By Haydn Brown.
George Townshend was born on 28 February 1723/24, the eldest son of Charles (3rd Viscount Townshend) and his wife Audrey Harrison. The Townshend family-owned extensive estates in Norfolk and elsewhere, but their ancestral home was Raynham Hall in Norfolk.
George was educated at St John’s College, Cambridge, leaving there in 1742 to become a volunteer to the British Army in Germany, attached to the staff of Lord Dunmore, one of the general officers. He was present at the battle of Dettingen (16 June 1743) and also apparently at that of Fontenoy (30 April 1745), though a letter of Horace Walpole’s says that he was too late for any action!
In May 1745 Townshend was appointed a captain in Bligh’s Regiment (later the 20th Foot). On the outbreak of the Jacobite rebellion in that year he returned to Britain, joined his regiment, which fought at the Battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746; during this battle, the Bligh’s casualties were 4 killed and 17 wounded. Afterwards, Townshend went back to the Continent, having been appointed an aide-de-camp to the Duke of Cumberland. In this capacity he was present at the battle of Laffeldt on 21 June 1747 and carried Cumberland’s dispatch back to England. Then on 25 February 1748, he was appointed to a captaincy in the 1st Foot Guards, which carried with it the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
When the War of the Austrian Succession ended in 1748, Townshend returned to England and became a MP in the House of Commons for the County of Norfolk – which he continued to represent until he succeeded his father as 4th Viscount in 1764. But before that, he famously fell out with the Duke of Cumberland; attacking him in parliament, and making him a victim of his notable powers as a caricaturist.
George Townshend, you see, had a mercurial personality that did not suffer fools gladly and was never shy about criticising those whose competence he questioned. Not surprisingly perhaps, this was the reason which led to the open hostility between Townshend and his military superior. At the end of 1750 Townshend resigned from the army and identified himself with the cause of militia reform; largely as a result of his efforts an effective new militia act was passed in 1757.
Townshend had always exhibited a knack for drawing, and during his military tenure used it effectively to sketch topography, fortifications, and maps. But beginning around 1750, he began to draw caricature sketches of people–officers, clergy, fashionable women. He was soon covering every scrap of available paper with caricature portraits of friends and enemies and circulating them among his friends and correspondents. But it was in 1756-57 that Townshend began embedding his portrait caricatures into dramatic and narrative frames to make a political point, and thereby creating the prototype for satiric political caricature that would later be followed by others. The Recruiting Sergeant, for example shows Fox acting as a sergeant gathering a pathetic group of recruits to create a new ministry while the Duke of Cumberland (for whom the ministry would be formed) appears ironically exalted in the Temple of Fame.
In the same year Cumberland ceased to be Commander-in-Chief, being succeeded by Sir John Ligonier. Townshend now returned to the service, being commissioned as Colonel on 6 May 1758 – but without a regiment, a point which prompted him to write to William Pitt asking for active employment against the French. In December he was summoned to London and appointed to command a brigade in the expedition under James Wolfe which was being organized to attack Quebec by way of the St Lawrence.
This appointment displeased Wolfe very much; he had asked Ligonier to let him choose his own subordinates – and he had not asked for Townshend! The “Proposals for the expedition to Quebec” in Pitt’s papers suggest that the three brigadiers were Robert Monckton, James Murray, and Ralph Burton. Unfortunately, Burton, a particular friend of Wolfe’s, was squeezed out to make room for Townshend – a man with more influence! Wolfe wrote Townshend a welcoming letter in which he said:
“Your name was mentioned to me by [Ligonier] and my answer was, that such an example in a person of your rank and character could not but have the best effects upon the troops in America; and I took the freedom to add that what might be wanting in experience was amply made up, in an extent of capacity and activity of mind, that would find nothing difficult in our business.”
This reflects the feelings of a hard-working middle-class career officer confronted with the heir to a viscountcy who has always had things made easy for him. It would be strange if Townshend did not resent the reference to inexperience, especially as he had seen a good deal of active service. Here perhaps is the origin of later trouble!
Townshend, junior to Monckton but senior to Murray, was third in command of the expedition. He crossed the Atlantic with Wolfe in Vice-Admiral Charles Saunders*’s flagship Neptune. It may have been during the voyage that he made the water-colour drawing of Wolfe which the general’s biographer Robert Wright called “the most convincing portrait of Wolfe I have ever seen”; it is certainly the best portrait extant. In the last week of June 1759, the British fleet and army arrived before Quebec, and Wolfe began his long struggle with the problem of bringing the Marquis de Montcalm to battle.
During 9 and 10 of July, Townshend’s and Murray’s brigades landed on the north shore of the St Lawrence, below Montmorency Falls, and entrenched themselves there. By this time Wolfe’s relations with his brigadiers, and particularly Townshend, had deteriorated. On 7 July Wolfe had written in his journal:
“Some difference of opinion upon a point termed slight & insignificant & the Commander in Chief is threatened with a Parliamentary Inquiry into his Conduct for not consulting an inferior Officer & seeming to disregard his Sentiments!”
The “inferior Officer” was presumably George Townshend; and matters got worse after the unsuccessful Montmorency attack on 31 July, an operation which the brigadiers had disliked. On 6 September Townshend wrote the rather famous letter to his wife in which he said, “General Wolf’s Health is but very bad. His Generalship in my poor opinion – is not a bit better; this is only between us.” Townshend’s wickedly clever caricatures of Wolfe which have survived tell a great deal about their relationship.
On or about 27 August Wolfe, then recovering from a severe illness, consulted the brigadiers formally for the first time. He sent them a memorandum begging them to consult together as to the best method of attacking the enemy. He himself suggested three possible lines of attack, all variants of the Montmorency operation which had already failed. After discussion with Admiral Saunders, the brigadiers politely rejected the Commander-in-Chief’s suggestions and recommended a quite different line of operation, bringing the troops away from Montmorency and landing above Quebec:
“When we establish ourselves on the North Shore, the French General must fight us on our own Terms; We shall be betwixt him and his provisions, and betwixt him and their Army opposing General [Jeffery Amherst] [on Lake Champlain].”
For the first time, the essential strategic weakness of the French position was pointed out and exploited: Quebec, and the French army outside Quebec, were dependent on provisions brought down the river, and if this supply line were cut, Montcalm would have no choice but to fight to open it. Wolfe accepted the brigadiers’ recommendation, and thereby made possible the victory on the Plains of Abraham; though the decision to take the risk of landing at the Anse au Foulon, close to the town, was Wolfe’s own. The brigadiers had favoured landing further up the river.
In the battle of the Plains, Townshend commanded the British left wing. Wolfe was mortally wounded and Monckton disabled, and Townshend unexpectedly found himself commanding the army. In these circumstances it is not surprising that his direction of the last phase of the action and its aftermath was not particularly effective. His first task was to deal with Colonel Louis-Antoine de Bougainville’s belated intervention from up the river; this was easily done. But the beaten French field army made good its escape to the west. Townshend prepared to besiege and bombard Quebec, bringing large numbers of guns up the cliff to the Plains of Abraham. But the city surrendered to him on 18 September and in return was offered relatively lenient terms in order to get possession of the town as soon as possible.
Townshend returned to England before the winter and was rewarded with the colonelcy of the 28th Foot and the thanks of Parliament. On 6 March 1761 he was made a Major-General, and took command of a brigade in the British contingent of the allied army in Germany. The following year he was sent to Portugal with the local rank of Lieutenant-General, and took command of a division of the Anglo-Portuguese army which was protecting Portugal against the forces of France and Spain. No important operations took place here before the conclusion of peace.
In 1767 Townshend was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and held this post until 1772. Traditionally, Townshend in Ireland has been remembered chiefly as a person who was adept at manipulating the Irish parliament by corrupt means and was considerably disliked. Later research, however, reveals him as an effective and resolute administrator whose financial measures broke the power of the local oligarchy and transferred it to a party in parliament controlled by the government in Dublin Castle.
From 1772 to 1782, and again for some months in 1783, Townshend was master general of the Board of Ordnance. He was promoted general in 1782 and field marshal in 1796. He was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk in 1792, and also held the office of governor of Jersey. In 1787 he was made a marquess.
Although Townshend had been so bitter against Wolfe in 1759, time softened his feelings, and in 1774 he discouraged Murray from making an attack on the memory of the dauntless hero. Townshend and his fellow brigadiers have been much abused by Wolfe’s admirers; but there is not the slightest doubt that they gave him sound advice at a moment when he was floundering badly, and that it was they, with the support of Saunders, who set Wolfe’s feet on the path to victory. Townshend had important artistic abilities; he has been called “the first great English caricaturist.” An obituary in the Times said, “In his private character he was lively, unaffected, and convivial.” His portrait was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds and by Thomas Hudson.
Townshend was one of the favoured people who in July 1767 received 20,000-acre grants in St John’s (Prince Edward) Island, being awarded Lot 56 in the east end of the Island. In 1770, embarrassed by his Irish expenses, he was trying unsuccessfully to sell this land. Like so many of the absentee proprietors, he seems to have done nothing to settle or develop his grant. In 1784, however, he gave up one-quarter of it to “American Loyalists and disbanded troops,” and some settlement then took place.
On the domestic front, and away from all the awards during an illustrious career, George Townshend married Charlotte Compton in 1751; she was Baroness Ferrers of Chartley in her own right. By her, four sons and four daughters were said to have been delivered before she died in 1770. Three years later he married Anne, daughter of Sir James William Montgomery; this marriage is said to have produced six children.
George Townshend, 4th Viscount and 1st Marquess Townshend, army officer and caricaturist died at Raynham Hall, Norfolk, England on 14 Sept. 1807.
P. Stacey “TOWNSHEND, GEORGE, 4th Viscount 1st Marquess TOWNSHEND,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 6, 2021, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/townshend_george_5E.html.
Heading Image: George Townshend, 4th Viscount and 1st Marquess Townshend, attributed to Gilbert Stuart, circa. 1785 Photo: Wikimedia Commons