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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Thursday, 11 August 2016

"The News from Waterloo" by Brian Cathcart

After Wellington had defeated Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo, Wellington had to write an official dispatch before sending it, via horse, coach, sailing boat, rowing boat and finally coach again, to London. In London the government and the Stock market worried. Since his escape from Elba Napoleon seemed unstoppable. The Government had raised a loan of an unprecedented £36 million (in the form of a loan called an Omnium, which is presumably where Trollope got his name for the Duke of the Palliser novels) to pay for a new army just days before and many bankers had their fortunes at risk if Wellington lost. But there was no instant communication, even the optical telegraph which the Admiralty had installed during the recent hostilities had been decommissioned after Napoleon's first defeat. It was 16 hours after the result of the battle that the dispatch was handed to Henry Percy at 1 PM on Monday 19th June; he reached London at 11 PM on Wednesday 21st June; it took 58 hours for the news to travel.

This was a time when newspapers didn't have reporters in the field (only Parliamentary correspondents) so the only unofficial sources of news were:

  • Mr Sutton who had heard the news of Quatre Bras, the Napoleon Wellington skirmish 48 hours before Waterloo that ended in a draw (and Wellington falling back) which Sutton misinterpreted as an allied victory, telling London on Tuesday morning.
  • The Green Knight of Kerry who spoke with Wellington after Quatre Bras and therefore knew the true situation
  • The mysterious Mr C who was at the exiled court of the French King in Ghent when he heard the news of Waterloo and rushed to London, arriving Wednesday morning.
  • And possibly an unknown informant of Nathan Rothschild who enabled the banker to buy government stock and make a profit

Cathcart, who also wrote even more brilliant The Fly in the Cathedral, tells these stories in an authoritative but fantastically clear and readable way. He debunks many myths. People just didn't use carrier pigeons in those days. Rothschild wasn't on the battlefield. Rothschild didn't start by selling shares causing a massive panic before buying loads up (the stock market records show no such panic). David Ricardo, however, made sufficient money to retire from promoting stocks and, working with his friend Thomas Malthus who also made money, found Economics as a science. The myths debunked, there is a still a remarkably dramatic story.

And one mystery is left: who was Mr C?

Great history. August 2016; 297 pages


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