Coote, Eyre (1762-1824?) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 12
Coote, Eyre (1762-1824?)

by Henry Morse Stephens
Date of death 1823 in later editions.

COOTE, Sir EYRE (1762–1824?), general, was the second son of the Very Rev. Charles Coote, dean of Kilfenora, brother of Charles Henry Coote, who succeeded the last Earl of Mountrath as second Lord Castle Coote in 1802, and nephew of Sir Eyre Coote, K.B., the celebrated Indian general [q. v.], to whose vast estates in England and Ireland he eventually succeeded. He was born in 1762, was educated at Eton, and received his first commission at the age of fourteen as an ensign in the 37th regiment. He at once embarked for America with his regiment, and carried the colours at the battle of Brooklyn on 27 Aug. 1776. He was then promoted lieutenant, and served with that rank at York Island, Rhode Island, the expedition to the Chesapeake, and the battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth Court House. He was promoted captain on 10 Aug. 1778, and served in the campaign in New York in 1779, at the siege of Charleston in 1780, and finally throughout Lord Cornwallis's campaigns in Virginia up to the capitulation of Yorktown, when he became a prisoner. After his release he returned to England, and became major of the 47th regiment in 1783, and lieutenant-colonel of the 70th in 1788. In 1793, on the outbreak of the war with France, he accompanied Sir Charles Grey to the West Indies in command of a battalion of light infantry, formed from the light companies of the various regiments in the expedition, and greatly distinguished himself throughout the operations there, and especially at the storming of the Morne Fortuné in Guadeloupe, for which he was thanked in general orders (see Military Panorama for May 1813). He was promoted colonel on 24 Jan. 1794, and returned with Sir Ralph Abercromby in 1795 to the West Indies, where he again distinguished himself, and for his services was made an aide-de-camp to the king. In 1796 he was made a brigadier-general, and appointed to command the camp at Bandon in Ireland, and on 1 Jan. 1798 he was promoted major-general, and shortly after given the important command of Dover. From his holding that post he was appointed to command the troops employed in the expedition which had been planned by Sir Home Popham to cut the sluices at Ostend, and thus flood that part of the Netherlands which was then in the possession of the French. The troops were only thirteen hundred in number, and were successfully disembarked and cut the sluices as proposed on 18 May. A high wind off the land then sprang up, and the ships could not come in to take the troops off. French troops were hurried up, and the small English force was completely hemmed in, and after a desperate resistance, in which he lost six officers and 109 men killed and wounded, Coote, who was himself severely wounded, was forced to surrender. He was soon exchanged, and then returned to his command at Dover, but was summoned from it in 1799 to command a division in the expedition to the Helder. Coote's and Don's division formed Sir J. Pulteney's column in the fierce battle of Bergen, but the successes of Pulteney's and Abercromby's columns could not make up for the failure of the rest, and the Duke of York had to sign the disgraceful convention of Alkmaer. In 1800 Coote was appointed to command a brigade in the Mediterranean, and bore his part in the disembarkation of Sir Ralph Abercromby in Egypt and in the battles there of 8, 13, and 21 March. When Sir John Hutchinson, who succeeded Sir Ralph Abercromby, commenced his march to Cairo, Coote was left in command before Alexandria, and conducted the blockade of that city from April to August 1801. In the latter month General Hutchinson rejoined the army before Alexandria, and determined to take it. He ordered Coote to take two divisions round to the west of the city, and to attack the castle of Marabout, which commanded it. The operation was successfully conducted; Coote took Marabout after a stubborn resistance, and Alexandria surrendered. His services in Egypt were so conspicuous that Coote was made a knight of the Bath, and also a knight of the new order of the Crescent by the sultan, and appointed to command an expedition which was to assemble at Gibraltar for service against South America. This expedition, however, was stopped by the peace of Amiens, and Coote returned to England, and in 1802 he was elected M.P. for Queen's County, in which he possessed large property inherited from the famous Sir Eyre Coote. He had already represented, in the Irish House of Commons, Ballynakill (1790–97) and Maryborough (1797–1800). He did not sit long in the House of Commons at this time, for in 1805 he was promoted lieutenant-general, and appointed lieutenant-governor and commander-in-chief of Jamaica. In April 1808 he resigned his government from ill-health, for the West Indian climate greatly tried his constitution and affected his brain. Nevertheless, he was appointed second in command to Lord Chatham in 1809, when the Walcheren expedition was projected, and he superintended all the operations of the siege of Flushing until its surrender. His proceedings, however, were so eccentric during the expedition, that it was obvious that he could never again be trusted with a command. He was colonel of the 62nd foot 1806–10, elected M.P. for Barnstaple 1812, and promoted general in 1814. His conduct became more and more eccentric, and on 25 Nov. 1815 he was brought up at the Mansion House before the lord mayor on a charge of indecent conduct. The case was dismissed, but the Duke of York, the commander-in-chief, heard of these proceedings, and, in spite of strong representations from many distinguished officers, he directed Sir John Abercromby, Sir Henry Fane, and Sir George Cooke to report upon the matter. These three generals, after a long inquiry, reported that Coote was eccentric, not mad, and that his conduct had been unworthy of an officer and a gentleman. Coote was removed from his regiment, dismissed from the army, and degraded from the order of the Bath—severe punishment for a veteran officer, whose brain had been affected by severe wounds and service in tropical climates. Coote lost his seat in parliament at the dissolution of 1818, and died 10 Dec. 1823. He was twice married, and left issue by both wives. His first wife, Sarah (died 1795), daughter of John Robbard, is the subject of one of Romney's famous paintings.

[European Mag., April 1810, Military Panorama, May 1813, and ‘A Plain Statement of Facts relative to Sir Eyre Coote, containing the official correspondence and documents connected with his case,’ 1816.]

H. M. S.