General Wolfe, the victor of Quebec, was born in Westerham, Kent, in 1727 but his family moved to Greenwich when he was a young boy. Like his father, who was also a general, James Wolfe is buried in the crypt of St Alfege Church , one of an extraordinary cast of characters buried in the crypt or in the graveyard.
Wolfe became an army officer at the age of 13, and was only 16 when his horse was shot from under him at the battle of Dettingen in Germany. The battle against the French for control of the village was successful. Wolfe’s regiment was recalled to Britain in 1746, to help tackle the Jacobite uprising led by Charles Edward Stuart (‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’), and Wolfe took part in the Battle of Culloden.
In 1759 Wolfe led the assault on the French-held city of Quebec. Scaling the cliffs and taking the French by surprise, the British drove the French off the Plains of Abraham with musket volleys and a bayonet charge. Wolfe was fatally wounded but heard news of the victory before he died, a scene captured in the painting in St Alfege Church by Edward Penny.
General Wolfe became a hugely popular national hero. To avoid his funeral becoming a massive public event, he was buried at a night in the family vault in the crypt of St Alfege in November 1759, alongside his father who had died earlier that year. There is a statue of General Wolfe at the top of the hill in Greenwich Park, a gift from the Canadians in 1930.
Among the other extraordinary people buried in the crypt is Sir John Julius Angerstein, born in St Petersburg, and known as the ‘father’ of Lloyd’s of London thanks to his pioneering work in laying the foundations for the modern business insurance market. Having immigrated to England as a teenager, Sir John built Woodlands House on Mycenae Road, Greenwich in 1776. His outstanding art collection was bought for the nation and became the foundation for The National Gallery.
Samuel Enderby (1719-97) founded Samuel Enderby & Sons, which began mainly as a whaling company and was later based at Enderby Wharf in Greenwich. The company encouraged their captains to combine exploration with business activities, and sponsored several of the earliest expeditions to the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. One of the company’s boats, the Samuel Enderby, appears in the classic American novel Moby-Dick. The family gave its name to Enderby Land in Antarctica, and to Enderby Island, now a nature reserve, between Antarctica and New Zealand.
Fighting against James Wolfe at the Battle of Culloden was the father of Simon Fraser. After the battle, the eleventh Lord Lovat became the last man to be beheaded in the Tower of London for treason, for his role in the Jacobite rebellion. His son, also called Simon, was pardoned.
Fraser went on to raise a regiment in the British Army which, as the 78th Regiment of Foot or ‘Fraser’s Highlanders’, fought under General Wolfe in Canada and played a key role in Wolfe’s victory at Quebec. Fraser himself was absent, having been seriously wounded two months earlier. He went on to become a general and fight for George III in the American War of Independence. Later Simon Fraser became MP and founded the Highland Society of London, which successfully campaigned for an end to the ban on tartan, imposed after the Battle of Culloden.