Peirson, Francis (DNB00)

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PEIRSON, FRANCIS (1757–1781), major, the eldest son of Francis Peirson of Lowthorpe, Yorkshire, was born in 1757, and entered the army at an early age, rising to the rank of major in April 1780, when he was appointed to the 95th regiment, which was shortly afterwards stationed in Jersey. At this period the Channel Islands were subjected to the constant danger of attacks from the French, who made several futile attempts to gain possession. By far the most important of these raids was that of 6 Jan. 1781, known as the ‘battle of Jersey,’ when the French, under the Baron de Rullecour, a desperate adventurer, landed under cover of night and took possession of the town of St. Helier, making the lieutenant-governor, Major Moses Corbet, a prisoner in his bed. Under these circumstances the command of the troops devolved upon the youthful Peirson. Rullecour succeeded in inducing Corbet to sign a capitulation, and Elizabeth Castle was summoned to surrender, but the officer in command boldly refused to obey the order. Meanwhile the regular troops and the island militia, under the command of Major Peirson, advanced in two divisions towards the Royal Square, then the market-place, where a vigorous engagement took place, resulting in great loss to the French, who, though fighting with great obstinacy, became disordered and were compelled to retire. The victory was complete, but had been gained at the heavy price of the life of a promising young officer, for in the very moment of victory the gallant Peirson was shot through the heart, and fell dead in the arms of his grenadiers. Rullecour himself was mortally wounded, and most of the French soldiers were taken prisoners. Peirson, who had only attained his twenty-fifth year, was interred in the parish church of St. Helier with all the honours of war, and in the presence of the States of the island, who caused a magnificent monument to be erected to his memory. Peirson's death forms the subject of Copley's famous picture now in the National Gallery at London.

[The Death of Peirson, by Ouless, published at the centenary of the battle, 1881; Plees's Hist. of Jersey, ed. 1824, pp. 199–209; Ahier's Tableaux Historiques, p. 367 et seq.; Le Quesne's Hist. of Jersey, pp. 502 et seq.; Société Jersiaise, 7th and 8th bulletins, 1882 and 1883.]

E. T. N.