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Denham, James Stewart (1744-1839) (DNB00)


DENHAM, Sir JAMES STEWART, the younger (1744–1839), general, the only son of Sir James Steuart Denham the elder [q. v.], was born in Scotland in August 1744. Shortly after his birth his father was obliged to leave Scotland for being implicated in the rebellion of 1745, and in consequence he received his education in Germany. He entered the army as cornet in the 1st dragoons or royals on 17 March 1761, and served the campaigns of 1761 and 1762 with it in Germany. Passing over the rank of lieutenant he was promoted captain into the 105th royal highlanders on 13 Jan. 1763, but was placed on half-pay when that regiment was reduced in the following year. He then travelled for two years in France and Germany, paying special attention to the cavalry of those two nations, and received a troop of the 5th royal Irish dragoons, now the 5th royal Irish lancers, in 1766. His regiment was stationed in Ireland, and he acted as aide-de-camp to Lord Townshend when lord-lieutenant there in 1769, and on 6 Nov. 1772 he was promoted major into the 13th dragoons. In 1773 his father succeeded to the baronetcy and estate of Coltness in the county of Lanark, on the death of Sir Archibald Steuart-Denham, and he as well as his father assumed the additional name of Denham, and on 26 Sept. 1775 he was transferred to the 1st Irish horse, now the 4th dragoon guards. On 15 July 1776 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel of his old regiment, the 13th dragoons, on its being converted into light dragoons, and distinguished himself as a capable officer by his skill in this transformation and the new exercises he instituted. In 1780 he succeeded his father in the two baronetcies of Coltness and Westshields; in 1784 he was elected M.P. for the county of Lanark; and on 20 Nov. 1782 he was promoted colonel. Sir James Denham was a most enthusiastic cavalry officer, and spent much time and money upon his regiment, and in 1788 he was appointed by General Sir William Pitt, K.B., commanding the forces in Ireland, to be president of a commission for improving the discipline and general condition of the cavalry in Ireland. The system of cavalry movements which he formulated was received with much favour at headquarters, and after being rearranged by David Dundas was officially adopted by the authorities. On 9 Nov. 1791 he was promoted to the colonelcy of the 12th light dragoons, and in 1793 he was ordered to Toulon with his regiment to act as brigadier-general there, but was prevented from sailing by his promotion to the rank of major-general in October 1793. In 1794 he was placed in command of the cavalry intended to be sent to Flanders with Lord Cornwallis. This plan failing he was appointed to command the cavalry in Scotland, with a special mission to organise regiments of fencible cavalry, which he commanded in camp during the summers of 1795, 1796, and 1797. In the autumn of 1797 Sir James Denham was made a local lieutenant-general with the command of Munster. Here he showed himself a real statesman during the rebellion of 1798. With the thorough approbation of Sir Ralph Abercromby [q. v.] he suspended the authority of military officers in his province to act as justices of the peace, and made the civil justices act, and by a famous circular letter to his six subordinate generals, dated 18 March 1798, he had the seventeen thousand yeomanry and volunteers of Munster organised into night patrols, thus saving the regulars much labour and improving the discipline of the volunteers (see his letter in the Royal Military Calendar, i. 310–12). On the outbreak of the rebellion of 1798 he was completely cut off from Dublin, but he did not lose his head, and not only sent Major-general Henry Johnson with three thousand six hundred men to the right bank of the Barrow to cover the province, who defeated the rebels at New Ross on 5 June, but also sent off Brigadier-general John Moore with eighteen hundred men to the east, who after a march of 130 miles from Bandon in seven days defeated the rebels at Foulks Mill on 18 June, and took Wexford, the headquarters of the insurrection, on 21 June. Still more is Sir James Denham's wise government of Munster to be commended for the fact that no Irish rebel was executed throughout his province by martial law, in spite of the excitement caused by the insurrection, except after trial by a full court-martial consisting of a president and twelve members. Sir James Denham was promoted lieutenant-general on 1 Jan. 1798, and resigned his command in 1799, and his seat in parliament in 1801. His seniority prevented him from ever again obtaining a command, though he had shown himself so fit for one, but he was promoted general in 1803, and made colonel of the 2nd dragoons or Scots greys in 1813. Towards the close of his life Sir James Denham resumed his original name of Steuart, and when he died at Cheltenham on 12 Aug. 1839 he was the senior general of the army. He was never married, and on his death the baronetcies of Coltness and Goodtrees became extinct.

[Royal Military Calendar, i. 203–17, which contains much valuable information on Denham's Irish command; Gent. Mag. November 1839.]

H. M. S.