Gomm, William Maynard (DNB00)

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GOMM, Sir WILLIAM MAYNARD (1784–1875), field marshal, G.C.B., eldest son of Lieutenant-colonel William Gomm of the 55th regiment, and Mary Alleyne, daughter of Joseph Maynard, esq., of Barbadoes, was born in Barbadoes, West Indies, in 1784. His father was killed at the storming of Pointe à Petre in the island of Guadeloupe, West Indies, in 1794. His mother died at Penzance two years after, leaving three sons and a daughter. One son died in childhood, the other three children were brought up by their aunt, Miss Jane Gomm, and her friend Miss M. C. Goldsworthy, who had both been governesses to the daughters of George III. William Maynard Gomm was gazetted an ensign in the 9th regiment on 24 May and a lieutenant on 16 Nov. 1794, before he was ten years of age, in recognition of his father's services. He remained at Woolwich prosecuting his studies till the summer of 1799, when he joined his regiment and embarked for Holland with the expedition under the Duke of York. At the early age of fifteen he took part in the operations on the Helder, and in the engagements of Bergen, Alkmar, and Egmont, and, on the termination of the short campaign in October, he returned to England and remained with his regiment at Norwich until August 1800, when he embarked with it for foreign service under Sir James Pulteney. Proceeding to the Spanish coast, an unsuccessful attempt was made on Ferrol, and, after a visit to Gibraltar and Lisbon, the expedition returned to England at the commencement of 1801. Gomm was now appointed aide-de-camp to General Benson at Liverpool. In the following year he rejoined his regiment and was quartered at Chatham and Plymouth. On 25 June 1803 he was promoted captain, and went with his regiment to Ireland. In 1804 he obtained leave to join the military college at High Wycombe, where he studied under Colonel (afterwards Sir) Howard Douglas [q. v.] for the staff, until the end of 1805, when he embarked with his regiment for Hanover. The expedition was soon over, and he returned to his studies at High Wycombe, receiving at the end of 1806 a very satisfactory certificate of his qualifications for the general staff of the army. In 1807 he took part as assistant quartermaster-general in the expedition to Stralsund and Copenhagen, under Admiral Gambier and Lord Cathcart. On his return he rejoined his regiment at Mallow in Ireland, and the following year (July 1808) embarked with it for the Peninsula in the expedition under Sir Arthur Wellesley. Before sailing, however, he was appointed to the staff of the expedition as assistant quartermaster-general. He was present at the battles of Roliça and Vimiera, and, after the convention of Cintra (30 Aug. 1808), was appointed to the staff of Sir John Moore; took part in the retreat on Corunna, and was one of the last to embark after his regiment, the 9th foot, had carried Sir John's body to its hasty burial. On his return to England he was quartered with his regiment at Canterbury until July 1809, when he was appointed to the staff of the expedition to Walcheren. He was present at the siege and surrender of Flushing, and when Lord Chatham's army retired into the fever-stricken swamps of Walcheren, he contracted a fever from which he suffered for some years after. On the return of the expedition to England his regiment was again quartered at Canterbury until March 1810, when he once more embarked with it for the Peninsula. In September he was appointed a deputy-assistant quartermaster-general and was attached to General Leith's column. He was present at the battle of Busaco, where he had a horse shot under him, and at Fuentes d' Onoro (5 May 1811). He was promoted major 10 Oct. 1811; was at the storming and capture of Ciudad Rodrigo, 20 Jan. 1812; at the siege and storming of Badajos, 6 April 1812, where he was slightly wounded; at the battle of Salamanca, 22 July 1812, where he particularly distinguished himself, and for which on 17 Aug. he was promoted lieutenant-colonel, and at the entry into Madrid, 12 Aug. 1812. He was present at the siege of Burgos, which Lord Wellington was obliged to raise after five unsuccessful assaults. He led his division of the army in the disastrous retreat to the Portuguese frontier, and again in the masterly advance to the Ebro, through the wild districts of Tras-os-Montes, of which he had previously made reconnaissances. He took part in the battle of Vittoria, 21 June 1813, in the siege and capture of St. Sebastian, and in the hard fighting in the south of France in December 1813, when he was again slightly wounded. After the conclusion of peace he went to Paris and landed in England early in September 1814. For his services in the Peninsula Gomm was transferred from the 9th foot into the Coldstream guards, and was made a K.C.B. He received the gold cross with a clasp and the silver war medal with six clasps. On the return of Napoleon from Elba, Gomm went with the Coldstreams to Brussels and was again appointed to the staff. He took part with the fifth division in the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo. No better estimate of the fine character of Gomm can be formed than that gathered from the modest and cultivated letters to his aunt and sister, written from the stirring scenes of the Peninsula. These letters, edited by Mr. Francis C. Carr-Gomm, were published in 1881.

In 1816 Sir William lost his brother Henry, who had been his comrade in the Peninsula, and who had been severely wounded in July 1813. The following year he lost his dearly loved sister and correspondent, and in 1822 his aunt, Miss Gomm, on whose death he succeeded to her property and became lord of the manor of Rotherhithe. The years between 1817 and 1839 were spent in home service. During this period he married first, Sophia, granddaughter of William Penn of Pennsylvania, who died in 1827, and secondly, in 1830, Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Lord Robert Kerr. He had no issue by either of these marriages. He was made a full colonel on 16 May 1829, and a major-general on 10 Jan. 1837. He devoted much of his spare time to travel and to the study of literature. In 1839 he was appointed to the command of the troops in Jamaica, where he founded a sanatorium for the white troops at Newcastle in the mountains. On his return to England in the spring of 1842 he was given the command of the northern district, which he did not long retain, for in the autumn he was appointed governor of Mauritius in succession to Sir Lionel Smith, bart. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general 9 Nov. 1846. He held the government of Mauritius for seven years. From Mauritius he went to Calcutta, having received an intimation from the Horse Guards of his appointment as commander-in-chief in India. To his bitter disappointment, on arriving in the Hooghly he found that, owing to the panic at home after the second Sikh war and to the jealousy of the court of directors of the direct patronage of the crown, his appointment had been cancelled, and Sir Charles Napier had just arrived at Calcutta as commander-in-chief and proceeded to the Punjab. Ample explanations from the Duke of Wellington and Lord Fitzroy Somerset awaited him at Calcutta, and the manner in which he bore his disappointment did him the greatest credit. He returned home with Lady Gomm, visiting Ceylon on their way, and arrived in England in January 1850. In the following August he was appointed commander-in-chief of Bombay, but on the eve of starting, Sir Charles Napier suddenly resigned, and Gomm was appointed commander-in-chief in India. The five years he held the chief command were comparatively uneventful. He was extremely popular, and his popularity was promoted by the social accomplishments of his wife.

He was promoted to be full general on 20 June 1854. He returned home in 1855 to enjoy twenty years of dignified and honoured old age. In 1846 he had been appointed honorary colonel of the 13th foot, and in August 1863 was transferred to the colonelcy of the Coldstream guards, in succession to Lord Clyde. On 1 Jan. 1868 he received his bâton as field-marshal, and on the death of Sir George Pollock (October 1872) was appointed constable of the Tower. The emperor of Russia when visiting England in 1874 sent him the order of St. Vladimir; he was already a knight of the second class of the order of St. Anne of Russia. He had been made a grand cross of the Bath, and the universities of Oxford and Cambridge had conferred upon him the honorary degree of D.C.L. (13 June 1834) and LL.D. respectively. He died on 15 March 1875, in his ninety-first year.

Five ‘Field-Marshal Gomm’ scholarships have since been founded at Keble College, Oxford.

[Letters and Journals of Field-Marshal Sir W. M. Gomm, by F. C. Carr-Gomm, 1881; Wellington Despatches.]

R. H. V.