As we are preparing to change the objects we have on display, we thought it would be a nice idea to share some of these items from our collection. In this post we will be focusing on something you wouldn’t expect to find in the Library, this is a sword belonging to general Wolfe.
It is not known how or when General Wolfe’s sword found its way into the Library collection, but by the early nineteenth century it was one of a number of objects displayed and pointed out to visitors by pupils of the school. Many of these were unrealistic, for example, a boot worn by Queen Elizabeth, Oliver Cromwell’s sword, arrows belonging to Robin Hood. Most of these items are no longer in our collection. However, General Wolfe’s sword was somehow overlooked and remained at the Library.
Major General James P. Wolfe (1727-1759) was a British army officer remembered chiefly for his victory over the French in Quebec, where he was killed at the height of battle by injuries from three musket balls.
Above: Wolfe’s Sword
The sword surprisingly, unlike the previous curiosities, following investigations was revealed to have belonged to Wolfe, and appears to date from his time as a young army officer in the 1740s. Given the 1740s date, the sword may well have accompanied Wolfe in his early days of service during the War of the Austrian Succession. It could also have been brought with him to the battle of Culloden in 1746, the final stand of the failed Jacobite Rebellion and the last pitched battle fought on British soil. A famous anecdote claims Wolfe refused an order to shoot a wounded Highland officer after Culloden. Whether the sword saw action at any point is unlikely due to its small size and basic handle. We are currently investigating the swords provenance so watch this space!
I remember seeing his burial entry in the Parish church in Greenwich. There is also a statue outside the maritime museum there. The latter may be able to help with provenance.
Thanks, Jude! We’ll carry on trying to find out more about this towering figure and his rather less towering sword.
During my time at Chet’s (January 1954 – July 1964) , this sword, together with other hand-held armaments, was resting on nails in the baronial hall, on the wall above the entrance to the inglenook. One night (about 1960) some burglars got into the baronial hall and stole some of the armaments. Harry Vickers heard them, took down a sword for himself, and went hunting in the cloisters for the burglars. He was not successful, so for the remainder of my stay at Chet’s, we no longer had the full complement of arms. It must have been about this time that General Wolfe’s sword was moved into Chetham’s Library, I cannot recall seeing it after the above incident.
Thanks, Ian, that’s really worth knowing. It will certainly save us the bother of searching dusty old cupboards looking for the rest! Nothing like hearing from the man on the ground.