Death of Hammersley (facing p. 656) — Phiz's penultimate illustration for Charles Lever's Charles O'Malley, The Irish Dragoon, November 1841. Steel engraving for Chapter CXX, "Waterloo" (originally in Parts 19-20, November 1841). 9.7 cm high by 15 cm wide (4 by 6 inches), vignetted.

Passage Illustrated: A Dramatic Waterloo Moment

Cambronne’s battalion stood yet unbroken, and seemed to defy every attack that was brought against them. To the second summons to surrender they replied as indignantly as at first; and Vivian’s Brigade was ordered to charge them. A cloud of British horse bore down on every face of the devoted square; but firm as in their hour of victory, the heroes of Marengo never quailed; and twice the bravest blood of Britian recoiled, baffled and dismayed. There was a pause for some minutes, and even then, as we surveyed our broken and blood-stained squadrons, a cry of admiration burst from our ranks at the gallant bearing of that glorious infantry. Suddenly the tramp of approaching cavalry was heard; I turned my head and saw two squadrons of the Second Life Guards. The officer who led them on was bare-headed; his long dark hair streaming wildly behind him, and upon his pale features, to which not even the headlong enthusiasm of battle had lent one touch of color. He rode straight to where I was standing, his dark eyes fixed upon me with a look so fierce, so penetrating, that I could not look away. The features, save in this respect, had almost a look of idiocy. It was Hammersley.

“Ha!” he cried at last, “I have sought you out the entire day, but in vain. It is not yet too late. Give me your hand, boy. You once called on me to follow you, and I did not refuse; I trust you’ll do the like by me. Is it not so?”

A terrible perception of his meaning shot through my mind as I clasped his clay-cold hand in mine, and for a moment I did not speak.

“I hoped for better than this,” said he, bitterly, and as a glance of withering scorn flashed from his eye. “I did trust that he who was preferred before me was at least not a coward.”

As the word fell from his lips I nearly leaped from my saddle, and mechanically raised my sabre to cleave him on the spot.

“Then follow me!” shouted he, pointing with his sword to the glistening ranks before us.

“Come on!” said I, with a voice hoarse with passion, while burying my spurs in my horse’s flanks, I sprang on a full length before him, and bore down upon the enemy. A loud shout, a deafening volley, the agonizing cry of the wounded and the dying, were all I heard, as my horse, rearing madly upward, plunged twice into the air, and then fell dead upon the earth, crushing me beneath his cumbrous weight, lifeless and insensible.

* * * * * * * * * * * [Chapter CXX, "Waterloo," pp. 655-656]

Commentary: A Memorable Realisation of the History of the Field of Waterloo

In contrast to so many of the illustrations in this series for the historical novel, Phiz presents his material here without either irony or farcical humour. Lever has permitted him to illustrate a scene of cavalry action in which a gallant British dragoon whose fortunes we have followed intermittently throughout the novel meets a hero's fate, fighting the French. The scene as Lever describes it allows the reader to hope that O'Malley will become a veteran and survivor of the Napoleonic Wars as the dying officer is Hammersley. The narrative makes clear that the dragoon is not the protagonist, whose fate is momentarily indeterminate in the passage realised. But of course, since O'Malley is the narrator, he cannot succumb at this point; nonetheless, Lever underscores the uncertainty of the outcome by utilizing ten asterisks across the page, margin to margin, to imply both a loss of consciousness and a time gap, for the next paragraph takes us to the aftermath of the the Battle of Waterloo, with the corpses of Napoleon's Old Guard and the bodies of the "steel-clad squadrons of France" (652), the Imperial Cavalry, strewn across the torn-up Belgian plain. Phiz brilliantly depicts the daring British cavalry officer shot from his mount as he points towards victory over his embattled foes, the Old Guard, in their bearskin headgear. Phiz has taken the trouble to depict Hammersley's weapon accurately, for the principal weapon of an Irish dragoon of the period was a straight sword, not a curved sabre.

The death of Hammersley rather than the ignominious defeat of the Emperor Napoleon marks the culmination of O'Malley's description of the momentous day in Belgium. The protagonist has seen the Battle of Waterloo from both sides, first as a captive of the French, and latterly as Hammersley's companion in the final stand of the Old Guard. When he awakens the next day, he discovers his rival for Lucy Dashwood dead, the bodies of British dragoons intermingled with Enniskilleners, Scotch Greys, French dragoons, and the soldiers of the Old Guard: "the broad brow and stalwart chest of the Saxon lay bleaching beside the bronzed and bearded warrior of Gaul" (656). He has seen it all now: the destruction of Marshall Ney's Imperial Guard; the death of General Picton, struck down by a musket ball to forehead as he leads the Irish regiments against Milhaud's heavy dragoons and lancers; the charge of the Life Guards; and the triumph of Blucher's Prussian artillery and hussars as the battle surges and recedes around La Haye Sainte, La Belle Alliance, Hougoumont, Frischermont, and the road to Brussels. In the run-up to the battle O'Malley has enabled another English prisoner, Sir George Dashwood, to escape with his French friend Jules St. Croix from an earlier incident in the Peninsula, thereby ensuring that a happy romantic ending will accompany the aftermath of the epoch-making battle.

Related Materials

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image, and (2) link your document to this URL.]


Lester, Valerie Browne. Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004.

Lever, Charles. Charles O'Malley, The Irish Dragoon. Illustrated by Phiz [Hablot Knight Browne]. Published serially in The Dublin University Magazine from Vol. XV (March 1840) through XVIII (December 1841). Dublin: William Curry, March 1840 through December 1841, 2 vols. London: Samuel Holdsworth, 1842; rpt., Chapman and Hall, 1873.

Lever, Charles. Charles O'Malley, The Irish Dragoon. "Edited by Harry Lorrequer." Dublin: William Curry, Jun. London: W. S. Orr, 1841. 2 vols.

Lever, Charles. Charles O'Malley, The Irish Dragoon. Illustrated by Phiz [Hablot Knight Browne]. Novels and Romances of Charles Lever. Vol. I and II. In two volumes. Project Gutenberg. Last Updated: 2 September 2016.

Steig, Michael. Chapter Two: "The Beginnings of 'Phiz': Pickwick, Nickleby, and the Emergence from Caricature." Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington: Indiana U. P., 1978. Pp. 24-85.

Stevenson, Lionel. Chapter V, "Renegade from Physic, 1839-1841." Dr. Quicksilver: The Life of Charles Lever. London: Chapman and Hall, 1939. Pp. 73-93.

Created 14 February 2023

Last updated 8 April 2023