Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Maitland, Thomas (1759?-1824)

MAITLAND, Sir THOMAS (1759?–1824), lieutenant-general, commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean, born about December 1759, was second son of James Maitland, seventh earl of Lauderdale, by his marriage, on 24 April 1749, with Mary Turner, daughter and coheiress of Alderman Sir Thomas Lombe [q. v.], and was brother of the eighth earl. Immediately after his birth, in December 1759, he seems to have been appointed lieutenant in the old Scots 17th light dragoons or Edinburgh light horse, and after that corps was disbanded in 1763, drew half-pay of his rank until 1778, when he first took up his commission and raised a company for the Seaforth regiment or 78th (afterwards 72nd) highlanders. With this regiment, in which his younger brother William also held a commission, Maitland served some years in India, ashore against Hyder Ali, and afloat against the French, under De Suffrein. He particularly distinguished himself at the capture of Palicatchery in 1784 (see Cannon, Hist. Rec. 72nd Highlanders, p. 10). Afterwards, he was for some time brigade-major of the king's troops at Calcutta, and was ferred by Lord Cornwallis to a similar post at Madras, at his own request, when war was imminent in 1790 (Cornwallis Corresp. i. 481). He was appointed to a majority, 62nd foot, in 1790, and became lieutenant-colonel of that regiment in 1794, serving with it in San Domingo. On 18 April 1797 he was appointed brigadier-general in San Domingo, and early in May 1798 surrendered to Toussaint l'Ouverture, the republican commander-in-chief, the towns of Port au Prince, St. Marc and Arcahaye and their dependencies; the troops and stores being embarked, and all persons who chose being allowed to accompany the British force. On 1 Jan. 1798 Maitland was appointed a brigadier-general in the West Indies, and, in September, colonel of the 10th West India regiment. He was afterwards much employed in connection with the military attempts of the French royalists. Lord Cornwallis speaks of him in November 1798 as at the head of a small expedition destined for the French coast (ib. ii. 451). The troops appear to have gone instead to America and the West Indies.

In September 1799 Maitland received the rank of major-general while employed on particular service on the coast of France. This was a secret expedition against Belle Isle, to aid the royalist attempts in the Morbihan. The vessels employed were to meet in the channel, and at Maitland's wish the naval command was given to Sir Edward Pellew, afterwards Viscount Exmouth. The greatest difficulty was experienced in finding four thousand troops for the purpose. In May 1800 Maitland was in Dublin on his way to Cork with that object (ib. iii. 234). The expedition started early in June 1800, destroyed the forts on the south end of Quiberon on 4 June, and on 6 June took some vessels and about a hundred prisoners. Reports of the superior strength of the garrison of Belle Isle caused the projected attack to be abandoned, and in July the troops, which had been landed and encamped on Isle Houat, were sent on as reinforcements to the Mediterranean.

In 1803 Maitland was appointed colonel of a battalion of the army of reserve. For a few months in 1804–5 he was one of the commissioners of the board of control. He had represented the Haddington Burghs in parliament from November 1794 to May 1796, and from 1800 until he vacated his seat on appointment to the board of control. He was re-elected and sat until 1806. He became a major-general in 1805, and for a short time had a brigade command in Sussex. In 1806 he was appointed lieutenant-general and commander-in-chief in Ceylon. He arrived in that island at a very critical period, immediately after the British disasters in Kandy. At the time of the Madras mutinies he despatched all his available troops to India. A proposed scheme for the reorganisation of the East India Company's army, drawn up by Maitland after the mutiny of the Madras officers in 1807 [see under Barlow, Sir George Hilaro], is inserted in Gurwood's ‘Wellington Despatches,’ v. 545–8. Maitland remained in Ceylon until 1811, in which year he became a major-general, and he was appointed governor of Malta in 1813. By very rigorous means he stamped out the plague, which swept off five thousand persons in the island that year. In December 1815 he was made lord high commissioner of the Ionian Islands, and commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean—Gibraltar excepted: posts which, together with the government of Malta, he retained till his death.

The eccentricities and arbitrary conduct of ‘King Tom,’ as he was called, made him very unpopular with the services; but he proved an able administrator. He gave the Ionian Greeks a constitutional charter, framed on principles of policy and justice, and restored the Greek islands to a high state of commercial prosperity without imposing extra taxes on the people. Much political capital was made by his adversaries at home out of his share in the restoration to the Turks of the Christian town of Parga, on the Adriatic, and particularly out of his impartial reduction of Pargiote claims on the Turkish government (see Ann. Register, 1820, pt. i. pp. 108–13; also Parl. Debates and Papers under date). Charles Napier, the future conqueror of Scinde, a very shrewd observer, and certainly not biassed in favour of Maitland, under whose command he served for six years in the Ionian Islands, described him as ‘a rough old despot,’ ‘with talent, but not of a first-rate order—narrow-minded, seeing many things under false lights,’ and ‘surrounded by sycophants, who thought him a god because he had more intelligence than they,’ but Napier bore emphatic testimony to the sagacity and beneficial results of his policy, a verdict indorsed by Greek writers of recent date.

Maitland, a P.C., G.C.B. (2 Jan. 1815), G.C.M.G., and colonel in succession of the 3rd garrison battalion, 4th West India regiment and 10th (Lincolnshire) foot, died at Malta, of apoplexy, 17 Jan. 1824. He was buried, with great pomp, in the bastion containing the tomb of Sir Ralph Abercromby, and an oration was pronounced over the grave by Count Spiridion Bulgaris, the representative of one of the first Corfiote families.

[Peerages under ‘Lauderdale;’ Annual Army Lists; Cannon's Hist. Rec. 72nd Duke of Albany's Highlanders; Stewart's Scottish Highlanders, vol. ii., under ‘72nd Regt.;’ Sir Charles James Napier's Life and Opinions, vol. i., and account of the Ionian Islands; Ross Lewin's Life of an Old Soldier, vols. i. and iii.; Ann. Registers under dates; Gent. Mag. 1824, pt. i. pp. 370–1; also papers in the Public Record Office relating to Military Expeditions, French Emigrants, the governments of Ceylon, Malta, Ionian Islands, &c.]

H. M. C.