Trant, Nicholas (DNB00)

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TRANT, ‘Sir’ NICHOLAS (1769–1839), brigadier-general in the Portuguese army, born in 1769, belonged to an Irish family originally of Danish origin. His grandfather, Dominick Trant of Dingle, co. Kerry, wrote a tract ‘Considerations on the present Disturbance in Munster,’ 1787 (3rd edit. 1790). He was educated at a military college in France, but in consequence of the French revolution he entered the British army, and was commissioned as lieutenant in the 84th foot on 31 May 1794. He served with that regiment at Flushing, and went with it to the Cape of Good Hope in 1795. Returning to England, he obtained a company in one of the regiments of the Irish brigade, his commission bearing date 1 Oct. 1794. His regiment was sent to Portugal, and he took part in the expedition under Sir Charles Stuart, which captured Minorca in November 1798. There Trant was appointed agent-general for prizes, and helped to organise the Minorca regiment, in which he was made major on 17 Jan. 1799. He served in the expedition to Egypt, and his regiment was in support of the 42nd and 28th in the battle of Alexandria. It was disbanded after the peace of Amiens, and Trant left the army; but he soon made a fresh start in it, being commissioned as ensign in the royal staff corps on 25 Dec. 1803. He was promoted lieutenant on 28 Nov. 1805, and was sent to Portugal as a military agent in 1808. He was given the local rank of lieutenant-colonel. When Sir Arthur Wellesley advanced from the Mondego in August, the Portuguese general Freire remained behind, but he allowed Trant to accompany Wellesley with a Portuguese corps of fifteen hundred foot and 250 horse. At Roliça he was employed to turn the French left; at Vimiero he was in reserve with Craufurd's British brigade.

Having gone home, he was sent back to Portugal early in 1809 to arrange the details of the evacuation which the British government contemplated. But these plans were changed, and Trant raised a corps from the students of Coimbra University. After the Portuguese defeat at Braga and the French capture of Oporto, fresh recruits flocked to him. With a force of about three thousand men he boldly maintained himself on the Vouga till May. He took part in the advance of Wellesley's army to the Douro, and was made governor of Oporto when it was recovered.

He was promoted captain in the staff corps on 1 June 1809, but soon afterwards he was told that he would be removed from that corps unless he gave up his employment in Portugal. He was saved from this by Wellington's intervention, who wrote on 9 May 1810: ‘There is no officer the loss of whose services in this country would be more sensibly felt.’ By this time he held the rank of brigadier-general.

In the autumn of 1810, while Wellington was falling back on Torres Vedras, Trant twice showed his ‘activity and prudent enterprise,’ as Beresford described it. On 20 Sept., with a squadron of cavalry and two thousand militia, he surprised the French train of artillery in a defile. His men became alarmed, and he had to fall back; but he took a hundred prisoners, and caused a loss of two days to Masséna. On 7 Oct. he marched suddenly upon Coimbra, where Masséna had left his sick and wounded with only a small guard. He met with little or no resistance, and carried off five thousand prisoners to Oporto. It was ‘the most daring and hardy enterprise executed by any partisan during the whole war’ (Napier). A letter of acknowledgment addressed to him by some of the French officers who were taken is printed in the appendix to Napier's third volume, and sufficiently refutes the charges made against him by some French writers on account of the misbehaviour of some of his men.

In October 1811 he was made a knight commander of the Portuguese order of the Tower and Sword. In April 1812, when two French divisions were about to storm Almeida, he succeeded in imposing on them by a show of red uniforms and bivouac fires, and induced them to retire. On the 13th he was at Guarda with six thousand militia, and had a plan for surprising Marmont in his quarters at Sabugal; but on that night he himself narrowly escaped being surprised by Marmont in Guarda. Wellington, while praising his action in the emergency, warned him not to be too venturesome with such troops as his.

In 1813 fresh difficulties were raised about his drawing pay as an officer of the staff corps while in the Portuguese service. He obtained leave to go to England, and Wellington wrote strongly in support of his claim, expressing once more his sense of Trant's services and merits, and saying that he had been employed in a most important situation for the expenses of which his allowances were by no means adequate (Wellington Despatches, x. 417). He seems to have had no further part in the war. He had a bullet in his side, from which he suffered much for the rest of his life. He was transferred from the staff corps to the Portuguese service list on 25 Oct. 1814, and received a brevet majority on 6 June 1815. This was the scanty reward of the services so often praised.

He was placed on half-pay on 25 Dec. 1816, and he resigned his half-pay and left the army altogether in 1825. In May 1818, being in pecuniary difficulties, he had asked Wellington to write on his behalf to the king of Portugal; but Wellington replied that such a step would be an indelicacy to Beresford (ib. Suppl. xii. 513).

He died on 16 Oct. 1839 at Great Baddow, Essex, of which his son-in-law, John Bramston, was vicar. He had one son and one daughter. The son, Thomas Abercrombie Trant, was born in 1805, obtained a commission in the 38th foot in 1820, and was captain in the 28th foot when he died on 13 March 1832. He was the author of ‘Two Years in Ava’ (1827), and of a ‘Narrative of a Journey through Greece’ (1830).

[Noticias Biograficas do Coronel Trant, by F. F. M. C. D. T. (a Portuguese monk), Lisbon, 1811; Wellington Despatches, vols. iv–x.; Napier's War in the Peninsula; Royal Military Calendar, v. 316; Gent. Mag. 1832 i. 371, 1839 ii. 653.]

E. M. L.