The Family of Major-General John Gaspard Le Marchant
'I am determined to rise to the head of my profession and nothing but death will stop me.' J. Gaspard Le Marchant was born into one of the most influential and possibly the wealthiest family in Guernsey. His was one of the most illustrious careers in the history of the the British Army, in which he single-mindedly founded the Royal Military College and revolutionised the training of officers. Highly esteemed by Wellington, he died a glorious if unnecessary death in 1812 at the Battle of Salamanca, following which a monument to him was erected in St Paul's Cathedral at public expense.
Perseverance is the only sure road to success: Le Marchant's advice to his children.
John Gaspard Le Marchant was born on 9 February, 1766, in Amiens, France, at the family home of his maternal grandfather, Count Heinrich Justus Hirzel de St Gratien; wealthy women seem always to have returned to their parental homes to give birth to their first child or two, even if this required debilitating amounts of travel over land or sea. The Count’s family were Protestant, originating in Switzerland, and acquired the French element of their title through marriage. He himself was a distinguished officer in the French army and John Gaspard received the name of one of his ancestors, the Huguenot commander Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, which he seems to have used as his chosen name, at least as a young man; but Guernseymen in public life in Britain often opted to anglicise their names, rather than be suspected of having sympathies with the French.
John Gaspard’s father was John Le Marchant, son of the Lieutenant-Bailiff of Guernsey. His father had been one of the first Guernseymen to hold a commission in the army. His mother, [Marie] Catherine Hirzel, was fairly well-off and they had houses in Bath, High Street, Guernsey, and at 10, Hanover Square in London; this last had been left to her by her aunt, Margaret Hirzel, who, as the wife of Thomas Le Marchant, had been the first to marry into the Le Marchant family.* Gaspard had a younger brother, James, who unfortunately did not turn out quite as well. Of Gaspard’s school career in Exeter, his headmaster would only say that he could not remember a greater dunce. He was then tutored at home until at sixteen he became determined to join the army, ending up in the 1st Regiment of Foot in Gibraltar, where there was little to do, giving him time to develop his talent for watercolour painting.
He was well-known then for his hot temper, which, as he later told his son, Denis, he became determined to master, having become embroiled in a duel. He caught yellow fever, for which Gibraltar was notorious, and was sent to convalesce back in Guernsey, where he began to court Mary 'Polly' Carey, his neighbour, daughter of jurat and landowner Jean Carey of La Bigoterie in St Peter Port.1
R. H. Thoumine in his definitive biography2 quotes from The Guernsey Florist, a verse written by one of their acquaintances, which refers to his bad temper:
Mary Carey’s a Heart’s Ease, and long may her swain
Live content with his choice nor have cause to complain.
Gas. Le Marchant’s the Thorn whose flower is such
That tho’ pleasing to view is dangerous to touch.
Sir George Yonge, the Secretary at War, showed Gaspard’s watercolours to the King, who was extremely impressed and from that moment on Le Marchant never looked back, Yonge helping him wherever he could. He married Mary Carey in 1789, having won over her father, who had initially felt the couple were too young (officers in the Army often waited until they were in their forties to marry), and in 1791 their first child, Carey, was born. They had in all ten children, but sadly Mary died in 1811 at their house in High Wycombe, having given birth to the last of them.
From these beginnings, Gaspard Le Marchant (portrait) went on to pursue one of the most illustrious careers in the history of the the British Army, founding the Royal Military College and revolutionising the training of officers, beginning with his handbook, Rules and Regulations for the Sword Exercise of the Cavalry; he designed a revolutionary sabre, still regarded as one of the best of its kind; and died a glorious if unnecessary death in 1812 at the Battle of Salamanca, following which a monument to him was erected in St Paul's Cathedral at public expense. The Gazette de Guernesey of 29th August 1812 reported thus on its front page:
General Le Marchant, whose death we reported last week, was a Guernsey native; he was one of the founders of the Royal Military College, and was its Governor until he left for Portugal, about a year ago. His wife, Mrs. Carey, daughter of the late John Carey, of High Street, St Peter Port, died in childbirth a few weeks following his departure, leaving nine children orphans, and a very small estate. The eldest is 17 or so and was his father's aide-de-camp at the time of his death. General Le Marchant was universally considered a distinguished officer, who had devoted his life to the pursuit of professionalism.
Does not the death of brave General Le Marchant not also offer us an example of this tragic contrast [news of death following news of great victory, as with Brock]? I actually witnessed this happen: I was walking in one of the most beautiful of our island's gardens, when I suddenly heard terrible piercing screams and cries, those of a weeping family; their sobs and wails mingling with the joyous pealing of the victory bells. I left the scene, deeply affected, unable to stop thinking about the bizarre and contrary nature of human experience. [Le Publiciste, 28th November 1812.]
There is a plaque on the site of General Le Marchant's house in High Wycombe; unfortunately there is not one in Guernsey. Le Publiciste of October 1812 featured a poetical eulogy by 'JRRJ.'
As mentioned above, his son Carey took part in the battle with him. Carey was born in Guernsey at La Bigoterie in Berthelot Street (see below), his mother's family home.
Having received a classical education at Eton, Carey attended the royal military college, where he obtained the highest testimonial awarded to students. He undertook a Grand Tour with an Austrian officer, Count Ludolf, son of the Neapolitan Ambassador (during which they stayed with Lady Esther Stanhope, at her Turkish villa) and joined the First Foot, being, to his great delight, attached to his father's staff as aide-de-camp, and receiving many commendations for his bravery and enthusiasm. After Salamanca he showed exemplary courage at the Battle of Vittoria and in the Pyrenees, and, as the war was coming to an end, at the siege of San Sebastian. But he received a bullet wound to his instep at the Battle of the Nive, on 13th December, 1813, in an attempt to rally a regiment which had fallen into confusion.
The doctor at St. Jean de Luz gave him a hopeful prognosis, but despite having graduated to crutches, he died of gangrene poisoning at the age of 23 on 12 March, 1814, and was buried in the ramparts of the fortress.
Few young men have left a more enviable reputation. His courteous and prepossessing deportment was in unison with the excellence of his heart. Neither the elegance of his person, his accomplishments, nor his success in his profession could alter the simplicity of his character. He was truly mourned by those with whom he served, and in his own family, in which he had sought to supply a father's place, his loss was irreparable.³
The Priaulx Library has an affectionate letter from him to his sister Kate, written from Castello Branco.
At the death of their mother, the other Le Marchant children—five girls and three boys, the eldest, Denis, sixteen—were left alone in their house at High Wycombe, their father being in the Peninsula. However, their mother’s brother, Colonel Tom Carey, did not want Gaspard’s career to suffer by his returning to England, so he had proposed a solution: the three eldest would finish their education in England and the other five, Mary, aged 13, Caroline, aged 11, Helen, 8, Anna Maria, 7, and the baby boy, Thomas, were to be taken in by their mother’s sister, Sophy, wife of Peter Mourant, of Candie in Guernsey, who had no children of her own. The Le Marchant family had always returned to Guernsey for holidays twice a year, staying at La Bigoterie or at Candie House—now home to the Priaulx Library. When their father died, they were truly orphaned; The Duke of Norfolk brought this to the attention of the House of Lords, and they were granted an annual pension of £1200.
Denis, born at Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 3 July 1795, attended Eton and Trinity, Cambridge. He was called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1823. When his old college friend, William Lord Brougham, became Lord Chancellor in 1830, he appointed Le Marchant to be his Principal Secretary. After various other appointments he was made a baronet by Lord Melbourne in 1841. He entered the House of Commons as M.P. for Worcester, 8 July 1846, but retired in the following year. In 1850 he was appointed Chief Clerk to the House of Commons, retiring with the thanks of the House in 1871. He died on 30 October 1874 in London. He published privately in 1841 a memoir of his father, and in 1845 edited Walpole's Memoirs of the Reign of George III. He bought Chobham Place, in Surrey, where, he created a well-known woodland garden. He married [Sarah] Eliza Smith.4
John-Gaspard, who also went by the name Gaspard as an adult, born in 1803, was a career soldier who never quite matched up to his father. In all he spent £10,000 to purchase commissions and was one of the youngest officers in the British army to command a regiment. In 1852 he was appointed Governor of Nova Scotia, where he was instrumental in founding the railway, donating the land known as Governor’s Farm at Richmond as the site of the terminus; one of the first locomotives on the line was named in his honour. He left Nova Scotia in 1859. He had also been Governor of Newfoundland at a time of political upheaval – a great fire, potato famine, tax rebellions and liberal agitation. He went on to be a Governor of Malta and commander-in-chief of Madras.
The Lieutenant-Governor [of Nova Scotia], Sir J. Gaspard le Marchant, is said to be a severe disciplinarian. He served in the wars of the Peninsula, and is now being rewarded for his distinguished services as Governor of this Province. He reviews his troops twice a week upon the Common, and is very strict. The evolutions of the rank and file are the most perfect exhibitions of the kind I have ever witnessed. During one of these reviews I took occasion to remark to a citizen that they were almost equal to the Seventh Regiment of New York. The bystanders laughed incredulously. The bands are as perfect 320 in movement as the troops. The whole affair passes off literally like clock-work, a pendulum being kept in sight of the reviewing officers, by which to measure the music of the bands, and step of the soldiers. Each review concludes with a presentation of the royal standard — the identical colours which were first unfurled upon the Redan by this regiment at the fall of Sebastopol. The ceremony is impressive, an almost superstitious reverence being paid to the triumphant bunting. The review ended, the band remains for a half hour to play for the entertainment of the citizens, who generally attend in large numbers.
And another less than complementary mention:
Again: if you are still strong in limb, and ready for a longer walk, which I, leaning upon my staff, am not, we will visit the encampment of Point Pleasant. The Seventy-sixth Regiment has pitched its tents here among the evergreens. Yonder you see the soldiers, looking like masses of red fruit amidst the spicy verdure of the spruces. Row upon row of tents, and file upon file of men standing at ease, each one before his knapsack, his little leather household, with its shoes, socks, shirts, brushes, razors, and other furniture open for inspection. And there is Sir John Gaspard le Marchant, with a brilliant staff, engaged in the pleasant duty of picking a personal quarrel with each medal-decorated hero, and marking down every hole in his socks, and every gap in his comb, for the honor of the service.5
He married Margaret Anne Taylor in 1839 and had several children. Edith Carey, however, throws rather a different light on him, enigmatically noting: 'Margaret Taylor, of Cliftonville, Staffordshire, was a great heiress; her father would not allow it and [Gaspard] disguised himself as a pedlar'.6 A watercolourist like his father, painting well-known views of Bermuda in particular, he died in London in 1874.
The Priaulx Library has some of the letters that his father, Major-General Le Marchant, wrote from Spain to his daughter, Katherine (1796-1881), during the Peninsular War. Her grandaughter says of her in a letter that she was like a mother to the younger children. She went on to marry a parson, Thomas Lewis Fanshawe,7 and lived in Essex. Gaspard took great care over her education at Mrs de Minibus’ establishment, especially her musical education, and the end of his last letter to her, written on 5 July 1812, about two weeks before his death at Salamanca, reads thus:
Beauty, education and money, are separately capable of obtaining an advantageous marriage. As you have not the money, nor the beauty, your whole reliance is on an excellent education. I have said all this before, but I am not mindful of the trouble that I take to render you, my dear Katherine, everything that is perfect.
God bless you, my dear girl. I often think of you in my busiest moments. Looking forward to the pleasures of our meeting. Believing me the ever most affectionate father J G Le Marchant.
Guernsey, and this family in particular, has a long and honourable history of service. As just one example, Gaspard’s great-grandson, Captain Gaspard de Coligny Le Marchant of the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers, was killed in action at Boschbult, Kleinhardt's River, March 31st, 1902, during the Boer War. Born in Guernsey in 1879 and educated at Elizabeth College, he was the only son of Seymour Le Marchant (son of Lieut.-Gen. John Gaspard Jnr). He went to South Africa from Malta with the Mounted Infantry in December of 1901, and was severely wounded at Klip River, on February 12th 1902. He was sent to Elandsfontein Hospital, and at his urgent request was allowed on March 24th to return to duty, only to die seven days later. A biography and photograph of another military member of the family, Gaspard Le Marchant Tupper of the Royal Artillery (born in Guernsey and educated at Elizabeth College, the son of Gaspard’s daughter Anna Maria), may be found here. He was also a watercolorist who is known for his views of such places as Bermuda, the Crimea, and Puerto Rico; the Library has photographs of him and his brothers, who were also in the army, one of whom appears to have exhibited at the Royal Academy.
If you would like further information please contact a librarian.
*The Hirzel family were related to the aristocratic wife of the Comte Louis D'Ollon, Lieutenant-Governor of the island 1735-1745, and the ladies would stay with them in Guernsey. Margaret Hirzel inherited her fortune. Duncan, in his 1841 History of Guernsey, p. 604, describes Le Marchant's immediate ancestors thus:
Thomas Le Marchant, of Le Marchant manor, a younger branch of the L'Hyvreuse family, and lieutenant-bailiff of the island, in the reign of George II, married first, Catherine Mauger, of the same family with the wife of the Protector, Richard Cromwell; by her he had issue two sons, Thomas and John. He married secondly Madamoiselle Hirzel, a French Protestant lady, of the noble family of St Gratien, near Amiens, in Picardy, and the heiress of Lewis, Count D'Olon, the Lieutenant-Governor of the island; by her he had no issue. His eldest son, Thomas, the colonel of the west regiment of militia, was perhaps the most accomplished Guernsey gentleman of the day. He passed many years in Italy and Germany, and was eminent for his taste in literature and the fine arts. He commenced a history of the island, for which he had collected materials in Normandy, but unfortunately not having the perseverance requisite for such a work, it was never finished. He married Miss Fiott, and died without issue, at an advanced age, in Exeter, in 1816.
John, the second son, was educated at Pembroke College, Oxford, but he left the university without a degree, upon obtaining a cornetcy in the 7th dragoons, with which regiment he served the last three campaigns of the seven years' war, in the army of Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick. He retired on half-pay upon the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, when he married Maria Hirzel, of St Gratien, the eldest daughter of the count of St Gratien, a marechal-de-camp of the Swiss guards, in the service of France, the niece and eventually the heiress of his step-mother. He died at Bath, leaving two sons.
1 In a note to his History of Guernsey, p. 364, F. B. Tupper says of John Carey,
The author well remembers, about the year 1804, a gentleman of an ancient Guernsey family residing in his own house in High Street, St Peter-Port, in which house he usually sat in a small front parlour, with a sanded floor and little furniture; and yet he was a jurat, and the second richest man in the island, if not the first.
John Carey was not very keen on the match at first, according to Denis Le Marchant's memoirs of his father. The Careys and Le Marchants seem to have owned adjacent properties in High Street; John Le Marchant's townhouse in St Peter Port is thought to have been demolished when High Street was widened. There is a reference to it in the Library's Notebook of Peter Mollet: 'In 1781 John Carey rented a house to Nicolas, son of Guillaume Le Lièvre and Marie Mourant. The house stood in the High Street to the south of a house belonging to the heirs of Pierre Le Pelley and a house belonging to Josue Slèque and Matthew Pitton, and to the north of a house belonging to John Le Marchant, son of Thomas.' Lukis in his MSS transcribed by Col. De Guérin and from there by Edith Carey, wrote (I p. 77):
There were several mansions in the High Street which were then occupied by our first families; the Sausmarez's had the two granite built houses, now the Guernsey Banking Co. and J. Carré's, Linen Draper, Bonamy Dobrée was the next coming up the High Street, John Carey followed, while on the other side were the De Beauvoirs, Brocks and others.
2 Thoumine, R. H., Scientific Soldier, A Life of General Le Marchant, OUP, London, 1968, p. 8. See also Owl Pie: Camberley Staff College, 1925, passim; Cannon's History of the 7th (Queen's Own) Hussars, Vol. II; Cole's Penisular Generals: London, 1856. Le Marchant died during the Battle of Los Arapiles, part of the larger conflict at Salamanca. In a letter dated 15th August 1812, Anne Dobrée wrote:
We have been impatient for further accounts from Salamanca, a report having prevailed that there had been an action there with great slaughter on the side of the enemy and very little loss on ours. Its authenticity is very much doubted, still it is an anxious state for those who have friends there, and there are no less than twelve Guernseymen. [Dobrée-Mann letters, in the Library.]
3 Duncan, Jonathan, The history of Guernsey; with occasional notices of Jersey, Alderney, and Sark, and biographical sketches (1841), Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, pp. 610-11.
4 The third family, the Le Marchants, made their home at Chobham Place, although they also had large properties in Norfolk. They were a military family and were responsible for the building of Sandhurst at Camberley. The great Duke of Wellington was a frequent visitor to Chobham Place and was godfather to one of the Le Marchant boys. He too was involved in land and property speculating in Chobham. The last of the family to live in Chobham died in 1954; the contents of the mansion were then auctioned on the premises and included among the sale items was a doll’s house replica of Chobham Place. It was made for two little Le Marchant girls and with it was a letter to them written by the aunt who had commissioned the doll’s house. In the letter she asks them how the news of 'the Great Victory', Waterloo, was celebrated in Chobham. How nice it would have been to have had their reply. [This excerpt contains errors as Denis did not acquire the estate until 1840, but the detail is interesting.] There is more information about Eliza Smith and her family here. Denis' nephew Gaspard Le Marchant Tupper married a younger member of the same family.
5 Undated letter from the New York Times; excerpts from Acadia; or a Month with the Blue Noses, by Frederic S. Cozzens; Derby & Jackson, New York, 1859, which refers to him several times. Although a reformer at heart like his father, his behaviour in Canada became controversial when, following orders, he tried to recruit US soldiers from over the border. Book of Orders of the Anglo-Spanish Legion: a recently acquired item in the Library, signed throughout by Le Marchant, 1846.
6 From a note by Edith Carey on the family of James Le Marchant. Of Gaspard Jr.'s children, Emily Idonea Sophia Le Marchant married William Romilly, 2nd Baron Romilly, son of Sir John Romilly, 1st Baron Romilly and Caroline Charlotte Otter, on 9 February 1865. She gave birth to a son, John Gaspard le Marchant Romilly, 3rd Baron Romilly (1.2.1866-23.6.1905), but died shortly after. In 1872 William remarried, to Emily's cousin, Katherine Le Marchant's granddaughter Helen Denison.
7 Vicar of Dagenham, where the Fanshawes had their family seat. Their son Thomas married Emily Gosselin of Kent, and two of their children went on to marry back into the Carey family of Guernsey.
Other items of interest:
- Le Marchant, Denis, Memoirs of the Late Major General Le Marchant, Spellmount Ltd, Staplehurst, 1997 (reprint
- Le Marchant papers and family trees at the Priaulx Library
- J. Gaspard Le Marchant and others, Peninsular Letters: Letters to Katherine Le Marchant, 1811-1812, original documents, Priaulx Library. Most of Gaspard's letters are kept at Sandhurst.
- Boyes, Michael, Dying for Glory: The adventurous lives of five Cotswold brothers, Chichester, Phillimore, 2006; by the same author, A Victorian rector and nine old maids: 100 years of Cotswold village life, Chichester, Phillimore, 2005 (two books about 19/20th-century Le Marchants: both available at the Library)
- The fort at St-Jean-de-Luz.
- A snippet about Gaspard Le Marchant Tupper. The Priaulx Library holds another original copy of his photograph.
- The Library recently received a very kind donation of a catalogue of his Bermuda watercolours.
- Information and illustration of a 1838 licence from Queen Victoria issued to Lt-Gen. J. Gaspard Le Marchant.