Research often relies on serendipity, and I experienced that powerfully yesterday. I was in the National Library of Scotland, plugging a few research gaps, and called up a letter from 1817 written by John, 2nd Earl of Chatham, in the Walter Scott Papers. As far as I know, Chatham had no direct contact with Sir Walter Scott, although his wife’s sister (the Duchess of Buccleuch) was Scott’s patroness. I was curious to see what the letter was about.
In fact it was one of several letters on the subject of the death of Sir Henry Hollis Bradford, who (if you will cast your minds back to a recent post of mine) had been one of Chatham’s aides-de-camp for many years. Bradford had served Chatham since about 1807 in the Eastern District, and followed him to Walcheren. Thereafter he pursued a distinguished career under Wellington in the Peninsula, and was seriously wounded during the Battle of Waterloo. Bradford died on 17 December 1816 in France at the age of 35.
I did a little digging on Bradford when I wrote my earlier blog post, but yesterday I learned a whole lot more about him and the circumstances of his Waterloo wound and death. It seems he was a friend of Sir Walter Scott, which is how all this correspondence survived in the first place, because his brother, General Sir Thomas Bradford, suggested Scott might want to compose the epitaph on Bradford’s tomb.
I do not know the exact circumstances of Henry Bradford’s death, but it looks as though there was a bit of an attempt to connect it directly with his wound at Waterloo. Lieutenant-Colonel James Hunter Blair, Bradford’s friend, certainly thought so:
It is a consoling circumstance that … he [Bradford] lost his Life in the service of his Country & on an occasion when his Services were most distinguished. After having gone thro’ all the dangers of the 16th June, it became his duty as Q[uarter] M[aster] General to the Division of Guards, to direct & superintend the defences of Hugoumont [sic] which were so essential to the sucess of the eventful 18th … He was wounded towards the close of the Day on the 18th, at the moment of the general charge which repulsed the Imperial Guard.
The surgeon Sir Everard Home, although he did not have a chance of inspecting the body, gave his opinion for the benefit of Bradford’s family:
[The ball] must have struck upon the side of the Vertebrae and recoiled upon the Spine of the Os Ilium where it was extracted on the 18th of June 1815 … An abcess took place on the Liver which came to the Skin[,] was opened[,] and healed.
These are all the intermediate circumstances. A fever came on yielding to no mode of treatment[.] Great despondency[,] irritability, wasting ensue[d], and the Patient die[d]. … My opinion is that all the most distressing Symptoms, the despondency, depression[,] emaciation[,] and the death which was the consequence of these Symptoms took place in consequence of the wound, by means of which the Spinal Marrow had been much irritated (although … no paralytic symptoms followed) that the brain and nervous System were disturbed beyond their bearing … Every thing possible was done, and … nothing could have saved him.
It is of course possible that the wound had gone septic and killed him slowly over the course of several months; reading between the lines of the correspondence, however, Bradford seems not to have suffered overmuch physically from long-term effects, but was certainly strongly scarred mentally. Not, of course, an unnatural thing to happen, particularly as he seems to have had some damage to his spine.
Whatever the precise medical cause of death, Lieutenant-Colonel Blair was probably right that the cause of death was the Waterloo wound, one way or another, anyway. But the circumstances of the death were undeniably tragic, for Bradford had still been a comparatively young man. “Until his unexpected death he seemed the favourite child of Fortune,” Blair wrote. “… She had lavished on him every kind of favor, & he was not less remarkable on account of personal advantages[,] fascinating and best bred manners, than for a mind of dispositions which did him the highest honor & were an honor to the human race.”
As for Chatham, he had remained close to his former aide long after their professional paths had diverged in the wake of Walcheren. Bradford had kept him regularly posted about his activities, and Chatham followed all his aides’ career paths with great interest. Lieutenant-Colonel Blair lost no time in informing Chatham of his former aide’s death, and Chatham wrote a letter of condolence that struck Blair was being of “a degree of regret & feeling most flattering to his memory”. He enclosed it for Sir Walter Scott’s reference, assuming Scott agreed to write Bradford’s epitaph:
Abington Hall, December 22 1816 
Your Letter reached me this morning and I have in the first place to offer you my thanks for the kind and considerate manner in which you have executed the painful task imposed on you by Sir Thomas Bradford who has indeed done justice to my feelings towards his poor Brother, in thinking how severe an affliction the fatal event you had to communicate must prove to me.
In poor Bradford I have lost a most valuable and intimate Friend, for whom I had the sincerest affection, and whose progress through life I had followed with the most anxious interest, and it was ever a source to me of the truest gratification to find, how much both as a man and an Officer he was admired, esteemed and loved by all who knew him. Most sincerely indeed do I condole with all his family on this sad occasion, and on whom I fear this most heavy blow must have come rather unexpectedly.
I will not break in upon Sir Thomas Bradford in his present scene of distress with any Letter but as I shall be really anxious to know how he and all his Family are, I should be very much obliged to you to give me one line to say how you left them. I regret extremely that being absent from Town, I shall be deprived of the pleasure of seeing you, when you were so good to call in Hill Street, and I should have derived a melancholy satisfaction, in hearing from you every particular you could give me respecting the fate of my poor departed friend.
I remain my dear Sir
Your very faithful humble Servant,
I do not know whether Scott composed the epitaph for Bradford or not, but since the correspondence is preserved among his papers, I gather he probably did. The epitaph reads:
To the memory of Sir Henry Hollis Bradford, Knight Commander of the most honorable Military Order of the Bath, and Lieutenant Colonel of the First of Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards, This Monument is erected by his companions in arms, the witnesses of his valor, and sharers of his social hours. He died at La Vacherie, near Lilliers in France, on the 17th of December 1816, in the 36th year of his age; and was buried in this Church-Yard.
It isn’t much, but it is eloquent in its simplicity. I’d like to think Scott wrote it, and that Chatham’s regret helped shape the sentiments of it.
 Sir Thomas Bradford to James Hunter Blair, 28 February 1817, National Library of Scotland Scott MSS Ms 3888 f 32
 James Hunter Blair to [?], [February] 1817, National Library of Scotland Scott MSS Ms 3888 f 35
 Sir Everard Home’s opinion, 18 February 1817, National Library of Scotland Scott MSS Ms 3888 f 29
 The copy of the letter reads 1817, but since the correspondence dates from February 1817 that cannot be correct
 Lord Chatham to Lieutenant-Colonel Blair, 22 December 1816, National Library of Scotland Scott MSS Ms 3888 f 31