Captain George Ulric Barlow was the eldest son of Sir George Barlow (1715-1787), Acting Governor General of India (1805-07); Governor of Madras (1807-13) and Elizabeth, daughter of Lieutenant Burton Smith of Co. Westmeath, Ireland. Born in Calcutta in October 1791 he went on to Eton and then became a Captain in 69th Foot and saw action at Waterloo as commanding officer of No. 10 company, 2nd Battalion at the battle of Quatre Bras, 16th June, 1815.
Caught on the hop by Napoleon Bonaparte’s surprise march that brought the French emperor within a few days march of Brussels and a potential political victory, the commander of the Anglo-Allied army, the Duke of Wellington, had to buy himself time to regroup. An advance French unit had been delayed at a vital crossroads at Quatre Bras by a small force of 8000 men from Saxe-Weimar and it was imperative that they were reinforced immediately. The crossroads was the link between the mainly British Anglo-Allies and the Prussians.
Maintaining an impassive front at a ball being held in his honour in Brussels, Wellington dispatched troops towards Quatre Bras as quickly as they became available. Fortunately for the Allies, the French commander Marshal Ney did not move quickly on the morning of the 16th and only sent forward General Reille with 20,000 men after 2pm. Within an hour they had seized two strongpoints on the Allied line, but struggled to clear Allied troops from woods that threatened the French left flank. Wellington arrived, as did the lead elements of British reinforcements, and the size of the clash moved from a skirmish to a full battle.
By late afternoon, the defenders had grown to some 26,000 men with 42 cannons and they were forced to withstand a ferocious attack by Ney. French cavalry reached the crossroads and, despite Wellington being forced to shelter in a square to avoid capture, the lines held. At 6.30pm, a further reinforced Wellington (augmented to 36,000 men) moved forward and retook almost all of the ground lost to the French that day and represented a major strategic blow for Bonaparte.
During the battle the 2nd battalion was not wholly prepared at the time of attack by the enemy and Barlow commanding No.10 company, along with many other men, threw himself to the ground to avoid the charging French cavalry and, although he escaped their sabres in this way was badly trampled by the horses’ hooves. Later that day a witness (Colonel Hall) reported seeing him, “He was limping along, very sore and lame, and feelingly declaimed against the common notion that a horse will not tread on a man lying on the ground. His jacket was blackened with the marks of horse shoes.” (William Leeke, ‘The History of Lord Seaton’s Regiment, at the Battle of Waterloo’. Hatchard, 1866, p.13)
In 1817 Barlow married his cousin Hilare, daughter of Admiral Sir Robert Barlow G.C.B. and went on to join the 4th Dragoons. Tragically he died, probably of malaria, in India in June 1824; she later married, the Reverend William Nelson, 1st Earl Nelson of Trafalgar and Merton, and brother of Admiral Horatio Nelson.
John James Halls studied at the Royal Academy and was a friend and pupil of the great portrait painter John Hoppner whose influence is clearly seen in this portrait. He settled in London exhibiting regularly and widely and established a successful society portrait practice painting actors, the aristocracy and royalty.
Barlow is depicted standing in the uniform of an officer of the 69th regiment of foot, holding his sword over his shoulder, proudly wearing his Waterloo medal, in front of a heavy drape with a landscape beyond. Halls probably completed this portrait in 1816 shortly after the issue of the Waterloo medals.