Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Willshire, Thomas

WILLSHIRE, Sir THOMAS (1789–1862), bart., general, born at Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 24 Aug. 1789, was the eldest surviving son of Captain John Willshire by Mary, daughter of William Linden of Dublin. The father was son of Noah Willshire, a merchant, and, as the latter would not buy him a commission, he enlisted in the 38th foot. He was made quartermaster in 1790, lieutenant and adjutant in 1793, and paymaster in 1801. He obtained commissions in the regiment for three of his sons while they were still children: that of Thomas Willshire was dated 25 June 1795, and on 5 Sept. following he became lieutenant.

Thomas Willshire joined his regiment at Saintes in the West Indies in January 1798. It returned to England in 1800, and it was probably then that he went to school, at King's Lynn and Kensington. He was promoted captain on 28 Aug. 1804, when a second battalion was raised. The first battalion went to the Cape in 1805, but he remained behind, and was second in a duel fought at Nottingham on 1 Jan. 1806. He joined the first battalion in South America in 1807, and took part in the attack on Buenos Ayres. He went with it to Portugal in 1808, and was present at Roliça, Vimiero, and Coruña. He served with it in Walcheren, where his father died on 25 Sept. 1809.

In June 1812 the first battalion of the 38th again embarked for the Peninsula, Willshire commanding the light company. It joined the army three days before the battle of Salamanca (22 July), and was brigaded with the royals and the 9th in the 5th (Leith's) division. Willshire received two wounds in the battle. He commanded the light companies of the brigade in the action on the Carrion on 25 Oct. during the retreat from Burgos. In 1813 the division formed part of Graham's corps at Vittoria, and at the siege of San Sebastian. In the first assault the 38th was assigned the lesser breach. In the second assault it was at first in reserve, but was soon brought up in support of the stormers. Willshire's youngest brother was killed; he himself was given a brevet majority on 21 Sept. He commanded the light companies of the brigade at the passage of the Bidassoa, which he is said to have been the first man to cross, and in the actions on the Nive (9–11 Dec.) and the repulse of the sortie from Bayonne (14 April 1814). He received a brevet lieutenant-colonelcy, and afterwards the Peninsular silver medal with seven clasps.

In 1815 his battalion was sent to the Netherlands, but was too late for Waterloo. It went on to Paris, and Willshire was employed for a short time on the staff. In December he returned with the battalion to England, and in June 1818 went with it to the Cape. On his way out he wrote a manual of ‘light company manœuvres in concert with battalion manœuvres,’ which was sent to Sir Henry Torrens [q. v.], and was probably used by him in preparing the drill-book of 1824. Early in 1819 Willshire was sent to the frontier as commandant of British Kaffraria. A quarrel between the chiefs, in which the British authorities intervened, led to an attack on Grahamstown by Mokanna with six thousand Kaffirs on 22 April. Willshire had only his own company of the 38th, with 240 local troops and five guns. The attack was well planned and determined; but it was skilfully met and repulsed with loss. Willshire followed up the Kaffirs, and forced Mokanna to surrender. The territory between the Fish river and the Keiskamma was added to the colony, and Fort Willshire was built in it. He was highly praised by the governor, Lord Charles Somerset, who was also commander of the forces, and by the Duke of York.

In 1822 the 38th went to Calcutta, and Willshire was strongly recommended by Somerset to the governor-general, Lord Hastings. He could not afford to purchase his majority in the regiment, and on 10 Sept. 1823 he was given a majority without purchase in the 46th. He had command of it for some time at Ballary, and in December 1824 he commanded a brigade in the force under Colonel Deacon which retook the fort at Kittoor. On 30 Aug. 1827 he was made lieutenant-colonel without purchase of the 2nd (queen's), stationed at Poona. He served with it nearly ten years, and Sir Lionel Smith, after inspecting the regiment in 1830, reported that he had ‘never yet met so perfect a commanding officer.’

On 10 Jan. 1837 he was made brevet colonel, with the local rank of brigadier-general in India. In 1838, while commanding a brigade at Poona, he was given one in the ‘army of the Indus,’ formed for the invasion of Afghanistan. In February 1839 the army was reorganised, Keane becoming commander-in-chief, and Willshire succeeding him in the command of the Bombay division of infantry. His troops were the last to cross the Bolan, and were harassed by the tribesmen; but he reached Quetta on 30 April, and Kandahar on 4 May. He took part in the storming of Ghazni on 23 July, and went on to Kabul.

On 18 Sept.—the day after a grand investiture of the Durani order, of which he received the second class—he began his march back to the Indus with the Bombay division. After passing Ghazni he marched direct on Quetta, punishing some of the tribes on his way, and arriving there on 31 Oct. He had been told to depose Mehrab Khan of Kelat, and sent a column from Quetta for that purpose on 3 Nov. Learning from Major (afterwards Sir James) Outram that resistance was likely, he joined it himself two days afterwards. It consisted of the queen's and 17th foot, the 31st Bengal native infantry, some local horse, six guns, and some Bombay engineers, numbering in all 1,166 men.

He reached Kelat on the 13th, and found the khan's troops (about 2,000 men) posted on three hills north-west of the fort. He drove them from these hills, captured their guns, and tried to enter the fort along with the fugitives. The gate was closed before his men could reach it, but it was soon opened by his guns, and after a determined resistance the fort and its citadel were stormed, with a loss of 138 men killed and wounded. Mehrab Khan died fighting at the head of his men (Lond. Gaz. Extr. 13 Feb. 1840).

The governor-general, in forwarding Willshire's report, commended his ‘decision, great military skill, and excellent dispositions;’ and Outram speaks of ‘the cool and determined demeanour of our veter n general.’ He had been made C.B. in 1838. For the campaign in Afghanistan he received the thanks of parliament, and was made K.C.B. on 20 Dec. 1839; and for the capture of Kelat he was created a baronet on 6 June 1840.

After installing a new khan, who was soon displaced, Willshire left Kelat on 21 Nov. 1839, and resumed his march to the Indus. His division was broken up on 27 Dec., and he returned to the command of his brigade at Poona. In October 1840 a sunstroke obliged him to resign this and go to England. On 27 Nov. 1841 he exchanged from the queen's regiment to half-pay, being appointed commandant at Chatham. He remained there till 1846, when he was promoted major-general on 9 Nov. He was afterwards unemployed. He was made colonel of the 51st foot on 26 June 1849, lieutenant-general on 20 June 1854, general on 20 April 1861, and G.C.B. on 28 June 1861. He died on 31 May 1862 at Hill House, near Windsor. On 11 May 1848 he married Annette Lætitia, eldest daughter of Captain Berkeley Maxwell, R.A., of Tuppendene, Kent; he had two sons and three daughters.

Willshire was a tall, athletic man, with aquiline features. His portrait, painted by T. Heaphy, was lent by Lady Willshire to the Victorian Exhibition. In the 38th he had the sobriquet of ‘Tiger Tom.’ As a disciplinarian he ‘was strict, indeed severe, but always impartial and just.’

[Low's Soldiers of the Victorian Age, i. 1–104; Gent. Mag. 1862, ii. 631; Kennedy's Campaign of the Army of the Indus; Goldsmid's Life of Outram; Durand's First Afghan War; Burke's Peerage.]

E. M. L.