In the year 1781 French authorities helped to raise a new regiment in the Swiss canton, soliciting recruits in and around Neuchatel. The regiment was called the deMeuron Regiment, taking it's name from the commander, Comte Charles de Meuron, born in Neuchatel in1738 and who served in the French regiment D'Erlach. The DeMeuron Regiment consisted of 1020 men, 10 companies of 102 men each, fully armed and equipped.
This regiment was to serve the Dutch East India Company protecting the Dutch colonies, the Cape of Good Hope in particular. A Dutch base was established there in 1652, to act as a supply depot for the provisioning of ships on the long voyage from Europe to India. By the 1700's, Dutch settlers, the Boers, were well established there.
On January 7, 1782, the regiment landed in Capetown, only to re-embark shortly on the Hermione to Ceylon where they were to reinforce the Suffrens. Ceylon had been under Dutch rule since 1665, yet in the latter part of the 18th century, the British began to move eastward from India. In Ceylon, the DeMeuron Regiment took part in the expulsion of the British from Cuddalore, which was "sorely beset by the English under General Stuart."
After peace, the DeMeuron Regiment shared garrison duty with the French Regiment de Pondicherry, in Capetown. Many duels were fought between the men of the two regiments. Tensions were developing between the Swiss and their French `Allies', and between the English and Dutch settlers on the Cape of Good Hope. Many of the De Meurons deserted at this time, enticed by the Dutch Boers to become farmhands. The DeMeurons were eventually relieved by the Regiment de Wurtenburg, in time to prevent complete disintegration.
In 1786 the DeMeuron Regiment was sent back to Ceylon, leaving in Capetown a depot of 33 men. Ceylon was governed at this time by Governor Van Angelbeek, in Colombo. While in Ceylon, the regiment answered to him and to Colonel Pierre de Meuron, brother of Comte Charles de Meuron, who had returned to Switzerland. Some time during these period the regiment was "borrowed" from the Dutch by the French. the DeMeurons served as marines on board a fleet operation against the British.
On August 26, 1795, two companies of the DeMeuron Regiment were taken prisoner, by the British at Trincomalee, when the British stormed Ceylon. After a weak attempt at defence, Holland surrendered Ceylon to the British. The Dutch East India Company went bankrupt, and could not pay its troops. In the tradition of the time, the DeMeuron Regiment entered into British service.
Under the terms of the agreement, finalised in 1798, the DeMeuron Regiment
finally entered into full service with the British Army. It consisted of
2 battalions, of 5 companies of infantry each.
In the west and south of India there were two "vigorous and expansive powers" working against the British, the Maràthàs and Mysore. there had already been three campaigns against the Sultan Tippu-Saib, who led the Mysore power. The third Mysore War, led by Cornwallis, lasted from 1789 to 1792. Cornwallis had thought he had brought Sultan Tippu-Saib to bay.
Wellesley decided first to strike at Mysore, still a formidable military power and avowedly hostile. The British stormed Seringapatam on May 4th, 1799.
The DeMeuron Regiment took no small part in this campaign. The men conducted themselves bravely. They were the first to go "over the top," as the Forlorn Hope. The Sultan Tippu-Saib was isolated and died in the fighting. There were rejoicings among the British over this "unexpectedly complete victory." The DeMeuron suffered 80 casualties.
Wellington reported the good record of the DeMeurons. In spite of this, the Indian natives refused to regard the regiment with the respect they accorded to a British unit. As being foreigners (Swiss,) the natives held the idea that the DeMeurons had been bought as slaves. Wellington also reported that the DeMeuron Regiment was equal to or better than British regiments in good conduct, discipline and military ability.
Comte Charles-Daniel de Meuron returned to the country of his birth shortly after the seizure of Seringapatm, leaving command of his regiment to Pierre-Frederick de Meuron. Charles de Meuron died on April 4, 1806.
The DeMeuron Regiment remained in India until 1806. There, they served
in several campaigns.
The DeMeurons were sent from Malta to England, 35 Officers and 132 other ranks. In England, they were stationed on the Isle of Wight, and at Lymington, where their Regimental Depot was established. The DeMeuron companies had been decimated in the Eastern Wars. In England, they were restructured as a line regiment, rebuilt and re-equipped. They did not remain in England for long.
In 1809 they were sent back to the Mediterranean to join two other Swiss regiments, DeRoll and DeWatteville. Based in Gibraltar and later again in Malta, the regiment was swollen by the addition of 500 recruits. They were mostly Swiss and German soldiers, conscripted into Napolean's army, who deserted at the first opportunity to join the British. There is no doubt that there were also some Italians who joined the DeMeuron ranks.
The DeMeuron Regiment fought in the Peninsular War, in Spain. This was also known as the War of Independence, by the Spanish. They were once again under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley. He had been Knighted, given the title Duke of Wellington, and now commanded the British forces in the Mediterranean. Wellesley was to become one of history's few unbeaten generals.
The DeMeuron's were sent to fight where ever Wellesley thought they were needed most. They were in Spain, Sicily, and Italy.
While in Malta, in 1813, a number of new recruits*, fleeing from Napoleon were added to the ranks. Of the more than 2,000 DeMeurons in the British Army, in 1813, about 800 of them were Swiss, at least 500 were German, 300 were Dutch, and 200 were Alsatians. The rest were largely Italians and Poles, but included Austrians, Spanish, and every other nationality from Europe. Most had joined the DeMeuron Regiment to fight against Napoleon, instead of being drafted by conscription to fight for him!
|*Recent evidence indicates that almost all of the new recruits were left in Europe, most likely as part of the Kings German Legion. The names of men who came to Canada indicate that almost all of them were Swiss, and the remainder were German.|
Lieutenant-General Oakes cannot suffer the Regiment DeMeuron to quit this garrison where they have so long been stationed under his command, without assuring them of the satisfaction which their good conduct and attention to military discipline have constantly afforded him, and which have been equally conspicuous in every rank. The will embark from hence as fine and well appointed a regiment as any in His Majesty's Service.
The Lieutenant-General has no doubt that by their conduct and gallantry, on the desirable service on which they're are about to be employed, they will confirm the high opinion he has formed of them, and will equally merit the praise and approbation of the General under whose orders they will soon be placed, to whom he shall not fail justly to set forth their merits.
He begs leave to assure the regiment of his warmest
wishes for their glory and success and of the sincere interest he shall
ever take in their welfare.
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