There was a time when every schoolboy knew the names Wellington and Nelson. Some may even have smiled wryly at the story of Lord Anglesey’s leg or pondered the true meaning of Nelson’s last words. At this most basic level, some contact was made with an extraordinary war that lasted for 22 years at a savage cost in human life. Now, apparently, these names are increasingly unknown or wrongly associated with other wars. There are few war memorials to those who died fighting Napoleon.
What, then, would a schoolboy make of the following list of names: William Stiles, John Barrow, William Wellesley-Pole, Evan Nepean and William Marsden? Very little, one suspects. Yet these men and their kind, rather than the battlefield heroes, were the real conquerors of Bonaparte. They were among the first career bureaucrats, who increasingly entered the public service through recognised talent rather than patronage, worked exhausting hours for salaries rather than perquisites and became specialists within their own