Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lowe, Hudson

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LOWE, Sir HUDSON (1769–1844), lieutenant-general, governor of St. Helena, from 1815 to 1821, born 28 July 1769), was son of Hudson Lowe, army surgeon, and his wife, the daughter of J. Morgan of Galway, Ireland. The elder Lowe, whose christian name is given as John in early Army Lists, was of a Lincolnshire family long settled near Grantham, and is believed to have been brother or nephew and heir of George Lowe, master-gardener to George II (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. viii. 28). He was for over thirty years surgeon of the 50th foot, now the 1st royal West Kent regiment, and after wards, as staff surgeon-major and assistant inspector of hospitals, was head of the medical department at Gibraltar, where he died in 1801. Young Hudson Lowe was born while his father was with his regiment in the town of Galway, and went out with the regiment to the West Indies and America. After its return home, during the early part of the American war, he was at school at Salisbury. He became an ensign in the East Devon (afterwards the 1st Devon) militin, and passed in review with that corps before he was twelve years old. He served as a volunteer with the 50th foot at Gibraltar in 1785-76, was gazetted ensign in it on 25 Sept. 1787, and became lieutenant in the regiment on 11 Nov, 1791. and captain 25 Sept. 1795. He was stationed for some years at Gibraltar, and travelled on leave through Italy, picking up an intimate knowledge of Italian and French. Rejoining his regiment at Gibraltar on the breaking out of the war, he served with it at Toulon and at the reduction of Corsica, including the sieges of Bastia and Calvi. Afterwards he was two years in garrison at Ajaocio, but knew nothing of the Bonaparte family, in whose mansion one of his brother-officers was assigned quarters (FORSYTH, i.87). From Corsica he went with the 50th to Elba, where he was deputy judge-advocate, and thence to Portugal, where he was stationed two years, and acquired proficiency in the language. He had previously obtained a good knowledge of Spanish. From Lisbon be went in 1799 to Minorca, where he was made one of the inspectors of foreign corps, and put at the head of two hundred Corsican emigrants, who were dressed as riflemen and styled the Corsican rangers. Their training was a matter of difficulty, but they ultimately became ‘a credit to the country of the First Consul of France.’ Lowe held the rank of major-commandant from 1 July 1800. He commanded the corps in Egypt in 1801 at the landing and in the operations before Alexandria and the advance on Cairo, and repeatedly won the approval of Sir John Moore, who remarked on one occasion ‘When Lowe's at the outposts I'm sure of a good night.’ For his services in Egypt he received the Turkish gold medal. The Corsican rangers were disbanded at Malta on the peace of Amiens, when Lowe was put on half-pay, but he was soon afterwards brought into the 7th royal fusiliers as major.

In 1803, on the recommendation of Sir John Moore, Lowe was appointed one of the new permanent assistants in the quartermaster-general's department, and stationed at Plymouth, whence, in July, he was despatched to Portugal on a military mission. He inspected the troops and defences on the north and north-eastern frontiers, and reported the practicability of defending the country with a mixed British and Portuguese force. He was then sent to Malta to raise a new and larger corps of foreigners, to be called the royal Corsican rangers, of which he was appointed lieutenant-colonel-commandant from 31 Dec. 1803. He was sent on a mission to Sardinia, and by his report on the state of that island saved a proposed subsidy. He went with his corps to Naples, under Sir James Henry Craig [q. v.], in 1805, and commanded the advance during the movement from Castellamare towards the Abruzzi (Bunbury, Narrative, pp. 193–212). When the British retired to Sicily, Lowe was detached to Capri with part of his corps. The rest proceeded to Calabria, and did good service at the battle of Maida, but afterwards rejoined Lowe at Capri. There he was reinforced later by the Malta regiment. On his own responsibility, he humanely appealed to Berthier, chief of the staff of the army of Naples, against the frequent French military executions of Calabrese fugitives (Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 29543, f. 2). Lowe occupied Capri from 11 June 1806 until 20 Oct. 1808, when, after thirteen days' siege, the Malta regiment having been made prisoners at Ana-Capri, and the defences of Capri breached, he surrendered the place to a French force under General Lamarque, marching out with the remaining garrison and the arms and baggage (Forsyth, i. 397–419). Lowe referred the disaster to absence of naval aid and the misconduct of the regiment of Malta. He was much hurt by the omission from the ‘London Gazette’ of his (very lengthy) despatch, and thought of leaving the service. He is severely blamed by Napier for the loss of Capri (Peninsular War, revised edit. i. 392), but his conduct appears to have been fully approved by officers better acquainted with the circumstances (Forsyth, i. 92–100, 418–21). An independent account of the affair has been left by Sir Henry Edward Bunbury [q. v.], who was quartermaster-general in Sicily at the time (Narrative, pp. 343–58).

Lowe was with his regiment in the expedition to the bay of Naples in 1809, and did good service at the reduction of Ischia (ib. pp. 359–82). He was second in command of the expedition to the Ionian islands, was present at the capture of Cephalonia and Ithaca, and was appointed civil administrator there. Afterwards he was present at the reduction of Santa Maura, was put in command of the left division of the troops in the Ionian islands, and was entrusted with the provisional government of Cephalonia, Ithaca, and Santa Maura, which he framed and administered without remuneration for two years. He addressed a general report on the Ionian islands to the colonial office. On leaving, the inhabitants presented him with a sword of honour. On 1 Jan. 1812 he was promoted from lieutenant-colonel-commandant to colonel of the royal Corsican rangers, which post he retained until the corps was ordered to be disbanded at the beginning of 1817. Lowe returned home on leave in February 1812, ‘never having been absent from his duty a single day since the beginning of the war in 1793, and having been in England during the whole of that time for six months only, at the peace of Amiens’ (Forsyth, i. 103).

In January 1813 Lowe was sent to the north of Europe to inspect the Russian-German legion, a force composed of German fugitives from the Moscow retreat, which was to be paid by England. Lowe went to Stockholm with Sir Alexander Hope [q. v.], whose mission it was to induce the crown prince Bernadotte to join the allies. He then crossed the Gulf of Bothnia on the ice to inspect the legion, which was scattered along the Baltic coasts, and was to be put under Bernadotte's orders. Afterwards he repaired to the czar's headquarters at Kalisch in Poland, and was present with the Russian army at the battle of Bautzen, where he first saw Napoleon (ib. i. 105), at Würschen, and until the armistice of June 1813. Lowe was then ordered to inspect the various levies in British pay in North Germany, numbering about twenty thousand men. He joined Lord Stewart (afterwards third Marquis of Londonderry) at the headquarters of Bernadotte, by whom he was sent to the headquarters of the Prussian army of Silesia under Blücher, with which he was present at Möckern, at the great battles around Leipzig, and the pursuit of the French to the Rhine. He resumed his inspections in North Germany, and at the end of the year was ordered to Holland, to organise the new Dutch levies there. His destination was changed, apparently at his own request, and on 24 Jan. 1814 he rejoined Blücher at Vaucouleurs, and was present with the Prussians in thirteen general engagements. As the only English officer of rank with Blücher's army, Lowe was privy to many important deliberations, especially during the conferences at Châtillon, where he strongly advocated the advance on Paris (ib. i. 419–21). He was the first officer to bring to England the news of Napoleon's abdication (London Gazette Extraordinary, 9 April 1814). He arrived in London on 9 April 1814, having ridden from Paris to Calais attended only by a single Cossack, a service regarded by Lord Cathcart as fraught with danger (unpublished letter from Lord Cathcart). Lowe was knighted on 26 April, and made a major-general 4 June 1814. He also received the Russian cross of St. George and the Prussian order of military merit. On the allies withdrawing from France, he was made quartermaster-general of the army in the Low Countries under the command of the Prince of Orange. Upon the news of Napoleon's return from Elba reaching Brussels early in March 1815, Lowe, with permission of the Prince of Orange, despatched a British staff-officer to the Prussian commanders between the Rhine and Meuse, urging a concentration on the Meuse, to co-operate in the defence of Belgium. After the Prussians were in motion the Prince of Orange asked to have the movement stayed; but Lowe refused to be the medium of counter-orders for a purpose which, if political, was beyond his competence. Lowe, in a letter to Bathurst, dated from St. Helena 18 March 1821, asserted that Napoleon had made distinct proposals to the king of Holland to give up his claims on Belgium, offering to procure for him indemnities in the North of Germany. Wellington assumed command in the Netherlands early in April 1815, and Lowe remained for a few weeks under him as his quartermaster-general, but having been nominated to command the troops at Genoa designed to cooperate with the Austro-Sardinian armies, he was replaced in May by Sir William Howe de Lancey [see De Lancey, Sir William Howe]. Lowe took over the command at Genoa the day after the battle of Waterloo. In July, in conjunction with the naval squadron under Lord Exmouth, he occupied Marseilles, and then marched against Toulon, where, in concert with the royalists, he drove out General Brune and compelled the fortress to hoist the Bourbon flag. At Marseilles, on 1 Aug. 1815, Lowe received intimation that he would have the custody of Napoleon, who had taken refuge on board the Bellerophon, in Aix roads, a fortnight previously. On Lowe's departure from Marseilles the inhabitants presented him with a silver urn, bearing an inscription alluding to his having saved the city from pillage. St. Helena was at the time a possession of the East India Company, and on 23 Aug. the court of directors notified to Lowe that they had appointed him governor at a salary of 12,000l. a year. This amount was specially fixed, and no stipulation was made as to pension, which explains the fact, upon which his enemies remarked, that he was not afterwards considered eligible for pension. On 12 Sept. Lowe received from Henry, third earl Bathurst [q. v.], then secretary of state for war and the colonies, ‘instructions’ directing him to permit every indulgence to Napoleon in his confinement compatible with the entire security of his person (Forsyth, i. 120). Lowe received the local rank of lieutenant-general and vague ministerial promises in plenty, and on 4 Jan. 1816 was made K.C.B. After some months' detention Lowe started from Portsmouth in the middle of January, accompanied by his newly married wife and stepdaughters and a numerous staff, and reached St. Helena on 14 April 1816. On 11 April 1816 the ‘Act for more effectually detaining Napoléon Buonaparté’ (56 Geo. III, cap. 22) received the royal assent. A warrant was issued the day after, addressed to Lowe as ‘lieutenant-general of his Majesty's army in St. Helena and governor of that island,’ requiring him to detain and keep Napoleon as a prisoner of war, under such directions as should be issued from time to time by one of the principal secretaries of state. These instructions are in Lord Bathurst's despatches among the ‘Lowe Papers’ (cf. FORSYTH, ii. 324–6, 412–416, 443–4, iii. 488, &c.).

Lowe, who is described by all who knew him well as a humane, kindly disposed man, went out to St. Helena full of good intentions (ib. iii. 348). One of his first acts upon his arrival was upon his own responsibility to raise the amount allowed by the government for the establishment at Longwood from 8,000l. to 12,000l. per annum (ib. i. 283). But his manner was abrupt and reserved, and he appears to have curiously misconceived the spirit prevailing among the exiles. Napoleon, whom he approached with studied politeness, speedily took a most violent dislike to him. They saw each other only five times, all within five months after Lowe's arrival. At the last two interviews Napoleon abused Lowe, who, by all trustworthy accounts, retained his self-command perfectly, and refused to see or communicate with him again (ib. i. 138–41, 158–62, 172–6, 220–6, 246–51). Endless quarrels with various members of Napoleon's suite ensued during the five succeeding years. Lamartine says that Napoleon evidently wished to provoke insults by insult, in order to excite pity and obtain a grievance for use in the English parliament (Lamartine, Hist. de la Restauration, vi. 416). Lamartine, though rejecting the monstrous tales of Lowe's inhumanity, agrees with other writers in condemning Lowe's want of tact and pedantic insistence upon trifles. Lowe has given explanations in his private papers (see Forsyth, vols. ii. iii.) Officers who were on the spot all the time, and were personal friends of various members of Napoleon's staff, have pointed out the real origin of many calumnies that have found general acceptance. Henry, assistant-surgeon in the 66th foot, which formed part of the St. Helena garrison from 1816 to 1821, states that he was prepossessed against Lowe, but became convinced by observation that Lowe's vigilance and his firmness in suppressing plots at Longwood were the cause of the hostility towards him, rather than any want of temper or courtesy (Henry, ii. 9–10, 50–60). Basil Jackson, a young staff corps officer constantly on duty about Longwood, after speaking of the reliance placed by the exiles on party sympathy in England, says: ‘The policy of Longwood—heartily and assiduously carried out by Napoleon's adherents, who liked banishment as little as the great man himself—was to pour into England pamphlets and letters complaining of unnecessary restrictions, insults from the governor, scarcity of provisions, miserable accommodation, insalubrity of climate, and a host of other grievances, but chiefly levelled at the governor as the head and front of all that was amiss.’ ‘C'était notre politique, et que voulez-vous?’ De Montholon said to Jackson in after years (Jackson, Notes and Reminiscences, pp. 104, 111).

Napoleon died on 5 May 1821. At the end of July Lowe handed over the government to Brigadier-general John Pine Coffin [q. v.] (Henry, ii. 70–3), and quitted St. Helena. Peace was made, at the dying wish of Napoleon, between the exiles and the governor before the general exodus. At his departure the inhabitants presented Lowe with an address acknowledging the justice and moderation of his rule, and the confidence felt in him, as evinced by the unanimous acceptance of his measures for the abolition of slavery (without compensation), which took effect from Christmas day 1818. His services in ‘giving the death-blow to slavery in St. Helena’ were very warmly acknowledged by Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton in the House of Commons in May 1823 (Parl. Debates, new ser. ix. 267). Lowe was cordially received by the king, and Lord Bathurst wrote to him by command to express general approbation of his conduct at St. Helena (Forsyth, iii. 313). He was appointed colonel of the first vacant regiment, the 93rd highlanders, on 4 June 1822.

In August 1822 Barry Edward O'Meara [q. v.], who had been Napoleon's medical attendant at St. Helena, published his ‘Napoleon in Exile: a Voice from St. Helena,’ London, 1822, 2 vols. O'Meara had resigned his post at St. Helena on account of the extra restrictions imposed on him by Lowe, and was sent away from the island in July 1818. On 2 Nov. 1818 his name was removed from the Navy List for making against Lowe calumnious charges, which, if true, it was his duty to have reported at the time of the occurrence of the alleged offences, two years previously (ib. iii. 47–114). Immediately afterwards O'Meara published his ‘Exposition of Affairs at St. Helena during the Captivity of Napoleon,’ London, 1819. The ‘Voice from St. Helena’ professed to give fuller details. The glaring inconsistencies between some of the statements and others previously made by O'Meara were criticised with great severity in an article in the ‘Quarterly Review’ for October 1822 (lv. 219–64); but the book went through five editions in a few months. Lowe sought legal redress. He took the opinions of Sir John Singleton Copley, afterwards lord Lyndhurst [q. v.], and Mr. Tyndal, Q.C., and a rule nisi for a criminal information against O'Meara was obtained in Hilary term 1823, but was afterwards discharged on a technical objection in respect of time. Lowe was then told that he had done all that was necessary by denying the various charges on affidavit, as O'Meara, if he challenged the truth of the denials, could proceed against him for perjury. Lowe's affidavits are now in the Public Record Office. He was dissuaded from further proceedings against O'Meara, but was strongly advised by Lord Bathurst to publish a full and complete vindication of his government of St. Helena from the materials in his possession (Forsyth, iii. 317–23). He appears to have thought that the government was bound to defend his character as a public servant whose conduct it had approved.

In 1823 Lowe was appointed governor of Antigua, but resigned on domesyic grounds. He was afterwards appointed to the staff in Ceylon as second in command under Sir Edward Barnes [q. v.] Leaving his family in Paris, he set out late in 1825, and remained in Ceylon until 1828, when the animadversions suggested in the last volume of Sir Walter Scott's 'Life of Napoleon' brought him home on leave. He met with a spontaneous and hearty welcome at St. Helena on the way. His return gave much offence in official quarters, as the reasons were deemed inadequate. His appeals to Lord Bathurst and the Duke of Wellington led to no result, and by the advice of Wellington he went back to Ceylon, looking forward to succeed to the chief command. His appointment was vacated by his promotion to lieutenant-general in 1830, the opposite party came into power, Ceylon received a new governor, and Lowe's hopes of further preferment or pension were never fulfilled. He returned to England in 1831, and from that time until his death was engaged incessantly in memorialising the government in respect of his claims. Letters after letters, in the composition of which he was endlessly fastidious, were forwarded to the colonial office year by year without result. He was gratified by his transfer, in 1842, to the colonelcy of his old corps, the 50th, and his advancement in the same year to the highest class of the Prussian order of the Red Eagle, which was notified in a highly flattering letter from Baron von Bulow, recalling his 'signal services to the common cause in the glorious campaigns of 1813-14.' He was also made a G.C.M.G. On leaving St. Helena, Lowe was fairly rich, having 20,000l. in the funds, and much valuable property, including a fine and extensive library; but before his death the heavy expenses in which he had been involved had left him, save for his military emoluments, a poor man. Lowe died at Charlotte Cottage, near Sloane Street, Chelsea, of paralysis, on 10 Jan. 1844. aged 75.

Lowe married in London on 16 Dec. 1816, Mrs. Susan Johnson, a bright agreeable woman of thirty-five, daughter of Stephen de Lancey, sister of Sir William Howe de Lancey, and widow of Colonel William Johnson. By her first husband she had two daughters, the survivor of whom married Count Balmain, the Russian commissioner at St. Helena during Napoleon's Captivity. By her marriage with Lowe she had two sons and a daughter, all born in St. Helena. The younger son, Edward William Howe de Lancey Lowe, is separately noticed. The daughter was recommended for a small pension by Sir Robert Peel on her father's death. Lady Lowe died in Hertford Street, Mayfair, London, on 22 Aug. 1832.

Lowe was a light-built, fair-haired man, rather below the middle size. He had a quick, restless manner, but was never fluent of speech, even under excitement. The only good portrait of him is said to be that by Wyvile, taken about 1832, and engraved in Forsyth's book.

Lowe's papers were entrusted to the late Sir Harris Nicolas to prepare for publication, but the arrangement was abandoned after many delays arising out of the mass of documents to be dealt with. Subsequently they were placed by the publisher of the 'Quarterly Review' in the hands of the late William Forsyth, M.A., by whom the leading facts were embodied in his 'Captivity of Napoleon at St. Helena, from the Letters and Journals of Sir Hudson Lowe,' London. 1853, 3 vols. The 'Lowe Papers,' part of which supplied the materials for Forsyth's book, and which comprise copies of Lowe's entire official correspondence from 1793 to 1837, together with a mass of notes and memoranda necessary to a right understanding of affairs at St. Helena under Lowe's government, including copies of O'Mearn's original letters to his friend Mr. Finlaison, taken at the admiralty, are now in the British Museum, forming Addit. MSS. 20107-240 (period 1793-1827) and 29543 (extra 1804-15). Another volume of letters from and to Lowe forms Addit. MS. 15729.

[Army Lists and London Gazettes; Memoir of Lowe in Colburn's United Service Magazine, April-June 1844; Bunbury's Narrative of Passages in the late War, London, 1854; Basil Jackson's 'Tribute to the Memory of Sir Hudson Lowe' in Colburn's United Service Mag. March 1844; Henry's Events of a Military Life, London, 1843, vol. ii.; Forsyth's Captivity of Napoleon at St. Helena, London, 1853. 3 vols.; B. Jackson's Notes and Reminiscences of a Staff Officer, London, 1877 (privately printed); Brit. Mus. Addit. MSS. at supra; information supplied by Miss Lowe (Lowe's daughter). A reprint of O'Meara's Voice from St. Helena was published in London in 1888. with an introduction by Lieutenant-colonel R. W. Phipps, late royal artillery, written in spirit unfavourable to Lowe. The biographies and notes added to the work are worthless]

H. M. C.