English, Department of



Graham Handley

Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 27 (1996) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2018 (27)


Edward Bruce Hamley (1824-93) was a dedicated professional soldier, a military historian and theorist and a man of varied literary interests. He was a member of a distinguished Cornish family, and was educated at Bodmin Grammar School and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, being commissioned in the Royal Artillery in 1843, thereafter serving in Ireland and Canada (1844-8), and devoting himself to field sports, reading, and indulging his love of cats. His earliest papers appeared in Fraser's (1849-50), and in 1853 his superbly ironic novel Lady Lee's Widowhood made him a pas singly famous writer. But the Crimean War clipped his literary wings. He went with Sir Richard Dacres to Turkey, thereafter acting as his adjutant in the Crimea: at the Alma his horse was hit by cannon shot, while at Inkerman it was killed under him, Hamley narrowly avoiding capture. Later he was to write an account (he had already sent letters to Blackwood's Magazine which were published) of the Sebastopol campaign (1855) and The War in the Crimea (1891). He was mentioned four times in dispatches, climbed the military ladder at regular intervals, met John Blackwood (who became a lifetime friend) and edited the first series of Tales from Blackwood (1858). To the latter he contributed two of his own stories, and in the following year his career took a new turn when he was appointed Professor of Military History at the new Staff College at Sandhurst. There he remained for six years, his lectures providing the basis for his major work, The Operations of War (1866). His love of animals is reflected in Our Poor Relations, originally published in Blackwood's in 1870. By 1877 he was a Major-General, served in Bulgaria in 1879, was made a KCMG in 1880, and in 1882 as a Lieutenant-General he was given command of a regiment in Egypt. To the presiding general he submitted a plan for an attack on Aboukir Bay, but another strategy was adopted of which Hamley was not informed. He found himself commanding two batallions at the battle of Tel-el-Kebir: convinced that his troops were responsible for the victory there, he was humiliated when they were not mentioned. He returned to England feeling that he had been wronged, and although he was made a KCB he held no further official appointment. He was retained on the active list largely through sympathetic public opinion until 1890, and promoted to full general in that year. Meanwhile he had become a Conservative MP for Birkenhead (1886). Earlier he had shown a strongly antiGladstone streak. In 1884 he had been disgusted by the slaughter of Egyptian troops at Sinkat, and blamed Gladstone squarely for the disaster. He accused him of being withdrawn, out of touch, egocentric and dictatorial: 'He is his own Pope .... If facts contradict him, he puts them calmly aside .... He is essentially shifty and evasive.' Hamley spent much time at his club (the Athenaeum) and was looked after in his final years by his niece. He died in 1893. He never married.