Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Petit des Etans, Lewis

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PETIT des Etans, LEWIS (1665?–1720), brigadier-general and military engineer, was descended from the ancient family of Petit des Etans, established near Caen in Normandy. He came to England on the revocation of the edict of Nantes in 1685. He served in the train as engineer in Ireland from 19 June 1691, the date of his commission, to 1 May 1692. He was employed in the ordnance train which proceeded with the Channel fleet on the summer expeditions to act on the French coast in both 1692 and 1693, when he was one of the twelve engineers under Sir Martin Beckman, the king's chief engineer. The attempts on the French coast were not very successful, and the train was landed at Ostend after the battle of Landen, 19 July 1693. It was under the command-in-chief of the Duke of Leinster, and took part in the capture of Furnes, Dixmude, and Ghent. Petit wintered at Ghent, and returned to England with the train. After the treaty of Ryswick in 1697, a permanent train was formed; but several engineers were placed on half-pay, and Petit appears to have been brought into the train again in 1699.

On 6 April 1702 Petit was included in the royal warrant for an ordnance train to accompany the expedition to Cadiz under the Duke of Ormonde and Admiral Sir George Rooke. Colonel Peter Carles commanded the train. The expedition sailed from Spithead on 12 July, and on 21 July anchored outside the Bay of Bulls at Cadiz. Petit was sent to reconnoitre, and the troops were landed in accordance with his proposals. The town of Rota surrendered, but, after some abortive operations on the Matagorda peninsula, the attack was abandoned. The expedition sailed for Vigo, and on 12 Oct. a successful attack was made on that town, in which Petit took an active part.

Petit returned to England, and on 24 July 1703 was included in the royal warrant forming an ordnance train, which proceeded to Portugal under the command, first, of the Duke of Schomberg, and later of the Earl of Galway [see Massue de Ruvigny, Henry], to assist the Archduke Charles in the invasion of Spain. Petit took part in the campaign against the Duke of Berwick. The Earl of Galway reported on 30 Nov. 1704 that Petit ‘is very capable; but he was taken in Portalegre, and has been sent into France. It will be very well to get him exchanged one of the first, and send him back hither.’ Directions were given accordingly.

In September, when the British government heard of the capture of Gibraltar by Rooke, an ordnance train was prepared, of which Petit was one of the engineers, for the service of the new acquisition, the train being under the command of Talbot Edwardes. The train arrived on 18 Feb. 1705, and the siege, which the Spaniards had begun seven months before, was raised on 20 April.

Petit was now appointed chief engineer to command the ordnance train for the capture of Barcelona under the Earl of Peterborough, and sailed in the fleet under Sir Clowdisley Shovell on 28 July from Gibraltar. The troops were disembarked at Barcelona on 22 Aug., and invested the city. After the strong fort of Monjuich had been carried by storm on 3 Sept. 1705, Petit erected three siege batteries against the city, all on the west side—one of nine guns, another of twelve, and the last of upwards of thirty guns, from which a continuous fire was kept up. Petit then erected another battery of six guns on a lower piece of ground opposite to the weakest part of the walls. Although he was wounded, he was not long absent from duty. The breach was made practicable, and on 4 Oct. the city capitulated.

On 6 April 1706 King Philip, at the head of a large army, invested Barcelona by land while the Count de Toulouse blockaded it by sea. A small ordnance train was in the city under Petit. Owing to his exertions the fortification had been placed in an efficient condition, while the place was well provided with guns, ammunition, and defensive materiel. At Monjuich Petit had completed the half-formed outworks, with a good line of bastioned fortifications, with ditches, covered way, and glacis, and had thrown up a small lunette in front of a demi-bastion on the left. He had mounted several guns on the new ramparts, and the old fort formed a strong keep to the new main line of defence in front. Moreover, between the fortress and Monjuich, in substitution for the small detached work of St. Bertram, which had been demolished, Petit had constructed a continuous line of entrenchment with a palisaded ditch. The siege was pushed forward with vigour. On 15 April the advanced lunette was captured, and a lodgment in it converted into a five-gun battery. On the 21st the enceinte of Monjuich was stormed and captured, and the besiegers were able to concentrate their attention on the fortress itself. Petit, who was the soul of the defence, constructed entrenchments to isolate the weak points. On 3 May the besiegers commenced mining, but Petit met them with countermines, and, by blowing in their galleries, checked their advance. On 8 May Sir John Leake arrived with a relieving squadron, and the siege was raised. The success of the defence brought great credit to Petit, to whose zeal, activity, and engineering resources it was mainly due. The Archduke Charles wrote a letter to Queen Anne from Barcelona on 29 May expressing his obligation to Petit.

Petit, who had been promoted colonel, was with the train at Almanza when, on 25 April 1707, the Earl of Galway was defeated by Berwick. On 11 May Petit arrived at Tortosa, where he was charged with the duty of preparing that fortress for a siege. On 11 June 1708 the Duke of Orleans invested the place with twenty-two thousand men. The trenches were opened on 21 June, and three days later sixteen guns, besides mortars, opened fire. The defence was spirited. But on 8 July Orleans had sapped to within fourteen yards of the counterscarp, while twenty-seven guns were battering the escarp. The next night he assaulted and carried the covered way. The garrison made a determined sortie, effecting considerable injury to the works of the besiegers, and at its conclusion Petit sprang a mine, which he had placed in the covered way, with good effect. All the efforts of the defenders were, however, unavailing, and on 10 July the town capitulated.

It may be assumed that Petit was exchanged almost immediately, for in August 1708 General Stanhope took him with him as chief engineer in his expedition to Minorca. He effected a landing on 26 Aug., and laid siege to Port Mahon. The place fell on 30 Sept., and a few days later the whole island surrendered to the British. Petit was appointed governor of Fort St. Philip, the citadel of Port Mahon, and lieutenant-governor of the island. He built a large work for the defence of Port Mahon harbour. He was promoted brigadier-general for his services, and given the command in Minorca. He was at this time a lieutenant-colonel in the army, and also a captain in Brigadier Joseph Wightman's regiment of foot (cf. a petition of his wife Mariana to receive his captain's pay by his authority for herself and four children). From March 1709 Petit was, according to the ‘Muster Rolls,’ in Spain until March 1710, when he returned to Minorca. He remained there until 1713, when he returned to England.

After the treaty of Utrecht the engineers were reduced to a peace footing. But as England had acquired Gibraltar, Minorca, and Nova Scotia, an extra staff was required for each of those places. Petit is shown on the rolls in May 1714 at the head of the new establishment for home service, and seems to have been employed at the board of ordnance. On the accession of George I Petit was sent, in September 1714, to Scotland, to assist General Maitland in view of the threatened rising of the clans, and to report on the state of the works at Fort William, as well as at Dumbarton and other forts and castles in the west of Scotland. On 27 Nov. a warrant was issued for the formation of an ordnance train for Scotland, and Petit was appointed chief engineer. Petit and six other engineers went by land, leaving the train to follow by sea. The ships carrying the train lay windbound at the mouth of the Thames. Petit was consequently ordered to make up a train of eighteen, twelve, and nine pounders, and six small field-pieces from the guns at Edinburgh and Berwick, and to hire out of the Dutch and British troops such men as had skill in gunnery to the number of fifty for gunners and matrosses, to be added to the old Scots corps of gunners, then at Stirling. He was also instructed to get together what ammunition and other warlike stores would be necessary, and nine thousand men, either for siege or battle, in readiness, with the utmost expedition, together with pontoons for crossing rivers. The Jacobite rebellion was soon suppressed. Petit then marched with Cadogan's army by Perth to Fort William, and later surveyed land at the head of Loch Ness for a fort.

On 3 July 1716 a warrant was issued appointing Petit chief engineer and commander-in-chief of the office of ordnance at Port Mahon, Minorca. He appears to have returned to England the following year. In 1717 he was employed to design four barracks and to report upon their sites in Scotland to prevent robberies and depredations of the highlanders. In 1718 Petit was again at Minorca as chief engineer, and in September reported that he was making defensible the outworks for covering the body of St. Philip's Castle. The board of ordnance reported to Secretary Craggs on 14 Oct. that the cost of the work would probably be 50,000l., besides stores of war, and that only 16,965l. had been supplied. In 1720 Petit went to Italy for his health, and, dying at Naples, was buried there. His eldest son, Robert, was a captain and engineer, and was stationed at Port Mahon when his father died. John Louis Petit [q. v.] was a descendant.

[War Office Records; Conolly MSS.; Porter's History of the Corps of Royal Engineers; Cust's Annals of the Wars of the Eighteenth Century; Armstrong's History of Minorca, 1752; Carleton Memoirs, 1728; Royal Warrants; Smollett's History of England, 1807; Board of Ordnance Letters; Rae's History of the Late Rebellion, 1718; Patten's History of the Rebellion of 1715, 1745; Boyer's Annals of Queen Anne, 1735; Addit. MSS. Brit. Museum.]

R. H. V.