Notable Burials in St Leonard's, Deal

The following is a list of notable persons buried at St Leonard's Church, Deal. Many are military personal, both from the Navy and Army and, where possible, their history has been expanded.

Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Hayes Petit 1773-1809

Born 7th February 1773, second son to John Lewis Petit and Katherine Letitia Petit and christened on 4th March 1773 at Westminster, London.

Little is currently known of his rank and whereabouts before he joined the 35th Royal Sussex Regiment of Foot as a Captain on 31st May 1793, however, Captain Richard Trimen (see source below) lists him as joining on exchange from the India Company. There is no evidence to suggest where the young Petit was stationed, however, during Earl Cornwallis's governership of India (1782-1793), the troops belonging to the East India Company became embroiled in the Third Anglo-Mysore War (1789-1792) against the Tipu Saltan. This concluded when both parties signed the Treaty of Seringapatam on 18th March 1792. If he was indeed stationed in India, it is not too big a stretch of the imagination to say that this obviously talented 19 year old realised that peace would not help him attain a distinguish military career. This may have been the reason for the exchange. This is, of course, pure conjecture.

Captain Petit's first command was that of the Light Company, who in 1793 joined an expedition assembling in the south of Ireland to take several colonies in the West Indies from the French. These 7,000 men, under ther command of General Sir Charles Grey, sailed from Ireland early in 1794 under the protection of Vice-Admiral Sir John Jervis. They arrived safely at Barbados and on 5th February landed at Martinique, their first objective. For the duration of the campaign, the Light Company were amalgamated into the 1st battalion of light infantry under the command of Major-General Dundas. They took Morne-le-Brun under heavy musket fire and over the next few weeks helped take Gros Norne, Morne Brennon, Fort Matilde and Colon. By 20th March 1794 the last Forts had fallen and the Island was in the hands of the British.

Martinique was left with a garrison and the rest of the army embarked from Fort Royal Bay on 31st March 1794 heading for St. Lucia. The 1st battalion of light infantry, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Coote, embarked on HMS Boyne and Veteron and arrived a day later at St. Lucia, landing without opposition at Ance-de-la-Tocque at about 7pm. The light infantry took a 4-gun battery at Ciceron and at about 4pm on 2nd April Coote took four light companies and stormed a redoubt and two batteries close to the principal French Lines. Two officers and 30 men were killed and six guns were spiked without losing a single British soldier. It is possible that Captain Petit participated in this action. The French surrendered St. Lucia on 4th April.

On the same day St. Lucia was turned over to the British, the army moved once more, returning to Martinique to swap men-of-war for transport ships. Guadaloupe was their next port of call and by the morning of 12th April most of the troops had been landed. Major-General Dundas's division (which again included the 1st battalion of light infantry) attacked Fort Fleur d'Epee in the rear to cut off communications. They were ordered not to fire their muskets and took the Fort by bayonet only, changing its name to Fort Prince of Wales. The northern part of the island (Grande Terre) was taken. They now turned their attention to the southern half of the island, landing opposite Petit Bourg. After several heavy skirmishes and marches, the 1st battalion took Battery D'Anet at daybreak on 18th April and on the following morning they joined several other regiments to capture all enemy batteries and the remaining forts. Guadeloupe surrendered.

Guadeloupe did not, however remain in British control. Over the next year it was retaken with a large force and became impossible to hold. By November 1796, the 35th were back in England and on 30th March 1797, Petit was promoted to Major (A List of the Officers of the Army, 1798) aged 25.

By 1799 Napoleon had invaded Holland, annexing it as the Batavian Republic. The 35th marched to Barham Down, Canterbury to join an expedition intended to liberate Holland. The regiment split into two battalions and Major Petit sailed from Deal on 10th September 1799 with the 1st battalion (2nd division of the army) under the command of his Royal Highness the Duke of York. They landed at Helder Point on 14th September and on 15th joined a larger force under Major-General Prince William of Gloucester, one of George II's grandsons. They were reinforced by 17,000 Russian troops. The combined Frech and Dutch forces were 25-30,000 strong but the Duke of York ordered a swift attack and on 19th September the army advanced in four columns. Major Petit marched with Prince William's force in the second column from the right and, with the third column, attacked Walmeyhausen, Schorledam and the Long Dyke. The Russian forces attacked Bergen but were so disorganised when they took the position that they were soon driven back to Schorledam, where they were reinforced by Prince William. Exhaustion and lack of munitions forced their retreat and several officers were wounded, including Petit. He was also the only officer from the 1st battalion to be taken prisoner.

The Duke of York forced a second attack on 2nd October and engaged the enemy once more at Beccum and Alkmaer. This time their attack was more successful and the French were forced to retire, abandoning Alkmaer and 500 prisoners. It can only be assumed that Petit was amongst them. The French and Dutch forces holed up and the Duke of York conceded that it was not possible to oust them. The regiment were back in Deal by November 1799 and was once more quartered at Canterbury.

The 1st Battalion did not rest long before they were once more called for foreign service. On 19th March 1800 they left Deal under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Oswald for the Mediterrannean as part of an expedition of 5,000 men under Major-General Henry Pigott to bring reinforcements to Malta and take it from Bonaparte. The French General Vaubois and 3,000 men had been under siege at the city of Valetta for two years. With the arrival of reinforcements, Valetta surrendered on 4th September and the first British flag to fly over the city was that of the King's Colours of the 35th Regiment of Foot.

Major Petit and the 35th remained garrisoned at Malta until 1805, Britain wisely deciding to hang on to Malta even after terms at the Peace of Amiens on 27th March 1802 ordered them to give it up (war was declared against France once more in May 1802). During this time, Petit was confirmed as Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel in 1802 (Annual Register, 1803) and several stories have survived about the antics in the officers mess. Petit is concerned in the following:

"Major Petit, who was renowned for his appreciation of the good things of the table, although a perfect gentleman, had a bad habit of having dishes brought to dinner for his own and his friends' consumption alone. This annoyed the mess, but the practice was not stopped until one night when the Major had some friends to dine with him, a very fine fish appeared on the table with a large flag in its mouth, on which was written "I am the Major's fish." The fish he had procured himself, but the flag was put in its mouth by Lord Alexander Gordon, then a Lieutenant in the regiment. The Major was very angry, but there were no more private dishes." (Trimen, 82)

On 1st May 1805, the 2nd battalion was reformed and the Lieutenant-Colonelcy confirmed on Peter Hayes Petit. He was now 32 years old, an extraordinarily young age to command a battalion.

Lieutenant-Colonel Petit and the 2nd batallion are once more in action in 1807 where they joined Major-General A. M. Fraser en-route to Egypt to prevent it falling into French hands. The army arrived on 20th March, after several ships became separated from the advance and Alexandria was taken. Petit was put in charge of the garrison at Alexandria, where he remained throughout several unsuccessful attempts to take Rosetta. This was soon abandoned and in September 1807 the regiment left for Sicily and were in England for the duration of 1808.

The summer of 1809 once more saw an expedition assemble for Holland. This time, the objective was to gain possession of the islands at the mouth of the River Scheldt to destroy the French ships sheltering there and the docks and arsenal at Antwerp. By the end of July, 40,000 men and 75 ships had assembled. Lieutenant-Colonel Petit and the 2nd battalion were ordered to join and were put under the command of Major-General Graham. The ships landed at Bree (the northern point of the Island of Walcheren) on 30th July and, receiving no resistance, set up positions on the Sandhills in front of East Capelle. On the 1st August they advanced towards the heavily fortified town of Flushing, meeting strong resistance. However, combined forces, including Graham's brigade drove the French back from their battery, with the loss of four guns.

On 7th August, the French sought to force the right of the British lines held by Graham, but despite attacking outlying pickets, the support was so good that they were turned back. Fighting was fierce and although the French sustined considerable losses, the British lines did not escape without damage. Lieutenant-Colonel Petit, who was in command of the 2nd batallion and several others were seriously wounded. Flushing fell, but the French fleet had already retreated out of reach and the army was now gripped with 'Walcheren fever'. The expedition was a failure and the army limped home in December, arriving in Deal on Christmas Day 1809.

Unfortunately, Petit's wound was fatal and "before [the 2nd battalion's] arrival its brave Lieutenant-Colonel died of the wound he had received at the seige of Flushing. He died on the 2nd of September, at Deal, where he had been landed with other wounded. The 'Gentleman's Magazine' says "His remains were interred in the burial ground at Deal with military honours. The corpse was preceded to the ground by the Royal Anglesea and Cardigan regiments of Militia, a detachment of the 12th Light Dragoons, and of the 35th Foot, with the band of the Cardigan playing a solumn dirge. The pall was supported by the Lieutenant-Colonels, Majors, and Captains of the regiments in garrison there, and followed by the deceased's brother, naval officers, and a vast concourse of the inhabitants, who were drawn together to witness the last obsequies of a brave and much lamented officer."" (Trimen, 105-6). He was just 37 years old.

The final inscription, at plot 34 in the main graveyard and on a plaque within the church on the left-hand wall of the choir stalls, reads:

"Here lie the remains of Lieut. Col. Peter Hayes Petit late of His Majesty's 35th Regiment of Foot. He died at Deal Sept. 2nd 1809 in the 37th Year of his Age of a wound which he received before Flushing."

Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Hayes Petit is not mentioned in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Sources

  • An Historical Memoir of the 35th Royal Sussex Regiment of Foot. Compiled by Richard Trimen, Late Captain 35th Foot. Southampton: The Southampton Times Newspaper and Printing and Publishing Company (Limited), 1873.
  • The Annual Register or a View of the History, Politics, and Literature, for the Year 1802. London, 1803.
  • A List of the Officers of the Army and Marines; With an Index: A Succession of Colonels; And a List of the Officers of the Army and Marines on Half-Pay; Also with an Index. The Forty-Sixth Edition, War Office, 1st January 1798.

Researched by Sarah Buckman