Acland, John Dyke

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Acland, John Dyke

ACLAND, JOHN DYKE. (1747–1778). British army officer and politician. Acland, the elder son of Sir Thomas Acland, seventh baronet, was born in Somerset on 18 February 1747. He was educated at Eton (1763–1764) and University College Oxford (1765–1766) before embarking on the Grand Tour of Europe with Thomas Vivien. Another friend was Thomas Townshend, later Viscount Sydney, with whom he was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in Young Archers. He married Lady Christian Henrietta Caroline Fox-Strangways (1750–1815), known as Harriet, a daughter of Stephen Fox, first earl of Ilchester, on 7 January 1771. She too was painted by Reynolds, once with her mother as a little girl and again as a young married woman in 1771–1772. Her dowry included Pixton Park in Devon and Tetton, making Acland a very considerable landed gentleman.

In March 1774 he bought an ensign's commission in the Thirty-third Foot and in October was elected member of Parliament for Callington in Cornwall. In Parliament he took a tough line on American questions, arguing against relinquishing the right to tax and declaring on 26 October that the choice was between ceding independence and war. This may have had as much to do with military ambitions as political opinions: an expanded army would provide better chances of rapid promotion. Already a regular captain and a colonel of militia, he bought a major's commission in the Twentieth Foot and sailed for Canada with his wife in April 1776.

Acland, who served under both Sir Guy Carleton and General John Burgoyne, turned out a courageous soldier and his wife an extraordinary camp follower. She nursed him through a serious illness at Chambly and at Skenesboro and through his recovery from wounds sustained at Hubbardton, where on 7 July 1777 Burgoyne's advance guard surprised the American rear. As the British force prepared to cross the Hudson, the couple barely escaped from their burning tent after a pet dog knocked over a candle. On 2 October at Bemis Heights during the second battle of Saratoga, Acland was shot through both legs while leading a bayonet charge and left on the ground when his grenadiers had to retire. He would have been killed on the spot but for the young James Wilkinson, who had him removed to Poor's headquarters as a prisoner. When the news reached the British camp, Harriet immediately obtained Burgoyne's permission to join him. At sunset on 9 October, armed with a safe conduct addressed to General Horatio Gates, and accompanied by her maid, Acland's valet, and a chaplain, she set off downriver by boat. Crossing the Hudson after dark, she was challenged by two startled American sentries who refused to let her land until an officer, Henry Dearborn, appeared. She may have waited as long as eight or nine hours (according to Burgoyne) or as little as a few minutes. Harriet quickly persuaded Dearborn to take her to Gates, who in turn allowed her to nurse Acland. The couple were reunited in the early hours of 10 October.

Early in 1778 Acland gave his parole, and the couple returned to England. He was given a private audience (and warm praise) by George III before retiring to Pixton Park. At a dinner party in Devon he quarreled with a Lieutenant Lloyd, who may have sneered at the army's performance against the American rebels. Neither was wounded in the duel that followed on Bampton Down, but Acland caught a serious chill which led to a fever. Already in a weak condition, he failed to recover and died at Pixton Park on 22 November 1778.

SEE ALSO Bemis Heights, New York; Burgoyne, John; Carleton, Guy; Gates, Horatio; Hubbardton, Vermont; Saratoga, Second Battle of.

                               revised by John Oliphant