Field Marshal John Colborne, 1st Baron Seaton, GCB, GCMG, GCH, PC (16th February 1778 – 17th April 1863) was a British Army officer and Colonial Governor. After taking part as a junior officer in the Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland, Sir Ralph Abercromby’s expedition to Egypt and then the War of the Third Coalition, he served as military secretary to Sir John Moore at the Battle of Corunna. He then commanded the 2nd Battalion of the 66th Regiment of Foot and, later, the 52nd Regiment of Foot at many of the battles of the Peninsular War. At the Battle of Waterloo, Colborne on his own initiative brought the 52nd Regiment of Foot forward, took up a flanking position in relation to the French Imperial Guard and then, after firing repeated volleys into their flank, charged at the Guard so driving them back in disorder. He went on to become commander-in-chief of all the armed forces in British North America, personally leading the offensive at the Battle of Saint-Eustache in Lower Canada and defeating the rebel force in December 1837. After that he was high commissioner of the Ionian Islands and then Commander-in-Chief, Ireland.
Early career and the Peninsular War
Born the only son of Samuel Colborne and Cordelia Anne Colborne (née Garstin), Colborne was educated at Christ’s Hospital in London and at Winchester College. He was commissioned as an ensign in the 20th Regiment of Foot on 10th of July 1794 securing all subsequent steps in his regimental promotion without purchase. Promoted to lieutenant on the 4th of September 1795 and to captain lieutenant on 1th1 August 1799, he saw action at the Battle of Alkmaar in October 1799, where he was wounded, during the Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland. Promoted to brevet captain on 12th January 1800, he took part in Sir Ralph Abercromby’s expedition to Egypt in August 1801 and was wounded again.
Colborne was deployed with his regiment to Italy where he distinguished himself at the Battle of Maida in July 1806 during the War of the Third Coalition. He became military secretary to General Henry Fox in 1806 and then became military secretary to Sir John Moore with the rank of major on 21st January 1808. In this capacity he accompanied Moore to Sweden in May 1808 and to Portugal in 1808 and served with him at the Battle of Benavente in December 1808 and Battle of Corunna in January 1809. It was Moore’s dying request that Colborne should be given a lieutenant colonelcy and this was complied with on 2nd February 1809. He transferred to the 66th Regiment of Foot on 2nd November 1809, and after returning to Spain with Sir Arthur Wellesley’s Army, he witnessed the defeat of the Spaniards at the Battle of Ocaña later that month. He commanded a brigade at the Battle of Bussaco in September 1810 and then commanded the 2nd Battalion of the 66th Regiment of Foot at the Battle of Albuera in May 1811 where his brigade was virtually anihillated by Polish 1st Vistulan Lancers Regiment of French Army. After transferring to the command of the 52nd Regiment of Foot he took part in the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo in January 1812 where he was badly injured and had to be invalided back to England.
After recovering in England, Colborne returned to Spain and commanded the 52nd Regiment of Foot at the Siege of San Sebastián in August 1813 before taking temporary charge of the 2nd brigade of the Light Division in late 1813 and commanding it at the Battle of the Bidassoa in October 1813, at the Battle of Nivelle in November 1813 and at the Battle of the Nive in December 1813. He returned to the 52nd Regiment of Foot and commanded it at the Battle of Orthez in February 1814 and at the Battle of Toulouse in April 1814 and at the Battle of Bayonne also in April 1814. He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath on the 4th of January 1815.
Colborne became aide-de-camp to the Prince Regent with the rank of colonel on the 4th of June 1814, and, following Napoleon’s escape from Elba, he managed to dissuade the Prince from attacking the French Army until the Duke of Wellington arrived. At the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815 during the Hundred Days, Colborne on his own initiative brought the 52nd Regiment of Foot forward, took up a flanking position in relation to the French Imperial Guard and then, after firing repeated volleys into their flank, charged at the Guard so driving them back in disorder. He was appointed a Knight of the Austrian Military Order of Maria Theresa on the 2nd of August 1815. After the War he remained with his regiment as part of the Army of Occupation.
Colborne became Lieutenant Governor of Guernsey in July 1821 and, having been promoted to major-general on the 27th of May 1825, became Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada in August 1828. As Lieutenant Governor, Colborne increased the population of the province by 70% by initiating an organised system of immigration to bring in settlers from Britain. He also aided settlement by expanding the communication and transportation infrastructure through a campaign to build roads and bridges. He brought changes to the structure of the legislative council, increased fiscal autonomy and encouraged greater independence in the judiciary. In 1829 he founded Upper Canada College as a school based on the Elizabeth College, Guernsey model to educate boys in preparation for becoming leaders of the colonies.
In the January of 1836 Colborne became commander-in-chief of all the armed forces in British North America. He was promoted to the local rank of lieutenant general on the 8th of July 1836. During Colborne’s period of office as commander-in-chief, the Family Compact promoted resistance to the political principle of responsible government. At the end of its lifespan, the Compact would be condemned by Lord Durham as “a petty corrupt insolent Tory clique”. This resistance, together with conflicts between the assembly and the executive over fiscal matters as well as a difficult economic situation, led to the Rebellions of 1837. Colborne personally led the offensive at the Battle of Saint-Eustache in December 1837 defeating the rebel force which had become holed up in a church.
Colborne was advanced to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath on the 29th of January 1838 and, following Lord Gosford’s resignation in the February of 1838, he received additional powers as acting Governor General of British North America. Promoted to the substantive rank of lieutenant-general on the 28th of June 1838, he put down a second revolt in October 1838 and was confirmed as Governor General of British North America on 14th December 1838. He left Canada in the October of 1839 and, after arriving back in England, was raised to the peerage as Baron Seaton of Seaton in Devonshire on the 5th of December 1839.
Colborne became high commissioner of the Ionian Islands in February 1843, and having been promoted to full general on the 20th of June 1854, he became Commander-in-Chief, Ireland in 1855. After standing down from active service in Spring 1860, he was promoted to field marshal on 1 April 1860 and retired to his home at Beechwood House in Sparkwell.
Colborne also served as honorary colonel of the 94th Regiment of Foot, as honorary colonel of the 26th (Cameronian) Regiment of Foot and then as honorary colonel of the 2nd Regiment of Life Guards. He was also colonel-in-chief of the Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort’s Own). He died at Valletta House in Torquay on the 17th of April in 1863 and was buried in the churchyard of Holy Cross Church at Newton Ferrers.
In the November of 1866 a bronze statue of Colborne sculpted by George Adams and financed by public donations was erected at Mount Wise at Devonport: it was moved to Seaton Barracks in Crownhill in the early 1960s and then to Peninsula Barracks in Winchester in the 1990s. A second statue of Colborne also sculpted by George Adams was erected at Upper Canada College.
In 1813 Colborne married Elizabeth Yonge; they had three daughters and five sons.
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