General James Wolfe

General James Wolfe (1727-1759)

Military Leader and Hero of the Battle of Quebec

General James WolfeJames Peter Wolfe was born in Westerham, the older of two sons of Colonel (later Lieutenant General) Edward Wolfe and the former Henrietta Thompson. His place of birth and childhood home has been preserved in his memory under the name Quebec House.

Several of Westerham’s streets and buildings (including a pub) are named after him, and St Mary’s church contains not only the font in which he was baptised but also a memorial window to him by Edward Burne-Jones. A statue of Wolfe (one of only two in the UK, the other being in Greenwich Park) provides a striking feature for the village green.

Wolfe Statue

Westerham Village Green, featuring a statue of General James Wolfe

William Pitt the Elder chose Wolfe to lead the British assault on Quebec City in 1759, with the rank of major general. Reputedly he spent his last night in Westerham at the George and Dragon prior to his departure for Quebec, a fact testified to by a large plaque on the wall to the left of the main entrance.

The British army laid siege to Quebec for three months. After an extensive yet inconclusive bombardment of the city, Wolfe then led 200 ships with 9,000 soldiers and 18,000 sailors on a very bold and risky amphibious landing at the base of the cliffs west of Quebec along the St. Lawrence River.

His army, with two small cannons, scaled the cliffs early on the morning of September 13, 1759, surprising the French under the command of the Marquis de Montcalm, who thought the cliffs would be unclimbable. Faced with the possibility that the British would haul more cannons up the cliffs and knock down the city’s remaining walls, the French fought the British on the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. They were defeated after just fifteen minutes of battle, but when Wolfe began to move forward, he was shot twice in the chest.

Battle of Quebec

Detail from ‘Death of General Wolfe’ by Benjamin West (1770)

He reportedly heard cries of “They run,” and thus died content that the victory had been achieved.

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