Unknown - portrait of Major Thomas Cansh

This miniature portrait by an unknown artist is of Major Thomas Cansh (28 Jan 1781-?).

It is well documented by an inscription on the front and a portion of a printed document on the reverse.

The front inscription reads "Lieut & Adjut Thos Cansh - Vth Regiment - Valenceinnes, 15 Feby 1817". The 2nd battalion had been disbanded by this date with only the 1st battalion serving in France. As there was no fighting at this time, the date must have some other significance.

Unfortunately the rear document has large portions missing, with essentially four sections.

Section 1 ......Banquet held at Glasgow details of services of the invited.....

Section 2 CANSH
....reference was made as follows:- who planted his foot on the summit of the ramparts of Badajos
....allant veteran beside me, who planted the British Standard on the
....ilated the French Army on the Plains of Vittoria
....he arms of one of the veterans who now adorns this table - I mean ...

Section 3
....d of Major Cansh's services;-
....the Expedition to Hanover in 1805-1806; In the Peninsular with the
....from October 1813 to the end of that war in 1814, including the battles of
....lines at Torres-Vadras: Actions of Leria, Pombal, Redinha and Sabugal-
....tes d'Onore: Second Seige of Badajos - contused wound on chest: Actions
....capture of Cindad Rodigo - wound to right thigh in the assult ; Third Siege and the assult: Battle of Salamanca - horse killed : Capture of Madrid and the
....Orthes : Actions of Sauveterre and Vic Bigorre, and Battle of Toulouse - horse wounded. Served afterwards in the American War, and was present at the Battle of Plattsburg.

(His date of death is not known, but if Major Cansh was still alive in 1847 he would have been entitled to wear this 1813-1814 Military General Service Medal which shows clasps for CORUNNA, BADAJOZ, SALAMANCA, VITTORIA, and ORTHES. This medal was only sanctioned in 1847 and awarded the next year.)

Section 4 The above mentioned book (presumably Narrative of the Peninsular Campaign 1807 -1814 Its Battles and Sieges (ISBN: 1847342663) by William Francis Patrick Napier) was given to General James W Walker, Irvine by Mrs M J Calder Xmas 1921, who wrote the following letter:-

To the Editor of the "Belfast News-Letter". (This is the oldest English language general daily newspaper still in publication in the world, having first been printed in 1737)
The Storming of Badajos
Dear Sir, Still further interest may be added to our correspondence on the Storming of Badajos, if I mention that my grand uncle, Major Cansh (not then of that rank) was the man who placed and scaled the second ladder by the side of Colonel Ridge, and was the first man alive to enter the city; for Ridge was shot as he gained the ramparts, and expired in Cansh's arms as he fell. Cansh is mentioned in Napier's "Battles and Sieges in the Peninsula" as follows :-
"A second ladder was placed alongside by the Grenadier Officer Cansh, and the next instant he and Ridge were on the rampart . . . the Castle was won." Major Cansh is buried in Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh, and a handsome monument erected by his fellow officers and friends gives a long list of the engagements in which he fought. I have a copy of a portrait of my grand uncle, and we have the sword which he carried throughout the Peninsula War. This fine soldier was one of ten sons, each of them measuring six feet and over in height. Not only was he a brave man, but he was also a devout Christian. I have heard my mother tell of how her "Uncle Thomas" never went into battle without prayer and reading a portion of scripture - Yours, etc M J Calder, 8 Stranmillis Road, Belfast.

The action is shown in a postcard and another illustration. The Siege of Badajos was regarded as one of the bloodiest actions of the Napoleonic Wars and more about it can be seen at

From the above inscription on the reverse of the miniature, it seems there was a banquet, perhaps shortly after 1921, at which Major Cansh's exploits were remembered. There are many references to Badajos and Colonel Ridge of the 5th (Northumberland) Regiment of Foot on the Internet, including BADAJOZ and War Medals of The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. 5th Foot Regiment The Regimental Museum is at The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers

The history of the regiment is summarised at RootsWeb: GOONS-L Re: [G] Chelsea Pensioner - Fifth Fusiliers and includes the following. From 1787 to 1797 the 5th (Northumberland) Regiment of Foot was stationed in Canada. After its return home with the onset of the French Revolutionary War, it raised a 2nd Battalion that was disbanded after the Peace of Amiens of 27 Mar 1802. Both battalions fought under the Duke of York in Holland in 1799, and were afterwards stationed at Gibraltar. On the renewal of hostilities in May 1803, another 2nd Battalion was raised in Sussex. The 1st Battalion was based in Hanover in 1805 and was then despatched to South America where it was involved in the Battle of Buenos Aires on 5 Jul 1807, Returning to Europe it was stationed in Portugal in 1808-09 and fought at the Battles of Rolica (17 Aug 1808) Vimiera (21 Aug 1808) and in the withdrawal to and recovery from Corunna on 16 Jan 1809. Later that year it took part in the disastrous Walcheren Expedition of 13 Jul to 16 Aug 1809. In that year a detachment, that had remained in Portugal, was present at the Battle of Talavera (27-28 Jul 1909).
The 2nd Battalion then went to the Peninsula, and fought at Busaco on 27 Sep 1810, in the operations on the Coa, and at the second siege of Badajos. It formed part of a small force that beat off an overwhelming body of the enemy on the heights of El Bodon, on 25 Sep 1811, during the investment of Ciudad Rodrigo. This was a performance that Lord Wellington notified to the Army as "a memorable example of what can be done by steadiness, discipline, and confidence". The battalion fought at the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo on 9 to 12 Jan 1812, and at the Siege and capture of Badajos (17 Mar 16 Apr), where the gallant Colonel Ridge fell. The 1st Battalion having joined from England, both were present at the battle of Salamanca on 22 Jul 1812, after which the 2nd Battalion went home. The 1st Battalion continued to serve under General Picton in the "Fighting Division" until the end of the war. It was engaged in the Battles of Vittoria on 21 Jun 1813, the Nivelle on 10 Nov 1813, Orthez on 27 Feb 1814 Aire on 3 Mar 1814 and Toulouse on 10 Apr 1814. From France it went to Canada, and served on the frontier during the War of 1812, afterwards returning to Europe. The 1st Battalion landed at Ostende too late for Waterloo, but served with the Army of Occupation in France until 1818, during which time the 2nd Battalion was disbanded. (Source: "Records and Badges of the British Army 1900"; by Henry M Chichester and George Burges-Short; 2nd Edition; published in 1900 by Gale and Polden, Paternoster Row, London and Aldershot.)

Thomas Cansh was probably christened 28 Jan 1781 at Govan, Lanark, Scotland being the son of Alexander Cansh and Margaret Maxwell.

There seems to be little other information about the Cansh family on the Internet. However, as a further aside, according to the owners of the Belfast News-Letter referred to above:

"The News Letter [can claim] the first genuine "world exclusive". The boat carrying the first copy to leave America of the Declaration of Independence, and bound for London, hit stormy waters off the north coast of Ireland. The boat sought refuge in Londonderry port and arrangements were made for the declaration to be sent on horseback to Belfast, where it would be met by another ship for delivery to King George III.

Somehow, and in the best traditions of revelatory journalism, the News Letter editor of the day gained access to the priceless document and duly published it on the front page of the August 23, 1776 edition. Today there is a constant demand for copies of that famous and historical front page." 560


Anonymous said...

Regarding the portrait of Major Cansh. It states it is of an officer of the Fifth Regiment of Foot. This is incorrect. The facings of the officer in the painting are blue. Those of the Fifth Regiment are gosling green. So the officer is of a different regiment than the Fifth.
Captain Grenadier Company
His Majesty's Fifth Regiment of Foot ( in America )

Gerald said...

Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.