In Focus: Henry and John Crealock, the Victorian military brothers who turned their hands to art

Huon Mallalieu considers the careers of Henry Hope Crealock and John North Crealock, the Victorian army officers and sometime-artists whose careers saw them come into contact with one of Britain's most famous military figures of the 19th century: Field Marshal Wolseley.

Field Marshal Sir Garnet Wolseley, 1st Viscount and Commander-in-Chief of the army, was one of the most famous British military commanders of the 19th century. He was famously efficient — the military expression ‘all Sir Garnet’ means ‘all in order — but he was also a snob. Or, more accurately, a double snob.

Although from a distinguished Anglo-Irish family, his beginnings were impoverished, as his widowed mother and six siblings had only a major’s pension to support them. He had to leave school at 14 and could not afford to go to Sandhurst or to buy a commission, but he did eventually gain an ensignship and flourished in the army. This may have coloured his attitude to some of his colleagues.

Sir Garnet Wolseley (1833-1913) depicted as a young officer in the British army, storming Myat-Toon's stronghold, Burma, February 1853. 'Impetuously eager to distinguish himself in this, his first serious fight, the young officer was rushing forward, well ahead of his men'.

Sir Garnet Wolseley (1833-1913) depicted as a young officer in the British army, storming Myat-Toon’s stronghold, Burma, February 1853. ‘Impetuously eager to distinguish himself in this, his first serious fight, the young officer was rushing forward, well ahead of his men’. Credit: Alamy

During the final operations of the Indian Mutiny, he served alongside the future Lt-Gen Henry Hope Crealock (1831–91) and, later, during the Zulu War, he also crossed paths with Crealock’s younger brother, Military Assistant to Lord Chelmsford. Chelmsford was the commander responsible for the disastrous slaughter at Isandlwana.

John North Crealock was first on the scene the day after that battle and his illustrated account appeared in the London press. Later, he lied in court, trying to shift the blame from his chief. Wolseley regarded him as ‘Chelmsford’s evil genius’ and, in a private letter, wrote that the brothers ‘are both snobs, and as they were not born gentlemen they cannot help it’. Surely a case of it takes one to know one.

The brothers were both competent amateur artists and, at one point, Henry Hope left the army in an attempt to earn a living as a painter in Rome. In fact, he was more draughtsman than painter and albums of his hunting and shooting sketches turn up in country houses from time to time. One large group, including a couple of atmospheric pastels, was sold for £37,500 by Bonhams in Edinburgh in 2016.

Last month, in a picture sale at the re-designated Olympia Auctions in west London, a 13in by 80in pen-and-ink panorama by him sold for £11,700 to South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture, The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) Collection-Low Parks Museum, South Lanarkshire, with the support of the Army Museums Ogilby Trust.

Panorama of British forces advancing on Bareilly, in pen and ink, by Lt-Gen Henry Crealock. This picture sold at Olympia Auctions for £11,700. Credit: Olympia Auctions

Panorama of British forces advancing on Bareilly, in pen and ink, by Lt-Gen Henry Crealock. This picture sold at Olympia Auctions for £11,700. Credit: Olympia Auctions

It showed the situation of the British force under Sir Colin Campbell on May 5, 1858, as it advanced on Bareilly in what is now Uttar Pradesh, stronghold of Khan Bahadur Khan Rohilla, one of the last rebel leaders, who had declared himself Nawab and was later captured and hanged.

In the extensive inscription, Crealock noted that he had represented himself going ahead ‘taking the order from General Mansfield, who is pointing out the direction of the spot to be fired on’. He has named officers, but not Wolseley.