Return to the Peninsula in 1809
John returned to Iberia to serve with Lord Liverpool, who arrived in Portugal in April 1809 and succeeded in securing the country from the French, going on to Spain to help the Spanish fight the French.
Writing to Major General Mackenzie from Abrantes on 11 June 1809, Sir Arthur Wellesley noted that he had authorised Mr. Downie to draw 10,000 dollars to pay for supplies collected at Castello Branco for the army. He asked Mackenzie to remind Mr. Downie that he was commissary, and that his business was to collect supplies, and that he was suprised and highly displeased that he had quit his station and gone to Alcanatara, where a few shots had been fired to see what service he could render there.
[Gurwood vol. 4 p. 413]
Wellesley's criticism did not put John Downie off extending his activities beyond that of commissary, and Wellesley once more had to ask Mackenzie to remind Mr. Downie that, though he (Wellesley) was aware of the military advantage gained from Downie's reconnaissance into the vale of Plasencia, 'the only proper place for any military Officer was that to which he was ordered'.
[ibid. pp. 463-4]
It would appear that John Downie heeded the warnings and stuck to his duties as the army advanced into Spain, because Wellesley, now styling himself Wellington, wrote on 22 September 1809 to W. Huskisson, Secretary to the Treasury, asking that Downie and others be promoted from Acting Assistant Commissary to Assistant Commissary, and noting that 'Mr. Downie had been employed on duties which belong to a Depute Commissary rather than to an Acting Assistant.'
[Gurwood vol. 5 pp. 173-4]
He was put in charge of securing supplies in the Spanish province of Estremadura, and his command of the Spanish language together with his ability to relate to his Spanish acquaintances led to his persuading the Spanish to allow him to form a body of troops under his command. On 1 February 1810 the Superior Junta of Estremadura approved his request to raise the Loyal Legion of Estremadura and he spent some time preparing the necessary supplies for the Legion.
Wellington's approval of John Downie's work appears to have increased, and he wrote from Viseu on 23 March 1810 to Brigadier General Craufurd to inform him that he was sending Mr. Downie to the general in place of Mr. Ogilvie, who could not be spared, adding 'You will find Mr. Downie, however, very active and intelligent.'
[ibid pp. 588-9]
On 21 June that year, he fought with the Spanish forces at Badajoz, and was wounded. As a result of his bravery, the Spanish commander, the Marquess Romana, commended John's service to the first Regency of Spain, also recommending the formation of the Loyal Legion of Estremadura and appointing him Colonel of the Legion.
Subsequently, John returned to Britain to seek the support of the British government, following which this item appeared in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 12 December 1810:
Col. Downie goes out to Portugal, not with dispatches, but with an official order from Government to Lord Wellington, to supply him with officers from the army; as he proceeds immediately to Spain, with permission from the Spanish Government to raise a brigade in Spain, on the same footing as the Portuguese army was embodied, to be officered entirely by British Officers.
Wellington did not take kindly to this order, writing to the Earl of Liverpool from Cartaxo on 15 December 1810 to request that only serving British officers should be allowed to command the proposed brigade. He pointed out that John Downie had served as an Assistant Commissary with the British Army and had requested, following his being commissioned as a Colonel by the Spanish Central Junta, that he absent himself from his duties to take up his commission. Wellington had refused the request and John Downie had returned home on leave of absence. His letter went on to say:
From the knowledge I have of Mr. Downie's character and qualifications, I have no doubt whatever that the Spanish cause will derive advantage from his being employed to raise in Estremadura and command a legion, but my approbation of the measure of employing him goes no farther.
Although Mr. Downie has talents and spirit to qualify him for such an employment, it is not fit, in my opinion, to place British Officers under his command; and so far to risk the character of the British army in this concern.
[Gurwood vol. 7 pp. 47-48]
It is a matter of opinion whether Welllington's hostility to John Downie was because the son of a minor Scottish landowner was not of the officer class and therefore unable to command the respect of officers under him. In fact, in Parliamentary Intelligence in The Times of 21 February 1815, Lord Bathurst stated that "Lieutenant-General Downie never had any rank in the British army, and had received no pay as such; but he had been in the Peninsula, in our Commissariot department."
Wellington went on to say that it was beyond his power to provide the brigade with officers from his army, but in a letter to the Earl of Liverpool on 12 January 1811 [ibid. p. 135] he noted that 4000 stands of arms would be delivered to the troops to be raised by Mr. Downie. It does not appear that any British officers were ever seconded to the Loyal Legion of Estremadura, only Spanish names appearing in descriptions of the force.
The Aberdeen Journal of 26 September 1810 carried a report of a sale of Colonel Downie's Paular Rams, Ewes and Lambs at Bishopton, Renfrewshire the previous week; rams fetched between £15 and £27 and ewes between £10 and £15. He was urged to sell the remainder of his flock in a subsequent sale, such was the demand. Presumably he had made use of empty transports returning from Spain to carry his sheep and his Spanish shepherds back to his homeland and Wellington had written to the Earl of Liverpool noting that Mr. Downie alone had permission to send Merino sheep home in these transports at no cost; he requested that Officers of the army should have thesame privilege. [ibid. pp. 109-11]
Rogers provides the information that the sale was carried out by John's immediate elder brother, Charles, who was a sheep importer in Renfrewshire, and that the proceeds were put towards equipping the Legion, which Charles later joined. A report by Sir John Sinclair to the Board of Agriculture confirms that Charles Downie Esq. of Paisley imported the sheep through Port Glasgow from Lisbon on 6 August 1810.
The sale of his sheep was not the only business which brought John Downie back to Scotland, because on 24 October 1810 the Glasgow Herald reported that on 15 October at Paisley he had married Agnes Gibson (his first cousin), daughter of the late Alexander Gibson, Town Clerk of Paisley and John's aunt Janet Forrester. There appear to have been no children of this marriage.
Gurwood, John, comp (1837-8) The dispatches of Field Marshall the Duke of Wellington during his various campaigns in India, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, the Low Countries, and France, from 1799 to 1818. Vols 4-7. London, J. Murray
Rogers, Graciela Iglesias (2013) British Liberators in the Age of Napoleon: Volunteering under the Spanish Flag in the Peninsular War. London and New York, Bloomsbury.
Sinclair, Sir John (undated) Particulars regarding the Merino Sheep imported by Charles Downie, Esq. of Paisley in Scotland. London, Printed by W. Bulmer and Co. Cleveland-row, St. James's.