Colonel John Townsend – Aide-de-Camp to HM Queen Victoria

The Last Worshipful Master of 14th Dragoons Lodge 273 (IC)

Major John Townsend

Major John Townsend was the last known Master of 14th Dragoons Lodge No. 273. He was installed in the chair of Solomon on the 22nd June 1825 and served as Master of the lodge until December 22nd 1827.

There are no records after 1827 for the lodge, however, Major John Townsend was was promoted to Colonel of the regiment in 1829.

Date of Birth: 11 Jun 1789
Date of Death: 22 Apr 1845
Generation: 6th
Residence: Castletownshend
Father: Richard Boyle Townsend
Mother: Newenham, Henrietta
Spouse: Unmarried
See Also: Scrapbook

Notes for Colonel John Townsend

John was born at Castletownshend. Like his brother, Maurice Townsend [231], he was educated at Westminster.

Aged 16, John was appointed Cornet in the 14th Light Dragoons on 24 January 1805. The following year he purchased his Lieutenancy on 8 March.

It was whilst the 14th Light Dragoons were stationed in Ireland that John joined the Regimental Lodge on 8 March 1819; this originated in 1756 when a Military Lodge was warranted by the Grand Lodge of Ireland and became officially the 14th Dragoons Lodge No. 273. John was installed in the chair of Solomon on 22 June 1825 and served as Master of the lodge until 22 December 1827. The Lodge closed when the Regiment embarked for Liverpool on 26 March 1828. Copies of documents relating to John’s membership of the Lodge are shown in his ‘Scrapbook’.

John sailed from Falmouth with his Regiment for Portugal, in the transport ‘Benjamin and Mary’, on 16 December 1808 and served throughout the Peninsular War 1808 – 1813. His Regiment was in action at all the battles of the campaign listed at the bottom of these notes (2) and a more detailed description of his involvement in the campaign can be found in ‘Extract from a Military Journal May 1845’ which is posted in his ‘Scrapbook’ and in the regimental history. Reading through his letters in ‘An Officer of the Long Parliament’ he personally had many close encounters over the course of the war and it is extraordinary that he was never wounded though his horse was shot from under him at the Battle of Fuentes d’Onor were he was ADC to Sir Stapleton Cotton. It was during this battle that Captain Knife of the 14th Light Dragoons was mortally wounded and John was promoted Captain on 6 June 1811, without purchase, and put in command of Captain Knife’s troop. Extracts from his letters (3) and those of his brother, Maurice, provide a fascinating glimpse into his experiences during and after the campaign.

On 7 March 1814, John was taken prisoner of war in an encounter with the enemy near the city of Pau, but was quickly released. In a letter from Toulouse dated May 1st 1814 he says that he was remarkably well treated during his captivity and goes on to say that in every town in France “the people could not curb their joy at getting rid of the tyrant.”

John’s brother, Maurice, went to meet John in Paris and wrote home on 1st July 1814 from the Hotel Versailles saying that they were in high spirits.


Colonel John Townsend

Peacetime soldiering in England was not to John’s liking. In a letter from Radipole, Weymouth, Dorset dated 6 October 1814 to his father, he wrote that he was proceeding to Plymouth with two squadrons of his Regiment to embark for North America “I never saw a squadron of finer men leave any barracks or in higher spirits….anxious to be employed again, for a Barrack life in England after having been actively employed for the last five years is one of the most sedentary and detestable”. They arrived in Jamaica on the 24 November where an expedition was assembled under Major-General (afterwards Lord) Keane, for an attempt on New Orleans; arriving there on 10 December 1814. The attack on New Orleans took place on 8 January 1815 and both squadrons of the 14th Light Dragoons served dismounted. In a letter from America dated 20 February 1815 John remarks that all they had to eat was biscuit and salt pork and “we are worse off here than I remember at any time to have been in the Peninsular”. Shortly after this the two squadrons embarked for England and re-joined the regiment at Hounslow in May 1815.

Between 1815 and 1841, when the regiment embarked for India, the 14th Light Dragoons served in twenty different places in England, Scotland and Ireland; a summary of these, extracted from the regimental history is given in John’s ‘Scrapbook’. In July 1826, when the 14th Light Dragoons were stationed in Portobello Barracks, Dublin, the famous Irish painter and portraitist Daniel Maclise drew two portraits of John; these are reproduced in his ‘Scrapbook‘. Maclise also drew a number of other officers of the regiment at the same time.

John was appointed: brevet major on 21 January 1819, as a reward for his services during the Peninsular War; major in the Regiment, by purchase, on 13 September 1821 and lieutenant-colonel, by purchase, on 16 April 1829 to succeed in command of his regiment vice Lieutenant Colonel Baker who retired. In 1831 he was appointed to the Board of Officers headed by Lord Edward Somerset for revising the formations and movements of cavalry.

In 1836 John gave evidence at the enquiry into the system of punishment in the Army; the details of this can be seen in House of Commons Papers Volume 22 ‘Report from His Majesty’s Commissioners for Inquiring into the System of Military Punishments in the Army’ pages 49 to 52.

John embarked at Gravesend for India with the first division of the 14th Light Dragoons on 24 May 1841 in the freight ship “Repulse”. They arrived at Bombay on 8 September, from whence they proceeded to Kirkee. The second division of the regiment embarked at Gravesend on board the freight ship “Reliance” on the 14 June, under the command of Major Barton, landed at Bombay on the 5 October and marched to join the regiment at Kirkee, where it arrived on the 13th of that month. Unable to witness the distress of his soldiers whose wives had not been given free passage to India John paid £800 for them and their children to sail with the Regiment. The regiment remained stationed at Kirkee though two squadrons proceeded on field service to Kolapoor in October 1844.

When John’s great, great uncle by marriage, Maurice FitzGerald, 16th Knight of Kerry, died in 1779 he left everything in trust to Lord Doneraile and John Townsend [214?] for the benefit for life of his wife, Lady Anne FitzGerald, with the remainder for life to Richard Boyle Townsend, John’s father and Maurice’s only nephew. Shortly afterwards Thomas Mullins (3a), later 1st Lord Ventry, claimed that Maurice FitzGerald owed him various sums of money and filed against Lady Anne, Richard Boyle and the trustees created under the deed of settlement made on Maurice FitzGerald’s marriage. Thus began a saga of claim and counter-claim during the course of which John became involved in 1808 when he filed a claim against Thomas Mullins. However, John was sent overseas at the end of that year and nothing further took place until 1823. The matter was finally resolved in 1831 when the case was brought before the House of Lords for judgement. This was reported in ‘New Reports of cases heard in the House of Lords’ 1831 Volume V pages 567 to 592.

John inherited the Castletownshend estate in 1827 on the death of his father along with a considerable holding of property in Dingle. Samuel Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland 1837 records under the entry for Dingle “Lieut.-Col. John Townshend, and Lord Ventry are the principal proprietors of the town; the Earl of Cork has a small portion along the sea-shore.”

Colonel John Townsend

Colonel John Townsend

Page 299 of the Appendix to the First report of the Commissioners Part 1 – Municipal Corporations (Ireland). Published by William Clowes, Stamford Street, London in 1835 concerns the Borough of Dingle. In the section headed ‘Burgesses’ it records that “Several of the burgesses are nearly connected with the patron of the borough. The following are the present burgesses:

– John Townshend Esquire, Lieutenant Colonel 14th Light dragoons, patron of the Borough and principal proprietor of the town.

– Rev Thomas Townshend, his brother. (Should read Maurice Fitzgerald Townsend [231])

– Rev Boyle Townshend, ditto. (Abraham Boyle Townsend [233])

– Richard Townshend Esq., second cousin. (Richard Mellifont Townsend [236])

– Samuel Townshend Esq., Whitehall Co Cork. (Samuel Townsend [412] or [405])”

None of them lived within the limits of the borough and it would appear that they rarely, if ever, attended borough meetings.

Slater’s Commercial Directory 1846‘ shows “Townsend Lieutenant Colonel John. Castle Townsend House”. John left the running of the estate to his mother who survived him. She died in 1848 and the entire estate passed to John’s brother, Maurice.

Appointed aide-de-camp to the Queen Victoria and promoted Colonel on 23 November 1841 (London Gazette 20044), John remained with his Regiment in India until he embarked at Bombay for England in November 1844 in order to recover his health from ‘Indian ague’. He landed in England in January 1845 and died unmarried three months later at Castletownshend, where he was buried in St Barrahanes Church. The officers of his Regiment erected a monument to his memory in the church.

John’s death was recorded in the diary of Agnes Townsend – ‘April 22 1845 Colonel Townsend died’. His obituary in ‘The Gentleman’s Magazine 1845‘ is reproduced in his ‘Scrapbook’ along with the summary of his career on page 76 of the regimental history.

Page 318 of Francis G Tuckey’s “Tuckey’s Cork Remembrancer” records that John was High Sheriff of County Cork in 1817. Amongst the catalogue of the registered papers of theOffice of Chief Secretary of Ireland from 1818 to 1852, in the National Archives of Ireland, there is a letter dated 20 December 1818 from John (written in his capacity of High Sheriff) to Robert Peel, Chief Secretary, Dublin Castle, asking that enclosed address [not extant], expressing sorrow at ‘late melancholy occasion’ affecting the Royal Family, be conveyed to the Prince Regent.

A copy of ‘Confirmation of arms to the descendants of Richard Boyle Townsend, late of Castle Townsend, Co. Cork and to his son, John Townsend of Castle Townsend, Feb. 19, 1828’ is to be found in the National Library of Ireland, Genealogical Office: Ms.107, pp.18-9.

Along with his brothers, Reverend Maurice Fitzgerald Townsend [231] and Abraham Boyle Townsend, John was made a Freeman of Limerick on 6 Aug 1817. He was also a Freeman of the City of Cork. Between 1710 and 1841, when the power of admitting Freemen only by birth or right ceased, a total of thirty-three members of the Townsend family were admitted as Freemen.

Pages 124 and 125 in the book ‘Life as I have found it’ by General Charles Philip de Ainslie provide an interesting insight. “My new Commanding Officer, Colonel Townsend, was well known in the army and had spent the whole of his military life in the 14th, with whom he had served throughout the Peninsula War, in the south of France and in the campaign of New Orleans. He was a pleasant-looking, wiry little man, of good family and fortune, possessing, I have heard, a beautiful place – Castle Townsend, county Cork. He had been well educated according to the lights of those days, being an excellent classic, and at one time, I believe, had been one of the representatives for his own county in Parliament; a kind hearted gentleman, and above all, devoted to the 14th, which no consideration would induce him to leave. Townsend was an excellent officer, after his own fashion, and commanded the regiment in a style which only himself could have done; but he inherited, and unluckily kept up, that failing at one period so prevalent in the army, and which, to say the truth, the old 14th had always been rather in advance of their neighbours. Poor Jack dearly loved good fellowship, in connection with more good liquor than he could safely carry, and the disorders this occasioned in the corps are not to be described. The language also of the worthy colonel was often of a startling nature, and not always appreciated by some of those who had not been accustomed to it, which more than once led to disagreeable consequences.”

The Tithe Applotment Books in the National Archives of Ireland were compiled between 1823 and 1837 in order to determine the amount which occupiers of agricultural holdings over one acre should pay in tithes to the Church of Ireland. The 1835 record for the Townland of Coronea in the Parish of Abbeystrewry show John and his kinsman Richard Boyle Townsend owning very small parcels of land in the Townland.

(1) Much of the detail about John’s military career is drawn from the regimental history of the 14th Light Dragoons supported, where traceable, by entries in the London Gazette. The regimental history can be found at Historical Record of the Fourteenth, or The King’s, Regiment Light Dragoons written by Richard Cannon Esq, Adjutant General’s Office, Horse Guards and published by Parker, Furnivall, & Parker, 30, Charing Cross, London in 1847.

Battles of the Peninsular War.

1809 May – Douro. July – Talavera.

1810 September – Busaco.

1811 May – Fuentes d’Onor.

1812 January – Ciudad Rodrigo. March-April – Badajoz. July – Salamanca.

1813 June – Vitoria. July-August – Pyrenees. November – Nivelle. December – Nive.

1814 April – Toulouse.

Extracts from letters in ‘An Officer of the Long Parliament’.

Belem. January 1st 1809. John to his mother. – “We live here excessively well – our breakfast which is coffee and eggs for about four and a half pence and dinner for about 2 shillings seven and a half pence with wine into the bargain”.

Braga. May 25th 1809. John to his father. – “We met the enemy on the morning of the 10th about four o’clock and we skirmished with them and charged until about twelve when they retired. We took about 30 prisoners and 60 horses……On the 12th we forced the passage of the Douro under a very heavy fire of cannon and musketry and eventually succeeded in taking Oporto and about 16 pieces of cannon. I would have written by Fitzroy Stanhope but had no time, for the moment we crossed the river we dashed thro’ the town and charged the enemy retiring in the direction of Valonga and that evening I was on patrol all night…”

Elvas. August 29th 1809. John to his father. – “You doubtless have seen by the papers of the battle that was fought at Talavera and how nobly our army behaved during such trying circumstances. I had a severe fit of illness about a month ago so much so that I was delirious for two days…..I am perfectly certain my illness was brought about by excessive fatigue and being deprived of wine and being two days without rations…”

Camp near Alverca. August 30th 1810. John to his mother. – “You were inclined to suppose I was in the unfortunate skirmish when our beloved commander fell, I was in it and had my left hand man killed and one covering me wounded, since that we have had two more brushes with the enemy.”

Ponte de Roll. November 10th 1810. John to his mother. – “When at Lisbon with the Boys (young gentleman I should have said) I went to the Ministers Ball and lost my heart to an olive coloured young damsel whose mother said that Maurice, Boyle (John’s brother) and I were three madmen but I was the maddest of the three.”

November 21st 1810. John to his mother. – “I went out with a patrol from a place called Agembuja with a sergeant and four men of the 14th joined 5 of the 16th Light Dragoons and took 50 of them (the French) armed, they fired a volley at my party and then we charged them and they surrendered.”

Lisbon. Saturday December 15th 1810. Maurice to his mother. – “I heard of Jack (John) yesterday from Charles Syng, he is very well and has done one of the most gallant things that has as yet been done in Portugal – namely he with eight of his men surprised and brought home as prisoners fifty French troopers, it has been the talk of the town these last four or five days”.

Santarem. January 1811. John to his father. – “We have races here every Tuesday….You must excuse my bad writing as my pen is made out of the wing of a turkey we are going to have for dinner.”

Campo St Anna, near Cartago. February 22 1811. John to his father. – “Since I wrote last I have dined twice at Lord Wellington’s who always appears in the highest spirits, in fact he has been particularly civil to our regiment.”

June 13th 1811. – “On the 5th Sunday, they attacked our right flank with about 4000 cavalry 6 guns and some infantry, we had only about 1000 cavalry in and stood them for some time, charged them, took three officers and about 200 men prisoners. They charged us in return and two of them rode at me and knocked me and my horse down (who was wounded in the hind leg just before), and took me prisoner for a few minutes but just at that moment Col. Ellez the AAG brought up another squadron, charged the rascals and I and young Fitzclarence were taken again to my no small gratification. I have escaped unhurt but with an uncommon black eye……poor Knife shot through the breast with a grapeshot and I believe he cannot survive.”

El Bodon. December 10th 1811. – “Charles Synge is near here and very well. I am going to dine with him tomorrow and go fox hunting the next day with Lord Wellington’s hounds on my old French horse.”

(3a) Thomas Mullins married Elizabeth Gunn, great granddaughter of Katherine Townsend.

(3b) RBT Papers 234/1. Notes left by Henrietta Townsend.

(4) Published in London by William Blackwood and Sons in 1883.

An Officer of the Long Parliament‘ Ch VII p.165-182 refers.

See Dictionary of National Biography 2004.


In Memoriam Extract from the 14th Regiment of Light Dragoons

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL JOHN TOWNSEND, entered the army as a cornet in the FOURTEENTH light dragoons on the 24th June 1805; was promoted to a lieutenancy on the 27th February 1806; to be captain of a troop on the 6th June 1811. He served in the Peninsula from December 1808, until taken prisoner near the city of Pau in France on the 8th March 1814, including the different affairs of the 10th and 11th May and in crossing the Douro on the 12th May 1809; battle of Talavera in July 1809; affair with the enemy’s advanced posts on the 11th July 1810 in front of Ciudad Rodrigo under the command of Colonel Talbot, who was killed; passage of the Coa; skirmishes of the rear guard from Almeida to the lines of Torres Vedras in 1810; affairs in the enemy’s retreat from Santarem to the frontiers of Spain from 6th March to 4th April 1811; battle of Fuentes d’Onor, where he was wounded; affair with the enemy’s lancers on the 25th September 1811; siege of Badajoz; affairs with the enemy’s cavalry at Usagre, Llerena, in front of Salamanca, and near Castillos; battle of Salamanca; affair with the enemy’s rear guard near Panerandos; several skirmishes from Madrid to Ciudad Rodrigo, and from the 26th May near Salamanca to the battle of Vittoria; taking of a gun from the enemy near Pamplona, and several engagements and skirmishes from the entrance of the British army into France, until the battle of Orthes. He embarked for America in October 1814, and was present at the attack on New Orleans on the 8thof January 1815. He was promoted to a majority on the 13th September 1821; and to the lieutenant-colonelcy of the regiment on the 16th April 1829. He embarked in command of the regiment for India on the 24th May 1841, and was appointed aide-de-camp to the Queen, with the rank of colonel, on the 23rd November, 1841. He returned from India, on leave of absence, in the early part of the year 1845, and died at Castle Townsend, in Ireland, on the 22nd April 1845. John’s


– The Gentleman’s Magazine 1845 COLONEL JOHN TOWNSEND. April 22. At Castle Townsend, Cork, aged 56, Colonel John Townsend, A.D.C. to the Queen, and Lieutenant-Colonel Commanding the 14th Light Dragoons. He served in that distinguished regiment uninterruptedly for more than 40 years, and only left the gallant corps in India a few months since to recruit his impaired health. He entered the army as a Cornet by purchase on the 24th Jan. 1805. He was promoted to a lieutenancy on the 8th March, 1806, and went in service to the Peninsula, where he commenced that glorious career which imprinted on the colours of his regiment “Douro,” ” Talavera,” ” Fuentes d’Onor,” ” Salamanca,” ” Vittoria,” “Orthes,” and ” Peninsula.” He was engaged in three successive actions on the 10th and 11th of May, 1809, leading to the passage of the Douro on the 12th; Talavera was the next affair of magnitude, and then in front Ciudad Rodrigo on the 11th July, 1810, where his commander, Colonel Talbot, was killed; and subsequently that year in the passage of the Coa, and the dashing skirmishes with the enemy when in the rear-guard from Almeida to the lines of Torres Vedras. In March of the following year, 1811, he was several times engaged with the retreating enemy from Santarem to the Spanish frontiers. He was promoted to his troop in June, and fought in the battle of Fuentes d’Onor, and was engaged with the French Lancers on the 25th September. In the former action he was wounded. He was subsequently in most of the brilliant affairs in the Peninsula up to March 8, 1814, when he was taken prisoner in France, near the city of Pau. He was engaged at the siege of Badajoz, in front of Salamanca, and near Castillos with the enemy’s cavalry, Salamanca, the rearguard near Panerandos, the skirmishing from Madrid to Ciudad Roderigo. and again from the 26th of May, near to Salamanca, to the battle of Vittoria. He was at the capturing of a gun near Pamplona, and in many other gallant exploits, from the entrance of the British into France to the battle of Orthes. His imprisonment was of short duration, and he embarked for America in the month of October, 1814; and concluded his chief war services in the attack on New Orleans on the 8th of January of the following year. He obtained his brevet promotion on the 21st January, 1819, and purchased his regimental majority on the 13th Sept. 1821. He became Lieutenant-Colonel by purchase on the 16th April, 1829, and full Colonel on the 23d November, 1841, by the general promotion in honour of the birth of the Prince of Wales, the regiment having embarked for India on the 24th of May of that year. It was not however only in the field that Colonel Townsend was distinguished. In that perhaps more difficult task — the management of his regiment, and the maintenance of its domestic economy, no man was ever more remarkable for his talent in conciliating, by sufficient discipline as well as by judicious liberality, the affections of the soldiers under his command; while his perfect tact and firm good nature secured among his officers a spirit of unity and friendliness. After nearly 40 years’ constant service with the 14th Light Dragoons, Colonel Townsend might perhaps have been justified if he had declined to follow his regiment to India, but he preferred the risk of a tropical climate to a separation from the corps with which he had been so long honourably connected, and only for a few months survived his return.

These Notes are reproduced from ‘The Townsend (Townshend) Family Records’ by kind permission of  the Compiler & Editor. Website:


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