Brisbane, Thomas

Thomas Brisbane, British Army officer, colonial governor, astronomer (b at Brisbane House, near Largs, Ayrshire, Scotland, 23 Jul 1773; d there 27 Jan 1860). Thomas Brisbane spent a lengthy career in the British army, including service in the War of 1812, but became as well-known for his later career as an astronomer.

Brisbane joined the 38th Foot in April 1789 and went to Ireland the following year, where he became acquainted with Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington. Brisbane advanced to lieutenant in 1791 and to captain in 1793. From then until 1795 he campaigned in Flanders. Upon returning to England, he attained a majority and in October 1795 he went with his regiment to Barbados. He participated in the capture of St Lucia and Trinidad, helped suppress disorder on St Vincent and participated in the failed invasion of Puerto Rico, before returning home on sick leave in 1798. Brisbane returned to Barbados two years later as commanding officer of the 69th Foot but had not recovered his health and left in 1803. When the 69th was transferred to India, Brisbane remained in England on half-pay. His poor health kept him from the army until 1812, when Wellington asked him to join him in the Iberian Peninsula. By then he was a colonel.

Although Brisbane spent 18 months as assistant adjutant-general in the Iberian Peninsula, health issues continued to plague him and he had to return to England for several months. Returning to Spain, he led his brigade in the Napoleonic Wars, at the battles of Vitoria, the Pyrenees, Nivelle, the Nive, Orthez and Toulouse, where he was wounded. Brisbane was advanced to major general in 1813 and assigned to command a brigade in British North America.

Service in North America

By August 1814, Brisbane’s brigade was located to the south of Montréal and was part of the British Left Division under Major General Sir Francis de Rottenburg that was to take Plattsburgh, NY. Brisbane’s brigade eventually included the Canadian Voltigeurs and the Canadian Chasseurs. Brisbane crossed into New York State on 31 August 1814 and by the 6thof September, entered Plattsburgh. The assault was momentarily halted until the naval squadron could be put in position to attack the American flotilla in Plattsburgh Bay.

In the meantime, the division commenced building siege works and the assault was finally scheduled for 11 September. The attack by the Left Division would be executed in two parts: to the north, Brisbane was to provide a diversion by occupying the north bank of the Saranac River, cross the two bridges over the Saranac and then press his attack as far as practical. Further to the south, the main assault would be led by Major General Frederick Robinson. His reinforced brigade was to cross the Saranac and storm the American works. Neither of these movements had been fully developed when, following the defeat of the British naval force, Sir George Prevost decided to cancel the operation and return to Lower Canada.

Brisbane then replaced de Rottenburg as commander of the Left Division. During December, he proposed to take 7000 men to the southern end of Lake Champlain and destroy the American naval ships at their winter station. Prevost gave tentative approval and planning continued until it was learned the Treaty of Ghent had been signed and the war ended, in February 1815.

To Europe and Beyond

After the war, Brisbane returned to Europe and commanded a brigade in the army of occupation in France from early 1816 until 1818. He married in November 1819 and then became governor of New South Wales from 1821-25. Brisbane was promoted to lieutenant general in May 1825. Brisbane had developed an interest in astronomy early in his career and became prominent in the field. He became a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1810. He died at his home in 1860.

Author: John R. Grodzinski

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