Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Torrens, Henry

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TORRENS, Sir HENRY (1779–1828), major-general, colonel of the 2nd (Queen's) foot, adjutant-general of the forces, is said to be descended from a Swedish Count Torrens, a captain of cavalry in the army of William III, who established himself in Ireland after the battle of the Boyne in 1690. Sir Henry's great-grandfather, Thomas Torrens, was settled at Dungwen, co. Derry, early in the eighteenth century. His third son, Dr. John Torrens (d. 1785), Sir Henry's grandfather, was prebendary of Derry, headmaster of Derry diocesan school, and rector of Ballynascreen. Sir Henry's father, the Rev. Thomas Torrens, married Elizabeth, daughter of Samuel Curry of Londonderry. The eldest son, John (1761–1851), was archdeacon of Dublin; the second, Samuel, captain of the 52nd regiment, died of wounds received in action at Ferrol in 1800. The third son, Robert (1776–1856), was a justice of the court of common pleas in Ireland.

Henry, the fourth son, was born at Londonderry in 1779. Both his parents died in his infancy. He was brought up at the rectory of Ballynascreen by the rector, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Torrens, his father's first cousin and husband of his father's sister. He received a commission as ensign in the 52nd foot on 2 Nov. 1793. He was promoted to be lieutenant in the 92nd foot on 14 June 1794, and transferred to the 63rd foot on 11 Dec. 1795. He accompanied his regiment to the West Indies and took part in the expedition under Abercromby against St. Lucia, was present at the attack of Morne Chabot on 29 April 1796, at the siege of Morne Fortuné and its capture in May, when he was severely wounded in the right thigh. The island surrendered on 26 May. Notwithstanding his wound, Torrens joined his regiment in time for the attack of St. Vincent, and on 8 June took a prominent part in the assault of three French redoubts, when the French were driven out and took refuge in the New Vigie, capitulating on the following day. He was employed for seven months in command of an outpost in the forests of St. Vincent against the Charib Indians of the island, and, on their reduction, was rewarded on 28 March 1797 by the commander of the forces by promotion to a company, with which he served in Jamaica as captain and paymaster until June 1798, when he returned to England.

In August 1798 Torrens was appointed aide-de-camp to Major-general John Whitelocke, second in command under the Earl of Moira and lieutenant-governor of Portsmouth. In November he went to Portugal as aide-de-camp to Major-general Cornelius Cuyler, who commanded the auxiliary troops sent by the British government to repel the threatened invasion by the Spaniards. On 8 Aug. 1799 he was transferred to the 20th foot, then forming part of the force under the Duke of York for the expedition to the Helder. He served with his regiment throughout the campaign; landing on 28 Aug., he took part in the repulse of the French attack at Crabbendam, under General Daendels, on 10 Sept., when the regiment was complimented by Sir Ralph Abercromby [q. v.] for its gallantry; he was also engaged in the battle of Hoorne on 19 Sept., and in the two battles of Egmont-op-Zee on 2 and 6 Oct. At the latter Torrens was wounded by a bullet which passed through his right thigh and lodged in his left thigh, whence it was never extracted.

Torrens returned to England in November, and was promoted from the 3rd of that month to a majority in the Surrey rangers, a fencible regiment then being raised. Its formation devolved upon Torrens, who subsequently embarked with it for North America. He commanded it for a year in Nova Scotia, and returned to England in the autumn of 1801.

On 4 Feb. 1802 Torrens exchanged into the 86th foot, then forming part of the Indian force in Egypt under Sir David Baird [q. v.] He accompanied it in its march across the desert to the Red Sea, and embarked with it on the return to India of Baird's expedition in the summer. On arrival at Bombay Torrens was so ill from a sunstroke that he was obliged to sail at once for Europe. The ship touched at St. Helena; he remained there, recovered his health, married the governor's daughter, and rejoined his regiment in India in the following year, when he commanded in the field during the Maratha war. He was promoted to be brevet lieutenant-colonel on 1 Jan. 1805, and returned to England.

Torrens was made assistant adjutant-general on 17 Oct. 1805, and was employed on the staff of the Kent military district. He was transferred as regimental major to the 89th foot on 19 Feb. 1807. On 11 May he was appointed military secretary to Major-general John Whitelocke [q. v.], who had been nominated to the command of the army in South America. He arrived at Monte Video in June, and took part in the disastrous attack on Buenos Ayres on 5 July, when he received a contusion from a bullet which shattered his sabretache. Torrens returned to England with Whitelocke. He was reappointed on 27 Nov. an assistant adjutant-general on the staff in Great Britain, and in December became assistant military secretary to the commander-in-chief, the Duke of York. He gave evidence at Whitelocke's trial by a general court-martial in January, February, and March 1808. His position as a member of Whitelocke's personal staff was a delicate one, but he acquitted himself with credit. In June 1808 Torrens was appointed military secretary to Sir Arthur Wellesley, and accompanied him to Portugal. He was present at the action of Roliça on 17 Aug. and at the battle of Vimiero on 21 Aug. He received the gold medal for these victories, and was made a knight of the order of the Tower and Sword by the Portuguese regency. He returned to England in October with Wellesley on the latter's supersession, and resumed his duties as assistant military secretary at headquarters.

Torrens was promoted to be military secretary to the commander-in-chief on 2 Oct. 1809. On 13 June 1811 he was transferred from major of the 89th foot to a company in the 3rd foot-guards. On 20 Feb. 1812 he was appointed aide-de-camp to the prince regent, and promoted to be colonel in the army. On 4 June 1814 he was promoted to be major-general. On 3 Jan. 1815 he was made a knight-commander of the order of the Bath, military division. On 5 April he was appointed to the colonelcy of the second garrison battalion, and removed on 27 Nov. of the same year to that of the royal African colonial corps. On 21 Sept. 1818 Torrens was transferred to the colonelcy of the 2nd West India regiment. On 25 March 1820 he was appointed adjutant-general of the forces. The emoluments of that office being less than those which he had enjoyed as military secretary, a civil-list pension of 800l. a year was bestowed upon his wife to compensate him for the loss.

During his tenure of the appointment he made a complete revision of the ‘Regulations for the Exercise and Field Movements of the Infantry of the Army.’ They were much in need of it, and he accomplished the task in a manner which gave general satisfaction, embodying the improvements which had been introduced and practised by different commanders in recent wars. On 26 July 1822 Torrens was transferred to the colonelcy of the 2nd or queen's royal regiment of foot. On 23 Aug. 1828 he died suddenly while on a visit to a friend at Danesbury, Hertfordshire. He was buried in Welwyn church, Hertfordshire. Torrens married at St. Helena, in 1803, Sarah, daughter of Colonel Robert Patton, the governor of the island, by whom he left a numerous family, including Sir Arthur Wellesley Torrens [q. v.]

A portrait, painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, was engraved by T. A. Dunn.

[Memoir privately printed; War Office Records; Despatches; Memoirs in Royal Military Calendar, 1820, in Gent. Mag. 1828, in Annual Register, 1828, in Naval and Military Mag. 1828 vol. iv., and in Jerdan's National Portrait Gallery of Illustrious and Eminent Personages of the Nineteenth Century, 1830, vol. i.; Cust's Annals of the Wars of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries; Conolly's Fifiana, 1869; Evans's Catalogue of Engraved Portraits.]

R. H. V.