“Monument to Major-General Sir William Ponsonby” by Edward Hodges Baily (1788-1867)
Ponsonby Memorial

Memorial to Major-General Sir William Ponsonby (1772-1815), by Edward Hodges Baily (1788-1867). 1817-1820. Marble. St Paul's Cathedral, London. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Ponsonby died at Waterloo, going down in history "as leading the decisive charge of the Union Brigade at the Battle of Waterloo, on June 18th, 1815." From the same source, we learn the circumstances in which his life ended that day on the battlefield:

Sir William who may have been already wounded by a musket shot surrendered to Maréchal-des-logis Francois Orban of the 4th lancers who took his sword. Some Scots Greys attempted to rescue Sir William and in the words of the French Historian and member of the Old Guard, Hippolyte de Mauduit, who clearly spoke to Orban: "Orban, fearing they are going to snatch his prisoner… decides to his great regret to strike him down. It was General Ponsonby." ["Major General Sir William Ponsonby"]

The monument depicts an angel in the act of giving the fallen hero a laurel wreath, and the inscription says that he "died gloriously." However, the sculpture is faithful to another detail, given later in the account quoted above — that he was stripped, and left with nothing but a blood-soaked shirt: "Sir William’s body was found the next day by Colonel Best, who in a letter to his cousin wrote: ‘I also found Major General William Ponsonby who was struck through the chest and body – he was stripped except his shirt which was entirely soaked in blood'" ("Major General Sir William Ponsonby"). The gruesome nature of his passing is also suggested in the monument by the depiction of his stricken mount. It is a powerful and spectacular piece showing the horror of battle as well as the achievement of an admired leader.

Not all the credit for this composition goes to Baily. In 1816 the "Committee of Taste" had commissioned William Theed to prepare the monument. Theed designed the work (see Jordan 48, n.47), but died in 1817, after which it was passed to Baily for modelling and execution. It was a suitable arrangement, and one that was advantageous to Baily. Caroline Jordan writes, "Theed and Baily had evidently been close as the latter is recorded as having given his remuneration for the Ponsonby monument to the deceased's family. In assuming control of such a prestigious work, Baily succeeded in achieving another level of professional distinction" (47).

Photograph by Tim Willasey-Wilsey, who also supplied the sources. Text written up by Jacqueline Banerjee. [You may use these images 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 in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Jordan, Caroline Patricia. Edward Hodges Baily (1788-1867) and the notion of poetic sculpture c.1800-1845. PhD thesis for the University of Leeds, 2007. Web. 12 December 2022.

"Major General Sir William Ponsonby." waterlooassociation.org.uk. Web. 12 December 2022.

Created 12 December 2022