Collection Blog

A Dorset Soldier at Waterloo

June 18, 2023

This year marks the 208 Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo on 18th June 1815. We highlight the role played by Dorset-born, Sgt William Lawrence, in this historical event.

Born in 1791 at Briantspuddle, William Lawrence became an apprentice to Henry Bush a builder living in Studland. Harshly treated, young William left eventually enlisting in the 40th Regiment of Foot.

As a soldier in the ranks of the 40th, he took part in numerous campaigns and fought in South America against the Spanish, before being part of the force that under the Duke of Wellington, liberated Portugal and Spain from the occupation of Napoleon’s Army.

Accompanied by his tame cockerel ‘Tom’, Lawrence took part in Wellington’s victories at Talavera, the sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, and Vitoria before crossing the Pyrenees fighting a desperate French rearguard. News of Napoleon’s overthrow and exile on the Isle of Elba did not end active service for Lawrence for he and the 40th participated in the North American conflict of 1812.

Taken in 1888. The building on the right is the ‘New Inn, now the Bankes’ Arms. The cottage on the left was the ‘Old’ inn., Lawrences’s ‘Wellington Inn.
Taken in 1888. The building on the right is the ‘New Inn, now the Bankes’ Arms. The cottage on the left was the ‘Old’ Inn, Lawrences’s ‘Wellington Inn.

With the news of Napoleon’s escape from exile, Lawrence and the 40th as part of the Allied Army under the command of the Duke of Wellington, withstood relentless French Artillery bombardment, as well as infantry and cavalry attacks as they held the ridge at Mont St Jean near the Belgium village of Waterloo. Even an experienced soldier like Lawrence found the number of casualties appalling. It was, on the arrival of the Prussian Army, a hard-fought victory over the French Army under Napoleon. The second overthrow and final exile of Napoleon to St Helena brought the peace that Europe had longed for.

Sgt. William Lawrence’s grave at St. Nicholas’ Churchyard, Studland

Lawrence was part of the Army of Occupation of France where he met and married a French woman, Clotide Clairet. William Lawrence and his wife returned to England and became landlords of the Wellington Inn, Studland, Dorset. Here they both lived out their lives and are buried in St Nicholas Church, Studland.

A truly remarkable life and well worth exploring in his autobiography.

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