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Portrait Miniature of Lieutenant George Digby Daunt, 97th Queen’s Germans, by Frederick Buck
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Portrait Miniature of Lieutenant George Digby Daunt, 97th Queen’s Germans, by Frederick Buck

Circa 1811

Measurements: Oval: 8.2cm (3.25in) x 5.5cm (2.2in)

£1600

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Watercolour on ivory. Daunt is shown looking right with scarlet coatee, and shoulder belt plate of the 97th decorated with Sphinx badge. Framed and glazed in gold with pendent loop, reverse with loosely fitted gilt metal plate.

George Digby Daunt of Kinsale (1783-1861) was a scion of the ancient family of Daunt of Owlpen, Gloucestershire, and the younger son of Thomas Daunt of Falalea House, co. Cork. He was commissioned Ensign on 18 June 1807 in the 97th Foot, formerly known as the Minorca Regiment, and which since 1801 had carried the additional title of the ‘Queen’s Own Germans’ on account of distinguished service in Egypt and the German-speaking mercenaries that filled its ranks. Ensign Daunt embarked with his regiment at Ramsgate, Kent and came ashore in rolling Portuguese surf to join Sir Arthur Wellesley’s army readying itself for battle with Junot’s army at Vimiero on 21 August 1808. He was subsequently present in the Oporto campaign; at the Battle of Talavera de la Reina on 7 July 1809 and, having been promoted Lieutenant 28 September 1809, at the Battle of Busaco on 27 September 1810.

In the spring of 1811 he took part in Marshal Beresford’s attempt to capture French-held Badajoz  but as the besiegers quickly discovered the ground beneath was solid rock. Preparing earthworks for the siege guns was both lethal and futile. After two days and nights of suffering under the fire of enemy sharpshooters, the French garrison commander sent out a battalion-strength sortie to destroy the work of the 97th Foot and 17th Portuguese Line.  A truly bloody encounter ensued in which the French lost 200 men and the British and Portuguese 438 - George Daunt being among the wounded. He recovered sufficiently to join the fight five days later at Albuera where Beresford defeated Marshal Soult albeit at a staggering cost. Thereafter the 97th being reduced to a third of its original strength was rendered ineffective and transferred to Ireland to recruit.

It seems probable that this portrait miniature was painted around this time by the miniaturist Frederick Buck (1771-1839). It certainly bears the rather hot colouring, which is recognised as an unmistakable characteristic of his work. Buck, like Daunt, was a native of Cork, and after studying at the Dublin Society Schools the artist returned to Cork and set up shop at Fen’s Quay. With the onset of the wars with France, Cork’s importance as a port of embarkation increased, supplying Buck with a constant stream of naval and military officers seeking his services. Indeed it is said that at the height of the Peninsular War, he kept a supply of painted ivories to which he added the heads and regimental facings as required in order to keep up with demand. Whether visiting his family at Falalea or simply in Cork on military business, Daunt would have had ample opportunity to make use of Buck’s talents, no doubt sitting to him at his premises in Buckingham Square. The obvious recipient of this portrait is Helena Herbert, daughter of the Reverend Edward Synge Townsend of Bridgemount, co. Cork, whom he married in 1815. However before the wedding could be take place  Daunt embarked once more with the 97th  and was engaged against the Americans at the siege of Fort Erie in September 1814.

Reference

Tithe Books for Northern Ireland, 1823-1828. National Archives, Dublin and Public Record Office of Northern Ireland

Lionel S. Challis's ‘Peninsula Roll Call’

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