Above: Statue of Wolfe in Greenwich Park. He looks north towards the Thames. Canary Wharf Tower is the backdrop to this picture.
James Wolfe is someone who is very much connected with Greenwich. This connection often comes as a surprise because of his part in the taking of Quebec in 1759 which earned him lasting fame. Wolfe was born at the vicarage in the village of Westerham, in Kent, in 1727. His father was Colonel (later Lieutenant General) Edward Wolfe, a veteran soldier of Irish origin. Wolfe’s childhood home in Westerham, known in his lifetime as Spiers, is now a National Trust property under the name Quebec House.
Around 1738, the family moved to Greenwich, living at the top of Croom’s Hill in a large house beside the western side of Greenwich Park. The house where he lived – Macartney House – has an English Heritage blue plaque with his name on it. From his earliest years, Wolfe was destined for a military career, entering his father’s 1st Marine regiment as a volunteer at the age of thirteen. From that time he was involved in military matters.
Wolfe came to the notice of William Pitt (Elder) who chose him to lead the British assault on Quebec City. Pitt was a member of the British cabinet and its informal leader from 1756 to 1761 (with a brief interlude in 1757), during the Seven Years’ War. Wolfe laid siege to Quebec. He then led 4,400 men in small boats on a very bold and risky amphibious landing at the base of the cliffs west of Quebec along the St Lawrence River. His army, with two small cannons, scaled the 200-metre cliff from the river below early in the morning of 13 September 1759. They surprised the French under the command of the Marquis de Montcalm, who thought the cliff would be unclimbable and had set his defences accordingly. After a short encounter, at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, the French were defeated. When Wolfe began to move forward. He was shot three times, once in the arm, once in the shoulder and finally in the chest.
Wolfe’s body was brought back to England on HMS Royal William. It was interred in the family vault in the church of St Alphege, Greenwich – buried alongside his father who had died in March 1759. Major-General James Wolfe was Britain’s most celebrated military hero of the 18th century. His victory over the French at Quebec in 1759 resulted in the unification of Canada and the American colonies under the British crown.
It was not until the 20th century that a statue of Wolfe – a bronze by R Tait McKenzie – was unveiled on 5 June 1930. The statue on a tall stone plinth stands at the top of a hill in Greenwich Park, near the Observatory and overlooking the Thames. On the south side of the plinth is an inscription stating that the statue was a gift from Canada.
A school, with two sites in Randall Place and also in Royal Hill, is named after him – James Wolfe Primary School with a Centre for the Deaf. A nearby road is named General Wolfe Road after the famous hero.