Portraits General Sir Ralph Abercromby, K.B.
Sir Ralph Abercromby was the son of George Abercromby
of Tullibody, in Clackmannanshire. He was born, in 1731, in the old
mansion of Menstrie, which at that period was the ordinary residence of
his parents. The house, which is in the village of Menstrie, although
not inhabited by any of the family, is still entire, and is pointed out
to strangers as the birthplace of the hero. After going through the
usual course of study, he adopted the army as his profession ; and, at
the age of twenty-two, obtained in the year 1756 a commission as Cornet
in the 3rd Regiment of Dragoons.
During the early part
of his service he had little opportunity of displaying his military
talents, but he gradually rose, and in 1787 had attained the rank of
Major-General. After the breaking out of the French revolutionary war,
Sir Ralph Abercromby served in the campaigns of 1794 and 1795, under the
Duke of York, and by his judicious conduct preserved the British army
from destruction during their disastrous retreat through Holland. He
commanded the advanced guard, and was wounded at the battle of Nimeguen.
return of Sir Charles Grey from the West Indies, the French retook the
islands of Guadaloupe and St. Lucia, made good their landing on
Martinique, and hoisted their national colours on several forts in the
islands of St. Vincent, Granada, &c, besides possessing themselves of
booty to the amount of 1800 millions of livres. For the purpose of
checking this devastation, the British fitted out a fleet in the autumn
of 1795, with a proper military force. Sir Ralph was entrusted with the
charge of the troops, and at the same time appointed Commander-in-Chief
of the Forces in the West Indies. Being detained longer than was
expected, the equinox set in before the fleet was ready to sail, and, in
endeavouring to clear the Channel, several of the transports were lost.
The remainder of the fleet reached the West Indies in safety, and by the
month of March, 1796, the troops were in a condition for active duty.
The General succeeded in driving the French from all their possessions,
and, assisted by part of a new convoy from Britain, was enabled to
capture the island of Trinidad from the Spaniards.
Ralph next made an attack upon the Spanish island of Puerto Eico, which
proved unsuccessful, but without by any means tarnishing his previously
well-earned laurels. On his return to this country in 1797, he was
received with every demonstration of public respect. He was presented by
his Majesty with the Colonelcy of the Scots Greysinvested with the
honour of the Order of the Bathrewarded with the lucrative governments
of Fort-George and Fort-Augustus, and, on the 26th of January, he was
raised to the rank of Lieutenant-General in the Army.
Sir Ralph was next appointed to the chief command in Ireland, whore the
flame of civil war was threatening to burst forth. After visiting a
great portion of the kingdom, and restoring in a great degree the
discipline of the army, which, in the Commander's own words, had become,
from their irregularities, "more formidable to their friends than their
enemies," the General was removed by the Marquis Cornwallis, who united
the offices of Lord-Lieutenant and Commander-in-Chief in his own person,
much to the satisfaction of Sir Ralph, who was anxious to leave Ireland.
He was then appointed Commander of the Forces in Scotland.
In 1798, Sir Ralph was selected to take charge of the expedition sent
out to Holland, for the purpose of restoring the Prince of Orange to the
Stadtholdership, from which he had been ejected by the French. In this
expedition the British were at the outset successful. The first and
well-contested encounter with General Daendell, on the 27th of August,
near the Helder Point, in which the Dutch were defeated, led to the
immediate evacuation of the Helder, by which thirteen ships of war and
three ludiamen, together with the arsenal and naval magazine, fell an
easy prey to the British. The Dutch fleet also surrendered to Admiral
Mitchell, the sailors refusing to fight against the Prince of Orange.
This encouraging event, however, by no means spoke the sentiments of the
mass of the Dutch people, or disconcerted the enemy. On the morning of
the 11th of September, the Dutch and French forces attacked the position
of the British, which extended from Petten on the German Ocean to Oude-Sluys
on the Zuyder-Zee. The onset was made with the utmost bravery, but the
enemy were repulsed with the loss of a thousand men. Sir Ralph, from the
want of numbers, was unable to follow up this advantage, until the Duke
of York arrived as Commander-in-Chief, with a number of Russians,
Batavians, and Dutch volunteers, which augmented the allied army to
nearly thirty-six thousand.
An attempt upon the
enemy's positions on the heights of Camperdown being agreed upon, on the
morning of the 19th September the allied forces successfully commenced
the attack. The Russians made themselves masters of Bergen; but
commencing the pillage too soon, the enemy rallied, and attacked the
Russianswho were busy plunderingwith so much impetuosit}7, that they
were driven from the town in all directions. This untoward circumstance
compelled the British to abandon the positions they had stormed, and to
fall back upon their former station. Another attack on the stronghold of
the enemy was made on the 2nd of October. The conflict lasted the whole
day, but the enemy abandoned their positions during the night. On this
occasion Sir Ralph Abercromby had two horses shot under him. Sir John
Moore was twice wounded severely, and reluctantly carried off the field
; while the Marquis of Huntly (the late Duke of Gordon), who, at the
head of the 92nd regiment, was eminently distinguished, received a wound
from a ball in the shoulder.
The Dutch and French
troops having taken up another strong position between Benerwych and the
Zuyder-Zee, it was resolved to dislodge them before they could receive
reinforcements. A day of sanguinary fighting ensued, which continued
without intermission until ten o'clock at night, amid deluges of rain.
General Brune having been reinforced with six thousand additional men,
and the ground he occupied being nearly impregnable, while the arms and
ammunition of the British, who were all night exposed to the elements,
were rendered useless, retreat became a measure of necessity. Upon this
the Duke of York entered into an armistice with the Republican forces,
by which the troops were allowed to embark for England, where they
arrived in safety.
In the month of June, 1800, General
Abercromby was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the troops ultimately
destined for Egypt. Owing to casualties unnecessary to mention, the
armament did not reach the place of its destination till the 8th of
March, 1801, on which day the troops disembarked in Aboukir Bay,
notwithstanding the strenuous efforts of the French to prevent them.
On the 18th March, Sir Ralph attacked the French in their posi-lion, and
succeeded, after a keen contest, in forcing them to retreat to the
heights of Nicopolis. An attempt to take these heights, which were found
to be commanded by the guns of the fort, proved unsuccessful. The
British took up the position formerly occupied by the enemy, with their
right to the sea, and their left to the canal of Alexandria, thus
cutting off all communication with the city. On the 18th the garrison of
General Menou, the French
commander, having been reinforced, attempted to take the British by
surprise, and suddenly attacked their positions with his whole force.
The enemy advanced with much impetuosity, shouting as they went, but
they were received with stead}- coolness by the British troops. The
field was contested with various success, until General Menou, finding
that all his endeavours proved fruitless, ordered a retreat, which from
the want of cavalry ou the part of the British, he was enabled to
accomplish in good order. This battle, which proved decisive of the fate
of Egypt, and left an impression not easily to be defaced of British
courage and prowess, was dearly gained by the death of Sir Ralph
himself. Early in the morning, he had taken his station in the front
line, from the exposed nature of which, and at a moment when he had
dispersed all his staff on various duties, the enemy attempted to take
him prisoner. Two of the enemy's cavalry dashing forward, and "drawing
up on each side, attempted to lead him away prisoner. In this unequal
contest he received a blow on the breast; but with the vigour and
strength of arm for which he was distinguished, he seized on the sabre
of one of those who struggled with him, and forced it out of his hand.
At this moment, a corporal of the 42nd Highlanders, seeing his
situation, ran up to his assistance, and shot one of the assailants, on
which the other retired." From this perilous situation, the General was
relieved by the valour of his troops, when it was discovered that he had
been wounded in the thigh. He was repeatedly pressed by the soldiers to
have the wound attended to; but he treated it as a matter of no moment,
and continued to give directions on the field until victory became
certain by the retreat of the enemy. The intense excitement of action
being thus over, Sir Ralph at last fainted from loss of blood; and
although the wound was immediately examined, every attempt to extract
the ball proved unsuccessful. He was carried on a litter aboard the
Foudroyant, where he died on the 28th March.
of General Abercromby was looked upon as a national calamity. A monument
was ordered to be erected to his memory by the House of Commons; and his
Majesty, as a mark of further respect, confirmed the title of Baroness
on his lady, and the dignity of Baron to the heirs-male of his body. On
the recommendation of his Majesty, a pension of .£2000 per annum was
voted to the Baroness, and to the two next succeeding heirs.
The capital of his native country was not backward in acknowledging the
honour reflected by so worthy a son. At a meeting of the Magistrates and
Town Council of Edinburgh, it was resolved that a monument to the memory
of Sir Ralph Abercromby should be erected on the wall of the High
Church; and a very liberal collection was made in all the churches and
chapels for the relief of the families of the "brave men who had fallen
in Egypt." In honour of his memory, also, the Edinburgh Volunteer
Brigade, on the 2nd of June, performed a grand military spectacle at the
Meadows. They were dressed in "deep funeral uniform," while the bands
performed "plaintive pieces of music, some of which were composed for
the occasion." The crowd of spectators, as may be supposed, was immense,
and the scene is said to have been "solemn and impressive."
Sir Ralph married Anne, daughter of John Menzies, of Fernton, in the
county of Perth, by whom he had four sons and two daughters. His eldest
son, George, on the death of his mother, 17th February, 1821, became
Lord Abercromby of Aboukir and Tullibody, and married, 27th January,
1799, Montague, third daughter of Henry, first Viscount Melville, by
whom he had issue one son and two daughters. His second son, John,
G.C.B., died unmarried, in the year 1817. The third son, James, married
in 1802, Mary Ann, daughter of Egerton Leigh, Esq., by whom he has issue
one son, Ralph (born 6th April, 1803), now Miuister at Turin. The fourth
son, Alexander, C.B., is a Lieutenant-Colonel in the army.
This comment system requires
you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an
account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or
Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these
companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All
comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator
has approved your comment.