Date added: 10 Feb 2015
Early Life and career
Thomas Noel Harris was born in 1783 in the small village of Whitwell, Rutland where his father was rector. He was educated at Uppingham School in nearby Oakham.
In 1801 he enlisted as an Ensign in the 87th Foot. He served in several different units becoming a Lieutenant in 1802 and a captain in the 18th Light Dragoons in 1807. In 1809 his brother was savagely murdered while serving with the Honorable East India Company. His grief-stricken father feared the worst for his other son. This was the most likely reason Thomas Noel sold his commission in the same year, becoming a civilian. But not for long.
In 1811 his father obtained a commission for him as a cornet in the 13th Light Dragoons. Shortly after he was in the 18th Light Dragoons and off to Spain and Portugal where he served with credit in campaigns under the Duke of Wellington from 1811-1813. From Spain he was sent to Germany where he served as aide-de-camp to Sir Charles Stewart (later Sir Charles Vane, the 3rd Marquis of Londonderry). He was present at a number of battles including Leipzig in October 1813. Vane wrote in his book (page 175): “I ought here to record the gallantry displayed, and the efficient assistance I received from my aides-de-camp, Captain Charles, now Major, Wood and Lieutenant-colonel Noel Harris: the latter brave officer lost his arm in the following (sic) year, at Waterloo.”
Thomas Noel was mentioned again (page 287): “A detached column of the enemy, of about 5,000 men … had been making its way … to join Buonaparte … The cavalry of Marshall Blucher’s army was the first to discover this body on their march from Chalons: my aide-de-camp, Captain (now Colonel) Harris, who was, during the whole campaign, most active and intrepid in all his duties, … [gave] the first intelligence to Marshall Blucher of their position.”
In April 1814 Thomas Noel arrived in London bearing dispatches from Sir Charles following the capitulation of Paris at the end of March. He made the journey of 400 miles (644 km) without rest and fending off attacks by supposedly friendly troops as reported in virtually all the London papers. He was taken to Carlton House to lay the dispatches before the Prince Regent and be introduced to him.
As a result of these, and other services, Thomas Noel received, in October 1814, the Royal Prussian Order of Military Merit and the Imperial Russian Order of St. Vladimir, 4th Class. Later he also received the Russian Imperial Order of St. Anna.
In April 1815 he was appointed Brigade-Major to the 18th Hussars under Sir Richard Hussey Vivian. On 15 June he was at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Brussels. When orders were received to join units Thomas Noel left immediately in his red swallow-tailed court dress coat which he wore at the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo.
He spent the eve of Waterloo happily with his cousin Lieutenant Colonel Clement Wallington. On 18 June itself he was very active. He had two horses shot from under him, but while charging in advance of one of the squadrons in his brigade his right arm was shattered and a musket ball entered his side. It was initially believed that he had been killed. Early the following day, at the approach of a search party including the general and his cousin, Thomas Noel managed to make a low sound. They, realising he was still alive, arranged for him to be carried to the farmhouse of Hougoumont where his arm was amputated. Wallington then took him by cart along rutted roads to Brussels, an extremely painful experience for the wounded man. In Brussels it was discovered that the musket ball could not be removed; it was the cause of much later suffering.
Thomas Noel became Lieutenant Colonel in 1823 and was appointed Inspecting Field-Officer of Militia in Nova Scotia and then Surveyor-General at Halifax. In 1830 he retired on half-pay. The same year he was made a knight of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order. Two years later, he returned to England as the harsh Canadian climate exacerbated his injuries and was appointed Assistant Adjutant-General in Dublin.
He retired from the army, in September 1834 becoming Chief Magistrate at Gibraltar. The heat affected his second wife, whom he married in 1838, so he resigned and returned to England. In 1840 he was made a Groom of the Privy chamber to Queen Victoria who knighted him in 1841 for military services. Sir Noel said he had been in 30 pitched battles as well as numerous minor encounters.
Thomas Noel was obviously a courageous and resourceful soldier. He was also a masterly raconteur, especially when recounting his coach-driving exploits. Before he lost his arm he was considered an expert driver of a four-in-hand team, often driving the stage from Romford when he was stationed there. He continued hunting and shooting despite his disability and drove instead a pair of ponies.
He married three times, firstly in 1805 to Elizabeth Hemsworth of Abbeville, Tipperary. They had three sons. After her death he married Eliza, widow of the 12th Earl of Huntingdon. She died in 1846; the next year he married Mary Thomson, also a widow, and retired to Updown near Sandwich. He served as Deputy Lieutenant of Kent and died in 1860.
Londonderry, Charles William Vane, Marquis of. (1830). Narrative of the war in Germany and France, in 1813 and 1814. London: H. Colburn and R. Bentley. (Available to view online}
Clement B. Harris. (1893). Brief Memoir of the Late Lt.-Col. Sir Thomas Noel Harris, K.H., Knight of the Royal Order of Military Merit of Prussia, and of the Imperial Orders of St. Anne and Vladimir of Russia. London: Hazell, Watson and Viney
Submitted by Barbara Boize