Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Doyle, John (1750?-1834)

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DOYLE, Sir JOHN (1750?–1834), general, fourth son of Charles Doyle of Bramblestown, co. Kilkenny, by Elizabeth, daughter of the Rev. Nicholas Milley of Johnville in the same county, was born, according to Foster's ‘Baronetage,’ in 1756, but according to the ‘Reminiscences’ of his great-nephew, Sir Francis Hastings Doyle, in 1750. He was intended for the bar, but the enthusiasm of his younger brother, Welbore Ellis Doyle, who had entered the army, infected him, and he entered the army as an ensign in the 48th regiment in March 1771. He was promoted lieutenant in 1773, and was wounded while on duty in Ireland. In 1775 he exchanged into the 40th regiment, with which he first saw service in the American war of independence. He was soon appointed adjutant of the 40th, and greatly distinguished himself at the battle of Brooklyn, where he rescued the body of his commanding officer, Lieutenant-colonel Grant, from the enemy, and was also present at the affairs of Haerlem, Springfield, Brandywine, Germantown, where he was wounded, and others. His brother, Welbore Ellis Doyle, had brought his wife, afterwards Princess of Monaco, to America with him, and their house became a favourite meeting-place of the British officers. Here John Doyle made the acquaintance of Lord Rawdon, afterwards marquis of Hastings, who became his lifelong friend. He helped Lord Rawdon to raise his loyal American legion, afterwards the 105th regiment, into which he was promoted captain in 1778, and with which he served at the battle of Monmouth Courthouse and the siege of Charleston. He was promoted major in 1781, and still further distinguished himself during the last two years of the war. After the defeat of General Marion he hotly pursued the Carolina dragoons with but seventy men, and killed and wounded more of them than he had men with him; he then acted as brigade-major to Lord Cornwallis at the battles of Camden and Hobkirk's Hill, and finally was adjutant-general to the detached corps, which was placed under the command of Generals Gould, Stewart, and Leslie successively. On the conclusion of the war in 1784 his regiment was reduced and he went on half-pay, but in the previous year he had been elected M.P. for Mullingar to the Irish House of Commons, and he now prepared to devote himself to politics. He was noted as an eloquent speaker even in those days, when the Irish House of Commons abounded in eloquent speakers, and he was eventually made secretary at war in Ireland in 1796, an office which he held until he resigned his seat in 1799. In 1793 he raised the famous 87th regiment, with which he accompanied his old friend, now Earl of Moira, to the Netherlands in 1794. He was present in Lord Moira's famous march to join the Duke of York in that year, and was wounded at the battle of Alost (Royal Military Calendar, ed. 1820, ii. 117). He was present at the operations at Quiberon and Isle Dieu in 1795. In 1799 he threw up his official position to go to the Mediterranean as brigadier-general at Gibraltar, and after serving in the same capacity in Minorca, he accompanied Sir Ralph Abercromby's expedition to Egypt at the head of a brigade, consisting of the 2nd, 30th, 44th, and 89th regiments. With this brigade he did good service at the battles of 8, 13, and 21 March, especially at the latter, where his brigade had to bear the brunt of the French attack with Lord Cavan's, and suffered most severely. His activity in Egypt was immense; he organised a dromedary corps there; he commanded the brilliant expedition into the desert of 17 May, when with two hundred and fifty cavalry he took six hundred French prisoners with two hundred horses and four hundred and sixty camels; and in spite of serious illness he galloped to Alexandria in August, and commanded in the capture of the castle of Marabout on 17 Aug., which insured the surrender of the city. Lord Hutchinson omitted to mention his name in his despatch, but ample reparation was done to him by the handsome language used about him by Lord Hobart in the House of Commons, when moving a vote of thanks to the army in Egypt (ib. ii. 123). His last daring achievement was in bringing home despatches in the following year from Naples through the midst of the banditti who then infested Italy. In 1802 he was promoted major-general, and made private secretary to the Prince of Wales, a post he resigned in 1804 to take up the appointment of lieutenant-governor of Guernsey. In 1805 he was created a baronet, received the royal license to wear the order of the Crescent, conferred on him for his Egyptian services, and was granted an additional crest and supporters to his arms. In Guernsey he made himself very popular, and at the same time very useful. The close neighbourhood of the Channel Islands to France made it most important to maintain an efficient garrison in them, and Doyle greatly increased this efficiency by improving the local militia, of which he made his favourite nephew, Colonel J. M. Doyle, inspector, and making the inhabitants proud of their forces. He generally improved the island, especially by persuading the people to make good roads, and he got the States to vote him 30,000l. for supplies, a larger sum than had ever been granted to any other governor. He was promoted lieutenant-general in April 1808, and was obliged to leave Guernsey, owing to the reduction of the staff there in 1815, in spite of the remonstrance of the States of the island, which also voted him a vase. He was made a K.B. in 1812, promoted general on 12 Aug. 1819, and made governor of Charlemont, and it is said (ib. ii. 125) that he was even selected for the task of organising the Portuguese army in 1809, which was eventually entrusted to Lord Beresford, and only missed the appointment by an accident to the official letter. His reputation as an organiser was undoubtedly very high, and that he could win popularity is well shown by the enthusiastic reception he met with in Guernsey when he visited the island in 1826, and by the pillar set up to his memory there. The government's ill-treatment of his nephew, Sir John Milley Doyle [q. v.], in 1828 greatly preyed upon his mind and weakened his health, and he died in Somerset Street, Portman Square, on 8 Aug. 1834. As he was unmarried, the baronetcy conferred upon him in 1805 became extinct, but it was revived (18 Feb. 1828) in the person of Sir Francis Hastings Doyle, the son of his youngest brother, General Welbore Ellis Doyle. General Welbore Doyle, himself a distinguished soldier, commanded the 14th regiment and led the attack on Famars in 1793, and died commander-in-chief in Ceylon in 1797 (Sir F. H. Doyle, Reminiscences, pp. 369–72).

[Sir F. H. Doyle's Reminiscences; Royal Military Calendar, long article, ed. 1820, ii. 115–26; Gent. Mag. November 1834; Duncan's History of Guernsey.]

H. M. S.