Le Caron, Henri (Thomas Billis Beach) (1841–94), agent provocateur and informer, was born Thomas Billis Beach on 26 September 1841 at Colchester, England, second son among thirteen children of John Joseph Billis Beach, rate-collector, and Maria Beach (née Passmore). He was apprenticed at age twelve to a draper, and at sixteen worked as a clerk in a London drapery firm. In 1859 he stole his sister's missionary box of pennies and fled to Paris, where he worked for a bank, Arthur & Co. He went to America during the civil war (entered as ‘Henry Lecarron’ on the passenger list of the Great Eastern, which reached New York on 12 July 1862), and enlisted in the union army on 22 August 1862. A bugler, he mutinied and refused to fight on 26 December 1862 and was jailed. He was later promoted to chief bugler on 1 November 1863 and commissioned as a second lieutenant on 4 September 1864, then promoted to first lieutenant on 24 March 1865. He was discharged (10 January 1866) with the rank of first lieutenant and adjutant.
After the war he settled in Nashville, Tennessee, where he met prominent Fenian leaders, including Col. John O'Neill (qv), who was planning to invade Canada. He wrote of their plans to his father, who told his MP, who in turn contacted the British home office. In 1867 Le Caron sailed to England and was recruited as a paid informer. Returning, he offered his services to O'Neill, who had been named president of the Fenian Brotherhood. O'Neill appointed him to the rank of major and military organiser in the service of the Irish republic (5 August 1868), and later promoted him to lieutenant-colonel and acting adjutant-general (November 1869). During this period, Le Caron had been informing the British and Canadian governments of the details of the Fenian plans. When the attack occurred near Frelighburg, Quebec (25 May 1870), the Canadian forces were prepared and routed the invaders. He was also involved in another raid on Canada on 5 October 1871, in which he provided 400 weapons and ammunition for the raiders, and then informed the authorities; the attack was foiled.
In 1872 he graduated, as a physician, at Detroit Medical College and started a practice in Chicago in 1873. He opened a drugstore in Braidwood, Illinois, where he set up a Clan na Gael camp and was elected leader. He took part in the American tour of the Irish political leader Charles Stewart Parnell (qv) in 1880. In 1881 he went to Europe and met Parnell and other Irish leaders. When Clan na Gael planned to dynamite buildings in London, Le Caron (who later told the special commission that he had taken part in planning the campaign) informed the government, and many of the dynamiters were arrested in 1883.
On 5 February 1889 Le Caron became notorious when he appeared at the special commission on ‘Parnellism and crime’ and testified on his activities as an informer on Irish groups in America. His decision to leave the US was probably owing to the danger of his position as a party to the dispute in Chicago between Alexander Sullivan and P. H. Cronin (qv), which ended in Cronin's murder. His most significant testimony dealt with an interview with Parnell in 1881, in which he gave the impression that the leader was actively planning to use Land League funds for armed revolution in Ireland. Parnell denied this, but much of the British public and the British journals thought that Le Caron was telling the truth and Parnell was not. The special commission, however, did not find Parnell guilty of preparing for armed revolution. After testifying, Le Caron was concerned for his safety, and he needed continual police protection for the rest of his life. In 1892 he published a best-selling book, Twenty-five years in the Secret Service, which, he insisted, was characterised by ‘the absolute truthfulness of the record’ (ibid., p. iv).
Because of his testimony and his book, many British journals, politicians, and historians tended to consider him to be truthful. However, many American journals, and people who knew him, said that he was mendacious, and some public records (including his military service record) show that both his testimony and book were full of false statements. In his famous closing address before the special commission, Sir Charles Russell (qv), Parnell's leading counsel and later lord chief justice, said disdainfully: ‘Le Caron – the man is a living lie.’
Le Caron married (21 July 1864) Nannie Melville, daughter of an Irish Virginia planter and a German mother, at Nashville, Tennessee, and had three sons and three daughters. He died 1 April 1894, in London, of appendicitis.