The Corbett One Name Study

by Francis L M CorbetŠ

The following was written by another member of the Corbett Study Group. Francis wrote a brief history of Jersey and the following chapter is an extract. This was the last battle fought on British soil and the last land battle against France.

Chapter 33

The New Year, 1781, arrived amid many troubles for England and Jersey. The English armies were fighting in America and France too was at war with England once more. Jerseymen were anxious lest the French should attack our Island. Three years before, one attempt to land had been made, by the Prince of Nassau, at St Ouen's Bay, but the garrison and the Militia, commanded by Captain Moyse Corbet, had frightened the invaders away.

What Jersey did not know, on January 1st, 1781, was that another French force, commanded by the Baron de Rullecourt, was waiting to attack in the shelter of the Island of Chausey. They had been there since Boxing Day, waiting for the stormy weather to pass. On January 5th the weather cleared and the attack came.

That night, under cover of darkness, a Jerseyman, who had fled to France after committing murder, and who knew the rocky coast of the Island well, guided the French ships through the dangerous channels which lead to the little fishing harbour of La Rocque. Two boats smashed against the rocks and sank with two hundred men, including all the gunners and their cannon, aboard them; but seven hundred men landed safely and assembled in marching order on the beach. The men who should have been on guard in the Coastguard House had gone home, so no-one knew that de Rullecourt had landed.

When the people of the town awoke in the morning they could hardly believe their eyes, for the streets were all guarded by French soldiers. By eight o'clock the Lieutenant-Governor, Major Corbet, had been surprised and taken prisoner. De Rullecourt and Corbet then went to the Royal Court House where they discussed terms for a surrender. De Rullecourt said that the country parishes had been taken by 4,000 French soldiers, the English regiment stationed at Grouville had been captured, that 10,000 more men were on their way over from France and that unless the Lieutenant-Governor surrendered with all his troops at once the town would be set on fire. Major Corbet signed the surrender and sent orders to Captain Mulcaster at Elizabeth Castle and Major Peirson, who was in charge of a regiment at St Peter's Barracks, to lay down their arms.

De Rullecourt thought that he had won. He proclaimed himself Governor of Jersey and invited all the chief inhabitants to dinner that evening at Government House. He marched to Elizabeth Castle to receive the surrender, at the head of his troops, taking Corbet with him. Captain Mulcaster opened fire and said that he would never surrender, so the French Baron, with his troops and Corbet, returned to the Court House.

By this time the Militia and the English troops had assembled at West Mount, under the command of Major Peirson, ready to attack. At mid-day the French saw them marching up Broad Street. They put the parish cannons ready at the entrances to the Square and prepared for battle. While the main body marched up Broad Street, Major Peirson led a small party up King Street and attacked from the other side of the square. In the course of the fight he was hit by a bullet and fell dead. His men looked up from their fallen leader to see De Rullecourt being carried into the Court fatally wounded. Already the battle was won. The French surrendered and were sent to Portsmouth as prisoners.

Moyse Corbet was arrested and tried by a Court Martial in London for neglect in his duty. He was found 'Not Guilty' but never returned to the Island.

Major Francis Peirson, who was only 24 years old, was buried with every honour that could be shown to a hero, in St Helier's Church, where a memorial to him can still be seen. The 'Death of Major Peirson' was the subject of a famous painting by the artist Copley, a copy of which (by the artist) hangs in the Royal Court, the original being in the Tate Gallery in London.

This was the last battle to be fought on Jersey soil and no other foreign invasion of the Island took place until the year 1940.

His name appears to be spelt in various ways: Moise, Moyse and Moses.
His wife was Sarah Mytton daughter of John Mytton of Halston, Shropshire and Mary Elizabeth Davenport. Moise and Sarah married in 1761 at St James, Westminster. They had two children, James and a daughter but little is known of them but Francis Corbet says of James "He was a Captain in the 95th Foot. and he took command of the troops after the death of Major Peirson."

Sarah Mytton's sister was Barbara Letitia Mytton who married (as her first husband) John Corbett of Leigh & Sundorne, Shropshire (as his 2nd wife - his 1st wife being Frances Piggott  daughter of Robert Piggott of Chetwin.)

Moise Corbet became a collector of customs at Southampton. (State Paper Office, including papers of the Secretaries of State up to 1782: 1776: SP 78/301)

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