Document of Learning #2: Hark! It’s James Wolfe!

Image result for hark a vagrant

 For this Document of Learning, I made a little historical comic.  Why? Why not?! Well, over the spring break someone clearly had too much time on their hands. I spent most of my time reading historical comics rather than doing homework, among other things. In the end, I decided to make a little tribute to the great historical comic, Hark!  A Vagrantby Kate Beaton. The art style, the humour, the history, everything is just so good my friend you have to check it out, but I do have to say there is some *ahem*—stuff— depending on the ones you read.

Anyways, here goes a little intro to famous Major-General Wolfe who gained his fame precisely because he died. (I apologize beforehand for the terrible colour balancing in my pictures).


Dialogue from Parkman, 1885 (see References).

James Wolfe was an English general famous for his victory at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham that allowed the British to take over New France. Thanks to Wolfe’s daring idea of climbing the cliff to Montcalm’s camp, the British was able to win the battle in less than 30 minutes on September 13, 1759. Unfortunately, Wolfe was shot three times the battle and died on the battlefield soon after the news of his victory was delivered, making him one of the greatest English martyrs in history for the of British colonies in North America. However! after watching Canada: This is Us I really wonder how much does Wolfe actually live up to his famous reputation. So often in history, we deify or demonize a person so much and they no longer seem human to us,  but it is precisely the mortality of historical figures that teach us how to lead better lives ourselves. So through this DOL, I hope to reveal some parts of James Wolfe under his glorious martyred skin.

Inquiry Question: How did the British Victory during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham alter the perception of Major-General James Wolfe?


Yes, it’s true. Crayola did in fact have a colour called have a colour called Wolfe Brown in honour of James Wolfe, which was unfortunately discontinued after one year. Ever since his death in 1759, Wolfe has been perceived as a war hero by many both in Canada and England, spreading his legacy in various formats. Oh, poor Montcalm!

fandom-picsPerhaps one of the most famous images of Wolfe, and certainly the most dramatic one, is Benjamin West’s historical painting made “just” eleven years after the battle. Photographs being not yet existent, the artist’s rendition of the scene directly influences the perception of the content through formal qualities and techniques. West, a historical painter, decided to paint a relatively recent event in contrast to the common Biblical scenes or Classical Greek Mythology. Many were in fact against his idea of putting the figures in the contemporary clothing in the fear of disrespecting the event, yet West decided to remain “truthful” in this painting and put his figures in the respective clothing of the era. However, as one observes closely there is little accuracy in this painting.

Image credit to

I had the fortunate chance of seeing this painting when I visited the Royal Ontario Museum during the spring break. As an art history hobbyist, I’ll walk you through some quick analysis:
The first thing that the audience may notice is that the painting is very huge, spanning around two metres in width. James Wolfe is featured in the centre of the composition. He is likely the first thing the audience will look at upon examining this painting. All of the other figures in the painting direct their eyes to the dying figure of Wolfe, who wears a bright red British coat. However, only one of the figures depicted was documented to be actually present during the moment. The indigenous North American sitting to the right of Wolfe accentuates the exoticness of the New World to his British audience, Perhaps most importantly, Wolfe is deliberately depicted with the visual allusion to the Lamentation of Christ, a resemblance that many 18th century audiences would’ve picked up on. The theatrical clouds, combined with the dramatic lighting, continues to add on to the dramatic atmosphere of the painting. Through the manipulation of visual properties, West depicts Wolfe as a remarkably noble hero who died fighting for the English cause.



Who is this man creating these not-so-glorious caricatures of General Wolfe? George Townshend, of course! George Townshend, a talented caricaturist, was brigadier under the command of Major-General Wolfe whom he had a terrible relationship with. Townshend took delight in creating hideous caricatures of James Wolfe, teasing the various terrible qualities of his general and passing them around to other officers at camp. These are actually the oldest North American caricatures ever! Don’t you just love it when creativity is driven by spite?

Continuity and Change:

Similar to modern internet memes, Townshend’s cartoons seek to degrade Wolfe’s reputation through exaggerated imagery. After almost two hundred years, the manipulation of another human being’s perception in the public still contains tremendous power. To this day, politicians and school bullies alike flatten their opponent’s reputation into a single story through a series of name-calling techniques and propaganda. However, with the internet today, thousands of resources are readily available at the click of one button. Unlike the past, a sceptic individual today is able to take advantage of the research privilege and inform themselves to a variety of information before settling to a conclusion.

While the modern perception of James Wolfe is great and noble, it really seems like the historical actors were not so impressed with Wolfe. There exists a gigantic gap between Townshend’s caricatures created while Wolfe was alive compared to Benjamin West’s painting eleven years after Wolfe’s death. Here’s one on Wolfe complaining about how a 25-feet latrine isn’t deep enough (more on this later).

Image Credit to McCord Museum

Wolfe, what have you done to make Montcalm hate you so much? How terrible were you as a general?




Historical Perspective:

Wolfe was remembered by his fellow officers to be a rather egotistical and stubborn person, often unwilling to accept his mistakes, such as the time when he left

camp unprotected. Poor Townshend did him the favour of setting up the entrenchments around camp, but Wolfe responded to Townshend’s help with considerable violence. Other officers, such as James Murray and Robert Mockton held similar views with Townshend in their general’s horrible leadership. Wolfe was also said to lack good humour, so even he saw Townshend’s masterpieces he likely wouldn’t have appreciated them very much.  Though I have no right to express what Townshend’s values and standards were, I speculate that he valued strong leadership and responsibility in his major-general, rather than Wolfe who was constantly ill. Being three years older than Wolfe, perhaps he was jealous and frustrated that Wolfe was named Major-General instead of him. Indeed, Wolfe’s military tactics were quite unusual, to say the least, and his victory at the Plains of Abraham definitely had a factor of luck to it.


First two dialogues from Wright, 1864

On June 28 of 1759, James Wolfe drafted the Manifesto Addressed to Canadians as a psychological intimidation, lovingly stating things like “to deprive the French of their most valuable settlement in North America” and that any French Canadians resisting to his army will have “their habitations destroyed, their sacred temples exposed to an exasperated soldiery, their harvest utterly ruined, and the only passage for relief stopped up by a most formidable fleet” ( Wright, 1864). Wolfe showed little mercy to the French civilians, burning and robbing their huts in hopes that they would abandon Montcalm and side with him. This was counter-productive, however, since neutral inhabitants became actively resistant against Wolfe’s campaign. Montcalm’s defense militia grew to as many as 10,000 men who joined likely out of hatred.


Dying as a young martyr, James Wolfe definitely benefitted from the statement “You have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story”, with both Britain and Canada telling the story of his greatness. These stories often cover Wolfe’s poor health conditions, who harboured rheumatism, tuberculosis, and dysentery during his lifetime (providing Townshend with plenty of laughing material I daresay).

After the British victory at the Battle of Plains of Abraham, Wolfe was perceived more of noble, and immortal British hero rather than the sick and bad-tempered general. The story of James Wolfe is one of the countless lessons of history that makes us recognize the gullibility of our feeble minds. It is much more difficult to understand a person as both a hero and a villain than to simply choose a single side of their life; it is much easier to convince someone about a single side of a person than to provide an entire account of their character. James Wolfe is, after all, just another man, equally prone to becoming the victims of single-stories as we are. But unlike James Wolfe and his era, we have the access to countless resources on the internet that we can use to defend ourselves against these flattening tales.  Once again, investigating in history provides us with the humbling opportunity to perceive historical actors as rounded humans just as we are, to recognize the continuity of universal human traits, and to appreciate the positive changes in technology.


Wolfe’s design from my sketchbook



Adair, E. (1936). The Military Reputation of Major-General James Wolfe. Retrieved from

Battle for a Retrieved 1 April 2018, from

Colby, C. (1920). Selections from the sources of English history (p. 294). London: Longmans, Green.

Gordon, S. (2018). George Townshend, 1st Marquess TownshendThe Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 29 March 2018, from

James Retrieved 30 March 2018, from

James Wolfe facts, information, pictures | articles about James Wolfe. (2004). Retrieved 29 March 2018, from

James Wolfe: The heroic martyr | National Army Retrieved 29 March 2018, from

Parkman, F. (1885). Montcalm and Wolfe (pp. 296-297). MacMillian and Co.

Townshend, G. (1759). General James Wolfe, at Quebec. Montreal: McCord Museum.

Wilson, B. (1909). The life and letters of James Wolfe (p. 396). Toronto: London: William Heineman.

WRIGHT, R. (1864). The Life of Major-General James Wolfe, founded on original documents and illustrated by his correspondence, etc (pp. 517-518). London: Chapman & Hall.



  1. Amazing post, Deon!

    Right off the bat, my first star is your use of comics. Not only did they keep me interested throughout the long post, they were also a very creative and effective visual aspect to drive home your points. You must have spent a long time making them, because they looked seriously awesome!

    My second star is how you really went in depth with the whole drama between Townshend and Wolfe, particularly how you wittily describe the motives behind Townshend’s caricatures. I particularly like the line: “Don’t you just love it when creativity is driven by spite?”

    Unfortunately, there don’t appear to be any obvious connections between your topic and mine. The biggest connection I can see is that like how Wolfe’s ruthlessness brought 10,000 supporters to Montcalm’s side, Radisson and Des Groseilliers (the main people in my DOL) decided to work for England after being punished by the Governor for bringing him a load of prime furs, albeit without permission.

    Once again, amazing post!


  2. Deon this was amazing to read and so informative. Anyways my stars are:

    The fact that you added comic strips. It kept me interested in the topic.

    How In-Depth ‘wink wink’ you went into talking about James Wolfe. There were so many things that I didn’t know and the way you talked about the subject it clearly showed how passionate you are.

    The thing that we have in common was that while you talked a little about the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and a lot on James Wolfe, I talked a lot about the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and a little about James Wolfe. So we kind of covered similar subject.

  3. Deon,

    As you might know, this is a great post! I can’t help but comment on the comic strips which surely took a lot of effort. That is going to be my first star. The comics add on to the text and we are more engaged by the normally dry reading. With your humor and unique insight into the topic, it was a great read and one that I wouldn’t be surprised to find in a famous history magazine.

    The way that you approached your topic is creative as well, using two artist’s perception of Wolfe to compare historical perspectives. This connects well to your passion in art and it is easily seen in this post. Art is not usually connected to war heros, but you make it happen, with two sides of the argument.

    James Wolfe’s reputation being altered by the winners (survivor bias) can be seen in the Canadian Pacific Railway’s perception by different groups of people. The winning side, or the side that benefits from an incident, will report the glorious results without the less honourable details. For many people, James Wolfe is a hero, and the CPR is a great Canadian achievement. It is only in recent years that the other side of the story is told.

    Once again, amazing post. You deserve an A++!

  4. Hey Deon!

    This is a really beautiful blog post bursting with creativity! I really like your art and how simple and comedic they are! Your comics are really easy to read and I took a lot of information away from it. That’s my first star. My second star is going to be about how much information you managed to find on General James Wolfe. You offered more information than I found in most of my sources! Plus, your blog post is much, much easier to read and understand. My (soon to be posted) blog post talks about the connection between the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and Major General James Wolfe, so your blog post has given me a lot of information that I might not have found. Now, I just have to do a little more research on the battle itself and a little bit about British war tactics.

    Thanks so much! I’m sure that you’re only improving as time goes on. I’ll be sure to read your next blog post!

    From your underclassman.
    Grace. :)))

  5. This is a really unique inquiry post and I enjoyed reading the amazing comics! You have an incredible art style and you have the ability to blend it into socials while adding your own unique twist on it. This has helped me with my own inquiry about James Wolfe and it has provided a lot of deeper information compared to what I’ve found on the interwebs. The pictures and paragraphs compliment one another that sends the reader down a journey. I love your drawings and your work is marvelous 😀 !!

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