Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Whitelocke, John

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947868Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 61 — Whitelocke, John1900Ernest Marsh Lloyd

WHITELOCKE, JOHN (1757–1833), lieutenant-general, born in 1757, was the son of John Whitelocke, steward to the fourth Earl of Aylesbury, and probably a descendant of Bulstrode Whitelocke [q. v.] His mother died at Ramsbury, Wiltshire, on 7 June 1809 (Gent. Mag. 1809, i. 589), and was buried as Sarah Liddiard (alias Whitelocke). He was educated at Marlborough grammar school, was placed by Lord Aylesbury at Lochee's military academy at Chelsea, and obtained through Lord Barrington a commission as ensign in the 14th foot on 14 Dec. 1778. Owing to his previous training he was appointed adjutant to a battalion of flank companies a few months afterwards. He was promoted lieutenant on 26 April 1780 and went to Jamaica with his regiment in 1782. Soon afterwards he married a daughter of William Lewis of Cornwall, Jamaica, while another daughter was married to his brother officer, afterwards Sir Robert Brownrigg [q. v.], who became military secretary and quartermaster-general. Matthew Lewis, his brother-in-law, was deputy secretary at war, and Whitelocke is said to have owed much to his influence. He obtained a company in the 36th foot on 12 May 1784, and a majority in one of the newly raised battalions of the 60th on 2 Oct. 1788. He went with it to the West Indies, and on 30 March 1791 he became lieutenant-colonel of the 13th foot, then stationed in Jamaica. In September 1793, when the French part of San Domingo was in insurrection, he was sent thither with his own regiment and some other troops, with the local rank of colonel. He landed at Jeremie on the 19th with nearly seven hundred men. On the 22nd the fort at the mole of Cape St. Nicholas surrendered. On 4 Oct. he made an attempt on Tiburon, but the promised co-operation of French planters failed him, and he was repulsed. Yellow fever soon broke out and reduced his small force, but at the end of the year it was joined by nearly eight hundred men from Jamaica. On 2 Feb. 1794 a fresh attempt was made on Tiburon, and proved successful. He next tried to obtain possession of Port de la Paix by bribing its commander, Lavaux, but his offers were indignantly refused (Annual Register, 1794, pp. 174–5). On 19 Feb. he stormed Fort l'Acul, which was an obstacle to an attack on Port-au-Prince. On 19 May Brigadier-general Whyte arrived with three regiments and took the chief command. Whitelocke became quartermaster-general, but he stipulated that he should be allowed to lead the principal column in the attack on Port-au-Prince, and did so ‘with the greatest gallantry’ on 4 June. He was sent home with despatches, and Major (afterwards Sir Brent) Spencer expressed, on behalf of the troops, their hope that they might again serve under an officer ‘who carries with him such universal approbation and so well earned applause’ (Trial, App. p. 67). He was made brevet colonel on 21 Aug. 1795, colonel of the 6th West India regiment on 1 Sept., and brigadier on 10 Sept. After further service in the West Indies he was appointed brigadier-general in Guernsey on 12 Jan. 1798, and lieutenant-governor of Portsmouth on 29 May 1799. He was promoted major-general on 18 June 1798, and lieutenant-general on 30 Oct. 1805. Shortly after this he was made inspector-general of recruiting.

In 1806 General Beresford [see Beresford, William Carr, Viscount Beresford], with only twelve hundred men, had gained possession of Buenos Ayres, but had been afterwards forced to surrender. The British government, in deference to the popular cry for new markets, determined to send a large force to recover it, and on 24 Feb. 1807 Whitelocke was appointed to the command. He was also to undertake the civil government of the province when recovered. More than five thousand men had already been sent to Rio de la Plata, under Sir Samuel Auchmuty [q. v.], and a corps of four thousand, under Brigadier Robert Craufurd, which was on its way to Chili, was to join them. Reinforcements from England would raise the total to eleven thousand men, of which not more than eight thousand were to be permanently retained. Whitelocke, accompanied by Major-general John Leveson-Gower as second in command, reached Montevideo on 10 May, and on 15 June Craufurd's corps arrived. Whitelocke did not wait for the troops from England. He left a garrison of 1,350 men at Montevideo, and on 28–9 June the army landed on the right bank of the river, at the Ensenada de Barragon, about thirty miles below Buenos Ayres. It consisted of nine battalions of infantry, two and a half regiments of cavalry (of which only 150 men were mounted), and sixteen field-guns, and numbered 7,822 rank and file.

The march was delayed by swamps, which caused a loss of guns and stores, but on 2 July the advanced guard under Gower forded the Chuello, drove the Spanish troops back into Buenos Ayres, and took up a position in the southern suburb. They were joined on the afternoon of the 3rd by the main body, which had been misled by their guide. The town had a garrison of about six thousand and a population of seventy thousand. It was cut up into squares by streets 140 yards apart, parallel and perpendicular to the river. It was unfortified, but the streets were barricaded. Whitelocke's intention had been to establish himself on the west of it, with his left on the river, land guns, and bombard it. But he wished to save time, as the rains were impending, and to avoid alienating the inhabitants, so he determined to take it by assault.

At 6.30 a. m. on the 5th eight battalions, formed in thirteen columns, entered the town with arms unloaded. They were to make their way, if possible, to the river by parallel streets, and occupy blocks of houses there. They were to avoid the central part of the town, the fort, and the great square, and to incline outwards, if at all. The columns on the right got possession of the Residencia, those on the left of the Plaza de los Toros; but in the centre the 88th regiment and the light brigade (under Craufurd) met with stouter resistance from troops in the streets, and from the inhabitants on the tops of their houses. They found themselves isolated, and unable to advance or retire, and at length surrendered. Next morning Whitelocke received a proposal from the Spanish commander, Liniers, that hostilities should cease, that the prisoners on both sides should be restored, and that the British should evacuate the province, Montevideo included, within two months. If the attack were renewed, Liniers could not answer for the safety of the prisoners. Of these there were 1,676, and the total British loss was 2,500. Doubtful whether a fresh attack would be successful, and convinced that if it were the object of the expedition was no longer attainable, and that the prisoners' lives would be sacrificed to no purpose, Whitelocke, after consulting Gower and Auchmuty, accepted Liniers's terms. The troops withdrew from Buenos Ayres on the 12th, and from Montevideo on 9 Sept. The indignation of soldiers and traders alike was unbounded. ‘General Whitelocke is either a coward or a traitor, perhaps both!’ was written up at the corners of the streets of Montevideo (Whittingham, p. 22). ‘Success to grey hairs, but bad luck to white locks,’ became a favourite toast among the men.

Whitelocke reached England on 7 Nov., and on 28 Jan. 1808 he was brought before a court-martial at Chelsea. He was charged with, first, excluding the hope of amicable accommodation by demanding the surrender of persons holding civil offices at Buenos Ayres; secondly, not making the military arrangements best calculated to ensure success; thirdly, not making any effectual attempt to co-operate with or support the different columns when engaged in the streets; fourthly, concluding a treaty by which he unnecessarily and shamefully surrendered the advantages he had gained at heavy cost, and delivered up the fortress of Montevideo. The trial lasted seven weeks, and on 18 March the court found him guilty of all the charges, with the exception of that part of the second charge which related to the order that ‘the columns should be unloaded, and that no firing should be permitted on any account,’ to which they attached no blame. They sentenced him to be cashiered. The sentence was confirmed by the king, and ordered to be read out to every regiment in the service.

Whitelocke had much to urge in his defence. The expedition had been sent out under the profoundly false impression that the inhabitants would be friendly, from experience of ‘the difference between the oppressive dominion of Spain and the benign and protecting government of his Majesty.’ The season and the swamps embarrassed him. The plan of assault was drawn up by Gower, and none of the other officers raised any objection to it, or showed any doubt of its success. Had Craufurd fallen back on the Residencia, as Pack, who knew the place, advised, the town would probably have been surrendered next day.

But Whitelocke had shown himself incompetent throughout; infirm of purpose and wanting in resource, prone to lean on others, yet jealous of his own authority. He left a rearguard of sixteen hundred men idle, on the east of the Chuello, during the assault, and he himself remained passive all day, and went back to his headquarters to dine and sleep, without making any serious attempt to learn what had happened to his columns on the right. In the words of the general order, he was ‘deficient in zeal, judgment, and personal exertion.’

People asked how he came to be appointed. According to Lord Holland, who was in the cabinet, he was an opponent to Windham's plan of limited enlistment, and Windham wished to get rid of him as inspector-general of recruiting (Memoirs of the Whig Party, ii. 116). But Windham himself mentions that he suggested Sir John Stuart (of Maida), and the choice seems to have been mainly due to the Duke of York (Windham, Diary, p. 467).

He spent the rest of his life in retirement, latterly at Clifton. He died on 23 Oct. 1833 at Hall Barn Park, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, the seat of Sir Gore Ouseley [q. v.], who had married his eldest daughter. Another daughter was married to Captain George Burdett, R.N. He was buried in the west aisle of Bristol Cathedral.

[Georgian Era, ii. 475; Records of the 13th Regiment; Bryan Edwards's Hist. of the British West Indies, iii. 155–60; War Office Original Correspondence, No. 43, P.R.O. (1807, Buenos Ayres and Montevideo); Trial at large of General Whitelocke, 1808; Craufurd's Life of Craufurd; Memoirs of Sir Samuel Ford Whittingham; Memoirs of M. G. Lewis; Erskine Neale's Risen from the Ranks, p. 67–95; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. ix. 201, 455, x. 54, 8th ser. xii. 492; Gent. Mag. 1833, ii. 475.]

E. M. L.