Men of The Hour: Sir Henry Halford

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Source: The Hour – A Weekly Journal, Devoted To Social Interests
New York, Saturday, 16 September 1882

Sir Henry Halford, 1882

He is standing among the British team at Creedmoor. He watches the wind, directs every shot, knows the fate of each bullet before it reaches the target. A figure tall and erect; a commanding presence. His men obey him implicitly; he is their Marlborough, their Welllington. Time has dealt gently with Sir Henry Halford. The years since last he was here have helped to frost his beard and hair; but look more closely: note the sunny smile that plays about the mouth; see how the snows of age vanish at its coming, how the light of an Indian Summer breaks over the features; how boyish is the face, how genial, how honest – the face of an English gentleman, a man of race.

As the books write him down, he is Sir Henry St. John Halford, Bart., of Wistow Hall, in the County of Leicestershire, Lieutenant-Colonel of the Leicestershire Rifles, born in the year 1828. Apart from his dignities he is a Vaughan. The Vaughans are a very, very ancient Welsh family. Veracious chroniclers refer their origin to the days of King Arthur; Welshmen believe that they existed before the flood. They hold to-day the mansion and domains of Trawscoed which Adda Vychan, or Vaughan – Welsh orthography was, even in those days, of a dubious characters – won by his marriage, in the year 1200, with Tudo, daughter and heiress of Teven Goch, the great Cymric chieftain. Adda’s descendants became people of consequence in England. They represented Trawscoed in Parliament; they were Lords Chief Justices; one of them was even a Lord of the Admiralty. Their services were rewarded in 1695 by the bestowal of an Irish peerage upon one of them, who was thenceforth known as Lord Vaughan, Baron Fethers, and Viscount Lisburne. Lord Lisburne is now the head of the house. He is a country gentleman and a Conservative. His means are not excessive, but they enable him to support an ancient lineage and a large family with comfort and dignity.

Towards the close of the last century James Vaughan was a physician in the borough of Leicester. He was a doctor of good repute, much esteemed by the county families. Among the magnates of the town was Alderman Smalley, who had married a daughter of Sir Richard Halford, whose baronetage was in a few years destined to become extinct. Hester, the Alderman’s daughter, was wooed and won by our reputable young country doctor, and in time became the mother of a son who was christened Henry and was sent to London to study medicine. Those were wild days for medical students in London; Guy’s Hospital and St. Bartholomew’s were the scene of daily riots and nightly orgies. Henry Vaughan would take no part with the roysterers. While they drank, swore, pulled off bell-knockers, fought with the police, he studied in his lodgings. In the course of years he became famous. He was made physician to that plain old monarch King George III. He was created a baronet and revived the title of his mother’s family, being thenceforth known as Sir Henry Halford. That was in 1809, and within a year the King, who gave him his rank, had ceased to reign and was to live for ten more years beyond the help of doctors. “All history,” says Thackeray, “presents no sadder figure than that of the old King, blind and deprived of reason, wandering through the rooms of his palace, addressing imaginary parliaments, reviewing fancied troops, holding ghostly courts.” Sir Henry Halford lived to see the curtain fall upon that royal tragedy.

In his son Henry, the second Baronet, a new strain appeared in the family. King George’s physician married the daughter of Lord St. John, of Bletsho, the head of another very ancient family, descended from Sir John St. John, whose half-sister was the mother of King Henry VII. Some of the St. Johns made notable alliances. One of them married a daughter of the Duke of Newcastle, another had the hardihood to seek a wife in America, and to marry Miss Schuyler, of New York. But, as a rule, they were a conventional country family. “Data fata secutus” was their motto, and they did not seek other than their appointed destinies. They were zealous Conservatives, and the head of the house always took his seat at the council board of the Carlton Club. So Sir Henry Halford, second of the name, was content to follow the traditions of his race; he, too, was a Conservative; he, too, was a member of the Carlton and when his son Henry St. John Halford was born he determined to bring him up as became the prospective master of Wistow. But the third Baronet had a soul above politics. He sighed for military glory, and not being allowed to join the army, he forthwith joined the volunteers. Then began his record of success as a marksman. He swept the prize-board at Wimbledon. He won the Cambridge Cup, the Albert Cup, the Association Cup, the Duke of Cambridge’s prize, and twice made the highest score in the competition for the Elcho Shield.

Although he had been always the friend of Americans, although he had entertained our countrymen at Wistow, he was at first slow to come to the United States. As President [1] of the National Rifle Association, he thought it improper that Irishmen or Scotchmen should accept separate challenges from America. He thought that the match should be national, not sectional. With his customary frankness he stated his objections, being supported by Lord Wharncliffe and other men of note, and when the Scottish and Irish teams determined to come to Creedmoor, he resigned his presidency of the Association [2]. Next year, however, in 1877, he made up a National team to compete for the Centennial Trophy. His men were of a wholly different kind from those whom he now commends. Many of them were barristers, men who could merely practice at the butts in the intervals of waiting for a brief. There was Humphrey, who won the Queen’s Prize; and Evans, a Cambridge M.A.; and Piggott, a University man; and Fraser, a Doctor of Laws, from Edinburgh. All the professions jostled in that strange collection. There was Colonel Lennox Peel, of the Scots Guards; Colonel Fenton, of the Seventy-seventh Foot; Grant Peterkin, who had shot tigers and stuck pigs in the jungles of India; William Rigby, brother of John, the rifle-maker; Ferguson, the Scot; Milner and Greenhill, of the Irish team; Sergeant W.H. Gilder, an old soldier, hardy and weatherworn. Falstaff’s regiment was not more curiously composed.

Sir Henry Halford stood on the deck of the City of Richmond as she steamed up the bay. The American delegation went down to meet him. Judge Staunton made a little speech. It was a somewhat rhetorical little speech. It was even a little speech in the view of Mr. Hannibal Chollop. “The representatives of two great nations,” said the Judge, “are now to meet at Creedmoor armed with deadly weapons.” And seeing that Sir Henry did not quail, the orator remarked: “Kind sir, I welcome you, and extend the hand of friend ship.” Whereat the captain of the British team shook hands very warmly, then blushed, grew confused, cleared his throat several times, said he would make a speech if he could, but he couldn’t, and was immensely relieved when the band of Governor’s Island blared out and drowned his excuses. So it was after the match. Sir Henry Halford had been the life of his party. He might have been seen every-where in the field, sipping stout in the tent, looking after the watchers in the rifle pits, making the best score of the team – 71, 63, 71 on the first day; 72, 69, 66 on the second – marring his total by one fatal miss alone; and when it was all done and he was enthusiastically called by the crowd to make a speech, he could only say, “Gentlemen, to say I am not disappointed would be to lie. I congratulate you on your team.”

Who that was present has forgotten the scene in Gilmore’s Garden when the Trophy was presented to the Americans? The hall was decorated with flags and plants. Gilmore’s brass made the roof resound. Mr. Carleton sang “Hearts of Oak.” Captain Williams was there with his club. Fashion was there in its choicest costumes. Sport was there in its turbulence. The American team, in their brown working suite, came down the platform arm in arm with the British team in their evening dress. Judge Brady made jests, not very well timed, about wailing and gnashing of teeth. Sir Henry Halford advanced amid a tempest of applause. “No,” he said, “I do not wail. I do not gnash my teeth. You have beaten us honestly, fairly, nobly. You have done it thoroughly, but in all courtesy. We made a good score, but not good enough to beat you. I wish to God we had.”


  1. The President of the National Rifle Association was Field-Marshal H.R.H. The Duke of Cambridge, K.G., 1860-1900.
  2. Working on a preliminary challenge to send a team to America in 1876 and at a meeting of the Council of the National Rifle Association (NRA) held in London on 27 November 1875, Sir H. Halford was appointed Captain of a British Team. This was based on the condition that no other team should go from the British Isles, and details for British Team selection trials were drawn up. When the formal letter of invitation was received it was found to have been sent to Ireland and Scotland also. Both Scotland and Ireland elected to send independent teams and Halford informed the NRA at their annual meeting in March 1876 that he was unable to form the British team. Notice was subsequently published in the press in April that “Sir Henry Halford has, therefore, in accordance with the resolution of the Council [of the NRA], resigned his office of Captain, and the United Kingdom will not be represented.”