Ralph Abercromby

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For his grandson, the diplomat, see Ralph Abercromby, 2nd Baron Dunfermline, and for his great-grandson, see Ralph Abercromby (meteorologist).
Sir Ralph Abercromby
Sir Ralph Abercromby by John Hoppner.jpg
Sir Ralph Abercromby, by John Hoppner
Born (1734-10-07)7 October 1734
Menstrie, Clackmannanshire, Scotland
Died 28 March 1801(1801-03-28) (aged 66)
Alexandria, Egypt
Allegiance  Great Britain
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1756 - 1801
Rank Lieutenant-General
Battles/wars

Seven Years' War

French Revolutionary Wars

Irish Rebellion of 1798
French campaign in Egypt and Syria

Awards KCB
Relations Brother: Alexander Abercromby, Lord Abercromby
Other work Member of Parliament
Governor of Trinidad
Lord Lieutenant of Clackmannanshire

Sir Ralph Abercromby KB (sometimes spelt Abercrombie) (7 October 1734 – 28 March 1801) was a Scottish soldier and politician. He rose to the rank of lieutenant-general in the British Army, was noted for his services during the Napoleonic Wars, and served as Commander-in-Chief, Ireland.

He twice served as MP for Clackmannanshire, and was appointed Governor of Trinidad.

Biography[edit]

He was the eldest son of George Abercromby of Tullibody, Clackmannanshire, and a brother of the advocate Alexander Abercromby, Lord Abercromby. He was born at Menstrie, Clackmannanshire.[1] Educated at Rugby and the University of Edinburgh, in 1754 he was sent to Leipzig University to study civil law, with a view to his proceeding to a career as an advocate.

Abercromby was a Freemason. He was a member of Canongate Kilwinning Lodge No 2, Edinburgh, Scotland [2]

Seven Years War[edit]

On returning from the continent he expressed a strong preference for the military profession, and a cornet's commission was accordingly obtained for him (March 1756) in the 3rd Dragoon Guards. He served with his regiment in the Seven Years' War, and the opportunity thus afforded him of studying the methods of Frederick the Great moulded his military character and formed his tactical ideas.

He rose through the intermediate grades to the rank of lieutenant-colonel of the regiment (1773) and brevet colonel in 1780, and in 1781 he became colonel of the King's Irish infantry. When that regiment was disbanded in 1783 he retired upon half pay.

Up to this time, he had scarcely been engaged in active service, and this was due mainly to his disapproval of the policy of the government, and especially to his sympathies with the American colonists in their struggles for independence. His retirement is no doubt to be ascribed to similar feelings. On leaving the army he for a time took up political life as Member of Parliament for Clackmannanshire.[1] This, however, proved uncongenial, and, retiring in favour of his brother, he settled at Edinburgh and devoted himself to the education of his children.

War service[edit]

However, when France declared war against Great Britain in 1793, he hastened to resume his professional duties. Being esteemed one of the ablest and most intrepid officers in the whole British forces, he was appointed to the command of a brigade under the Duke of York, for service in the Netherlands. He commanded the advanced guard in the action at Le Cateau, and was wounded at Nijmegen. The duty fell to him of protecting the British army in its disastrous retreat out of Holland, in the winter of 1794–1795. In 1795, he received the honour of a Knighthood of the Bath, in acknowledgment of his services.

The same year he was appointed to succeed Sir Charles Grey, as commander-in-chief of the British forces in the West Indies. In 1796, Grenada was suddenly attacked and taken by a detachment of the army under his orders. Abercromby afterwards obtained possession of the settlements of Demerara and Essequibo, in South America, and of the islands of Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and Trinidad.

In this part of his career Abercromby was involved in crushing the revolt of the Garifuna (Carib) people on Saint Vincent, bringing to an end their centuries-long resistance to European colonization. One of Abercromby's officers killed the Garifuna chief Joseph Chatoyer on 14 March 1795. While this was a minor campaign on the scale of Abercromby's overall career, it is well remembered up to the present on Saint Vincent, where Chatoyer is revered as a national hero.

A medalion showing the Capture of Trinidad and Tobago by the British in 1797.
Sir Ralph Abercromby, Commander of the British forces that captured Trinidad and Tobago.

On 17 April 1797, Abercromby, with a force of 7,000-13,000 men,[3] which included German mercenary soldiers and Royal Marines and a 60 to 64 ship armada, invaded the island of Puerto Rico. Island Governor and Captain General Don Ramón de Castro and his forces, consisting of the mostly Puerto Rican born Regimiento Fijo de Puerto Rico and the Milicias Disciplinadas, repelled the attack.

On 30 April, after two weeks of fierce combat, which included prolonged artillery exchanges and even hand to hand combat, Abercromby was unable to overcome San Juan's first line of defense and withdrew. This was to be one of the largest invasions to Spanish territories in the Americas.

Abercromby returned to Europe, and, in reward for his important services, was appointed colonel of the regiment of Scots Greys, entrusted with the governments of the Isle of Wight, Fort-George and Fort-Augustus, and raised to the rank of lieutenant-general. He held, in 1797–1798, the chief command of the forces in Ireland.

To quote the biographic entry in the 1888 Encyclopædia Britannica, "There he laboured to maintain the discipline of the army, to suppress the rising rebellion, and to protect the people from military oppression, with the care worthy of a great general and an enlightened and beneficent statesman. When he was appointed to the command in Ireland, an invasion of that country by the French was confidently anticipated by the British government. He used his utmost efforts to restore the discipline of an army that was utterly disorganized; and, as a first step, he anxiously endeavoured to protect the people by re-establishing the supremacy of the civil power, and not allowing the military to be called out, except when it was indispensably necessary for the enforcement of the law and the maintenance of order.

Finding that he received no adequate support from the head of the Irish government, and that all his efforts were opposed and thwarted by those who presided in the councils of Ireland, he resigned the command. His departure from Ireland was deeply lamented by the reflecting portion of the people, and was speedily followed by those disastrous results which he had anticipated, and which he so ardently desired and had so wisely endeavoured to prevent."

After holding for a short period the office of commander-in-chief in Scotland, Sir Ralph, when the enterprise against the Dutch Batavian Republic was resolved upon in 1799, was again called to command under the Duke of York. The campaign of 1799 ended in disaster, but friend and foe alike confessed that the most decisive victory could not have more conspicuously proved the talents of this distinguished officer.

His country applauded the choice when, in 1801, he was sent with an army to dispossess the French of Egypt. His experience in the Netherlands and the West Indies particularly fitted him for this new command, as was proved by his carrying his army in health, in spirits and with the requisite supplies, in spite of very great difficulties, to the destined scene of action. The debarkation of the troops at Abukir, in the face of strenuous opposition, is justly ranked among the most daring and brilliant exploits of the British army.

Death[edit]

Death of Gen Sir Ralph Abercrombie by Sir Robert Ker Porter. Abercromby is in the centre and labeled "20."

A battle in the neighbourhood of Alexandria (21 March 1801) was the sequel of this successful landing, and it was Abercromby's fate to fall in the moment of victory. He was struck by a spent ball, which could not be extracted, and died seven days after the battle, aboard HMS Foudroyant, which was moored in the harbour.

His old friend and commander the Duke of York paid a tribute to the soldier's memory in general orders: "His steady observance of discipline, his ever-watchful attention to the health and wants of his troops, the persevering and unconquerable spirit which marked his military career, the splendour of his actions in the field and the heroism of his death, are worthy the imitation of all who desire, like him, a life of heroism and a death of glory." He was buried in the Commandery of the Grand Master, the Knights of St John, Malta

By a vote of the House of Commons, a monument was erected in his honour in St Paul's Cathedral, Abercromby Square in Liverpool is named in his honour. His widow was created Baroness Abercromby of Tullibody and Aboukir Bay,[1] and a pension of £2,000 a year was settled on her and her two successors in the title.

Family[edit]

On 17 November 1767 Abercromby married Mary Anne, daughter of John Menzies and Ann, daughter of Patrick Campbell.[4][5] They had seven children. Of four sons, all four entered Parliament, and two saw military service.

Popular culture[edit]

A public house in central Manchester, the 'Sir Ralph Abercrombie', is named after him. There is also a "General Abercrombie" pub with his portrait by Hoppner as the sign off of the Blackfriars Bridge Road in London.[6]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, page 4
  2. ^ Denslow, William R. 10,000 Famous Freemasons, Vol. I, A-D.
  3. ^ Confirmation of troop count is unattainable, only Spanish and Puerto Rican sources are available regarding troop count.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Lundy 2011, p. 3 § 28 cites Pine 1972, p. 1
  5. ^ Lundy 2011, p. 3 § 28 cites Cokayne 2000, p. 12
  6. ^ Sir Ralph Abercrombie Inn, retrieved January 2013 

References[edit]

  • Lundy, Darryl (9 February 2011), "Mary Anne Menzies, Baroness Abercromby of Aboukir and Tullibody", The Peerage, p. 3 § 28  Endnotes:
    • Cokayne, G.E.; et al (2000), The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant I (reprint in 6 volumes ed.), Gloucester, U.K.: Alan Sutton Publishing, p. 12 
    • Pine, L.G. (1972), The New Extinct Peerage 1884-1971: Containing Extinct, Abeyant, Dormant and Suspended Peerages With Genealogies and Arms, London: Heraldry Today, p. 1 
Attribution

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
James Abercromby
(until 1768)
Member of Parliament for Clackmannanshire
1774–1780
Succeeded by
Charles Allan Cathcart
(from 1784)
Preceded by
Burnet Abercromby
(until 1790)
Member of Parliament for Clackmannanshire
1784–1786
Succeeded by
Sir Robert Abercromby
Political offices
Preceded by
José Maria Chacón
Governor of Trinidad
1797
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas Picton
Military offices
New regiment Colonel of the 103rd Regiment of Foot (King's Irish Infantry)
1781–1784
Disbanded
Preceded by
Hon. Philip Sherard
Colonel of the 69th (South Lincolnshire) Regiment of Foot
1790–1792
Succeeded by
Henry Watson Powell
Preceded by
Lancelot Baugh
Colonel of the 6th (1st Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot
1792–1795
Succeeded by
The Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh
Preceded by
Charles Grey
Colonel of the 7th (The Princess Royal's) Dragoon Guards
1795–1796
Succeeded by
Sir William Medows
Preceded by
The Earl of Eglinton
Colonel of the 2nd (Royal North British) Regiment of Dragoons
1796–1801
Succeeded by
David Dundas
Preceded by
The Earl of Carhampton
Commander-in-Chief, Ireland
1798
Succeeded by
Viscount Lake
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Lord Cathcart
Lord Lieutenant of Clackmannanshire
1798–1801
Succeeded by
The Lord Cathcart