Chalmers, John (DNB00)

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CHALMERS, Sir JOHN (1756–1818), major-general, born in 1756, was a younger son of Patrick Chalmers of Balnacraig, and went to India as an ensign in the Madras infantry in 1775. He was promoted lieutenant in 1780, and first gained his reputation by his heroic defence of Coimbatoor in 1791. In that year Lord Cornwallis, finding it impossible to advance at once upon Seringapatam, the capital of Tippoo Sultan, ordered Major Cuppage to abandon all the fortresses held by the English in the Mysore country, except Palgaut and Coimbatoor, which commanded the passes of the Ghauts, and even to abandon Coimbatoor if it could not possibly be held. Major Cuppage therefore directed Chalmers, who held Coimbatoor with only 120 topasses, to abandon it and to join him at Palgaut; but the young officer, finding that two three-pounders and one four-pounder were fit for use, begged Cuppage to send him five hundred shot, and to give him leave to defend the fortress. He was joined by a young Frenchman named Migot de la Combe, with two hundred Travancoreans, of whom half deserted, and prepared to stand a siege. On 13 June 1791 Coimbatoor was surrounded by one of Tippoo's generals with two thousand regular infantry, many thousands of irregulars, and eight guns, and was violently bombarded for nearly two months. On 11 Aug. a violent assault was made upon the place; but, owing to the mines Chalmers had made under the breach, it was repelled with loss, and the Mysorean army retreated. The gallant defence attracted the attention of Cornwallis, who sent Lieutenant Nash of the Madras infantry with a company of sepoys to the assistance of Chalmers, bringing up the garrison to seven hundred men. Tippoo now determined on a yet more vigorous attack upon the place, and 6 Oct. Kummur-ud-deen, Tippoo's most famous general, again laid siege to it with eight thousand men and fourteen guns. Again Chalmers made a protracted defence; but at last, when both Nash and himself were wounded, he capitulated on 3 Nov., on condition that he should be allowed to march with his men to Palgaut. The capitulation was violated by Tippoo, and Chalmers and Nash were taken prisoners to Seringapatam in the following year. Tippoo, however, treated the two English officers well, and when Lord Cornwallis appeared before Seringapatam and demanded their release before he would enter into negotiations, they were sent safe into his camp on 8 Feb. 1792. Lord Cornwallis had not approved of defending Coimbatoor, but he was one of the first to acknowledge the gallantry of Chalmers, and specially recommended him to the court of directors for a pecuniary reward (Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 108). This was Chalmers's great feat of arms; he was promoted captain on 3 Oct. 1792, major on 27 July 1796, lieutenant-colonel in the company's service on 31 July 1799, colonel on 8 April 1808, major-general on 1 Jan. 1812, and was made a K.C.B. when that order was first thrown open to the company's officers in April 1815. He commanded the subsidiary force at Travancore from 1803 to 1809, and the northern division of the Madras presidency from 1812 to 1817. He left India, after forty-two years' continuous service in the Madras presidency, on 21 Jan. 1818, and died on board the Marquis of Wellington on his way home to England on 31 March 1818.

[Dodwell and Miles's Alphabetical Catalogue of the Officers of the Indian Army; East India Military Calendar, ii. 333, 334; Wilks's Historical Sketches of Southern India for the defence of Coimbatoor.]

H. M. S.