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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Old soldiers

At the start of the war with France in 1793, Britain’s standing army and navy comprised only some 40,000 soldiers and 100,000 sailors, but by the time of Waterloo (1815) there were an estimated 400,000 men under arms.

1James Guidney, ‘Jemmy the Rock Man’, Birmingham, c.1830. 2‘Whistling Billy’ of York. Both by John Dempsey.

Following the final defeat of Napoleon, the majority of these forces were gradually disbanded, and the veterans were not easily absorbed into the (contracting) domestic economy. Most had been unskilled (or worse) at the time of their enlistment, the Duke of Wellington himself describing them as ‘the scum of the earth … it really is wonderful that we should have made them the fine fellows they are’.

1Old soldier, Salisbury. 2Old soldier, Hadleigh. 3Thomas Edwards, Winchester,1823. All by John Dempsey.

The troops flooded home, but there was little work and few prospects for them there, especially for the permanently incapacitated. The derelict Old Soldier would become a familiar figure in the society and culture of the early 19th century – half a dozen of Dempsey’s characters have a history of infantry or maritime service.

Related information

Copeman, gardener, Great Yarmouth by John Dempsey
Copeman, gardener, Great Yarmouth by John Dempsey
Copeman, gardener, Great Yarmouth by John Dempsey
Copeman, gardener, Great Yarmouth by John Dempsey

Dempsey's people

A folio of British street portraits 1824–1844

Previous exhibition, 2017

Dempsey’s people: a folio of British street portraits 1824–1844 is the first exhibition to showcase the compelling watercolour images of English street people made by the itinerant English painter John Dempsey throughout the first half of the nineteenth century.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.