General George Wynne

General George Wynne General George Wynne was my great-granduncle. I have transcribed the memoir bound in leather and gold-embossed with the Wynne coat of arms. Sometime it would be interesting to set his life in the context of 19th century history. He was, for example, involved in relief work during the Irish potato famine, and was with the last troops in the Greek islands before they were handed over to Greece. And what happened in China in 1858-59 was the Second Opium War, called the Arrow War - not an episode that the British can be very proud of, I fear.


Memoir of General George Wynne, Colonel Commandant, Royal Engineers. Reprinted from "The Royal Engineers' Journal," of August 1st, 1890, with some corrections and additions.

For Private Circulation only.

General George Wynne, Colonel Commandant of the Corps of Royal Engineers, who died suddenly at the Hotel du Nord, Cologne, on the 27th June 1890, was born at Killucan, co. Meath, on the 4th September, 1804, and at the time of his death was "father of the Corps."

He was the fourth son of the Rev. Henry Wynne of Killucan, second son of Owen Wynne of Hazlewood, Sligo. [See on-line family tree here.]

His family has been distinguished for its military service to the Crown. Brigadier James Wynne, who fought as a Captain under King William at the Battle of the Boyne, raised the 5th Royal Regiment of Dragoons, and was mortally wounded at the head of his regiment ("Wynne's Dragoons," now the 5th Lancers) at the Battle of Moorslede, in Flanders. Lieut.-General Owen Wynne of Hazlewood served at the Battles of the Boyne, Aughrim, and Eniskillen, and through the whole of Queen Anne's wars in Flanders; his regiment of foot ("Wynne's Foot") raised in the year 1701, was "broke" as a Whig regiment in 1713, but on the accession of George I. he raised the 9th Regiment of Dragoons, and died while Commander-in-chief in Ireland.

Of the eight members of the family was served the Crown from 1688 to 1715, four were killed in action. The family has been ever since represented in the army, and of the four members of the family, including General Wynne, who have held commissions in the Royal Engineers during the present century, two have died in action, namely, Lieutentant [sic] Charles Wynne at Lucknow, under Sir Hope Grant, and Captain Warren Wynne in the Zulu War after the relief of Ekowe; General Wynne's second son, Lieut.-Colonel Edward Toler Wynne, died last year when C.R.E. in Natal.

Wynne was educated at home, and entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, in 181, in his 14th year. As there were no vacancies in the Royal Engineers at the time of his leaving Woolwich, commissions in the line were offered to, and accepted by, many of his contemporaries; but he preferred to wait, being admitted as a "Candidate, R.E.," on June 9th, 1825, so that it was not till 1826 that he was gazetted to a commission of 2nd Lieutenant in the Engineers when he was 22 years of age.

On leaving Chatham he was appointed to the Woolwich District, but after a short time was ordered to the West Indies, where he served three years. In 1832 he returned to his old station at Woolwich. From there he obtained leave, and was present, as the guest of the French General Gerard, at the siege of Antwerp, in 1832. This is the one regular siege which has taken place this century; the only other one which was at all a regular siege (as opposed to an investment), was the siege of Strasbourg by the Germans, in 1870.

In 1834 Lieut. Wynne married Anne, eldest daughter of Sir Daniel Toler Osborne, Bart., of Beechwood, Tipperary, by whom he had three sons, and one daughter. His eldest son, Henry Le Poer Wynne, entered the Bengal Civil Service, and after an already distinguished career, died in May, 1874, at Calcutta, while acting Foreign Secretary to the Government of India. His second son, Edward Toler Wynne, entered his father's profession, and died a Lieut.-Colonel in March, 1889, while commanding the Royal Engineers in Natal. His third and only surviving son, Frank George Wynne, a Civil Engineer, is married to the daughter of his contemporary, the late General Frome, R.E. His only daughter, Lucy, is married to Major Vere O'Brien, late of the 60th Rifles.

In 1835 he was appointed to the Ordnance Survey of Ireland, on which he was employed for five years. It was at this time that he made the acquaintance to young Tyndall, who was engaged on the survey; and Lieut. Wynne appreciating his strong, active character and great abilities, a life-long friendship was formed between them. How strong it was is best shown by the earnest tribute Professor Tyndall has paid to his memory in his letter to The Times:-

"A recent number of The Times contained an obituary notice of General George Wynne, who, by the gracious courtesy of the German Emperor, was buried with military honours, at Cologne, on the 30th June. Would you kindly allow a friend of 50 years' standing to devote a line to his memory? In 1839, I being fresh from school, Lieut. Wynne became my chief. A few years afterwards he was sufficiently my friend to offer me the use of his purse for the prosecution of my studies in Germany. Our friendship, afterwards, was of the most intimate and cordial character; and notwithstanding my heterodoxy, and his Christian piety, it was never for a moment shaken. Let me briefly say that a spirit more erect and pure I have never known. A short time ago he drew my attention to the way in which the graves of his family were severed. His first most noble wife rests in the Ionian Islands; his eldest son, a man of conspicuous ability, rests in India; his second son, pure and honest as his father, rests in Natal. And now the General himself finds a resting-place in German soil. He was tended to the last by the affectionate care of his second wife. To her, surely, the gratitude of those who loved the General is due. The earth's noblest ones are sometimes found among its noiseless ones. A conspicuous illustration of this truth is furnished by the life and character of General George Wynne."

What Dr. Tyndall, with characteristic generosity, has not recorded is that, though Lieut. Wynne's purse was freely offered to him, it was not used, and the service then so frankly offered was met in after life by continual real and kindly services to Wynne and to his family.

On leaving the survey, in 1840, Wynne was employed at Zante for nearly four years, then at Chatham and Woolwich, and again in Ireland in 1846 on the Relief Works under the Irish Government during the famine. In 1847 he was seconded, consequent on his appointment as Government Inspector of Railways, which he held for 10 years.

In 1854 he was promoted Brevet-Major, in 1855 Lieut.-Colonel. In 1858 he resigned his appointment at the Board of Trade, being then Senior Government Inspector of Railways, to rejoin his corps; the same year he received his commission as Brevet-Colonel, and was ordered to China, where he served as C.R.E., under Major-General Van Straubenzee. He was present at the affair of the White Cloud Mountain, 3rd June, 1858 (slightly wounded); storming and capture of Nantow, 11th August, 1858 (mentioned in despatches); and attack of Skek-Tsing, 8th January 1859. He received the war medal for China.

In 1859 he went to Corfu as C.R.E., where it fell to his lot to rebuild, and then to demolish, Fort Abraham. Whilst at Chatham as a young officer he was employed in designing the fortifications of the Island of Vido, under Sir Harry Jones. It is remarkable that he should subsequently, as C.R.E., be also ordered to completely demolish these same fortifications, which had, meanwhile, cost England such enormous sums. He received his rank of Colonel in 1862.

Just six days before the English garrison march out of Corfu, and the Ionian Islands were ceded to Greece, his beloved wife died, on the 29th May, 1864. This was a terrible blow, and his loss was no ordinary bereavement, Mrs Wynne was a woman of remarkable talent and force of character, and was endeared to all who knew her.

On his return to England he became C.R.E. at Dover. From 1866 to 1870 he served as C.R.E. in Ireland, the last two years as Major-General.

In 1872 he was awarded a good service pension, which he held until he became Colonel-Commandant in 1876, receiving at the same time his commission as Lieut.-General. In 1877 he was made a General.

In 1874 General Wynne married, secondly, Henrietta, the youngest daughter of Colonel Darrah, 97th Regiment, and sister of Major Darrah, R.E., who died in 1871, after a long illness, brought about by over-exertion during the Abyssinian campaign. - Her tender affection made the General's life happy to the end. During the last 13 years he went regularly to Norway, and the vigour he retained is shown by the fact that in his eighty-fifth year, when fishing at a place within the Arctic Circle, he landed a thirty-pound salmon. His mind to the last was as youthful as his body.

He died at the Hotel du Nord at Cologne, while on his return from leave of absence on the Continent. His remains were laid out in the Vice-Consular Chapel attached to the Hotel, the coffin being covered by the Union Jack and by wreaths sent by the officers of the garrison and by others. The first part of the funeral service was read there, and attended by the Governor of Cologne, General-of-Division von Kropff and his staff, headed by the Commandant of the fortress, Lieut.-Colonel von Losch. The procession of officers who followed the coffin on foot, was joined on the way to the cemetery by all the officers of the garrison except those on actual duty. The coffin was carried to the military hearse by eight non-commissioned officers, who attended it four on each side; it was drawn by four horses, each led by a cuirassier. The band of the 8th Cuirassiers headed the procession, followed by a squadron of that regiment. The band of the 40th Regiment of the Line and the whole of that regiment followed, escorting the hearse. At the entrance to the cemetery all except the volley-party halted in line, and saluted the bier as it passed, the bands playing solemn music. The rest of the burial service was read at the grave, and after three volleys each officer threw in three handfuls of earth, and saluted.

The great respect, the kindness and the sympathy shown in this foreign land, were inexpressibly grateful to his family, and can never be forgotten by them. To use the words of Colonel von Losch: "The Corps of Prussian officers is united by a bond of brotherhood, and in this bond they embrace any officer of a friendly nation who comes among them, more especially an Englishman and an officer of such high rank as General Wynne."

British officers would surely avail themselves of any opportunity of showing how they appreciate such touching honours paid to the remains of an old British soldier by the Prussian garrison of Cologne.

To complete this memoir of General Wynne, we give the following note, written by Sir Lothian Nicholson, Inspector-General of Fortifications and R.E.:-

"As the late General Wynne was not only my friend, but one whom I have reason to regard with the deepest affection, I may be forgiven to wishing to add a few words to this record of his life. He was my ideal of a good man, simple and refined: he was yet endued with those qualities which go to make a good officer in the highest sense of the term; kind and generous, he was yet discriminating and just, tolerant and ready to excuse the faults of others. The story of his life gives evidence of the purity of his own blameless character, and though we may have had in our ranks men who have had greater opportunities for distinction, and who knew how to take advantage of them, it will be readily conceded by those who knew him well that few men in the Corps were more worthy of regard and of honour than General George Wynne."

"Inspector-General of Fortifications & R.E."