm of cannon fire and the thunder of cavalry charges unharmed, and as he camped that night near Château d’Hougoumont he would have reflected upon the dramatic events of that day and the history-defining scenes he had just witnessed.
William Hewett transferred to the Rifle Brigade in 1823, swapping his red coat for a green jacket. In 1826 he married Sarah Duff, the daughter of General Sir James Duff, who himself had fought against the French at the Battle of Valenciennes in 1794. Hewett had reached the rank of lieutenant colonel by the time he retired from the army.
The final years of Hewett’s life were spent in Southampton, where he lived at 17 East Park Terrace, part of a row of handsome houses overlooking East Park. He regularly attended services at St Matthew’s Church on St Mary’s Road, a short walk from his house, and there he became friends with the vicar, Richard Hughes. I wonder if Hewett ever stopped for a pint at the Duke of Wellington, a pub which has been serving Southampton’s thirsty townsfolk since 1490? Back in the 15th century it was called Brewe House, but by the beginning of the 19th century it was called the Shipwright’s Arms. Not long after the battle, its name was changed to honour the victorious duke.
On 21 February 1891, General George Thomas Keppel, the 6th Earl of Albemarle died. In 1815, at the age of sixteen, Keppel had joined the army as an ensign – a junior commissioned officer – and at the Battle of Waterloo he had served alongside William Hewett in the 3rd Battalion of the 14th Regiment of Foot. Keppel’s death meant that, out of all the British officers who had fought at Waterloo, there were now only two left. When General George Whichcote died on 26 August 1891, there remained only one.
Lieutenant Colonel William Hewett died at 17 East Park Terrace on 26 October 1891, two months after Whichcote and five months after the seventy-sixth anniversary of the famous battle. He was ninety-six years old. Hewett had been the last surviving British officer to have witnessed the dramatic events on that momentous day in 1815 and his death was reported in newspapers across the kingdom.
His funeral came four days later. A large crowd had gathered on East Park Terrace and at around two o’clock in the afternoon the ‘massive’ oak coffin containing the lieutenant colonel was brought outside and placed on trestles in the pathway of the front garden. It lay there for a while as people covered it with crosses and ‘magnificent floral wreaths’, with one at the front displaying a banner with the word ‘Waterloo’ printed upon it. The coffin was placed upon a hearse and the mourners entered the five carriages that would follow it. A detachment of the Rifle Brigade’s 4th Battalion came from Netley. It consisted of one lieutenant, three sergeants, and twenty-five men, and the medals on the green jackets would have sparkled as they led the procession from Hewett’s home to his final resting place at what we now call the Old Cemetery. Marching behind the coffin were eight officers from the Rifle Brigade’s depot at Winchester. On the way, a carriage belonging to Major-General Sir Charles William Wilson, then director-general of the Ordnance Survey, joined the procession, and they all slowly made their way to the gates of the cemetery. The Hampshire Advertiser reported: ‘There was a very large number of people along the line of the route, anxious to pay a last mark of respect to one who was the last link which connected this epoch with the stirring event upon which the liberty of this and other countries depended.’
On Cemetery Road the band of the Hampshire Regiment’s 2nd Volunteer Battalion (based at the drill hall in Carlton Place) formed in line behind the Netley detachment of the Rifle Brigade. As the procession slowed down, the band began to play the ‘Dead March’ from Handel’s Saul and the men from their regiment lined up on either side of the road, all the way to the cemetery gate. At the gate the Rifle Brigade men lined the path and the cortège was met by Hewett’s friend, the Reverend Richard Hughes, who helped conduct the funeral service. The Mayor of Southampton and a deputation of town councillors attended the service, after which the coffin was taken to the site of the grave.
Sarah Hewett had died in the closing days of 1883 and she was buried in the Old Cemetery. Now, eight years later, her husband was being laid to rest next to her. In addition to the family and friends, the mayor and councillors, the clergymen and soldiers, many others had gathered in the cemetery to witness Hewett’s final journey. His coffin was lowered into the ground but no salute was fired owing to the fact that he had been retired from the military for a long time. Still, the presence of hundreds of soldiers and the epitaph that would be displayed on his gravestone was a testament to Hewett’s fine military career and his participation in the Battle of Waterloo.
Hewett had died seventy-six years after the battle and now, one hundred and twenty-nine years after his death, the gravestone of William and Sarah Hewett still proudly stands in Southampton Old Cemetery. The veterans of Waterloo may no longer be with us, but they will forever be remembered.
Newspapers, various, 1840-1891, Findmypast.co.uk
Census records, various, Findmypast.co.uk
‘The Reminiscences of Thomas Knight of the 95th (Rifles)’ by Thomas Knight, from ‘Men of the Rifles’ published by Leonaur, 2007
‘A Very Pretty Little Battalion: The 3/14th Regiment of Foot in the Waterloo Campaign’ by Steve Brown, from napoleon-series.org
’14th Regiment of Foot’ by Stephen Luscombe, from britishempire.co.uk
‘The Gentleman’s Magazine’ Volume XIII, January to June 1840, by Sylvanus Urban
‘Private Record of the Life of the Right Honorable General Sir George Hewett, Bt, G.C.B.’, published in 1840
‘The Waterloo Roll Call‘ by Charles Dalton
1884 Stevens Street Directory of Southampton and 1887 Kelly’s Street Directory of Southampton, Southampton City Council