a surname derived from a barony of that name in Fifeshire, erected in a
district originally named Abercrombie, aber meaning beyond, and
crambie, the crook, in allusion to the bend or crook of Fifeness. The
parish, until recently called St. Monance, and now Abercromby, was known
by the name of Abercrombie so far back as 1174. The Abercrombies of that
ilk were esteemed the chiefs of the name until the seventeenth century,
when that line became extinct, and Abercromby of Birkenbog, in Banffshire,
became the head of the clan of Abercromby. In 1637 Alexander Abercromby of
Birkenbog was created a baronet of Scotland and Nova Scotia, and
distinguished himself as a royalist during the civil wars. The baronetcy
is still in the family.
Baron, an extinct peerage, bestowed by Charles I., by letters patent dated
at Carisbrooke castle 12th December 1647, on Sir James Sandilands of St.
Monance, or Abercrombie, in Fife, descended from James Sandilands
belonging to the noble houae of Torphichen. In 1649 Lord Abercrombie
disposed of his property in Fife, including St. Monance, and the castle of
Newark, to Lieutenant-general David Lesly, who took his title of Lord
Newark from thence. Lord Abercrombie married Lady Agnes Carnegie, second
daughter of David, first earl of Southesk, and by her he had a son, James,
second Lord Abercrombie, who dying without issue in 1681, the title became
of Aboukir and Tullibody, Baron, a title in the peerage of the United
Kingdom, conferred in 1801 on Mary Anne, widow of the celebrated Sir Ralph
Abercromby, immediately after her husband’s death at this battle of
Alexandria, with remainder to the heirs, male of the deceased, general.
Baroness Abercromby died in 1821, and was succeeded by her eldest son,
George, a barrister at law, first baron. On his death in 1843, Colonel
George Ralph Abercromby, his son, born in 1800, became second baron. Sir
Ralph Abercromby, born in 1838, became third baron. See ABERCROMBY, Sir
eminent physician, and moral and religious writer, was born in Aberdeen,
12th October, 1780. His father was minister of the East church of that
city. After having completed his literary edtication in his native city,
he was sent to the university of Edinburgh, to prosecute his studies for
the medical profession. The celebrated Dr. Alexander Monro was at that
time professor of anatomy and surgery there and the subject of this memoir
attended his lectures.
In 1803, being then
twenty-three years of age, Dr. Abercrombie began
to practise as a physician in Edinburgh. He soon acquired a high
reputation, and became extensively known to his professional brethren
through the medium of his contributions to the ‘Medical and Surgical
Journal.’ On the death of the celebrated Dr. Gregory in 1821, Dr.
Abercrombie at once took his place as a consulting physician. He was also
named physician to the king for Scotland, an appointment which, though
merely honorary and nominal, is usually conferred on the physician of
greatest eminence at the time of a vacancy. He subsequently held, till his
death, the office of physician to George Heriot’s Hospital. In 1828, he
published a treatise on the ‘Diseases of the Brain and Nervous System,’
and soon after an essay on those of the ‘Abdominal Organs,’ both of which
rank high among professional publications. In 1830 he appeared as an
author in a branch of literature entirely different, and one involving the
treatment of subjects in the highest department of philosophy and
metaphysical speculation, having published in that year his able work, in
8 volumes, on the ‘Intellectual Powers.’
1833 he produced a work of a similar kind, on ‘The Philosophy of the Moral
Feelings,’ also in 8vo. In 1832, during the prevalence of the cholera, he
had published a medical tract entitled ‘Suggestions on the Character and
Treatment of Malignant Cholera.’ in 1834 he published a pamphlet entitled
‘Observations on the Moral Condition of the Lower Orders in Edinburgh.’
The same year appeared an address delivered by him at the Fiftieth
Anniversary of the Destitute Sick Society, Edinburgh. He was also the
author of Essays on the ‘Elements of Sacred Truth,’ and on the ‘Harmony of
Christian Faith and Character;’ besides other writings which have been
comprised in a small volume entitled ‘Essays and Tracts.’ Of writings so
well known, and so very highly esteemed, as proved by a circulation
extending, as it did in some, even to an eighteenth edition, it were
useless to speak in praise either of their literary or far higher merits.
But, distinguished as he was, both professionally and as a
writer in the highest departments of philosophy, it was not
exclusively to his great fame in either respect, or in both, that he owed
his wide influence throughout the community in which he lived. His name
ever stood associated with the guidance of every important enterprise,
whether religious or benevolent,—somehow he provided leisure to bestow the
patronage of his attendance and his deliberative wisdom on many of the
institutions of Edinburgh, and, with a munificence which has been rarely
equalled, ministered of his substance to the upholding of them all. He
valued money so little, that he often declined to receive it, even when
the offerer urged it, as most justly his own. His diligence and
application were so great that whoever entered his study found him intent
at work. Did they see him travelling in his carriage, they could perceive
he was busy there. (Obituary notice in Witness newspaper.)
the university of Oxford conferred upon him the degree of M.D., which he
had long previously obtained from the university of Edinburgh. In 1835 he
was chosen by the students lord rector of Marischal college, Aberdeen. Dr.
Abercrombie died suddenly at Edinburgh, from rupture of an artery in the
region of the heart, on the 14th of November, 1844. Distinguished alike as
a physician, an author, a benefactor of the poor, and a sincere Christian,
his loss was universally lamented. He was buried in the West Churchyard,
Edinburgh, where a monument with a medallion has been erected to his
memory, the former bearing the following inscription:—"In memory of John
Abercrombie, M.D., Edin. and Oxon., Fellow of the Royal colleges of
Physicians and Surgeons, Edinburgh, Vice-president of the Royal Society of
Edinburgh, and first Physician to the Queen in Scotland, born xii. Oct.
MDCCLXXX. a life very early devoted to the service of God, occupied in the
most assiduous labours, and distinguished not more by professional
eminence than by personal worth and by successful authorship on the
principles of Christian morals and philosophy, it pleased God to translate
him suddenly to the life everlasting xiv. Nov. MDCCCXLIV." Annexed is a
copy of the medallion, which embodies as true a likeness of Dr.
Abercrombie as stone or wood can convey.
procession at his funeral was one of the largest ever seen in Edinburgh.
It was joined by the members both of the Royal College of Physicians, and
the Royal College of Surgeons, as well as by the Free Church presbytery of
Edinburgh and the commission of the General Assembly of the Free Church,
and by many professional brethren from a distance. Dr. Abercrombie married
in 1808 Agnes, only child of David Wardlaw, Esq., of Netherbeath in
Fifeshire, and had eight daughters, one of whom died at the age of four.
Seven daughters survived him, the eldest of whom became the second wife of
the Rev. John Bruce, minister of Free St. Andrew’s church, Edinburgh, in
whose congregation Dr. Abercrombie was an elder, and who preached his
funeral sermon, which was afterwards published. The estate of Netherbeath
descended to Mrs. Bruce. The following is a list of Dr. Abererombie’s
of the Brain and Nervous System, 8vo, 1828.
Diseases of the Abdominal Organs, 8vo, 1829.
The Intellectual Powers, 8vo, 1830.
Suggestions on the Character and Treatment of Malignant Cholera, 8vo,
The Philosophy of the Moral Feelings, 8vo, 1833.
Observations on the Moral Condition of the Lower Orders in Edinburgh, 8vo,
Address delivered at the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Destitute Sick
Society, Edinburgh, 1835.
Mental Culture, 18mo, being the Address delivered to the students of
Marischal College when he was elected Lord Rector of that university,
The Harmony of Scripture Faith and Character, 18mo, 1836.
Think on these Things, 18mo, 1839.
Messiah our Example, 18mo, 1841.
The Contest and the Armour, 18mo, 1841.
The Elements of Sacred Truth, 18mo, 1844.
and Tracts, including the two last works and some other writings on
similar subjects, 8 volumes, 1844, 1847.
conjectured by Dempster, in his Hist. Eccl. Scot., to have been a
Benedictine monk, was the author of two energetic treatises in defence of
the Church of Rome against the principles of the Reformers, entitled
‘Veritatis Defenslo,’ and ‘Haeresis Confusio.’ He flourished about the
middle of the sixteenth century.
physician and historian, third son of Alexander Abercrombie of Fetterneir,
Aberdeenshire, a branch of the Birkenbog family of that name, was born at
Forfar in 1656, and took his medical degrees at St. Andrews in 1685. His
elder brother, Francis Abererombie of Fetterneir, on his marriage with
Anna, Baroness Sempill, was, in July 1685, created by James VII. Lord
Glassford, under the singular restriction of being limited for his own
life. After leaving the university, Patrick travelled on the continent,
and on his return to England, embracing the Roman Catholic religion, he
was appointed physician to James VII.; but at the Revolution was deprived
of his office, and for some years lived abroad. Returning to his native
country, he afterwards devoted himself to the study of national
antiquities. In 1707 he gave to the world a translation of M. Beauge’s
rare French work, ‘L’Histoire de Ia Guerre d’Ecosse,’ 1556, under the
title of ‘The Campaigns in Scotland in 1548 and 1549,’ which was reprinted
in the original by Mr. Smythe of Methveu for the Bannatyne Club, in 1829,
with a preface containing an account of Abercrombie’s translation. His
great work, however, is ‘The Martial Achievements of the Scots nation, and
of such Scotsmen as have signalized themselves by the Sword’ in two
volumes folio, the first published in 1711, and the second in 1715. He
also wrote the ‘Memoirs of the family of Abercrombie.’ Dr. Abercrombie
died in poor circumstances in 1716; some authorities say 1720, and others
1726. The following is a list of his works.
The Advantages of the Act of Security, compared with those of the intended
Union; founded On the Revolution Principles, published by Mr. Daniel De
Foe. Edin. 1707, 4vo.
Vindication of the same, against Mr. De Foe. Edin. 1707, 4vo.
The History of the Campaigns 1548 and 1549, between the Scots and the
French on the one side, and the English and their foreign auxiliaries on
the other. From the French of Beauge, with a Preface, showing the
Advantages which Scotland received by the Ancient League with France, and
the mutual assistance given by each kingdom to the other. Edin. 1707, 8vo.
The Martial Achievements of the Scots nation, being an Account of the
Lives, Characters, and Memorable Actions of such Scotsmen as have
signalized themselves by the Sword, at home and abroad. Edin. 1711—1715. 2
an eminent horticulturist; and author of several horticultural works, was
the son of a respectabie gardener near Edinburgh, where he was born about
the year 1726. In his eighteenth year he went to London, and obtained
employment in the royal gardens. His first work, ‘The Gardener’s
Calendar,’ was published as the production of Mr. Mawe, gardener to the
duke of Leeds, who received twenty guineas for the use of his name, which
was then well known. The success of that work was so complete, that
Abercrombie put his own name to all his future publications; among which
may be mentioned,
Universal Dictionary of Gardening and Botany,’ 4vo, ‘The Gardener’s Vade
Mecum,’ and other popular productions. He died at Somerstown, London, in
1806, aged 80. A list of his works is subjoined.
Universal Gardener and Botanist, or a General Dictionary of Gardening and
Botany, exhibiting, in Botanical Arrangement, according to the Linnnaean
system, every Tree, Shrub, and Herbaceous Plant that merit Culture, &c.
Lond. 1778, 4th.
Garden Mushroom, its Nature and Cultivation, exhibiting full and plain
directions for producing this desirable plant in perfection and plenty.
Lond. 1779, 8vo. New edition enlarged, 1802, 12mo.
British Fruit Garden, and Art of Pruning; comprising the most approved
Methods of Planting and raising every useful Fruit Tree and Fruit-bearing
Shrub. - Lond. 1779, 8vo.
Complete Forcing Gardener, for the thorough Practical Management of the
Kitchen Garden, raising all early crops in Hot-beds, and forcing early
Fruit, &c. Lond. 1781, 12mo.
The Complete-Wall-tree-Pruner, &c. Lond.- 1788, 12mo.
Propagation and Botanical Arrangement of Plants and Trees, useful and
ornamental. Lond. 1785, 2 vols. 12mo.
Gardener’s Pocket Dictionary, or a Systematical Arrangernent of Trees,
Herbs, Flowers, and Fruits, agreeable to the Linnaean Method, with their
Latin and English names, their Uses, Propagation, Culture, &c. Lond. 1786,
3 vols. 12mo.
Assistant in the Modern Practice of English Gardening for every Month in
the Year, on an entire new plan. Lond. 1789, 12mo.
Universal Gardener’s Kalendar, and System of Practical Gardening; Lond.
1789, 12mo; 1808, 8vo.
The Complete Kitchen Gardener and Hot—bed Forcer, with the thorough
Practical Management of Hot-houses, Firewalls, &c. Lond. 1789, 12mo.
Gardener’s Vade-mecum, or Companion of General Gardening; a Descriptive
Display of the Plants, Flowers, Shrubs, Trees, Fruits, and general
Culture. Lond. 1789, 8vo.
Hot-house Gardener, or the general Culture of the Pine Apple, and the
Methods of forcing early Grapes, Peaches, Nectarines, and other choice
Fruits in Hot—houses, Yin— cries, Fruit —houses, Hot—walls, with
Directions for raising Melons and early Strawberries, &c. Plates. Lond.
Gardener’s Pocket Journal and Annual Register, in a concise Monthly
Display of all Practical Works of General Gardening throughout the year.
Lond. 1791, 12mo; 1814, 12mo.
It has been already stated, in giving the origin of the name, (see page
1,) that in the 17th century, Abercromby of Birkenbog in Banffshire,
became the chief of the name of Abercromby. Alexander Abercromby of
Birkenbog was grand falconer in Scotland to King Charles I. In 1636 his
eldest son, Alexander, was created a baronet of Nova Scotia, and took an
active part against King Charles in the civil wars of that period. From
the pedigree of the family it appears that Sir Alexander Abercromby of
Birkenbog, the, first baronet, had two sons. The eldest; James, succeeded
his father. Alexander, the second son, succeeded his cousin George
Abercromby of Skeith, in the estate of Tullibody, in Clackmannanshire,
formerly a possession of the earls of Stirling. This Alexander was the
grandfather of, the celebrated military commander, Sir Ralph Abercromby,
and the second of the name of Abercromby who possessed Tullibody. The most
eminent of this family were General Sir Ralph Abercromby; and his two
brothers, Alexander, Lord Abereromby, a judge of the court of session; and
General Sir Robert Aberàromby, K.C.B.; of all three notices are here
ABERCROMBY, SIR RALPH, K.B.,
general, was the eldest son of George Abercromby, of Tullibody, in
Clackmannanshire, by Mary, daughter of Ralph Dundas, Esq. of Manor. His
father was born in 1705, passed advocats in 1728, and died June 8, 1800,
at the advanced age of ninety-five, being the oldest member of the college
of justice. . He was one of the early patrons of David Allan, the
celebrated painter, by whose aid, as mentioned in the life of that artist,
the latter was enabled to proceed to Rome and to prosecute his studies
there for sixteen years.
His son Ralph was born on the 7th of October, 1734, in the old mansion of
Menstrie, then the ordinary residence of his parents, near the village of
that name which, lies at the southern base of the Ochil hills, on the
boundary between the parish of Alloa in Clackmannanshire, and the
Perthshire part of the parish of Logie. The day of his birth has not been
inserted in the session books of the parish of Logie, but the following is
an extract from the register of his baptism: "A. D. 1734, October 26th,
Bap. Ralph, lawful son to George Abercromby, younger of Tullibody, and
Mary Dundas his lady."
Menstrie house, in which he was born, possesses a double interest from its
having been, in the beginning of the seventeenth century, the property and
residence of Sir William Alexander, the poet, afterwards created earl of
Stirling. Although not now inhabited by any of the Abercromby family, it
is still entire, and is pointed out to strangers as the birthplace of Sir
Ralph Abercromby. A woodcut representation of it is here given.
After the usual course of study, young Abercromby entered the army in
1756, as a cornet in the 3d regiment of dragoon guards. His commission is
dated 23d March of that year. In February 1760 he obtained a lieutenancy
in the same regiment; in April 1762 he was promoted to a company in the 3d
regiment of horse. In 1770 he became major, and in 1773,
lieutenant-colonel. In 1780 he was included in the list of brevet
colonels, and in 1781 he was appointed colonel of the 103d, or King’s
Irish infantry. This newly raised regiment was reduced at the peace in
1783, when Colonel Abercromby was placed on half-pay. In September 1787 he
became major-general.. In 1788, in which year he resided in George’s
Square, Edinburgh, he obtained the command of the 69th regiment of foot.
He was afterwards removed to the 6th. regiment, from that to the 5th, and
in November 1797 to the 7th regiment of dragoons.
He first served in the seven years’ war, and acquired great knowledge and
military experience in that service, before he had an opportunity of
distinguishing himself, which afterwards, when the opportunity came,
enabled him to be the first British general to give a check to the French
in the first revolutionary war. He has often been confounded with the
General Abercrombie who commanded the troops against the French at Crown
Point and Ticonderoga in America in 1758, but Sir Ralph at that period was
only a cornet of dragoons, and notwithstanding the mistake into which some
of his biographers have fallen, it is certain that he never was in
In the year 1774, when lieutenant-colonel, he had been elected member of
parliament for Clackmannanshire, which county he continued to represent
till the next election in 1780, but never made any figure in parliament.
On the commencement of the war with France in 1792, he was employed in
Flanders and Holland, with the local rank of lieutenant-general,
and in the campaigns of 1793 and 1794 he served under the duke of York,
when he gave many proofs of his skill, vigilance, and intrepidity. He
commanded the advanced guard during the action on the heights of Cateau,
April 16, 1794. On this occasion he captured 85 pieces of cannon, and took
prisoner Chapny the French general. In the despatches of the duke of York
his ability and courage were twice mentIoned with special commendation.
In the succeeding October he received a wound at Nimeguen, and upon him
and General Dundas devolved the arduous duty of conducting the retreat
through Holland in the severe winter which followed. It has been remarked
that the talents, as well as the temper, of a commander are put to as
severe a test in conducting a retreat as in achieving a victory.
This was well illustrated in the case of General Abercromby. The guards
and the sick were committed to his care; and in the disastrous march from
Deventer to Oldensaal the hardships sustained by those under his charge
were such as the most consummate skill and judgment were almost inadequate
to alleviate, while the feelings experienced by the commander himself were
painful in the extreme. Harassed in the rear by a victorious enemy,
upwards of fifty thousand strong, obliged to conduct his troops with a
rapidity beyond their strength, through bad roads, in the most inclement
part of a winter more than usually severe,—the sick being placed in open
waggons, as, no others could be procured,— and finding it impossible to
procure shelter for his soldiers in the midst of the drifting snow and
heavy falls of sleet and rain, the anguish he felt at seeing their numbers
daily diminishing from the effects of cold, fatigue, and hunger, can
scarcely be described. About the end of March 1795, the British army,
which during the retreat had sometimes to halt, face and fight the enemy,
arrived at Bremen in a very reduced state, and thence embarked for
England. The judgment, patience, humanity, and perseverance shown by
General Abercromby in this calamitous retreat were equal to the occasion,
and received due acknowledgment.
In the autumn of 1795 General Abercromby was appointed, to succeed Sir
Charles Grey, as commander-in-chief of the troops employed against the
French in the West Indies. Previous to his arrival, the French
revolutionary army had made considerable exertions to recover their losses
in that quarter. They retook the islands of Guadaloupe and, St. Lucia,
made good their landing on Martinique, and hoisted the tricolour on
several forts in the islands of St. Vincent, Grenada, and Marie Galaute;
besides seizing the property of the rich emigrants who had fled thither
from France, to the amount of 1,800 millions of livres.
The expedition under General Abercromby was unfortunately prevented from
sailing until after the equinox, and several transports were lost in
endeavouring to clear the Channel. 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. A detachment of the army under Sir John Moore,
was sent against the island of St. Lucia, which was speedily captured,
though the attack on this island was attended with peculiar difficulties
from the intricate nature of the country. A new road was made for the
heavy cannon, and on the 26th of May 1796, the garrison surrendered. St.
Vincent was next subdued; and thence the commander-in-chief proceeded to
Grenada, where the fierce and enterprising Fedon was at the head of a body
of insurgents prepared to oppose the British. After the arrival of General
Abercromby, however, hostilities were speedily brought to a termination;
and on the 19th of June, full possession was obtained of every post in the
island, and the haughty chief Fedon, with his troops, was reduced to
unconditional submission. The British also became masters of the Dutch
colonies on the coast of Guiana, namely Demerara, Essequibo, and Berbice.
Early in the following year (1797) the general sailed, with a considerable
fleet of ships of war and transports, against the Spanish island of
Trinidad, and on the 16th of February approached the fortifications of
Gaspar Grande, under cover of which a Spanish squadron, consisting of four
sail of the line and a frigate, were found lying at anchor. On perceiving
the approach of the British, the Spanish fleet retired farther into the
bay. General Abercromby made arrangements for attacking the town and ships
of war early in the following morning. Dreading the impending conflict,
the Spaniards set fire to their own ships, and retired to a different part
of the island. On the following day the British troops landed, and soon
after the whole colony submitted to General Abercromby.
After an unsuccessful attack on the Spanish island of Puerto Rico, the
general returned to England the same year (1797) and was received with
every demonstration of public respect and honour. In his absence he had
been made a knight of the Bath and presented to the colonelcy of tbe Scots
Greys. On his return he was appointed governor of the Isle of Wight, and
was afterwards invested with the lucrative governments of Forts George and
Augustus. The same year he was raised to the rank of lieutenant-general,
which he had hitherto held only locally.
In 1798 Sir Ralph was appointed commander-in-chief of the forces in
Ireland, where the insurrectionary spirit, inflamed by promises of
assistance from France, was every day assuming a more serious form and
threatening to break out into open rebellion. Soon after his arrival,
finding that the disorderly conduct of some of the British troops had but
too much tended to increase the spirit of insubordination and discontent
that prevailed, he issued a proclamation, in which he lamented and
reproved the excesses and irregularities into which they had fallen, and
which, to use his own words, "had rendered them more formidable to their
friends than to their enemies," and declared his firm determination to
punish, with exemplary severity, any similar outrage of which they might
be guilty in future. He did not long retain his command in Ireland. The
inconveniences arising from the delegation of the highest civil and
military authority to different persons, had been felt to occasion much
perplexity and confusion in the management of public affairs, at that
season of agitation and alarm, and finding the service, under such
circumstances, disagreeable, Sir Ralph resigned the command, and the
Marquis Cornwallis, on becoming lord-lieutenant of Ireland, was appointed
Sir Ralph was next nominated commander-in-chief of the forces in Scotland;
and for a short interval, the cares of his military duties were agreeably
blended with the endearments of his kindred and the society of his early
friends. During his residence in Edinburgh at this time, the military
spirit that generally prevailed rendered the occurrence of reviews
extremely popular among the inhabitants. The accompanying woodcut
represents Sir Ralph in the act of giving the word of command to the
It was at this period that the Lochiel Highlanders were inspected at
Falkirk by General Vyse, one of the major-generals of the staff in
Scotland, under Sir Ralph Abercromby, who was present at the inspection.
Cameron, the chief of Lochiel, married Sir Ralph’s eldest daughter Anne.
The regiment was ostensibly composed of Camerons, but there were enrolled
it its ranks, not only lowlanders, but even Englishmen and Irishmen. Some
laughable attempts at fraud in endeavouring to pass inspection are
related, but unless actually disabled, few objections were made, although
Scotsmen in general found a preference. "Where are you from?" said General
Vyse to a strange-looking fellow, who was evidently an Irishman, although
he endeavoured to make believe that he was Scotch. "From Falkirk, yir
honour, this morning," was the ready answer. His language betraying him,
the general demanded to know how he came over. "Sure I didn’t come in a
wheelbarrow !" The rising choler of the inspecting officer was speedily
soothed by the milder tact of Sir Ralph, who, seeing the man a fit
recruit, laughed heartily, and he was passed.
On this occasion Sir Ralph, during his stay in Falkirk, took up his
residence with the son of his late father’s gardener at Tullibody, Mr.
James Walker, a merchant in the town, and long known for his agricultural
skill, as "the Stirlingshire Farmer." Sir Ralph delighted, after dinner,
to recall the incidents of their boyhood, when he and Mr. Walker, with
their brothers, were at school together. He had previously shown the
attachment of former days to a younger brother of Mr. Walker, during the
struggle for liberty between America and the mother country. These kindly
and benevolent traits, it has been well remarked, easily explain why Sir
Ralph Abercromby was personally so dear to all who knew him.—(Kay’s
In the autumn of 1799 he was selected to take the chief command of the
expedition sent out to Holland, for the purpose of restoring the prince of
Orange to the stadtholdership, from which he had been driven by the
French. In this expedition the British were at the outset successful. On
the 27th of August the British troops disembarked near the Helder point,
but were almost immediately attacked by General Daendells; after a
contest, which lasted from day - dawn till about five in the afternoon,
the Dutch were defeated, and retired, leaving the British in possession of
a ridge of sand hills which stretched along the coast from south to north.
Sir Ralph Abercromby resolved to attack the Heldef next morning, but the
enemy withdrew during the night, in consequence of which thirteen ships of
war and three Indiamen, together with the arsenal and naval magazine, fell
into the possession of the British. Admiral Mitchell, who commanded the
British fleet, immediately offered battle to the fleet of the Batavian
republic lying in the Texel, but the Dutch sailors refusing to fight
against those who were combating for the rights of the prince of Orange,
the whole fleet, consisting of twelve. sail of the line, surrendered to
the British admiral. This encouraging event, however, did not put an end
to the struggle.
The mass of the Dutch people held sentiments very different from those of
the sailors, and they refused to receive the British as their deliverers
from the yoke of France. On the morning of the 10th 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. From the want of numbers, however, Sir Ralph
Abercromby was unable to follow up this advantage, until the duke of York
arrived as commander-in-chief with a reinforcement of Russians, Bataviaus,
and Dutch volunteers, which augmented the allied army to nearly thirty-six
thousand men. Sir Ralph now served as second in command.
On the morning of the 19th September the army under the duke of York
commenced an attack on the enemy’s positions on the heights of Camperdown,
which was successful. The Russian troops, under General Hermann, made
themselves masters of Bergen, but beginning to pillage too soon, the enemy
rallied, and attacked them with so much impetuosity that they were driven
from the town in all directions. The British were in consequence compelled
to abandon the positions they had stormed, and to fall back upon their
former station. Another attack was made on the 2d of October. The conflict
lasted the whole day, and 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 last duke of Gordon) who,
at the head of the 92d regiment, eminently distinguished himself, received
a wound from a ball in the shoulder.
The Dutch and French troops had taken up another strong position between
Benerwych and the Zuyder-Zee, from which it was resolved to dislodge them
before they could obtain reinforcements. A day of saligulnary fighting
ensued, which continued without intermission till ten o’clock at night
amid deluges of rain. The French republican general, Brune, having been
reinforced with six thousand additional men, and the ground which he
occupied being found to be impregnable, the duke of York resolved upon a
retreat. A convention was accordingly concluded with General Brune, by
which the British troops were allowed to embark for England.
In June 1800 Sir Ralph was appointed to the command of the troops, then
quartered in the island of Minorca, which had been sent out upon a secret
expedition to the Mediterranean. On the 22d of that month he arrived at
Minorca, and on the 23d the troops were embarked, and sailed for Leghorn.
They arrived there on the 9th of July, but in consequence of an armistice
having been concluded between the French and the Austrians, they did not
land there; but while part of the troops proceeded to Malta, the remainder
returned to Minorca. On the 26th of July Sir Ralph arrived again at that
island, where he remained till the 30th of August, when the troops were
again embarked; and on the 14th September the fleet, which consisted of
upwards of two hundred sail, under the command of Admiral Lord Keith,
came to anchor off Europa point in the bay of Gibraltar. After taking in
water at Teutan, the fleet, on the 3d of October, arrived off Cadiz, where
it was intended to disembark the troops, and orders were accordingly
issued for the purpose, but a flag of truce was sent from the shore, and
some negotiations took place between the commanders, in consequence of
which the orders for landing were countermanded.
After thus threatening Cadiz, and sailing about apparently without any
distinct destination, orders were at last received from England, for part
of the troops to proceed to Portugal, and the remainder to Malta, where
they arrived about the middle of November. The latter portion afterwards
formed part of the forces employed in the expedition to Egypt, with the
view of driving the French out of that country. The sailing backwards and
forwards of the fleet for so many months, seemingly without any definite
aim, so far from being indicative of want of design or weakness in the
councils of the government at home, as was believed and said at the time,
was no doubt intended to deceive the French as to the real object and
destination of the expedition.
From Malta the fleet, with Sir Ralph Abercromby and the troops on hoard,
sailed on the 20th December, taking with them 500 Maltese recruits,
designed to act as pioneers. On the 1st of January 1801, it rendezvoused
in the bay of Marmorice, on the coast of Caramania, where it remained till
the 23d of February, on which day, to the number of 175 sail, it weighed
anchor again; and on the 1st of March, it came in sight of the coast of
Egypt. On the following morning the fleet anchored in Aboukir bay, in the
very place where, a few years before, Admiral Nelson had added so signally
to the naval triumphs of Great Britain.
This was undoubtedly the most glorious period of Sir Ralph Abercromby’s
career. "All minds," says a contemporary historian, "were now anxiously
directed towards Egypt. It was a novel and interesting spectacle to
contemplate the two most powerful nations of Europe contending in Africa
for the possession of Asia. Not only to England and France, bat the whole
civilized world, the issue of this contest was of the utmost importance.
With respect to England, the difficulties to be surmounted were
proportioned to the magnitude of the object. The vizier, with his usual
irresolution, yet debated on the propriety of co-operation, while the
captain bashaw, who was at Constantinople, with part of his fleet,
inclined to treat with the enemy.
The English taking the unpopular side, that of the government, still less
was to be hoped from the countenance and support of the people, whom the
French had long flattered with the idea of freedom and independence. It
remained, also, to justify the breach of faith so speciously attributed to
this nation in the treaty of El Arish. These were serious obstacles to the
progress of the expedition in Egypt; but they were not the only obstacles.
- The expedition had to contend with an army habituated to the country,
respected at least, if not beloved, by the inhabitants, and flushed with
reputation and success; an army inured to danger; aware of the importance
of Egypt to their government; determined to defend the possession of it;
and encouraged in this determination, no less by the assurance of speedily
receiving effectual succours, than by the promise of reward, and the love
The violence of the wind, from the 1st to the 7th of March, rendered a
landing impracticable; but the weather becoming calmer on the 7th, that
day was spent in reconnoitring the shore; a service in which Sir Sidney
Smith displayed great skill and activity.
In the meantime Bonaparte had sent naval and military reinforcements from
Europe, and the delay in the disembarkation of the British troops caused
by the state of the weather, enabled the French to make all necessary
preparations to receive them. Two thousand five hundred of the latter were
strongly intrenched on the sand hills near the shore, and formed, in a
concave figure, opposite the British ships. The main body of the French
army was stationed at and near Alexandria, within a few miles. At two
o’clock. on the morning of the 8th, the British troops began to assemble
in the boats, their fire-locks between their knees. A rocket from the
admiral’s ship gave the signal; and when all was ready, the boats, con
taining five thousand men, pulled in towards the shore, a distance of
about five miles. The silence was broken only by the sullen dip of the
oars. As soon as the boats came within reach, a most tremendous fire was
opened upon them from fifteen pieces of artillery placed on the ridge of
sand hills in front, besides the guns of Aboukir castle and the musketry
of 2,500 men. These completely swept the sea, and the falling of the balls
and shot is compared, by a contemporary writer, to the falling of a
violent hail-storm on the water. Two boats were sunk with all on board of
them. Each man had belts loaded with three days’ provisions, and a
cartouch-box with sixty rounds of ball cartridge.
It was nine o’clock when the rest reached land; and the French, who had
poured down in thousands to the beach, and even attacked the British in
the boats, were ready to receive them at the bayonet’s point. It was now
that their commander reaped the advantage of his precautionary discipline.
While anchored in the bay of Marmorice, he had caused the troops to
practise all the manmoevres of landing; so that, disembarkation having
become familiar to them, on reaching the shore, they leaped from the
boats, formed into line, mounted the heights, in the face of the enemy’s
fire, without returning a shot, charged with the bayonet the enemy
stationed on the summit, put them to flight, and seized their cannon. In
this service the 23d and 40th regiments, which first reached the shore,
particularly distinguished themselves; while the seamen, harnessing
themselves to the field artillery with ropes, drew them on shore, and
replied to the incessant roar of the hostile cannon with repeated and
In vain did the enemy endeavour to rally his troops; in vain did a body of
cavalry charge suddenly on the guards at the moment of their debarkation.
The French gave way at all points, maintaining, as they retreated, a
scattered and inefficient fire. The boats returned to the ships for the
remaining part of the army, and before noon the landing was effected. It
not being deemed expedient, however, to bring on shore the camp stores;
the commander-in-chief and the troops, after having advanced three miles
into the country, alike slept in huts made of the date-tree branches.
day the troops were employed in searching for water, in which they happily
succeeded; and the castle of Aboukir refusing to surrender, two regiments
were ordered to blockade it. On the 13th, Sir Ralph, desirous of forcing
the heights near Alexandria, on which a body of French, amounting to 6,000
men, was posted, marched his army to the attack.
After a severe contest, the French were compelled to retire to the heights
of Necopolis, which formed the principal defence of Alexandria. Anxious to
follow up the victory, by driving the enemy from his new position, Sir
Ralph ordered forward the reserve under Sir John Moore, and the second
line under General Hutchinson, to attack the heights, which were found to
be commanded by the guns of the fort. As they advanced into the open
plain, they were exposed to a most destructive fire, from which they had
no shelter; and having ascertained that the heights, if taken, could not
be retained, the attempt was abandoned, and the British army retired, with
considerable loss, to the position which was soon to be the theatre of Sir
Ralph’s last victory;—that, namely, from which the enemy had been driven,
comprising a front of more than half-a-mile in extent, with their right to
the sea, and their left to the canal of Alexandria and Lake Maadie,
thus cutting off all communication with the city, except by- way of the
desert. The loss of the British, on that unfortunate day, in killed and
wounded, was upwards of 1,000, and General Abercromby himself, on this
occasion, had a very narrow escape. His horse being shot under him, he
became surrounded by the enemy’s cavalry, and was rescued only by the
devoted intrepidity of the 19th regiment. After the 13th, Aboukir castle,
which had hitherto been only blockaded, was besieged, and on the 18th the
garrison surrendered. The annexed woodcut represents the general viewing
the army encamped on the plains of Egypt, a short time before his lamented
death. It is very characteristic of him, and though the glass at his eye
may indicate that age had begun to affect his sight, the erectness of his
figure shows that, notwithstanding his long and active career, advancing
years and the hard services in which he had been engaged, had left their
traces but lightly on his frame.
The French commander-in-chief, General Menon, having arrived from Cairo,
with a reinforcement of 9,000 men, early on the morning of the 21st of
March, was fought the decisive battle of Alexandria, in which, after a
sanguinary aad protracted struggle, the British were victorious, General
Menon being obliged to retreat with a loss of between three and four
thousand men, including many officers, and three generals killed. The loss
of the British was also heavy, and this was the last field of the victor,
for here Sir Ralph Abercromby received his death-wound.
to surprise the British, the French commander attacked their position
between three and four o’clock in the morning, with his whole force,
amounting to about twelve thousand men. The action was commenced by a
feigned attack on the left, while the main strength of the enemy was
directed against the right wing. of the British army. They advanced in
columns, shouting "Vive la France!" "Vive Ia Republique!" but they were
received with steady coolness by the British troops, who, warned the
previous evening, by an Arab chief, of the intentions of the French
general, were in battle array by three o’clock, and prepared to receive
the onset of the enemy. The contest continued with various success until
eight o’clock, when General Menou, finding that all his efforts were
fruitless, ordered a retreat, and from the want of cavalry on the part of
the British, the French effected their escape to Alexandria, in good
On the first alarm, Sir Ralph Abercromby, blending the coolness and
experience of age with the ardour and activity of youth, repaired on
horseback to the right, and exposed himself to all the dangers of the
field. During the battle he rode about in all parts, cheering and
animating his men, and while it was still dark he got among the enemy, who
had already broken the front line and fallen into the rear. Unable to
distinguish the French soldiers from his own, he was only extricated from
his dangerous situation by the valour of his troops. To the first British
soldier who came up to him he said, "Soldier! if you know me, don’t name
me." Soon after, two French dragoons rode furiously at him, and attempted
to lead him away prisoner. Sir Ralph, however, would not yield; one of his
assailants made a thrust at his breast, and passed his sword with great
force under the general’s arm. Although severely bruised by a blow from
the sword-guard, Sir Ralph, with the vigour and strength of arm for which
he was distinguished, seized the Frenchman’s weapon, and after a short
struggle, wrested it from his hand, and turned to oppose his remaining
adversary, who, at that instant, was shot dead by a corporal of the 42d,
who had witnessed the danger of his commander, and ran up to his
assistance; on which the other dragoon retired.
Although Sir Ralph, early in the action, had been
wounded in the thigh by a musket ball, he treated the wound as a trifle,
and continued to move about, and give his orders with his characteristic
promptitude and clearness. On the retreat of the enemy he fainted from
pain and the loss of blood. His magnanimous conduct, both during the
battle and after it, is thus detailed by the late General David Stewart,
of Garth, who was an eye-witness to it. After describing Sir Ralph’s
rencontre with the French dragoons, he continues: "Some time after the
general attempted to alight from his horse; a soldier of the Highlanders,
seeing that he had some difficulty in dismounting, assisted him, and asked
if he should follow him with the horse. He answered, that he would not
require him any more that day. While all this was passing, no officer was
near. him. The first officer he met was Sir Sidney Smith; and observing
that his sword was broken, the general presented him with the trophy he
had gained. He betrayed no symptom of personal pain, nor relaxed a moment
the intense interest he took in the state of the field; nor was it
perceived that he was wounded, till he was joined by some of the staff,
who observed the blood trickling down his thigh.
Even during the interval from the time of his being wounded, and the last
charge of cavalry, he walked with a firm and steady step along the line of
the Highlanders and General Stuart’s brigade, to the position of the
guards in the centre of the line, where, from its elevated situation, be
had a full view of the whole field of battle. Here he remained, regardless
of the wound, giving his orders so much in his usual manner, that the
officers who came to receive them perceived nothing that indicated either
pain or anxiety. These officers afterwards could not sufficiently express
their astonishment, when they came to learn the state in which he was, and
the pain which he must have suffered from the nature of his wound. A
musket ball had entered his groin, and lodged deep in the hip joint; the
ball was even so firmly fixed in the hip joint that it required
considerable force to extract it after his death. My respectable friend,
Dr. Alexander Robertson, the surgeon who attended him, assured me that
nothing could exceed his surprise and admiration at the calmness of his
heroic patient. With a wound in such a part, connected with and bearing on
every part of his body, it is a matter of surprise how he could move at
all, and nothing but the most intense interest in the fate of his army,
the issue of the battle, and the honour of the British name, could have
inspired and sustained such resolution. As soon as the impulse ceased in
the assurance of victory, he yielded to exhausted nature, acknowledged
that he required some rest, and lay down on a little sand hill close to
From the field of victory he was removed on a litter, feeble and faint, on
board the admiral’s flag ship, ‘the Foudroyant,’ where every effort was
made by the medical gentlemen of the fleet and the army to extract the
ball, but without effect. During a week that he lingered in great bodily
suffering, he continued to exercise the same vigilance over the condition
and prospects of his army as he had manifested while at its head. His son,
Lieutenant-colonel Abercromby, attended him from day to day, and regularly
received his instructions, as if no serious accident had befallen him.
Throughout the evening of the 27th; he became more than usually restless,
and complained of excessive languor, and an increased degree of thirst;
next day mortification supervened, and in the evening he expired; thus
closing his glorious career, on the 28th March 1801, in the 68th year of
In the despatches sent home with an account of his death by General
(afterwards Lord) Hutchinson, who succeeded him in the command, the latter
says: "We have sustained an irreparable loss in the person of our
never-sufficiently-to-be-lamented commander-in-chief, Sir Ralph
Abercromby, who was mortally wounded in the action, and died on the 28th
of March. I believe he was wounded early, but he concealed his situation
from those about him, and continued in the field giving his orders with
that coolness and perspicuity which had ever marked his character, till
long after the action was over, when he fainted through weakness and loss
of blood. Were it permitted for a soldier to regret any one who has fallen
in the service of his country, I might be excused for lamenting him more
than any other person; but it is some consolation to those who tenderly
loved him, that, as his life was honourable, so was his death glorious.
His memory will be recorded in the annals of his country, will be sacred
to every British soldier, and embalmed in the recollection of a grateful
posterity." His remains were conveyed, (in compliance with his own
request,) to Malta, and interred in the Commandery of the Grand Master,
beneath the castle of St. Elmo. A monument was erected to his memory in
St. Paul’s Cathedral, parliament having voted a sum of money for the
purpose. His widow was created Baroness Abercromby of Aboukir and
Tullibody, with remainder to the heirs-male of the deceased general; and,
in support of the dignity, a pension of £2,000 a-year was granted to her,
and to the two next succeeding heirs-male.
Sir Ralph Abercromby possessed, in a high degree, some of the best
qualities of a general, and his coolness, decision, and intrepidity, were
the theme of general praise. As a country gentleman, also, his character
stood very high, being described as "the friend of the destitute poor, the
patron of useful knowledge, and the promoter of education among the
meanest of his cottagers." His studies were of so general a nature that it
is stated in Stirling’s edition of Nimmo’s History of Stirlingshire, that
when called to the continent in 1793, he had been daily attending the
lectures of the late Dr. Hardy, regius professor of church history in the
university of Edinburgh.
To Sir Ralph’s patronage many who would otherwise. have passed their.
lives in obscurity, owed their being placed in situations where they had
opportunities of advancement and distinction; among the rest was the late
Major-general Sir William Morison, K.C.B., one of the many able officers
whom the East India Company’s service has produced. His father, Mr.
Morison of Greenfield, Clackmannanshire, was a land surveyor in Alloa in
the county of Stirling, who was well known to most of the gentlemen in
that neighbourhood, and was in particular employed by Sir Ralph
Abercromby. When Sir Ralph was going abroad on foreign service, he had
occasion to consult Mr. Morison, the father, about one of his farms, and
was particularly pleased with the accuracy and clearness of the plan and
its references, which he submitted to him. On being asked who drew them
up, Mr. Morison told Sir Ralph that it was done by his son, and the
general immediately said that he should like to have the whole of his
estate mapped in the same manner, so that, when away from home, he might
be able, by reference, to correspond about any point that occurred. The
maps were made by young Morison, who waited on Sir Ralph to explain them,
and the veteran general, who was a great judge of character, instantly
perceived the value of the self-taught youth. He made inquiries as to his
views and prospects, and finding that he was anxious to go to India, he
procured for him a cadetship, in the year 1800. From the outset the young
man justified Sir Ralph’s estimate of his abilities, and he so applied his
faculties to military science, that his attainments raised him to a high
rank in the Indian army, and he died 15th May 1851, a major-general in the
East India Company’s service, a knight commander of the Bath, and member
of parliament for Clackmannanshire and Kinross-shire.
Sir Ralph married Mary Anne, daughter of John Menzies, Esq. of Ferntower,
Perthshire, and left four sons, viz. George, passed advocate in 1794, who
succeeded his mother on her death in 1821, as Lord Abercromby, and died in
1843; Sir John, a major-general, and G.C.B., who died unmarried in 1817;
James, a barrister at law, returned, with Francis Jeffrey, Esq.,
(subsequently a lord of session,) as one of the members of parliament for
the city of Edinburgh at the first election under the Reform act,
afterwards Speaker of the House of Commons, created Lord Dunfermline in
1839; and Alexander, a colonel in the army; with three daughters; Anne,
married to Donald Cameron, Esq. of Lochiel; Mary, died unmarried in 1825;
and Catherine, wife of Thomas Buchanan, Esq., in the East India Company’s
service. Lord Dunfermline, the third son, died in 1858, leaving a son,
Ralph, second Lord Dunfermline. (See DUNFERMLINE, Lord, vol. ii. p. 105.)
an eminent lawyer and occasional essayist, was born October 15, 1745. He
was the second son of George Abercromby of Tullibody, and the brother of
Sir Ralph. He received his education at the university of Edinburgh, and
was admitted a member of the faculty of advocates in 1766. He
distinguished himself at the bar, and in 1780, after being sheriff of
Stirlingshire, he became one of the depute-advocates. He was raised to the
bench in May 1792, when he assumed the title of Lord Abercromby; In
December of the same year, he was made a lord of justiciary. He was one of
the originators of the ‘Mirror,’ a periodical published at Edinburgh in
1779 and following year, to which he contributed eleven papers. He also
furnished nine papers to the ‘Lounger,’ a work of a similar kind,
published in 1785 and 1786. He caught a cold, while attending his duty on
the northern circuit in the spring of 1795, from which he never recovered,
and died on the 17th of November of that year, at Exmouth, in Devonshire,
where he had gone on account of his health. A short tribute to his memory
was written by his friend, Henry Mackenzie, for the Royal Society of
Edinburgh.—Haig and Brunton’s Senators of the college of Justice.
ABERCROMBY, SIR ROBERT,
the youngest brother of Sir Ralph Abercromby, was a general in the army, a
knight of the Bath, and at one period the governor of Bombay and
commander-in-chief of the forces in India. He was afterwards for thirty
years governor of the castle of Edinburgh. When the late Mr. Robert
Haldane, the brother of Mr. James Alexander Haldane, determined upon
selling his estates, and devoting himself to the diffusion of the gospel
in India, Sir Robert Abercromby, whose niece Mr. J, A. Haldane had
married, purchased from him his beautiful and romantic estate of Airthrey,
in Stirlingshire, and was succeeded by his nephew, Lord Abercromby, the
son of his elder brother, Sir Ralph. Sir Robert died in 1827.