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Colonial battle scene ;

Hamilton Collection

General Sir Ian Hamilton (1853-1947) was born in Corfu, where his father’s regiment, the 92nd Gordon Highlanders, was stationed. After his mother’s early death when he was three years old, he spent his childhood, together with his younger brother Vereker, at the home of his paternal grandparents in Argyllshire in Scotland. He attended Wellington College and then entered the British Army, joining his father’s old regiment.

Interior view of Dalmeny Church from RW Billings & W Burn,' The baronial and ecclesiastical antiquities of Scotland' (1848).

His military career included postings to Ireland, India, and South Africa. He fought in the second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-80), and in both the Boer Wars (1880-1 and 1899-1902), as well as taking part in the unsuccessful expedition to relieve General Gordon in Khartoum (1884-5). During the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5), he was attached to the Japanese Imperial forces as representative of the Indian army. His last active command (1915) was as General Officer Commanding the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force under orders to support the fleet in neutralizing the Ottoman Empire (then allied to the Central Powers) by forcing a passage through the Dardanelles.

After retiring from the army in 1920, Hamilton became involved in ex-servicemen organisations: he was president of the South African War Veterans Association (1932-47) and president of the British Legion in Scotland (1925-47).

Title page of Walker's 'Rhyming dictionary' (1890).

The Hamilton Collection

The Foyle Special Collections Library holds just over 300 printed books, previously owned by Sir Ian or his wife. The collection attests to the couple’s varied interests, tastes, and reading habits between the later years of Queen Victoria’s reign and the Second World War. It contains works of military history and biography, including books relating to the Boer Wars, the Russo-Japanese war, and Gallipoli and its aftermath (many bearing annotations and markings). A large part, however, is made up of literature, art history, philosophy, and even some opera scores.

Hamilton was himself a prolific author. Along with his essays, memoirs and military textbooks, the Collection includes several copies of his poems, collected under the title Now and then (1926), and his copy of Walker’s Rhyming dictionary of the English language.

Nearly half the books in the Collection belonged to his wife of over 50 years, Jean Miller Hamilton (1861-1941). The daughter of Sir John Muir, a Glasgow businessman who had extensive interests in India, she met her husband in 1886 while on a visit to Simla, and they were married in Calcutta the following year.

Like Sir Ian, Jean Hamilton was an enthusiastic reader and writer of poetry. She also kept a detailed journal. Her books contain many inscriptions and annotations, both in her own handwriting and in other hands (in some cases as yet unidentified). Readers consulting items from her library will frequently come across enclosures of newspaper cuttings, review articles, pieces of correspondence, and fragments of poetry in manuscript; here again there are questions relating to provenance still to be resolved.

As well as reflecting the Hamiltons’ shared interest in literature, the collection throws light on the couple’s friendships with contemporary writers. The various homes they shared, particularly their London house in Hyde Park Gardens, where they settled in 1913, enabled Sir Ian and Lady Hamilton to entertain their wide circle of literary and artistic friends. Books once in their possession contain authorial dedications from, amongst others, John Drinkwater, Laurence Binyon, John Masefield, and Elizabeth von Arnim.

The attack on the Peiwar Kotal, 2nd December 1878, engraved after a painting by Vereker M Hamilton.

Some inscribed items from the collection

Roberts' Forty-one years in India

Frederick Sleigh Roberts. Forty-one years in India: from subaltern to commander-in-chief. London: Bentley, 1897 [Gen.I.Hamilton Collection DS475.2 ROB]

Hamilton first met Field-Marshal Lord Roberts of Kandahar in Afghanistan in 1879 shortly after the latter had won a victory over the Afghan army at Peiwar Kotal, a strategic pass in the Kurram valley. Hamilton, who had been sent with his regiment to reinforce an expected advance on Kabul, came to Roberts’s attention when he played a heroic part in the rescue of some British soldiers from Afghan raiders. This marked the start of a lasting friendship. Hamilton became aide-de-camp to Roberts in 1882 and served under him for nearly 10 years. Roberts’s autobiography contains an inscription to Hamilton ‘from his old friend the author.’

Above: The Attack on Peiwar Kotal, painted by Vereker Hamilton while on a visit to his brother in Simla in 1889. He was encouraged to embark on this painting by Roberts who gave him a vivid account of the battle.

Title page of Coleridge's 'Christabel' arranged by Algernon Charles Swinburne (1869), with portrait vignette of Coleridge.

Coleridge's Christabel

Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Christabel and the lyrical and imaginative poems of S.T. Coleridge ; arranged and introduced by Algernon Charles Swinburne. London: Sampson Low, Son, and Marston, 1869 [Gen.I.Hamilton Collection PR4472 SWI]

Swinburne (1837-1909) published this selection of Coleridge’s poetry three years after the succès de scandale of his own Poems and ballads (published in 1866). The introductory essay, in which he argues for Coleridge’s importance as a major lyric poet, marks a significant stage in the history of Coleridge criticism.

This copy was given to Jean Hamilton in 1918 by the translator Eleanor Charlotte Sellar (1896-1934), whose correspondence is held with the papers of Gen Sir Ian Hamilton in the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives. It is one of several books in the Collection inscribed by her. Lady Hamilton has marked a number of poems in the volume, including some cryptic lines from ‘Complaint and reproof’ which she has copied out under Sellar’s inscription:

It sounds like stories from the land of spirits,
If any man obtain that which he merits,
Or any merit that which he obtains.

Lewis' Count your dead, they are alive

Wyndham Lewis. Count your dead, they are alive: or a new war in the making. London: Lovat Dickson, 1937 [Gen.I.Hamilton Collection D443 LEW99]

This controversial work warns against England's entering into a war with Germany and expresses sympathy for Mussolini, a position on which Lewis was later to have second thoughts. The Collection’s copy bears an inscription: ‘To General Sir Ian Hamilton, a great soldier, but better still, a great counsellor of Peace; one of the great friends of Germany – and of England: from the author, April 1937.’

Hamilton first visited Germany at the age of 17 during the Franco-Prussian War. As part of his military education, he travelled to Dresden and stayed for six months at the home of IS Drammers, a retired Hanoverian general who tutored him in German, and in the arts and sciences of war. Nearly 70 years later, in 1938, while accompanying a delegation from the British Legion to Berlin for a meeting with German ex-servicemen, Hamilton was invited to Munich to meet Hitler. He spent a night as a guest at Berchtesgaden.

Title page of 'Forty-one years in India' by Frederick Sleigh Roberts (1897), with wood engraved vignette.

Finding material in the collection

General Sir Ian Hamilton’s literary executors deposited his papers in the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives in 1968. The collection of printed books consists of material donated to the College in 1968 by the literary executors and later donations, including the items previously owned by Lady Hamilton.

  • Number of items: 309

Using Library Search

Records from all collections are available through King's Library Search.

Being signed in to Library Search gives the best functionality for searching and the homepage gives advice on how to narrow down your searches by using scopes and by filtering searches you have made. For full instructions please see both the Library Search homepage and also our 'Catalogues' webpage, available by scrolling down to the menu on the Special Collections homepage.

Using scopes

You can limit your search to Foyle Special Collections Library items by using scopes.

If you select the ‘Library Resources’ scope, only the print and ebooks, audiovisual material and journals held by the campus libraries and Foyle Special Collections Library will be retrieved in your searches

Using filters

For finding material related to specific collections or former owners, use the ‘Library Resources’ scope in the drop down menu and then filter by ‘Former owner’ in the Advanced search criteria to display records from a specific collection.

You can also use the Location drop down menu on the left hand side of the screen to identify items from specific named special collections.

Please do contact us for further advice on identifying material which will assist you with your studies.

King's College London Archives

  • Hamilton’s papers are held in the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives. The Archives also house Lady Hamilton’s journals and correspondence.

Further reading

Ian B M Hamilton. The happy warrior: a life of General Sir Ian Hamilton. London: Cassell, 1966 [Maughan Library LGF Humanities Books Store DA69.1 H181 H181]

Celia Lee. Jean, Lady Hamilton, 1861-1941: a soldier's wife (wife of General Ian Hamilton) ; a biography from her diaries. London: Celia Lee, 2001 [Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives CT788.H265 LEE]

John Lee. A soldier’s life: General Sir Ian Hamilton, 1853-1947. London: Macmillan, 2000 [Maughan Library Humanities books DA69.1 H181 LEE]

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