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The Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815

The Waterloo Map

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The Waterloo Map

Postby James Scott » October 17th, 2013, 8:12 am

Hi all. I am currently working on what we refer to as the Waterloo Map here at the RE Museum. Here is a short history of this fascinating object. I hope you find it of interest.

‘The Waterloo Map’

‘The Waterloo Map’, as it has come to be known, can be found at the Royal Engineers Museum, Chatham. Although named for the Battle of Waterloo, this map comprises a significant area of Belgium (including the area of the battle), which was surveyed by Royal Engineers in the period 1814-15. The map is a very significant artefact to the Royal Engineers, as it is their major contribution to the Battle of Waterloo, but it also has wider significance due to its use by the Duke of Wellington and his Quartermaster General, William De Lancey, who carried it upon his person during the battle.

The Drawing of the Map
The map is a combination of ten different pieces of paper which were surveyed separately in the year which preceded the battle. The pieces of the map were drawn up by a team of ten Royal Engineer Officers, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Carmichael Smyth (Commander Royal Engineer in the Netherlands) and Brigade Major Oldfield. At this time, it was their task to survey areas and fortifications in the Netherlands and on the French borderlands. This task would have been a low priority at the time, as Napoleon was still imprisoned on Elba. This explains why much of the work on the map was done after Napoleon’s escape from the island in March 2015.
The emphasis of the whole map is on the wider area, south-west of where the battle was fought. It has been suggested that this is because one of the more vulnerable paved routes from France to Brussels would have gone through Halle, which features towards the western side of the map.
The sections of the map were drawn up using different qualities of paper and detail. The part of the map that is of the highest quality is the area west of Halle, in the north-west. This area has a greater level of detail, including more detailed hill shading and tree lining. This area was revised at the request of Wellington by Captain Sperling, in May 1815. The area of poorest quality (supposedly completed at the last moment) is the area in the centre of the north portion of the map. This was drawn on inferior brown paper and is less detailed.
Although it is an irregular shape, the map’s overall dimensions are 135cm x 99cm. The nature of the shape is simply due to the fact that the ten different sketches were not redrawn onto a new rectangular sheet. The entire area of the map covers 120 square miles; the scale of the map is approximately 4 inches to the mile. The orientation is due north-south. The area covered includes: Halle, in the north-west; Genappe, in the south-east corner; Nivelle, in the south centre; and the area where the battle was fought in the north-east. Viewing the map in this latter area, one can make out the words ‘La Belle Alliance’, ‘Le Haye Saint’ and ‘Chateau Goumont’ (Hougoumont).

Before and During the Battle
In the days that preceded the Battle of Waterloo, the several pieces of the map were united in some haste, for use by the Duke of Wellington. It was clear on the 15th of June 1815, that Napoleon’s forces were on the move, having caused the Prussians to withdraw to Wavre after losing the battle of Ligny. Wellington needed to decide how to act and on the 16th the map was called for. A fair copy of the map had previously been made but this had already been presented to the Prince of Orange. Wellington’s copy was not yet finished, as it had not been known that the map would have needed to be finished by that point in time. Due to these time constraints, it was decided that the original sketches would be used.
Reports suggest that it was Lieutenant Waters who received the individual sketches from the RE officers via Oldfield. The map was nearly lost during his possession of it, when he became involved in a melee at the Battle of Quatre Bras. It has been reported that Waters became unhorsed during an assault by French cavalry and then spent the rest of the combat trying to evade capture. His horse had bolted, but by some luck Waters was able to locate it shortly after. Oldfield’s account remarks that ‘He [Waters] was delighted to find his horse quietly destroying the vegetables in a garden near the farmhouse at Quatre Bras’.
Waters then resumed his journey and delivered the sketches to Wellington’s HQ in Brussels, where it was pieced together. There was no time to redraw the different sections, so the pieces were pasted together with overlaps and backed onto canvas material. It was then passed to Wellington via Oldfield and Carmichael Smyth. At this point Wellington is reported to have made his mark on the map, by drawing pencil lines to reflect troop positions. He then handed it to Sir William De Lancey (Wellington’s Quartermaster General), who made arrangements accordingly. The purpose of the pencil lines is down to debate; there are two schools of thought on the matter. The first is that Wellington made the marks to indicate his intended troop positions to De Lancey. The second is that the marks were made for the benefit of a Prussian military liaison officer, to indicate to the Prussians where his line would be and where he wished them to arrive. The later theory advises that because the position of the French line was undetermined, Wellington would have given De Lancey the choice and flexibility of positioning the British line.
At the battle itself, De Lancey carried the map on his person, reportedly in his jacket pocket. He was mortally wounded by a cannon ball which hit him the back. Wellington was very close by when this had happened, and in his account of the battle reports De Lancey’s last words: ‘Pray tell them to leave me and let me die in peace’. De Lancey’s newly married wife was brought from Brussels to nurse him for several days before he succumbed to his wounds. After De Lancey had fallen, the map was recovered by Brigade Major Oldfield. He then passed it back to Carmichael Smyth.
For some time, it was suggested that the dark area at the top of the map was the stain of De Lancey’s blood. It has since been suggested that this was a 19th century attempt at conserving the map. However, after the battle, the map was brought to Paris with Carmichael Smyth. Here, in 1816, Sir Walter Scott viewed the map and described the map as being stained in the blood of De Lancey.

The Fate of the Map after the Battle
After the battle, the map was held by Carmichael Smyth and was brought with him to Paris. Here, in 1816, Sir Walter Scott viewed the map. He gave the following account:
The plan itself, a relique so precious, was rendered more so by being found in the breast of Sir William De Lancey’s coat when he fell, and stained with the blood of that gallant officer. It is now in the careful preservation of Colonel Carmichael Smyth, by whom it was originally sketched.
This account is interesting as it for a long time, the stained area at the top of the map was thought to be coloured with De Lancey’s blood. More recently it has been suggested that this was a 19th century attempt at conserving the area of the map that was of poorer quality material.
After Paris, the map travelled to Carmichael Smyth’s home, upon his return to Britain. A copy of the map was made in 1846, often referred to as the Plymouth Map and this now held by the British Library. Also in 1846, Colonel Oldfield added an explanatory passage to the left of the map. His notes refer to the events surrounding the map’s history. A transcript of the text on the map (with minor adjustments for modern readers) is as follows:
This plan consists of reconnoitrering sketches of the position of Waterloo, and the adjacent Country, made by order of Lt. Colonel Carmichael Smyth, Commanding Royal Engineer in the Netherlands, by his Officers in the years 1814 - 15. One fair copy had been given to the H.R.H. The Prince of Orange, when Commander of the Forces, A second was ordered for his Grace the Duke of Wellington; but not being in a sufficient state of forwardness this original plan was sent to the Field when called for by His Grace on 16th June 1815. It was in custody of Lieut. Waters, R.E., lost and recovered in a melee with the French Cavalry at Quatre Bras.-
On the 17th upon the Duke deciding upon retiring on Waterloo, His Grace called on the Commanding Engineer for the plan, who took it from Brigade Major Oldfield, Royal Engineers (to whom the custody had been transferred on his joining Head Quarters) and given to the Duke, by whom it was handed to His Quarter Master General, Lt. Col. Sir William De Lancey, K.C.B, with directions to place the troops in position; orders being at the same time given to Lt. Colonel Carmichael Smyth, relative to his own Department,
This Plan was on the person of Sir William De Lancey, when that Officer was killed;- it was recovered for Lt. Col. Carmichael Smyth by Brigade Major Oldfield, from Lt. Colonel Sir Charles V. Brooke, D.Q.M. General at Cateau Cambreesis on the advance upon Paris in June 1815; since which time it has been with the papers of Lt Colonel Sir James Carmichael Smyth, Baronet, CB;- KCH; K.M.J; K.S.N.
J. Oldfield Colonel
Royal Engineers
31th January 1846.

The map remained at the residence of Carmichael Smyth until his death in 1860. After this it was all but forgotten about. It resurfaced in 1910, when the Royal Engineers Museum received a letter reporting the discovery of the map. A London based bookseller had acquired it with a number of other maps and was willing to sell it. The museum did not have sufficient funds to purchase it at the time, so a Major Harrison (a curator) bought it using his own money and lent it to the museum. In 1921, he gifted it to the museum.
In 1996, the map was moved to Duxford (Imperial War Museum), where it received some conservation attention. It was noted that the map had discoloured unevenly, this can more than like be attributed to the period 1860 – 1910 when the map was lost. The conservator found that the map is drawn in iron gall ink, black ink, graphite pencil, grey wash, green wash, and red pigment on 10 pieces of paper. It is backed on paper which in turn has been backed on linen. The map also showed signs of abrasion. The wrinkles on the map were found to be of the time the map was originally assembled. The map was relined with new acid free paper and was returned to its place on display.
The RE Museum is planning to redisplay the map in time for June 2015, in a way which highlights its significance but also protects it from deterioration. As part of this project we have captured a series of high quality images with the assistance of the John Rylands Library (Manchester University). We wish to make these detailed digital images more available, having already had some interest from academics and art companies. We have overall images of the map and also an image of each section. All of these were captured at 600dpi and the most detailed versions are about 500MB in size. The use of the image is subject to our reproduction terms and conditions and potential reproduction fees depending on its use. For more information, please contact James Scott at the RE Museum, at or on 01634 822221.

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Re: The Waterloo Map

Postby FBC-Elvas, Portugal » October 17th, 2013, 9:26 am

A warm welcome to the forum James. Thank you to all who have been involved with preserving the map. An excellent source that will be of interest to many.

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Re: The Waterloo Map

Postby Josh&Historyland » October 17th, 2013, 2:00 pm

Welcome indeed, and what a thing to make an introduction with, Amazing!!!

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Re: The Waterloo Map

Postby OXFORDMON » October 17th, 2013, 9:05 pm

A warm welcome to the forum James.

A fascinating and rare piece of history, thank you for sharing!

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Re: The Waterloo Map

Postby unclearthur » October 18th, 2013, 6:45 pm

What a great post! :D

Gives me an idea for a story...
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