Scots Magazine report of Moyse Corbet trial

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The following report of the trial of Major Moyse Corbet for his conduct during the Battle of Jersey on 6 January 1781 was published the same year in the Scots Magazine.

Some minor changes have been made to punctuation and use of capital letters and abbreviations to improve readability, but the original spelling has been left unchanged.

Court

On the 1st of May, came on, at the Horse Guards, the trial of Major Moses (Moyse) Corbet, late Lieutenant-Governor of Jersey, for allowing himself to be surprised by the enemy; signing articles of capitulation when a prisoner; and attempting, by orders and other excitements, to induce the officers in command to concur with and ratify the same, thereby shamefully abandoning the very high and important trust reposed in him. The court was composed of Lt-General Craig, President, Members, Major-General Pigott and Grant, Cols Stevens of 3rd guards, Lascelles of 3rd dragoons, Murray of 77th foot, Adeane of 1st horse grenadier guards, Lt-Cols Woodford, Bertie, and Hurse, of 1st guards, Lyster of 3rd guards, Musgrave of 40th foot, Durore of 2nd guards, Sir R.Lawrie of 16th Light Dragoons, and Sutton of 2nd guards.

The prisoner was in his uniform, scarlet faced with blue, without a sword. He was attended by the officer of the guard, and Mr Erskine, his private counsel. Sir Charles Gould, Judge-Advocate General, opened the prosecution for the crown. It was proved, that Rullecourt wrote the capitulation with his own hand and insisted the Lieutenant-Governor should sign it within half an hour, during which time he endeavoured to intimidate, the Lieutenant-Governor by threatening the town, declaring his present force was only his vanguard, and that his main body would join him next day; that the Lieutenant-Governor delayed signing it till the time was expired; that the French general to hasten it declared there were 3,000 more troops at La Roque.

Prosecution witnesses

The witnesses then went into a detail of the circumstances of the surprise — The Lieutenant-Governor in his defence stated, that the chef de garde had got intoxicated, had not fixed his centinels on the battery, had not sent tide-patroles as enjoined, had quitted his post before day, and suffered his men to follow his example; that he himself was taken prisoner within five minutes after his being informed the French were in the market-place, having only had time to dispatch messengers to the 83d and 95th regiments; that Rullecourt said to him he had landed 5,000 men, and found the guard fast asleep; that he mentioned the numbers and arrangement of the troops on the island accurately ; that his knowledge of the strength of the island naturally made the Lieutenant-Governor credit him, in the account of his own force; for he could not suspect that men had come over with their eyes open to certain disgrace, captivity, and death; that he signed the capitulation to prevent the French general burning the town and shipping; that being convinced that his imprisonment abrogated his command, he considered that his acquiescence, while it protected the town, could not possibly surrender the island; that the different messages sent to the castle and to Major Pierson delayed time, and gave our troops time to assemble in force, and defeat the enemy. He concluded his defence with saying, he had served two and thirty years in the army; that of his zeal for the service he had several honourable testimonies: and trusted, on a candid consideration of the whole circumstances, that he should be exculpated from all criminal imputation.

Defence witnesses

The Lieutenant-Governor called his witnesses. They proved the readiness of the French officers and soldiers to commit wanton acts of cruelty. Mr Lewis Poignard was followed by a French officer, who pushed his bayonet into his back, on which he fainted. On the French coming into town, they murdered an old man of seventy years of age as they passed his door: they also murdered two invalids, who were unarmed; and broke open and robbed several houses: That on the capitulation being signed these violences ceased. All the evidence went to prove that the Lieutenant-Governor was compelled to sign the capitulation as the only means of preserving the town from the cruelties of the French soldiers. General Lord Robert Bertie attended voluntarily to speak to the merits of the Lieutenant-Governor.

His Lordship knew him first in 1756, in Ireland, when he was adjutant and captain-lieutenant of the Royal Fusileers; soon after he got a company, and his Lordship solicited the Duke of Cumberland to continue him adjutant on account of his extraordinary merit in that post; that he accompanied his Lordship to the relief of Minorca; that he was afterwards in Gibraltar, and returned in 1759, on account of his health. In 1760 he was his Lordship's aid du camp; in 1761, was made Major, and returned to Gibraltar. Some time after the regiment returned to England, he was forced to quit the service by bad health. That in 1769, his Lordship joined with the late Earl of Albemarle in recommending him to his Majesty as Lieut-Governor of Jersey, and Lord Albemarle had often mentioned his satisfaction with Major Corbet's conduct; that Lord Rochford, when secretary of state, told his Lordship what remarkable good intelligence Major Corbet always transmitted. His Lordship then concluded his friendly and praise-worthy panegyric on the merits of a brave but unfortunate veteran, with assuring the court that he meant to give Lieutenant-Governor Corbet the best of characters in every capacity in which he had served in under him. After this his Lordship withdrew.

Letters

A packet of letters was then presented from different secretaries of state, from General Conway, apologizing for not attending the trial, but approving of the Lieut-Governor's conduct without reserve; with several other letters of approbation from Lord Weymouth and Lord Hillsborough. The Governor then, in a few words, delivered with difficulty, arising from extreme sensibility, thanked the court for their candour, patience, and tenderness, and submitted implicitly to their judgement.

The Judge-Advocate said he should make no observations of his own, but should leave the court to determine on the fate of Mr Corbet; only remarking, that he made no doubt the court would place the long services of Mr Corbet, in opposition to the charges, in which apparent misfortune, not negligence, had involved him. The court found the prisoner guilty of the whole charge, and superseded him in his commission of Lieutenant-Governor of Jersey.

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