Small Field Officer’s Gold Medal for Talavera
Major Richard Vandeleur, 1st Battalion, 88th Regiment of Foot
Original case of issue
Major Richard Vandeleur (1773-1809) was born in 1773 at Kilrush, Country Clare, Ireland, the son of Crofton Vandeleur of Kilrush, High Sheriff of Clare and MP for Ennis. Commissioned as Ensign in the 103rd Foot in February 1795, and then served as Lieutenant for time in the Independent Companies which were at that time unattached to larger regiments (such as Colonel Ogle’s Regiment, and Major-General Fox’s Regiment) before purchasing a Captaincy in his own Independent Company which took his name. (most likely part of the Kilrish Union under the command of his father, Crofton Vandaleur). He then joined the 1st Battalion, 88th Foot (Connaught Rangers) as Captain on 23 May 1795. According to the regimental history by Cannon, in the autumn of 1795 the 88th Foot were ordered to take part in the expedition to the French West Indies led by Major-General Sir Ralph Abercromby. However, disaster struck the expedition when a hurricane smashed into and dispersed the fleet. Many ships were sunk in the process, some were disabled and captured by the French and a few limped back to England, with just two companies of the 88th reaching their intended destination. One transport ship, in which the one division under Captain Vandeleur had embarked, survived the storm and was in fact blown back through the Straits of Gibraltar as far as Cartagena, where it was ‘frapped together’ and sent to Gibraltar, after which the vessel virtually fell apart upon arrival. The 1st Battalion was eventually re-assembled in England, where it gathered its strength and received new recruits under Colonel Beresford. On 1 January 1799 the 1st Battalion sailed for the East Indies, arriving at Bombay in June. In 1800 it was tasked to join an expedition led by the Government of India, and led by Major-General Sir David Baird, to assist in the Egypt Campaign of 1801 under General Sir Ralph Abercromby. Sailing from India in December and arriving at Cosseir on the Red Sea in June 1801, the 88th formed the van of Sir David Baird’s Army, marching at the head of the army for 14 days across the ‘Long Desert’ from Cosseir to Kenna on the Nile. It then sailed down the Nile, arriving at Cairo on the very same day upon which the fortress surrendered to the British. This campaign proved that the British Army forces could not only compete with, but defeat, their French counterparts who had hitherto been considered masters in the eld. The 88th remained in Egypt for 2 years, and according to ‘The Historical Records of the Eighty-Eight or Connaught Rangers’ by Cannon, Captain Vandeleur received ‘a medal from the Grand Seigneur…for services in the Indian army which crossed the Desert to Egypt in 1801’ – (The Sultan’s Medal for Egypt in gold).
In 1803, the 88th proceeded to England to be reduced, only to arrive on the same day that war with France was renewed. Instead of being reduced, the regiment was sent to Kent and Sussex where it remained for three years, as a precaution in case of a surprise invasion by the French. During this period, Richard Vandeleur was promoted from Captain to Major in August 1804. In 1807 the 88th Foot formed part of the invasion force sent to occupy Argentina and the surrounding region following the recent remarkable capture of Buenos Aires and one year’s taking of gold, which had been due for collection and despatch to Spain by the famous treasure fleet. Believing the area to be weakly defended, the British expedition arrived at Montevideo on 14 June, where it joined with the British force under Lieutenant-General Whitelocke. The combined force arrived at the village of Reduction on 1 July, just seven miles from Buenos Aires, where it met a determined force of cavalry and infantry, supported by guns, which it was able to repel and chase toward the city itself. The local governor was called upon to surrender, but instead an attack was made upon the picquets held by the 88th, which suffered 20 men killed and wounded. The next morning, Whitelocke decided upon a plan for British troops to march down the principal streets of the city toward the river at its centre, with the 88th being divided into two wings – the right to be commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Du , and the left by Major Vandeleur. Major Vandeleur was tasked with proceeding down a street called ‘Santa Lucia’, and while asking for further, specific clarification about the enemy or his wider task, none was given. He later wrote: ‘After I got a little way down the street, two of the enemy’s bidettes appears in the front, and as I advanced they retreated down the street, occasionally looking up, as if speaking to people on the tops of the houses. On my arrival, about a third down the street a re opened on me from the tops of the windows of the houses on each side directly over me. I immediately ordered the column to advance double quick time, which was immediately executed, and answered by our men by cheering. As we advanced through the streets we were continually assailed from the windows, on both sides of the street, with musketry, hand grenades, stink pots, brick bats, and all sorts of combustibles.’ Encountering a wide trench held by enemy forces, they carried this with the bayonet and made their way through, eventually reaching the river, upon which they were exposed to dreadful re from the citadel. Breaking open two corner houses they attempted to take cover inside, but other overlooking houses allowed re to be poured into them further still. An artillery piece was brought to bear against them from the square, ring into the houses, until they became surrounded by a large enemy force. For a further three hours Vandeleur kept his men fighting, and ‘not until nearly annihilated…and until…they had expended the last ball cartridge that could be found even in the pouches of their dead or dying companions’ did they consider surrender, and Vandeleur’s counterpart, Duff, had met much the same fate. Following the general surrender, Lieutenant-General Whitelocke was court-martialled and found guilty of all charges save one, which saw him removed from further service. Having returned home, Major Vandeleur took command of the 1st / 88th Foot following the departure of Colonel Duff in March 1809. Arriving in Lisbon on 13 March it proceeded north as one of the regiments attached to the Portuguese Army under Marshal Beresford, with the aim of expelling Marshal Soult from Oporto, which was subsequently captured. The British forces were then sent onwards into Spain – and the Battle of Talavera (or Talavera de la Reina) on 27-28 July 1809. On the rst day the 88th was positioned in the wood by the river Alberche, where it received the praise of its brigade commander Colonel Donkin. Retiring in a line under heavy re, it covered the retreat of the advanced troops who had quickly become overwhelmed and outnumbered by the enemy. They then took post on a hill to the left of the allied army, ‘the key of the position’ as Cannon refers, when a strong evening attack was repelled by Donkin’s brigade. At daybreak on the 28th the ghting resumed, with fearsome exchanges of artillery and musket re, where the British ‘giving them no respite, pushed them back with terrible carnage’. The ghting raged along the entire front, with the 88th holding their position with great discipline in the face of heavy artillery re, all the while under the command of Major Vandeleur. The nal French attack was nally broken, and all told the 88th su ered six o cers and one hundred and thirty N.C.O.s and men killed or wounded. The regiment occupied a nearby town for a time, and it was here that Major Vandeleur succumbed to a severe sickness at Campo Maior, Portugal, on 17 October 1809. His obituary as published in major newspapers at the time, read as follow: ‘On the 17th of October, at Campo Mayor, Portugal, after a few days illness, Major Richard Vandeleur, of the 88th regiment of foot; an o cer greatly and deservedly lamented by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance. To a large share of liberal accomplishments, Major Vandeleur added an extensive knowledge of the principles and practice of his profession, joined to an intimate acquaintance with the most useful of the modern languages of Europe, so necessary to form the offcer. His loss will be deeply felt, by his relations, who have, besides, to deplore the loss of several others of the family, who died in the service of their country, particularly of his brother, the late Brigadier General Vandeleur who died in the West Indies.’