FREDERIC AUGUSTUS THESIGER,1 eldest son of the first Baron Chelmsford, was born on May ~ 1st, 1827.
His father, after serving as a midshipman in the Navy, abandoned the sea and entered upon a legal career, being called to the Bar in 1818. Eminent service in the successive offices of Solicitor-General and Attorney-General earned for him the highest judicial honour when, in 1858, he was appointed Lord High Chancellor and raised to the peerage as Baron Chelmsford of Chelmsford, Essex.
He married in 1822 Anna Maria Tinling (mother of the General), a niece of Major Peirson, the gallant defender of Jersey.
On finishing his education, Frederic Thesiger, whose mind was set upon a military career, hoped to obtain a commission in the Grenadiers, for which regiment his name had been entered. Difficulties as regards a vacancy, however, stood in his way, for on July 22nd, 1843, the Duke of Wellington, writing to the then Lord Chancellor,2 said:
“My DEAR LORD CHANCELLOR,
I have received your note of the 18th with its enclosure from Mr. Thesiger.
His son’s name was placed on my list of candidates for the Grenr. Guards some time ago and I will not lose sight of his Father’s wishes; but there have been very few vacancies lately and there are still more names I am sorry to say before his.
Believe me, ever yours most sincerely,
Afterwards General Lord Chelmsford, G.C.B., G.C.V.O. Lord Lyrsdhurst. I
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On this account he was first gazetted to the Rifle Brigade, with seniority from December 3ist, 1844. Less than a year later, however, he was able to purchase an exchange into the First or Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards, with the rank of Ensign and Lieutenant.
He was promoted Lieutenant and Captain in 1850, Major in 1855, Captain and Lieutenant-Colonel in 1857, Lieutenant-Colonel in the 95th Regiment in i8~8, and Colonel by brevet in the ordinary course of promotion in 1863. In i868, he was honoured by being made an Aide-de-Camp to Queen Victoria, was given the temporary rank of Brigadier-General in 1877, promoted Major-General the same year, and in 1878, on being appointed to command the British troops in South Africa, received the local rank of Lieutenant-General.
From February to November 1845, he served with the Rifle Brigade in Halifax, Nova Scotia, returning to England on being gazetted to the Grenadiers. After some years of regimental duty at home, he was appointed Aide-de-Camp to the Viceroy of Ireland, Lord Eglington, in February 1852, and later served in a similar capacity on the Staff of General Sir Edward Blakeney, commanding the troops in Ireland.
In May 1855, he proceeded to the Crimea, serving first with the 3rd Grenadiers, then as Aide-de-Camp to Lieutenant-General Markham, commanding the 2nd Division, and finally as D.A.Q.M.G. on the Headquarters Staff.
For his distinguished services in that arduous campaign Captain Thesiger was mentioned in despatches, received a Brevet Majority, and was awarded the Crimean medal, with clasp for Sebastopol, the Turkish and Sardinian medals, and the Order of the Medjidie (5th class).
Two letters written by him in the Crimea to his brother-in-law, Sir John Jnglis,1 then commanding a brigade in India, are of exceptional interest, especially that containing a vivid description of the storming of the Redan at Sebastopol:
Two years later Sir John Inglis became world famous for his gallant defence of the Lucknow Residency during the Indian Mutiny, when, with a small garrison of devoted men, he was besieged for 87 days by overwhelming forces of the enemy.
“Headquarters 2nd Division,
August 5th 1855.
My DEAR JACK,
As I know you will be glad to hear how General Markham is going on, I take advantage of a very wet day which precludes our going out till late, to write you a letter. I shall not think of apologising for not writing oftener as being such a bad correspondent yourself, you will have a fellow feeling for me. The General when he first landed here, was very ill indeed, as he was suffering from a severe attack of rheumatic fever, which he brought with him from ‘Peshawar,’ as the doctor at that place though he cured him for the time, could not be able in four days, which was all the time he had, to remove it from his system altogether. However he is now much better and will I am sure before long be stronger than he has been for years, as this is really a very fine climate and must be a Paradise compared to India. I lead the jolliest life possible, as I am vain enough to believe that I and the General hit it off very well, and you who are one of his oldest friends, know under those circumstances what a charming companion he is. King of the R.H.A. is my brother A.D.C., he is brother to the poor fellow who died out here, and is very nice, and agreeable, and More of the 43rd is the extra one. I only met him one night at dinner as he went off next morning to buy his kit at Constantinople and has not yet returned. We have a very fair plot of ground as a Compound but as it was utterly neglected by those who lived in it before, it will take some time before we get it as we wish, but when this is done, I think it will give the go-byes to most of the others. We manage to live very well indeed and are very lucky in having found a very fair cook, who is not above being taught. Our Division, 2nd, is a very good one, but I wish it were a little stronger as I fancy we could not at the outside take into the field more than 5000 men, most of the Brigadiers however in our own, as well as in the other divisions, are sad muffs, and ought to be comfortably pensioned off, giving up their places to younger, and more active officers (such as yourself for instance) who would really move about, and see what their brigade is about. We
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cannot have everything all at once and must be contented with having got a fair number of divisional chiefs who are not yet past work. Nothing transpires as to what is going to be done, and I have some suspicions that the chiefs of the allied armies do not see their way very clearly. The French have sapped up quite close to the ‘Malakoff’ but do not quite fancy another assault, and without the ‘Malakoff’ we cannot progress. The Sardinians are losing half their army from sickness and the Turks are doing nothing at all. Our men are wonderfully healthy considering how often the duty in the trenches comes round every 3rd night but we have great numbers of casualties daily, owing to the large numbers of working parties employed, and that tells upon our numbers very much. A week ago we had three days of the hardest rain I ever saw, and at the end of the third day there was so strong a stream running down the two roads, which lead to our right attack, that in one of them an officer and two men were taken off their legs and carried 20 yards before they could recover themselves, and in both the water was above the men’s knees. The water in the trenches was in some places above their waists. One comfort is that the trenches soon dry and 12 hours’ fine weather makes them passable again.
I enjoy myself very much and in health was never better in my life, I only trust it may continue. The General goes out for a two hours’ ride in the morning, and then we do ample justice to a very good breakfast, cheese and port wine at 2, ride again at 3, and dinner at 4- past 7. Not so bad for campaigners, is it? Markham tells me that he thinks CoT. Brooke has no intention of taking any leave so I hope that you will be able to get home this year, depend upon it there is a good deal to be picked up now-a-days if one is only on the spot to apply for it and as long as Lord Hardinge is C. in Chief; my father will almost be able to get anything he applies for. I look forward to the time when D.V. we shall have a great family meeting entirely, and shall be able to tell such tremendous stories one against the other. Tell Julia that I got her letters forwarded to me, and that there is therefore no necessity for her writing direct to me, as I know she must have plenty to
do already in keeping up her present correspondence. I hope my photograph arrived safely, as it was a very satisfactory one, and a good likeness. I am now bearded like a pard and have all the appearance of a bronzed veteran. Markham sends his love to you, and kind regards to Julia.
Believe me ever,
My DEAR JACK,
I have delayed much longer than I intended in giving you a description of the last and final affair with John Bonsky, but I have been so occupied since it took place in accompanying the General to inspections, that I have really only had time to send my usual letters to the family abroad. On the afternoon of the 7th we were told that the French were to attack the ‘Malakoff’ the next day and that in the event of a succês we were to try our luck again at taking the ‘Redan.’ The 2nd and light Divisions were accordingly told off for that agreeable duty on the morning of the 8th. We were all in our places in the trenches by I I o’clock, Sir W. Codrington who commanded the whole, and my General who was second in command being placed in Egerton’s pit which was immediately in front of the ‘Redan’ and with a good view of all the ground in front. Sir William, however, took it into his head to go down to the most advanced parallel with only one A.D.C. and there he remained during the whole fight nobody knowing what on earth had become of him, this I think was mistake No. i. Markham was of course tied by the leg and could not leave his post besides being left in a very awkward position owing to the absence of the Head as he could give no direct orders for fear that Sir William might be doing something different. About 12 o’clock we heard a sharp firing on our right and very shortly after we saw the French in swarms inside the ‘Malakoff,’ having evidently met with no opposition at the first as the Russians could not remain in the front
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part of the work owing to the tremendous shelling it underwent for about 3 hours before the attack. The French had no sooner succeeded thus far than the signal succes assure was given in the shape of a tricolour flag from the ‘Mamdon’ although at the time there were two divisions of Russians drawn up in the rear of the ‘Malakoff,’ this I call rather sharp practice, of course at the signal our covering and ladder party rushed out of our trenches and went across the open in beautiful style, closely followed by the supports of the Light Division led by Brigt. Unett of the 19 th who was mortally wounded. They got their ladders up capitally and went up them like men, but as ill luck would have it on the crest of the parapet a line of gabions from which the earth on our side had been knocked away by the round shot offered a tempting cover to the leading men, who immediately took advantage of it, the rest got behind them and fired over their heads and through this means the first batch of stormers became comparatively useless. Directly after the Light Division came our supports and when they got near the top instead of filling the empty space to the right which their leader Brigt. Wyndham wanted them to do, and from which they could have charged the enemy, they like corks in a basin joined the batch on the left and were therefore rendered useless. Now was the time when two formed regiments would have been invaluable, but they were not to be got, the reserves were all mixed up in the different approaches and parallels, and there was no place big enough for a company to form, this was the fault of the engineers who ought to have made a place D’Armes directly they knew the ‘Redan’ was to be assaulted, or otherwise have sapped up, as the French did to the ‘Malakoff’ within i o yards of
it. Neither was done however, and our men had to run 280 yards before they got to the ditch. Our reserves never went out at all but remained much against their officer’s will to be ignominiously knocked over by grape in the trenches. The men already on the ‘Redan,’ having a very small front, and a very large rear, made but little impression on the Russians, lost 40 men for their one, and finding no fresh troops arriving, and their ammunition getting low, and not having the dash in
them to kick down the gabions and charge the Russians, had but one thing to do, namely to retire, which they did much to our disgust and came back helter-skelter into the trenches whilst the Russians lined the parapet of the ‘Redan’ and blazed at them, but did not offer to advance further, even then it was not U.P. and had the Highland Division who were in the rear been sent at it, they would I am sure have done the business as they were older soldiers and had not had much trench work to demoralise them. The Authorities, however, thought otherwise and seemed content with the beating. The French all this time had been fighting very hard and had complete possession of the ‘Malakoff’ although they had plenty of work to hold it, they were also fighting very hard at the little ‘Redan’ which is down near Canning (?) Bay and there they lost a great number of men, and failed to take it in the end. At the same time that we attacked the ‘Redan’ the French also made an attack on the extreme left which failed also, so that the only part which succeeded was the ‘Malakoff’ which was really the only part we wanted as it commands the whole, and was in reality the key of the place. Pelissier (?) however was in such a fright of failing that he insisted on our attacking the ‘Redan’ in order to take the enemy’s attention from the main attack so we were sacrificed to save the French. In the middle of the night I was woke up by a great talking outside my marquee, and I found that the Russians had set fire to the place in several parts, and were evacuating the town as quickly as possible. I went up to Cathcarts Hill, about 1/2 past 3 a.m., and certainly the sight was very fine and at the same time very satisfactory. Whilst I was there a great explosion took place and during the night upwards of 14 took place showing that they were in real earnest as regarded their evacuation. The same morning after breakfast I rode down with the General to the ‘Redan’ and from there to the ‘Malakoff.’ In the latter the Russians had made a most determined resistance, as the heaps of dead of both nations too truly showed. It was immensely strong and every means had been taken to destroy the effect of our shells, by building traverses and bomb-proof caverns. They were all however of no effect and the Russians
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were fairly driven from their guns by the shower of shells which fell upon them. Our loss was i~6 (?) officers and 2,400 men killed, and wounded, the French loss I do not know, but it was something very large. The French and English have divided the town by which we get what is called the Karabelnain (?) district which includes all the Dock Yard and the French have got Sebastopol proper, which as far as I can see contains nothing but burnt and roofless houses. There is a mixed Commission who go about arranging the division of the plunder, and settling any other matters relative to the town which may come before them. There was some talk a few days ago about a forward movement by the way of ‘Baidar,’ but I do not think it likely as the weather is already very unsettled and should the rain begin in earnest it would be impossible to move a yard. Several think that the Russians will evacuate the north side before the winter, if so it will make us very comfortable here. The men are in capital health and spirits, but want a good deal of steady drill as more than half are complete boys. The General is not as strong as I could wish to see him, and says that if he does not get right very soon, he will apply for two months’ leave to go to England, which will be the best thing he can do as in the winter he will not be wanted here, and in the Spring he will want good health and strength in order to be able to take the Field.
Give my best love to Julia.
After two years in England, Colonel Thesiger’s keen anxiety to get out to India for service against the mutineers was rewarded by his appointment to the Second LieutenantColonelency of the 95th (Derbyshire) Regiment, which was then taking its share of the heavy fighting in Central India.
Arriving at the seat of war in June i 8~8, he served with the 95th to the conclusion of hostilities, and although taking part in no general engagement, received a mention in despatches and was awarded the Mutiny medal.