Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Symes, Michael

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SYMES, MICHAEL (1753?–1809), soldier and diplomatist, born about 1753, entered the army about 1787, and went to India in the following year with the newly raised 76th (now 2nd battalion West Riding) regiment. He served as aide-de-camp to Major-general T. Musgrave at Madras in 1791, became captain in 1793, and lieutenant-colonel in 1800. In 1795 he was sent by the governor-general (Sir John Shore) on a mission to Burma (Calcutta Gazette, 21 Jan. 1796), and obtained from ‘the Emperor of Ava’ a royal order permitting a British agent to reside at Rangoon to protect the interests of British subjects. In 1802, his regiment being then at Cawnpore, he was sent by Marquis Wellesley on a second mission to Ava to protest against the demand made by the Burmese governor of Arakan for the surrender of fugitives who had sought refuge in the British district of Chittagong. Proceeding to the capital, he obtained a verbal assurance that the demand should be withdrawn. On the journey back to Calcutta, where he arrived in February 1803, he was treated with scant civility by the Burmese governor of Rangoon (East India Military Calendar). His regiment returned to England in 1806, and was sent in 1808 to Spain. Symes behaved with great gallantry during Sir John Moore's retreat to Coruña, but suffered from the hardships of the campaign, and died on the way home, on board the transport Mary, on 22 Jan. 1809. His body was taken from Portsmouth to Rochester, and buried in St. Margaret's Church on 3 Feb. 1809.

When on leave in England Colonel Symes married, on 18 Feb. 1801, Jemima, daughter of Paul Pilcher of Rochester. Symes's widow married Sir Joseph de Courcy Laffan [q. v.], and died on 18 Aug. 1835, aged 64.

Symes wrote: ‘An Account of an Embassy to the Kingdom of Ava sent by the Governal-General of India in 1795,’ London, 1800.

[European Mag. 1809; Calcutta Gazette; East India Military Cal.; Official Memo. by Arthur P. Phayre, Rangoon, 5 Nov. 1861.]

S. W.