Lieut-General John Le Couteur

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John Le Couteur 1760 - 1835, Lieutenant General

Battle of Jersey

John Le Couteur, who was involved in the Battle of Jersey and sailed with his regiment four days later for India, eventually attained the rank of Lieutenent-General. He was born at Les Buttes, St John, the son of John Le Couteur and Marie Bertault on 26 August 1760. He was educated at Guildford Grammer School and joined the Army as an Ensign in the 95th foot, stationed in Jersey in 1780.

When the French invaded the island the following year Le Couteur marched his men from St Peter to St Helier and took part in the battle.

Four days later he was a Lieutenant in the 100th foot and sailed with them for India where he served against Hyder Ali and fought the Tippoo Sahib, the Moslem leader of Mysore. The British were forced to surrender and their officers were forced to march naked in chains for 12 days before being imprisoned on a diet of rice and water until hostilities ceased in 1784. Le Couteur wrote: "Souls released from Purgatory could not experience more delicious sensatons than we enjoyed on obtaining our liberty".

By 1785 he was a Captain when his regiment disbanded. He returned to Jersey on half pay and was elected Centenier of St John. He supported the Magot Party and was involved in the founding of the Gazette de Jersey, for which he was a frequent contributor.

Militia

He became actively involved in the Militia and in 1787 he was adjutant of the North-West Regiment. In 1790 he was elected Jurat. In 1792 he brought the house Belle Vue in St Aubin from Jean Dumaresq, a year later he married Jean's daughter Marie, and also became Brigadier-General of the Militia. In 1795 he resigned as a Jurat to concentre on his Militia responsibilities, making dramatic improvements to the force after Lieut-Governor General Gordon had described it as "an undisciplined rabble".

He continued to be promoted in the Regular Army, as Captain in the 11th foot in 1795, and Major in the 16th foot two years later. He then seved in Scotland and returned to Jersey as Inspector of the Militia in 1799. In 1808 he became a Colonel and in 1811 a Major General. In 1815 he became Lieutenant Governor of Curaçao. When the Island was restored to Holland he returned to Jersey where he died on 22 April 1835.

His tombstone in St Brelade's Church reveals that in addition to his military duties, he also controlled the secret service during the French Revolution, probably between 1793 and 1795.

Obituary

The following obituary of General Le Couteur was published in the Gentleman's Magazine:

"He was descended from a highly respectable family settled in Jersey, and at an early age was appointed Captain and Adjutant in the militia of that island: but, his predilection being for the regular army, in 1780 his parents bought an Ensigncy for him in the 95th foot. He had not, however, left his native island before the descent made upon it in January 1781, when he had the happiness of first unsheathing his sword in its successful defence, under the lamented Major Pierson.
"In the same month he was promoted to an Ensigncy in the 100th regiment, which he joined at Portsmouth, being under orders for the East Indies. On 16 April he was present in the naval action between Adtn. Suffrein and Commodore Johnstone, off St Jago. In December 1782 he commenced his campaigns in India, in the war with Tippoo Saib, and had the honour to lead a forlorn hope on two occasions, the latter of which procured him the appointment of Major of Brigade to Col Humberstone.
"In April 1783 he was attached to the force of General Mathews, then Commander-in-chief in Mysore, who threw himself with 600 British and 1000 Sepoys into Nagur, to defend that important town from Tippoo Saib, then at the head of an army of 2000 French and 100,000 natives. On the 26th, having lost 300 men in killed and wounded, General Mathews capitulated, and on the 28th marched out with all the honours of war; but the day following they were arrested by their treacherous enemy, loaded with chains, and after some days carried prisoners many miles up the country.
"A party consisting of the General, the Major, and eighteen of the Captains, were all poisoned by a few drops of milkbush in a cup of liquid; and another party of thirtyfour, consisting of subalterns, in which number was the subject of this memoir, were kept in a confined prison, frequently threatened with the same fate, and sustained the greatest privations and hardships, for eleven months, until the conclusion of peace in March 1784. On his release, Captain Le Couteur received promotion as a Captain-Lieutenant, and in 1785 obtained his company. He then returned to England, where he was placed on half-pay.
"In 1790 Captain Le Couteur published Letters, chiefly from India, containing an account of the military transactions on the coast of Malabar, during the late War; together with a short description of the religion, manners, and customs of the inhabitants of Hindustan. The letters were originally written in French, but were translated for publication.
"In 1793 he was appointed Major of Brigade to the Jersey militia. In 1797 he received the rank of Major in the 16th regiment of the line; but obtained permission to remain on the staff of Lieut-General A Gordon, the Lieut-Governor of Jersey. In 1798 he joined the 16th in Scotland, being then a brevet Lieut-Colonel.
"In 1799, on being appointed Inspector of the Militia, he resumed his residence in Jersey, and performed, in addition, the duties of Quartermaster-general to the large garrison then in the island, including a Russian force of 6000 men; and conducted the whole secret correspondence with France, to the entire satisfaction of his Majesty's government.
"In 1811 Colonel Le Couteur was promoted to the rank of Major-General; the same year he was placed on the staff in Ireland; and shortly after was ordered to Jamaica, where be commanded a brigade for two years and a half. In 1815 he was appointed Lieut-Governor of the Dutch islands of Curacoa, Aruba, and Bonaie, then in our possession, and which he retained until their restoration to Holland, when he received addresses of thanks from the several public bodies and other inhabitants.
"From that time he remained unemployed. He attained the rank of Lieut-General in 1821. By his death, his country has lost a true and devoted patriot, his King a tried, faithful, and unwearied servant; and the poor a benevolent friend.

Biographical Dictionary

From A Biographical Dictionary of Jersey by George Balleine

Early years

Born at Les Buttes, he was educated at Guildford Grammar School. In 1780 he obtained a commission as Ensign in the 95th Foot, then stationed in Jersey. This was Peirson's Regiment, and in the following year, when Rullecourt invaded the island, Le Couteur marched his men from St Peter to St Helier, and took part in the Battle of Jersey.

Four days later he was transferred to the 100th Foot as Lieutenant, and sailed with it to India. He served in operations against Hyder Ali, and led two forlorn hopes. Later his regiment joined the army fighting Tippoo Sahib, the Moslem Ruler of Mysore, and in 1782 they were shut up in Nagur, and forced to surrender.

The officers were marched in chains naked for 12 days, and then imprisoned with legs in irons on a diet of rice and water, until peace was made in 1784. "Souls released from Purgatory", wrote Le Couteur, "could not experience more delicious sensations than we enjoyed on obtaining our liberty". He published an account of this compaign in Letters from India 1790.

Promotion

In 1785 he was promoted Captain, but his regiment was disbanded, and he was placed on half pay. He returned to Jersey, and at once took an active part in local life. He became a Centenier of St John, and, as that parish, through a disputed election, was eight years without a Constable, for part of that time he was Chef de Police. He identified himself with the Magot Party, and helped the Dumaresqs to establish the Gazette de l'Ile de Jersey, and frequently contributed to it.

In 1787 he became Adjutant of the North-West Regiment of Militia. In 1790 he was elected Jurat. In 1792 he bought Belle Vue, St Aubin, from Jean Dumaresq, and in 1793 married Dumaresq's eldest daughter, Marie. In the same year he was appointed Brigade-Major of the Militia, and in 1795 resigned his Juratship in order to devote himself wholly to his Militia duties.

Jersey was expecting another French invasion, and Lieut-Governor Gordon had described the Militia as "an undisciplined rabble". Under Le Couteur's vigorous handling, matters rapidly improved. Meanwhile his work in Jersey did not cause him to miss promotion in the Regular Army. In 1795 he was gazetted Captain in the 11th Foot; in 1797 Major in the 16th.

He was then recalled for a time for regimental duties in Scotland, and in 1799 returned to Jersey as Inspector of Militia, a post which he held for the next 12 years. He now introduced, against strong opposition, the system of 6 am drill for all boys of 13 and upward, drills at which he was almost always present.

Secret service

His tombstone in St Brelade's Church reveals another task entrusted to him. It says: "He controlled the secret service in the French Revolution with Georges, Pichegru, and Larochejacquelein". Larochejacquelein, the Vendean leader, was shot in 1794. The Republican General Pichegru joined the Royalists in 1795. Georges was the Chouan leader Cadoudak whose revolt began in 1793. So it must have been in those years that Le Couteur handled the Jersey end of the help which England was secretly giving to all enemies of the Revolution. It is not clear whether he was working with the Duc de Bouillon or whether their work overlapped.

In 1808 he was promoted Colonel in the Army, and in 1811 Major-General. He then laid down his work in the Militia, receiving the thanks of the States and a piece of plate of the value of 100 guineas. He was placed on the staff in Ireland, and later sent to command a Brigade in Jamaica. In 1815 he was appointed Lieut-Governor of Curacao and its dependent islands, a Dutch colony off the coast of Venezuela which was then in British hands.

When this was restored to Holland, he returned to Jersey to his old home, Belle Vue. Here, according to his tombstone, "God blessed him with many years of health, peace, and contentment, which he devoted chiefly to the study of the Scriptures".

He had two sons, John and Gordon Thomas (1801-1817).

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