The Waterloo Tree Quaich

image of Waterloo Tree quaich

During the Battle of Waterloo (18th June 1815), The Duke of Wellington’s command post was set up under the now famous Waterloo Elm.  This historic tree was located just south west of where the sunken land met the Genappe-Brussels main road – was being the operative word as, in the wake of the battle, the tree was actually killed by souvenir hunters.  Definitely not our finest example of ecotourism!

The dead tree was bought by one John Children, who was a Librarian in the British Museum.  He felled the tree in 1818, and shipped it to England.  Sections of its wood were apparently fashioned into desirable objects, including a chair, made by Thomas Chippendale the younger, which was presented to King George V.  It is reported that other sections were made into other objects, including cabinets, tables, further chairs, a wine cooler, and a stand for a bust of the Duke of Wellington.

Amongst the first British civilians to view the battlefield at Waterloo, and one of the original souvenir hunters, was Sir Walter Scott.  Scott had met Wellington in person, and was keenly interested in Napoleon Bonaparte.  It is reported that, in 1824, Scott commissioned Joseph Angell, a London silversmith, to incorporate some of the Waterloo Elm wood into a  quaich made from silver gilt and elm wood. This fine quaich is engraved with Scott’s family motto, “Watch Well”.  The nature of this motto might be regarded as a little ironic, considering future events!

As reported by the Scotman of 17th March 2010, in April 1994 Scott’s “Waterloo Tree Quaich” was amongst almost thirty items stolen from Abbotsford House, near Melrose in the Scottish Borders, which was then owned by his descendants, Dame Jean and Mrs Patricia Maxwell-Scott.  Police at the time believed that these objects had been stolen to order by professional art thieves, as robberies had taken place five times in the same month, at a variety of stately homes.

Sixteen years later, the Abbotsford Trust was tipped off, by an antique dealer, that the quaich had been discovered by chance at a French flea market.  It was securely returned to the Trust, and once more took its place at Abbotsford House.  Mystery still surrounds the quaich’s whereabouts during the intervening period.  Over the years, police had themselves recovered a number of other items taken from Abbotsford, including three rings which contained locks of hair belonging to King Charles I, Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott himself.

A visit to Abbotsford House, coincidentally on the 204th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, reveals a wonderful property, set amidst stunning grounds by the River Tweed.  The collection of objects on display within the house includes Scott’s Waterloo Tree Quaich, which is displayed in a (security alarmed!) octagonal case in the centre of the Library.

This case contains a number of fascinating objects, including two other quaichs – Queen Mary’s quaich, which appears to be a fairly plain and simple metal quaich, and the unusual Spanish Coin quaich, which has said coin forming the base of what appears to be a leather and wood vessel.  It also holds Napolean Bonaparte’s journal from Waterloo, which Scott had to purchase from local treasure hunters, and a beautiful crucifix, which appears to be made of mother-of-pearl or abalone shell, and formerly belonged to Mary Queen of Scots.

A yew tree wood quaich, set with silver, is on display in the first part of the House’s visitor centre.  This vessel was a family heirloom which once belonged to Scott’s great grandfather Walter “Beardie” Scott, who fought long for the Jacobite cause, and vowed not to trim his beard until a Stuart monarch sat upon the throne.  Two further quaichs are on display in the Dining Room cabinet, both of which have interesting motifs in the centre of the bowl, one dated 1565.

Sir Walter Scott clearly accumulated a large number of fascinating objects in the course of his collecting, and a visit to Abbotsford House allows one to view these, in the setting of his magnificent family home in the Scottish Borders.




Ally Reid