Captain James Gubbins (c1780 - 18.6.1815)

Elder of the Gubbins Brothers, Officers and Gentlemen.

About 1770, Mary Watts, younger sister of John Constable's mother, married a successful London builder and surveyor, James Gubbins of 25 Surrey Street, Strand, who worked for the 5th Duke of Bedford and Sun Fire Office. Eventually they retired to a house at Epsom, taking a lease on The Hylands, later known as Hylands House, in New Inn Lane, for 21 years from 21 May 1804.

In addition to their two sons, the Gubbins had two daughters Anne Elizabeth, born 6 February 1774 (who died unmarried, 20 January 1852) and a youngest child, Jane (deceased, as the widowed Mrs Archer-Burton, 28 March 1858).

In 1806, Mr Gubbins had been consulted about proposed building works and alterations at St Martin of Tours Church and he was brought back to survey its roof during 1811.

After James Gubbins senior died on 7 June 1814, aged 69, John Constable R.A. made a touching drawing of his uncle's monument in St Martin's churchyard surrounded by iron railings* with spike heads and classical vases. In Constable correspondence during July 1814, it was written "Mrs. Gubbins and her daughters continued for the present to live in their large house in Epsom, having been left well off". The widowed Mary Gubbins occupied The Hylands 1815/1816 but was with her family in Southampton when visited by Constable during his honeymoon in October 1816, and she had moved out of Epsom completely before 27 May 1817. She died 22 May 1827, aged 75, and was interred at Epsom 'from the parish of Southampton' on 29 May. Her will, proved 21 January 1828, described her as 'Widow of Epsom', but, because her health had been poor for some years prior to her demise, she had spent considerable time with her daughter Jane. On 2 September 1817, the latter, 'of Southampton', had married Lancelot South [who subsequently changed his surname to Archer-Burton] from Latton, Essex and they lived in the old family home at 25 Surrey Street, Strand, London, before moving to Woodlands, Emsworth, Hants.

On his mother's side of the family, the artist John Constable had 11 male cousins who entered military service including the Gubbins' sons James and Richard with whom he had been brought up as a child.


James Gubbins, junior

Captain James Gubbins
Captain James Gubbins
Killed at Waterloo
(The uniform is that of his former regiment)

In October 1804, James Gubbins junior joined the 60th Regiment of Foot as an Ensign to become a Lieutenant by purchase before 2 February 1805. He transferred to 3rd Regiment of Dragoons later in 1805 and purchased the captaincy of a Troop 23 May 1809. Early in 1811, he moved to 13th Light Dragoons, and, having sailed for Lisbon on 12 May, joined his new regiment at Malpartida in Spain on 10 July. He subsequently became involved in the "Affair at Arroyo Molinos", 28 October 1811, as described by Robert Southey in The History of the Peninsular War **

Gubbins kept a journal during his time in the Peninsula that included his account of the Charging of the French Guns at Arroyo Molinos: -
" The battle began by the gun from the enemy; hard rain and a fog. The cavalry formed in a column of half squadrons on the right of the village to cut off the enemy's retreat, and the 92nd Regiment drove them through it at the point of the bayonet. The two squadrons of the Germans (Kings German Legion) charged the enemy, and afterwards, a squadron of the 9th, who cut them up. General Hill came up and took our centre squadron with him to charge the enemy's guns. The General, in high spirits, showed us the direction of the French artillery. Charged obliquely; the right of the squadron first up with them; took the guns (2 guns and a howitzer, 6-pounders). General Howard's brigade cheered us in passing. Rode forward and pursued the fugitives. Sullivan only up with me; took four prisoners and the horse and baggage of the French Colonel of the 4th Regiment; sent them to the rear."
In a letter of his cousin, Ann Constable, it was noted that James had been running into debt in an attempt to keep up appearances as a cavalry officer.


The 13th Light Dragoons at Waterloo

From: C. R. B. Barrett, History of the XIII Hussars, William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London, 1911.
"June 18, 1815.

At daylight on the morning of Sunday, June 18, the brigade consisting of the 7th Hussars, 13th Light Dragoons, and 15th Hussars, under the command of Major-General Grant, moved to the right centre of the position occupied by the army, and took up its post on the left of the road leading to Nivelles, in rear of the brigade of Guards commanded by Major-General Byng. A portion of the Guards brigade occupied the house and gardens of Hougomont, and in the rear of this and the orchard, where others of the Guards were, the cavalry brigade took post.

Between 10 and 11 A.M. the furious attacks on Hougomont began, and most sanguinary conflicts took place. But despite the attacks of the enemy again and again renewed, the Guards held their ground and the French were repulsed. Meanwhile the cavalry brigade was exposed to a most heavy artillery fire, which, coupled with musketry, lasted until between 3 and 4 P.M. During this time many casualties took place, men and horses being killed and wounded.

About noon Lieut. Colonel Boyse had his horse killed under him by a cannon-shot, and in the fall was so severely bruised as to be compelled to leave the field.

The command of the regiment therefore devolved on Major B. Lawrence.

Lieutenant Packe and Lieutenant Irving were about the same time wounded, the former by a splinter of a shell which struck him in the hip, and the latter by a spent ball which hit him in the jaw. Both of these officers were removed to the rear. The brigade had not, however, been stationary during these long hours. It had been moved more than once, but hitherto no opportunity had arrived for more active operations. However, the enemy now pushed forward two strong columns of cavalry supported by infantry, in an endeavour to force the British position. The cavalry brigade received orders to charge. It charged, and the charge succeeded. The enemy broke and were pursued until the approach of a fresh body of the enemy's cavalry on the left flank was detected.

The brigade then retired and formed in the rear of the infantry. Shortly after the regiment was brought on to the attack by Lord Uxbridge and Lord Hill, and charged a square of the enemy's infantry, which it completely broke, routed, and dispersed. There were several other attacks, till at length the enemy were completely driven from the position. But the losses of the regiment had been most severe. The continual artillery fire of round-shot, shell, and grape, besides musketry, had sadly thinned the ranks. Captain Gubbins was killed by a cannon-shot, Lieutenant Geale and Lieutenant Pymm had both been mortally wounded by musketry fire, while Captain Gregorie and Lieutenant Mill, though with sabre wounds in their hands, yet were able to continue with the regiment in the field."
James Gubbins, the younger, was killed in the 35th year of his life: after all the other officers in his troop had fallen command was assumed by Troop Sergeant Major Edward Wells.

OBITUARY "Captain JAMES GUBBINS, 13th Light Dragoons, eldest son of the late James Gubbins, Esq. at Epsom, Surrey; was killed early in the battle on the 18th by a cannon-shot, which striking his head, in an instant numbered him with the dead: he had been in the campaign under the command of the Duke of Wellington, in Portugal, Spain, and France. This gallant officer was as conspicuous for his intelligence and bravery in the field, as for his gentlemanlike and honourable conduct through his short but enviable career in this world, leaving behind him the most heartfelt sorrow and respect for his memory."
It had been assumed that the interment of this officer would have been with others, in the field of battle but, reportedly, '4000 corpses were reduced to ash on the battlefield on funeral pyres of resinous wood'. His name is recorded on a memorial* in St Martin's churchyard, Epsom, Surrey.

An anecdote, reported long after this officer's demise, claimed that when dining with the 3rd (King's Own) Light Dragoons he had been asked to translate that regiment's motto emblazoned on the drinking glasses - nec aspera terrent (nor do difficulties deter). He responded with 'never mind how rough the port is'!



Brian Bouchard © 2010
Member of Leatherhead and District Local History Society


* Ewell Library 929.5 EPS The graveyards and church monuments of Epsom Iron railings have been removed from the tomb. Inscription reads: - "Beneath this Stone are deposited the mortal remains of James Gubbins Esq. of Epsom who departed this life on 7th day of June 1814 Aged 69. Also to the memory of his son Captn. James Gubbins of the 13th Dragoons who was killed on the 18th of June 1815 in the battle of Waterloo in Flanders. And likewise beneath this Stone are deposited the mortal remains of Mary the widow of the above named James Gubbins Esq. who departed this life on 22nd day of May 1827 Aged 73 years. And it is also Sacred to the memory of Lt. Colonel Richd. Gubbins C.B. who departed this life 2nd January 1836 Aged 54. His mortal remains are deposited in the Catacombs of the Cemetery at Kensall Green, Middlesex"

**[Brig. Gen.] Long's first object was to dispose of their cavalry; he ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Head, with the 13th dragoons, to attack in flank the three squadrons which were on the same line with the infantry; while he, with three Portugueze squadrons, attacked in front the three which formed the angle to the right of the others: Colonel Elder, with two squadrons of Portugueze, was to cover his left, and turn the enemy's right; and eight squadrons of heavy dragoons to support the attack. As soon as Head advanced, the enemy changed their position, brought forward their right, and met the charge; they were immediately broken, and in their flight carried away with them the other squadrons, which, from the change of position, had in some measure become a second line. From Campo Mayor to Badajoz is an open plain without tree or bush; over this ground the French retreated rapidly, skirmishing the whole way. The 13th pursued with ungovernable eagerness, and the two squadrons of Portugueze which were sent to their support caught the same spirit, and dispersed in the heat of pursuit. In this affair, there were many opportunities for the display of individual courage and dexterity. Colonel Chamorin.of the 26th French dragoons, was encountered by a corporal of the 13th, whose comrade he had just before shot through the head: each was a master of his horse and weapon, but at length the corporal, striking off the helmet of his enemy with one blow, cleft his head down to the ears with another.


Huntington William
Wm. Huntington
James Gubbins
James Gubbins
Richard Gubbins
Richard Gubbins
Dog House
Dog House
Whitmores
Whitmores
The New Inn
The New Inn
Lady Berkeley
Lady Berkeley