Joseph Moorhouse (1744-1791)
Background and Early Life
Joseph Moorhouse was born in Great Salkeld, the son of John Moorhouse [1715-1748] and his wife Mary [1722-1798], whose second husband was Thomas Slack. He had a brother William and a sister Sarah, who married John Byers. Joseph enlisted as a young man and being highly regarded, soon rose through the ranks to be commissioned in the Madras Artillery in 1768 in India aged only twenty four. He is said to have proposed the foundation in India of a company of pioneers, specialist squads who, from Roman times had been adept at crossing obstacles and breaching fortifications. This idea was realised in the Madras Pioneers, established in 1780.
Later he became an officer in the 36th Foot, greatly distinguishing himself under Sir Eyre Coote [1726-1783] on 21 January 1781 at the siege of Carangoly, where he ‘gallantly stormed the fort’. On 17 June at Chillenbrum all the gunners were killed and Moorhouse and Lt. Taafe alone were left to keep the guns in action. The last round was fired by Captain Moorhouse who ‘rammed home the charge with his fuzee and fired the gun with the lock’ [Wylly]. Again on 1 July 1781 he effectively contributed to the action against Hyder Ali [c.1720-1782] at Porto Novo where 8000 British troops defeated a force of 40,000. In April to May 1784 the native cavalry at Arnee had mutinied over arrears of pay, but Captain Moorhouse and forty artillery boldly rescued the guns under heavy fire. In June 1785, at the siege of Cuddalore, he once again demonstrated his skill and bravery.
Later that year, on 31st October 1785 Moorhouse married Augusta Henrietta Catherina Boisdaune [1758-1844] at St Mary’s church, Fort St George, Madras, the oldest Anglican church in India, which had seen the wedding of Lord Clive in 1753. Augusta was the younger daughter of the Rev. Andre Boisdaune and Elizabeth Strode, the daughter of Edward Strode of Southill, West Cranmore, Somerset, where the Strodes had lived since 1627. Moorhouse held at other times the posts of Commissary of Stores and later Commissary General, in charge of the procurement of food, clothing, fodder for the animals and camp equipment.
Bravery at Bangalore
Lord Cornwallis was commander-in-chief in India during the second Mysore War of 1790-1792, which sought to defeat the son of Hyder Ali. The new Mysorean ruler was Tipu Sultan [1750-1799], known as the ‘Tiger of Mysore’ and an equally implacable enemy of the East India Company. During this conflict, at the siege of Bangalore, on the 21st March 1791, Moorhouse, now a Lt. Col. of the Coast Artillery, was engaged in leading the assault on the Pettah Gate by bringing up the heavy guns during the first attack. The Coast Artillery had originally been established to secure coastal defences to support the British Navy and Moorhouse had been stationed on the coast at Fort St George, Madras, 160 miles east of landlocked Bangalore. In this action, the colonel’s ‘ardour was such that though wounded in two places, he never relaxed his exertions until two more bullets laid him dead,’ aged only 47. Nonetheless, the engagement was successful, in part through the action of the pioneers, and led to peace with Tipu Sultan at the Treaty of Seringapatam the following year.
Cornwallis wrote afterwards to congratulate the officers and men ‘on the honourable issue of the fatigues and dangers they had undergone’ noting their ‘alacrity and firmness’ in the execution of their duties and adding how he would record their ‘meritorious conduct in the strongest colours’ in particular the ‘irresistable’ zeal of the officers [Fortescue]. Some of Moorhouse’s brother officers, freemasons of the Madras Lodge of which Moorhouse had been grand master, commissioned an oil painting by Robert Home [1752-1834], who was in India following the army by permission of Cornwallis to make sketches during this period. They stipulated that the work should be modelled on Benjamin West’s The Death of General Wolfe [now in the National Gallery of Canada] of 1770 and Home’s canvas was completed in 1793. Centrally placed in the painting, Moorhouse is shown mortally wounded and supported by Captain Douglas of the 74th Highland Regiment. Nearby on horseback is Major-General William Medows, the 2nd in command. Entitled The Death of Col. Moorhouse at the Pettah Gate, Bangalore, this work was exhibited at the R.A. in 1797 and is now in the collection of the National Army Museum. In 1811 it was engraved by Ebenezer Stalker [1781-1847] and the prints were dedicated to the Marquess Richard Wellesley [1760-1842], the brother of the duke of Wellington.
Following his burial at St Mary’s church, Fort St George, Madras, the colonel’s elaborate marble wall monument was erected ‘by order of the Court of Directors of the East India Company’ to commemorate his ‘distinguished services’ and has, within a roundel, a figure of Britannia seated on a lion placing a laurel wreath on the head of his bust, borne by a putto. Below the roundel are crossed regimental flags and the inscription is flanked by upended spears and flambeaux, symbols of death. It was carved in England by Charles Peart [1759-1798] who also cut the monument for Lt. Col. John Campbell, at Bombay. Peart’s wife Elizabeth had East India Company links. Though always described as ‘Col. Moorhouse’, this monument makes clear that Joseph was actually a Lt. Col. and still of the Coast Artillery at this date. Col. Mark Wilks, a brother officer, wrote of him after death that ‘he had risen from the ranks, but Nature herself had made him a gentleman; uneducated, he had made himself a man of science; a career of universal distinction had commanded universal respect and his amiable character universal attachment’ [Fortescue]. Major General Sir Thomas Munro remarkably described Moorhouse in his memoirs, with considerable justification, as ‘beyond comparison, the most valuable officer in the army’.
His Widow Remarries
Only a year later, on 2 May 1792, Moorhouse’s widow Augusta was again married in India, her second husband being George Thicknesse-Touchet [1758-1818], the 19th Lord Audley. She returned to England where she lived at Sundridge Lodge, near Melksham, Wiltshire until her death in 1844. As her stepson the 20th Lord Audley [1783-1837] lived in reduced circumstances, it may be that Augusta had negotiated a better portion of her late husband’s estate. This Lord Audley in 1836 extraordinarily and prodigally commissioned Benjamin Haydon [1786-1846] to paint a canvas of his ancestor Lord James Audley, entitled The Black Prince thanking Lord Audley for his Gallantry at the battle of Poitiers, in 1356 [The Box, Plymouth], perhaps as a riposte to a stepmother’s tales of Moorhouse glory, although he found himself unable to pay for it and died a year later. The Black Prince had awarded the Audleys with an annuity which continued even to this date, rather surprisingly, but there was little other family income.
- John Biddulph, The Nineteenth and their Times, 1899, chapter 2 pp. 51-2
- John Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain, 1835, vol.2 p.119
- J.J. Cotton, A List of Church Inscriptions in Madras, new edn.1946
- John W. Fortescue, The History of the British Army, 1902, vol. III pp.566-70
- G.R. Gleig, The Life of Major General Sir Thomas Munro, 1849, vol.1 p.116
- Henry Davidson Love, Indian Records Series: Vestiges of Old Madras 1640-1800, 1913, III 173 n4, 351 n4, 403-4, 322 and 351
- K.W. Maurice-Jones, The History of Coast Artillery in the British Army, 2005
- Major H.M. Vibart, The Madras Engineers and Pioneers, 2 vols., 1881
- Mark Wilks, Historical Sketches of the South of India in an attempt to Trace the History of Mysoor, 1817
- Col. H.C. Wylly, The Life of Sir Eyre Coote, 1922, ch.XII
- Calcutta Gazette, 27 May 1784
- General Order of the East India Company published 22nd March 1791, re the monument
- National Army Museum website
- BL.uk/online gallery re Robert Home preparatory drawing for The Death of Col. Moorhouse