Robert Barker (commander-in-chief in Bengal)

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Sir Robert Barker
Nationality British

Sir Robert Barker (1729?–1789) was commander-in-chief in Bengal, and the first distinguished artillery officer of the East India Company. [1]


Nothing is known about his birth or the exact date of his arrival in India, but he probably first went out to India as a company's officer about 1749. In 1757, he held the rank of captain, and accompanied Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive to Calcutta in command of a contingent of royal and company's artillery. He was certainly never, as Major Stubbs asserts, in the Royal Artillery, but had doubtless been a company's officer in the coast or Madras army, and had attracted Clive's notice as an able artillery officer. He commanded the artillery at the capture of Chandannagar and at the Battle of Plassey, and returned to Madras in 1758. In 1762, he had attained the rank of major, and accompanied the expedition to the Philippines, from Madras under Colonel Draper.

He commanded the artillery at the siege of Manilla, and received the highest praise from Draper, who remarked in his dispatch that:

Major Barker's fire was so violent that the breach soon appeared practicable.

He seems to have returned to England with Draper, for in the next year he was knighted, when Draper was made a K.B. [2]

But he soon returned to India, and on 27 April 1764 Clive writes to the directors that

to command your artillery I would recommend Sir Robert Barker, whose abilities in that department have been exceeded by no officer that ever was in your service.

The directors refused to appoint a commandant of their artillery, but Barker received in 1764 the local rank of colonel in the king's army, and in 1765 that of colonel of infantry in the company's service. He was now stationed at Allahabad, and occupied himself with science, sending home to the Royal Society, of which he had been elected a fellow, Thermometrical Observations at Allahabad in 1767, published in the sixty-fifth volume of the Philosophical Transactions. While at Allahabad he was promoted brigadier-general in 1770, and received the command of one of three brigades which then composed the Bengal army; he became likewise provincial commander-in-chief in Bengal to the great disgust of Sir Richard Fletcher. [2]

In 1772, the most important event of his life took place. The Nawab of Awadh was afraid that the Rohillas would join the Mahrattas and invade his country, and implored the English general's help. Sir Robert accordingly sent one of his aides-de-camp to the Rohillas and signed a treaty with them against the Mahrattas in May 1772. This treaty of Fyzabad the Rohillas kept, but on a pretence of their having broken it, Warren Hastings afterwards sent a brigade to conquer them for the nabob. Before this Rohilla war, however, Sir R. Barker had resigned his command, for he disapproved of the reforms inaugurated in the army by Warren Hastings, and after a lively quarrel left India. Colonel Champion, who succeeded him, had to conduct the first Rohilla war. [2]

On reaching England, Barker became MP for Wallingford in 1774, and soon afterwards married. He seems never to have spoken in parliament, but in March 1781 he was rewarded with a baronetcy for his consistent vote with the government. He had not sought re-election in 1780, and retired to a beautiful seat he had bought at Bushbridge near Godalming, where he had two great pictures painted for him by Tilly Kettle—one of himself concluding the treaty of Fyzabad, the other of the Nabob of Oude reviewing the English brigade. On 14 September 1786, he gave important evidence on the First Rohilla War, before the select committee of the House of Commons, and on 14 September 1789 died at Busbridge. Barker's ability as an officer won him the friendship and esteem of Clive.[2]


Besides the Thermometrical Observations published by the Royal Society, Barker also contributed Observations on a Voyage from Madras to England, 1774, and The Process of Making Ice in the East Indies to volume lxv., and an Account of an Observatory of the Brahmins at Benares to volume lxvii. of the Philosophical Transactions. [2]


  1. ^ Stephens 1885, p. 208.
  2. ^ a b c d e Stephens 1885, p. 209.


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainStephens, Henry Morse (1885). "Barker, Robert (1729?-1789)". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography 3. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 208–209. ; Endnotes:
    • There is a very short, incomplete notice of Sir R. Barker in Major Stubbs's History of the Royal Bengal Artillery, 2 volulemes, 1877
    • consult also Malcolm's Life of Clive, Gleig's Life of Warren Hastings, and Mill's History of India
    • for his services at Manilla see Draper's despatch in the Gentlemen's Magazine for 1763, and for Kettle's paintings at his seat the Gentlemen's Magazine for 1786.

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 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Barker, Robert (1729?-1789)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.