Sir Eyre Coote

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Coote, Sir Eyre, General, a descendant of a younger brother of the Earl of Mountrath, was born, most probably at his father's seat in the County of Limerick, in 1726. He entered the army at an early age, and it is believed served against the Pretender in 1745. In the beginning of 1754 his regiment embarked from Ireland for the East Indies. In January 1757 Coote, then a captain, was ordered by Admiral Watson to take possession of Calcutta, surrendered by the Nabob. He acted as Governor until dispossessed by Clive, who claimed to be his superior officer. At the battle of Plassey he held a prominent and responsible position, and was afterwards detached with a party in pursuit of M. Law, who had collected together the dispersed French.

In the same year, General Lally threatening the siege of Trichinopoly, Coote, then a Colonel, drew together what forces he could, and invested Wandewash, which he took in October 1759. General Lally attempted to retake this important post, and a battle was fought under its walls, 22nd January 1760, in which Coote was successful, and the French retired to Pondicherry. The siege of this place commenced 26th November, and was carried on with unremitting diligence until January 1761, when it was captured by the British forces; the garrison, consisting of 1,400 European soldiers, became prisoners of war, and a vast quantity of military stores and treasure fell into the hands of the victors. This was almost a final blow to the French power in India. Mr. Mill praises his admirable good sense and temper displayed during the siege. When for a time replaced by Major Monson (through mistake of the Directors in London), he acted cheerfully under him, and helped "to encircle the brows of another with laurels which belonged to his own."[168] On Coote's return to England next year he was presented with a £700 diamond-hilted sword by the Directors of the East India Company.

At the close of 1769, or very early in 1770, he was appointed Commander-in-chief in India, and he reached Madras in the course of the latter year; but owing to a dispute with the Governor of Fort George, almost immediately returned home overland. In 1771 he was invested with the order of the Bath, and in 1773, was appointed Governor of Fort George in Scotland. On the death of General Clavering, he was again appointed Commander-in-chief in India, and a member of the Council,' and in April 1779, reached Calcutta with money and reinforcements to cope with Hyder Ali, who had invaded the Carnatic. On 1st July 1781, he, with 10,000 men, European and native, defeated Hyder's army of more than 150,000 at Porto Novo. This was the first of the many defeats Sir Eyre inflicted on the great Indian potentate. In another encounter with Hyder, however, his troops, after much suffering, were obliged to fall back, and Mill blames him for "retaining the army, though inactive, so long in the field as to endanger their return by the impediments of the monsoon." He also "showed a discontented and quarrelsome spirit at this period." Lord Macartney, the Governor-General, declared he had to "court him like a mistress, and humour him like a child; but with all this, I have a most sincere regard for him, and honour him highly."

In June 1782, he failed in the attack on Arnee, and was outwitted in negotiations with Tippoo Sultan. Later on in the year, unequal to the toils of office, he relinquished the command of the army, and sailed for Bengal on 28th September. Mill says: "It has been historically stated, and without contradiction, that nothing but an accident prevented the two Presidents [Lord Macartney and Warren Hastings] . . from plunging their countrymen in India into something of the nature of a civil war. . . Coote was despatched with powers to resume the military command, exempt from dependence upon the Madras Government." His death at Madras, of apoplexy, three days after landing, 26th April 1784 (aged 58), happily prevented the danger of a struggle. His body was conveyed to England and deposited in the parish church of Rockwood, in Hampshire, and the Directors of the Company erected a fine monument to his memory in Westminster Abbey. His property, amounting to some ,£200,000, was inherited by his brother, the Dean of Kilfenora.

Sources

37. Biographical Dictionary: Alexander Chalmers. 32 vols. London, 1812-'17.

168. India, British, History of: James Mill. 3 vols. London, 1817.

196. Irishmen, Lives of Illustrious and Distinguished, Rev. James Wills, D.D. 6 vols. or 12 parts. Dublin, 1840-'7.

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