Thursday, 24 April 2014

Wine and Warfare Part 5 : Warre's War Heroics and How The Barossa Got Its Name

By Rupert Millar

“Black Bob” Craufurd commanding the rearguard
during the retreat to Corunna in 1808
Wellington’s campaigns in Portugal and Spain are perhaps the most celebrated in British military history and the battles fought between 1808 and 1813 took place in vineyard areas and, sometimes, gave their names to them too - though not always in their original form.

In 1807 the French and their Spanish allies invaded Portugal which was stubbornly refusing to abide by Napoleon’s Continental System and continuing to trade with Great Britain; an ally since the Middle Ages.

By 1808 mounting civil unrest in Spain aimed at the corruption of the court of the French-backed Charles VI, broke out into open violence on 8 May. Charles abdicated in favour of his son Ferdinand VII but Napoleon saw a chance to replace Europe’s last major Bourbon monarchy and put his own brother Joseph on the throne. This threw the majority of Spain behind their deposed king and a violent war broke out which required Napoleon and an army of 100,000 men, veterans of Austerlitz, Jena and Friedland, to quell.

William Warre
In 1809 the British returned to Spain, this time under the command of General Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington), who had commanded the original expedition before being replaced when considered to junior for the role. The Treaty of Sintra nearly did for Wellesley but thankfully it was not to be. In May a new British army under his command landed in Portugal again and who should be fighting in his army but the Porto born and bred William Warre.

A son of the famous Port producing house, Warre had spent his life as a professional soldier. Aged only 25, his knowledge of the language and country made him an invaluable asset to both Wellesley and General Beresford, a British general attached the Portuguese army.

The battle at Porto on 12th May was a complete success. Wellesley outflanked the French by putting some of his force across the Douro using wine barges and Marshal Soult, wrong-footed and outnumbered, was forced to retreat back into Spain leaving Portugal free. Warre served on the Beresford’s staff throughout the Peninsular campaign and even managed to ensure that it was his family’s Port which supplied Wellington’s mess.

Warre would be widely decorated by both Britain and Portugal for his service during the war, including Portugal’s highest military honour, the Ordem de São Bento d’Aviz. In 2009 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the liberation of the Douro and to mark a wonderful vintage, Warre’s produced a special edition vintage Port in William’s honour. The profits, totalling nearly £20,000, were donated to the UK forces charity Help for Heroes by Symington Family Estates.

There is one other vinous story to come out of the Peninsular War and it connects a battle in Spain with one of Australia’s most famous wine producing regions - the Barossa Valley.

The Battle of Chiclana on 5 March 1811 does not get much attention in histories of the war - it's not as famous as Busaco, Albuera, Salamanca or Vittoria.

Wellington was not in command and despite a hard won, bloody tactical victory, the Spanish and British rather fell out afterwards as the British commander General Graham thought that the Spanish commander, la Peña had let his men do all the fighting - a common complaint against the Spanish during the war though not against the Portuguese who were held in great esteem.

Yet the battle should get more glory. It saw one British division drive off two French ones in all or nothing combat in which the British were also able to capture their first Eagle of the war. An Eagle was carried by each French regiment alongside their regimental flags. It was made of metal and wasn’t really very big. However, it was a personal gift from the emperor Napoleon; it symbolised the spirit of the regiment and was carried into every battle and to lose it meant disgrace. For their opponents, to capture one meant fame and reward and many men would be killed trying to snatch one.

Sergeant Masterson of the 87th seizes the eagle
from the French at the battle of Barrosa/Chiclana
Yet a sergeant in the 87th (Prince of Wales’ Irish), Patrick Masterson, despite a brutal fight in which his ensign was killed trying to seize it too, managed to wrest the prize free from sous-lieutenant Edmé Guillemin of the French 8th Ligne who gave his life defending it. The French were then sent packing down the hillside by the victorious Irishmen.

And the name of the place they did so? Barrosa Ridge.

In the 1830s the governor of South Australia was Colonel William Light. He had been a young officer in the 4th Dragoons at the battle and he decided to name one of the valleys in his area The Barrosa in memory of the day. However, a clerical error meant that the valley would go down in history as the Barossa instead. So, spare a thought for the 87th and the seizing of the French eagle next time you crack open a Barrosa/Barossa Shiraz!

* Please note: this article first appeared on on 20th December 2013 and is reproduced with the permission of the author. There has been some minor editing of the original by Alex Crawford.

The series so far...
Part One : The Romans
Part Two : Gin and 'Dutch Courage'
Part Three : The Legend of Pedro Ximénez
Part Four : The Gay Hussars and the Art of Sabrage

1 comment:

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.