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Gordon, Charles (1756-1835) (DNB00)


GORDON, Sir CHARLES (1756–1835), governor of St. Lucia, third son of Charles Gordon of Abergeldie, Perthshire, by his wife Alison, daughter of David Hunter of Barside, and widow of one Paterson, was born in 1756. He assisted in raising men for the 71st Fraser highlanders, formed at Glasgow during the early part of the American war, by Lieutenant-general Simon Fraser, master of Lovat [q. v.] He was appointed to a lieutenancy in the regiment in April 1776, accompanied it to America, and on 8 Jan. 1778 was promoted to a company in the 26th Cameronians. That regiment arrived in England from New York, in a skeleton state, in February 1780. Gordon became regimental major, and obtained a brevet lieutenant-colonelcy on 17 April 1783.

In 1787 French intrigues in Holland led to an invasion, without declaration of war, of a Prussian army, under the Duke of Brunswick, which entered that country on 13 Sept. 1787, and occupied Amsterdam on behalf of the stadtholder on 10 Oct. From two letters, now in the British Museum, addressed by him to the Marquis of Carmarthen, the first of which is dated Brunswick, 4 Jan. 1788 (Add. MS. 28063, fol. 7), Gordon appears to have accompanied the Duke of Brunswick, who, he says, was mortified ‘at my return to him unrewarded after my services in the late campaign.’ Gordon appears to have been recalled, as in the second letter, dated 28 Nov. 1788 (ib. fol. 322), he complains of his inability to obtain an interview with the marquis, on the faith of whose assurances ‘I gave up my continental connection and thoughts of entering a foreign service, and accepted what you were pleased to offer me, the lieutenant-colonelcy of the 41st foot.’ The 41st foot, originally a corps of invalids, had been reformed as an ordinary line regiment on 25 Dec. 1787, the date of Gordon's appointment to it as lieutenant-colonel. A third letter from Gordon to Carmarthen, by that time (fifth) duke of Leeds, dated Dresden, 3 April 1790 (ib. 28065, fol. 255), contains an application for leave to attend the Duke of Brunswick in the forthcoming campaign. The duke wished to have him as aide-de-camp, and ‘was good enough to say that I was in some degree planner and conductor of the capture of Amstelveen.’ Amstelveen was regarded as the key of the defences of Amsterdam, and had been seized through the activity of Gordon in the campaign of 1787. Gordon appears to have accompanied the Duke of Brunswick as British military commissioner in the campaigns of 1791–2. The ‘London Gazette’ of October 1790 notified his appointment, in recognition of his services ‘under the Duke of Brunswick in the late campaign in Holland,’ as knight of the Prussian order of Military Merit, which, like other foreign orders of chivalry previous to 1814, carried knightly rank in England as well as in other countries. Towards the end of 1793 a large expedition was despatched against the French West Indies possessions, under command of General Sir Charles Grey (Grey, Charles, first earl Grey [q. v.]), and Admiral Jervis. The brigadiers were Prescott, Francis Dundas [q. v.], and Gordon, still lieutenant-colonel 41st foot, who was placed in temporary command of a brigade, pending the arrival of the Duke of Kent from Canada. Gordon commanded the attack on Cas de Navire, at the capture of Martinique, and was thanked in general orders. He was employed at the capture of St. Lucia, and was appointed governor of that island, and received the rank of brigadier-general. Difficulties and disputes as to prize-rights in property in the captured islands led to the most unfounded charges of confiscation and extortion against the sea and land commanders of the expedition (see Cooper Willyams's Account). Against Gordon like accusations proved either better founded or more successful. Formal complaints were made against him, in his capacity of governor of St. Lucia, of extortion, and of taking bribes from disaffected persons to allow them to remain in the island, and afterwards breaking faith with them. A general court-martial, under the presidency of General Prescott, was ordered to assemble on 25 July 1794 for the investigation of these charges. The fever that wrought so much havoc among the troops was then raging, and the court-martial was twice dissolved by the deaths of the majority of the members. By the expedient of detailing eighteen members in place of twelve, the legal quorum, the proceedings were at last brought to a conclusion. Gordon was found guilty, and sentenced to refund the money and to be cashiered. In consequence of his past services and circumstances, disclosed on the court-martial, he was allowed to receive the value of his commissions (ib. Appendix). Gordon survived his dismissal more than forty years. He appears to have been in Holland, and in communication with the British ministry, just after the peace of Amiens (see Brenton, Life of Earl St. Vincent, ii. 146). He died at Ely Place, London, 26 March 1835, at the age of seventy-nine.

[Burke's Landed Gentry; Stewart's Sketches of Scottish Highlanders, with a Hist. of the Highland Regiments, vol. ii.; Pierre De Witt's Une Invasion Prussienne en Hollande en 1787 (Paris, 1886, 8vo), wherein Gordon is wrongly described as in the Scots Brigade in the service of Holland; Malmesbury Correspondence; the Rev. J. Cooper Willyams's (chaplain to H.M.S. Boyne) Account of the Campaign in the West Indies in 1794 (London, 1795, fol.); Gent. Mag. lx. (ii.) 961, new ser. iii. 575.]

H. M. C.