'A kindness I never, never can forget'
A memoir of the late Colonel Havilland Le Mesurier. From the Gentleman's Magazine of 1814.
Colonel Havilland Le Mesurier was of a family which had been settled in the island of Guernsey from a very early period; as far back indeed as any authentic records can be traced. The branch to which he belonged has now for more than a century enjoyed the government and lordship of the neighbouring Island of Alderney, which came to them by intermarriage with a niece of Sir Edmund Andros, to whom a grant of the Island for a term of ninety-nine years had been made by Charles the Second. John Le Mesurier, son of John the husband of Anne Andros, in the early part of his present Majesty's reign, having surrendered the existing Patent, obtained a new Grant for ninety-nine years, which is now possessed by another John, his grandson and heir.
Havilland Le Mesurier, the father of the Colonel, was a younger son of that John by whom the Patent was renewed, and is well known by the ability and integrity with which he discharged the office of Commissary-general in the North of Germany, in the years 1795 and 1796; and afterwards in the year 1798, in the Southern department of England; and lastly, in the years 1801 and 1802 in Egypt and the Mediterranean. In all these services he secured, in a very peculiar manner, the esteem and the confidence of the Officers under whom and with whom he served; for the strict economy and order which he kept up in his department (and by which very large sums were saved to the Government,) never interfered with, but rather promoted the regular and plentiful supply of every necessary to the troops whom be had in charge. How this was effected, he has detailed in his two Tracts: 1st, The British Commissary, compiled at the suggestion of General Sir David Dundas; and, 2dly, Two Letters to the Commissioners of Military Enquiry, published towards the close of the year 1805: and is further to be seen in the Report made by those Commissioners, and ordered by the House of Commons to be printed on the 12th of May, 1812. He was enabled the better to do this, probably, by that portion of military spirit which was in him combined with great mercantile knowledge and talents. The former was imbibed by his Son, the subject of this article, in a greater degree than the Father wished: for he had been educated with a view to being a partner in his Father's house of Trade, and for that purpose, after being at school at Salisbury, and afterwards at Westminster, had been taken away somewhat early, in order to be made useful in the business. For this purpose also, towards the autumn of the year 1800, being then 17 years of age, he was sent to Berlin, to a friend of his Father's, in order that he might learn the German language, and acquire such other information as might enable him the better to cultivate foreign connexions. This had, however, quite a contrary effect; for the sight of the grand reviews, and all the military pomp which was kept up at that court, bad such an effect upon the young man, that he could no longer refrain, but wrote to his Father, earnestly entreating to be allowed to enter into the Army; for which, he said, he had always felt the strongest disposition, but had checked himself, in deference to what he knew had been planned out for him. There were circumstances which so decidely proved the truth of this statement, that his parents, though with the greatest reluctance, acceded to his wishes; the more readily, however, from the confidence which his Father entertained that the claims which he had established in the course of his service would enable him to procure advancement for his Son: nor was he disappointed in this; for in January 1801, an Ensign's commission in the Staff Corps was obtained for him: this, however, as soon as the destination of Sir Ralph Abercrombie's Expedition was ascertained, he quitted for a Lieutenancy purchased for him in the 20th regiment of foot; and be lost no time in embarking in a Merchant-ship, in the hopes of immediately seeing actual service in the face of an Enemy; which, however, did not happen on account of the Peace: and his Father having not long after followed him in consequence of his appointment to the Commissariat upon the death of Mr. Motz, they returned together towards the close of the year 1802, travelling by land through Piedmont and France.
At Turin he met with a remarkable expression of that hatred of the French, which their cruelties and oppression could not but excite wherever they bad passed. Being in the inn-yard while post-horses were procuring, he fell into conversation with a Piedmontese gentleman and a French officer; when the latter observed, that he was surprized ait their travelling so unattended (having only one servant) when there were such assemblages of banditti overrunning the country! The Piedmontese upon that said, "That it was unnecessary; that that uniform (the English) was quite a sufficient protection; that indeed for the French it was not safe to venture abroad without being well escorted, but that the English might go any where without fear of molestation."
The company to which Lieut. Le Mesurier belonged, having been recruited from the Militia, was reduced at the Peace; but His Royal Highness the Commander in Chief immediately transferred him to the 83rd regiment on full pay; where he served till the month of August in the year 1803, when he was admitted into the College at High Wycombe, where be soon distinguished himself by his application and talents. In consequence, he, together with Mr., afterwards Captain, Bradford, a fellow-collegian and friend of his, obtained leave to travel, for the purpose of perfecting himself in the German language, and getting an insight into foreign tactics. They were advised to fix at Kiel, in Holstein, where they remained during the Winter; and there he received great pleasure from being asked by a Danish General Officer, whether he was related to the Author of The British Commissary; of which book he spoke in high terms. He returned in the beginning of March 1804, with an impression on his mind of the character of the Danes, which may not be uninteresting at this moment. 'I saw abundantly sufficient,'' he says in one of his letters, 'to convince me that the Danes have no idea of religious principle, and have therefore (as may readily be conceived) no reason to plume themselves on their moral practice. A most selfish, interested, envious race, I believe I may without injustice or uncharitableness generally name them; though among the subjects of Denmark I would make an exception in favour of the Norwegians, who, as far as I can judge, are a frank, liberal, unadulterated people.' In the summer following he passed his final examination at High Wycombe, with the greatest credit, being highly complimented by the Board, and further told that they 'should press on the consideration of the Supreme Board his perfect competency to the discharge of the duties of Assistant Quarter-master general.'
Having in the month of September obtained a Captain's commission in the 21st regiment, he soon after joined his corps, then in Ireland, where he remained until the month of March following; when, being summoned to London on account of the sudden and much-lamented death of his father, General Brownrigg, in pursuance of a promise made to the deceased, gave him an appointment as Assistant Quartermaster-general; and he served on the coasts of Kent and Sussex, making surveys and discharging the other duties of that office, until the end of the year 1807; when, it being stated that the regiment wanted officers, he was ordered to join, carrying with him, however, the most perfect approbation of his services from the Quartermaster-general. Here he remained only a short time, having, through the interest of Sir James Saumarez with the Adjutant-general, been appointed on the Staff of that department in the expedition which sailed under Sir John Moore for Sweden. With it he returned, and proceeded to Portugal in the same capacity. And here, on his first approaching the coast of the Peninsula, he was greeted with the unwelcome news of the death of his friend Captain Bradford. Of this he spoke as a soldier should do: 'I am,' he writes, 'much less affected by his loss, than if it had taken place under other circumstances. If it be God's pleasure that I fall in the course of my present service, I could certainly wish to meet my fate at the close of some great day, which should stamp lasting glory on the British arms. But I have gayer hopes, and look forward to a happy reunion with the dear Friends I have left behind.' He did, indeed, once again meet those Friends—but it was only to return to a service where he should meet that fate which he had thus marked out for himself!
During the campaign he neglected no means to acquire both the Portuguese and Spanish languages, in which he finally succeeded; but he mentioned, as a proof (among others) of the bigotry of the Spaniards, and their aversion to the Heretics who were fighting their battles, that when in Salamanca, a University where there must have been many poor Scholars, he could not procure a single one to give him lessons on any terms. At the battle of Lugo he had some very narrow escapes, and at Corunna had his horse shot under him. Upon his return to England with the troops, he made some efforts to purchase a Majority, but was diverted from this by the prospect of procuring a nomination among the officers who were to be sent out with General Beresford to discipline the Portuguese troops. This appointment, however, only followed him to the Peninsula, for which he embarked in the middle of April 1809; still as Captain, on the Staff in the Quartermaster-general's department. His Majority is dated April 20th; and it carried with it the further step of a Lieutenant- colonelcy in the Portuguese service.
He had now attained that first great step, to which every military man looks up, as materially altering his situation. He might now indulge the hope, that in the command of a corps he should soon secure to himself that distinction which is desired by all, and by none, perhaps, more than it was by him. Nor was it long before that hope was realized. At first, indeed, he had considerable difficulties, and much that was unpleasant, to encounter. He was attached to the 14th Portuguese regiment, as supernumerary, and so was little more than a cypher. They were left, after the French had retreated, at Chaves, in most miserable quarters. In this town, 'not a fowl, or an ounce of flesh-meat except pork, not a grain of tea, coffee, or chocolate, was to be had at any rate; and even bacon, salt fish, and vegetables, were at such a price, that few officers could purchase them:' even fruit (this was on the 29th of May) could hardly be procured. He had no Englishman within fifty miles, except his servant and two or three sick soldiers; so that his only intercourse was with the officers of his regiment, who were naturally jealous of him. In this interval, it being thought of importance to ascertain the position and motions of the French, he offered himself to Gen. Silveira, and was sent by him into Galicia on a mission to the Marquis Romagna, who received him with great distinction, and proposed, through him, a plan of attack on the Enemy by the joint forces of the Spaniards and Portuguese. This, however, could not be carried into execution, as Silveira had the most positive orders not to pass the frontier.
Having now been promoted to the Lieut.-colonelcy of the regiment, and the Colonel (who was old and inefficient) being called away on the 23rd of July, so that he was left commanding officer; he set about the disciplining of the corps in good earnest. It was in a wretched state in every respect; the officers old, and stiff, and stupid for the most part, and of the men from 200 to 400 on the sicklist. The general hospital was in such a dreadful state, that the men concealed their complaints, that they might not be sent there. With great difficulty he established a regimental hospital; and, with the help of a very intelligent Adjutant, who, he said, had more of the Englishman in him than any Portuguese be ever met with, he soon made considerable progress; so much so, that, when inspected by Major-Gen. Hamilton on the 21st of October, at Torres Novas, and by Marshal Beresford on the 23d of December, he received the most flattering marks of approbation; the Marshal assuring him that the brigade (for the 13th regiment had also been put under his command) was in no respect inferior to any that he had seen, and directed him to issue a Brigade-order to that effect. He was further charged with making the promotion for both regiments; which sufficiently shewed the very great confidence reposed in him by the Marshal: it extended to one Lieutenant-Colonel, 2 Majors, 11 Captains, and 16 Ensigns,—an extent of patronage at which he himself seemed astonished; particularly as he had before been allowed to name 1 Major, 4 Captains, 4 Lieutenants, and 1 Ensign, in his own regiment. Indeed, his merit cannot be sufficiently estimated without adding the circumstance, that he alone, of all the Commanders of Portuguese corps, had not, up to that time, had the assistance of any one (even non-commissioned) British officer. In the 13th regt. there was only one Captain, by whom indeed he was perfectly well seconded. In fact, he had very early, or rather from the very beginning, discovered the good qualities of the Portuguese, and declared his persuasion that they would make, as they have turned out to be, excellent soldiers. He had by this time gained the confidence and affection of both officers and men, and went on improving them, until, in the judgment of the General Officers who reviewed them, they were become equal in appearance to most British regiments.
Towards the end of April 1811, he was recommended by Marshal Beresford to be Portuguese Military Secretary to Lord Wellington, and arrived at headquarters the day before the battle of Fuentes de Onor. Here he found himself suddenly in the charge made by General Stewart with the 14th dragoons; and afterwards, perceiving the 7th Portuguese regiment, which had been ordered to cover Gen. Houston's retreat, without a field officer, he dismounted, and took the command of the left wing; and, having taken post in a rocky ground, maintained himself as long as was necessary, losing 8 or 10 out of 80 men, and having his arm grazed by a musket-ball. Some time after this, being rather disappointed as to the nature of the situation in which he was placed, he solicited, and, after some delay obtained, leave to return to his regiment; which he did towards the end of June. He found it a prey to internal animosities and dissentions owing to his successor's having been transported into some acts of violence by the ill-conduct of certain of the Portuguese officers, which had set them and the British at variance. By Col. Le Mesurier, however, harmony and order were quickly restored, and all parties reconciled. He had felt some apprehension lest his quitting Lord Wellington should have operated unfavourably for him in respect of his promotion in our service; but he was relieved from it by his commission of British Lieut.-colonel coming out on the 3rd of October. This was followed by his being selected, in the middle of March following, to command the Fortress of Almeida, at a time when Marmont's movements in the North excited considerable alarm for the safely of that place. On this occasion he received the most flattering compliments from Lord Wellington, as well as from Sir Thos. Graham and Sir Rowland Hill: and his Lordship further promised to recommend for an Ensigncy a younger brother of his, who had lately come out as a Clerk in the Commissariat, but who had been prevailed upon by him to throw it in and follow a military life, and whom he took with him. No time was lost, immediately on his arrival, in repairing the fortifications, and disciplining the garrison, which consisted of new-raised Militia. But, so completely had the place been dismantled, and so insufficient was this handful of raw troops for any serious defence, that, upon Marmont’s appearing before it, every one gave it up as lost. He, however, shewed such a countenance, having prevailed upon his men to accompany him in two sallies, and skirmish with some of the more advanced troops, that the Enemy gave him credit for being stronger than he was, and desisted from any attempt upon the place.
The manner in which he proceeded from that time in repairing the fortifications, disciplining the garrison, and discharging all his other duties, drew repeated commendations from Lord Wellington and Sir Wm. Beresford. He was equally beloved by the Inhabitants of Almeida, as by the troops. But all this did not satisfy him. He was impatient under this state of comparative inaction, and anxiously longed to share "the dangers, the toils, and the honours of his companions” in the field. In an evil hour, as his friends must consider it, his repeated solicitations to return to regimental duty prevailed; and he was appointed on the 18th of May to the command of the 12th Portuguese regiment, which he soon after joined; and which he found even superior to his own beloved 14th. By them indeed he was still beloved, for it happened that in their line of march the two corps met; and as he passed the column on horseback, the cheering was universal, and seemed, as he said, 'really enthusiastic.' He spoke of it with great feeling. Indeed, he had laboured hard to retain his situation in that corps, of which he always spoke with great affection.
Some time after, he joined the main army at the Pyrenees, where he was destined to meet that death which he appeared so bent to encounter. Only a few days before the battle, he obtained that step in the Portuguese service which be had for some time expected, being made full Colonel; but, of the 12th or the 14th, he had not ascertained, He writes, that between the two his expectations were balanced; and not only his expectations, but his hopes; for, indeed, the 12th had taught him that there might be even better soldiers than his favourite Algarvians.—'In the world,' he adds, 'there are not such soldiers as the Portuguese: an opinion which is every day gaining proselytes.' This letter, bowever, dated on the 25th of July, bore evident marks of a depression of spirits. He had lately been treated somewhat harshly in a discussion, where had laboured to obtain justice for his men, who had not been duly served with their rations; and he had just received the account of a failure in his endeavours to obtain some advantage for that Brother whom he had induced to enter the Army, and who had lost his right arm by a cannon-shot at the Battle of Salamanca. He shewed himself greatly hurt at this, and concludes with saying, "Some persons suppose, from the cessation of firing, that St. Sebastian has surrendered. If the siege continues, I shall endeavour to obtain leave to visit the trenches. I never was in a finer humour to volunteer a storming-party, as, if I succeeded, I should perhaps be able to carry my Brother's point; and really, to carry it, I would give not only the chance of life, but perhaps life itself." He concludes by wishing that the Friend to whom he writes may be happier than he was.
These and many other circumstances have made his death peculiarly affecting to his near connexions and friends. They would almost justify the idea that he had thrown away his life: but the fact does not warrant any such surmise. His corps had scarcely entered into action on the 28th of July, when a musket-shot penetrated the back part of his head (or his temples, according to some accounts) and passed out at his eye, and he fell senseless; nor did he ever afterwards utter a word, or show that he was sensible, though he lived till the 31st. By some strange chance, he was stated in the Gazette only simply as wounded; so that his friends were tantalized for more than three weeks before they obtained certain accounts of his fate.
When to the above particulars is added that he was little more than thirty years of age when he died, it will not be thought exaggeration to say, that Colonel Le Mesurier was an officer of uncommon promise, and superior military talents and acquirements. His zeal for the service was unbounded; there was no fatigue or privation or danger to which he did not cheerfully submit. His attention to his men was unceasing. A strict disciplinarian, he felt himself bound, even on that account, to study particularly the interests and the comforts of those whom he commanded. They had, therefore, every indulgence which was compatible with discipline; and this made them both orderly and contented. But his views extended to every thing connected with the service. At Almeida, he, in the first instance, planted potatoes sufficient to feed 2500 men for three months; and suggested and carried through a plan by which, on Government account and on Government ground, more corn would be raised within range of the garrison guns than would be sufficient for the maintenance of the garrison. His constitution was not a good one, and he was subject to almost continued fevers and agues when in the Peninsula; but he never complained, nor mentioned them but as they might interfere with his duty, which, however, he never suffered them to do materially. The impetuosity of his temper, which certainly was great, never troubled him, or anyone else, but when he was in a slate of inaction, either real or fancied. When employed, he was ever cool and collected. In him there was neither selfishness nor concealment. There was never a being more honourable or high-spirited and generous; more kind-hearted or liberal. Warm as he was in his temper, he harboured no resentment, even against those who, he thought, had dealt most hardly with him: and he expressed himself very strongly to that effect in one of his last letters: 'a kindness,' he adds, 'I never, never can forget.' To all this Marshal Beresford bore testimony in his General Orders of August 11: 'The death of Colonel Havilland Le Mesurier,' he says, 'will be felt by the service, as well as by all who enjoyed his acquaintance.' Indeed, that such a man should be deeply regretted by his friends, cannot be wondered at. But the same Almighty power which deprived them of him, will vouchsafe them humble and dutiful submission to his decrees. His will be done!
Colonel le Mesurier, in the year 1809, published a Translation of La Trille's Art of War, with Notes; which has great merit. He was also employed by Marshal Beresford to draw up regulations and instructions for the Portuguese army, which only waited for the Marshal's final sanction to be put to the press.