Posts Tagged ‘17th Regiment of Foot’

The United States declared war on Britain in 1812 when all Britain’s attention was focussed on, and resources stretched, fighting Napoleon’s French, who had subjugated much of Europe. Many factors were involved but essentially it was an attempt by the Americans to grab more or all of British North America (Canada) while Britain was occupied elsewhere. So Britain had to fight a war on two fronts, on either side of the Atlantic. It’s a long and fascinating story, at one point the British captured Washington D.C. and burnt the White House; the Americans were only saved by a huge storm which forced the British to withdraw. The war dragged on the two and a half years before being formally ended by the Treaty of Ghent on 24 December 1814, although fighting continued into early 1815.

Throughout all this time the Royal Navy was actively involved, blockading the American coast, fighting American ships and landing troops on the coasts. One young Royal navy Lieutenant involved in all of this was a certain Charles Grisdale. Charles was most likely involved when a fleet of some 30 warships sailed out of Negril Bay, Jamaica on 26 November, 1814. ‘The fleet under command of Admiral Cochrane moved into the Gulf of Mexico ready to attack New Orleans. Cochrane’s fleet was transporting 14,450 British troops who had recently been fighting in the Napoleonic wars in France and Spain.’

Battle of New Orleans

Battle of New Orleans. January 1815

Perhaps Charles Grisdale was injured at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815, whatever the case shortly thereafter Charles was back in Jamaica where he boarded the ‘postal packet’ Princess Mary bound for Falmouth in England.

But shortly after leaving Jamaica the ship ‘experienced the most dreadful weather’, in fact a ‘hurricane’, during which it ‘was struck by lightning… by which Lieutenant Charles Grisdale, of the Royal Navy, was killed, and several of the crew seriously injured’.

Princess Mary

Princess Mary

The newspapers reported the ‘instantaneous’ death after the Princess Mary arrived in England and mentioned Charles’ father, the Reverend Benjamin Grisdale of Withington in Gloucestershire. When Benjamin and his family heard of Charles death in their Rectory in Withington they must have been devastated. Whether Charles was buried at sea or brought back to England I don’t know, I presume the former.

Charles was only twenty-two and Benjamin’s first born child. He was named after Benjamin’s close friend General Charles Cornwallis, the commander of the British forces which had surrendered to George Washington’s Americans at Yorktown in 1781. Benjamin had been a long-time chaplain in the British Army and served throughout the American War of Independence; he was with Cornwallis at Yorktown. I wrote about him in a story called Rev Benjamin Grisdale and the siege of Yorktown 1781.

But in 1815 Benjamin still had three other living sons: Edmund (1799), Henry (1800) and William (1807), another son had died in infancy. He and his wife Elizabeth Unwin also had two daughters, all born in Withington Rectory. But before his death in 1828 aged eighty-four, Benjamin would have another tragedy. His next oldest living son, Edmund, had joined the Indian Army been made an Ensign then a Lieutenant and was shipped with his regiment to Bombay in 1819. But on 4 December 1820 Edmund died at Surat. We don’t know the circumstances of his death – I suspect he died of something like malaria rather than in battle.

Bombay 1820

Bombay 1820

Before I tell of the fate of Benjamin’s other children after his death I would like to say a little about his family and particularly that of his younger brother Browne Grisdale.

Both boys were the sons of Matterdale-born Benjamin Grisdale and his wife Anne Browne. They were born in Threlkeld, the next-door parish to Matterdale – Benjamin in 1744 and Browne in 1750. I don’t yet know which Grammar School they attended; it might have been St. Bees or Barton, or possibly Carlisle where Browne was later headmaster. But no doubt with the help of their uncle, Joseph Browne, who was both the provost of Queen’s College and the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, they both went to study to be priests at Queen’s College in Oxford.

Joseph Browne was elected Fellow 1 April 1731, and became a successful tutor; took the degree of D.D. 9 July 1743, and was presented by the college with the living of Bramshot, Hampshire, in 1746. In that year, he was appointed Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy and held that office until his death. He was instituted prebendary of Hereford Cathedral on 9 June of the same year (he was later called into residence), and on 13 February 1752 was collated to the chancellorship of the cathedral.

On 3 December 1756, Browne was elected Provost of Queen’s College. From 1759 to 1765 he held the office of Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University. He had a severe stroke of palsy 25 March 1765, and died on 17 June 1767.

In 1776, while his older brother Benjamin was still in America with the army, Browne by now a priest and schoolmaster in Carlisle, married Ann Dockray in St. Cuthbert’s church in Carlisle. Five children followed, one after the other: Joseph Browne 1777, named after the Rev Joseph Browne, Mary Ann 1778, Elizabeth 1779, John 1780 and Caroline 1782.

Carlisle Cathedral - where Browne Grisdale was Chancellor

Carlisle Cathedral – where Browne Grisdale was Chancellor

Of course this family had sprung from yeoman farming stock in Matterdale, but Browne and his brother had both gone to Oxford and entered the priesthood and so other courses were expected of their children. Both of Browne’s sons, Joseph and John, were pupils at Carlisle Grammar School where their father was first a teacher and then headmaster. Browne himself later became the Chancellor of the Diocese of Carlisle and a powerful local Justice of the Peace.

Son Joseph entered the army and became a Lieutenant in the 17th Regiment of Foot, which was posted to the island of Minorca in 1800 as part of the long struggle with Napoleon. And there he died in early 1801, aged just twenty-three. In April 1801 an announcement appeared in The Monthly Magazine which, under ‘Deaths Abroad’, reported:

At Minorca, J. B. Grisdale, esq, lieutenant in the 17th regiment of foot, much lamented by his brother officers.

I wrote of Joseph in a story called Death in Minorca.

Browne’s younger son John on leaving Carlisle Grammar School (where he was a bit of a star) had gone to Christ’s College, Cambridge and won the second highest prize in mathematics. John had first entered Trinity College in 1799 but switched the following year to Christ’s. His decision to move to Christ’s was probably connected with Dr William Paley. Paley had graduated from Christ’s in 1763 as “senior wrangler”, became a tutor at Christ’s and since 1782 had been Archdeacon of Carlisle Cathedral and a colleague and friend of John’s father Browne Grisdale.

I told John’s story in an article called Alas how false our hopes! – the short life of John Grisdale.

Christ's College, Cambridge

Christ’s College, Cambridge

Not to repeat the story here, but John became at lawyer in Lincoln’s Inn in London but died suddenly ‘in his office’ there in 1812, aged just thirty-two. His father Browne, the Chancellor of Carlisle, died two years later

Withington Rectory where Benjamin Grisdale lived

Withington Rectory where Benjamin Grisdale lived

Down in Gloucestershire, Browne’s brother Benjamin, the Rector of Withington, would have heard of his nephews’ deaths with sadness. But then as we have seen he was soon to experience the deaths of two of his own sons: Royal Navy officer Charles returning from Jamaica in 1815 and army officer Edmund in Bombay in 1820.

What became of Benjamin’s other sons – Henry and William?

Henry followed a career path I don’t yet know, but on 27 June 1829 the Oxford Journal reported that ’an inquest was held at Withington, Gloucestershire, by Joseph Mountain, gent. coroner, on the 10th..  (for) Mr. Henry Grisdale, who, in a fit of temporary insanity, destroyed himself with a razor’

When I get a copye of the inquest report we will know more of Henry and his suicide.

After attending Rugby School youngest son William had followed his father and uncle and studied at Queen’s College, Oxford. He became a curate at Cubberley in Gloucestershire where his brother-in-law William Hicks was Rector. (William Hicks had married Mary Grisdale in 1833.) But in August 1841 William died in Cubberley Rectory aged just thirty-four – I don’t know the circumstances.

Cubberley Church

Cubberley Church

So the upshot of all this tragedy and death is that not one of the six sons of the ‘successful’ cleric brothers, Benjamin and Browne Grisdale, had survived long enough to have families of their own! There are no descendants bearing the Grisdale name.

On another occasion I might tell something of the daughters. Brown’s daughter Mary Anne married the Reverend Walter Fletcher who became Browne Grisdale’s successor as Chancellor of Carlisle. Benjamin’s daughter Mary married the Rev William Hicks of Cubberley as already mentioned.

When we think about the Balearic island of Minorca (or Menorca) today, we tend to imagine sunny beach holidays. Perhaps we might also have heard a little about the island’s long and turbulent history, which goes all the way back to classical antiquity and beyond. What is not as well known is that the island was captured and held by the British on more than one occasion. The last time was between 1798 and 1802 during the early French Revolutionary Wars. And it is here that we find one member of the Grisdale family.

The Battle of the Nile

The Battle of the Nile

When Admiral Horatio Nelson had audaciously and convincingly defeated the French in a naval engagement off the coast of Egypt in August 1798, known to history as the Battle of the Nile or the Battle of Aboukir Bay, France’s power in the Mediterranean had been destroyed – at least for the time being. Britain wanted to recapture Napoleon’s Mediterranean conquests and they needed bases other than Gibraltar to make the sea a British lake.

The British “quickly chose Minorca and its fabulous harbour of Port Mahon where its whole fleet could safely anchor. This was against the advice of Nelson who had written to the Admiralty in July, ‘I have no scruple in deciding that it is better to save the kingdom of Naples and risk Minorca, than to risk the kingdom of Naples to save Minorca.’”

Bay of Fornells, Minorca

Bay of Fornells, Minorca

Janet Sloss in Exit Britannia (2002) tells us that Admiral St Vincent, the Commander of the British Mediterranean fleet, informed the Secretary of State for War, Viscount Henry Dundas, that the British forces then based in Gibraltar and Lisbon would be sufficient to capture Minorca. Even before Nelson’s victory in Egypt, St Vincent had advised London:

We can take possession of Minorca without awaiting the finale of Sir Horatio Nelson’s exploit. Two line of battle ships and a few frigates will achieve it by pushing the transports at once into Fornells. I feel the importance of General Stuart being at the head of them. No man can manage Frenchmen so well as him and the British will go to Hell for him.

General Sir Charles Stuart was the commander of the British forces defending Portugal against a French and Spanish attack and had impressed both Admiral St Vincent and London. In August 1798, London appointed Stuart to lead the capture of Menorca. Henry Dundas told him: ‘From the good correspondence which subsisted between His Majesty’s troops and the inhabitants of Minorca during the time that island was under the dominion of this country (1763-1782), His Majesty hopes and expects that no material opposition will be made by them to your gaining a footing on the island, and that every practicable measure will be adopted to secure to His Majesty the possession of that very important island.’

Leaving Lisbon, Stuart sailed for Gibraltar at the end of September, collected three regiments and embarked with them at the end of October, heading for Menorca. And Rear-Admiral Duckworth was ordered to go with the Powerful, the Majestic, the Vanguard and the Swallow corvette to Mahon, followed a week later by two more ships of the line, the Bellerophon and the Zealous.

Admiral John Duckworth

Admiral John Duckworth

By the 7th of November, Duckworth had assembled a squadron of 25 English ships. He approached the island from the south, heading for the north coast. Sir Charles Stuart was in command of the troops.

They made a feint at Fornells, while the real landing took place at Addaya. When they saw that the Spanish battery at the entrance of the bay had been evacuated and the powder magazine blown up, 800 British troops went on shore. At that moment, 2,000 Spanish troops approached from different directions, but were repulsed on the left and checked on the right by the guns of the Argo. The 800 men kept their positions until more divisions were put on shore. As darkness fell, the Spanish troops disappeared.

On the 7th of November, Duckworth, with a squadron of 25 English ships, approached the island from the south, heading for the north coast. Sir Charles Stuart was in command of the troops. They made a feint at Fornells, while the real landing took place at Addaya. When they saw that the Spanish battery at the entrance of the bay had been evacuated and the powder magazine blown up, 800 British troops went on shore. At that moment, 2,000 Spanish troops approached from different directions, but were repulsed on the left and checked on the right by the guns of the Argo. The 800 men kept their positions until more divisions were put on shore. As darkness fell, the Spanish troops disappeared.

I won’t retell the ensuing events here because many excellent histories exist. Suffice it to say that on 14 November 1798 the Spanish forces surrendered. The terms of capitulation were negotiated by Major General Sir James St. Clair Erskine:

The garrison shall not be considered as prisoners of war but shall march out free with their arms, drums beating, colours flying, with twelve rounds of cartridge per man. The said garrison shall be sent with all due convenience to Spain at the expense of His Britannic Majesty to one of the nearest ports of the Peninsula, excepting the first battalion of the Swiss regiment of Yann and the detachment of dragoons to Numancia. Deserters will be restored to the British army. The inhabitants of this island shall be allowed to live in the free exercise of their religion, enjoying peaceably the revenues, property and privileges which they possess and enjoy at present. The ‘universities’ or Corporation of the Island shall be maintained in the enjoyment of the particular privileges and franchises which have been granted to them by the ancient Kings of Spain as they now possess them, and as they have been allowed to them in the treaties which have taken place as often as this island has passed from one dominion to another.

British capture of Minorca, 1798

British capture of Minorca, 1798

The British had taken possession of the island without losing a single man. But Charles Stewart was concerned about his position. He wrote to Admiral Nelson:  ‘To fortune alone we owe the possession of Minorca, while I sincerely and from the bottom of my heart congratulate you upon a victory which does such credit to your judgement and resolution. My situation is extremely critical for I learn that the whole of the Spanish army has approached the court in consequence of the surrender of this island, and that they mean to make a descent before a reinforcement arrives…In regard to troops, I have scarcely 3,000 men. St Philip’s Castle is demolished, and… Ciudadela Sound by no means answers the purpose of securing either of the ports of this island… Consequently, I shall resist their landing in the first instance and, if I have time, erect temporary posts at the mouth of the harbour of Mahon, to which I will retire… and await a reinforcement or effect a retreat.’

Reinforcements soon started to arrive, including in May 1800 the 17th Regiment of Foot (the Leicestershire Regiment) and with it a young 23 year old Lieutenant  called Joseph Grisdale. With the start of the French Revolutionary Wars the regiment found itself in Ireland. It soon added a second battalion in Deptford and both battalions were then sent to North Holland to fight under the Duke of York against the French Revolutionary Army. Given his age it’s quite likely Joseph Grisdale was already with them. Returning soon to Dover they then departed for Minorca.

In Minorca the British had converted the island into one of their principal Mediterranean bases. ‘Many expeditions were launched from the island, and (Britain) used the island as a base for its operations along the Spanish Coast.’

Charge of the 17th Regiment at the Battle of Princeton

Charge of the 17th Regiment at the Battle of Princeton

Who was Joseph Browne Grisdale, to give him his full name? He was in fact the first son of the Rev. Dr. Browne Grisdale (1750—1814), the eminent Chancellor of the Diocese of Carlisle, Chaplain in Ordinary to His Majesty and a powerful local Justice of the Peace. Joseph was born in Carlisle in 1777. I have written briefly about Browne’s family in earlier articles. Browne’s brother Benjamin had also become a priest and, as the chaplain of the 33rd Regiment of Foot under General Charles Cornwallis, had participated in the American Revolutionary War and been captured by the American at the Siege Of Yorktown in 1781. Joseph’s  17th Regiment had also been taken into captivity at Yorktown and it is possible that it was through this connection that Joseph had got a commission. We don’t know. Joseph’s younger brother John  (born 1780 in Carlisle) was an extremely talented young man. He went to Cambridge University, gained high academic honours there as ‘second wrangler’, became a London lawyer; only to die prematurely in London in 1812; aged just 32.

Whether Joseph had attended Carlisle Grammar School like his brother I don’t know. But joining the army, like joining the Church, was always an option for sons of up and coming families. It was the option that Joseph had chosen. Sometime in the last years of the eighteenth- century, Joseph got (or bought) a commission in the British army; in (as we have seen) the 17th Regiment of Foot.

Dr. Browne Grisdale and his wife Ann Dockray weren’t very lucky with their children, for in April 1801 an announcement appeared in The Monthly Magazine which, under ‘Deaths Abroad’, reported:

At Minorca, J. B. Grisdale, esq, lieutenant in the 17th regiment of foot, much lamented by his brother officers.

Signing Peace of Amiens

Signing Peace of Amiens

We don’t know how young Lieutenant Joseph Grisdale died. Was it an accident, from disease or during a skirmish with the local Minorcans? As the French or Spanish threat to the island diminished the regiment’s 1st battalion soon shipped out of Minorca for Dover and from there moved to Madeira. The second battalion stayed till 1802 when the Treaty of Amiens was signed and it was agreed to hand Minorca back to the Spanish. They were then sent to Ireland and subsequently disbanded at Cork.