Major General James Wolfe is quite well known for his time in Canada when he led British forces to victory over the French in Quebec. This victory then contributed to the end of French rule in North America.
However, before his time in Canada, Wolfe played a part in the Jacobite Risings and indeed fought in the Battle of Culloden. Many visitors are surprised to his name amongst the information on display in our exhibition and indeed ask whether he is the same man who ended up in Canada. Therefore, he seems an appropriate figure to explore a little bit further.
James Wolfe was born in England, in Kent, in 1727 to Edward Wolfe, a soldier, and Henrietta Thompson. By most accounts his upbringing was fairly humble but from a young age his destiny was always the army. At age thirteen he joined his fathers regiment as a volunteer and the following year he was given his first commission as a second lieutenant in the 1st Marines regiment. He moved through the ranks in the British Army, being promoted to Lieutenant and took part in the Battle of Dettingen in 1743 as part of the War of Austrian succession.
Wolfes actions at Dettingen caught the attention of the Duke of Cumberland and in 1745 Wolfe and his regiment were called home to help Cumberland to help cope with the Jacobite threat. At the beginning of 1746 Wolfe was present at the Battle of Falkirk and, although this was a Government loss, shortly after he was made aide-de-camp to Lieutenant-General Hawley. Later, at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746, he fought again on the Government lines and there is a famous tale that Wolfe refused to shoot a wounded Jacobite soldier. Some say it was Cumberland who ordered Wolfe to shoot, whilst others believe it may have been Hawley. Either way Wolfe apparently refused stating he would rather resign his post than take the shot.
For a while after Culloden Wolfe returned to the continent but came back to Britain in 1748 where he was posted in Scotland. For many years he worked hard to become a better leader and soldier and also found time to study Latin and Mathematics. By 1754 Britain and France’s relationship had fallen apart and fighting soon broke out in North America. In 1758 he joined an expedition to Louisburg as one of three brigade commanders. Here he distinguished himself as a capable soldier and was ultimately put in charge of an expedition to take Quebec.
On 13th September 1759 Wolfe launched his long awaited plan to take Quebec. He used boats to transport his men along the St Lawrence River to attack the city from the south-west. Here he and his men surprised the French drawing them out of the city itself and into a waiting battle. Wolfe was victorious but he paid for his victory dearly. Fatally wounded early in the battle Wolfe lived just long enough to hear his plan was a success.
When news of his death reach Britain it seized the publics imagination. Wolfe was a young leader who had been an inspirational leader. His image was celebrated in paintings, prints and he became one of the greatest military heroes of the eighteenth century. Today he is remembered mostly for his triumph over the French in Quebec but it is interesting to know his past and how it seemed he was always destined to be the great leader that he is considered today.
We hope you enjoyed this little insight into Wolfe’s life. We couldn’t possibly cover everything about him in this short space so there is plenty more to discover if you wish. As always please like, comment, tweet, share and if you want to learn more you can always visit Quebec House , Wolfe’s childhood home, which is now run by our counterparts the National Trust.
All he best, K & D