Beach, Thomas Miller (DNB01)

BEACH, THOMAS MILLER (1841–1894), known as 'Major Le Caron,' government spy, second son of J. B. Beach, was born at Colchester on 26 Sept. 1841, where his father was a rate-collector. He himself passed by his own account a restless youth. While serving as apprentice to a Colchester draper he paid many illicit visits to London, and finally went to Paris. Learning of the outbreak of the American civil war in 1861 he sailed in the Great Eastern for New York. On 7 Aug. 1861 he enlisted with the federalists in the 8th Pennsylvanian reserves under the name of Henri Le Caron. He afterwards exchanged into the Andersen cavalry, in which corps he served for two years with M'Clellan's army of the Potomac. In April 1864 he married. In July 1864 he received a commission as second lieutenant. In December he was wounded near Woodbury, and was present at the battle of Nashville. In 1865 he acted as assistant adjutant-general, and at the end of the war attained the rank of major. Le Caron then settled at Nashville and began studying medicine. Before leaving the federal army he joined the Fenian organisation, and in 1866 he furnished the English government with information about the intended Fenian invasion of Canada, which led to the easy defeat of John O'Neill's movement on 1 June 1866.

During 1867 Le Caron visited England, and, being introduced by John Gurdon Rebow, M.P. for Colchester, to the authorities, agreed to return to the United States as a paid spy, under cover of an active membership of the Fenian body, Le Caron continued in direct and frequent communication with the British or Canadian government from this time till February 1889.

Immediately after his return he resumed relations with the Fenian leader O'Neill, now United States claim-agent at Nashville. On 31 Dec. 1867 O'Neill became president of the Fenian organisation (Irish Republican Brotherhood), and soon afterwards Le Caron began to organise a Fenian circle in Lockport, Illinois. As 'centre' of this he received O'Neill's reports and sent them and other documents to the English government. At this time Le Caron was at Chicago as resident medical officer of the state penitentiary (prison), but resigned the position in the course of the year, when he was summoned by O'Neill to New York, and accompanied him to an interview at Washington with President Andrew Johnson, the object of which was to obtain the return of the arms taken from the Fenians in 1866. He was now appointed military organiser of the 'Irish Republican Army,' and sent on a mission to the eastern states. At the Philadelphia convention of December 1868 a second invasion of Canada was resolved on by the Fenians. Le Caron, who was entrusted with the chief direction of the preparations along the frontier, paid a visit to Ottawa and arranged with the Canadian chief commissioner of police (Judge M'Micken) a system of daily communications. He dissipated some suspicions that were entertained of him by the Fenians, and early in 1869 he was appointed their assistant adjutant-general, and forwarded to the authorities copies of the Fenian plans of campaign. He had already obtained a dominant influence over Alexander Sullivan, an important member of the brotherhood, and in the winter of 1869 he further strengthened his position by providing O'Neill with a loan wherewith to cover his embezzlement of Fenian funds.

Early in 1870 Le Caron, who now held the rank of brigadier and adjutant-general, had distributed fifteen thousand stand of arms and three million rounds of cartridge along the Canadian frontier. Owing to information furnished by Le Caron to the Canadian authorities, the invading force at once (26 April) fell into an ambush, and were obliged to retreat. O'Neill was arrested by order of President Grant for a breach of the neutrality laws. Le Caron fled with his followers to Malone, but on the 27th made his way to Montreal. Next day he set out for Ottawa, but was arrested at Cornwall as a recognised Fenian, and was only allowed to proceed under a military escort. After a midnight interview with M'Micken he left Canada early next day by a different route.

After the repulse of the second invasion Le Caron resumed his medical studies, but was soon invited by O'Neill, who suspected nothing, to help in the movement being prepared in conjunction with Louis Riel [q. v.] Le Caron betrayed the plans to the Canadian government. In consequence of his action O'Neill was arrested with his party at Fort Pembina, on 5 Oct. 1871, just as they had crossed the frontier, and Riel surrendered at Fort Garry without firing a shot. O'Neill was given up to the American authorities, but was acquitted by them on the ground that the oft'ence was committed on Canadian soil. Le Caron incurred some blame in Fenian circles in consequence of the failure of the last movement, and for the next few years was chiefly occupied in the practice of medicine, first at Detroit (where he graduated M.D.) and then at Braidwood, a suburb of Wilmington. But at Detroit he watched on behalf of the Canadian government the movements of Mackay Lomasney, who was afterwards concerned in the attempt to blow up London Bridge with dynamite ; and he was still in the confidence of former Fenian friends.

Le Caron was not an original member of the Clan-na-Gael (the reorganised Fenian body). But by circulating the report that his mother was an Irishwoman, he gradually regained his influence and obtained the 'senior-guardianship' of the newly formed 'camp' at Braid wood. He was now able to send copies of important documents to Mr. Robert Anderson, chief of the criminal detective department in London. In order to do this, however, he was obliged to evade by sleight of hand the rule of the organisation that documents not returned to headquarters were to be burned in sight of the camp.

The years 1879-81 witnessed what was called 'the new departure' in the Irish-American campaign against England, whereby an 'open' or constitutional agitation (represented in Ireland by the Land League and its successor) was carried on side by side with the old revolutionary Fenian movement. The relations between the two were very intricate, and Le Caron was closely connected with both. Pie entertained at Braidwood and professionally attended Mr. Michael Davitt when he came to America to organise the American branch of the Land League, and early in 1881 he saw much of John Devoy, who represented the revolutionary side of the movement. Devoy's confidences were exhaustive, and Le Caron imparted them fully to Mr. Anderson. In the spring of 1881 he was entrusted by Devoy with sealed packets to be delivered in Paris to John O'Leary (the intermediary of the Irish and American branches), and Patrick Egan, treasurer of the Land League. On his arrival in England in April Le Caron showed these to Anderson, and, proceeding to Paris, obtained important information from well-known Fenians.

Egan came back with Le Caron from Paris to London, and introduced him to Irish members of parliament. He had an important interview with Charles Stewart Parnell in the corridor outside the library of the House of Commons, and Parnell commissioned him to 'bring about a thorough understanding and complete harmony of working' between the constitutionalists and the partisans of the secret movement. Le Caron had another interview with the Irish leader at the tea room of the house, when Parnell gave him his signed photograph. After pursuing his inquiries in Dublin, maintaining throughout the fullest touch with the London authorities, he returned to New York in June 1881, attended the convention of the Clan-na-Gael at Chicago, and laid Parnell's views before the foreign relations committee. He also saw much of Dr. Gallagher and Lomasney, who were preparing the 'active' or dynamite policy.

Le Caron was also present at the so-called Land League Convention at Chicago in November 1881, which was packed in the interests of the Clan-na-Gael; he followed the movements of the clan with the closest attention, and all details of the 'secret warfare' (dynamite campaign) were at his command. When a schism arose in the clan Le Caron found it politic to join the majority, headed by Alexander Sullivan and his colleagues, who were termed the 'Triangle.' In August 1884 he attended, both as league delegate and revolutionary officer, the Boston Convention of the Irish National League of America. In 1886 he stood for the House of Representatives, but lost the election on account of the cry of 'Fenian general' raised against him. As a delegate to the National League Convention of August 1886 Le Caron attended the secret caucuses presided over by Egan. In April 1887 he paid another visit to Europe, and was sent by the English police to Paris to watch General Millen, who was then negotiating a reconciliation between the English and American branches of the clan. Le Caron went back to the United States in October, but in December 1888 he finally left America.

Subpoenaed as a witness for the 'Times' in the special commission appointed to inquire into the charges made by that paper against the Irish members and others, Le Caron began his evidence on 5 Feb. 1889, and was under examination and cross-examination for six days. The efforts of Sir Charles Russell [q. v. Suppl.], the counsel for the Irish members, failed to impair the damaging effect of the bulk of his testimony. At the close of the commission (14 Nov. 1889) Sir Henry (now Lord) James, counsel for the Times' newspaper, defended Le Caron from attacks made upon his character. After the trial he lived quietly in England. He died in London of a painful disease on 1 April 1894, and was buried in Norwood cemetery. His wife returned to America some time after his death.

Le Caron himself, in his 'Twenty-five Years in the Secret Service,' maintained that he acted from purely patriotic motives. Between 1868 and 1870 he received about 2,000l. from the English and Canadian governments, but since that time (he told the commission) his salary had not covered his expenses. His identity was known to no one but Mr. Anderson, who always corresponded with him under his real name, Beach. He was a dapper, neatly made little man, with cadaverous cheeks and piercing eyes. He was a teetotaller but a great smoker. His coolness and presence of mind were unequalled. An excellent sketch of him as he appeared before the Parnell Commission appears in a portfolio of sketches drawn by Louis Gache and published as a 'Report of the Parnell Commission by a Stuff Gownsman' (1890).

[Twenty-five Years in the Secret Service, with Portraits and Facsimiles, by Major Henri Le Caron, 6th ed. 1892 (some excisions had to be made under government influence, and the portrait of the author was for obvious reasons suppressed); Essex County Standard, 7 April 1894, with portrait; Times, 2, 29 April 1894. Report of the Parnell Commission, reprinted from Times, ii. 180-233; J. Macdonald's Diary of the Parnell Commission (from Daily News), pp. 120-37, &c.]

G. Le G. N.