The sitter was the eldest child of Charles Heard Beague (d.1827) and Mary (b.1801), daughter of Major-General James Pringle (1746-1810). Born and raised at the family home Hollam near Dulverton in Somerset, he joined the 84th Regiment of Foot in September 1845 as ensign, becoming a lieutenant in March 1847 and then transferring at this rank to the 82nd Foot in November. He became a captain in November 1852 and retired from the army in March 1854.
The present portrait depicts Beague in the uniform of the 84th Foot and was almost certainly painted on his first joining the army as a young officer. His move of regiments is best explained by a rare letter, dated 4th November 1847, which accompanies this portrait written by his mother to Lieutenant-General Lord Fitzroy Somerset, (1788-1855) then Military Secretary, later 1st Baron Raglan and British Commander in the Crimea. She asks of him “to submit to the favorable consideration of His Grace the Commander-in-Chief”, the Duke of Wellington, the application of her son Lt. Beague, 84th Regt., to exchange for family reasons with Lt. Garner of the 82nd; “he does not leave … from any Regimental cause or … affecting his Character as an Officer and a Gentleman”, nor is it his intention “immediately to sell out or retire on Half-Pay but to join and do duty”, having lodged with Messrs Cox’s “the regulated allowance … for my Sons successors passage to India”. The 84th regiment departed to India before the year was out whilst the 82nd returned from Nova Scotia. Certain matters relating to the family estates and inheritance becomes apparent by 1849 which, no doubt, necessitated Beague’s attendance on these shores, particularly as his mother had been a widow almost since his birth.
William Simson was a Scottish born painter who first embarked upon landscape work but turned to portraiture after being prompted by his brother’s success in this field. He travelled to Italy through Holland in the mid 1830s and then settled in London with a busy practice. He exhibited regularly during this time, including the Royal Academy, London and the Royal Scottish Academy, being elected a full member in 1830. The art historian H. Ottley in 1866 commented that “many of his portraits are among the best of their class”.
His work is represented in the National Portrait Gallery, London and Scotland; Victoria & Albert Museum and Tate Britain.