John Thoreau at Waterloo

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The history of the Hooper and Thoreau families in Jersey was researched and recorded by family member George Symes Hooper in the 19th century. Mr Hooper was born on 20 October 1799 in St Helier and became one of the leading surgeons in the Island after studying in Paris.

John Thoreau

His mother Mary (nee Thoreau) had a younger brother John, born in 1786, who had a career of distinction in the Army.

John, the son of Philippe Thoreau and Elizabeth Valpy entered the Army in 1804 at the age of 18, and a year later went abroad in the campaign in Hanover under Lord Cathcart.

In 1808, as a Lieutenant, he landed in Portugal with his regiment, the 40th (2nd Somersetshire) Regiment of Foot, under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley - later the Duke of Wellington, and was in the Peninsular campaign during the whole of this part of the Napoleonic Wars, until re-embarkation at Bordeaux in 1814.

He then took part in the latter stages of the American War (1812 - 1815) at the Battle of New Orleans on 8 January 1815 under General Sir Edward Pakenham. That battle was lost, although it was not known to either force that peace terms had already signed some two weeks earlier.


The surviving forces returned to England to reassemble with the army on the continent. John was present at some 14 battles, and finally at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815. Histories of that period reveal the long, hard slogs of that campaign. The army moved forwards and backwards through all types of weather across Portugal and into Spain, retreated back to the coast near Lisbon (Torres Vedras), and finally advanced across Portugal again, through Spain, and across the Pyrenees into France. John was wounded twice:

  • During the attack on Fort Christoval
  • In the Pyrenees near D'Ampeluna

After Waterloo he went to:

  • Canada in 1824 for 15 months
  • Bermuda in 1830 for 2 years
  • Jamaica in 1833 for 2 years

Up to 1829, in total he served nine years abroad and 16 years at home (five on half pay). Later he went to St Helena and served in the St Helena Regiment. He died in St Helena on 29 August 1843 and was buried on the island in Jamestown. There is no record that John ever married.

A tablet to his memory was erected in the church at Jamestown by his brother officers. A framed line drawing of this tablet was left to Dr George Symes Hooper, his nephew.

Career record

The Army List gives a fairly complete record of John Thoreau's military career. Major John Thoreau

  • 26 October 1804: commissioned into the Army in the rank of Ensign with The Fourth (or The King's Own) Regiment of Foot
  • 1 May 1806: promoted to Lieutenant
  • 28 May 1806: appointed Lieutenant with The 40th (The 2nd Somersetshire) Regiment of Foot
  • 19 July 1815: promoted to Captain
  • 28 February 1816: placed on half pay
  • 3 May 1821: appointed to The 37th (The North Hampshire) Regiment of Foot
  • 10 January 1837: promoted to Brevet Major
  • 1840: with the 37th Regiment serving in Nova Scotia
  • 7 January 1842: promoted to Major
  • 1842: serving with The St Helena Regiment

In the last volume in which he appears, 1843 (January), John Thoreau is listed with 34 years of full service and 5½ years on half pay.


The following citation appears in the Army Lists: Accompanied the Regiment in the expedition to Hanover in 1805; in June 1808 embarked to Portugal with The 40th Regiment and remained in the Peninsular until the end of the war in 1814; he was present at the battles of Roleia, Vimiero, and Busaco, retreat to and occupation of the Lines of Torres Vedras, subsequent advance in pursuit of Massena, combats of Pombal and Redinha, re-capture of Campo Mayor, siege and capture of Olivenca, first siege of Badajoz, attack of Fort San Christoval and sortie from thence on 10 May, when he was wounded in the left breast; combats of El Bodon and Aldea de Ponte, siege and capture of Ciudad de Rodrigo, battle of Salamanca, capture and retreat from Madrid, battle of Vitoria, blockade of Pampluna, affairs in the Pyrennes (severely wounded at Linzoain), advance into France, battles of Orthes and Toulouse. Proceeded afterwards to join the force against New Orleans , returned in time to be present at the battle of Waterloo and capture of Paris. Awarded the Peninsular Medal and the Waterloo Medal.

Church plaque

Plaque in Jamestown Church, St Helena


To the Memory of Major Thoreau of Her Majesty's St Helena Regiment, A native of Jersey who died on this Island on 29 August 1843 in the 58th year of his age. He served his Sovereign and Country for 40 years with zeal and honour and retained to the last the sincere regards of all who knew him. He was in the 37th Regiment for upwards of 20 years but during his active service he belonged to the 40th Regiment and was in the Corps throughout the Campaigns of the Peninsular from 1808 to the end of the war in 1815 He was twice seriously wounded and was present at the following general actions: Rolica, Vimeria, Busaco, Badajos, Ciudad Rodrigo, Salamanca, Vittoria, Orthes, Toulouse and Waterloo

"Sic transit gloria mundi" This tablet was erected by his Brother Officers as a tribute to his worth.


Major Thoreau’s gravestone in Jamestown Cemetery

Beneath this stone are interred the remains of Major John Thoreau of HM St Helena Regiment who died 29 August 1843 Aged 58 Years

A tablet to his memory is erected in the church of Jamestown

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