Nicolls, Jasper (DNB00)

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NICOLLS, Sir JASPER (1778–1849), lieutenant-general, was born at East Farleigh, Kent, on 15 July 1778. His father was at the time of his birth a captain in the 1st foot (royal Scots), and subsequently became colonel of his regiment and mayor of Dublin. His mother was daughter and coheiress of William Dan, esq., of Gillingham, Kent. Jasper was educated first at a private school kept by the Rev. A. Derby at Ballygall, co. Dublin, and afterwards at Dublin University. Gazetted ensign in the 45th regiment on 24th May 1793, when only fourteen years of age, he nevertheless continued at college till September 1794, when he joined his regiment, becoming lieutenant on the 25th of the following November. He spent five or six years in the West Indies, attaining the rank of captain on 12 Sept. 1799. In 1802 he proceeded to India as military secretary and aide-de-camp to his uncle, Major-general Oliver Nicolls, commander-in-chief in the Bombay presidency; and a few days after the battle of Assaye joined the army commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley. It is not clear whether he went as a volunteer or was appointed to the staff; but, according to Stocqueler, he was employed in the quartermaster-general's department. Present at the battle of Argaum and the siege and capture of Gawilgurh, he returned home soon after the close of the campaign, and obtained his regimental majority on 6 July 1804. In the following year the 45th formed part of Lord Cathcart's expedition to Hanover, and Major Nicolls accompanied it. In 1806 he sailed with the force under Brigadier-general Crawford, first to the Cape of Good Hope, and afterwards to the Rio de la Plata, taking part in the unfortunate campaign under Lieutenant-general Whitelocke which ended so shamefully at Buenos Ayres in July 1807. In the ill-organised assault of that town Nicolls found himself isolated with seven companies of his regiment, his colonel having become separated with one or two companies from the main body of the 45th. In this trying position he displayed conspicuous resolution, and, repelling the attack of the enemy, held his ground. On the following day, in pursuance of a disgraceful arrangement between Whitelocke and the Spanish general Linares, Nicolls, together with the other isolated bodies, evacuated the town. The 45th, unlike several other bodies of British troops, did not surrender; and it is the legitimate boast of his family that Nicolls refused to give up the colours of his regiment. So conspicuous was his conduct on this occasion that Whitelocke in his despatches thus writes of him: ‘Nor should I omit the gallant conduct of Major Nichols [sic] of the 45th regiment, who, on the morning of the 6th instant, being pressed by the enemy near the Presidentia, charged them with great spirit and took two howitzers and many prisoners.’ Nicolls was the only regimental officer whose name appeared in the despatches. At the subsequent trial by court-martial of Whitelocke he was one of the witnesses.

On disembarking at Cork Nicolls was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the York rangers on 29 Oct. 1807. Almost immediately afterwards he was transferred to the command of the second battalion of the 14th regiment, which he himself was chiefly instrumental in raising from volunteers in the Buckinghamshire militia. In 1808 he embarked at Cork with his battalion, which formed part of the reinforcements taken to the Peninsula by Sir David Baird. At Coruña he was in the brigade of Major-general Rowland Hill, and well earned the gold medal which he received for that action: ‘On the left Colonel Nicholls [sic], at the head of some companies of the 14th, carried Palerio Abaxo’ (Napier, Peninsular War). He was again mentioned in despatches.

In the summer of 1809 Nicolls took part in the Walcheren expedition, and on 12 Aug. led his battalion to the assault of an entrenchment close to the walls of Flushing. So gallant and impetuous was the rush of the 14th that in a few minutes the work was taken and a lodgment established within musket shot of the town. In September, after the fall of Flushing, he returned to England and married.

In April 1811 Nicolls was appointed by the commander-in-chief assistant adjutant-general at the Horse Guards. In the following February he was promoted to the position of deputy adjutant-general in Ireland, where he was at the head of the department, the adjutant-general being absent on service. A few months later he went out to India to take up the appointment of quartermaster-general of king's troops. During the Nepaul war of 1814–16 he was specially selected to command a column destined for the invasion of the province of Kumaon. The commander-in-chief in India publicly referred to ‘the rapid and glorious conquest of Camoan by Colonel Nicolls.’ He had been gazetted colonel on 4 June 1814. The praise was well deserved, for in a few days he had captured Almorah, and reduced the entire province, with the exception of a few forts. In the Pindarree and Mahratta war of 1817–1818 Nicolls commanded a brigade. Promoted to the rank of major-general on 9 July 1821, he necessarily vacated his appointment as quartermaster-general of king's troops; but in April 1825 he resumed his connection with India, having been appointed to the command of a division in the Madras presidency. Soon after his arrival he was selected to command a division of the army which, under Lord Combermere, besieged and captured the strong fortress of Bhurtpore. He commanded one of the assaulting columns, and took a prominent part in the desperate fighting which ensued. His column was headed by the grenadiers of the 59th, who advanced to the inspiriting strains of the ‘British Grenadiers,’ played by the general's express orders. As Napier said of another officer who stimulated his highlanders in the Peninsula with the bagpipes, ‘he understood war.’ It may be mentioned that, although the 59th had been carefully trained in the use of hand-grenades, the general ordered that no powder should be used; for, as he remarked, the lighted match of a grenade causes a moral effect on the enemy as great as if it were loaded, while if it is loaded the throwers are almost as likely to be injured as the enemy. For his distinguished services at Bhurtpore Nicolls was created a K.C.B.

After the fall of Bhurtpore he returned to Madras, where he remained till April 1829. At that date he was transferred to Meerut. In July 1831 he returned to India. In 1833 he was appointed colonel of the 93rd highlanders.

On 10 Jan. 1837 Nicolls became a lieutenant-general, and in the following year once more went out to India as commander-in-chief in Madras, and in 1839 was transferred to Bengal as commander-in-chief in India. But the part that Nicolls played was not very important. Lord Ellenborough's somewhat despotic disposition deprived the commander-in-chief of the power of influencing affairs. Nicolls seems, however, to have taken a just view of persons and things. When the gallant but physically infirm General Elphinstone was appointed to the command at Cabul, Nicolls was most anxious that General Nott should be substituted for him. He also, in a series of minutes, opposed the continued occupation of Cabul. Sir Charles Napier, in his usual energetic language, denounced him furiously because he expressed the opinion that Meanee should not have been fought. In March 1843 Nicolls resigned his appointment and returned to England. In 1840 he was transferred from the colonelcy of the 93rd highlanders to that of the 38th regiment, and four years later again transferred to that of the 5th fusiliers. On 4 May 1849 he died at his residence near Reading in Berkshire. On 21 Sept. 1809 he married Anne, eldest daughter of Thomas Stanhope Badcock, esq., of Little Missenden Abbey, Buckinghamshire.

[Army Lists; East India Register; Manuscript Diary of Sir J. Nicolls; Napier's Peninsular War; Proceedings of the General Court-martial on Lieutenant-general Whitelocke; Memoirs of Field-marshal Lord Combermere; Regimental Records of 14th Regiment; Napier's Life and Letters of Sir Charles Napier; Military Sketches of the Ghoorka War; Kaye's History of the Afghan War.]

W. W. K.