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Major-General Sir Thomas Munro


Major-General Sir Thomas Munro MUNRO, (MAJOR-GENERAL, SIR) THOMAS, bart. and K.C.B., a celebrated civil and military officer in the service of the East India Company, was the son of Mr Alexander Munro, an eminent merchant in Glasgow, where the subject of this memoir was born on the 27th May, 1761. His mother, whose name was Stark, was descended of the Starks of Killermont, and was sister to Dr William Stark, the distinguished anatomist. After going through the usual routine of juvenile education, including the established term of attendance at the grammar school, young Munro was entered a student in the university of his native city, in the thirteenth year of his age. Here he studied mathematics under professor Williamson, and chemistry with the celebrated Dr Irvine; and in both sciences made a progress which excited the admiration of his teachers.

While at school, he was distinguished for a singular openness of temper, a mild and generous disposition, with great personal courage and presence of mind. Being naturally of a robust frame of body, he excelled all his school-fellows in athletic exercises, and was particularly eminent as a boxer; but, with all that nobleness of nature which was peculiar to him, and which so much distinguished him in after-life, he never made an improper or unfair use of his superior dexterity in the pugilistic art. He studiously avoided quarrels, and never struck a blow, except under circumstances of great provocation. Neither did he ever presume so far on the formidable talent which he possessed, as to conduct himself with the slightest degree of insolence towards his companions, although none of them could stand an instant before him in single combat. These qualities secured him at once the respect and esteem of his youthful contemporaries, and on all expeditions and occasions of warfare, procured him the honour of being their leader and military adviser.

Having remained three years at college, he was, at the expiry of that period, placed by his father in the counting-house of Messrs Somerville and Gordon, being designed for the mercantile profession. He was about this time also offered a lieutenancy in a military corps, then raising by the city of Glasgow for the public service; but, though himself strongly disposed to accept this offer, his father objected to it, and, in compliance with the wish of his parent, he declined it. Soon after this, his father’s affairs became embarrassed, when, finding it impossible to establish his son in business as he had originally proposed, he began to think of putting him in a way of pushing his fortune in India; and with this view, procured him the appointment of midshipman on board the East India Company’s ship, Walpole, captain Abercrombie. With this vessel, young Munro sailed from London on the 20th February, 1779. Previously to sailing, his father, who happened to be accidentally in London at the time, procured him a cadetship, through the influence of Mr Laurence Sullivan, one of the directors of the Company.

Mr Munro arrived at Madras, the place of his destination, on the 15th January, 1780. Here he was kindly received by the numerous persons to whom he brought letters of introduction; but kindness of manner, and the hospitality of the table, seem to have been the extent of their patronage. He was left to push his own way, and this, on his first landing, with but very indifferent prospects for the future, and but little present encouragement. Nor were these disheartening circumstances at all ameliorated by the reception he met with from his namesake, Sir Hector Munro, the commander-in-chief. That high functionary told him, "that he would be happy to serve him, but was sorry it was not in his power to do any thing for him."

He was soon after his arrival, however, nailed into active service against the forces of Ryder Ally, and continued thus employed, with scarcely any intermission, for the next four years, when a definitive treaty of peace was entered into with Tippoo Sultan. During this period of warfare, he was present at four battles, and at more than double that number of sieges, assaults, and stormings; in all of which he evinced an intrepidity, presence of mind, and military genius, which early attracted the notice of his superiors, by whom he began to be looked upon as an officer of singular promise.

In February, 1786, he was promoted to a lieutenancy; but no further change took place in his fortunes, till August, 1788, when he was appointed assistant in the intelligence department, under captain Alexander Read, and attached to the head-quarters of the force destined to take possession of the province of Guntow.

During the interval between the first and last periods just named, Mr Munro assiduously employed himself in acquiring the Hindostanee and Persian languages, in which he ultimately made a proficiency which has been attained by but few Europeans. In this interval, too, occurred a correspondence with his parents, in which are certain passages, strikingly illustrative of the generosity of his nature, and which it would be doing an injustice, both to his memory, and to the filial piety of his brother, to pass without notice. In one of these letters, dated Tanjore, 10th November, 1785, addressed to his mother, he says, "Alexander and I have agreed to remit my father 100 a-year between us. If the arrears which lord Macartney detained are paid, I will send 200 in the course of the year 1786." When it is recollected that Mr Munro was yet but a lieutenant, this proof of his benevolence will be fully appreciated. It must also be added, that these remittances were made at a time, too, when he had himself scarcely a chair to sit upon. "I was three years in India," he writes to his sister, "before I was master of any other pillow than a book or a cartridge-pouch; my bed was a piece of canvass, stretched on four cross sticks, whose only ornament was the great coat that I brought from England, which, by a lucky invention, I turned into a blanket in the cold weather, by thrusting my legs into the sleeves, and drawing the skirts over my head."

In the situation of assistant intelligencer, he remained till October, 1790, when, Tippoo having resumed hostilities with the English, he returned to his military duties, by joining the 21st battalion of native infantry, which formed part of the army under the command of colonel Maxwell. Mr Munro remained with the army, sharing in all its dangers and fatigues, and performing the various duties assigned to him with his usual diligence and activity, till the month of April, 1792, when he was appointed to assist Captain Read in the management of the district of Barmhaul. In this employment he continued till March, 1799, having, in the mean time, June 1796, attained the rank of captain; when, on a war with Tippoo again occurring, he joined the army under lieutenant-general Harris, and served in it with his accustomed ability and zeal, until after the siege of Seringapatam and death of Tippoo, when he was appointed to the charge of the civil administration of Canara. This charge was an exceedingly laborious one, and, in almost every respect, an exceedingly unpleasant one; but the circumstance of his appointment to it, was, nevertheless, a very marked proof of the high estimation in which his talents were held by the government, for it was also a charge of great importance; and the authorities did justice to his merits, by believing that there was no individual in India so well qualified to fill the situation as captain Munro. The principal duties of his new appointment were, to introduce and establish the authority of the government; to settle disputes amongst the natives; to punish the retractory; and to watch over the revenues of the district: and from twelve to sixteen hours were daily devoted to this oppressive and harassing routine of business.

Having accomplished all the purposes for which he was sent to Canara, and having established order and tranquillity, where he had found turbulence and violence, Major Munro (for to this rank he was promoted, May 7, 1800) solicited the government to be intrusted with the superintendence of what were called the Ceded Districts; a certain extent of territory, yielded up in perpetuity to the Company by Nizam, in lieu of a monthly subsidy which had been previously exacted from him.

The request of major Munro was not complied with, without much reluctance and hesitation, proceeding from the high value placed upon his services where he was; but it appearing that these would be equally desirable in the situation which he sought, he was removed thither in October, 1800. Here he performed similar important services, both to the country itself and to the Company, as he had done at Canara. Within a few months after his arrival, he cleared the province of numerous bands of marauders, which had previously kept it in a state of constant terror and alarm, and filled it with robbery and murder. He everywhere established order and regularity, and finally succeeded in converting one of the most disorderly provinces in India, into one of the most secure and tranquil districts in the possession of the Company. This, however, was not accomplished without much labour, and many personal privations. He repeatedly traversed the whole extent of territory under his jurisdiction, and for the first four years of his residence in it, never dwelt in a house, being continually in motion from place to place, and on these occasions making his tent his house.

During the time of his services in the Ceded Districts, Mr Munro was promoted, 24th April, 1804, to the rank of lieutenant-colonel.

With that filial affection which forms so remarkable and pleasing a feature in the character of the subject of this memoir, he had regularly increased the allowance to his parents, with the advance of his own fortunes. Indeed, this seems to have been his first care on every occasion of an accession of income. In a letter to his father, dated Kalwapilli, 3rd May, 1801, there occurs this passage: "I have at last heard from Messrs Harington, Burnaby and Cockburn, on the subject of the remittance of a bill for 1000 sterling, to clear your house in the Stockwell. In August, I shall remit the remaining sum due upon the house; and also 200 sterling, in order to augment my annual remittance to 400 sterling. As my mother is so fond of the country, and as a garden would probably contribute to her health, she ought certainly to be under no concern about the trifling expense a country house may occasion, in addition to one in town. I therefore hope that you will draw on Colt for whatever it may cost, and let me know the amount, that I may add it to the 400, which I mean should go entirely to your town expenses; and that you will likewise inform me what other debts you may have besides the mortgage on the house, that I may discharge them, and relieve you at once from the vexation and anxiety to which you have so long been exposed." In a very few years afterwards, we find him making another munificent contribution to the comfort and happiness of his parents, by remitting them 2000 for the purchase of a country house.

Colonel Munro retained his appointment in the Ceded Districts till the year 1807, when he came to the resolution of paying a visit to his native country. With this view, he applied for and obtained permission to resign his situation; and after a few days spent in preparation, embarked, in October in the year above named, at Madras for England, leaving behind him, after a service of seven and twenty years, a reputation for talent, diligence, and exemplary conduct, both as a civil and military officer, which few in the same service had attained, and none surpassed. In the former capacity, he had undertaken and accomplished more than any British functionary had ever done before him; and in the latter, he had displayed a talent for military affairs, which all acknowledged to be of the very highest order.

After an agreeable passage of nearly six months, colonel Munro arrived at Deal on the 5th April, 1808. From Deal he proceeded to London, where he was detained by some pressing business, until the summer was far advanced. He then set out for Scotland, but not without some melancholy forebodings of the changes which he knew so great a lapse of time as seven and twenty years must have effected on the persons and things associated with his earliest and tenderest recollections. These anticipations he found, on his arrival, realized. That mother to whom he was so tenderly attached, and whose comfort and welfare had been a constant object of his solicitude, was no more. She had died about a year previous to his arrival. Two of his brothers were dead also, and many besides of the friends of his youth. The imbecility of age had moreover come upon his only surviving parent, and had effected such a change, as to mar that reciprocity of feeling, which their meeting, after so long a separation, would otherwise have excited.

On his return to Glasgow, colonel Munro revisited all the haunts of his youth, and, particularly, North Woodside, then a romantic spot in the vicinity of the city, where, in his early days, his father had a country residence, to which the family resorted every summer. Here, with all that simple and amiable feeling, peculiar to generous natures, he endeavoured to annihilate the space of time which had elapsed since he had been there a boy, and to recall, with increased force, the sensations of his youth, by bathing in the dam in which he had sported when a boy, and by wandering through the woods where he had spent so many of the careless hours of that happy season. This feeling he even carried so far, as to climb once more a favourite aged tree, which had enjoyed an especial share of his youthful patronage and affection. Every branch was familiar to him; for he had a thousand times nestled amongst them, to enjoy in solitude and quietness the pages of some favourite author.

Colonel Munro now spent a good deal of his time in Edinburgh, where he resumed his favourite study, chemistry, by attending the lectures of Dr Hope, and by perusing such works on the subject as had appeared since he had left Europe. During his residence in Britain, he took a lively interest in the Peninsular war, and was known to be in constant communication with the duke of Wellington, who had become acquainted with him in the East, and who had there learned to appreciate his eminent abilities. About this time, also, he accompanied Sir John Hope to the Scheldt as a volunteer, and was present at the siege of Flushing.

The East India Company’s charter now drawing to a close, and the question of the propriety of its renewal having attracted an extraordinary share of public attention; a parliamentary committee was appointed to inquire into, and hear evidence on the subject, to enable the house to come to a decision regarding it. Many persons connected with India were in consequence examined on the affairs of that country, and amongst the rest the subject of this memoir; and such was the clearness of his evidence, the importance of the information which he gave, the comprehensiveness of his views, and the general talent and judgment which characterized all his statements, that the court of directors immediately placed him at the head of a commission of inquiry which they decided on sending out to India, to remedy those defects and abuses which the evidence now placed before them had brought to light.

Previous to his returning to India, colonel Munro married, 10th March, 1814, Jane Campbell, daughter of Richard Campbell, Esq. of Craigie House, Ayrshire, a lady remarkable for her beauty and accomplishments. This connexion added greatly to colonel Munro’s happiness, and eventually opened up to him a source of domestic felicity which his disposition and temper eminently fitted him to enjoy.

His commission having now been duly made out, and all other preparations for his voyage completed, he embarked, accompanied by his wife and sister-in-law, in the month of May, 1814, at Portsmouth, and after a pleasant passage of eighteen weeks, arrived at Madras on the 16th September.

On his arrival, colonel Munro immediately began to discharge the arduous duties of his new appointment. These embraced a total revision of the internal administration of the Madras territories, and comprehended an amount of labour, in going over reports and decisions, in investigating accounts, in drawing up regulations, and in a thousand other details as numerous as they were complicated, which would have appalled any man of less nerve than him on whose shoulders it had fallen. In this laborious employment he continued till the month of July, 1817, when, a war with the Mabrattas having broken out, he solicited employment in the line of his profession, and was appointed to the command of the reserve of the army under lieutenant-general Sir Thomas Hislop, having been himself previously, 15th June, 1815, promoted to the rank of colonel.

In the campaign which followed the resumption of his military duties, colonel Munro performed a brilliant part. His military reputation, formerly amongst the highest, was now universally acknowledged to be unsurpassed. Lord Hastings complimented him in strains of the warmest panegyric, as well in his official communications as in his private correspondence. Mr Canning passed an eloquent eulogium on his merits in the house of commons. Sir John Malcolm contributed his unqualified commendations of his masterly operations, and the public records of Calcutta were filled with his praise. His name was now, in short, become famous throughout Europe, and he was everywhere looked upon not only as one of the first soldiers of the day, but as a man who possessed talents and abilities which fitted him for attaining eminence equally in a civil as in a military life.

In the campaign which lasted till the beginning of August, 1818, General Munro, (he was promoted to this rank, December 1817,) reduced all the Peishwah’s territories between the Toombuddra and Kistna, and from the Kistna northward to Akloos on the Neemah, and eastward to the Nizam’s frontier. On the conclusion of the campaign, finding his health greatly impaired by the excessive fatigue which he had undergone, he resolved to resign all his commissions, both civil and military, and to retire into private life. In pursuance of this resolution, he tendered his resignations to the marquis of Hastings, who received them with much reluctance; and returned by way of Bengalore, where he met his family, to Madras. Shortly after this, October 1818, he was made a Companion of the Bath, as a testimony of the opinion which was entertained at home of his merits.

General Munro now again turned his thoughts homewards, and, after devoting two months to the arrangement of his affairs, embarked on board the Warren Hastings, with his family, for England, on the 24th January, 1819. During the passage, Mrs Munro was delivered, 30th May, of a boy, who, being born when the ship was in the latitude of the Azores, was baptized by that name. The Warren Hastings having arrived in the Downs, General and Mrs Munro landed at Deal, and proceeded to London, where they remained for a short time, and thereafter set out for Scotland. The former, however, was only a few weeks at home when he received a formal communication from the government, appointing him to the governorship of Madras, and he was soon after, October 1819, promoted to the rank of major-general, and invested, November, 1819, with the insignia of K.C.B.

Although extremely reluctant again to leave his native country, Sir Thomas did not think it advisable to decline the acceptance of the high and honourable appointment now proffered him. Having committed their boy to the charge of lady Munro’s father, Sir Thomas and his lady proceeded to Deal, where they once more embarked for India in December, 1819, and arrived safely at Bombay in the beginning of May in the following year. Here they remained for about a fortnight, when they again took shipping, and on the 8th June reached Madras.

Sir Thomas, immediately on his arrival, entered on the discharge of the important duties of his new appointment with all the zeal and diligence which marked every part of his preceding career. These duties were extremely laborious. From sunrise till eight in the evening, with the exception of an hour or two at dinner, comprising a little out-door recreation after that repast, he was unremittingly employed in attending to, and despatching the public business of his department. With this routine the morning meal was not at all allowed to interfere. The breakfast table was daily spread for thirty persons, that all who came on business at that hour should partake of it, and that the various matters which occasioned their visits might be discussed during its progress without encroaching on the day.

By this rigid economy of time, Sir Thomas was enabled to get through an amount of business which would appear wholly incredible to one who placed less value on it than he did. He wrote almost every paper of any importance connected with his government with his own hand. He read all communications and documents, and examined all plans and statements, with his own eyes, and heard every complaint and representation which was made verbally, with his own ears.

Although Sir Thomas had not thought it advisable to decline the governorship of Madras, he yet came out with every intention of returning again to his native land as soon as circumstances would permit, and in 1823, he addressed a memorial to the court of directors, earnestly requesting to be relieved from his charge. From a difficulty, however, in finding a successor to Sir Thomas, and from the extraordinary efficiency of his services, the court was extremely unwilling to entertain his request, and allowed many months to elapse without making any reply to it. In the mean time the Burmese war took place, and Sir Thomas found that he could not, with honour or propriety, press his suit on the directors. He therefore came to the resolution of remaining at his post to abide the issue of the struggle. In this war he distinguished himself, as he had so often done before, by singular bravery, talent, and intelligence, and performed such important services as procured his elevation, June 1825, to the dignity of a baronet of Great Britain.

At the conclusion of the Burmese war, Sir Thomas again applied for liberty to resign his appointment, and after much delay the Right Honourable S. Lushington was nominated his successor, on the 4th April, 1827.

Sir Thomas now prepared to leave India for the last time, full of fond anticipations of the happiness which awaited the closing years of his life in his native land; but it was otherwise ordained. His lady, with a favourite son, had returned to England a year before, in consequence of an illness of the latter, which, it was thought, required this change of climate; and thus while the inducements to remain in India were greatly lessened, those to return to his native land were increased. While awaiting the arrival of his successor, Sir Thomas unfortunately came to the resolution of paying a farewell visit to his old friends in the Ceded Districts, where the cholera was at that time raging with great violence. Alarmed for his safety, his friends endeavoured to dissuade him from his intended excursion, but to no purpose. Towards the end of May, he set out from Madras, attended by a small escort, and on the 6th of July following, reached Putteecondah, where he was seized with the fatal distemper about nine o’clock in the morning, and expired on the evening of the same day at half past nine, in the 66th year of his age. In an hour and a half after his death, his body was removed to Gooty, where it was interred with such military honours as the remoteness of the situation, and the despatch which it is necessary to observe on such occasions in India, could afford.

Few events ever occurred in India which excited so general a sensation, or created so universal a feeling of regret, as the death of Sir Thomas Munro. Natives as well as Europeans mourned his loss with unfeigned sorrow. His justice, humanity, benevolence, and eminent talents, had secured him the esteem and respect of all who knew him, and he was known nearly throughout the whole extent of the eastern world. No man perhaps, in short, ever descended to the grave more beloved or more lamented, and none was ever more entitled to these tributes of affection from his fellow men, or ever took such pains to deserve them as Sir Thomas Munro.

With regard to his talents, had there been no other proof of their existence than that which his letters afford, these alone would have pointed him out as a remarkable man; and as one who, had he chosen it, might have become as eminent in literature as he was in the profession of arms. Three volumes of these compositions, strung upon a memoir of the writer, have been published under the superintendence of the Rev. Mr Gleig, author of "The Subaltern."


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