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An Account of His Majesty’s De Meuron Regiment Preface and Introduction

An Account of His Majesty’s De Meuron Regiment Preface and Introduction

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

During campaigns in Ceylon, India, the Mediterranean and Canada.

By David C. J. Howell

De Meuron Regiment 1795-1805 (Image courtesy New York Public Library)

Preface

An extensive history of The Meuron Regiment was published by a member of the de Meuron family in 1982, alas for a regiment that fought on the British behalf for twenty one years of a thirty five years’ existence, it was published in French and has not been translated into English. This smaller volume attempts to address the major elements of regimental history whilst in British service and is not just a translation of the original work. During the period from the regiment’s foundation to the transfer to the British Crown it was generally referred to as The Regiment Meuron but once part of the Crown forces the name changed to HM’s De Regiment Meuron, the same principle has been adopted here. Place and proper names have been used in their original forms.

The quotation by Niccolo Machiavelli 1469-1527, which follows, articulates a view about mercenaries held at the time it was written, and which to an extent continues to this day, a leaning towards the belief that the recruitment, services and employment of mercenaries is abhorrent and condemned by those who support the conventions that now limit or outlaw their deployment.

Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous;  and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe.

Introduction

On an island in the River Cauvery, eleven miles north of Mysuru or Mysore, India, lies Srirangapatna, better known to the British in former days as Seringapatam,[1] once the capital, fortress and palace of Fateh Ali Sahab Tipu, or Tippoo Sultan, the ruler of Mysore and an inveterate enemy of the British and the Honourable East India Company during the late eighteenth century, the two entities with a single purpose, ascendancy over the Sub-continent.

Tippoo Sultan was born at Seringapatam in 1753, the son of Hyder Ali, an opportunist soldier who commanded the troops of the Wadiyar Maharajahs, a dynasty of hereditary rulers of the Mysore kingdom and from who he usurped authority. During the 1st Anglo-Mysore War 1767-1769, Hyder enjoyed the success of forcing the British to sue for peace but still regarded the East India Company with a distrust and suspicion that later events intensified to a detestation. The antagonism grew, stemming from procrastination and failure by the East India Company to assist him under a treaty of 1769, against the Marathas who had invaded Mysore. Hyder was forced to make peace with the Marathas on unfavourable terms, for which he never forgave the British or the Company.[2]

Rather, Hyder focused on alliances with the French to remove the British and Company’s leverage in India, and although the French had been defeated militarily by 1761, they continued to be regarded as the most significant threat to the British East India Company’s security in the Sub-continent. After Hyder’s death in 1782, during the 2nd Anglo-Mysore 1780-84, Tippoo Sultan continued his father’s legacy in pursuing two further Anglo-Mysore wars in 1792 and 1799. The wars confirmed Tippoo Sultan as a formidable, Anglophobic opponent and military leader, who finally met his death on 4th May 1799, defending his fort when the British finally stormed Seringapatam.

Company and British army forces were to garrison Seringapatam from 1799, until 1858, when the Crown formally assumed responsibility for all government and military related matters in India, establishing the British Raj.[3]

The garrison cemetery of Seringapatam was in regular use between 1800 -1860 and over 300 graves and memorials are dedicated to officers and men of His Majesty’s De Meuron Regiment and to their wives and families.

Mostly in reasonable states of repair, one memorial in particular was to Lieut. Colonel H. D. de Meuron, whose full name was Henri David de Meuron-Motiers, born in 1753 and who accidentally drowned at Seringapatam on 23rd September 1804. His full name is not made clear in contemporary documents, nor on his memorial gravestone. Commissioned into the Regiment Meuron as Captain Lieutenant 1781, he served at the Cape and in Ceylon 1783-1795, a Captain 1790, Major 1790 and a Brevet Lieutenant Colonel in 1798. He commanded the regiment, in the 4th Anglo Mysore War 1799, as well as later campaigns within Mysore.[4]  The command of the regiment had passed to him, on the death of his predecessor, Jean Pierre Meuron Bullot in 1803, who also died in a drowning accident.

How such French sounding names, including the regiments title, came to be serving in the British Army, whilst the British were in constant conflict with the French during the Napoleonic Wars, forms part of the narrative of this book.

The Regiment Meuron, founded in 1781, was the oldest of three Swiss mercenary regiments, serving King George III.[5] Initially composed of about 60% Swiss troops, the regiment undertook British service in India from 1795, in the Mediterranean during the Napoleonic Wars between 1808 to 1811 and Canada during the Anglo-American War of 1812. The regiment’s earlier history and how it came to be a part of the British army is curious.

A number of documents on the subject of the regiment are held by institutions. A member of the Indian Civil Service, Julian James Cotton, who had access to files, manuscripts and papers not available at that time in the United Kingdom, compiled an historical record of the regiment published in a newspaper,[6] and Lieutenant Colonel F. H. N. Davidson produced a typescript account in 1935. Although in both documents, dates and the location of the regiment at particular times raise particular questions and some caution needs to be exercised regarding their accuracy in both documents.[7] A substantial cache of contemporary documents is held by Kent County Council in the Lord Harris archive, Buckinghamshire in the Lord Hobart archive and other manuscripts, documents and articles touching upon the regiment are available from the National Archive[8] and the British Library.

Potentially there are documents held in the Madras Archives but despite requests for information this has not been established. A large cache of documents is held at Néuchatel, Switzerland and has been referenced together with two books of regimental history, one already mentioned, published in Lausanne in 1982, but to date not translated from the original French, and a small softback booklet by Adolphe Linder, primarily on the regiment’s service at the Cape, published in 2000 by the Cape Castle Museum, South Africa.

The original dispatches of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington,  published in 1834, with supplementary dispatches and memoranda published in 1844, contain references to the regiment, copies of letters and orders etc. Later editions differed in many respects to the original, but references have been included from whichever publication has been used.

 

[1] E. Thornton, A Gazetteer of the Territories under the Government of the East India Company, (London: W Allen & Co. 1854) 4 Vols. Vol. IV, p.424.  Seringapatam will be used in this work.

[2] P. Moon, The British Conquest and Dominion of India (London: Duckworth 1989.) pp.144-146

[3] Government of India Act passed August 1858.

[4] G. de Meuron,  Le Regiment de Meuron 1781-1816 (Lausanne: Edition D’En Bas, Le Forum Historique, 1982) p.319

[5] The other two were Louis De Roll’s and De Watteville’s Regiments.

[6] Julian James Cotton, British Library, His Majesty’s Regiment De Meuron, General Reference Mss 12275/aa/19. 42pp. Cotton was born on the 3 October 1869 at Krishnagar, West Bengal, India, the son of Sir H. J. S. Cotton (1845-1915), Chief Commissioner of Assam and an MP. From 1882 to 1888, Julian Cotton attended Sherborne School, and went on to study at Corpus Christi College, Oxford.  In 1892 he joined the Indian Civil Service. Cotton served as Assistant Accountant-General of Bengal. From 1910 to 1926 he served as a District & Sessions Judge, and from 1926 to 1927 as Curator of Madras Record Office. He died at Madras on the 20 June 1927, and was buried at St George’s Cathedral, Madras. Some caution needs to be exercised regarding the accuracy of dates, events and names in the document.

[7] British Library Africa and Asia Collection MSS EUR F370/1619. 21pp. The author Davidson, would appear to have used Cotton’s paper as the basis for his work.

[8] TNA WO361/1