The present lot epitomizes the Regency martial portrait, depicting one of the key men of action, painted by the leading portrait painter of the age. Garlick (op. cit., 1989, p. 171) dates the work to 1811-12, in the middle of the sitter's illustrious army career and before his subsequent stints as a colonial governor. Garlick further suggests the sitter must have returned to the artist a year or two later to have the star of the Bath which he wears in this portrait added, since he was not awarded it until 1813.
Galbraith Lowry Cole, the second son of William Willoughby Cole, first earl of Enniskillen (1736-1803), and his wife, Anne (1742-1802), the daughter of Galbraith Lowry Corry, of Ahenis, co. Tipperary, and the sister of the first earl of Belmore, was born in Dublin on 1 May 1772. He entered the army as a cornet in the 12th light dragoons on 31 March 1787. While he was at the University of Stuttgart furthering his military studies, a lieutenancy in the 5th dragoon guards was purchased for him on 31 May 1791. He became successively captain in the 70th regiment in 1792 and major in the 86th in 1793.
On his way to his new regiment Cole joined Sir John Jervis and Sir Charles Grey as a volunteer for the attack on Martinique on 24 March 1794. He was then attached to Sir Charles Grey's personal staff as aide-de-camp and was present at the reduction of Guadeloupe and St Lucia. On 26 November 1794 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel. Cole then again went on staff service, and acted as deputy adjutant-general in Ireland, as aide-de-camp to Lord Carhampton, the commander-in-chief in Ireland in 1797, and as military secretary to General Lord Hutchinson in Egypt. In 1797 he was returned to the Irish House of Commons for Enniskillen, and sat until January 1800, retiring before the Anglo-Irish union. On 1 January 1801 he was promoted colonel and appointed to command the regiment with which his family was associated, the 27th Inniskillings; he assumed the command at Malta in 1805. From Malta he proceeded to Sicily and commanded his own regiment and a battalion of grenadiers as brigadier-general. He was second in command at the battle of Maida on 4 July 1806. It is true that the chief credit of that victory rests with Brigadier-General Kempt and with Colonel Ross but a mistake on Cole's part would have imperilled the success they had gained. He was promoted major-general on 25 April 1808, but left Sicily in the summer of 1809 on account of differences with Sir John Stuart, the commander-in-chief.
Cole asked to be sent to the Peninsula, and on arriving there was posted to command the 4th division in 1809. This famous 4th division was always coupled with the 3rd and the light divisions by Wellington as his three best divisions. Cole had every qualification for a good general of division, especially obedience to the commander-in-chief. At the battle of Busaco the 4th division did not come into action at all, but in the following year it showed its strength at Albuera. After Marshal Massna had been driven out of Portugal the 2nd and 4th divisions were detached to the south of the Tagus under Marshal Beresford to make an attack on Badajoz. On the way Cole was left to reduce the small fortress of Olivena, which surrendered to him on 15 April 1811. He then assisted at the first siege of Badajoz, and when Beresford advanced to form a junction with Blake's Spanish army and prepared to fight Marshal Soult, who was coming up from Andalusia to relieve Badajoz, Cole was left behind to cover the advance and destroy the siege material. There is some dispute whether Cole of his own volition ordered the advance of his fusilier brigade at Albuera to counter the commanding position that Soult had won on Beresford's right, owing to the confusion in the 2nd division. But Cole's decision to send forward the fusiliers saved the day, though at a fearful loss: one of the three colonels of the brigade, Sir W. Myers, was killed; the other two, Blakeney and Ellis, and Cole himself, were wounded. Cole, however, rejoined his division in July 1811, but left it again the following December to take his seat in the House of Commons, to which he had been elected in 1803 as MP for County Fermanagh. He thus missed the sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, where Sir Charles Colville commanded the 4th division, but rejoined the army in June 1812 in time to be present at the great battle of Salamanca in the following month. In that battle Cole's division was posted on the extreme left of the position opposite to the French hill of the two known as the Arapiles, and for a moment the defeat of his Portuguese brigade under Pack made the day doubtful until the hill was carried by the 6th division under Major-General Henry Clinton. In the attack Cole was shot through the body. However, he soon rejoined his division at Madrid, and later covered the retreat from there.
In winter quarters Cole made himself very popular, especially for the excellence of his dinners. On 5 March 1813 Wellington invested Cole with the Order of the Bath. At the battle of Vitoria the 4th division acted on the right centre and did not bear any special part, though Cole was mentioned in dispatches. But in the series of battles known as the battles of the Pyrenees the 4th division played a very great part indeed, especially in the combat at Roncesvalles, when its hard fighting gave time for Wellington to concentrate on Sorauren. At the battle of the Nivelle the 4th division, under Cole, together with the 7th, carried the Sarre redoubt, at the Nive it was in reserve, at Orthes it carried the village of St. Bos, the key of the enemy's position, and at Toulouse it was the 4th and 6th divisions, under the command of Beresford, which carried the height of Calvinet and repaired the mischief done by the flight of the Spaniards. On the conclusion of peace Cole received the order of the Tower and Sword of Portugal and a gold cross with four clasps. He had also been promoted lieutenant-general on 4 June 1813.
When Napoleon escaped from Elba, the Duke of Wellington at once asked for Cole as one of his generals of division in Belgium. But on 15 June 1815 Cole married Lady Frances Harris (d. 1847), the second daughter of the first earl of Malmesbury, and so missed the final victory of Wellington at Waterloo. On 15 August, however, Cole joined the army of occupation in France, and commanded the 2nd division until the final evacuation of France in November 1818.
In 1823 Cole resigned his seat in the House of Commons, which he had held for twenty years, on being appointed governor of Mauritius. Here he solidly managed the challenges of a conquered colony where the population was stratified into the French plantocracy, 'free persons of colour', and slaves. Not without difficulty, he presided over the amelioration of slave conditions, the institution of a council of advice, and the improvement of educational opportunities. It proved a suitable apprenticeship for his transfer in September 1828 to the Cape of Good Hope.
Cole was one of the few successful Cape governors. Although he did not solve the frontier problem, he firmly enforced meliorative slave measures, improved communications by building the 'Sir Lowry's Pass' into the interior, and promoted the municipal boards, which were successfully established shortly after his retirement. When he left in August 1833 the South African Commercial Advertiser praised his qualities of 'simple honesty of heart and sterling integrity of purpose'.
Cole then returned to England, and settled at Highfield Park, near Hartford Bridge, Hampshire, where he died suddenly on 4 October 1842. He had been promoted full general in 1830 and was governor of Gravesend and Tilbury from 1818 until his death. He was buried in the family vault at Enniskillen. The eldest of Cole's three sons and four daughters, Colonel Arthur Lowry Cole CB commanded the 17th regiment throughout the Crimean War.
Aside from the present work, Cole sat later in life, circa 1834-35 to William Dyce for a three-quarter-length portrait depicting him in military uniform and standing on a battlefield (National Portrait Gallery, London). There are also a number of sculpted likenesses of the sitter including a statue on a column by Terrence Farrell at Fort Hill, Enniskillen, co. Fermanagh.