Francois Thurot

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Thurot, Francois, a French privateer captain, who made a descent upon Carrickfergus in 1760, was born in France, 21st June 1727. His maternal grandfather, Captain O'Farrell, an Irishman, served in the Irish Brigade. Thurot was singularly successful in his operations against British commerce, in one year capturing no fewer than sixty vessels. In 1759 it was decided by the French government, taking advantage of the known charm of his name in Ireland, to make a diversion against England by sending an expedition thither under his command. He accordingly left Dunkirk in October, with a squadron of six vessels, and 2,000 troops under Brigadier de Flobert. Steering north, to elude the British fleet, he put in at Gottenberg and Bergen. Scarcity of provisions compelled him to cruise among the Hebrides for some weeks. On the 24th January 1760, he sighted Tory Island, but a violent storm prevented his effecting a landing on the coast of Donegal. His fleet was then reduced to three shattered vessels, and Flobert unsuccessfully urged him to abandon the expedition.

At Islay a number of soldiers were landed to procure provisions, and so great was their hunger that they were glad to dig up potatoes with their bayonets and eat them raw. There Thurot received the discouraging news of the defeat by Hawke of the larger French expedition under Conflans. He however entered Belfast Lough, anchored off Carrickfergus on 21st February, and landed a body of 1,000 soldiers and sailors. The small garrison was soon overpowered, and the castle taken, the victors agreeing not to injure the town if furnished with provisions. These not being supplied, the French troops commenced pillaging, which Thurot and his officers unsuccessfully endeavoured to restrain. Lord Charlemont hurried down to the north, where his estates lay, and enrolled his tenantry in a yeomanry corps; and the principal Catholics of Ireland were induced to come forward with an address of loyalty and adhesion to the Government. The reception of this address by the Lord-Lieutenant may be said to have been the first public recognition since the Treaty of Limerick of the Catholics of Ireland as a body.

The country people did not flock to Thurot's standard, as he had expected. Without their assistance he could effect nothing; and accordingly, having victualled his vessels, he re-embarked his troops, and sailed early on the 26th of February. Thurot's three vessels (the Belleisle, 44 guns; Blonde, 32; and Terpsicore, 26) were, however, intercepted in the Irish channel by a British fleet, consisting of the Æolus, 32; Pallas, 36; and Brilliant, 36, under Captain John Elliott, which had been driven into Kinsale by stress of weather, and there received news of Thurot's expedition. The vessels came to an action off the coast of the Isle of Man on the 28th. For an hour and a half Thurot, in the Belleisle, defended himself against Elliott's whole fleet; but his consorts held aloof, his dispirited and worn-out crew fought badly, and he was himself killed in the last broadside, and his body committed to the deep before his vessel struck.

We are told that many even in England lamented the death of Thurot, who, even when he commanded a privateer, fought less for plunder than for honour. His successful and almost unopposed landing was remembered with great satisfaction by the oppressed Irish Catholics, and commemorated in lines commencing: "Blest be the day that O'Farrell came here." His body was washed ashore in Luce Bay, on the coast of Wigtonshire, and being recognized by some personal tokens, was respectfully buried in the churchyard of the ruined chapel of Kirkmaiden. [In June 1864, an ivory-handled poniard, found in Thurot's belt, was exhibited to the Society of Antiquaries in Edinburgh.]

Sources

34. Biographie Générale. 46 vols. Paris, 1855-'66. An interleaved copy, copiously noted by the late Dr. Thomas Fisher, Assistant Librarian of Trinity College, Dublin.

186. Irish Brigades in the Service of France: John C. O'Callaghan. Glasgow, 1870.

233. Manuscript and Special Information, and Current Periodicals.

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