William George Drummond Stewart VC

b. 11/02/1831 Grandtully, Perthshire, Scotland. d. 26/10/1868 Hythe, Hampshire.

William George Drummond Stewart (1831-1868) was born on 11th February 1831, the only son of Captain Sir William Drummond Stewart and Christine Mary Battersby. William (though known more commonly by his second name George) was brought up on the family estate at Murthly Castle. Despite being born into a leading Scottish aristocratic family, George was to have an unhappy childhood. In 1832, when he was less than a year old, his father and his brother had a violent quarrel, and his father decided to leave his wife and son in Scotland and sail for America.

William G D Stewart VC

His father arrived in St Louis, and joined a pack train led by Robert Campbell and he travelled throughout the Rockies. It was whilst on a trip in the Rockies in 1842, that he learnt that his brother had died, and he was to become the 19th Laird of Grandtully. He returned to Scotland with a wide array of items from the Americas which caused a stir.

George, who was estranged from his father, had been sent to be educated at the Jesuit-run Oscott College near Birmingham, before being appointed ensign by purchase into the 93rd Highland Regiment (later Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders) in 1848. In 1853, while he was stationed at Portsmouth, he had an affair with a girl named Mary, the daughter of a local merchant. She died giving birth to twin boys, who were named George William Drummond and Herbert John. With the outbreak of the Crimean War in the spring of 1854, the 93rd were part of the Highland Brigade sent there, and George was part of this. It would appear that he left his infant twin sons with his mother, and his uncle Archibald Douglas Stewart. In fact, George would miss his children’s baptism.

Two months later, the 93rd with just four companies, stood between the Russians and the British supply port of Balaklava. The situation was desperate as the Russians successfully stormed the Number 1 Redoubt, and caused the Turks to flee. As the Russian cavalry pursued the Turks they came into range of the 93rd under the command of Sir Colin Campbell, and their fire caused the Russians to turn around and return to their lines. This action saw the 93rd described as “The Thin Red Line”

The 93rd was then sent to China, but on route, was redirected to India when the Mutiny broke out. They arrived in Calcutta in September 1857, and were in time, to rejoin their old commander, Sir Colin Campbell, who was planning to advance and lift the siege of Lucknow.

On the 16th November 1857, at the beginning of the battle for the Secundra Bagh, George Stewart had charged up a long level road, straight towards the fearsome gun muzzles as they were manoeuvred towards him. Narrowly, his company managed to win the race and his exploit was acknowledged many years later by Lord Roberts VC who recalled this action “was as serviceable as it was heroic, for it silenced the fire most destructive to the attacking force”. The large nearby fortified barracks, built in the form of a cross, was then captured and Stewart later joined by Major Ewart and three companies. They remained there to secure the rear of the column until the final evacuation took place two days later. In a ballot of the officers of the 93rd, Stewart was selected to receive the VC, which was gazetted on 24th December 1858.

Stewart actually received his medal before the official announcement. On 6th December 1858 at a special ceremony at Umbeyla, Major General Sir Robert Garrett pinned the VC on Stewart’s tunic. After nearly four years away fighting, Stewart decided to return to Scotland and his family estate. On being promoted to a majority, for which there was no opening in the 93rd, he elected to go on half pay and retired from active service.

What George did next was a little shrouded in mystery. He did serve for a short spell as Assistant Inspector of Volunteers, but the dates are unknown. In the regimental diaries of the 93rd, Stewart was described as an interesting character, who had had a child with a Miss Wilson, a daughter of a fishing tackle maker from Edinburgh. Miss Wilson tried to force a marriage but this failed and the child died, meaning George could walk away without complications.

On 18th October 1868, Stewart found himself at Fawley, near Southampton. Bizarrely, George attempted to do a trick he would have seen on his service in India. In an attempt to emulate what he had seen ten years before, George thrust a stick down his throat, but the trick went horribly wrong, and he died. At his inquest held two days later, the Deputy Coroner stated that the cause of death was inflammation of the lungs. The verdict was not recorded as death by misadventure but whilst in an unsound state of mind. The location of where it happened is significant, as his two twin boys were being educated in a Catholic boarding school near Southampton, paid for by his uncle, Archibald. It is thought that George was told not to reveal his identity to the boys, and it is suggested that he may have seen the boys from afar, and in a fit of depression, committed suicide, though this cannot be confirmed.

Stewart’s body was returned to Scotland and buried in the family vault in the church of St Mary, Grandtully. His medals are not publicly held.