Colborne, John (DNB00)

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COLBORNE, Sir JOHN, first Baron Seaton (1778–1863), general, only son of Samuel Colborne of Lyndhurst, Hampshire, was born there on 16 Feb. 1778. He entered the army as an ensign in the 20th regiment on 10 July 1794, and won every step of promotion without purchase. He was promoted lieutenant on 4 Sept. 1795, and captain-lieutenant on 11 Aug. 1799, in which year he was first engaged in war in the fruitless expedition to the Helder. In 1801 he accompanied his regiment to Egypt, where it particularly distinguished it self, and was promoted captain on 12 Jan. 1800 shortly before it sailed. From Egypt the 20th went to Malta, and then to Sicily, and Colborne particularly distinguished himself at Maida, and shortly afterwards Sir John Moore took notice of him, secured his promotion to the rank of major on 21 Jan. 1808, and made him his military secretary. He accompanied Sir John Moore to Sweden and to Portugal, and was by his side all through the retreat to Corunna, and when the general was dying he said to Colonel Paul Anderson, 'Anderson, remember you go to and —— and tell him it is my request, and that I request that he will give Major Colborne a lieutenant-colonelcy. He has been long with me, and I know him to be most worthy of it.' The general's dying request was of course granted, and Colborne was, on 2 Feb. 1809, gazetted to the lieutenant-colonelcy of the 5th garrison battalion, from which he exchanged to the 66th regiment on 2 Nov. 1809, and to the 52nd Oxfordshire light infantry on 18 July 1811. In 1809 Colborne proceeded to the Peninsula, and was at once sent by Lord Wellington on a mission to the Spanish general Venegas, whose utter defeat at Ofanahe witnessed and reported upon. He then joined the 66th, and was present at Busaco, and in the following year temporarily commanded a brigade of the second division as senior colonel at the battle of Albuera. Directly after that battle he assumed the command of the 52nd, one of the three famous regiments which formed the light brigade and the nucleus of the famous light division. He first took them into action in storming the fort of San Francisco, an outwork of Ciudad Rodrigo, where he was so severely wounded that he was unable to be present at the storming of Badajoz. He commanded his regiment only at the battle of Salamanca, but in 1813 he again assumed the command of the left brigade of the light division, and commanded it through the three great battles of Vittoria, the Nivelle, and the Nive. He then again reverted to the command of his regiment and commanded it at the battles of Orthes and Toulouse. On the conclusion of peace he was promoted colonel on 4 June 1814, given a gold cross and three clasps, and on the extension of the order of the Bath was made one of the first K.C.B.'s, and afterwards an aide-de-camp to the prince regent. When Napoleon escaped from Elba, the 52nd, under the command of Colborne, was ordered to Belgium, and brigaded with the 71st and 95th regiments under Major-general Adam [see Adam, Sir Frederick] in the division of Lord Hill. This division was posted on the extreme right of the English position in order to keep open the communications with Hal ; but when it was perceived that Napoleon was not trying to turn the Eng- lish line, but to force his way through it, the brigade gradually moved forward so as to be able to pour in a flank fire on any charge in column that might be made within its reach. The opportunity arrived when the Old Guard advanced to the charge ; then Colborne, who, as Napier says, was ' a man of singular talent for war,' suddenly fired a volley into the flank of the dense column, and then charged it and routed it. Whether this charge of Colborne's really defeated the Old Guard and won the battle of Waterloo is a point which will always be disputed, but it is perfectly certain that he defeated a body of the guard, either the main body or a detached portion, and most probably the second line. Anyhow there can be no doubt that the Duke of Wellington never gave fair credit to Colborne's exploit. Colborne, however, received the orders of Maria Theresa and St. George, and directly he was promoted major-general in 1825 he was made lieutenant-governor of Guernsey. There he made himself both useful and popular, especially by restoring the Elizabeth College, with its rich foundation, to a legitimate purpose. In 1830 he was appointed lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, an appointment he vacated on his promotion to the rank of lieutenant-general in 1838. At the moment he was preparing to leave Canada the Canadian rebellion broke out ; Colborne was at once ordered, if he had not embarked, to assume the office of governor-general and commander-in-chief. He quelled the rebellion so speedily, and acted with such prudence, that his elevation to the peerage as Lord Seaton of Seaton in Devonshire, on 14 Dec. 1839, was received with universal approbation. From 1843 to 1849 he was lord high commissioner of the Ionian Islands, and made a G.C.M.G. in the latter year. In 1854 he was promoted general and transferred from the colonelcy of the 26th regiment to that of the 2nd life guards. From 1855 to 1860 he acted as commander of the forces in Ireland, and was sworn a privy councillor in that country. On 30 March 1860, on his retirement, he was created a field-marshal. His health soon began to decline, and on 17 April 1863 he died at Valetta House, Torquay, aged 85. He married, in 1814, Elizabeth, daughter of the Rev. J. Yonge, rector of Newton Ferrers, Devonshire, and left two sons, both generals in the army, besides other children.

[Leeke's Lord Seaton's Regiment at Waterloo, 1866, in which the author asserts that the battle was won by Lord Seaton, and especially vol. ii. chap, xlvi., which contains a biography of the general.]

H. M. S.