Corbet, Thomas (1773?–1804), United Irishman and French soldier, was born at Ballythomas, Co. Cork, one of eight children of Frederick Corbet, protestant farmer and schoolteacher; his mother was a Purcell. Educated by his father, he entered TCD (1787), became a scholar (1790) and graduated BA (1791). A college acquaintance described him as ‘a low, smart little man’ (Walsh, 172). He was a lieutenant in the college yeomanry corps and joined the United Irishmen. When the Northern Star was raided and its equipment seized (February 1797), its proprietors appointed him to manage the paper. Despite the efforts of the authorities, he became the legal proprietor and resumed publication on 24 February. He continued the paper's militantly republican tone until it was finally wrecked by the Monaghan militia (May 1797) after Corbet had refused to allow them to publish a resolution declaring their loyalty. During the visitation of TCD by Lord Clare (qv) in February 1798, he was singled out as a subversive influence on the college's students, and he and eighteen others, including his younger brother William Corbet (qv), were expelled from the college yeomanry because of their political views. After the outbreak of rebellion on 23 May the two travelled to France (via Trondheim, Copenhagen, and Hamburg), arriving around early August. Thomas received a commission in the French army and in September 1798, under the name of Cowan, he sailed on Hardy's expedition from Brest, in which Theobald Wolfe Tone (qv) also sailed. The expeditionary force was intercepted off Co. Donegal on 12 October but Corbet's ship managed to escape. He returned to France and for the next four years survived by teaching English at Pyrtanée.
During Bonaparte's Egyptian campaign, he sent a letter to Paul Barras of the directory on 17 February 1799, recommending that Bonaparte should create a Jewish settlement around Suez and a Jewish army in Syria as stepping stones to reestablishing a Jewish state in Palestine. He believed that this scheme would appeal to persecuted Jews throughout the world and could be financed by Jewish bankers. He advised the Jews to organise themselves into secret societies similar to the United Irishmen, and claimed that a new Jewish state in Palestine would regenerate the Middle East and provide France with a strong ally in the region. Corbet's suggestions may have influenced Bonaparte's proclamation of 4 April 1799 calling on the Jews of Africa and Asia to rally to him and march on Jerusalem.
With the formation of the Irish Legion at Morlaix in autumn 1803, Thomas and William Corbet were appointed captains. The legion was plagued by dissension and they sided with the faction of Arthur O'Connor (qv). On 3 June 1804 Corbet refused to sign a document confirming that the entire unit had taken an oath of allegiance to the newly proclaimed emperor Napoleon, claiming that Capt. John Swiney (qv), a member of a rival faction, had not done so. On 4 June Swiney struck Corbet on the parade ground and a brawl ensued, leading to the arrest and detention of both men. A subsequent inquiry criticised Corbet for his ‘wretched spirit of intrigue’ (Gallaher, 46) and recommended his transfer from the legion. After their release in September, Corbet challenged Swiney to a duel, which took place at Lesneven (20 September 1804). Corbet was wounded in the initial exchange of shots, but insisted that the duel should continue. They exchanged fire a further four times and, having reduced the distance from ten paces to six, both were wounded, Corbet seriously. Corbet's wounds proved fatal and he died that night. The bitterness of their quarrel seriously damaged the legion's morale and its standing in the eyes of the French government.