Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tollemache, Thomas
TOLLEMACHE, Talmash or Talmach, as he himself spelt his name, Thomas (1651?–1694), lieut.-general, born about 1651, was second son of Sir Lionel Tollemache, third bart. (d. 1668), of Helmingham, Suffolk, by Elizabeth, daughter of William Murray, first earl of Dysart [q. v.] There was a rumour, undeserving of serious consideration, to the effect that his mother, who became Countess of Dysart in her own right, and afterwards by her second marriage Duchess of Lauderdale [see Murray, Elizabeth}, d. 1697)], was Cromwell's mistress when he was in Scotland. Lord Dartmouth says that Tollemache was commonly thought to be Cromwell's son, and ‘he had a very particular sort of vanity in desiring it should be so understood’ (Burnet, iv. 228, footnote). But Sir Lionel Tollemache never doubted that he was Thomas's father, and left him in his will a larger sum for his maintenance and education than he left to any other child excepting his eldest son Lionel, who was born on 9 Feb. 1649 (N.S.), succeeded as fourth baronet, became Earl of Dysart on his mother's death in 1697, and died on 3 Feb. 1726–7.
The inscription on Tollemache's monument says that ‘his natural abilities and first education were improved by his travels into foreign nations, where he spent several years in the younger part of his life in the observation of their genius, customs, politicks, and interests; and in the service of his country abroad in the field.’ On 16 Jan. 1678 he obtained a commission as captain of one of eight newly raised companies in the Coldstream regiment of guards. On 17 Feb. he was appointed lieutenant-colonel in Lord Alington's regiment of foot, which was sent to Flanders soon afterwards. This regiment was disbanded in April 1679, and on 30 May Tollemache was re-commissioned as captain in the Coldstream guards.
In June 1680 he was sent with his company to Tangier, where it formed part of a composite battalion of guards. Tangier had been hard pressed by the Moors, but their efforts had slackened as the garrison increased. In the autumn he helped to drive them back from some of the positions they had taken, but he was in England again before the end of November. On 13 June 1682 he had a duel with Captain Parker (probably John Parker (fl. 1705) [q. v.]), who challenged him for some affront (Luttrell, i. 193). It was perhaps in connection with this quarrel that on 21 June Tollemache's company of the Coldstreams was given to another officer.
On 11 June 1685 he was appointed by James II lieutenant-colonel of the regiment of fusiliers which was then being formed (now the royal fusiliers). But he surrendered James II's commission ‘as soon as he saw that the army was to be used to set up an arbitrary power’ (Merc. Brit. 23 June 1694). Another was appointed in his place on 1 May 1686. More than six months earlier, on 9 Oct. 1685, he had become colonel of one of the Anglo-Dutch regiments (now the Northumberland fusiliers), which had been brought over to England in July on account of Monmouth's rebellion, and went back to Holland in the autumn.
He was one of the officers who declined to leave the Dutch service at James's summons in March 1688. He was in England at the time, for Luttrell notes in his ‘Diary’ that he ‘is gone into Holland and a privy seal is sent after him’ (i. 434). He and his regiment formed part of the force with which the Prince of Orange landed at Torbay in November. William made him governor of Portsmouth in December, in place of the Duke of Berwick, and colonel of the Coldstream guards on 1 May 1689, in place of Lord Craven. He served under Marlborough in the Netherlands in 1689 as second in command of the English brigade in Waldeck's army, and the Coldstreams won great distinction under him at Walcourt (9 Aug.).
On 20 Dec. 1690 he was promoted major-general. In June 1691 he went to Ireland and served under Godert de Ginkel [q. v.] At Athlone on 30 June he had much to do with the bold determination to storm the town from the riverside; he joined the advance party as a volunteer, and was one of the first men to ford the Shannon. At the battle of Aghrim he commanded the infantry of the right wing in second line, and, when the first attack failed, he led forward the troops by whom the battle was won. At Galway he ‘would needs go as a volunteer, as he usually did when it was not his turn to command,’ in the assault of the outworks, the capture of which was followed by the surrender of the town. In the second siege of Limerick he led the infantry, which crossed the Shannon above the town on 15 Sept., repulsed the Irish attacks, and enabled Ginkel to complete his investment. He was made governor of Limerick after it was taken.
He had been elected to the English House of Commons M.P. for Malmesbury on 30 Jan. 1689, and was returned for Chippenham on 14 Dec. 1691. There is no mention of his speeches in the ‘Parliamentary History,’ but he is said to have ‘asserted with the utmost vigour the rights of his countrymen’ (Merc. Brit. ut supra). This had reference no doubt to the preference shown to foreign officers by William. It was thought that he would follow the example of Charles Trelawny [q. v.], who resigned his regiment at the beginning of 1692, but he did not. On 12 Jan. Marlborough was dismissed, and on the 23rd Tollemache was promoted lieutenant-general in his place.
He served during that year in the Netherlands under William, and after the battle of Steinkirk (3 Aug.) he ‘brought off the British foot by his great conduct’ (Luttrell, ii. 528). In September he was detached with a force of sixteen thousand men to cover Bruges and Ostend, and to take part in the contemplated siege of Dunkirk. He was made governor of Dixmude. When parliament met in November indignant protests were made against Count Solms's behaviour at Steinkirk [see Solms, Heinrich Maastricht], and some members proposed an address to the king asking that Tollemache should be put in his place. But Tollemache's best friends begged the house not to do him such an injury, and the proposal was dropped.
In March 1693 he was transferred from the governorship of Portsmouth to that of the Isle of Wight. He commanded the British infantry in the campaign in the Netherlands of that year, and was in charge of the centre at the battle of Neerwinden (or Landen) on 19 July. At the head of the Coldstreams and fusiliers he for some time repelled the enemies' attempts to force their way over the intrenchments near the village of Neerwinden after the village itself had been taken, and he had a horse killed under him. Charged by William to see to the retreat of the infantry, he brought them off by Dormael to Leuwe, ‘with as much prudence as he had before fought with bravery’ (D'Auvergne, Campaign of 1693).
The mishap to the Smyrna merchant fleet in 1693 had caused much discontent, and it was determined that in 1694 better use should be made of the allies' naval superiority. An expedition against Brest was planned at Tollemache's suggestion, according to Burnet, in March, but the ordnance-department and the treasury caused delay in equipping it, and the French fleet got away to the Mediterranean. Russell was ordered to follow it with the best part of the fleet, but it was decided that the Brest expedition should still be carried out. Ten battalions, or about seven thousand men, were allotted to it, and the command of these troops was given to Tollemache (cf. Luttrell, ii. 457–61). Orders for embarkation were issued to the fleets destined both for Brest and the Mediterranean on 11 May, but owing to adverse winds the combined fleets did not leave Spithead till 30 May. On 5 June they parted company, Russell going on to the Mediterranean, while Lord Berkeley, with forty-one ships of the line and frigates, English and Dutch, made for Brest. At 7 P.M. on the 7th his fleet anchored off the entrance to the port.
It had been settled at councils of war on 31 May and 6 June that the troops should be landed to the south of the entrance, in Camaret Bay, and the ships should remain at anchor till they learnt from Tollemache ‘the condition of the fort on the starboard side going in, and what forces he might find there.’ The object seems to have been to get possession of the peninsula of Quélern, which forms the south shore of the Goulet. The fleet could then pass with less risk through the Goulet into Brest roads, ‘to assist in carrying on the design against the town and the ships there’ (Russell's Instructions to Berkeley in Bourchett).
On the evening of the 7th a reconnaissance of the bay was made, under fire from the fort, by the rear-admiral, Lord Caermarthen, accompanied by Lord Cutts [q. v.]; and at a council next morning it was settled that two line-of-battle ships and six frigates should go in to batter Fort Camaret, while the troops were put on shore in a cove about a mile to the east of it. Caermarthen says nothing to confirm Burnet's statement that at this council every one except Tollemache was against the enterprise. It seems to have been afterwards, while it was in course of execution, that he was urged to give it up.
The ships, except one frigate, went in about noon on the 8th. They found they had to deal not only with the guns of the fort, but with four other batteries hitherto unobserved, besides a mortar battery, which dropped a shell upon the deck of one of them. They suffered more damage than they inflicted. There were also two other batteries, one at each end of the cove chosen for the landing-place. There, and all along the bay, intrenchments had been thrown up, which were manned by eight companies of marines and by militia, and there were some dragoons in support.
Under the heavy fire which the boats encountered, the landing of the troops was carried out ‘in a kind of confused manner.’ Tollemache had called for eight hundred volunteers at a guinea a head (Luttrell, iii. 327), and took the lead of them himself. He ordered all the boats to land their men as quickly as possible. They made for a point at the south end of the cove, where the rocks may have afforded some shelter, but where there was not much room. They fouled one another, and the leading boats grounded and prevented those behind from reaching the shore. Out of eight hundred or nine hundred men in the boats, only about half landed. Some, it was said, were not eager to land.
Tollemache led his men on against the intrenchment, but he recognised that the attempt was hopeless. He was shot in the thigh, and his small party was driven back to the boats. The tide was falling, many of the boats that had grounded could not be got off, and the men in them became prisoners. The total loss, according to a statement signed by Berkeley, was 574 soldiers and 211 seamen killed, wounded, and missing (Edye, i. 414), but it was commonly put higher. The affair lasted about three hours.
Tollemache was taken to the Dreadnought, and a council of war was held there, at which he suggested that some frigates and bomb-vessels should be sent into Brest roads to bombard the town. This proposal was rejected, because the wind that would take them in would forbid their coming out again. As Tollemache held that he was not authorised to make an attempt on any other place than Brest, it was decided to go back to Spithead. His view of his instructions was not shared by the council of state, when the expedition returned (minutes of council meeting of 13 June in Admiralty papers, Public Record Office). Tollemache was landed at Plymouth on the 11th. He was at first thought to be doing well, but his wound mortified, and he died at Plymouth on 12 June 1694. His body was taken to London, being ‘met and accompanied by the gentry of the country and the magistrates of the towns through which it passed’ (London Gazette), and it lay in state in Leicester Fields. A funeral in Westminster Abbey was proposed, but by his own desire he was buried in the family vault at Helmingham on the 30th. He was apparently unmarried.
As Shrewsbury wrote to William, ‘he was generally beloved, esteemed, and trusted.’ William himself wrote (21 June) that he was extremely affected at his loss, ‘for although I do not approve of his conduct, yet I am of opinion that his too ardent zeal to distinguish himself induced him to attempt what was impracticable.’ Three days before he had said: ‘I own to you that I did not suppose they would have made the attempt without having well reconnoitred the situation of the enemy to receive them; since they were long apprised of our intended attack, and made active preparations for defence.’ Russell, on hearing the news, wrote to Shrewsbury: ‘I am very sorry for poor Talmash; but before I left him I foresaw what would happen, both as to the success, and his own life. He is now dead, but I never saw a man less cut out to order such a business in my life’ (Shrewsbury Correspondence, pp. 45–7, 199).
There is a marble monument to Tollemache in Helmingham church; a bust surrounded by warlike symbols, with a long inscription which gives an outline of his life. He fell, it says, ‘not without suspicion of being made a sacrifice in this desperate attempt through the envy of some of his pretended friends.’ This suspicion of treachery was widespread and well founded. He himself is said to have shared it, and to have sent a message to the queen giving the names of certain persons, ‘that she might be on her ground against those pernicious counsellors who had retarded the descent, and by that means given France time to fortify Brest’ (Oldmixon, p. 92; see Churchill, John, first Duke of Marlborough and Godolphin, Sidney. Cf. also Wolseley, Life of Marlborough, ii. 314, and Engl. Hist. Rev. ix. 130, xii. 254). The evidence seems to show that any information that may have reached James II from Godolphin or Marlborough was no more than a confirmation of what the French government already suspected. But it is known that it was on information Louis XIV received from England that he sent Vauban to Brest. The great engineer arrived there on 13 May, and consequently had nearly a month in which to make ready for the reception of the English expedition (see Angoyat, i. 198; Quincy, iii. 78).
But a different version of what Tollemache said is given in a letter written from Ford Abbey on 25 June 1694 by F. Gwyn to Robert Harley: ‘Talmash's [body?] passed by us here on Friday for London. He complained extremely before his death, that before he went from Portsmouth he had an account of the good [posture?] affairs were in at Brest to receive us, and therefore desired to know whether he should persist in his attempt, but receiving no answer he thought it his duty to go on, and found it impracticable as he before had represented, but still he thought it his duty to try. He also complained of Lord Cutts for not obeying orders, and sent a message about it to the queen a little before his death’ (Welbeck MSS. iii. 551).
The following is the picture of Tollemache drawn by Dr. Nicholas Brady in his funeral sermon: ‘His conversation was familiar and engaging, his wit lively and piercing, his judgment solid and discerning; and all these set off by a graceful person, a cheerful aspect, and an inviting air.’ Burnet says ‘he was a brave and generous man, and a good officer, very apt to animate and encourage inferior officers and soldiers; but he was much too apt to be discontented and to turn mutinous.’ To this Lord Dartmouth added that he was ‘extremely lewd.’ His character is reflected in the handsome resolute face engraved by Houbraken from the portrait by Kneller which remains in the collection of Lord Dysart at Ham House.[There is a short memoir of Tollemache by Birch in Houbraken's and Vertue's Heads of Illustrious Persons, p. 145. Dr. Brady's sermon was published in 1684, but tells little. There are letters of his to George Clarke [q. v.], the Irish secretary at war, in the library of Trinity College, Dublin. For his military career generally, see Dalton's English Army Lists; Walton's British Standing Army; McKinnon's Coldstream Guards; Edye's Royal Marines; Douglas's Peerage of Scotland; Luttrell's Diary. For the Brest expedition the best sources are Lord Caermarthen's Journal of the Brest Expedition (1694); Mercure Historique et Politique, Juillet 1694; Burchett's Memoirs of Transactions at Sea; Augoyat's Aperçu sur les Ingénieurs, &c.; Quincy's Histoire Militaire de Louis le Grand; Shrewsbury Correspondence, ed. Coxe; Burnet's History of his Own Time, 1823.]