Open main menu

Grant, Colquhoun (1780-1829) (DNB00)

GRANT, COLQUHOUN (1780–1829), lieutenant-colonel, was son of Duncan Grant of Lingieston, Morayshire, and brother of Colonel Alexander Grant, C.B., in the East India Company's service, a distinguished Madras officer. Through General James Grant of Ballindalloch, Colquhoun Grant's widowed mother obtained for him an ensigncy in the 11th foot, to which he was appointed on 9 Sept. 1795, before he was fifteen, with leave to remain at a military school near London until promoted. He became lieutenant the year after, and in 1798 was taken prisoner, with the greater part of his regiment, in the unsuccessful descent on Ostend, and detained for a year at Douai. He obtained his company on 19 Nov. 1801, and served some years in the West Indies, at the capture of the Danish and Swedish West India islands, and afterwards on the personal staff of Sir George Prevost. He subsequently was with the 1st battalion of his regiment at Madeira and in the Peninsula. Napier, who was an intimate friend of Grant, wrote of him in after years, and describes his position as one of the 'exploring officers,' of whom Wellington said that 'no army in the world ever produced the like.' He conducted the secret intelligence, but never acted as a spy like his namesake John Grant (1782-1842) [q. v.] He often passed days in the enemy's lines, but always in uniform, trusting to his personal resources of sagacity, courage, and quickness (memorandum in Autobiog. of Sir James MacGrigor, App.) Grant, who had a talent for picking up languages and dialects, was a special favourite with the Spaniards, among whom he was known far and near as 'Granto bueno.' His position on the British staff was that of a deputy assistant adjutant-general. He became brevet-major on 30 May 1811.

As an example of the valuable character of Grant's services, Napier tells us that when Marmont came down on Beira in 1812, and was supposed to contemplate a coup de main against Ciudad Rodrigo, Grant entered the enemy's cantonments, and succeeded in obtaining information as to Marmont's numbers and supplies, which proved that he had no such intention. While watching the French movements on the bank of the Coa immediately afterwards, Grant was surprised by some French dragoons, his guide was killed, and himself carried prisoner to Salamanca. His popularity among the French officers, and his intimacy with Patrick Curtis [q. v.] and other members of the Irish College at Salamanca, caused uneasiness to Marmont, who appears to have confused the major with Grant the Spy. After accepting Grant's parole, Marmont ultimately sent him off under an escort of three hundred men to Bayonne, with secret orders to put him in irons on reaching French soil. Holding himself thus absolved from his parole, Grant made his escape at Bayonne, introduced himself as an American officer to the French general Souham, with whom he travelled unsuspected to Paris, where he found out an English secret agent, and with his aid remained in the city openly for several weeks, sending intelligence thence to Wellington, as he had done from Salamanca. Finding Paris getting too perilous for him, he shipped in the Loire for the United States, escaped in disguise as a sailor to England, where he put himself right by arranging for the exchange of a French officer of equal rank, and then returned to Spain, arriving at Wellington's headquarters within four months after his capture. He was employed on intelligence duties during the rest of the Peninsular war, became a brevet lieutenant-colonel on 19 May 1814, and major in his regiment on 13 Oct. following.

On the return of Napoleon from Elba, Wellington recalled Grant, who had just joined the senior department of the Royal Military College, and placed him in charge of the intelligence department of the army, with the rank of assistant adjutant-general. In some of the staff returns he is wrongly described as 'Sir' Colquhoun Grant, 11th foot (compare Army Lists, 1815). On 15 June Grant, who was at Condé, received information from his spies that a great battle would be fought within three days. The tidings were accidentally delayed, and did not reach the duke until delivered to him by Grant on the field of Waterloo. Grant was afterwards useful in Paris, where he was on the watch to prevent the allies from appropriating spoils of war without regard to the rights of the British troops.

Grant was put on half-pay as major 11th foot in 1816, and so remained until October 1821, when he was brought in as lieutenant-colonel to the 54th foot, then proceeding from the Cape to India. He commanded a brigade of the forces under General Morrison (H.M. 44th and 54th and native troops) employed in Arracan during the first Burmese war, for which he was made C.B. A fever there contracted completely broke down his health, and the effects appear to have been aggravated by a sense of the official neglect with which he had been treated. He sold out of the service on 1 Oct. 1829, and died on the 20th of the same month at Aix-la-Chapelle (Gent. Mag. xcix. pt. i. p. 477), where a monument was erected to him in the protestant burying-ground. Sir James MacGrigor, army medical department, who married Grant's youngest sister, describes him as a kindly, amiable man, possessing in a higher degree than any other officer he had met all the better and brighter attributes of a Christian soldier.

[Army Lists; Napier's Hist. Peninsular War, vol. iv. bk. xvi. chap. vii.; Autobiog. of Sir James MacGrigor (London, 1861), pp. 289-95, also App. pp. 413-17, where is a memorandum of the services of Brigadier-general Colquhoun Grant. addressed by General Sir William Napier to the Duke of Cambridge in September 1857. A biography, chiefly compiled from these sources, is given in Chambers's Eminent Scotsmen, vol. ii. A good account of the operations in Arracan appears in Thomas Carter's Hist. Rec. 44th foot. Colquhoun Grant has been repeatedly confused with more than one other officer of the name of Grant, and particularly with Colonel Colquhoun Grant, 15th Hussars [see Grant, Sir Colquhoun, Lieutenant-general], who at no time was connected with the intelligence department of the Duke of Wellington's troops.]

H. M. C.