William Siborne: Part 2 – the challenges of research

William Siborne, maker of the Royal Armouries ‘Battle of Waterloo’ diorama, played a major role in our understanding of the battle and left a lasting legacy of his work. For an introduction to the man and the model, make sure you first read our previous post here.

When Siborne began to look for information on the crisis of the battle to assist in the construction of his first model, he found that the official records lacked the level of detail he required. He therefore wrote to Sir Rowland Hill, General Commanding in Chief of the British Army, requesting permission to send a circular letter to officers who had fought at Waterloo, to ask them about their regiment’s role in the battle. His proposed solution was a radical one. No survey of this nature had been attempted before, and some senior military figures raised concerns that the differing versions of events that officers were bound to give, would merely result in a mass of contradictory information, and might weaken the authority of Wellington’s official dispatch.


London Gazette © Crown Copyright. The Gazette.

The Waterloo Dispatch was written on the evening after the battle, and although it was an official report to the Secretary of State for War, it was composed in the knowledge that it would be published in the London Gazette (the official journal of the British government) and then reprinted in the London and provincial newspapers. It was a matter of public record, and the fears that Siborne’s circular letter might produce some unwelcome results were not altogether unfounded. The pages of the United Services Journal were already occupied by a heated debate between General Sir Hussey Vivian and Major George Gawler relating to the roll of their respective brigades in the events following the repulse of the Imperial Guard. But Siborne was not to be dissuaded, and after explaining his research methodology more fully, and promising to submit a copy of the final plan for the model to the Duke for his approval, Lord Fitzroy Somerset, the Military Secretary, gave his consent albeit with the comment, ‘then let him issue his Circulars and the Lord give him a safe deliverance’.

Siborne conducted his survey, and in response received some 700 letters from British, Hanoverian and King’s German Legion officers who had fought at Waterloo. Some had served on the general staff, others had been regimental officers, but all branches of the service were represented except for the Royal Engineers. The letters covered every aspect of the campaign, and Siborne diligently checked every piece of information, and where necessary entered into detailed correspondence to clarify matters of detail. An examination of the original letters shows that rather than shake the foundations of the Waterloo Dispatch the letters added important details to the main features of the battle.

Siborne was naturally anxious to elicit Wellington’s views, but the Duke was notoriously reticent about giving interviews, and rarely spoke about the battle in which he had lost so many ‘old friends and companions’. However Siborne had informed Fitzroy Somerset that in addition to his circular letter he also intended to ask for information from the War Departments in Paris and Berlin, and when it became apparent that he intended to represent the Prussians on his model, he was offered the chance of a private meeting with Wellington. Unfortunately for Siborne when the time came his health would not permit him to travel to London, and the opportunity was lost. He did submit a copy of his plan to Wellington as promised, and was sent a short memorandum in return, but this contained little new information.

7. Wellington Memorandum

Wellington’s Memorandum

Wellington was aware of Siborne’s plans to include Blucher’s army on the model, but he did not raise any objections in his memorandum, and there is no evidence at this stage that he was actively opposing the project. However, if the Duke was silent on the subject others were not. Siborne continued to receive warnings from Fitzroy Somerset that his proposed representation created the risk that ‘those who see the work will deduce from it that the result of the battle was not so much owing to British valour and the great generalship of the chief of the English Army, as to the flank movement of the Prussians’.

By 1837 Siborne was in severe financial difficulties, following the withdrawal of official funding for the model, and his decision to continue the project at his own expense. The need to pay his creditors and recoup his losses probably influenced his decision to write a history of the Waterloo campaign, and he entered into an agreement with the publishers, Messrs Boone of Bond Street. It was the threat of this publication, and not the model, which ultimately brought him into conflict with Wellington.

NPG 405; Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Alfred, Count D'Orsay

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, by Alfred, Count D’Orsay. © National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 405

In 1842 the Duke received a translation of a study by the German military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, in which he criticized several aspects of Wellington’s conduct of the Waterloo campaign. It so annoyed the Duke that in response he drafted a detailed memorandum to rebut the criticisms. Siborne became aware of the existence of the document, and even attempted to obtain a copy from the Duke’s private secretary, Colonel John Gurwood, but without success. Two years later Wellington drafted a second memorandum this time in answer to errors in the final volume of Alison’s History of Europe during the French Revolution, and inaccuracies in Siborne’s History of the War in France and Belgium in 1815 an advance copy of which he had received.

During his military career Wellington had been renowned for his ability to produce detailed memoranda on all manner of subjects relating to the conduct of the war in the Peninsular, and his response to Alison and Siborne was in much the same vein. He began by recognising the duty of the historian to seek the most authentic details of the subject, and to evaluate all that had been published, but added that in his opinion official sources of information should be preferred to the ‘statements of private individuals’ written some time after the events. Then in the remainder of the document he gave a detailed and thoughtful analysis of the errors in both works, in particular those relating to his co-operation with the Prussians.

History of the war in France and Belgium, in 1815

Siborne’s History

Siborne’s history appeared in 1844, accompanied by a folio of maps and plans. The advance reviews had been unanimously favourable, and this combined with the continued interest in the battle, ensured that the first edition was rapidly sold out. Siborne had done his best to produce a balanced account based on the information he had gathered, but inevitably the book sparked renewed debate from Waterloo veterans in the United Services Journal, and criticisms that the representation of the achievements of the regimenta was inaccurate. Wellington’s own detailed analysis was used by his close associate, Francis Egerton, as the basis for a review of the work that was published in the Quarterly Review in 1845. Siborne took careful note of all of the comments, and made revisions to the text of subsequent editions, that have subsequently led to accusations of a conspiracy to suppress the truth, but his notes reveal how he reviewed the evidence before making any change.

Siborne’s history has never succeeded in escaping the criticism that it relied too heavily on the personal accounts of British officers, a weakness that he himself acknowledged in the preface to the first edition, and that it failed to take into account the contributions of some of the Allies during the campaign. The research methodology he adopted and the use of multiple eyewitness accounts was radical for the time, and enabled him to produce a type of work that modern historians would recognise, and many have copied. His history remains the most cited authority on the Waterloo campaign.

Conservation Live! Siborne’s Waterloo model: Treating a corroded figure

Conservation of Captain William Siborne’s large-scale Waterloo model is nearing completion ahead of the upcoming exhibition Waterloo 1815: The Art of Battle, opening at the Royal Armouries on 22 May 2015.

While most of the lead/tin figures on the model were in excellent condition, it was evident that some had corroded in the past. A small number were actively corroding – a few quite severely. One such figure was a soldier lying in the road. Voluminous, powdery corrosion products could be seen encompassing the figure. At this point it was not clear how much of the figure had survived.


The first step was to remove the corrosion products mechanically and assess the level of loss.


Fortunately, the figure was in better condition than expected. Much of the paint had flaked off, the top surface of the body had corroded away and the left foot had been lost completely, but the surviving metal was fairly solid and the figure as a whole was still recognisable.


As much corrosion as possible was cleared away and the surface was cleaned with alcohol.


The next step was to consolidate the affected areas by applying a dilute acrylic adhesive in a solvent mixture. This accomplished two things: it lent the figure strength by filling any porous gaps in the metal and it sealed and protected the surface.


Following consolidation I made a replacement foot for the figure using Milliput epoxy putty. When freshly mixed it was the consistency of modelling clay, but within a few hours it set into a hard, durable fill.


After the Milliput had set the final step was to touch in the paint. The colour is slightly different than the original – this is intentional so that my touch-up will not be confused with original paint in the future.


The final result is below. My goal in this treatment was to preserve as much of the original figure as possible, stabilise it and make some cosmetic improvements so that the damage was not readily visible. While the figure is not exactly as it was before it corroded, it is still clearly identifiable and now in a stable condition.


The newly conserved Siborne model will be a key element of our Art of Battle exhibition, which opens 22nd May.

Cymbeline Storey
Waterloo Model Conservator

#Gallipoli100: Captured moments from the campaign

One of the major events of the First World War to be commemorated this year will be the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign. The Allied plan was to seize the Dardanelles, the narrow straights between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and re-open the southern supply route to Russia, which had been cut after Turkey’s entry into the war on the side of the Central Powers. An attempt to force the narrows by warships of the Royal Navy and the French fleet ended disastrously in the loss of three battleships sunk, and three more disabled by mines and gunfire, and so an expeditionary force was hastily put together.


The troops, including the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzacs), the 29th British Division and the Royal Naval Division, landed on Gallipoli on 25 April but they failed to capture the key heights dominating the rocky peninsular, and were restricted to two narrow beach heads some 15 miles apart. The Allies soon found themselves engaged in the same kind of trench warfare as on the Western Front. A second landing by three further divisions on 6-8 August was followed by a co-ordinated attempt to break the deadlock, but this also failed and in January 1916 the force was evacuated.


Image (2) 29.jpg for post 3343

The Royal Armouries archives contain a rare photograph album containing photographs of the Gallipoli campaign. It begins with a number of pictures showing the troops arriving at Port Said in Egypt, and there subsequent training at El Kantara on the Suez Canal, as well as photographs of visits to Mohamed Ali Mosque in Cairo and the Pyramids – please see the images below.

The scene then shifts and there are dramatic images of the warships and troop transports off Gallipoli dated April 1915, and of troops being landed on the rocky shores of the peninsular from small boats at W Beach (Lancashire Landing). There follow several photographs of trench scenes captioned ‘Near the White House’, ‘Lancaster St’, ‘Fig-tree Dug out’, ‘Backhouse Post’ and ‘Essex Knoll’ and several of troops behind the lines.


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The name of the photographer is not known, but there are several photographs of the same young man in the album, and the dates and locations would indicate that he was in one of the battalions forming the Royal Naval Division.

  • When the Division landed in Egypt the 2nd Brigade (Howe, Hood, Anson and Nelson battalions) were sent to El Kantara on the Suez Canal – there are photographs of troops at El Kantara in the album.
  • On the 25th April the Division made a diversionary landing at Bulair in the Gulf of Xeros. – there are photographs of two of the transport ships, the Franconia and the Minnetonka, landing troops.
  • On the 29th April the Hood Battalion, the Howe Battalion, the Divisional and Brigade Head Quarters landed on W Beach – there are close up photographs (as if taken from a small boat) of W Beach.
  • On 6th May the Hood Battalion, the Anson Battalion and A Company of the Howe Battalion took part in the Second Battle of Krithia, and Hood captured a section of the line known as the ‘White House’ – there is a photograph captioned ‘near the White House May 15’.

The Royal Armouries purchased this amazing photograph album from an antiquarian book dealer in September 2010.



The proposed attack of the ‘Easter bunnies’ was clearly intended – though very well thought out and well planned – as an April Fool. Making this a 100 year old joke!

The Letter was sent to the War Office and was opened by a Major C.P Deedes of the Kings Own Light Infantry, who was working as a General Staff Officer (Grade 3) at the time. Major Deedes wrote in his diary in response to the letter:

Rabbits - Diary Entry

Major Deedes clearly saw the funny side of this correspondence, indeed the letter was found within a collection of his belongings, meaning he had kept it ever since.

General CP Deedes_RabbitsGeneral C.P Deedes, as the Major later became, was a respected figure of his regiment. During the war he was awarded a D.S.O (Distinguished Service Order), mentioned in Dispatches on multiple occasions, and made a ‘Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.’

For more information about the papers and life of General C.P Deedes contact the Museum and Archives of the King’s Own Light Infantry. Their Website can be found here.

Unusual War Efforts: Attack of the Easter-bunnies!

General CP Deedes_Rabbits

General C.P Deedes, Major of the Kings Own Light Infantry at the time. Credits: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/general-sir-c-p-deedes-18791969-69660

On this day in 1915, the then Major CP Deedes, member of the King’s Own Light Infantry, currently G.H.Q (General Headquarters Staff) at the War Office, received a very unusual letter suggesting a new alternative “method of warfare”.

Rabbits. Around 200-300 Rabbits as a guideline.

Rabbits at War-1

Credits: King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

Rabbits at War-2

Credits: King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

This is a real letter, sent to the war office in April 1915, suggesting that rabbits be used as a weapon in trench warfare.

The unique idea was to train the rabbits to enter the trenches of the Germans by “feeding them at night on a diet, similar if possible, to what the Germans have.”

These bunny warriors would then be able to carry either smelling or sneezing gas, or even bombs on their “errand of destruction”.

The aim of this – “to play havoc with the enemy” and therefore “put the men out of action for a time, and enable us to attack”.

This may sound incredibly insensitive to us now, however the unknown author justifies this by writing “the above idea is not very humane, but at these times one has to drop sentiment, and adopt all sorts of ideas”. He even goes further to say if the plan proves ineffective, the rabbits could be used for a more savoury suggestion…!

Meet the Horse: Alfie


15.1HH  Traditional Gypsy Cob

Do not be fooled by Alfie’s colouring. The humble black and white cob is seen in many battles throughout history. A true jousting star. Alfie’s short stocky frame and bulging muscles along with his tonnes of personality make him a fantastic mount. He is an amazing stunt horse and has taken part in displays up and down the country. Although he never forgets his roots as a riding school pony back at base camp.Easter Joust  - April 2014_11_Alfiealfie3

Meet the Horse: Rupert


16.3HH Irish Draught

Star of stage and screen Rupert has taken part in many productions from centre stage in Falstaff at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden to leading Cavalry charges at the Horse of the Year Show. Rupert is a brilliant jouster , as steady as a rock, a lovely kind horse who never lets you down.

Rupert and Andyrupert in armourEaster Tournament 2013020413_61_RuperthorseEaster Tournament 2013020413_116_Rupert

Meet the Horse: Aramis


15HH Dales x Irish Draught

Small but mighty with his tail swirling like a propeller, Aramis is quite a sight. If you keep your ears open you can even hear him squeal with joy when he sets off down the list. This horse loves jousting more than anything and it shows in his work. An amazing tv and film horse who is also in Poldark showing on BBC at the moment.

Aramis2celt 077

Meet the Horse: Dylan


15HH Dales

A determined little tank who will joust whilst conserving energy. Will do the minimum required them plod back to his stable for his hay net. But still gets winning results, a very clever little horse who at the moment is playing Elizabeth’s horse on Poldark. He has been in many TV and film productions but also takes part in our trick riding and stunt shows , specialising in jumping fire and fighting dragons!!

Picture 263Easter Tournament 2013020413_109_DylanEaster Tournament 2013020413_110_DylanEaster Joust  - April 2014_10_DylanDylan2

Meet the Horse: Ted

ted15.1HH Irish Cob

Ted or Tedward Bear as he is so valiantly known behind the scenes, is a true gent. Having turned his hoof to everything from being a county show cob to pulling wagons of potatoes whilst filming, or pulling a roman chariot. Ted has seen and done it all. Unfazed and unimpressed, he runs straight and true down the list and has won many a competition at the Royal Armouries.

ted in action

Easter Tournament 2013020413_117_Ted

Mark Caple won the Queen’s Jubilee Horn in 2014 riding Ted.

Knight on horse

Royal Armouries jouster Andy Deane riding Ted

Easter Tournament 2013020413_130_Ted

Mark Caple won the Queen’s Jubilee Horn in 2014 riding Ted.