Despard, Edward Marcus

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Despard, Edward Marcus

DESPARD, EDWARD MARCUS. (1751–1803). British army officer and revolutionary. Edward Marcus Despard, a younger brother of John Despard, was born in Ireland on 6 March 1751. He entered the army with an ensign's commission in 1766. He was later stationed at Jamaica where he was promoted to lieutenant in 1772 and proved to have considerable ability as a military engineer. With Horatio Nelson, he survived the disastrous San Juan expedition in 1779 and was promoted captain the following year. In 1781 he became the governor of British possessions in the Gulf of Honduras and in 1782 was involved in the Black River expedition. In 1786 he became the British superintendent in Honduras, where he proved a clumsy and authoritarian administrator and was removed in 1790.

Angry at not receiving compensation, he drifted towards the revolutionary United Irishmen and United Britons. By 1798, when he was arrested, he was working with a French agent to coordinate risings throughout Britain with a French invasion. Released in March 1801, he retired to the family estate in Ireland; a year later, however, he was back in London organizing a rising by Irish laborers and disaffected guardsmen and liaising with French spies. Arrested in November, he was tried and—despite Nelson's character evidence—condemned to death. With six fellow conspirators, he was hanged at the Surrey county gaol, Newington, on 21 February 1803, and his corpse was decapitated.

SEE ALSO Despard, John.

                            revised by John Oliphant