Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Seaton, Thomas (1806-1876)

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SEATON, Sir THOMAS (1806–1876), major-general, born in 1806, was the son of John Fox Seaton of Pontefract, and afterwards of Clapham. In July 1822, being then sixteen years and five months old, he obtained a cadetship in the East India Company's service, and on 4 Feb. 1823 he was commissioned as ensign in the first battalion of the 10th native infantry of the Bengal army. In July he was transferred to the second battalion of the 17th native infantry, stationed at Ludhiana in the Punjab. This battalion was soon afterwards converted into the 35th native infantry. He served with the first battalion (which had become the 34th) from October 1824 till July 1825, but then returned to the 35th, and remained in it till 1857. His commission as lieutenant was dated 1 May 1824. He took part in the siege of Bhartpur, and was afterwards stationed at Meerut and in the Lower Provinces, where he married Caroline, daughter of J. Corfield of Taunton, Somerset. On 2 April 1834 he was promoted captain. In 1836, having lost his wife, he went to England on furlough for three years, and returned to India in 1839, having married, as his second wife, Elizabeth, daughter of J. Harriman of Tivoli, Cumberland.

He found that his regiment was engaged in the campaign just opened in Afghanistan, and hastened to join it by way of the Bolan Pass. In his autobiography he has given a vivid picture of the sufferings of the convoy to which he was attached in crossing the desert of Shikarpur to Bagh in the intense heat of June. He rejoined his regiment at Kabul on 8 Sept. 1839, and remained there for two years, except for a short expedition over the Hindukush to Bamian. In October 1841, when the regiment was about to return to India as part of Sale's brigade, the general rising of the Afghans took place [see Sale, Sir Robert Henry]. The brigade had to reopen the Koord Kabul Pass, and to fight its way to Jalalabad, which it reached on 12 Nov.

The defence of Jalalabad lasted five months, and in the course of it Seaton had opportunities of showing his resource. He was sent to destroy the walls of an outlying fort which might give cover to the enemy; but they proved too hard for spade and pick, and he had no powder to spare. There was a sunken road at the foot of the wall, and the soil was soft; so he threw a dam across the lower part of the road, and turned a little stream into it. In a few hours the wall fell. In the first two months of the defence the stock of wine and spirits ran out, but Seaton contrived to make a still with some washermen's pots and a matchlock barrel, and supplied his mess with spirits as long as there was sugar left.

The cordial friendship between the two infantry regiments of the brigade—the 13th British light infantry and the 35th native infantry—was one of the most notable features of the defence of Jalalabad. They entertained one another at parting, after their return to India, and the 13th presented to the 35th a piece of plate, which passed into Seaton's possession when the 35th was disbanded in the mutiny. Seaton received the medal awarded to the ‘illustrious garrison,’ and was made C.B. He was given the local rank of major on 4 Oct. 1842.

From 1842 to 1851 he held the appointment of brigade-major at Agra. After three years' furlough in England he rejoined his regiment at Sialkot on 31 Jan. 1855, and took command of it. He had become major in the regiment on 17 Nov. 1852, and lieutenant-colonel in the army on 20 June 1854. In May 1857 he went to Simla on account of his health, but within a week he was sent to Umballa to take command of the 60th native infantry, a regiment which was ripe for mutiny. A few days afterwards the troops at Umballa set out for the siege of Delhi; but this regiment, in spite (or because) of its known condition, was detached on the march to intercept a body of mutineers at Rohtak. By dexterous handling Seaton delayed the inevitable outbreak for a fortnight; but on 10 June the regiment drove away its officers, and marched to join the mutineers in Delhi. The officers made their way to the British camp, where there was much surprise at their safe arrival; and Seaton served as a field officer during the earlier part of the siege.

On 23 July he was dangerously wounded, and after the fall of Delhi he was sent up to Simla. In November he was again ready for duty, and was made lieutenant-colonel of the 1st European fusiliers, his commission bearing date 27 June. He was made colonel in the army on 13 Oct. With a force of 2,300 men, including his own regiment, he escorted a large convoy from Delhi through the Duàb, to join the commander-in-chief. He had engagements with the mutineers near Bibram, at Patiali, and at Mainpuri, in which he defeated them by skilful tactics with little loss.

He joined Sir Colin Campbell at Fatehgarh on 7 Jan. 1858, and was left in command there as brigadier during the siege of Lucknow. ‘You'll be mobbed, my dear friend,’ said Sir Colin, ‘as soon as I leave, but you must hold out till I come back.’ He had only a small force, but finding that the mutineers were mustering in large numbers in the neighbourhood, he marched out on the night of 6 April, fell upon a body of them at Kankar, and routed them so thoroughly that the main road to the north-west was no longer in danger. In this brilliant affair his men ‘had marched, out and home, forty-four miles, had fought an action, defeating the enemy with considerable loss, and capturing their guns, ammunition, tents, stores, and baggage, and they had returned home safely with the captured guns, without leaving behind a single straggler, and, in spite of the tremendous heat, doing all in a little over twenty-two hours.’

In June he was sent to Shahjahanpur, and on 8 Oct. he surprised and defeated the Oudh mutineers at Bunhagong. In the following spring his brigade was broken up, as the fighting was at an end; and he retired soon afterwards with the rank of major-general. His retirement bore date 30 Aug. 1859. He had been made K.C.B. on 24 March 1858.

After spending several years in England, he settled in France on account of the milder climate, and he died at Paris on 11 Sept. 1876. Seaton's autobiography, ‘From Cadet to Colonel,’ was published in two volumes in 1866, and reprinted in one volume in 1877. It is a well-told story of an Indian soldier's career. He also wrote some papers on ‘Fret-cutting and Wood-carving,’ for a boys' magazine, and they were reprinted as a manual in 1875.

[From Cadet to Colonel; Stocqueler's Memorials of Afghanistan, pp. 213–27; Malleson's Hist. of the Indian Mutiny; Annual Register, 1876; Illustrated London News, 23 Sept. 1876.]

E. M. L.