Sir Ralph Abercromby, by John Hoppner
|Born||7 October 1734|
Menstrie, Clackmannanshire, Scotland
|Died||28 March 1801 (aged 66)|
|Years of service||1756–1801|
|Battles/wars||Seven Years' War|
|Relations||Brother: Alexander Abercromby, Lord Abercromby and General Sir Robert Abercromby|
|Other work||Member of Parliament|
Governor of Trinidad
Lord Lieutenant of Clackmannanshire
Sir Ralph Abercromby Clackmannanshire, rose to the rank of lieutenant-general in the British Army, was appointed Governor of Trinidad, served as Commander-in-Chief, Ireland, and was noted for his services during the French Revolutionary Wars.(sometimes spelt Abercrombie) (7 October 1734 – 28 March 1801) was a Scottish soldier and politician. He twice served as MP for
Ralph Abercromby was born on 7 October 1734 at Menstrie Castle, Clackmannanshire. He was the second (but eldest surviving) son of George Abercromby, a lawyer and descendant of the Abercromby family of Birkenbog, Aberdeenshire and Mary Dundas (d. 1767), daughter of Ralph Dundas of Manour, Perthshire. His younger brothers include the advocate Alexander Abercromby, Lord Abercromby and General Robert Abercromby.
Abercromby's education was begun by a private tutor, then continued at the school of Mr Moir in Alloa, then considered one of the best in Scotland despite its Jacobite leanings. Ralph attended Rugby School from 12 June 1748, where he remained until he was 18. Between 1752 and 1753, he was a student at the University of Edinburgh. There he studied moral and natural philosophy and civil law, and was regarded by his professors as sound rather than brilliant. He completed his studies at Leipzig University in Germany from autumn 1754, taking more detailed studies in civil law with a view to a career as an advocate.
On returning from the continent, Abercromby 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 thus, the opportunity afforded him of studying the methods of Frederick the Great, which moulded his military character and formed his tactical ideas.
Abercromby 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 newly raised King's Irish infantry. When that regiment was disbanded in 1783, he retired on half pay. He also entered Parliament as MP for Clackmannanshire (1774–1780).
When France declared war against Great Britain in 1793, Abercromby resumed his duties. He was appointed command of a brigade under the Duke of York for service in the Netherlands, where he commanded the advanced guard in the action at Le Cateau. During the 1794 withdrawal to Holland, he commanded the allied forces in the action at Boxtel and was wounded directing operations at Fort St Andries on the Waal.
In July 1795, Abercromby was nominated by Secretary of State for War Henry Dundas to lead an expedition to the West Indies. That same month he had been made a Knight of the Bath and in August Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Wight - a reward for his services but also possibly an incentive to lead the army in the Caribbean. The appointment of Abercromby as Commander-in-Chief of the Leeward and Windward Islands was officially announced on 5 August.
On 17 March 1796 Abercromby arrived in Carlisle Bay, Barbados on the Arethusa. A third of the 6,000 troops that had arrived on the island before him had already been sent on to Saint Vincent and Grenada, leaving the general with 3,700 soldiers at his disposal. Control of much of Saint Vincent been lost to rebelling French planters and native Caribs since early 1795, while Grenada was in the midst of an insurrection led by Julien Fédon. The reinforcements to Grenada allowed General Nicolls to attack enemy posts south of Port Royal on 25 March, preventing further French reinforcements from Guadeloupe. Three months later Abercromby arrived with further reinforcements and attacked Fédon's camp on 19 June, routing the insurgents and ending the rebellion.
The British fleet sailed on 25 April 1796 for Saint Lucia, landing the following day and establishing a beachhead. The French were soon repelled and retreated to the fort at Morne Fortune, which Abercromby decided to besiege. The garrison under General Goyrand surrendered to the British army 26 May. The island had been retaken at the cost of 566 men. A force of around 4,000 was left to hold Saint Lucia under the command of John Moore before Abercromby left for Saint Vincent at the beginning of June.
Abrecromby arrived on Saint Vincent 7 June with a force of just over 4,000. He marched his troops near to the insurgent base at Vigie Ridge and camped nearby as the British started to execute an encircling movement: Quatermaster General John Knox manoeuvred his men on the seaward side in order to prevent the enemy retreating north, and Lieutenant Colonel Dickens used the 34th Regiment as a diversion on the opposite side. Knox was able to cut off communications with the Vigie, whilst Dickens ousted the nearby Caribs to complete the encirclement. The black French commander, Marinier, signed terms of surrender on 11 June and the Caribs did 4 days later. The British took around 200 prisoner, with another 200 escaping into the jungle. Although some of the Caribs would remain in resistance until October, the rebellion had effectively been put down at the cost of 17 officers and 168 men killed or wounded.
Afterwards, Abercromby secured possession of the settlements of Demerara and Essequibo in South America, and the island of Trinidad. A major assault on the port of San Juan, Puerto Rico, in April 1797 failed after fierce fighting where both sides suffered heavy losses.
Abercromby returned to Europe and, in reward for his services, was appointed colonel of the 2nd (Royal North British) Regiment of Dragoons. He was also made Lieutenant-Governor of the Isle of Wight, Governor of Fort George and Fort Augustus in the Scottish Highlands, and promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-general. He again entered Parliament as member for Clackmannanshire from 1796 to 1798.
In 1798, Abernathy was made Commander-in-Chief of the forces in Ireland, then in rebellion and anticipating French intervention. He took the unusual step of publicly criticising the command of his predecessor, Henry Luttrell, 2nd Earl of Carhampton, for bequeathing an army "in a state of licentiousness, which must render it formidable to every one but the enemy". To quote the biographic entry in the 1888 Encyclopædia Britannica,
"[H]e 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, Abercromby, when the enterprise against the Dutch Batavian Republic was resolved upon in 1799, was again called to command under the Duke of York. The Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland in 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.
After spending time with Dundas over Christmas, Abercromby was summoned to London 21 January 1800. The Portuguese, concerned that they were under threat from Spain, requested British support and wanted Abercromby to lead their army. However, Abercromby refused to serve under a foreign ruler and would only take command of a joint army. Before he could leave for Portugal to inspect their defences and army, the resignation of General Charles Stuart in the Mediterranean in April led to a change of plans. The Austrian plan was that Abercromby could create a distraction from the activities of General Michael von Melas in North Italty by landing at various points on the Italian coast. Abrecromby received instruction from London to send 2,500-3,000 men to take French-occupied Malta. Thereafter, he was to receive a further 6,000 men to assist the Austrians. General Charles O'Hara in Gibraltar was pleased with the appointment, for while Stuart had been hot-tempered and difficult to work with, Abercromby was "a reasonable, considerate good soldier, and listens with temper and patience to every proposal made to him". However, delays caused by the weather meant that the situation in Italy had changed drastically by the time that Abercromby reached Minorca 22 June.
In 1801, Abercromby was sent with an army to recover Egypt from France. His experience in the Netherlands and the West Indies particularly fitted him for this new command, as was proved when he carried his army in health, in spirits, and with the requisite supplies to the destined scene of action despite great difficulties. 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.
In 1800 Abercromby commanded the expedition to the Mediterranean, and after some brilliant operations defeated the French in the Battle of Alexandria, 21 March 1801. During the action he was struck by a musket-ball in the thigh; but not until the battle was won and he saw the enemy retreating did he show any sign of pain. He was borne from the field in a hammock, cheered by the blessings of the soldiers as he passed, and conveyed on board the flag-ship HMS Foudroyant which was moored in the harbour. The ball could not be extracted; mortification ensued, and seven days later, on 28 March 1801, he died.
Abercromby's old friend and commander, the Duke of York, paid tribute to Abercromby'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 on St John's Bastion within Fort Saint Elmo in Valletta, Malta. The British military renamed it Abercrombie's Bastion in his honour. The adjacent curtain wall linking this bastion to the fortifications of Valletta, originally called Santa Ubaldesca Curtain, was also renamed Abercrombie's Curtain.
By a vote of the House of Commons, a monument was erected in Abercromby's honour in St Paul's Cathedral in London. His widow was created Baroness Abercromby of Tullibody and Aboukir Bay, and a pension of £2,000 a year was settled on her and her two successors in the title.
Abercromby Place in Edinburgh's New Town is named in his honour.
On 17 November 1767, Abercromby married Mary Anne, daughter of John Menzies and Ann, daughter of Patrick Campbell. They had seven children. Of four sons, all four entered Parliament, and two saw military service.
- Hon. Anne Abercromby (born 21 September 1768 and died October 1832)
- Hon. Mary Abercromby (born 19 August 1773 and died 26 April 1825)
- Hon. Catherine Abercromby (born 4 December 1780 and died 1841), married on 31 December 1811 to Thomas Buchanan of Powis (d.1842) Superintendent of Marines at Bombay.
- George Abercromby, 2nd Baron Abercromby (1770–1843)
- General Hon. Sir John Abercromby (1772–1817)
- James Abercromby, 1st Baron Dunfermline (1776–1858)
- Lt.-Col. Hon. Alexander Abercromby (1784–1853)
A public house in central Manchester, the 'Sir Ralph Abercromby', is named after him. There is also a 'General Abercrombie' pub with his portrait by John Hoppner as the sign off of the Blackfriars Bridge Road in London.
- Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, page 4
- Gates, David (4 October 2007). "Abercromby, Sir Ralph, of Tullibody (1734–1801), army officer.". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/45. Retrieved 11 April 2020. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Abercromby, James (1861). Lieutenant-General Sir Ralph Abercromby, K. B., 1793–1801. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas. p. 16. Retrieved 24 July 2017.
- Wilkinson, Spenser (1899). From Cromwell to Wellington: twelve soldiers. London: Lawrence and Bullen, ltd. pp. 288–325. Retrieved 11 July 2017.
- History of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning, No. 2. Compiled from the Records, 1677-1888. P.237. By Allan MacKenzie. Edinburgh. Published 1888.
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Abercromby, Sir Ralph". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 44.
- "Abercromby, Ralph (1734–1801), of Tullibody, Clackmannan". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
- David Andress, The Savage Storm: Britain on me Brink in the Age of Napoleon (2012) p 61
- Carole Divall, General Sir Ralph Abercromby and the French Revolutionary Wars 1792-1801, (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2019), 72-73.
- Divall, General Sir Ralph Abercromby, 84-85.
- Martin R. Howard, Death Before Glory: The British Soldier in the West Indies in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars 1793-1815, (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2015), 94.
- Howard, Death Before Glory, 94.
- Cox, Edward (Spring 1982). "Fedon's Rebellion 1795-96: Causes and Consequences". The Journal of Negro History. 67 (1): 7–19. doi:10.2307/2717757. JSTOR 2717757.
- Divall, General Sir Ralph Abercromby, 87-99.
- Howard, Death Before Glory, 103.
- Divall, General Sir Ralph Abercromby, 99-101.
- "Abercromby, Sir Ralph, of Tullibody (1734–1801), army officer". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/45. Retrieved 2 February 2019. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Pakenham, Thomas (1998). The Year of Liberty,The Great Irish Rebellion of 1798. New York: Times Books, Random House. p. 24. ISBN 0812930886.
- Divall, General Sir Ralph Abercromby, 226-230.
- The new international encyclopædia. New York: Dodd, Mead and company. 1909. pp. 26–27. Retrieved 11 July 2017.
- "St John Bastion Caraffa – Valletta" (PDF). National Inventory of the Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands. 28 June 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 July 2015.
- "Sta Ubaldesca Curtain – Valletta" (PDF). National Inventory of the Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands. 28 June 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 July 2015.
- Lundy 2011, p. 3 § 28 cites Pine 1972, p. 1
- Lundy 2011, p. 3 § 28 cites Cokayne 2000, p. 12
- Logie: A Parish History by Menzies Fergusson
- Gazetteer for Scotland
- "Grant of Supporters: Lt Gen Sir Ralph Abercromby 1798". 11 January 2019.
- Sir Ralph Abercrombie Inn, retrieved 31 January 2013
- Thomas, David (1988). A Companion to the Royal Navy. London: Harrap. p. 55. ISBN 0 245-54572-7.
- Abercromby, James (1861), Lieutenant-General Sir Ralph Abercromby, KB, 1793–1801
- "Archival material relating to Ralph Abercromby". UK National Archives.
- 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
- Lundy, Darryl (9 February 2011), "Mary Anne Menzies, Baroness Abercromby of Aboukir and Tullibody", Mary Anne Menzies, The Peerage, p. 3 § 287
- "Orderly Book of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment of Foot, 16 February 1796–10 October 1796". Collections at the Library of Congress.
- 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
- Portraits of Ralph Abercromby at the National Portrait Gallery, London
- Alonso, María M., "Chapter XIV – Abercromby's Siege", The Eighteenth Century Caribbean & The British Attack on Puerto Rico in 1797, archived from the original on 30 June 2006, retrieved 7 July 2006
- Carrión, Arturo Morales, Historia del Pueblo de Puerto Rico (in Spanish)
- Divall, Carole. General Sir Ralph Abercromby and the French Revolutionary Wars 1792-1801. (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2019). ISBN 978-1526741462
- Howard, Martin R. Death Before Glory: The British Soldier in the West Indies in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1793-1815. (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2015). ISBN 978-1781593417
- "Sir Ralph Abercromby", Encyclopædia Britannica
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ralph Abercromby.|
- Chambers, Robert; Thomson, Thomas Napier (1857). . A Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen. 1. Glasgow: Blackie and Son. pp. 4–13 – via Wikisource.
- Reynolds, Francis J., ed. (1921). . Collier's New Encyclopedia. New York: P. F. Collier & Son Company.