This is a sword owned by Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Ponsonby, a British officer who fought and was badly injured at the Battle of Waterloo. Ponsonby led the regiment of the 12th Light Dragoons into combat against the French cavalry. Ponsonby suffered seven different wounds and lay on the battlefield all night, left for dead.
At Waterloo, Ponsonby may have carried this sword, an adapted version of the 1796 light cavalry sabre. By 1815, Colonel Ponsonby was an experienced soldier leading one of the British Army’s finest cavalry regiments. The 12th Light Dragoons had fought in the Peninsular War in Spain, earning rare praise from the Duke of Wellington. At about 2.00pm during the Battle of Waterloo the 12th charged against the French infantry, who were attacking Mont St. Jean ridge. Here they met the fearsome French lancers, armed with long spears that could skewer a British cavalryman at a distance, before he could get close enough to strike with his sword. Ponsonby described the fighting:
“In the melee I was disabled almost instantly in both of my arms, and followed by a few of my men, who were presently cut down (no quarter being asked or given), I was carried on by my horse, till receiving a blow on my head from a sabre, I was thrown senseless on my face to the ground. Recovering. I raised myself a little to look round (being, I believe, at that time in a condition to get up and run away), when a lancer passing by, exclaimed, “Tu n’es pas mort, coquin!” [“You are not dead, you rascal!”], and struck his lance through my back; my head dropped, the blood gushed into my mouth, a difficulty of breathing came on, and I thought all was over.”
However, Ponsonby survived, although he was unable to move. In quick succession, he was robbed by two French skirmishers, then fed some brandy by a kindly French officer. Another French soldier took shelter from the battle behind Ponsonby’s body, resting his musket on the Colonel as he fired, “conversing with great gaiety all the while”.
Ponsonby lay on the battlefield for the rest of the day and all night, narrowly escaping death when some Prussian cavalry charged over him. Eventually, a British soldier found Ponsonby, who could talk well enough to offer a reward if he was rescued. On the morning after Waterloo, 19 June 1815, Ponsonby was carried off the field in a rattling cart.
This might be the sword actually carried by Ponsonby during this brutal episode. He records that his sword was “bound to his hand” before the combat began, and it is not clear whether he still had it after his rescue.
The hilt of this sword is a standard British Army issue, the handle bound in fish skin for a better grip. However, the recurved blade was specially made, and designed by Ponsonby himself. Sabres with this design have a longer cutting edge than a straight blade, making them better slashing weapons. The plaque, listing Ponsonby’s name and regiment, were added after the battle. Ponsonby recovered almost fully from his dreadful wounds, living to the age of 54.
Some objects - such as this one - are owned by private collectors. Waterloo 200 cannot give information on the ownership or location of these items.