Discover the little-known story of the 1st Duke of Wellington’s formative years in India. An exhibition at Apsley House includes many heirlooms which have never been shown to the public before.

 

It is 250 years since the birth of the famous Duke, known for his victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Celebrated across Europe, he went on to buy Apsley House – an aristocratic townhouse on Hyde Park Corner – in  1817.

Now you can see this exhibition of private items which belonged to the young Arthur Wellesley before he became famous.

They have been handed down through the family. See paintings, sketches, books and, notably, the renowned silver-gilt Deccan dinner service.

 

India 1897-1805

Wellesley was just 27-years-old when he set sail for India in 1897. He didn’t return for another 8 years and it is this period which the exhibition charts.

Some people know he was born in Dublin. Others know he had two stints as prime minister in the early 19th century.

But most of us are ignorant of these mystery years in India during his early adult life.

 

The current Duke has loaned items from his private collection, including a striking silver gilt Deccan Dinner Service.

Pictured: Little elephant salt cellars.

Passage to India

Wellesley was a colonel in the British army when he received orders to set sail for India.

It was a six month journey, with a brief stop in Cape Town, and he didn’t pack lightly.

“He went to a booksellers in Bond Street just before he left and bought over 100 books,” says curator Josephine Oxley.

“Together with the books he bought from Dublin, where he had been before, he probably had over 200 volumes that he took to India.”

 

Artworks

Paintings – including a portrait of Wellesley by John Hoppner painted in 1795 – sit alongside sketches and many other precious pieces in the exhibition.

By the time Wellesley returned to England in 1805 he was rich. He had also been promoted to major-general and been made a Knight of the Bath.

With wealth and title in tow, he was able to marry Catherine ‘Kitty’ Pakenham. (His previous proposal had been rejected by her father Lord Longford.)

“India was essential in creating the Duke of Wellington who went on to widespread acclaim,” says His Grace, the Duke of Wellington.

“We trace the story through very special objects and works of art, many of which have passed down through generations of my family.”

 

Young Wellington In India runs at Apsley House until November 3. To find out more, read here.

To read the original article in the Mayfair Times magazine, read here.

Main picture: This portrait of the young Arthur Wellesley was painted by John Hoppner in 1795 just before he went to India. © Stratfield Saye Preservation Trust.