Henry Bathurst, politician, political figure during the reign of George III and British Secretary of State for War and the Colonies during the War of 1812 (b 22 May 1762; d at London, Eng 27 July 1834). Henry Bathurst was educated at Eton College and matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford. In 1783, Bathurst, as Lord Apsley, became a member of the British House of Commons until 1794, when he succeeded to the peerage as the 3rd Earl Bathurst. He held a series of cabinet posts, including appointments as a lord on the Admiralty Board from 1783-89, as a lord of the treasury from 1789-91 and as commissioner of the board of control from 1793-02. In 1804, he became Master of the Mint, and was President of the Board of Trade and Master of the Mint during the ministries of the Duke of Portland and Spencer Perceval. Bathurst vacated these posts in June 1812 to become Secretary of State for War and the Colonies under Lord Liverpool. For two months during the year 1809, he was also foreign secretary.
Bathurst was one of an inner group of ministers, which included the prime minister and foreign secretary, who determined foreign, military and colonial policy during the latter stages of the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. Bathurst administered reports and addressed problems from every colonial governor, including campaign plans and coordinating, with various offices, requirements for ordnance, transport, funding and soldiers. He also transmitted the orders and instructions of the government to the colonies. While Sir George Prevost, the governor-in-chief and captain general of British North America, was ultimately responsible to the sovereign, Bathurst was Prevost’s superior in both military and civil matters through the entirety of the War of 1812.
Throughout this period, Bathurst supported the governments that gave priority to the defeat of Bonaparte and which remained Euro-centric after his fall; Bathurst endorsed the war in the Iberian Peninsula and the later dispatch of a contingent to the Netherlands to guard British interests in that country. For Bathurst and the government, the war in North America was of secondary importance.
Given the government’s reluctance to enter into a major commitment in North America, Bathurst approved of the defensive strategy Prevost devised for British North America in May 1812. He also gave countenance to Prevost’s wartime conduct, including his request in 1812 to replace the Provincial Marine with Royal Navy personnel on the Great Lakes.
Critical Decisions Affecting the War of 1812
Bathurst resisted pressure to send Prevost large-scale reinforcements while there was war in Europe, although he was able to send additional units in 1812 and 1813. Once the war in Europe ended, Bathurst sent Prevost new instructions to undertake a series of limited offensive actions aimed at restoring British interests in the Northwest, securing superiority on the Great Lakes and destroying frontier bases from where the Americans could strike at Canada. Some 20 000 reinforcements were also sent to North America. These initiatives were not a wholesale shift in strategy, as Bathurst and the government were carefully monitoring the worsening situation on the European continent as the unity of the allies began to wane.
Prevost did not receive the new orders until July, and the lateness of the season and delays in naval construction meant only one of the operations could be mounted. In September 1814, Prevost led the expedition against Plattsburgh, New York, the outcome of which was much criticism of Prevost’s leadership of the offensive. Bathurst accepted unsubstantiated reports complaining of Prevost’s performance during the Plattsburgh Expedition, and with criticism mounting from a number of influential individuals and from the Royal Navy, he decided to recall Prevost. Bathurst also endorsed the charges that were submitted by the Royal Navy during the summer of 1815 accusing Prevost of incompetence, charges that remained unanswered due to Prevost’s death before a court martial could sit. The unanswered allegations against Prevost have influenced the interpretation of his wartime conduct.
Bathurst only held brief interest in the question of the former governor-in-chief’s performance as European affairs once more gained primacy when Bonaparte returned to France in March 1815 and another coalition against him was formed.
Bathurst continued as Secretary of State for War and the Colonies until 1827 and later served in the Duke of Wellington’s government. He finally left office in 1830 and passed away in 1834 following a brief illness.
Author: John R. Grodzinski
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6 June 1814 - Bathurst orders occupation of Maine
The British Secretary for War, the Earl of Bathurst, orders the occupation of the part of the District of Maine, which intercepts the communication between Halifax and Quebec.