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Saving the Colours at Albuhera, by T.S. Seccombe (1840-1899)
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Saving the Colours at Albuhera, by T.S. Seccombe (1840-1899)

Measurements: Overall: 55cm (21.5in) x 70cm (27.5in)

£5200

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Oil on canvas: 44cm (17in) x 59cm (23in).  Signed ‘T.S..S.’ lower left for Thomas Strong Seccombe. Contained in giltwood frame, bearing a plaque inscribed ‘Lt. Latham, East Kent Regiment (Buffs) saving the Colours at the Battle of Albuhera, 16th May 1811. Capt. T. S. Seccombe R.A.’

Seccombe’s painting depicts a famous act of gallantry performed by Lieutenant Matthew Latham of The Buffs at the bloody Battle of Albuhera on 16 May 1811 during the Peninsula War (1808-14). In the face of seemingly impossible odds, Latham prevented one of the Colours of the 3rd Foot from falling into enemy hands and, presumed dead, was later found and with the Colour safe inside his tunic.

Latham was with the Anglo-Portuguese and Spanish army of 35,000 men under William Carr Beresford, that faced the advance 24,000-strong army under Marshal Soult intent on the relief of Badajoz. Beresford deployed his forces in a defensive position centered on Albuhera village. Soult made a feint against the village but delivered his main attack against José Pascual de Zayas y Chacon’s Spanish divisions on Beresford’s right flank. The Spanish fought tenaciously, and undoubtedly saved Beresford, while a British brigade that included the Buffs was rushed up in support. A rain storm burst over the reinforcement rendering many British muskets ineffective and concealing the lethal advance of Colonel Jan Konopka’s Vistula Uhlan Regiment supported by the French 2nd Hussars.

The London surgeon Joseph Constantine Carpue (1764-1846), who afterwards carried out successful reconstructive surgery of Latham’s mutilated face, continues the story in his ‘An account of two successful operations for restoring a lost nose in the cases of two officers of His Majesty's Army’ (1816), ‘Lieutenant Latham, of the third foot, seeing one of the colours of his regiment in danger of being taken from the ensign who carried it, by four or five of the lancers, sprung to the spot; and in attempting to seize the colour he lost an arm by a sabre cut. Still persevering, with the other hand, he tore the colour from the staff; but not before he received five wounds, one of which took off part of his cheek and nose. One of the lancers now charged him through the others, and, with his lance, hit him with such force in the groin, as to throw him to the distance of some yards, almost in a state of insensibility, but still with the colour in possession.’

According to another medical man, John Morrison, Assistant Surgeon of the Buffs, ‘The number of Latham’s adversaries impeded their efforts to destroy him, and the dragoons were ultimately driven off by the 7th Fusiliers, and 48th regiments, which came up to support the Buffs.  The greater part of the latter corps, was, however, made prisoners, and sent to the rear.  The brave Latham was turned over by a soldier of the 7th Fusiliers, and the colour which he had thus preserved found under him. Latham was left on the field, supposed to have been killed, and the flag was sent on the evening following the battle to the headquarters of the Buffs, with a statement of the manner of its recovery. Latham, however, although so desperately wounded, was not killed; in two hours afterwards he crawled on his remaining hand and knees towards the river of Albuhera, and was found by some of the orderlies of the army attempting to slake his thirst in the stream; he was carried into the convent, where his wounds were dressed, the stump of his arm amputated, and he ultimately recovered.’

Latham’s gallantry was immediately recognised by his brother officers in the form of unique hundred guinea gold medal which he wore by special permission of the Prince Regent. Latham was further rewarded with promotion and a company and in the Canadian Fencible Infantry on 11 February 1813. He nevertheless quickly exchanged back into the Buffs when a vacancy occurred on 13 May 1813. In 1815, while serving with the second battalion at Brighton, he was presented to the Prince Regent in person. After hearing an account of Latham’s exploit. The Prince Regent added, “If Captain Latham should feel disposed to avail himself of Mr. Carpue’s aid, I shall be proud to be allowed to defray the entire expense of the operation and cure.”

With the return of peace, Latham retired to the village of Blingel in northern France where he lived peacefully and somewhat forgotten until his death in 1865. However in 1840, Dr. Morrison, late Assistant Surgeon of the Buffs, was so incensed by the omission of any mention of Latham in the first regimental history compiled by Richard Cannon, that he wrote a long letter to the editor of the United Service Gazette reminding his readership of the full facts of the ‘Preservation of the Colours of the Buffs at Albuhera.’ Latham’s feat was later revived in paint form by the battle artist William Barnes Woolen and in three dimensional form in the gargantuan regimental silver sculpture known as the Latham centrepiece. The latter depicts Latham with one arm hacked off defending the Colour against a mounted adversary. Both are prominently displayed in the newly themed displays of the recently revamped National Army Museum, London.

Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Strong Seccombe, R.A., (1840-1899) born in Calcutta, India and was commissioned into the Royal Artillery in1856. After retiring from the Army he became an illustrator for Punch and created the well know series of caricatures Army and Navy Drolleries. He produced a several paintings of well known military episodes including ‘G Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, Waterloo 18th June 1815’ and ‘4th Dragoon Guards in Egypt, 1882’ (NAM). Seccombe latterly lived at Dusseldorf and died at Lausanne, Switzerland aged 59. He married in 1867 Amelia Blanche (Minnie), daughter of Col. Walter Craufurd Kennedy, and had seven children.

Sources:

United Service Gazette, London, 25.4.1840, Issue No. 382, page 3, col. 1.‘Preservation of the Colours of the Buffs at Albuera’.

www.thegoodlifefrance.com/captain-matthew-latham-the-real-sharpe/

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