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A Peninsula War Intelligence Officer’s Coach Panel, 1850

Oil on board coach panel displaying the armorial achievement of Major-General Sir Robert John Harvey of Mousehold, Norfolk (1785-1860): erminois on a chief indented gules between two crescents argent, the Army Gold Medal awarded by the Prince Regent for his services at the Battle of Orthes, a canton ermine charged with the badge of a Knight of the Order of the Tower and Sword. Crest: Over a dexter cubit arm, erect, ppr., a crescent arg. between two branches of laurel also ppr., with the augmentation of a mural crown or, out of which the arm is issuant. Motto:  ‘Alteri si Tibi’. (Act towards another as thou wouldst towards thyself). Beneath the arms are Sir R. Harvey’s insignia - viz. the Portuguese Order of Aviz, a Companion of the Order of the Bath, and the Portuguese Order of the Tower and Sword.

Major-General Sir Robert John Harvey, C.B., F.R.S., (1785-1860) was educated on the continent  and was commissioned into the 53rd (Shropshire) Regiment of Foot in 1803, and after attending the military college at High Wycombe, joined Major-General Rowland Hill at Lisbon in 1809. He saw action at the Second Battle of Oporto where Hill's brigade launched an impromptu assault across the Douro River that ultimately routed Marshal Nicolas Soult’s French corps. Fluent in French, German, Spanish and Portuguese, Harvey was quickly promoted and appointed Assistant-Quarter-Master-General at the Headquarters of the Portuguese Army’s Commander-in-Chief – Marshall William Carr Beresford. In 1811, Beresford appointed him to the General-Headquarters of Lord Wellington – Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces as a liaison officer. 

In this role it fell to Harvey to organise the Portuguese guerrilla force - the Ordenanças - and the  intelligence service. He regularly attacked the French line-of-communications and seized large quantities of supplies. For his services he received a testimonial sword from the guerrillas. He remained Wellington’s staff for the remainder of the war. He carried despatches behind enemy lines from Wellington to Beresford, and on one occasion rode 1400 miles from Paris to Lisbon in fourteen days to deliver vital correspondence despite being robbed by bandits of almost everything except his despatches.

He was further present at the battles of Oporto, Buçaco, Salamanca, Vitoria, Pyrenees, Nive, Nivelle, Orthez, Toulouse and in the sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo, Burgos, Badajoz and San Sebastian. After the capture of Badajoz (April 1812) Harvey was promoted Lieutenant-Colonel in on the recommendation of Wellington. For his distinguished services in the Peninsula he was knighted by the Prince Regent in 1817, awarded the Portuguese Order of the Tower and Sword (British Royal Warrant of May 1816), and in 1831 was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath.

© The Armoury of St James's 17 Piccadilly Arcade London SW1Y 6NH