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Michell, Charles Cornwallis (DNB00)

MICHELL, CHARLES CORNWALLIS (1793–1851), lieutenant-colonel, born in 1793, was baptised Charles Collier Michell, but when serving with the Portuguese artillery the name Cornwallis became attached to him, through some confusion with Cornwall, the name of the county in which he was born, and he never took the trouble to correct the mistake. Sampson Michell, his father, after serving for some years in the British navy, was permitted to enter the Portuguese service. On the invasion of Portugal by the French in 1807 he brought his family to England, and subsequently followed the king to the Brazils, where he died a full admiral in 1809.

Michell entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1807 as a cadet, and was commissioned in the royal artillery on 2 Oct. 1809. The following are the dates of his subsequent commissions: lieutenant 16 March 1813; captain 4 Sept. 1817, when he was placed on half-pay; major 5 Jan. 1826; and lieutenant-colonel 23 Nov. 1841.

In 1810 Michell embarked for Gibraltar, and soon afterwards succeeded in getting himself transferred to the scene of active operations in the Peninsula. During the greater part of the war he was in command of a company or battery of Portuguese artillery, to which service he was lent, and he distinguished himself at the siege and capture of Badajoz and at the battles of Vittoria and Toulouse. At the latter engagement his battery was ordered up to cover the advance of some Spanish troops, who could not be induced to leave a hollow road leading to the town of Toulouse. During this advance the driver of the leaders of the first gun was killed. Michell instantly sprang from his horse, vaulted into the vacant saddle, and dashed forward with his guns. According to an eye-witness, he was 'one of the tallest and handsomest men in the Peninsular army. His cap had fallen off, and his appearance, as at full speed he led onwards the foremost gun … excited as much interest as admiration.' Towards the close of the battle he was wounded.

Some little time after the entry of the troops into Toulouse, Michell was quartered at the house of Jean Pierre d'Arragon, a retired French royalist officer. Falling in love with the young and beautiful daughter of the house, who was not then fifteen years old, and failing to get the consent of the parents, he obtained the help of several of his senior officers in carrying off and marrying his young bride. Mrs. Michell accompanied her husband in his march back to Portugal, and never saw her parents again.

On the return of the Portuguese army to Lisbon, Michell was attached to the staff of Marshal Beresford, whom he accompanied in 1820 to the Brazils, and thence retired to France. In 1824 he was appointed military drawing master at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and in 1825 he obtained the professorship of fortification at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. In 1828 he became surveyor-general, civil engineer, and superintendent of works at the Cape of Good Hope. As assistant quartermaster-general in the Caffre war of 1833-4 he devoted 'unwearied labour' to sketching the unknown country through which the troops passed, and he received the Hanoverian order in recognition of his services on this occasion. In 1844 the queen of Portugal conferred on him the order of St. Bento d'Avis, as a reward for his services in the Peninsula and in memory of his father's connection with the Portuguese navy. In 1846 the queen also admitted him to the royal military order of the Tower and the Sword.

After twelve years' employment, the multifarious duties at the Cape began to tell heavily on Michell's health, and in 1848 he was obliged to resign his appointment. Great progress had been made by the department under his charge during these years in pushing forward the roads of the colony.

Michell was a genial companion, and made himself popular everywhere. He was an excellent draughtsman and an accomplished linguist. He died at Eltham on 28 March 1851.

[Colburn's United Service Magazine, 1851.]