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Home arrow Historical arrow Peninsular Notes arrow An Officer joins the Lines

An Officer joins the Lines Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Tuesday, 12 February 2008
Article Index
An Officer joins the Lines
"...these poor people" (p.2)
Inactivity (p. 3)
Mafra (p. 4)

Extracted from "The Portrait of a General" by John Colville, published by Michael Russell, Salisbury, 1980.

Major General Sir Charles Colville (07.08.1770-27.03.1843)  served throughout the Peninsular War starting as a brigade commander in the 3rd Division under General Picton and later standing in for him in command of the Division. He  was the only son of the 8th Lord  Colville of Culross, but appears not to have inherited his father’s  title. 

John Colville, a descendant of Sir Charles, was himself a diplomat and for many years Private Secretary to three Prime Ministers including Winston Churchill during the Second World War.


From Cadriceira 20 October 1810, Charles wrote to his father :

"In half an hour after closing my letter to your Lordship of the 13th, and having previously despatched my two servants and three loaded mules, I set out from Lisbon intending to make the best of my way for Torres Vedras where I had reason to suppose my Brigade was, but to which I was recommended to go by the circuitous route of Mafra to avoid the confusion of the principal road. Without a guide or the assistance of a direction post the whole way, and ignorant of the language of the country, there was no wonder I should lose my road, and accordingly I did not get into Bellas distant in a straight line but eight or nine miles from Lisbon, till after dark, but fortunately found my baggage arrived before me and accommodation, such as it was, prepared at a tavern. Whence having stocked myself with such an army of fleas etc. as has taken me half the time since to rid myself of, I again set off at half past four in the morning and reached Mafra in time to breakfast with General Anson who is stationed there recruiting his Brigade of cavalry."

Mafra Palace"This place is remarkable for an enormous royal palace and convent in one, the Escurial of Portugal, which I visited and heard High Mass while my horses baited, seeing also its fine library. Troops are quartered in part of the palace. I here learnt from some sick of my Brigade going to Lisbon that it had fallen back from Torres Vedras, but to what point they were uncertain. Taking the direction of the park wall of Mafra I soon fell in with the redoubts forming the second defensive line for our army to retire to in case of being pressed, and which with the natural features of the country make it very strong. The country I had passed hitherto was far from pleasing, a great deal of heath, little wood, and the soil whence the corn crop had been taken off of a perfectly arid appearance after the long summer drought, and not having had time to revive after the late rains. At Gradil I came into a very picturesque vine country, studded with numerous Quintas (country seats). I was overtaken with a torrent of rain with violent wind by which I was completely drenched through my Portugal cloak, but luckily I found some British artillery there."

"Got a comfortable dinner and should have been glad to stay the night there, but hearing that Sir B. Spencer, having retired out of the town of Sobral, which was immediately after occupied in great force by the French, had had his picquets attacked that afternoon and that every thing betokened an early general advance of the enemy, I proceeded, tho' now dark, in quest of my Brigade now said to be at St. Sebastian’s, perhaps two miles off. Povoa in the 18th centuryI soon however perceived that the guide sent with me knew no more of the country than myself, and after wandering over most diabolical roads with this fellow alone, my servants and baggage being behind, and frequently being tempted to take up my abode under a tree for the night, so tired were both myself and horse, I got in at half past nine to Runa, a town three or four miles in front of that I was looking for. I thought myself very lucky in finding a Portuguese corps there, commanded by Baron Eben, whose name I think I have read of as of the Prince of Wales’s parties, and who gave his stabling for my horse and a palliasse for myself, being the best accommodation to be expected in a town totally abandoned by its inhabitants, as is unfortunately the case with most of them in this part of the country."

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 22 April 2008 )
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