Field Marshal Sir William Rowan GCB


William Shearman Rowan was born on the Isle of Man on 18 June 1789. He was the son of Robert Rowan of Mullans in County Antrim, and Elizabeth Wilson. The family had an attachment to the 52nd Light Infantry, as his uncle and elder brother (Sir Charles Rowan) were officers in that regiment. He was commissioned into the 52nd as a 14 year-old ensign on 4 Nov 1803. He served in Sicily and Sweden before reaching the rank of captain and commanding a company in 1808. In the Peninsula War his men provided cover for the retreat to Corunna. In 1809 he was at the capture of Flushing in the Walcheren Campaign. On his return to Spain he fought at Sabugal, Vitoria, the Pyrenees, Bidassoa, Nivelle, Nive, Orthez and Toulouse. He played a crucial part in the Battle of Orthez, in the fighting in the marsh. His conduct was rewarded with promotion to major in 1814.

At the battle of Waterloo, which took place on his 26th birthday, he took part in an important charge led by Sir John Colborne against the Imperial Guard. He was wounded and his men suffered the loss of 150 killed or wounded. After the victory he was put in charge of the 1st arrondissement of Paris. In 1819 he was posted to Canada with his regiment but transferred to the 58th Regiment on 27 July 1826. In 1832 he was a lieutenant-colonel and serving as Military and Civil Secretary to Sir John Colborne who was Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. He left for England in 1839 and was promoted to major-general in 1846. He went back to Canada as Commander-in-Chief, North America in 1849 at the time when the parliament buildings in Montreal were burned by a mob. He made an important speech to calm the tension.

Sir William reached the rank of lieutenant-general on 20 Jan 1854 and returned to England the following year. He lived in retirement at 9 Gay Street, Bath with his wife Martha Spong who came from Kent. They had no children. He was advanced to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath on 28 Mar 1865 and promoted to Field Marshal on 2 June 1877. He died two years later on 26 Sep 1879, and buried at Lansdown Cemetery in Bath. The photo, taken after 1862, shows him in the undress frock coat of a full general displaying the rank badges of a gold embroidered crown and star on each side of the velvet collar. He was appointed Colonel of the 19th Regiment on 15 Jun 1854 and on 10 Mar 1861 he transferred to the colonelcy of his old regiment, the 52nd Oxfordshire Light Infantry.


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by Stephen Luscombe