William Thornton (British Army officer)

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Sir William Thornton
Born 1779
Died 1840
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1796–1835
Rank Lieutenant General
Battles/wars Peninsular War
War of 1812
Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath

Lieutenant General Sir William Thornton KCB (1779–1840) was a British Army officer who served as Lieutenant Governor of Jersey.

Military career[edit]

Thornton was commissioned as an ensign in the 89th (The Princess Victoria's) Regiment of Foot on 31 March 1796. After serving with his regiment in Ireland, he was promoted to lieutenant in the 46th (South Devonshire) Regiment of Foot on 1 March 1797. He became aide-de-camp to Lieutenant-General Sir James Craig early in 1803 and was promoted to captain on 25 June 1803. He accompanied Craig to Malta in July 1805 and to Naples in November 1805 and took part in operations to protect the borders of Naples. He took part in operations to protect the fortress at Messina in February 1806.[1]

Thornton became aide-de-camp to Lieutenant-General Earl Ludlow, commander of the Kent military district in Spring 1806. Promoted to major on 13 November 1806, he transferred to the Royal York Rangers. He served as acting commanding officer of the regiment in Guernsey in Spring 1807 and then became aide-de-camp to Craig in his capacity as Governor General of British North America later in the year. Promoted to be brevet lieutenant-colonel on 28 January 1808, he became inspecting field-officer of militia in Canada in Spring 1808.[1]

Thornton became commanding officer of the 34th (Cumberland) Regiment of Foot in August 1811, commanding officer of the Duke of York's Greek Light Infantry Regiment in January 1812[2] and assistant military secretary to the commander-in-chief, the Duke of York later that year. In January 1813 he became commanding officer of the 85th Regiment of Foot and saw action during the Peninsular War.[3]

Thornton led the Light Brigade at the Battle of Bladensburg in August 1814. The Americans took him prisoner, but released him in October 1814.[3]

Thornton was then involved in the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815,[3] at which the only British success was on the west bank of the Mississippi River, where Thornton's brigade, comprising the 85th Regiment and a detachment of one hundred sailors from the Royal Navy and one hundred men of the Royal Marines,[4][5] attacked and overwhelmed the American line.[3][6]

Promoted to major-general on 27 May 1825, Thornton became Lieutenant Governor of Jersey in 1830. He was promoted further to lieutenant-general on 28 June 1838 but committed suicide in 1840, having suffered from psychological problems attributed to wounds from the War of 1812.[3] He left his estates to his nephew, William Todd, who had already inherited Buncrana Castle, Co. Donegal, from another uncle, Isaac Todd. On inheriting Thornton's estates William Todd took the additional surname of 'Thornton', becoming William Thornton-Todd.[7]


  1. ^ a b Vetch, Robert Hamilton. "Thornton, William (1779?-1840)". Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  2. ^ Smith, Henry Stooks (1851). "An Alphabetical List of the officers of the Eighty-fifth, Bucks Volunteers, the King's Light Infantry regiment, from 1800 to 1850". p. 9. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Heidler, David Stephen. "Encyclopedia of the War of 1812". p. 511. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  4. ^ Gleig, George (1840). "Recollections of the Expedition to the Chesapeake, and against New Orleans, by an Old Sub". United Service Journal (2). Gleig, on p340, uses the source document a report from Thornton to Pakenham 'we were unable to proceed across the river until eight hours after the time appointed, and even then with only a third part of the force which you had allotted for the service * viz 298 of the 85th, and 200 Seamen and Marines' 
  5. ^ Patterson, Benton Rain, p.236
  6. ^ "No. 16991". The London Gazette. 9 March 1815. pp. 440–446. 
  7. ^ "Nineteenth century landlords of Greater Buncrana". The Irish History. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 


  • Patterson, Benton Rains (2008), The Generals, Andrew Jackson, Sir Edward Pakenham, and the road to New Orleans, New York: New York University Press, ISBN 0-8147-6717-6
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Colin Halkett
Lieutenant Governor of Jersey
Succeeded by
Archibald Campbell