Date added: 10 Feb 2015
William Swabey born in 1789 was educated at Westminster School and Woolwich Military Academy. He was commissioned to the Royal Artillery in 1806 and served under Lord Cathcart in the land force which co-operated with Admiral Lord Gambier at the taking of Copenhagen in September 1807. Between July 1811 and August 1813 he served in the Peninsular War with E Troop of the Royal Horse Artillery, receiving a bullet in the knee at the battle of Vittoria. Invalided home, he rejoined E Troop before the close of the war, was present at the battle of Toulouse, and subsequently was in the retreat from Quatre Bras and at the Battle of Waterloo. A memoir by one of his daughters, Lady Bowman, quotes the following anecdote published in Bailey’s Sporting Magazine: ‘Colonel Newland seeing a ball coming for my father at Waterloo ...... [called] out, “Goodbye, Billy, you’re done!” but my father ducked his head and the ball passed over him!’
William kept a diary during the Peninsular campaign, which was subsequently edited by Colonel F.A. Whinyates, a fellow RHA officer, and published in 1895, as Diary of Campaigns in the Peninsular, for the Years 1811,12, and 13. Sadly, his diary covering the period including Waterloo was lost; however William wrote a letter, dated 24 June 1815, to his brother Henry, giving an extensive account of the battle. This letter appeared in (I believe) The Times on the 100th anniversary of Waterloo and has since been published in the Summerfield and Brown Military Library. It includes this summary of the part played by E Troop:
Our lot in the action was not so conspicuous a one is it generally has been our lotto share in; we were placed on the left to ensure the junction of the Prussians, and our flank was only once tried; when we got to the right the heaviness of the country was too much for all our efforts, and though we received a good deal of fire we expended very little; we however got as far as we could and received Sir Hussey Vivian’s thanks in his Brigade Orders. Our Brigade behaved beautifully: the 10th charged through a square of Infantry, in the steadiest manner and overturned masses of cavalry on the other side, returned and again charged the Infantry. Quentin behaved well and is wounded; we all regret the loss of Lord Uxbridge’s leg, which took place at that time.
Retiring from the Army in 1824 (this was apparently a condition of his marriage to Mary Ann Hobson, which had taken place in 1820), William became a JP and Deputy Lieutenant for his home county of Buckinghamshire. Mary Ann gave birth to ten children, three sons and seven daughters. For a number of years he commanded a troop of the Bucks Yeomen Cavalry. In 1840 he and his family emigrated to Prince Edward Island with the intention of farming. He was soon involved in politics and public service, being appointed to the Legislative Council in 1841. He served as Adjutant General of the Militia and was an active member of the Board of Education. His entry in the Canadian Dictionary of Biography describes him as a ‘soldier, civil servant, farmer and politician’. At the age of 72, he left Prince Edward Island and returned to England, to live at Wavendon House, Buckinghamshire. He died in 1872
I have in my possession the sword allegedly carried by William Swabey at Waterloo.
Canadian Dictionary of National Biography, Vol XThe Waterloo Letter of William Swabey, Dr Stephen Summerfield, Ed., Summerfield and Brown Military Library
Submitted by the Revd Antonia Cretney