Monument to Colonel Benson by John Tweed, in Hexham, Northumberland

Left: Whole monument. Right: The statue from a slightly more three-quarter view.

Monument to Colonel Benson, by John Tweed (1869-1933), with assistance from Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). Unveiled 1904. Larger-than-life bronze on a stone pedestal with bronze plaque inscribed, under the emblem and motto of the Royal Artillery (the Latin for: "Everywhere where right and glory lead"). George Elliott Benson (1861-1901) was a local hero, who became a Lieut. Colonel in the Royal Artillery and died in the second Boer War at the Battle of Bakenlaagte in South Africa. The inscription ends with the words, "The Unreturning Brave," and the information that the statue was raised by public subscription. The monument stands at the busy junction of Battle Hill with Beaumont Street, in the market town of Hexham, Northumberland.

Close-up of upper part of statue.

The official history of the battle tells us that "[w]hen the whole tendency of British military policy was to sacrifice enterprise to organisation, [Benson] showed an example of fearless initiative. He sought risks with an ardour and obstinacy which were at once his best safeguard and his final justification" (qtd. in Underwood et al., 30). Tweed has shown him as if still engaged in leading his men, still advancing with proud upright bearing, whilst keeping a sharp look-out for the enemy. Ernest Radford praised Tweed in his own lifetime for achieving what he himself looked for in sculpture, not only "giving the portrait proper," but also "making the Soul of a Man or the greatness of his Achievement the motive of a memorial" — indeed, Radford saw "nothing between" the two, though he clearly felt it was the latter that really mattered (46). Tweed seems to have achieved exactly the looked-for combination in this dynamic, stalwart figure.

As for the involvement of Tweed's good friend Rodin, this is explained as follows:

the monument was unveiled by Benson's old commander, General Lord Methuen, with a large crowd watching. According to the sculptor's biographer, the committee considered themselves very lucky to have got the work, which was greatly admired, for £840 instead of the £2,000 quoted, and passed a resolution conveying to the sculptor their gratitude, noting that not only had he entered into the work "heart and soul" but also, interestingly, that he had been advised and assisted by his old mentor, the great French sculptor, Rodin. [Underwood et al. 30]

As a monument to a particular individual, this one is not in the usual run of war memorials. But the range was wide — from plaques, crosses, and obelisks to representations of mourning or active soldiers, with single or multiple figures, sometimes symbolic or allegorical in nature. Such memorials are dedicated in various ways, too, some to the dead of a single village or organisation, others to the dead of a specific company or regiment or branch of the armed forces, others to the dead of the nation. Distinct as it is, this one serves not just as war memorial to the one brave man whose likeness is given, but, as the words at the end indicate ("The Unreturning Brave"), all those who die in battle overseas.

Photograph and text Jacqueline Banerjee. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

Related Material

Sources

Radford, Ernest. "John Tweed, Sculptor." Art Journal, 1910: 41-46. Google Books. Free e-book. Web. 17 July 2014.

Usherwood, Paul, Jeremy Beach, Catherine Morris. Public sculpture of North-East England. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000.


Last modified 17 July 2014