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Significant Scots
Sir John Hope

HOPE, (SIR) JOHN, latterly earl of Hopetoun, a celebrated military commander, was son to John, second earl of Hopetoun, by his second marriage with Jane, daughter of Robert Oliphant of Rossie, in the county of Perth. He was born at Hopetoun in the county of Linlithgow, on the 17th of August, 1766. After finishing his education at home, he travelled on the continent, where he had the advantage of the superintendence of Dr Gillies, author of the History of Greece, afterwards historiographer to the king. Mr Hope entered the army as a volunteer in the fifteenth year of his age, and on the 28th of May, 1784, received a cornetcy in the 10th regiment of light dragoons. We shall briefly note his gradual rise as an officer until he reached that rank, in which he could appropriate opportunities of distinguishing himself. On the 24th of December, 1785, he was appointed to a lieutenancy in the 100th foot; on the 31st October, 1789, to a company in the 17th dragoons; on the 25th of April, 1792, to a majority in the 2nd foot; and on the 26th of April, 1793, to a lieutenant-colonelcy in the 25th foot. It was the period when the claims of rank began to meet with less observance in the British army, and severer duties called for the assistance of active and persevering men; and these had before them a sure road to honour. So early as 1794, lieutenant-colonel Hope was appointed to the arduous situation of adjutant-general to Sir Ralph Abercromby when serving in the Leeward islands; during the three ensuing years he was actively employed in the campaigns in the West Indies, where he held the rank of brigadier-general; during this service he is characterized in the despatches of the commander-in-chief as one who "on all occasions most willingly came forward and exerted himself in times of danger, to which he was not called, from his situation as adjutant-general."

In the parliament of 1796, Mr Hope was returned as member for Linlithgowshire: as a legislator he has been very little known, and he soon relinquished a duty not probably according with his taste and talents. As a deputy adjutant-general he attended the expedition to Holland, in August, 1799, having, in the interval betwixt his services abroad, performed the duty of a colonelcy in the north Lowland fencibles. In the sharp fighting at the landing at the Helder, with which the proceedings of the secret expedition to Holland commenced, colonel Hope had the misfortune to be so severely wounded as to render his farther attendance on the expedition impracticable. From the effects of his wound he recovered during the ensuing October, when he was appointed adjutant-general to the duke of York, lieutenant-colonel Alexander Hope, his brother by his father’s third marriage, being appointed his successor as deputy adjutant-general. In 1800, colonel Hope joined the expedition to Egypt under Sir Ralph Abercromby, who had been his commanding officer at the attack on the Helder. He still acted as adjutant-general, and on the 13th of May he was appointed brigadier-general in the Mediterranean. Were we to follow this active officer’s footsteps through the progress of the Egyptian war, we should merely repeat what the best pens in Europe have been engaged in discussing for thirty years, and what generally is known; suffice it to say, that he was engaged in the actions of 8th and 13th March, 1801, and that he received a wound on the hand at the battle of Alexandria. In June he was able to proceed with the army to Cairo, where he has received credit as an able negotiator, for the manner in which he settled the convention for the surrender of that place with the French commander, general Belliard. On the 11th of May, 1802, he was promoted to the rank of a major-general. On the 30th of June, 1805, he was appointed deputy governor of Portsmouth: an office he resigned the same year, on being nominated to a command with the troops sent to the continent under lord Cathcart. On the 3rd of October, 1805, he was made colonel of the 2nd battalion of the 60th foot, and on the 3rd of January, 1806, colonel of the 92nd foot. On the 25th of April, 1808, he was made a lieutenant-general. [These dry details of military advancement, which we would willingly spare our readers, were they not necessary for the completeness of a biography, we have copied from the Annual Biography and Obituary for 1824, a source from which we derive all the dates in this memoir, judging it one likely to be depended on.]

Lieutenant-general Hope was among the most eminent and persevering partakers in that exterminating war in the Peninsula, where, as in the conflicts of ancient nations, every thing gained was the price of blood. On the 8th of August he landed with the British forces in Portugal; -- during the ensuing month he was appointed British commandant at Lisbon; and on the French gradually evacuating the town, in terms of their convention, he took possession of the castle of Belem on the 10th, and of the citadel on the 12th. The restless spirit of the Portuguese, on the knowledge that the French were to leave the country, caused their long-smothered indignation to appear in insults, threats, and even attempts on the lives of the general officers; to depart in safety was the object of the French, and general Hope had the difficult task of preventing the oppressed people from making dangerous displays of public feeling, a duty he performed with moderation and energy, and which he was enabled finally to complete.

Sir John Moore divided his forces into two columns, one of which under his own command, marched by Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo, while the other proceeded to the Tagus under the command of general Hope. While thus separated from his celebrated commander, both experienced the full danger and doubt which so amply characterized the disastrous campaign. The few Spanish troops who had struck a blow for their country, fleeing towards the Tagus, brought to general Hope the traces of the approach of the victorious French. His column, consisting of three thousand infantry and nine hundred cavalry, were in want and difficulty. The inhospitable country afforded insufficient supplies of provision, they were destitute of money, and of many necessary articles of military store. To enable his troops in some measure to obtain supplies, he separated his whole column into six divisions, each a day’s march distant from the others, and thus passing through an uncultivated country destitute of roads, whose few inhabitants could give no assistance and could not be trusted, and harassed by the neighbourhood of a powerful enemy, he had to drag his artillery and a large park of ammunition to join the commander-in-chief, whose safety depended on his speedy approach. At Almaraz he endeavoured to discover some path which might guide him through the hills to Ciudad Rodrigo, but not finding one easily accessible, the jaded state of his few remaining horses compelled him to relinquish the attempt to cross these regions. On reaching Talavera, to the other evils with which he had to contend was added the folly or perfidy of the Spanish functionaries: the secretary at war recommended to him a method of passing through Madrid, which on consideration he found would have been the most likely of all methods to throw him into the hands of the French army. Resolving to make a last effort to obtain assistance from the nation for which the British troops were wasting their blood, he proceeded in person to Madrid; but the uncontrolled confusion of the Spanish government threw additional clouds on his prospects, and he found that the safety of his men must depend on their own efforts. Avoiding the path so heedlessly proposed, he passed Naval Carnero, and reached Escurial, where he halted to bring up his rear, and to obtain bullocks for dragging his artillery and ammunition. Having crossed the mountains on the sixth day after leaving Madrid, his situation became more melancholy, and he fell into deeper difficulties. He received the intelligence of additional disasters among the Spaniards; and his scouts traced the vicinity of parties of the enemy. "The general’s situation," says colonel Napier in his History of the Peninsular War, "was now truly embarrassing. If he fell back to the Guadarama, the army at Salamanca would be without ammunition or artillery. If he advanced, it must be by a flank march of three days, with a heavy convoy, over a flat country, and within a few hour’s march of a very superior cavalry. If he delayed where he was, even for a few hours, the French on the side of Segovia might get between him and the pass of Guadarama, and then, attacked in front, flank, and rear, he would be reduced to the shameful necessity of abandoning his convoy and guns, to save his men in the mountains of Avila. A man of less intrepidity and calmness would have been ruined; but Hope, as enterprising as he was prudent, without any hesitation ordered the cavalry to throw out parties cautiously towards the French, and to maintain a confident front if the latter approached; then moving the infantry and guns from Villacastin, and the convoy from Espinosa, by cross roads to Avila, he continued his march day and night until they reached Peneranda: the cavalry covering this movement closed gradually to the left, and finally occupied Fontiveros on the 2nd of December." [Vol. i. p. 437.] Not without additional dangers from the vicinity of the enemy, to the number of ten thousand infantry, and two thousand cavalry, with forty guns, he at length reached Salamanca, and joined the commander-in-chief. He partook in the measures which the army thus recruited endeavoured to pursue, as a last effort of active hostility, passing with his division the Douro at Tordesillas, and directing his march upon Villepando. In the memorable retreat which followed these proceedings, he had a laborious and perilous duty to perform. He commanded the left wing at the battle of Corunna;—of his share in an event so frequently and minutely recorded it is scarcely necessary to give a detailed account. After the death of the commander- in-chief, and the wound which compelled Sir David Baird to retire from the field, general Hope was left with the honour and responsibility of the supreme command, and in the language of the despatches, to his "abilities and exertions, in the direction of the ardent zeal and unconquerable valour of his majesty’s troops, is to be attributed, under Providence, the success of the day, which terminated in the complete and entire repulse and defeat of the enemy."

It was the immediate decision of Sir John Hope, not to follow up a victory over so powerful an enemy, but taking advantage of the confusion of the French, to proceed with the original design of embarking the troops, a measure performed with true military alacrity and good order, not without the strenuous exertions of the general, who, after the fatigues of the day, personally searched till a late hour the purlieus of the town, to prevent stragglers from falling into the hands of the enemy. General Hope wrote to Sir David Baird a succinct and clear account of the battle, in which his own name seldom occurs. As exhibiting the subdued opinion he expressed of the advantage gained, and as what is very probably a specimen of his style of composition, we quote the following passage from this excellent document: "Circumstances forbid us to indulge the hope, that the victory with which it has pleased Providence to crown the efforts of the army, can be attended with any very brilliant consequences to Great Britain. It is clouded by the loss of one of her best soldiers. It has been achieved at the termination of a long and harassing service. The superior numbers and advantageous position of the enemy, not less than the actual situation of this army, did not admit of any advantage being reaped from success. It must be, however, to you, to the army, and to our country, the sweetest reflection that the lustre of the British arms has been maintained, amidst many disadvantageous circumstances. The army which had entered Spain amidst the fairest prospects, had no sooner completed its junction, than, owing to the multiplied disasters that dispersed the native armies around us, it was left to its own resources. The advance of the British corps from Douro afforded the best hope that the south of Spain might be relieved, but this generous effort to save the unfortunate people, also afforded the enemy the opportunity of directing every effort of his numerous troops, and concentrating all his principal resources, for the destruction of the only regular force in the north of Spain."

The thanks of his country crowded thickly on general Hope, after the arrival of the despatches in England; a vote of thanks to him and to the officers under his command was unanimously passed in the House of Lords, on the motion of the earl of Liverpool; in the House of Commons, on that of lord Castlereagh. As a reward for his services, his brother (the earl of Hopetoun) was created a baron of the united kingdom, by the title of baron Hopetoun of Hopetoun in the county of Linlithgow, and himself received the order of the bath, in which he was installed two years afterwards, along with twenty-two other knights. Soon after his return to Britain, Sir John was appointed to superintend the military department of the unsatisfactory expedition to the Scheldt. It was the intention of the planners of the expedition, that by landing on the north side of South Beveland, and taking possession of the island, Sir John might incommode the French fleet while it remained near Flushing, and render its retreat more difficult, while it might be subject to the attacks of the British ships. Sir John’s division landed near Ter-Goes, took possession of the important post of Baltz, and removed all impediments to the progress of the British vessels in the West Scheldt. For nine days Sir John occupied his post, waiting impatiently for the concerted arrival of the gunboats under the command of Sir Home Popham, harassed by frequent attacks from the enemy, in one of which they brought down about twenty-eight gun-vessels, and kept up a cannonade for several hours, but were, after much exertion on the part of the general, compelled to retreat. The termination and effect of the expedition are well known, and need not be here repeated. At the termination of the expedition Sir John Hope was appointed commander-in-chief of the forces in Ireland, but he soon left this unpleasing sphere of duty, to return in 1813, to the scene of his former exertions in the Peninsula. At the battle of Nivelle he commanded the left wing, and driving in the enemy’s out-posts in front of their entrenchments on the Lower Nivelle, carried the redoubt above Orogue, and established himself on the heights immediately opposite Sibour, in readiness to take advantage of any movement made by the enemy’s right. On the 10th of December, nearly the whole army of the enemy left their entrenchments, and having drawn in the piquets, advanced upon Sir John Hope’s posts on the high road from Bayonne to St Jean de Luz. At the first onset, Sir John took 500 prisoners, and repulsed the enemy, while he received in the course of the action a severe contusion on the head. The same movement was repeated by the enemy, and they were in a similar manner repulsed. The conduct of Sir John on this occasion has received the approbation of military men, as being cool, judicious, and soldierly; and he received the praises of the duke of Wellington in his despatches.

In this campaign, which began on the frontiers of Portugal, the enemy’s line of defence on the Douro had been turned, and after defeat at Vittoria, Soult had been repulsed in his efforts to relieve St Sebastian and Pamplona, and the army of France had retreated behind the Pyrenees. After the fall of the latter place, the army entered France, after many harassing operations, in which the progress of the allies was stoutly impeded by the indomitable Soult. In the middle of February, 1814, the passage of the Adour was accomplished. While the main body of the army under the duke of Wellington, prosecuted the campaign in other quarters, Sir John Hope was left with a division to invest the citadel and town of Bayonne on both banks of the river. Soon after these operations commenced, Sir John received information from two deserters, that the garrison was under arms, and prepared for a sortie before day-light next morning. By means of a feint attack at the moment they were so expected, and by the silent and stealthy movements of some of their men through the rough ground, many of the sentinels were killed, and several lines of piquets broken. The nature of the spot, with a hollow way, steep banks, and intercepting walls, deprived those so attacked of the power of retreating, and the whole vicinity was a series of scattered battles, fought hand to hand, with deadly bitterness. The chief defence of the besiegers lay in the fortified convent of St Bernard, and in some buildings in the village of St Etienne; to the latter post Sir John Hope proceeded with his staff, at the commencement of the attack. Through one of the inequalities of the ground already mentioned, which formed a sort of hollow way, Sir John expected to find the nearest path to the village. When almost too late, he discovered that the banks had concealed from him the situation of the enemy, whose line he was just approaching, and gave orders to retreat; before, however, being extricated from the hollow way, the enemy approached within twelve yards’ distance, and began firing: Sir John Hope’s horse received three balls, and falling, entangled its rider. While the staff attempted to extricate him, the close firing of the enemy continued, and several British officers were wounded, among whom was Sir John himself, and the French soldiers pouring in, made them all prisoners. The French with difficulty extricated him from the fallen horse, and while they were conveying him to the citadel, he was severely wounded in the foot by a ball supposed to have come from the British piquets. From the effects of this encounter he suffered for a considerable period.

On the 3rd of May, Sir John was created a British peer by the title of baron Niddry of Niddry, county of Linlithgow. He declined being a partaker in the pecuniary grant, which, on the 9th of June ensuing, was moved by the chancellor of the exchequer, as a reward for the services of him and other distinguished generals. On the death of his brother by his father’s prior marriage, he succeeded to the family title of earl of Hopetoun, and in August, 1819, he attained to the rank of general. He died at Paris, on the 27th August, 1823, in the 58th year of his age. From the Edinburgh Annual Register for 1823, we extract a character of this excellent and able man, which, if it have a small degree too much of the beau ideal in its composition, seems to be better fitted to the person to whom it is applied, than it might be to many equally celebrated.

"As the friend and companion of Moore," says this chronicle, "and as acting under Wellington in the Pyrenean campaign, he had rendered himself conspicuous. But it was when, by succession to the earldom, he became the head of one of the most ancient houses in Scotland, and the possessor of one of its most extensive properties, that his character shone in its fullest lustre. He exhibited then a model, as perfect seemingly as human nature could admit, of the manner in which this eminent and useful station ought to be filled. An open and magnificent hospitality, suited to his place and rank, without extravagance or idle parade, a full and public tribute to the obligations of religion and private morality, without ostentation or austerity; a warm interest in the improvement and welfare of those extensive districts with which his possessions brought him into contact—a kind and generous concern in the welfare of the humblest of his dependents,—these qualities made him beloved and respected in an extraordinary degree, and will cause him to be long remembered." [The esteem and affection in which the earl was held in the scenes of private life, and in his character as a landlord, has, since his death, been testified in a remarkable manner by the erection of no fewer than three monuments to his memory, on the tops of as many hills – one in Fife, on the mount of Sir David Lindsay, another in Linlithgowshire, near Hopetoun House, and the third in the neighbourhood of Haddington. An equestrian statue of his lordship has also been erected in St Andrew’s Square, Edinburgh, with an inscription from the pen of Sir Walter Scott. A correct and masterly engraving of Lord Hopetoun, representing him standing beside his horse, has been published.]

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