Queen Victoria's First Visit to her Wounded Soldiers by Jerry Barrett, NPG 6203

On Saturday 3 March 1855, Queen Victoria took the train to Chatham where she visited the newly reorganized military hospitals.

Her Majesty and the Prince, with their two sons (Edward, Prince of Wales and  Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh) proceeded to Fort Pitt, and subsequently to the Invalid Depot [Brompton Hospital], where Her Majesty visited the wards occupied by the wounded and invalided men lately returned from the Crimea. Her Majesty visited 450 sick and wounded men.

In her journal she noted “many sad wounds” and the cramped wards, ending, “I cannot say how interested I was, and how well I understand the ladies devoting themselves to the nursing of these brave fellows”.

The Queen’s visit to the Chatham hospitals followed a series of well-publicized receptions at Buckingham Palace, only weeks earlier, to honour the invalids from the household regiments.  The country had been gripped by reportage of the Crimean "winter of disaster", December 1854 to March 1855, and the Chatham visit, like the palace receptions, was the Queen’s personal and patriotic response to the crisis.

Also present at Chatham, observing and sketching the scene, was a young artist, Jerry Barrett.  The Queen might have known the painting he had exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1851, “Meeting of Queen Victoria with the Royal Family of Orleans”, 1850. What prompted Barrett’s new choice of subject? Executed in his painstaking technique,  to include around 20 portraits on a large canvas, it was a brave commitment. But in March 1855, as the siege of Sebastopol dragged on, and evidence of political incompetence and disastrous mismanagement continued to mount up, he judged that the Chatham scene would be of lasting historical and pictorial interest.

William Agnew, a Manchester art dealer and print publisher, also banked on the long-term appeal of the subject. He bought the painting and its copyright for £420, at some date after 26 March 1856. He also paid Barrett’s travel expenses to Constantinople, supportive of the artist’s plan to make a pendant to the Chatham image. This work was to be centred around the legendary “angel of mercy”: see The Mission of Mercy: Florence Nightingale receiving the Wounded at Scutari, 1857 (NPG 6202). As the publisher behind Roger Fenton’s Crimean photographs of 1855, the Manchester dealer had built a reputation around such imagery.

To publicize the forthcoming print, Agnew’s lent the painting to the Royal Exhibition Gallery, 162 Piccadilly, London, in May and June 1856. The subject still resonated. It was a time of peace celebrations (29 May) as regiments continued to sail back from the east. So Agnew’s publication project was applauded, with the Sun, for example, declaring that the print of Queen Victoria’s First Visit to her Wounded Soldiers "is destined, we doubt not, to be among the most popular pictures commemorative of the late war with Russia". 

Press reviews of NPG 6203, primed by Agnew’s fulsome prospectus, were positive. The Morning Herald noted that likenesses of the royal family were taken "from photographs placed at the disposal of the artist by the Queen, together with the dresses worn by herself and the Prince during the visit. The other portraits are from actual sittings, and all are perfect to the very life". The Athenaeum approved: "It is a work of minute truth and fidelity, the subject well treated, and the painting careful throughout. … The event was worth recording, and will hold its place in history".Reviewers noted that of the seven soldiers pictured, five were true portraits.

Of the 21 figures portrayed, Barrett spotlit half a dozen besides the tight-knit royal group. These included the Duke of Cambridge (he had been invalided out of Crimea); the Queen’s lady-in-waiting Charlotte Canning, active in nursing organizations; the staff surgeon, Henry Cooper Reade, shown explaining the nature of the injuries; and among the soldiers, the heroic Sergeant John Breese, ‘who left his arm among the Muscovites, but took from them a dozen lives to balance the account’, standing to attention at right.

In May 1858 Agnew’s exhibited Barrett’s two Crimean paintings, NPG 6203 and NPG 6202, at Hayward and Leggatt in the City of London.  The figure of the Queen, wearing the ‘ordinary out-of-door habiliaments [sic] of an English gentlewoman’ of 1855, appeared homely by comparison with Nightingale in her exotic setting. Reviewing the 1858 exhibition, the Athenaeum praised the ‘care and quiet earnestness’ of Barrett’s portrait of the Queen. Overall, the opinion was that Barrett’s  eye for truthful detail  and respect for decorum, well equipped him to be a painter of contemporary history.

These two paintings of Barrett made his name, though apparently none of his later works came near to matching this success.

NPG 6203 and NPG 6202 were eventually sold by Agnew’s to a Liverpool shipbuilder, Sir Edward Bates, in 1859. The paintings then dropped from public view  until put up for sale by the Bates family at Christie’s on 5 March 1993. The National Army Museum, London, showed early interest in the Chatham scene but withdrew after ascertaining that the National Portrait Gallery was working to acquire the pair. Queen Victoria’s First Visit was estimated at £80,000–£120,000, less than The Mission of Mercy; yet on the day of the sale it went for more, at £180,000 (or £202,912.50, including buyers’ premium and VAT on the premium). Generous grants of £50,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and £22,550 from the National Art Collections Fund (NACF) for Queen Victoria’s First Visit alone helped the Gallery triumph in its acquisition campaign; see NPG 6202 for further details.

Queen Victoria was deeply affected by the sufferings of her troops in the Crimea. Barrett shows her visiting
disabled soldiers at the Brompton Hospital, Chatham on 3 March 1855, with her husband, Prince Albert,
and their two eldest sons, the Prince of Wales and Prince Alfred, later Duke of Edinburgh.
Oil on canvas, 1856
58 1/4 in. x 86 3/8 in. (1480 mm x 2193 mm)

01:  John McCabe   He sustained terrible injuries taking part in the cavalry charge at Balaclava. 

02: James Higgins  whose 'appearance caused much painful emotion to her Majesty'

03: Sergeant Leny  He had fought at the battles of the Alma, Balaclava, and Inkerman. 

04: Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha Prince Consort of Queen Victoria (1819-1861) 
Second son of Ernest, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha; married his cousin, Queen Victoria, 1840, and played an influential role in public life. Noted as a patron of the arts, Prince Albert was largely responsible for the Great Exhibition of 1851.

05: Queen Victoria (1819-1901)   Reigned 1837-1901  
Queen Victoria succeeded to the throne shortly after her eighteenth birthday in July 1837. She was daughter of the Duke of Kent, who was the fourth son of George III. Her reign was the second longest in British history, celebrating her Golden Jubilee in 1887 and Diamond Jubilee in 1897. She held great influence over the foreign and domestic policies of the governments she oversaw.

06: King Edward VII (1841-1910)  Reigned 1901-10   
Edward was Queen Victoria's eldest son but she favoured his brother Arthur. As a child he struggled with education and, in a bid to present Prince Albert as the leading male royal figure, Edward as Prince of Wales was excluded from most public duties. After the death of Albert he was allowed to perform ceremonial duties but was still kept out of the running of the country. Following his marriage to Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863, he took up residence at Marlborough House, which became a centre of high society glamour, and devoted his time to sports and entertainment. Despite remaining aloof from politics, his popularity increased during his reign, as Britain experienced expansion and prosperity.

07: Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1844-1900)    
Naval officer; second son of Queen Victoria  

Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, joined the Navy in 1858, at the age of fourteen. On the abdication of King Otto of Greece in 1862, Alfred was chosen by the Greeks to succeed him, but political conventions made it impossible for the British government to accede to their wishes. Meanwhile, Alfred pursued his naval career. In 1863 he was promoted to Lieutenant and three years later to Captain. By 1893 he was Admiral of the Fleet. He was highly respected as a well-informed and able fleet leader.

08: Prince George William Frederick Charles, 2nd Duke of Cambridge (1819-1904)   Army officer       
Prince George was the only son of Adolphus Frederick, the youngest son of King George III. After brief service in the Hanoverian Army, he became a colonel in the British Army in 1837. At the beginning of the Crimean War, he commanded the 1st Division and by the end of the war had taken part in all the major battles, although he was not seen as a particularly distinguished leader. After the war, he was promoted to general (1856), field marshal (1862) and commander-in-chief in 1887. The government wished to implement army reform, including the abolition of his position. The Duke resisted pressure to resign for several years until the Queen advised him to leave in 1895.

09: Charles Grey (1804-1870)  General, private secretary to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha  
and private secretary to Queen Victoria      

Charles Grey joined the Army in 1820 and rose rapidly through the ranks, finally becoming a general in 1865. He was an MP from 1832 to 1837 but retired on Queen Victoria's accession, after which he was in almost constant attendance at court. Grey was an equerry to the queen from 1837 to 1867, and Prince Albert's private secretary from 1849 until his death in 1861. From then until his own death he served as secretary to the queen, who relied heavily upon him after the Prince Consort's death.

10: Mrs Eden   

11: George Russell Dartnell (1799-1878)   Army surgeon        
Born and educated in Ireland, Dartnell joined the British Army in 1820 and received his diploma as a member of the Royal College of Surgeon's in 1822. His early postings were to the Mediterranean, India, Ceylon and Burma. From 1835 he served in Canada and returned to Britain in 1843, where, by 1854, he rose to be Deputy Inspector-General of Hospitals. After retiring from the army in 1857, Dartnell operated Arden House Private Lunatic Asylum at Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire which he also owned from 1858 to 1876. Throughout his many postings he recorded in watercolour, views of places and portraits of people he encountered and, after his return to England, exhibited at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.

12: Hon. Lucy Maria Kerr (1815-1874)    Maid of Honour to Queen Victoria    

13: Sir Charles Beaumont Phipps (1801-1866)    Court official   

14: Charlotte Canning (née Stuart), Countess Canning (1817-1861)  Wife of 1st Earl Canning         
Born in Paris, the daughter of the British ambassador and was Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria for thirteen years. When her husband Lord Canning was appointed Governor-General of India she went with him to Calcutta where she was 'isolated to a degree I could never have imagined'. She kept a journal and wrote frequently to Queen Victoria, at one point describing 'strange and terrible outbreaks' of violence which were the start of the 'Indian Mutiny'. She died of malaria and was buried in Barrackpore, West Bengal. Lady Canning's name lives on in Bengal where a type of sweet called 'ledikeni' is named after her.

15: Henry Hardinge, 1st Viscount Hardinge of Lahore  (1785-1856)   Governor-General of India         
Soldier and administrator; served in the Napoleonic wars; became a Tory MP, 1820, and Secretary at War, 1828-30, and 1841-4: Governor-General of India 1844-7, his tenure witnessing the first Sikh war; made a Field Marshal, 1855.

16: Henry Cooper Reade  (1818-1873)   Staff surgeon of the hospital    

17: Colonel Eden Commandant of the Chatham garrison    

18: John Breese  (1817-1889)   
 He lost an arm at Inkerman: after the Queen's visit he was appointed to her personal Body Guard.

19: George Barratt   
He received a shot between his eyes at Inkerman, leaving him with a 'fearful scar' and the loss of his senses of taste and smell.

Jerry Barrett
by John & Charles Watkins
Early-mid 1860s
National Portrait Gallery, London

Jerry Barrett (1824–1906) was an English painter of the Victorian era. His most notable work was the Crimean War depiction "The Mission of Mercy: Nightingale receiving the wounded at Scutari" (1858) which is in the National Portrait Gallery (London), paired with "Queen Victoria's First Visit to her Wounded Soldiers". There is documentation to suggest that Barrett traveled to Constantinople to obtain sketches for his pictures. Queen Victoria's First Visit to Her Wounded Soldiers was exhibited at the Royal Exhibition Gallery in Piccadilly in May, 1856.

Address: National Portrait Gallery, St. Martin's Pl, Charing Cross, London WC2H 0HE, United Kingdom
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