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Royal Flint Militia - A Buncombe Silhouette Portrait of Lieutenant Taylor, 1800
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Royal Flint Militia - A Buncombe Silhouette Portrait of Lieutenant Taylor, 1800

Measurements: Overall: 14cm (5.5in) x 11cm (4.25in)



Watercolour and ink on paper. A half-length silhouette of Lieutenant John Taylor of the Royal Flint Militia, profile to the right, wearing scarlet with coat blue facings, gold lace and epaulette, shoulder belt with regimental oval shoulder belt plate decorated with Prince of Wales’s feathers, white frilled chemise and black stock, light infantry ‘Tarleton’ with green plume, fur crest, turban and chains, and tassels at the rear. Inscribed verso in manuscript: ‘Lieutt: John Taylor / Royal Flints Militia / Juy 12th 1799’. The backing board further inscribed ‘Lieutt: John Taylor / Royal Flints Militia / Juy 12th 1794?????????????? / Captn: & Pay Master / 54th Regiment of Foot / 1800 / Served in Egypt / Died 3 March 18 …. / Buried in Fl…. / ………. /.’ Image: 10cm (4in) x 7.3cm (2.9in). The reverse further applied with a print of St. Winefride's Well, Holywell, Flintshire. Contained in period oval frame.

The present profile belongs to the distinctive group of silhouettes produced between 1795 and 1830 by Charles Buncombe and his son John Buncombe of Newport on the Isle of Wight. Of the two, Charles was the most distinguished painter of silhouettes of military subjects, and it was by his hand that the present si lhouette, or ‘shade’, was made. Charles Buncombe was a poor schoolmaster who lodged with his large family at the house of Mrs. Salter at 114 High Street, Newport. Despite his talent, he made little extra money, as the Corporation Minutes, with regard to a local charity, on 27 April 1830, explained: 'Also that John Buncombe, son of Charles Buncombe, late of this Borough, Schoolmaster, a poor orphan, be apprenticed to George Mansfield, of 118, Jermyn Street, St. James's, London, until the age of 21 years and that a life premium of £13. 13. 0. be paid with such apprentice.’

The sitter, Lieutenant John Taylor, was the son-in-law of a former naval officer, George Billingshurst, who lived at Niton on the Isle of Wight, making it reasonable to assume that this Buncombe portrait was executed during a family visit to the island. Taylor’s Tarleton helmet signals the Flintshire Militia’s affiliation with Wales’s only infantry regiment at the time, The Royal Welch Fusiliers, as does the title ‘Fuzileers’ adopted by the militia themselves in or before 1800. As with the R.W.F., it was only the Light Company of ‘his Majesty’s Royal Flintshire Regiment of Fuzileers Militia’ that wore the Tarleton, hence the green plume sported by Taylor and otherwise seen on light company shakos throughout the Army.

The Flintshire Militia was embodied in 1793 on the outbreak of war with Revolutionary France. Taylor’s transfer into the 54th (West Norfolk) Regiment of Foot probably coincided with the raising of the 54th’s second battalion in 1800, as we know from the inscription verso Taylor saw action in the campaign against the French in Egypt. Both regular battalions of the 54th Foot were present at the Battle of Aboukir in March 1801, the Battle of Alexandria later that month and the Siege of Cairo in June 1801. The 1st Battalion also took part in the Siege of Alexandria where it encountered fierce opposition at Fort Marabout in August 1801: the battalion eventually carried out a successful assault on the fort. The two battalions amalgamated again in May 1802 and the regiment moved to Gibraltar in 1803. 

Captain Taylor died in 1825 at ‘Overleigh Hall, near Chester ‘in the prime of life, universally and most deservedly beloved, respected and deeply regretted, late Paymaster to the 54th Reg. of Foot.’ He was interred in his family’s vault at Holywell, Flintshire. His widow Maria, died in London in February 1841, ‘relict of Captain John Taylor of the 54th Foot and Royal Flint Militia’. (Gentleman’s Magazine, 1841).