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A William IV Cameo Portrait Brooch of Peninsula and Waterloo Veteran Colonel George Wilkins, 95th Rifles
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A William IV Cameo Portrait Brooch of Peninsula and Waterloo Veteran Colonel George Wilkins, 95th Rifles

Measurements: Overall: 68mm (2.75in) x 55mm (2.4in)

£1850

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Shell cameo with gold mounts. A bas-relief head and shoulders profile portrait of Colonel George Wilkins, C.B., K.H., in Rifle Brigade uniform, finely carved to show regimentally specific russia lace and medal group of three representing the sitter’s Army Small Gold Medal for Salamanca, Companion’s breast badge of the Order of the Bath and Waterloo Medal. The gold frame embellished with foliate scrollwork and pin fitting to the reverse, the whole set in a period velvet lined, glazed display case, found to contain a printed biographical note for Wilkins dated Yorkshire 1890, together with a length of  ribbon for the Army Small Gold Medal. Case overall: 10.5cm (4in) x 8.7cm (3.5in).

George Wilkins (fl.1776-1862) was commissioned into the 82nd Regiment in 1794 and became Lieutenant in the 31st Foot in 1795. He served with M'Donnell's Regiment in the suppression of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and was wounded in the fighting at New Ross. He was appointed to the 85th Regiment in 1800 and was present with the force that occupied Madeira in 1801. Between 1801 and 1806 he held staff appointments in the West Indies before transferring into the Rifles with the rank of Major on 10 May 1809.

He accompanied the second battalion on the Scheldt Expedition which besides failing in its objectives to destroy the French fleet at Flushing and to open a new front, rendered 2/95th medically unfit for service in the Peninsula. On return to Hythe recurring bouts of malaria and typhus ravaged the ranks. In early 1810 Wilkins was placed in command of a detachment bound for besieged Cadiz garrison. However on 19 April the Cadiz Journal reported: ‘The two companies of the 2nd battn. of the 95th Rifle Regt. marched from the Telegraph Heights to the barracks at Cadiz on account of the men suffering from a complaint the remains of the Walcheren fever.’

Wilkins may have been among the latter, and, or was otherwise, ordered home in July. On his return to the Peninsula in May 1811 he joined the companies serving in Count von Alten’s Light Division, and was in temporary command of 2/95th at the Battle of Salamanca on 22 July. Though only lightly engaged in Wellington’s victory, the battalion played an active role in pursuit of the enemy to Madrid. After Wellington quit Madrid in the face of mounting threat from Soult in October, Wilkins participated in the constant skirmishing that marked the otherwise disorderly month-long retreat of the Army into Portugal. During this wearisome period in which the Rifles were invariably the first in and last out of action, the legacy of strict discipline instilled in the Light Division by ‘Black Bob’ Craufurd once again proved crucial.

On breaking winter quarters in May 1813, Wilkins was present with the advance guard, skirmishing ahead of the allied Army ‘to within the range of the guns of Burgos’ whence ‘the enemy abandoned the fortress’. On 21 June he was engaged at San Millan where 2/95th as part of the Light Division’s Second Brigade led the attack on Maucaune’s division and effectively destroyed it ahead of the Battle of Vittoria which was fought the same day. By nightfall large quantities of plunder, including Joseph Bonaparte’s carriage, the French military chest and several French officers’ wives were in the hands of the Rifles. The pursuit was taken up next day with the Rifles and the R.H.A’s
Chestnut Troop causing considerable damage to the fleeing French and bringing Wilkins into the vicinity of Pamplona.

On the night of 25 August he almost certainly attended the regimental birthday dinner in the field, where some seventy officers of all three Rifles battalions made such a din that the French believed an attack was imminent. Having participated in the string of actions that comprised the Battle of Pyrenees, Wilkins volunteered on the 31st for the San Sebastian storming party but was denied the honour by a senior officer. Next day, however, having resumed the command of the 2nd battalion he was ‘sharply engaged’ at the Bridge of Vera. The Light Division was under the temporary command of Skerret, a Guards officer by background who had just inherited a large estate and was anxious to return home. Captain Harry Smith, who later aired his widely felt differences of opinion with Skerret, recalled ‘the enemy had fortified a large house very strongly, and their picquets were upon its line. On our advance, we put back the enemy's picquets, but not without a sharp skirmish, and we held the house that afternoon.’ It was on the following night that Skerret left 60 Riflemen of the 2/95th under Captain Daniel Cadoux unsupported and to their fate in their celebrated defence of the Vera bridge against an entire French division trying to recross the swollen Bidassoa river after an abortive attempt to reach San Sebastian.

Wilkins left the Peninsula a month later and became brevet Lieutenant-Colonel on 4 June 1814 shortly after the signing of the Peace of Paris. When hostilities were renewed after Napoleon’s escape from Elba, he proceeded to the Netherlands with the 2nd battalion which was brigaded under Frederick Adam with two companies of 3/95th, 1/71st Foot and 1/52nd Foot. On 18 June at Waterloo Adam’s brigade was defensively positioned above Hougoumont, on Wellington’s right flank, until late in the day when the French launched their final all out attack on the farm. A mass of French skirmishers appeared, causing Wellington to order the brigade to form lines four deep and ‘to drive those fellows away’. Having accomplished this with a charge up the slope, the brigade found itself in a hollow to the south east of Hougomont and obliged to form squares in order to deal with attacks by French cavalry of the Garde Imperiale. During the course of the assaults, the squares were further subjected to artillery fire which severely wounded Colonel Amos Northcott commanding 2/95th. Command devolved on Wilkins until he too was severely wounded ‘by the discharge of grape shot from the enemy’s artillery,’- he and his horse being ‘felled to the ground.’ (Hart’s). Thereafter Major George Miller took command until he too was also severely wounded.

On 7 July 1815 the survivors of 2/95th led the entry of Wellington’s Army into Paris. Wilkins meanwhile returned to England whence his son George Hughes Wilkins (later Lieut., Rifle Brigade, 1839) had been born at Hythe. In recognition of his services Wilkins was created a Companion of the Bath on 8 December 1815. In 1817 he joined the Army of Occupation in France but the serious effects of his wounds compelled his return to England and forced his retirement on 23 December 1819. In 1847, a year before the issue his Military General Service medal with clasps for Vittoria and Pyrenees, he attended the Waterloo Banquet at Apsley House in the presence of Prince Albert. On this occasion the Duke of Wellington toasted Sir Harry Smith who replied ‘To your Grace I owe all the military honours I have received - to your Grace I owe the uniform I am now proud to wear.’ this reportedly being ‘In allusion to the colonelcy of the 2nd battalion of the Rifle Brigade presented to Sir Harry Smith by the Commander-in-Chief.’ (The Evening Packet, 22.6.1847). Colonel Wilkins died at Shirley, near Southampton on 8 November, 1862, and was interred in St James’s Churchyard.

Reference sources:

Cadiz Journal, April 19th 1810, TNA

Bromley, J. & D. (2015) Wellington’s Men Rembered, Vol. II, Register of Memorials to soldiers …’
Challis’ Roll

Hart’s Army List, 1845

Gentleman’s Magazine 1862

Scott W. A. (1815) ‘Battle of Waterloo, Or, Correct Narrative of the Late Sanguinary Conflict on The Plains of Waterloo’
 

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