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The nearest run thing you ever saw: the Battle of Waterloo


A Gurkha soldier in uniform, holding a rifle, with mountains in the backgroundA Gurkha soldierThe end of the Napoleonic Wars ushered in a period of almost a century in which, with one or two exceptions, Britain, enjoying complete security from invasion by virtue of its naval supremacy, abstained from active involvement in European wars. Outside Europe, however, Britain showed less hesitation in deploying its armed forces, both to expand the boundaries of its own empire and to thwart the imperial ambitions of its European rivals. 

Two years after Waterloo British forces were in action once more, this time in India. The brief Third Anglo-Maratha War (following earlier such conflicts in 1775-82 and 1802-5) sealed the British East India Company’s domination of the Indian sub-continent, effectively ending the 144-year rule of the Hindu Maratha Empire.   

The image featured here is from an account of this conflict and its aftermath by George Fitzclarence, Earl of Munster. An illegitimate son of William, Duke of Clarence (the future William IV), Fitzclarence (1794-1842) served with distinction under Wellington in the Peninsular War. Court-martialled for insubordination, Fitzclarence was sent in disgrace to India, where he redeemed himself by his exemplary service in the Third Anglo-Maratha War.

Following the British victory, he was entrusted with the task of bearing the despatches containing signed copies of the peace treaty to England, and the Journal includes an account of that journey. It was a journey which had important personal consequences for Fitzclarence, as his attendance at some of Giovanni Battista Belzoni’s excavations of the Egyptian pyramids kindled a lifelong interest in Middle Eastern antiquities. Fitzclarence later became a founding member of the Royal Asiatic Society and president of the Society for the Publication of Oriental Texts.

The image shown here depicts a Gurkha soldier. The British had been impressed by the skill and bravery of the Nepalese soldiers whom they encountered during the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814-16. Under the terms of the subsequent Treaty of Sugauli the British were permitted to recruit Gurkhas for military service. Gurkha regiments served with distinction in the Third Anglo-Maratha War and have continued to do so for the past 200 years.

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