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Commentary for Volume 1, Chapter 4 : Arrival in India (1796–98)

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AW’s promotion to Colonel and the rigidity of seniority in the army:

AW was promoted in a general brevet dated 3 May 1796 which included all lieutenant-colonels whose rank dated from between February 1792 and October 1793.  Similar brevets followed in 1797 and 1798, part of the accelerated promotion of officers as the army expanded during the war with Revolutionary France.   No purchase was involved, nor any selection, influence or merit.

Once an officer became a lieutenant-colonel his place in the pecking order was fixed: junior to all those made lieutenant-colonel before him; senior to all those made after.   Some flexibility was introduced into this rigid hierarchy by the use of temporary ‘local rank’ which would give an officer a more senior rank within a particular area, for example, Major-General George Harris was given the local rank of lieutenant-general on 3 May 1796 when he was appointed to the command of the Madras army,  but he would revert to being a major-general when he went home, unless he had been promoted in the meantime.  But even so it was not common for officers with superior permanent rank to be asked to serve under an officer who had been elevated above them by local rank.

There was one other way of breaking this hierarchy: an individual officer, who might be only a relatively junior lieutenant-general, could be made a field marshal which would at a stroke elevate him above all other generals.  However this was seldom done except for princes of the royal family: in 1815 there were only five field marshals in the British army: four sons of George III and the Duke of Wellington.

The 33rd Sails for India and AW remains behind:

It is not clear why the destination of the 33rd was changed from the West to the East Indies.  The 12th Foot had also been part of the force kept in England by Christian’s gales: see: Lt-Col E. A. H. Webb History of the 12th(East Suffolk) Regiment, 1685-1913 p 186, which also gives dates for embarkation etc.

AW sails for the Cape:

Most secondary accounts simply say that AW followed the regiment in “a fast frigate” – the phrase being copied by one after another.

Herbert Maxwell Life of Wellington and the Restoration of the Martial Power of Great Britain vol 1 p 19 says that he sailed in HMS Caroline and that Captain Page was offended by his habit of sleeping in his clothes – giving as source for this an unspecified early biography or obituary.   However, the Captain Page (B. W. Page) who distinguished himself in the East, was already there (see O’Byrne’s Naval Biographical Dictionary vol 2 p 848-9), so if the story has any truth in it, it appears to be misdated.

O’Byrne’s Naval Biographical Dictionary  vol 2  p 714 entry for Sir Charles Malcolm, brother of Pulteney and John Malcolm, states: ‘The Fox, [Capt Pulteney Malcolm] in Nov. 1796, conveyed the present Duke of Wellington, then Colonel Wellesley, of the 33rd Regiment, from the Cape of Good Hope to India.’   However this is not repeated in the DNB entry for Malcolm, nor in Ralfe’s Naval Biography.   We know that Pulteney Malcolm carried AW from Trincomalee to Bombay in 1801 and it is possible that the two voyages might be being confused.

George Elers in his Memoirs p 58  states that AW made the voyage from the Cape to Bengal in the East Indiaman Princess Charlotte.

An Indiaman would have more and better accommodation than a frigate, and would have avoided the need to change ships at the Cape, but AW may have preferred the frigate, while accommodation in the Indiamen may have been dominated by the officers of the regiments going to India.   John Malcolm, who is working on a biography of his namesake, says that there is no mention of AW in Pulteney’s letters home from the trip; and nothing in later letters that would solve the issue.

AW certainly sailed in the convoy taking the 12th and 86th Regiments to the Cape, as the reports in The Times prove beyond doubt:

The Times, 10th June 1796 reports that on 8 June the 12th Regiment under the command of Col Hervey Aston marched from Newport to Cowes, Isle of Wight, to embark for India.

The Times, 11th June 1796 reports that ‘On Wednesday morning’ – i.e. the 8th the 12th and 86th embarked, having been carefully inspected by Sir Jerome Fitzpatrick who removed 50 men as unfit for the voyage.

The Times, 14th June 1796 denies French reports of the capture of 11 East Indiamen by the Dutch fleet, and mentions that Lord Hugh Seymour and Sir Roger Curtis have been ordered to search for the Dutch squadron.

The Times,  28th June 1796 reports from Portsmouth of 26th June that the ships got under way this morning, but the wind shifted and they brought to again at St Helens.

The Times,  29th June 1796, reports from Portsmouth of 27th June that Admiral Colpoys with 7 ships of the line and Aquilon frigate sailed escorting 12 East Indiamen (incl. Princess Charlotte, Rockingham, Lord Hawkesbury, Melville Castle and Airlie Castle) with the Trusty  (50 guns) and the Fox  frigate.   Admiral Colpoys to escort the convoy to a certain latitude where it should be safe.

Elers (Memoirs p 45, 51) says that the 12th Regiment sailed on 10th June in the Rockingham, Hawkesbury, Melville Castle and Airlie Castle escorted by the Fox frigate (Capt Malcolm) and the Tremendous (74) which is pretty accurate.

And Mornington told Sir Chichester Fortescue on 20 June that AW was at Portsmouth waiting to sail for India ((Mornington to Sir Chichester Fortescue, 20 June 1796, Some Letters of the Mornington Family  p 41, partly printed in WSD  vol 13 p 3).

AW himself says that he sailed in June 1796 in a letter of July 1797  (WSD vol 1  p 16).

So, it is equally possible that he sailed on board the Fox to the Cape and then changed to the Princess Charlotte, or went the whole way on either ship.

The Voyage to India:

There is really no information about this other than Elers’s account, and Guedalla’s speculation about AW’s reading, with the caution of Mackintosh’s experiences, (although, to be fair, Mackintosh was rather indolent by nature).   And how much can really be deduced from the books?   For surely it is quite likely that rather than being AW’s personal selection, they were put together by the bookseller as the books that might help educate any serious young officer, or the collection is very worthy and shows little evidence of personal taste or particular interests.

At the Cape:

Gurwood’s chronology at the beginning of Wellington’s Dispatches says that AW arrived at the Cape in September 1796, and there is no reason to doubt it.

Webb’s History of the 12th Regiment p 186 says that the convoy reached the Cape on 19 September and sailed on 10 November.   John Malcolm says that Pulteney Malcolm wrote home from the Cape on 4 September, suggesting that the Fox had sailed ahead of the rest of the convoy – and if AW was on board it, this would explain why Elers thought AW had arrived with the 33rd.

Elers gives the only account of his time there, even though Elers does not realize that AW had sailed in the same convoy, and assumes that he had arrived with the 33rd several months before.

Elers says that the men of the 12th did not disembark, which is surprising; but those of the 33rd surely did so.   Webb confirms this about the men of the 12th – ‘The regiment did not disembark, but the officers were allowed to go on shore, and a few of the men by turns.’ (History of the 12th Regiment p 186).

Elers suggests that AW and Aston were great friends at the Cape – had they met before, at Portsmouth, or even earlier?   Weller (Wellington in India  p 33) says that they were friends ‘even before leaving England’ – but typically gives no source.   They may have met on the Continent in late 1794 or early 1795 when the 33rd and the 12th were brigaded together, but it is not certain that Aston was present with the 12th at that time.

From the Cape to Bengal:

Elers says that AW sailed on the Princess Charlotte, keeping company with the 12th most of the way.   He says that the 12th reached Madras on 9 January after a voyage of ‘about two months’ from the Cape.    This implies that AW left the Cape in the first half of November (after a stay of perhaps six or eight weeks).   AW arrived in Calcutta on 17 February, meaning that it had been a voyage of over three months from the Cape – no wonder he found it ‘most tedious’.

Reception in Bengal:

The material from the Memoir of Teignmouth by his son, and from the son’s own Reminiscences  overlaps, and is useful as far as it goes.   Guedalla The Duke quotes a comment that Shore was ‘as cold as a greyhound’s nose’, but unfortunately does not give its source.

Longford, p 46, is wrong: the St Leger AW met in Bengal was not the founder of the race, but his son.

AW’s quarrel with Hobart:

The only evidence for this is AW’s letter to Mornington of 12 July 1797 (WP 1/6 – a passage suppressed in WSD).   We don’t know if it was made up, or what caused it.   It may have been that some of AW’s strongly expressed criticism of Hobart’s arrangements for the Penang expedition came to Hobart’s ears and offended him; or Hobart may have believed (even if wrongly) that AW had supported Shore in their quarrel; or it may have arisen from early reports that Mornington had, or was going to be, appointed in Hobart’s place.   Timing makes the last unlikely: AW had not heard of Mornington’s appointment when he wrote on 12 July, though he had by 27 July.   And he says that he had received the offensive letter from Hobart “about two months ago”.

The Penang Expedition:

The instructions (or ‘recommendation’) from Britain to undertake the expedition against Manila, dated 11 November 1796, are referred to in the reply, Fort William to India House, 5 April 1797 (Indian Record Series vol 18 p 333-5), but are not printed in that volume.  See also, Parkinson War in Eastern Seas p 113.

The whole question of the command of the expedition is complicated.   AW’s hopes were expressed in his letter to Mornington of 17th April 1797 (WP 1/6) in which he admits that he knows nothing of Braithwaite’s abilities (Braithwaite being on the Madras establishment).  He cannot have had any reasonable grounds for hoping to be given the overall command – apart from anything else he was too junior.   He might, more plausibly, have been given the command of the Bengal detachment, but there was no injustice done in not giving it to him.   The Doyle he mentions was probably Major-General Welbore Ellis Doyle, who was on the Madras staff and serving in Ceylon, where he died in 1797: (thanks to Ron McGuigan for this information.)

According to Wilson’s History of the Madras Army (vol 2 p 302) St Leger commanded the Bengal expedition, and Craig that from Madras and, as senior officer, the expedition as a whole.

Hickey is the only source for the story of Mr Blunt, who does not appear in the Indian Record Series.

The Bengal division of the expedition sailed from Kedegree for Penang on 9 August 1797 under the escort of HMS Heroine.   On the following night there was a sudden change in the weather, several ships were damaged and two transports, loaded with stores not men, were driven onto sandbanks at the mouth of the river and lost.   Some crew on board the Martha were drowned, although the captain escaped, while no lives were lost when the Charlotte sank.   The Martha’s cargo was only firewood and rice, but the Charlotte had been carrying some field artillery and related stores; however fresh guns were embarked on the Ajax and the Hercules which had been driven back into port by the storm, so that the expedition was able to proceed without material loss or much delay. (Indian Record Series: Fort William-India House Correspondence (National Archives of India) vol 18 1796-1800 (Foreign Political & Secret edited by Father H. Heras 1974  p 363-5 secret letter of 12 Sept 1797)

Bad water was another problem on the voyage to Penang: according to AW’s later letter complaining of the bad water on the trip from Bengal to Madras in 1798: WSD  vol 1  p 112-13 – says that ‘many’ soldiers had died.

The dates for the arrival at or departure from Penang are not known for certain.   Elers (Memoirs p 69-70) says that the 12th were detained there until the middle of December, but that was due to the monsoon making it unsafe to land at Madras, and would not apply to the Bengal detachment.   Gurwood’s chronology says that AW was back in Bengal in November 1797 and Captain Keating’s letter of 22 November (WP 1/3) sounds as if it was written on dry land, and in settled quarters.   This means that Weller is probably wrong to say late November at the earliest.

Rainier was not the only one to be concerned by Tipu’s warlike preparations, or reports that he might be seeking active French co-operation:  Fort William to India House, 28 August 1797 (Indian Records Series  vol 18  p 341-3) mentions these ideas, though the government in Bengal still decides that the expedition should go ahead, while noting that Hobart can cancel it.   Ibid  p 350  (same to same 11 September) considers the possibility of French support for Tipu, but concludes that the difficulty of French forces reaching him makes it an unlikely danger.   Still, the important point is that even Shore regarded Tipu as an undoubted, though undeclared, enemy; and that the spectre of French co-operation with him was not conjured from thin air by Mornington, nor dependent on Malartic’s proclamation.

The Indian Records Series vol 21  (Military Series)  p 253-4 prints AWs claim for table money on the expedition, which, after some doubt, the military auditor was not inclined to allow.   There are also a few other references to AW and the 33rd, but similar in nature and even more inconsequential.

It is not clear if the memorandum on the agriculture of Bengal was composed at Penang or in Bengal: Weller (Wellington in India p 13) says Penang; Springer (‘The Military Apprenticeship of Arthur Wellesley in India’ unpublished PhD thesis presented to Yale University in 1966 p 47-8) puts it later: it probably does not matter much.

The Norcott Affair and the 33rd’s regimental life:

Captain Keating, who complained to AW about his support for Norcott, went on to command the troops in the capture of Mauritius in 1810 when a lieutenant-colonel.  See Royal Military Calendar vol 3 p 396.

AW’s visit to Madras:

This is a puzzle.   Weller gives a very full account, apparently extrapolating from AW’s later memoranda, but there seems to be very little direct evidence.   It is not even clear if the quarrel with Hobart had been made up, or if AW saw him.   Wilks History of Mysore  vol 2  p 631n says that Hobart sailed on 21 Feb. 1798; and Lushington’s life of Harris gives this vague support, saying that Harris acted as civil governor.

John Malcolm informs me that the earlier John Malcolm was ‘based in Madras from the beginning of 1796 until September 1798. He was Military Secretary to Sir Alured Clarke, the CinC Madras until February 1797; then to his successor George Harris. From February 1798 he was Town Major Madras (a liaison officer appointment between the (civilian) Governor and the C in C).’ (e-mail of 4 October 2011).   This would certainly mean that AW and Malcolm met at this time, even though neither man mentions it in his correspondence.


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© Rory Muir

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