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An Account of His Majesty’s De Meuron Regiment Chapter 4: How to Buy a Regiment 1795

An Account of His Majesty’s De Meuron Regiment Chapter 4: How to Buy a Regiment 1795

An Account of His Majesty’s De Meuron Regiment 1795-1816

Chapter 4: How to Buy a Regiment 1795

Hugh Cleghorn 1752-1837 (courtesy of The Times of Malta)

 

Hugh Cleghorn, the unlikely but significant actor and intermediary in the drama that was to unfold in Ceylon, who had previously travelled widely in Europe including Switzerland, was not simply the 42 years old former professor at a Scottish university and government servant, but also enjoyed the status of clandestine spy working for the British. He had carried out a number of commissions for Dundas, though it was not until 1793 that he was officially established as a government servant and resigned his position at St. Andrews.

Whilst travelling widely in Europe, in 1788 he first became acquainted with Count Charles de Meuron. Together with Alexander, Lord Home, he had travelled to Charles de Meuron’s home at Neuchâtel, Switzerland and established a friendship with the proprietary Colonel of the Regiment Meuron.

Taking advantage of this friendship with de Meuron, his acquaintanceship with the ‘British political establishment’ and the possibility of some personal gain, Cleghorn utilised his network of useful friends in government. Through the offices of a fellow Scot, Alexander Wedderburn 1st Lord Loughborough, the Lord Chancellor, he met with Henry Dundas on 14th February 1795, presenting him with a written proposal to visit his friend Charles de Meuron in Switzerland, and suggest an arrangement that would transfer the Regiment Meuron to the British service. The document and correspondence is of a prolixity and verbosity only a Georgian academic could deploy, but merits inclusion for the extraordinary circumstances that flowed from it.

The advantages which Great Britain might, at present derive from detaching the Swiss Regiment de Meuron from the service of the Dutch East India Company would be most important in these consequences and perhaps not attended with much difficulty in the execution.

That regiment though raised in Switzerland is not under the control of any of the Contors (Cantons), the Colonel, Count de Meuron is the Proprietor of it and by an agreement with him it may be transferred to the British Establishment in India or act there under orders from the Stadtholder without the Governing powers of Switzerland having a right or even a pretext to interfere.

This regiment has been quartered – since peace in the Island of Ceylon, and consisted according to the last returns, which I saw in the month of November 1791 of 1,200 men and there are several pieces of cannon attached to it, with a company of 100 matrosses.[1] It is well officered, disciplined, and has long been accustomed to the climate of the islands of India. It is the chief European force of the Dutch on the other side of the Cape and the Force on which they chiefly rely for maintaining the possession of the important island of Ceylon.

Whether Britain shall be under the necessity of declaring war against Holland or whether she may be only induced to seize the Dutch possessions of the Stadholder, the advantage which must arise from detaching this regiment from the service of the Republic or the East India Company are equally obvious.

The probability of succeeding in detaching it is the principal object of attention, and the subject concerning which, His Majesty’s Ministers will naturally expect the fullest information.

From a long correspondence to Compte de Meuron on this subject, and from the most confidential conversations with him I am able to satisfy His Majesty’s Ministers that he is disgusted with the treatment which he has received from the Dutch government and India company, I may venture to affirm that there is a great possibility of attaching him and his regiment to the English Service, providing negotiation is begun with him and is carried on with secrecy and despatch.

I am possessed of letters from the Colonel which show the causes of his discontent, and evince how strongly both he and his regiment are employed against the company on account of their conduct towards them and how anxious they were in 1792 of being employed in the British service.

Considering therefore the late change in the government of Holland, and the ruined state of their India company, I am induced to believe that he will not be unwilling to embrace the present opportunity of detaching his regiment entirely from the service or, if agreeable to His Majesty’s Ministers, to employ it in conjunction with them for the preservation or establishment of the power of the Stadtholder in India.

If this measure can be accomplished the Island of Ceylon, with its fort, and harbour of Trincomalee must fall without a blow and as the whole European force in the Dutch settlement is, and (from the infamous manner in which the Dutch troops levied in Holland are raised) must be, extremely discontented with that service it is not presuming too much to suppose that the whole of it may led to follow any example which this Swiss Regiment may set.

The Colonel Commandant now with the regiment is brother to Compte de Meuron, the Major is his near relation and all the officers are either connected with by blood, or owe their situation to his friendship. His influences with them must therefore be great, and will powerfully second those measures which feeling of their own injuries may naturally determine them to adopt.

The regiment also served the whole last war at the Cape under the command of the Compte, who is a good engineer, and all the officers of any rank, from having been long in Garrison they must be well acquainted with the strength of the settlement, and might be of much use if any expedition should be undertaken from India against it.

If Mr. Dundas approves of the idea of endeavouring to detach this regiment from the service of the present Dutch government in India, I would presume to suggest  that some person whom he may honour with his confidence, and who already possesses of the confidence of Colonel de Meuron should immediately be sent to Switzerland where the Colonel at present resides and endeavour to prevail on him either come directly to the country to fix arrangements and receive instructions from His Majesty’s Ministers and the Stadtholder, or if it shall be deemed more expedient for the public service that the Colonel should set off  directly from Switzerland by land to India, in that case the person entrusted with the negotiations might be further empowered to settle the necessary measures with him in the country where he now resides.[2]

Hugh Cleghorn

Berners Street

14th February 1795

On 17th February 1795, a mere three days later, indicating that in reality this matter had been under consideration for some time, Dundas, supposedly having consulted King George III, authorised Cleghorn in writing, to carry out the negotiation, a copy of which was forwarded to Major General Sir Robert Abercromby.[3]

Sir, I have submitted to His Majesty’s consideration, the papers which I received from you respecting the Regiment De Meuron, now employed in the Island of Ceylon, and I have in consequence been directed to authorise you to proceed to Switzerland, where you are to open a negotiation with the Count de Meuron for engaging the services of that regiment on the terms you have proposed.

Dundas urged Cleghorn to use his utmost influence to persuade the Count de Meuron to bring the matter to ‘a conclusion immediately,’ by travelling to India, take command of his regiment for a short time and for Cleghorn to accompany him. He also enclosed a letter of credit in the sum of £1,600 drawn upon the bankers Herries & Co.[4] to cover expenses, a letter to the Government of Madras confirming to the Governor, Lord Hobart, the importance of Cleghorn’s mission and requiring that his government provide assistance and co-operation. It is suggested that Hobart may have housed reservations about the employment of mercenaries, particularly of French officers in the princely states, but nevertheless materially assisted in arranging the Swiss regiment’s transfer.[5]

In a second letter marked ‘Secret’ to Cleghorn dated 17th February 1795, Dundas outlined:

Considerable sacrifice should be made rather any disappointment should arise and if upon a communication with the Compte any serious difficulty should be felt in engaging its services, you are authorised to offer him a handsome Douceur[6] to induce his acquiescence, but at the same time you will understand that no such concession is to be made until you shall find that your endeavours by every other means shall have failed. Consequence been directed to authorise you to proceed to Switzerland, where you are to open a negotiation with the Count de Meuron for engaging the services of that regiment on the terms you have proposed.

Dundas urged Cleghorn to use his utmost influence to persuade the Count de Meuron to bring the matter to ‘a conclusion immediately,’ by travelling to India, take command of his regiment for a short time and for Cleghorn to accompany him. He also enclosed a letter of credit in the sum of £1,600 drawn upon the bankers Herries & Co.[7] to cover expenses, a letter to the Government of Madras confirming to the Governor, Lord Hobart, the importance of Cleghorn’s mission and requiring that his government provide assistance and co-operation. It is suggested that Hobart may have housed reservations about the employment of mercenaries, particularly of French officers in the princely states, but nevertheless materially assisted in arranging the Swiss regiment’s transfer.[8]

Finally, Dundas had instructed the Lords of the Admiralty to arrange for a vessel to convey the two men from Livorno Italy, to facilitate part of their journey to India. Due to either time constraints or that Tuscany had left the coalition and declared itself neutral, that plan changed to a departure from Venice

At the same time Cleghorn had received a verbal assurance from Evan Nepean, Under Secretary for War, that £5,000 could be offered to the Charles de Meuron, for his travelling expenses, to assist the discussions, or prevent them failing and to ensure the transfer of the regiment, for a term of seven years.[11]

Cleghorn travelled from Yarmouth to Europe and wrote to Dundas on 31st March 1795 from Bern, stating that ‘the quickness of his progress ….surpassed that of the post.’ He had brought the negotiations to a ‘temporary conclusion’ and had sent a copy of the new agreement or capitulation by courier to London for approval by Dundas.[12] The document of 15 articles had been drawn up on 30th March 1795 at Neuchatel, signed by de Meuron, and Cleghorn with a ‘caption of true translation’ by a George Parry.

There had been obstacles over personal honour and conscience in persuading the Compte de Meuron, to forsake his current arrangement with the VOC. However, he was eventually re-assured by being shown a copy of the orders signed by the Stadtholder, to the Dutch Governor of Ceylon,…. ‘charging him to admit into the Colony such troops etc, sent there on the part of the troops of His Britannic Majesty and to look upon England as a Power in friendship and alliance that wishes to prevent the colony from being invaded by the French.’[13]

Apparently, the issues over honour and conscience were more easily overcome by Cleghorn than trying to persuade the Count de Meuron to travel with him to India and oversee the transfer of the Regiment Meuron to the British service. Dundas summed up the British position over issues of travel arrangements ‘these cannot for a moment be put in competition with the extreme importance in the present circumstances, of ensuring to this country the advantages of the services of the Compte de Meuron’s Regiment.’ The advantages were an oblique reference to what Dundas must have already been aware, that the British were only six months away from an invasion of Ceylon.

After some hesitation, Colonel Charles Daniel de Meuron, formally agreed to accompany Cleghorn to Ceylon and oversee the transfer, basing his decision on two factors; the recent changes of Dutch government whereby the former Dutch Republic had fallen, and after French intervention, Holland became the Batavian Republic, a puppet of revolutionary France. Furthermore the VOC or Dutch East India Company had failed to comply with the original contract with de Meuron relating to uniform, equipment, pay and arrears. In April 1795 Charles de Meuron wrote to all the officers of his regiment:

In consequence of the dissolution of the government with which I signed the Contract for the service of my regiment in 1781, I have taken the decision to withdraw it and to transfer it into the service of his British Majesty, who has given protection to the Stadtholder, the Prince of Orange, and who has guaranteed the preservation of the States-General established in 1787. I am advising you of this so that you may conduct yourselves accordingly. I am well acquainted with your principles and your loyalty and do not for an instant doubt that you will fulfil your duty, which this new situation imposes on you. At the same time, I order you to place yourselves and the troops under your command under the orders of the military and naval officers of His Britannic Majesty to whom you will in future owe allegiance.[14]

The letter was an extraordinary military document and there is little information about what discussions Henry Dundas had undertaken with the War Office at Horse Guards about these arrangements, although he had implied and de Meuron believed, he would receive government money to fully cover expenses, and a contribution towards his costs and the regimental arrears, on the condition that he accompanied Cleghorn to Ceylon.

The journey to India took five months with a stop at Alexandria and as a measure of the lengths to which Cleghorn and the British were prepared to take to secure Ceylon and the regiment, it was from here that Cleghorn on 10th June 1795, wrote a most extraordinary letter to George Baldwin, HM’s Britannic Consul in Egypt. It was to the effect that he was aware of certain Despatches intended for India, being carried by a Dutch vessel heading for the port at Alexandria which would be of interest ‘to His Majesty’s service.’ He suggested that the Dutch consul might be bribed to part with the Despatches, or if that ‘method cannot be employed, I at the same time request of you to use your abilities and knowledge of the country to cause the person he Despatches to India to be attacked, (but not murdered) his Despatches and letters to be seized, which you will forward to me.’ He further informs Baldwin that he cannot authorise more than £300 for this purpose. There is no further reference about whether this curious cloak and dagger letter achieved any result or whether Cleghorn received the Dutch Despatches he was so anxious to see.[15]

Cleghorn and de Meuron left Alexandria on 11th June travelling to Cairo, then by dhow to Jeddah where the intention was to catch a British fleet leaving for Madras. However, learning that the fleet had sailed ten days earlier, alternative arrangements were made for a journey by boat down the Red Sea on 8th August to Mocha, on to Aden and by 5th September 1795, they were in sight of the Malabar Coast of India. Shortly thereafter the two men landed at Tellicherry, Kerala and their arrival was announced to the President of the Madras Council on 13th September 1795, in which Cleghorn is described as the ‘Charge d’affaires in Suabia[16] (Swabia, a district in southwest Germany). The Dutch had occupied a portion of the Malabar Coastal area at Cochin from 1663 to 1774, when it was invaded by the Mysore forces of Tippoo Sultan. However, after Tippoo’s third defeat in 1792, Cochin was seized by forces of the East India Company, who agreed that the Dutch could retain the detachment of the Swiss Regiment Meuron, already stationed there, as a support to the British garrison.

By this stage of events, the British had invaded and established their forces in Ceylon, although this is not immediately mentioned by Cleghorn on 6th September 1795, when he wrote to Lieutenant Colonel George Petrie, commanding British forces before Cochin;

Sir, I have the honour to being entrusted by His Majesty with the execution of a service of great publick importance in India.

I am informed here that part of the garrison of Cochin consists of Swiss troops of the Regiment de Meuron. The enclosed capitulation will shew you and hope convince the regiment, that they are not under the orders of the present usurped government of Holland, but have the honour of serving under and constituting a part of His Majesty’s forces in India.

Their Colonel, Compte de Meuron, is now with me and we thought it expedient for the publick service to send his aide de camp, Captain Bolle, with the Colonel’s orders to the officer commanding the Swiss troops to put himself and his detachment under the command of the officer commanding the British forces before Cochin.

You may give perfect confidence to whatever Captain Bolle may communicate to you on the part of Compte de Meuron. And I have to request that the moment his services are no longer necessary at Cochin that you would despatch him to join Compte de Meuron and me at Ceylon, together with the troops now at Cochin, if they should fortunately obey the commands of their Colonel. Their presence in Ceylon may be useful, not merely as an additional force but may have much influence in persuading the regiment there in accepting the advantages held out to it by the present capitulation.

Captain Bolle is an experienced officer…..and he is entitled since March last to the pay and emoluments of an English Captain of Infantry…..

PS – it may be of essential service to the interests of His Majesty that a copy of the capitulation herewith enclosed be transmitted to the officer commanding British forces in Ceylon. You may be able to forward it to him before I arrive there.[17]

Accompanying the letter was a set of orders issued by Colonel Charles de Meuron, for Captain Jean Jacques Bolle,[18] outlining Bolle’s duty to communicate with the British commander at Cochin and the officer commanding the Regiment Meuron detachment, conveying to them that any existing oath of fidelity to the Dutch government was annulled and the Regiment Meuron was now part of the British forces in India.

There were also a number of letters confirming despatches that the Regiment Meuron had transferred to the British service. These were addressed to:

  1. Governor General in Council, forwarding copies of despatches brought by Mr. Cleghornfrom Europe regarding the transfer of the Count de Meuron’s Regiment to the British service and intimating the contemplated despatch of a second deputation to the Government of Colomboto ascertain their intentions…..[19]  
  2. Copies of a despatch from Hugh Cleghornrelevant to the transfer of the MeuronRegiment … Also a letter from Mr. Secretary Dundas, The Horse Guards on the subject and minutes.[20]
  3. Major General James Stuart, from Lord Hobart, the Governor of Madras, advising him of a deputation going to Ceylon and issuing an instruction to him for the reduction of the Forts at Batticaloa and Jaffna;

Sir, I think it necessary to acquaint you, without the loss of a moment, that I have this day received despatches from His Majesty’s Secretary of State that render it highly advisable to send a second deputation to the Government of Colombo. I shall employ Major Agnew on this service, who will be charged with a letter from this Government containing propositions similar to those communicated in my former letter to the Governor Van Angelbeek, in so far as they regard the possession that may be held at the time by the Dutch on the Island of Ceylon. It is therefore of the utmost importance that previous to the arrival of Major Agnew at Colombo the British Troops should be in possession of Batticaloa, Jaffnapatam and Manar. With regard to the first of these places I learn from your letter of the 13th instant, that you were then making preparations for sending a force against it—as to the second— I have to desire that you will lose no time in endeavouring to possess yourself of it ; and that you may have the means, I now despatch the Company Cruiser Swift, the schooner John and tomorrow His Majesty’s Sloop of War, commanded by Captain Page will follow for the same purpose—The Ordnance and Artillery requisite for this Service can be sent from Trinoomalee and such part of His Majesty’s 52nd Regiment as may be wanted can be drawn from Negapatam. I conceive that the three above mentioned vessels will be sufficient for their conveyance, but if you should be of a different opinion, you have my full authority to exercise your own discretion upon the subject. 1 rely upon your best exertions to accomplish this desirable object in time to prevent Jaffnapatam from being included in any negotiation between Mr. Van Angelbeek and Major Agnew. With respect to Manar I have sent orders to Lieutenant Colonel Campbell Commanding at Palmacota to employ such Force as he may judge necessary for its reduction; and he will be aided, by the two Bombay Cruizers, which are stationed at the Gulf of Manar. If Commodore Rainer should be at Trincomalee, on your receipt of this letter, I desire you will make the contents of it known to him, whose sanction to the measure as far as it relates to him, I have not the smallest doubt it will be cheerfully afforded. I have the honour to be etc, etc., etc.

Signed. HOBART.

Cleghorn wrote to Henry Dundas advising him of the strength of the Regiment Meuron, standing at 600 men at Colombo,  and detachments in India at Cochin, Tuticorin[21] and Madras amounting to over 200 men. Cleghorn also expressed the hope that the regiment would in a few months be at full complement of 1,200 and that Colonel Pierre F. de Meuron was acting as Chief Engineer and arranging for works to be carried at the fort at Colombo in case of siege.

In September 1795, after their arrival in India, Cleghorn and Charles de Meuron had been advised that not all Dutch forces had yet surrendered. Uncertain as to whether Pierre Frederick de Meuron, had received his letter explaining the change of allegiance that his brother Charles had sent to him in April, Lord Hobart despatched the Deputy Adjutant General, Major Alexander Patrick Agnew under a flag of truce to Colombo aboard HMS Heroine, with a copy of the letter. This was primarily to assist in persuading Angelbeek, the Dutch Governor, of the advantages of a capitulation under the terms of the Stadtholder’s agreement with the British and of the proposition regarding the Regiment Meuron. Governor Johan van Angelbeek, hitherto unaware of the suggested transfer of allegiance attempted to prevent Agnew from seeing or delivering the letter to Colonel Pierre de Meuron. Van Angelbeek’s efforts at obfuscation were too late, Colonel Pierre de Meuron had received his copy of the letter and was already aware of its full extent and the Stadtholder’s decision.[22]  Cleghorn, fully embracing his shadowy cloak and dagger role, had also sent the Colonel a personal gift, a large Edam cheese, in which was hidden yet another copy of the Stadtholder’s decision.

Once the British had invaded, Colonel Pierre de Meuron, had relatively few choices open to him; a futile resistance in the face of overwhelming odds, hardship with little glory, fighting for a bankrupt company and the new Batavian Republic, or service with the British under new arrangements and for him, an increase in rank. Whether he discussed the contents of his brother’s letter with his officers, or troops is unknown but the decision was made to accept the transfer on condition that the Regiment Meuron would never be deployed against Dutch troops. It is inconceivable that the Dutch officers of other military units in Ceylon did not become aware of the Regiment Meuron’s position at some stage, which may explain the disinclination of other Dutch troops to offer any major resistance and the rather half-hearted deployment of their forces.

On the morning of 13th October 1795, Colonel Pierre Frederic de Meuron accompanied by Major Agnew, visited the Governor and formally gave notice that he and his officers had accepted the document of capitulation and henceforth the Regiment Meuron would be part of His Majesty King George III’s forces.

The Governor made feeble threats about imprisoning the regiment, to which de Meuron and Agnew, responded that the Governor would do well to consider whether with the numbers of his garrison he could really pretend to confine 600 men as prisoners who were ready to fulfil the engagements of their new situation.[23] Discussions at a Council of War on that day 13th October, and ensuing days, resulted in a final document and proclamation, drawn up under the seal of the Dutch Governor, van Angelbeek, to the effect that the regiment was formally relieved from its oath to the Dutch East India Company and that the Colonel had acted at all times with honour.[24]

His Honour the Governor makes known to the Swiss Regiment Meuron that the Proprietary Colonel has transferred his regiment to His Britannic Majesty and that the Council of War had resolved to thank the regiment, to release it from its oath of allegiance and to embark it as speedily as possible for Tuticorin. It was further decided not to receive any men of the said regiment into the service of Honourable (VOC) Company.[25]

The regiment’s surrender document of 25 articles was drawn up and signed by Agnew and Van Angelbeek, and confirmed by General Stuart and Admiral Rainier.

The Swiss Regiment Meuron officially transferred allegiance on 31st October 1795 and left Ceylon for India in early November. However, the British still required some assistance from Colonel Pierre Frederick de Meuron in order to capture the fort at Colombo, still garrisoned by soldiers loyal to the Dutch government. A meeting was arranged between Captain Colin Mackenzie, a Madras Engineer and Colonel Pierre de Meuron at Trinchopoly, who supplied the necessary details on logistics, plans of Colombo and marine charts. Cleghorn reported to Lord Hobart, ‘… the Colonel is a very sound headed man and willing to give much information …there appears to be no nonsense or vanity in his character’. Colonel de Meuron also agreed to provide twelve men, under ‘an intelligent and English speaking sergeant’ from the regiment to act as guides for Mackenzie if necessary.[26]

On 14th February 1796 Major Patrick Agnew went to the Colombo fort with terms of surrender which the Dutch requested 24 hours to consider.

The Dutch garrison of 95 officers, 909 Dutch and European troops,1,840 Malays and Sepoys, 281 seamen, totalling 3,125 men, were not initially inclined to be accommodating;

On the 16th of February, at six o’clock in the morning, all the troops, in the thinking—with reason—that they were to be betrayed intended to revolt. Several shots were fired from the Rotterdam Quarter, where there were two companies of the Wurttemberg Regiment. Shots were fired also from many other parts of the Fort, and principally from the barracks of the Water-Gate, where the Malays and the Singhalese were stationed. These shots were all directed towards the house of Monsieur Van Angelbeek. At the same time, Captain Legrevisse, who had received orders to attend with his company at the Main Guard, received a counter-order that they were to surrender the fortress to the English, which was effected at 10 o’clock in the morning.  Colombo was given up, – the principal fortress of the Island of Ceylon. All the troops were so indignant against the Governor, that if the English Colonel had not sent him a detachment as safe-guard, the firing at his house and within the interior of the Fort, would not have ceased, and he would certainly have perished.[27]

Upon the British finally entering the fort it was found to be, ‘in a state of shameful disorder[28] and the talk of mutiny and discontent among the Dutch troops amounted to very little. Prize money was awarded to all British Army regiments, including the most recent one, and Naval forces that participated in the capture of Colombo and eventually confirmed for payment in 1802. The wording of the order states:

….the Field Officers, Officers and men of the following ships and regiments who were so present at the surrender of Colombo on 16 February 1796, that they will be paid their respective shares…. The Payment to those in India was to commence on the first Day of June inst, and it is to be particularly observed.

ARMY ENTITLED, His Majesty’s 52d Regiment, 72d ditto. 73d ditto 77th Ditto. Royal Artillery, Madras Engineers and Pioneers, Artificers attached to Engineers, Swiss Regiment de Meuron, Bombay Artillery, and Lascars, 1st Battalion Bengal Artillery, 1st and 2nd Battalion Coast Artillery and Gun Lascars Coast Artillery, 1st Battalion Native Infantry, Grenadier Battalion Native Infantry, 3d Battalion Native Infantry, 7th Battalion Native Infantry, 9th Battalion Native Infantry, 43d Battalion Native Infantry, 35th Battalion Native Infantry, 29th Company Bengal Gun Lascars, 30th Company Bengal Gun Lascars, Corps of Pioneers, Puckally and Watermen.[29]

John Jackson, Attorney to Admiral Lord Keith, K. B. Tod and Co. Attornies to General Stuart, His Majesty’s Trustees. 9, New Broad Street.[30]

All the VOC troops of Dutch nationality, 47 officers and 417 other ranks, embarked for Madras on 21st February 1796, together with 14 officers, and the majority of other ranks of the mercenary German Wurttemberg Regiment.[31] Three Dutch soldiers were discovered to be drunk in the fort on the day of departure.

A number of soldiers from the Regiment Meuron, taken prisoners of war at Trincomalee, were transported to Madras, and remained in custody until December 1795. Despite protests from Colonel de Meuron, 61 of these men were later enrolled in other British regiments.[32]

For a variety of reasons, principally issues raised by the Madras Government, the provisional document was revised and a second capitulation agreement of 17 articles signed at Fort George, Madras, on 2nd August 1796. At the time, the British signatories, Lord Hobart, Governor of Madras, Sir Alured Clarke, Commander in Chief at Madras, Edward Saunders, and Elijah Fallowfield, two members of the Madras Council, would have been under the impression that the Coastal Districts of Ceylon, formerly governed by the Dutch, were to become part of the British territories held and governed by the East India Company. This in the longer term proved not to be the case, though initially Coastal Ceylon was governed under joint control of the Crown and the East India Company, until Ceylon became a full Crown colony in December 1800. The assumptions about government were also held by the War Office, in a letter from William Huskisson, politician and Under-Secretary of State for War,[33] notifying Count Meuron, Charles-Daniel de Meuron, of Government approval for an additional £14,000, bringing the sums paid to the Count to £50,000 up to 1 January 1798. Huskisson added that Meuron would be obliged to maintain his regiment at a certain number of effective men during the ten years of its proposed engagement in the service of the East India Company.[34] (Author’s emphasis.)

The Regiment Meuron after leaving Ceylon in November 1795, travelled to India, disembarked at Tuticorin, on the Coromandel coast and underwent a permanent change in denomination to His Majesty’s De Meuron Regiment.

Eighty two soldiers of the former Regiment Meuron who refused to transfer to the British Service, 70 from the Galle Fort and 12 from Colombo, chiefly those of French nationality including a Lieutenant Sieur Deville, a former quartermaster, were described as ‘deserters,’ by the British, yet were allowed to take up positions offered in other Dutch forces.[35]

During the fourteen years of Dutch service, 2,277 non-commissioned officers and men of the Regiment Meuron had served under the VOC colours, 42 had been killed, 329 had died in hospital, 139 died at sea, 637 had been dismissed, 129 had deserted and 53 made prisoners of war. Of the 53 officers who had served, 12 were members of the de Meuron family.

Charles Daniel de Meuron was promoted to Major General and Pierre Frederic de Meuron to Colonel, both retrospective to 30th March 1795. Henry Dundas expressed his pleasure at the transfer, ‘the withdrawing the Regiment de Meuron from the Dutch service was one of the most essential circumstances which contributed to the conquest of Ceylon.’[36]

There were possibly two companies of the Regiment Meuron, stationed in Cochin on the Indian south coast, commanded by Captain J. G. Gradmann, but it is unclear how many men from Cochin transferred. Gradmann was told that he was prohibited from bearing arms against his new master, George III, and was to remain neutral. [37] Captain Jean Georges Gradmann remained with the regiment until his death at Vellore in 1796,[38] whilst his son, also Captain-Lieutenant Joseph G. Gradmann, had joined the regiment in 1787, fought in the 4th Anglo-Mysore War at Seringapatam in 1799, and resigned his commission in 1800.

A uniform of ‘drab,’ similar to khaki with blue facings and silver ornamentation, was temporarily issued to the regiment while awaiting arrival of uniforms which accorded with British regulation.

The British, having decided that the Cape Colony was an important strategic facility, ordered a force already en route to India, commanded by Major General Alured Clarke, to invade the Colony on 10th June 1795. Clarke interrupted his voyage at the Cape where the Dutch forces put up little resistance, capitulating at the battle of Wynberg on 16th September 1795.[39] Meanwhile it was confirmed that the small number of the Meuron Regiment’s officers and men could remain in post at the Cape Colony as a regimental depot as it was thought useful for the depot to be a staging post for officers and men travelling to Ceylon or India. The Commander of the Meuron Regiment Depot in 1795 was Captain Jean Zorn who remained at the Cape, until 1796 when he resigned his commission.[40] Captain Ulrich Kibourg and Second Surgeon A. Azerond, requested permission to remain at The Cape without pay and Lieutenant Louis Bove requested to stay after the regiment’s transfer to British service until his health permitted his travel to Europe or Ceylon. Of other ranks at the Cape, five were to travel as British prisoners of war back to Europe, five remained in hospital, five were absent without leave and 14 remained at the Cape without pay. After the British invasion, the remaining officers of the Regiment Meuron at the Cape resigned their commissions, except Ensign Louis F. Bosset and Lieutenant Bove, the latter remaining to command the depot after Zorn’s departure. The regimental depot was finally closed on 25th September 1798. Lieutenant Bove died at sea returning to Europe in April 1799 and Ensign Louis Bosset joined HM’s De Meuron Regiment in India, resigned his commission in 1807 and returned to Europe. The Cape Colony was returned to the Dutch in 1802, but the British invaded again in 1806, after which the colony remained under British rule until 1910.

Hugh Cleghorn, the Professor turned secret agent, received £5,000 for his role in the transfer of the regiment and later appointed Chief Secretary of Ceylon in 1798. His role within the Secret Service appears informal but his employment was confirmed in an affidavit signed by him at Westminster Hall, London, on May 12th 1803, in which he swears: ‘I have disbursed the money, entrusted to me for Foreign Secret Service, faithfully, according to the intent and purpose for which it was given, according to my best judgement, for His Majesty’s Service.’[41]

The change of allegiance in terms of exact detail, of what happened and when, has many variations and is particularly disputed by Dutch authorities and writers who assert that Van Angelbeek had committed treason by throwing himself on the protection of the British in order to gratify his new allies. A large number of Dutch officers remained loyal to the Stadtholder and left to serve abroad rather than serve the new Batavian Republic. A Dutch officer, C.F. Tombe or Thombe, recalled that the Governor Van Angelbeek, carried out many ‘suspicious acts’ as the British approached Colombo. Cited are numerous meetings of Angelbeek with the British, his conduct being too composed and that he hid his silver and plate once he had committed to the transfer.[42] Significantly Van Angelbeek, never returned to Holland, choosing to remain in Ceylon, where he committed suicide in 1799 and where James Cordiner, chaplain to the Colombo Garrison, attended his funeral.[43]  The same accusation of treachery was made against Charles Daniel de Meuron, but he defended himself on the grounds that he was not a Dutch national and the VOC had failed to fulfil their obligations under the initial contract.

[1]H. Yule & A. C. Burnell, Hobson Jobson, Anglo-Indian Colloquial Phrases, Matross, a term in India for a type or class of artilleryman between late 17th C until early 19th C.

[2] Journal Dutch Burgher Union April 1953, No.2 pp Vol XLIII p.55; Madras Record Office Military Conversations File, pp.3004-3008 September 1795.

[3] JSTOR The Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland Vol 9 No. I 1964. A letter to Major General Sir Robert Abercromby, Commander in Chief, India.

[4]  Acquired by Lloyds in 1893.

[5] C. Welsch, The Company’s Sword, The East India Company and the Politics of Militarism, 1644-1858, (Cambridge: CUP 2022) Chapter 3, p.93

[6] ‘Douceur,’ a sweetener or  bribe.

[7]  Acquired by Lloyds in 1893.

[8] C. Welsch, The Company’s Sword, The East India Company and the Politics of Militarism, 1644-1858, (Cambridge: CUP 2022) Chapter 3, p.93

[9] Douceur, lit. a sweetener or bribe.

[10] The Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland New Series, Vol. 9, No. 1 (1964), pp. 110-120 (11 pages) The Cleghorn Papers.

[11]  Cleghorn Papers, A Footnote to History, edited by Rev. W. Neil; p.6

Sir Evan Nepean 1752-1822.Former Naval officer politician and Governor of Bombay 1812-1819

[12] The Journal of the Dutch Burgher Union Vol. XLIII No.2 April 1953. p.59

[13] The Journal of the Dutch Burgher Union Vol XLIII April 1953 p.62

[14] G. de Meuron, Le Regiment de Meuron 1781-1816 (Lausanne: Edition D’En Bas, Le Forum Historique, 1982) p.113; A. Linder The Swiss Regiment Meuron, (Capetown: The Cape Military Museum, 2000) p.58

[15] A. Clarke, An Enlightened Scot, (Duns, Scotland, Black Ace Books) p.113

[16] Madras Military Records, Malabar Commission Supervisors Diaries pp.211-214. Vide Journal of the Dutch Burgher Union Vol LXIII 1953

[17] The Dutch Burgher Union Journal, Vol. 43 No.2 pp. 65-66

[18] Jean Jacques Bolle had joined the regiment in 1790, later commanded the regiment’s London depot and retired 1808.

[19] Fort St George Military Conversations, 19th September 1795, pp.3004-3006

[20] Fort St George Military Conversations, 22nd September 1795, pp.3007-3088

[21] Now Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu.

[22] A. Linder, The Swiss Regiment Meuron at the Cape and Afterwards, (Cape Town: Castle Museum 2000) p.59

[23] L. Mills Ceylon under British Rule (London: OUP, 1933) p.15; vide Colonial Office Records .55.61 Aug.16 1797.

[24] R. Percival, An Account of the Island of Ceylon, R. Percival, An Account of the Island of Ceylon, (Dehiwala, Sri Lanka: Tisara Press 1975) A reprint of the 1803 edition. In his contemporary account of Ceylon, Percival, a Captain in HM’s 18th Royal Irish Regiment, states that the De Meuron Regiment changed allegiance before the invasion. p.92. This seems unlikely even though the regiment’s pay was in arrears. What appears true is that from 1791, correspondence had been circulated within British government circles commenting on the ‘pros and cons’ of such a such a change in allegiance or ‘transfer.’

[25] G. de Meuron, Le Regiment Meuron, pp.119-123; Appendix I

[26] A. Clark, An Enlightened Scot, pp. 139-141

[27] Translated from the original French of M de La Thombe, Recueil de ‘Notes sur une Attaque et Defense de  Colombo,’ by Colonel A.B. Fryer R.E. Surveyor General, (Ceylon) Vol X, No. 37 (1888) of the Journal R.A.S. (C.B.); Journal of the Dutch Burgher Union of Ceylon. pp.149-162

[28] R. Percival, An Account of the Island of Ceylon, (Dehiwala, Sri Lanka: Tisara Press 1975) A reprint of the 1803 edition. pp.75-6

[29] H. Yule & A. Burnell, Hobson Jobson, Puckally or Puckauly ‘water carriers.’

[30] London Gazette 4 September 1802 p.948

[31] R. Percival, An Account of the Island of Ceylon, (Dehiwala, Sri Lanka: Tisara Press 1975) A reprint of the 1803 edition, p.155

[32] G. de Meuron, Le Regiment Meuron, p.132

[33] https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/William Huskisson 1770-1830. Under Secretary of State for War 1795-1801, probably the first fatal accident victim of the British Railway system. He was killed 15th September by Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ at the opening of the Manchester-Liverpool Railway.

[34] TNA HO 42/42/45.

[35] Journal Dutch Burgher Union, Vol 43, No. 3, 1953.

[36] L. Mills, Ceylon under British Rule 1795-1932 (London: OUP, 1933) p.12;

[37] G. de Meuron Le Regiment Meuron 1781-1816 (Lausanne: Le Forum Historique, 1982) p.114; Fortescue, History of the British Army, states that the two companies of the Meuron Regiment at Cochin did not transfer to the British Crown. Vol. IV, p.403

[38] Jean Georges Gradmann was a German who had joined the Swiss regiment in 1781 as a Capt., Lieutenant, Captain 21/07/1787, and died at Vellore 19/09/1796

[39] Alured Clarke 1745-1832 continued on from the Cape to become C-in-C Madras and C-in-C India in 1797.

[40] G. de Meuron, Le Regiment Meuron. p. 331.

[41] C. Grech, The Times of Malta 22/07/2018

[42] C. F. Tombe, Voyage Pendant Les Annees 1802-1806 (Paris, A Bertrand, 1811) Tombe was a senior military officer who later interviewed Dutch personnel present at the time of the British invasion.

[43] J. E. Tennant, Ceylon, An Account of the Island Physical Historical and Topographical, (Dehiwala: Tisara Prakasakayo, Sri Lanka 1977 6th ed) first published 1859. 2 Vols. Volume II pp. 600-602;  Cordiner, A Description of Ceylon, (Ceylon: Tiskara Prakasakayo,1983. A Reprint of 1sted. 1807.) p.21.