Le Couteur, John (DNB00)

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LE COUTEUR, JOHN (1761–1835), lieutenant-general, born in 1761, was a member of a Jersey family, and at an early age was made captain and adjutant of the Jersey militia. In 1780 he obtained an ensigncy by purchase in the old 95th foot (disbanded in 1783), and served with the corps under Major Pierson in the defence of Jersey in January 1781. The same year he was promoted lieutenant in the old 100th foot, and went out with that regiment to India. He was present in the naval action in Porto Pray a Bay, Cape Verdes, and in some of the operations against Hyder Ali, during which he led two forlorn hopes, and was appointed brigade-major to Colonel Humberston [cf. Humberston, Thomas Frederick Mackenzie]. When Humberston went to Bombay, Le Couteur served with General Mathews in Malabar, and was with Mathews when he shut himself up in Nagar (Bednore) with six hundred Europeans and one thousand sepoys, while Tippoo Sahib, with two thousand French and one hundred thousand sepoys, besieged him. After losing five hundred men, Mathews surrendered, and on 28 April 1783 the garrison marched out with all the honours of war, the officers retaining their personal effects. Mathews was, however, accused by Tippoo of having appropriated and divided the contents of the military chest, and was soon afterwards poisoned with nineteen officers (cf. Mill, Hist. of India, iv. 267, 269 notes). Another party of thirtv-four officers, subalterns, among whom was Le Couteur, were sent as prisoners to Chittledroog, where they were treated with great cruelty. Like the prisoners at Seringapatam [cf. Baird, Sir David], they were released at the peace in March 1784. Le Couteur became captain-lieutenant that year, and captain in 1785, when the 100th was disbanded, and he was put on half-pay. In 1793 he was brought on full pay in the 11th foot, and made brigade-major of the Jersey militia. In 1797 he became major in the 16th foot, but remained on the staff in Jersey until 1798, when he joined his regiment in Scotland, with the brevet rank of lieutenant-colonel. In 1799 he was appointed inspecting-officer of militia in Jersey, and was assistant quartermaster-general in the island during the detention there of the Russian army from the Texel in 1799-1800. He retained the office long afterwards, and conducted the secret correspondence, through Jersey, with the French loyalists under Georges, La Rochejaquelein, and others, to the entire satisfaction of the British government. In 1811 Le Couteur was appointed a major-general on the staff in Ireland, and afterwards in Jamaica, where he commanded a brigade for two and a half years. In 1813 he was appointed lieutenant-governor of Curaçoa and its dependent islands, which he found on the verge of starvation. Curaçoa was then the centre port of a large trade, but the war with the United States had prevented the arrivals of corn from home, and the orders in council prohibiting the importation of foreign grain were imperative under penalty of 'præmunire.' Le Couteur had the courage to set aside the orders rather than expose the population to the horrors of a famine. When the island was restored to the Dutch after the peace, the legislative bodies, the inhabitants, and the Spanish refugees severally presented Le Couteur with addresses acknowledging the important services he had rendered to the colony. Le Couteur generously declined the Duke of York's offer to put him down for a regiment, saying he did not feel entitled to the honour so long as a Peninsular officer remained unprovided for. He became a lieutenant-general in 1821, and died on 23 April 1836, aged 74.

Le Couteur was father of Colonel John Le Couteur, 104th and 20th foot, long commandant of the royal Jersey militia, and senior militia aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria.

Le Couteur was author of 'Lettre d'un Officier du Centième Régiment,' Jersey, 1787, and 'Letters, chiefly from India, giving 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 Hindostan,' London, 1790: a work originally written in French, but translated before publication.

[Army Lists; Memoir in Colburn's United Serv. Mag. July 1835; Brit Mas. Cat. of Printed Books.]

H. M. C.