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Hugh Gough – Of Opium Wars & the Punjabi Sikhs

We have a mezzotint of this portrait of Gough directing his men during the Anglo-Sikh War. It is after a portrait by the Scottish artist Sir Francis Grant (1803-1878), which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1854. [21]

Illustration: Derry Dillon

Plymouth, England, March 1807. Frances Stephens blinked several times. It was the officer in the green uniform that she had dreamt about the night before. Tall, straight-backed, eminently handsome, with wide-open blue eyes, light curling hair and an aquiline nose. Yes, it was assuredly him. Turning to her father, General Edward Stephens, as the young officer entered the ballroom, she said, ‘That is the man I saw in my dream’.

She then waited patiently, her curly black hair rolling down her neck, wearing a short-waisted, skimpy muslin frock which had become the vogue across French society under Napoleon Bonaparte.

At length, the man was presented to her: Major Hugh Gough of the 87th (Prince of Wales Irish) Regiment of Foot. He danced with her twice that night, and then set off with his battalion to Guernsey. He was back in Plymouth at first opportunity; they were married on 3 June. [1]

Hugh Gough would go on to command in more battles than any other British soldier of the nineteenth century save for his fellow Irishman, the Duke of Wellington. Although he was of Protestant and later Unionist stock, Gough always considered himself to be Irish. His family had been in Ireland since the early 17th century when the Rev. Hugh Gough became Archdeacon of Ardfert and Bishop of Limerick. The bishop’s earliest known ancestor is thought to have been Iolo Goch, a court poet to the last native Prince of Wales. He was also a kinsman of Matthew Gough, Governor of the Tower of London, who was killed during Jack Cade’s rebellion of 1450. For more on his ancestry, see here.

The bishop’s son or grandson built a house at Woodsdown near the present-day Limerick suburb of Annacotty, where Hugh Gough was born on 3 November 1779. As his obituary in the Irish Times would later record, Gough was ‘nurtured amidst the clash of arms’. Colonel George Gough, his father, commanded the City of Limerick Militia during the rebellion of 1798, routing a force of 4,000 rebels at Johnstown, County Kildare, with a flying column of 500 horse, footmen and guns.

Hugh Gough’s mother Letitia Bunbury was a sister of William Bunbury, MP for Carlow, and she is thought to have grown up at Lisnavagh House in County Carlow. William Bunbury’s son Colonel Kane Bunbury would be one of Hugh’s best friends throughout his life. Hugh’s  elder brother, the Rev. Thomas Bunbury Gough, was Dean of Derry from 1821 until his death in 1860.

As Sir Bernard Burke said of him:

“When he was born, the independence of the United States of America had yet to be achieved. Napoleon and Wellington were then schoolboys. George III and Queen Caroline, both still young, were holding their stately receptions at St. James’s, and Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, their gay and fascinating Court of the ancien regime at Versailles. The Queen of France was ‘just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she began to move in, glittering like the morning star, fl of life and splendour and joy’. Edmund Burke and William Pitt and Charles Fox were the names on every politicians’ mouth; and Goldsmith and Johnson and Gibbon reigned supreme in literature. Frederick the great was still alive and Voltaire had only been a few months dead’.”

Richard Ansdell: The Fight For The Standard depicting Ewart’s capture of the French Eagle. Was Sergeant Masterton’s capture of the standard at Barossa a similar fray?

Commissioned into the Limerick Militia at the age of thirteen, Hugh had transferred to the 76th Highlanders by 1795 when, aged fifteen, he was in the thick of the action when Britain captured the Cape of Good Hope.[2]

In 1796, he transferred to the 87th Foot, later the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the regiment that he would hold most dear. [3] Comprised of recruits from Tipperary, Galway and Clare, the 87th became known as the ‘Faugh a Ballaghs’, after their ancient Gaelic battle cry, meaning Clear the Way. [4]

Promoted to major in 1805, Hugh was back in action shortly after his marriage to Frances Stephens and advanced to Spain where the Peninsula War was underway. In 1809, he led the 2nd Battalion of the 87th to victory at the Battle of Talavera, despite being severely wounded when his horse was shot from under him.[5]

Two years later, he commanded the 87th at the Battle of Barossa where, outnumbered by the French two to one, the Irishmen managed to overwhelm the enemy with a series of grim but effective bayonet charges. The victory would implant an unshakeable faith in the power of a ‘cold steel’ charge in Gough’s mind.

For the next fifty years, he subscribed to the view that artillery’s role was merely to soften up the enemy before the men charged in with bayonet, sabre and lance.[6] His triumph at Barossa was completed when Sergeant Masterton of the 87th captured the Eagle of the 8th French Regiment – the first Napoleonic eagle standard to fall – with the immortal words, ‘Bejaybers boys! I have the cuckoo!’ Barossa was a huge morale booster for Britain and her allies, paving the way for Waterloo and the final defeat of Napoleon’s forces.

Gough led his men to several more victories in the Peninsula War, including the Battle of Vittoria where his men captured Marshal Jourdan’s Baton. His younger brother William was severely wounded at Vittoria but survived only to drown off Kinsale in 1822. At the ensuing Battle of Nivelle, Hugh was wounded again but won a Peninsular Gold Cross – the gateway to a knighthood – for his efforts. He also commanded the defence of Cadiz and Tarifa, during which he received a head wound.

When the battle-scarred warrior finally returned to London, he was given a hero’s welcome. In 1815, he was knighted by the Prince Regent at Whitehall. He and his descendants were also given the right to use “Faugh-a-Ballagh” as an additional motto to their arms. In 1819, he was promoted to the rank of colonel.


Gough presenting the Baton of General Lourdan surrender at Vittoria to his fellow Irish, the future Duke of Wellington. (With thanks to Rebecca Jeffares.)


Gough was the subject of two large (and nearly identical) works by James Harwood. One is in the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI. 306); the other is in the National Army Museum in London. A smaller version of this painting hangs in the Raddisson Hotel in Stillorgan, formerly the Field Marshal’s retirement home. (With thanks to Kieran Owens).

He spent the next dozen years on half-pay, living the life of a country squire in County Limerick with Frances and their young family. When tenants on his estate in the South Liberties of Limerick were faced with severe economic hardship in the winter of 1822, he reduced the rent by a third, and ‘forgave arrears’ amounting to £1,400. [7] As Lieutenant-Colonel, of the City Limerick Militia, he commanded a unit of troops that sought to suppress the ‘Rockite’ uprising in which at least 130 people across Munster were systematically murdered and at least sixty houses and churches burned. The anonymity of the killers, and their mythical leader Captain Rock, was to be a source of considerable frustration to Gough.

In 1837, Major-General Gough and his wife moved to Bangalore in British India when he was appointed commander of the Mysore Division of the Madras Army.[8] Four years later, he commanded 4,000 troops from India that confronted the Chinese in the First Opium War. The conflict had been triggered after the Chinese government destroyed some 20,000 chests of ‘British’ opium at Canton (present-day Guandzhou) in a bid to stamp out the ruinous trade. Captain Charles Elliot, Britain’s plenipotentiary in China, had advocated a diplomatic solution but, having arrived with his army, Gough overrode Elliot (whom he dismissed as ‘whimsical as a shuttlecock’) and captured the forts defending Canton before turning his sights on Nanking (now Nanjing), the second city of the Chinese Empire.

‘Britain has gained as much by her mercy and forbearance, as by the gallantry of her troops,’ Gough once wrote. ‘An enemy in arms is always a legitimate foe, but the unarmed, or the suppliant for mercy, of whatever country or whatever colour, a true British soldier will always spare’.

Unfortunately, the troops under his command did not heed such words, running riot in Amoy (now Xiamen) and other Chinese towns before they reached Nanking. After witnessing the aftermath of a mass suicide involving women and children, Gough wrote home, ‘I am sick at heart of war and its fearful consequences’. Nonetheless, he pressed onwards, obliging the Chinese to concede defeat in the summer of 1842. The Daoguang Emperor signed the Treaty of Nanking, by which five port cities and the island of Hong Kong were ceded to Britain, thus confirming its status as the predominant European power in the region.

Various books that are now taught at 3rd level in post-colonial studies in some American universities depict Gough as an opium warlord. However, supporters of Gough dispute this characterisation. One wrote to me in July 2018 stating:

‘Lord Gough sent home letters to Frances and kept a journal while in China. He was appalled by the behaviour of the soldiers. I believe that many soldiers were sent out but they were undisciplined and badly trained, and not part of Gough’s force. Gough’s orders were to combat with armed fighters. Civilians were not to be harmed and he also forbade looting. He was so disillusioned afterwards that he retired. Times were different then but worse is going on now and nothing done about it because of vested interests.’

The First Opium War (1839-1842) concluded when Hugh Gough lead a spirited campaign against the Chinese, forcing them to sign the Treaty of Nanking, by which Britain gained control of Hong Kong. For his efforts, Gough was created a baronet and received the thanks of both parliament and the East India Company. Gough is the red-haired, red-coated man seated to the left in this close up from “The Signing and Sealing of the Treaty of Nanking in the State Cabin of H. M. S. Cornwallis, 29th August, 1842”, painted by Capt. John Platt.

Having already been made colonel of his beloved 87th Foot, Gough was created a baronet and received the thanks of both parliament and the East India Company. He was also now commander-in-chief of all British forces in India. In 1843, he led his army to victory over the Mahrattas of central Indian in the Gwalior Campaign. In the Battle of Mahrajpur, his force suffered 797 casualties, of which around 110 were killed, but he was still victorious.

Two years later, he confronted the Sikhs in the Punjab, a region roughly synonymous with the present-day state of Punjab in India and the present-day province of Punjab in Pakistan. Internal intrigues and anarchy had annihilated the Royal family, leaving a power vacuum at the Sikh court. A restless Sikh army them marched towards the Anglo-Sikh frontier and crossed the River Sutlej in the winter of 1845. The act prompted a declaration of war by the British East India Company against the Sikhs. Viceroy Harding loyally placed himself under Gough`s orders as his second-in-command.

The Sikhs were probably the most formidable foes that Gough faced during his long military career. Their natural fighting ability had been honed by a group of mostly ex-French Army officers who had taught them the Napoleonic drill and kitted them out in uniforms that replicated those worn by the East India Company Army. [9] As well as mastering European tactics, the Sikhs had British-style muskets and rifles, which were every bit as good as the British weapons. Their artillery was actually superior to that of Gough’s army in terms of numbers, calibre, weight and bore, while their gunners were often as accurate, if not better, than their British counterparts.

The Battle of Moodkee

Having hastily marched his army to the volatile frontier, Gough first met the Sikhs in battle during the dark of night at Mudki (now Moodkee), near Ferozepore (now Firozpur) on 18 December 1845. By dint of a courageous cavalry charge and a ‘cold steel’ infantry advance, he defeated the Sikhs in a messy battle, losing 215 of his officers and men were killed but gaining 17 of the Sikh’s 22 guns.

He subsequently overwhelmed the Sikhs at the battles of Ferozeshah on 21 December 1845 and at Sobraon on 10 February 1846.

Nearly 20,000 Sikhs and sepoys had been killed since outbreak of war two month, and the loss of life on his own side was also very high. However, his victory brought the First Anglo-Sikh War to an end and Gough now negotiated a peace with the Sikh durbar at Lahore. Under the terms of the Treaty of Lahore, the Sikhs ceded all the territory between the Sutlej and the Beas rivers to Britain, as well as strategic mountain areas, while Kashmir became an independent province.[10] They also handed over the ancient Koh-i-Noor diamond, which Dalhousie, the young governor, personally shepherded back to Inida before it began its long journey to be presented to Queen Victoria. The diamond has been part of the Crown Jewels, worn by the Queen Consort, since the coronation of Edward VIII although the powers that be wisely opted to keep it out of sight for the coronation of King Charles III in 2023.

Gough was duly raised to the peerage as Baron Gough of Ching-keang-foo (China), Maharajpore and the Sutlej (East Indies). To mark his victory, he was entertained at public banquet by the citizens of Londonderry in 1847, his brother being Dean of Derry at the time..

Night Bivouac at Ferozshah.

In 1848, the murder of two British officers, Lieutenant Patrick Vans Agnew and Colonel William Anderson, in Multan ignited the Second Anglo-Sikh War. Disturbances had broken out in southern Punjab where the local Sikh governor Dewan Mulraj held the fort at Multan. In the north Raja Sher Singh Attariwala had rebelled against the British authorities collecting vast numbers of disgruntled Sikh soldiers to rebel against the British.

Lord Gough, as he had now become, sallied out with his army across the River Chenab to smother the flames of Sikh independence once more. His mission was effectively to paint the entire Punjab red and thus consolidate Britain’s commercial and political dominance in India. He scored an early victory over the Sikhs at Ramnuggar on 22 November 1848.

He ran into trouble at the Battle of Chillianwalla on 13 January 1849 when the Sikhs proved much stronger than anticipated. His army suffered heavily. The 24th and 29th Regiments lost all of their officers in a few minutes, while a total of 757 men were killed (mostly Englishmen) and another 1700 left wounded or missing in the jungle scrub. However, when darkness fell, the British counter attacked with fierce hand-to-hand combat, capturing several guns; the Sikhs later recaptured all of their guns but to no avail. It is believed this battle broke the Sikh’s fighting spirit.

Battle of Chillianwalla, 1849.

Hollow as it may have been, Gough claimed victory and, after the battle, he received an ovation from his troops. Sergeant Keay of the Bengal Artillery wrote:

‘I can never forget the reception Lord Gough got from the troops as he rode along our line on the evening of the battle… I happened to be at the General Hospital where the wounded and dying were lying in hundreds, and as soon as they caught sight of his venerable white head, there was such a cheer burst forth that it said, as plainly as could say, “You will never find us wanting when you require us”.’

‘It was not as a commander alone that he was respected,’ explained Keay, ‘but as a kind-feeling and good-hearted man, who took a lively interest in the welfare of all those who were under him, and who took a pleasure in seeing everyone as comfortable as circumstance would permit. As for cavalry, infantry and artillery, I don’t think that men ever could have been more attached to any commander than to old Gough. I used to see him in hospital daily, kindly asking after those who were recovering, and cheering up and consoling those who were bad.’

However, even Gough’s greatest admirers knew that Chillianwalla had been a close-run thing. His time-honoured strategy of softening the enemy with artillery fire before unleashing the bayonets had failed because he had been too low on heavy ammunition. The result was a disproportionate loss of men from his own rank and file, a figure that was undoubtedly increased by the excellent combat skills of the Sikhs. The severe loss of life was in fact due to the failure of a subordinate officer, “but Gough`s generous nature made him bear the newspaper attacks without a word of self-justification“. Nonetheless, while the undefeated Limerick man may have technically prevailed once again, the news of so many deaths was greeted with horror by both the British public and the directors of the East India Company.

With mounting criticism of Gough’s ‘Tipperary Tactics’ in Westminster, letters were issued ordering the commander-in-chief to stand down in place of Sir Charles Napier. [11] Timing is everything. Had the message reached Gough on time, the future may have been quite different. As it happened, he continued blissfully unaware of any impending recall.  Prompted by the arrival of long sought for reinforcements, complete with long-range artillery, he sent his army in for one final battle against the Sikhs.

As the British prepared to advance on the Sikh forces at Goojerat (present-day Gujrat in Pakistan) on 21 February 1849, Sergeant Keay recalled the ‘unrestrained’ enthusiasm of Gough’s men as the general rode down the lines in his long white ‘fighting coat’, sun-hat in hand. Another officer recalled:

‘While we were waiting, our attention was drawn to a curious sound in the far distance on the right. The noise grew louder and nearer, and we saw the regiments, one after another, cheering like mad. It was Lord Gough, at the head of his Staff, riding along the front. He soon passed out of sight, but we heard the cheering till it died away in the distance.’

Sir Hugh Gough, 1850

The Battle of Goojerat transpired to be a stunning victory for Gough.  The Sikhs surrendered unconditionally (to a pursuing force under General Gilber) and the Sikh Empire collapsed. By 30 March, John Company Raj had succeeded in annexing the Punjab – 100,000 miles of India’s most fertile soil, destined to become the breadbasket of the British Empire and later the heartland of Pakistan. [12] Governor-General Dalhousie appoints a troika of Charles Mansell and the Lawrence brothers to oversee the pacification.

Westminster hurriedly dispatched word that Gough was no longer to be sacked, although he had vacated his command on 7 May. Such news was particularly welcomed by Napier who was a tremendous fan of ‘that noble old fellow Gough … he is so good, so honest, so noble-minded.’

Hugh Gough would see no more active service. The British had by now all but consolidated their grip over the entire Indian sub-continent, and a new era of unification and modernisation thus got underway under Governor-General Dalhousie.


Illustrated London News celebrates Gough’s victory in the Punjab, 28 April 1849.


In June 1849, Queen Victoria elevated Gough in the peerage as Viscount Gough of Goojerat, in the Punjab, and of the city of Limerick. London awarded him the Freedom of the City. Parliament granted him a pension of £2000 a year for himself and his next two successors in the viscountcy. The East India Company likewise voted him their thanks and awarded him an annual pension of £2000. On his return to Ireland, he was also given four Sikh canons for services rendered.[13]

Like the Duke of Marlborough with Blenheim, or the Duke of Wellington with Stratfield Saye, Viscount Gough used some of the money to purchase Lough Cutra, a fine estate in County Galway. In 1851, he bought a a handsome estate of 71 acres and a Georgian villa in the south Dublin suburb of Booterstown called St Helen’s, which is now the Radisson Blu St Helen’s Hotel. [14]

In 1856, he was one of the key speakers at the Crimean War Banquet in Dublin’s Stack A.

In later life, he and his cousin Kane Bunbury relived “the days of “auld lang syne”, when they were striplings together, and mutual visits of courtesy and affection were interchanged by the veteran friends”. [15] He was entertained by Kane at Rathmore, County Carlow ‘on the occasion of his return from campaigns Egypt, India, and other quarters, in all of which his lordship gained such military celebrity, not merely as a soldier, a military officer, but also as an Irishman.’ [16]

Promoted to Field Marshal in 1862, Hugh Gough’s numerous honours included Knight of the Order of St Patrick and an equestrian statue by the eminent sculptor John Henry Foley, which hailed him as an ‘illustrious Irishman’.[17] The statue stood in Phoenix Park until it was blown up by the IRA in 1957. One suspects it may well have been toppled in more recent times in consideration of Gough’s role in the Opium Wars and the conquest of the Punjab. The restored statue now resides at Chillingham Castle in Northumberland.

Hugh and Frances had five children, details of whom may be found here and below.

Frances, Viscountess Gough, died on 15 March 1863, after which Hugh received a letter of condolence from Queen Victoria. [18] Their marriage had lasted fifty-six years and produced five children. She was buried in the family vault at St Brigid’s Church, Stillorgan, Co. Dublin.[19]  When the Field Marshal died at St. Helen’s on 2 March 1869, he was buried alongside the woman who had dreamt about him on the eve of that Plymouth ball many long decades earlier. [20]





The 2nd Viscount Gough & the Arbuthnot Abduction


Born on 18 January 1815, George Stephens Gough, 2nd Viscount Gough, settled at Rathronan House close to Anner Castle and Clonmel, County Tipperary. On 3 January 1846, he married, as his second wife, Jane Arbuthnot (1816-1892), a daughter of George Arbuthnot (1772-1843), an Aberdeenshire Scot who had prospered as a banker and trader in Madras in the early 18th century and became 1st Earl of Elderslie.

Nearly eight years later, Jane found herself in an intriguing position when she became witness to one of the most bizarre abductions of the Victorian Age. The following tale, entitled “The Arbuthnot Abduction” is an extract from “My Clonmell Scrapbook” by James White:

About three miles from Clonmell, the beautifully environed capital of Tipperary, stands Rathronan House, in 1854 the residence of Capt. The Hon. George Gough, only surviving son of Field Marshal Lord Gough. Capt. Gough had married an English lady, daughter of Mr. George Arbuthnot of Elderslie, Surrey and at this time the two sisters of Mrs. Gough, Laura and Eleanor resided with her. The fame of these fair Saxons filled the County. Eleanor fairly turned the heads of all the young gallants, yet her heart was obdurate. Among these suitors was the “Lord” of Barane, Mr. John Carden, who formally proposed for her hand. He was refused and set about a dastardly scheme. The following Sunday, 2nd June 1854, Mrs, Gough, Miss Arbuthnot, Miss Eleanor and a Miss Linden attended divine worship at Rathronan Church (Capt. Gough being all this time absent in Dublin). The party was driven to Church on an Irish “outside” car, but scarcely had they entered the Church when heavy showers came on, the coachman, James Dwyer, drove back to Rathronan, put up the jaunting car and returned with what is called a “covered car” in its stead. Meanwhile, there had drawn up outside the Rathronan demesne, a carriage, to which were harnessed a dashing pair of thoroughbreds while six strange men were observed loitering nearby.

Mr. Carden was mounted, and he met Capt. Gough’s covered car returning with the ladies. Dwyer, the coachman, received a blow on the head from a skull cracker and was tumbled to the ground. One of the band pulled out a large knife and severed the reins and traces of the Rathronan horse. Mr. Carden, meanwhile rushed over and grasped at Eleanor Arbuthnot, but she happened to be sitting furthest in and before she could be reached the other three ladies had to be pulled out and disposed of. All four showed fight and while Laura held her sister back, Miss Linden struck the undefended face of the attacker a smashing blow – blood spurted everywhere and Miss Linden was torn from her hold and flung out on the side of the road. Mrs. Gough, whose condition of health at the time made a scene like this almost certain death for her, sprang, as best she could, out of the car and rushed towards the house screaming for help.

A young peasant named McGrath was the first to arrive on the scene and together with Dwyer and another, attacked the band. Meanwhile Mr. Carden managed to hurl Miss Linden aside and wildly tore at Miss Eleanor with savage force. Several times he almost succeeded but for the interference at the most critical moment of Miss Linden and the helpers outside. Mr. Carden was finally forced to withdraw by his helpers and forced into the carriage and “like an arrow from the bended bow” off it flew, two of the finest blood horses in all Munster straining in the traces.

Clonmell was the first to receive the alarm and a strong party of constabulary were soon in full chase. At Farney Bridge, some twenty miles from Rathronan, Mr. Carden was finally caught and over-powered, he was led, a prisoner, to Cashel jail.

Later it became known that the measures that Mr. Carden had concerted included carrying Eleanor to Galway Bay to a chartered vessel to sail direct to London, these precautions cost him the sum of £7,000. The judge at the subsequent trial sentenced Mr. Carden to “two years imprisonment with hard labour” in the county jail. To the end of his life Mr. Carden tried to force his attentions on Miss Eleanor and was required, with heavy penalties, to keep the peace for several years.

In fact Miss Eleanor never married.

The 2nd Viscount died on 31 May 1895 leaving two sons and a daughter.

Hugh Gough, 3rd Viscount

3rd Viscount Gough

3rd Viscount Gough

The eldest son Hugh Gough, 3rd Viscount Gough, KCVO, DL, was born on 27th August 1849 and educated at Oxford. On 5 October 1889, he married Lady Georgina Pakenham (d. 30 July 1943), elder daughter of the 4th Earl of Longford, GCB.

The 3rd Viscount died on 14 October 1919.


Hugh William Gough, 4th Viscount Gough


The 3rd Viscount was succeeded by his eldest son Hugh William Gough. Born on 22 February 1892 and educated at New College, Oxford, (BA), the 4th  Viscount served in World War I in which he was wounded. As well as being mentioned in despatches twice, he received an MC on the first list of 1 January 1915 and was only one of two Guardsmen to feature. He commanded the 1st Bn Irish Guards from 1930 to 1934, the Training Bn from 1939 to 1942 and then the Inverness Burgh Home Guard form 1942 to 1944.

On 12 November 1935, he married Margaretta Elizabeth Maryon-Wilson, only daughter of Sir Spencer Maryon-Wilson, 11th Bt. Following his death on 4 December 1951, he was succeeded by his ten-year-old son, Sir Shane Gough (1941-2023), 5th Viscount Gough, who worked as a stockbroker. With Sir Shane’s death in April 2023, the peerage or baronetcy became extinct.




Viscount Gough’s statue by the Dublin-born sculptor John Henry Foley and his assistant Thomas Brock. It was was badly damaged by a Republican bomber in the 1950s. It is presently held at Chillingham Castle in Northumberland. Would it have survived the 2020 purge of public statues?


The Gough Statue by Foley


The Gough statue in Phoenix Park, Dublin.

After he returned to Ireland from his conquest of the Punjab, the Lord Mayor of Dublin convened a public meeting at which it was agreed to erect a memorial to him, and an equestrian statue was commissioned.

The statue was created by the eminent Dublin sculptor, John Henry Foley. Unfortunately, he died before it was completed and placed in position, in 1880, in the main road of Phoenix Park. As Christopher Normand noted, “the statue remained for many years, saved, perhaps, by the inscription of him as “a most illustrious Irishman”, but even that could not stop the IRA, in the 1950s, from blowing it up“.

The following article appeared in The Times on 23 July 1957 captioned “Dublin Outrage

The equestrian statue of Lord Gough in Phoenix Park, Dublin, was blown to pieces early this morning. The explosion was heard all over the city, and in the police depot about a quarter of a mile away men were blown out of their beds. The figure now lies on top of a heap of rubble and is damaged beyond all repair. This statue has always been the centre of trouble. Years ago the head was sawn off and the sword removed. Later, after an appeal by art lovers in Dublin, the head and sword were recovered from the River Liffey nearby and were replaced. About a year ago an explosion damaged the base of the monument and one of the horse’s legs, and the statue was kept in position by the aid of a wooden support.”

The destruction of Gough’s statue did at least result in the following bawdy ballad by Vinnie Caprani:

Viscount Gough’s statue by the Dublin-born sculptor John Henry Foley.

There are strange things done from twelve to one
In the Hollow at Phaynix Park,
There’s maidens mobbed and gentlemen robbed
In the bushes after dark;
But the strangest of all within human recall
Concerns the statue of Gough,
‘Twas a terrible fact, and a most wicked act,
For his bollix they tried to blow off!

‘Neath the horse’s big prick a dynamite stick
Some gallant ‘hayro’ did place,
For the cause of our land, with a match in his hand
Bravely the foe he did face
Then without showing fear – and standing well clear –
He expected to blow up the pair
But he nearly went crackers, all he got was the knackers
And he made the poor stallion a mare!

For his tactics were wrong, and the prick was too long
(the horse being more than a foal)
It would answer him better, this dynamite setter,
The stick to shove up his own hole!
For this is the way our ‘haroes’ today
Are challenging England’s might,
With a stab in the back and a midnight attack
On a statue that can’t even shite!





With thanks to Shane Gough, to Dr Christopher Brice, Commandant Dave Foley, Bobby Singh and Christopher Normand


Further Reading


  • Published in 2017, Christopher Brice’s
    biography tells the story of Field Marshal Sir Hugh Gough, Commander- in-Chief of British India, and a son of Letitia Bunbury of Lisnavagh House, County Carlow.

    Brice, Dr Christopher, ‘Brave as a Lion: The life and times of Field Marshal Hugh Gough, 1st Viscount Gough’ (Helion & Co., 2015).

  • Donnelly, Jr, James S., ‘Captain Rock: The Irish Agrarian Rebellion of 1821–1824’ (Univ of Wisconsin Press, 2009)
  • Farwell, Byron, ‘Eminent Victorian Soldiers: Seekers of Glory’ (W. W. Norton Company, 1985), Chapter 1.
  • Rait, Robert, ‘The life and campaigns of Hugh, first Viscount Gough, Field-Marshal’ (Westminster, A. Constable & Co., Ltd., 1903).
  • Napier, H.D., ‘Field Marshal Lord Napier of Magdala’ – The early chapters of by his son, a young officer on Gough’s staff during the first war and chief engineer for the siege of Multan in the second. Despite a popular misconception he is not related to Charles Napier the conqueror of the Scinde and Gough’s successor as c-in-c India.




[1] Gough was married, aged 28, on 3rd June 1807, at Plymouth, Devon, to Frances Maria Stephens, daughter of General Edward Stephens, R.A. At the time of their marriage, as The Irish Times later recalled in a 1905 tribute, ‘he was about 25, an eminently handsome young officer, tall and erect, with an intelligent, open expression of countenance, large wide open blue eyes, light curling hair and an aquiline nose. The couple first met at a military ball in Plymouth. Before the ball, Miss Stephens told her father she had dreamt of the man she would marry and he was to be clad in the green uniform of the 87th Regiment. Standing beside her father when Hugh Gough entered teh room, she whispered ‘that is the man I saw in my dream’. They danced twice together and the mutual attraction was intense. With curly black hair rolling down her neck, she was clad in a short-waisted, skimpy muslin frock which was the vogue during the First Empire of Napoleon. Gough’s battalion was sent to Guernsey in April but he returned in July to claim his bride.

[2] Raised in his father’s Limerick Militia, he was gazetted as an Ensign in the Hon. Robert Ward’s corps aged 14 on 7 August 1794. Four months later he was promoted to Lieutenant in the 119th Foot, a regiment raised under Colonel Rochford, and was adjutant of this regiment at the age of 15. In June 1795, he transferred to the 2nd Battalion of the 78th Highlanders (or “Ross-shire Buffs”), and served with that regiment at the capture of the Cape of Good Hope and the Dutch Fleet in 1795-1796.

[3] The 87th (Prince of Wales Irish) Regiment of Foot became the Royal Irish Fusiliers until 1827.

[4] I am told there is ‘Faugh a Ballagh’ wallpaper at Lough Cutra today.

[5] Wellington was initially very critical of the performance of both the 87th and 88th (later the Connaught Rangers) at Talavera, deeming them poorly disciplined, but he would later revise his opinion in Gough’s favour.

[6] As Chris Brice observed to me in 2013, Barossa was ‘a gruesome slogfest’ in which the British overpowered superior French numbers by the sheer determination of their cold steel. Victory would implant in Gough’s mind an absolute faith in the power of the bayonet charge. For the next forty years, he would effectively subscribe to the view that artillery was merely to soften up the enemy before the charge. And given that artillery was so ineffective in those days, who can blame him? But when he was low on artillery in the Punjab, and unable to soften up the Sikhs, he suffered the consequences. General Sir Charles Napier was similarly inclined to regard muskets as a weapon of defence only. It is curious that Gough and Napier, and Lord Roberts too, were all intimately connected with the Bunbury family.

[7] ‘Lieutenant-Colonel Gough, of the City Limerick Militia, has ordered the Tenantry on that part of his estate situated in the South Liberties of Limerick, to be allowed a reduction of one third of the present Rents, and has forgiven them arrears amounting to upwards of £1,400. Dublin Weekly Register, 5 October 1822.

[8] He was promoted to Colonel in 1819 and to Major General in 1830. He was Colonel of the 99th Regiment of Foot, 1839-41, and of the 87th Regiment, 1841-55. In 1837 he went out to India to command the Mysore Division of the Madras Army. He was promoted to Lt General in 1841.

[9] The officers included as Allard, Court and the Italian-born Ventura and Di Avitabile.

[10] Kashmir was later sold off by the British for 7.5 million lakh rupees to Gulab Singh for services rendered during the wars.

[11] When Napier conquered the Sindh Province in 1842, he is said to have despatched to his superiors the short, notable message, “Peccavi”, the Latin for “I have sinned” (which was a pun on I have Sindh). This pun appeared under the title ‘Foreign Affairs’ in Punch magazine on 18 May 1844. The true author of the pun was, however, Englishwoman Catherine Winkworth, who submitted it to Punch, which then printed it as a factual report.

[12] Bobby Singh, who visited the battlefield in 2014, writes: ‘It is odd that there is no memorial/obelisk at the battlefield in Gujerat today where Viscount Gough routed the Sikh army in 1849. However, an obelisk stands at Chillianwala.’

[13] According to Bobby Singh, one is in the National Museum of Ireland, one is in a military barracks (presumably the Curragh), one was sold off by his children to a customer in America and one was presented by Viscount Gough to the Duke of Rutland where it is proudly on display at Belvoir Castle.

Gough’s remarkable victory over the Sikhs was one of the key events recalled in ‘100 Years of War – The Irish Soldier’, a 2104  exhibition at the Curragh Military Museum in County Kildare. Among the items on display was a Sikh canon, one of four presented to Gough for a triumph which not only conquered the Punjab Kingdom for the British Indian Empire but also secured Gough’s place in the annals as one of Britain’s greatest generals.

[14] Formerly called ‘Seamount’, this was one of the first houses, erected in 1750 by Thomas Cooley, a barrister, and MP for Duleek. It was later owned by Sir John Nutting and then by the Christian Brothers, who owned the house from 1925 to 1988.

In 1989, the 71-acre site at Sr Helen’s was bought by Berland Ltd (a partnership between Sean Dunne and J. & E. Davey Stockbrokers, funded by the Bank of Ireland) who demolished John McCurdy’s 1865 wing on the west front, without permission, and also swept away stables, coach houses, tack room, coach yard etc. The house itself was saved by the St. Helen’s House Preservation Group and the side bedroom wing in St. Helens is now the John McCurdy. In 1995 St Helen’s became the first post-1700 house and garden to be registered under the National Monuments Act 1987, thanks to Michael D Higgins, the then Minister for Heritage.

Today it is better known as the AA five-star Radisson Blu St Helen’s Hotel. Former snooker world champ Ken Doherty has a full-sized snooker table in the basement. The restaurant is called ‘Talavera’ after his battle and a full-length portrait of the Field Marshall stands in the hallway. During an overnight stay in May 2008, I took a peek at the Viscount’s bedroom where he died in 1869. From his balcony he would have had undisturbed view down to the sea although the vista is now obscured by buildings and trees. I chanced to see two fox cubs playing in the distant hedges.

[15] Carlow Sentinel.

[16] Irish Times, December 1867. Printed by the Carlow Post on Saturday 14 December 1867.

[17]  He was one of the only two infantry officers to be appointed Colonel of Horse Guards (“The Blues”); the other was also an officer of the Royal Irish Fusiliers – Field Marshall Sir Gerald Templar, K.G., G.C.B., G.C.M.G., D.S.O., H.M.L. His other honours included Knight of the Royal Order of St Patrick, Privy Councillor, G.C.B., G.C.S.I.. and Knight of the Most Distinguished Order of Charles III.

[18] There is a copy of her letter at Oldfort.

[19] The family vault in St Brigid’s Church is also the resting place of the 2nd and 3rd Viscounts, along with the ashes of the 4th Viscount.

His second daughter the Hon. Eleanor Laura Jane married Robert Algernon Persse, J.P. County Galway, a brother of Lady Gregory (who was wife to  Sir William Gregory of Coole and co-founded the Abbey). Sir William and Lady Gregory’s daughter-in-law Margaret – wife of Yeats’ ill-fated Irish airman Robert Gregory – later married the Gregory’s widowed neighbour, Guy Gough of Lough Cultra. The 4th Viscount Gough sold the balance of the Lough Cultra estate to Guy [his first cousin] but they had no children.

[20] There is a copy of his will in the Lisnavagh Archives.

[21] The NPG in London has a copy, with details of where it was shown. Look up and search for Gough in the Google custom search window. One of the first few results will highlight Gough’s life.