George Vincent Fosbery VC
Bath in Time
Imperial War Museum
George Vincent Fosbery was born in 1832 at Stert Cottage near Devizes in Wiltshire. Stert at that time was a small hamlet, part of a rural farming community, and remains little changed today. His father, the Rev. Thomas Vincent Fosbery was the chaplain to Bishop Samuel Wilberforce of Oxford who later became Bishop of Winchester. George Vincent was one of seven children, two of his siblings dying as children.
The name Fosbery originated 20 miles away to the East of Stert at the Iron Age
Settlement of Fosbery. The first Fosbery male was called Reinerius and was a Saxon
Landowner in the time of Edward the Confessor. In 1276 the King (Edward 1) gave a Manor house and 120 acres of land to Peter de Fortesburg (an olde spelling of Fosbery). The Manor House was named Fosbury (sic) Manor and was inhabited by the family for many generations. (It is now owned by Erskine Guinness of the ill-fated Guinness family).
George was educated at Eton (1846-50). In 1858 he married Emmeline Georgiana,
daughter of Captain Percy Hall RN. They had ten children. One of their daughters
Alice, went to Canada to marry a successful Englishman, and a grandson from
another offspring, Percy Fosbery, also did well in Canada. Branches of the Fosbery
family from Canada have been to visit the grave of George Vincent here in
The reason for the success of the British in Canada may have begun with the onset of England’s rapid industrialization after the 1830’s. As machines increasingly replaced people thousands of agricultural labourers and tradesmen found themselves redundant. With an oversupply of labour leading to chronic unemployment and pitiful wage rates many opted for Canada. With the arrival of steamships and a coast to coast trans-Canada railway the English increasingly sought the agricultural opportunities to be had in the Prairie Provinces. But not George Vincent Fosbery.
In 1852 the 20-year- old George signed up to the Bengal Army where he was
promoted to Captain in 1864, Major in 1868 and Lt. Colonel in 1874. During this
time he was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallant conduct during the Umbeyla
Campaign in 1863.
The Umbeyla (also spelt as Ambela) campaign was one of the numerous expeditions led by British forces in the border area between the Emirate of Afghanistan and the Punjab Province of British India. This area was formally renamed the North West Frontier Province in 1901 and is known today as the Khyber Pakhtunkwa. This campaign was against local Pashtuns of Yusufzai tribes of the border region between British India and Afghanistan.
The local Pashtuns were vehemently opposed to British Colonial rule and frequently attacked British Forces. In 1858 an expedition led by Sir Sydney Cotton drove the Pashtuns from their base. By 1863, however, they had regrouped around the mountain outpost of Malka. A force led by Neville Bowles Chamberlain planned to destroy Malka. He set up an operational base in the Chamla Valley accessed by the Ambela Pass, but they were soon bogged down by a numerically superior local force.
On 30 th October 1863 Lieutenant Fosbery led a party of his regiment (4 th Bengal) to recapture the Crag Picquet after its garrison had been pinned down by the enemy and sixty of them killed. The approach to the Crag was very narrow but the Lieutenant led his party with great coolness and was the first man to gain the top of the Crag from his side. Subsequently when the commanding officer was wounded, Lieutenant Fosbery assembled a raiding party and pursued the routed enemy inflicting on them further losses. The British had restored peace but at the cost of 1,000 casualties.
George Fosbury’s Victoria Cross Medal was sold at auction in Red Deer, Alberta,
Canada on 17 th August 1997 for $45,000 to an unidentified buyer. (The seller may have descended from one his emigrating children.) The auction in Canada was
unusual as VC awards usually change hands in England however the sale drew buyers from all over the world. The medal is now owned by Lord Ashcroft (who may have been the unidentified buyer at the auction) and is now part of the Victoria Cross collection that is kept at the Imperial War Museum in London.
George retired from the Army in 1877 and devoted himself to the perfecting of guns. He invented and patented the semi-automatic self-cocking revolver which bears his name and was manufactured by the Webley & Scott Revolver & Arms Company between 1901-1915. It was patented on 16 th August 1895. When they can be found, it is not uncommon for examples to exceed £5,000 at sale.
One of his guns, the Webley-Fosbery .455, gets a mention by Humphrey Bogart in the film ‘The Maltese Falcon’. When asked if has seen the murder weapon before,
Bogart (Sam Spade) says: “Yep, a Webley-Fosbery 45 caliber, 8-shot. They don’t
make ‘em any more.” (Apparently it was actually a ‘6-shot’!)
However, there were several other significant patents and inventions to his name.
These include a pump-action shotgun with a 6-lug rotating bolt, a black powder
breechloader intended for the British military, exploding bullets for hunting
dangerous game and for helping to determine range on the battlefield and several
types of magazines for use with single-shot rifles. Then there was the aptly named
Paradox, a cross between a shotgun and a rifle. Manufactured by Holland & Holland these guns are now back in production again. Expect to pay over £9000 for an original. More information is on You Tube
Book Review: Paradox - The story of Col. G.V. Fosbery, Holland & Holland, and the Paradox.
George Vincent Fosbery VC died aged 75 in Gay Street, Bath, whilst visiting his
nephew and was buried on 11th May 1907 here in Smallcombe. Alongside him are his wife, Emmeline Georgiana Fosbery who died in 1913 and his eldest son Percy
George Wolfe Vincent Fosbery who died in 1926 aged 62.
The decaying cross which marked their grave has been replaced by a marble
monument and updated by family members. The cross was preserved and is now in
the home of his great grandson, Texas Napier Fosbery, in Canada.
With thanks to Jana Edwards and Angela MacPherson, both great, great grand-
One of the first soldiers to be awarded the Victoria Cross; a noted weapon inventor.