Ralph Abercromby

Ralph Abercromby

Infobox Military Person
name=Sir Ralph Abercromby
lived=7 October 1734 – 28 March 1801

caption="Sir Ralph Abercromby K.B., Engraving by William Finden after John Hoppner"
placeofdeath=Alexandria, Egypt
allegiance=flagicon|United Kingdom United Kingdom
branch=British Army
serviceyears=1756 - 1801
battles=Seven Years' War
French Revolutionary Wars
Napoleonic Wars
laterwork=Member of Parliament

Lieutenant-General Sir Ralph Abercromby, KB (sometimes spelled Abercrombie) (7 October 1734 – 28 March 1801) was a British lieutenant-general noted for his services during the Napoleonic Wars.


He was the eldest son of George Abercromby of Tullibody, Clackmannanshire. Educated at Rugby and the University of Edinburgh, in 1754 he was sent to Leipzig to study civil law, with a view to his proceeding to the Scottish bar. On returning from the continent he expressed a strong preference for the military profession, and a cornet's commission was accordingly obtained for him (March 1756) in the 3rd Dragoon Guards. He served with his regiment in the Seven Years' War, and the opportunity thus afforded him of studying the methods of Frederick the Great moulded his military character and formed his tactical ideas. He rose through the intermediate grades to the rank of lieutenant-colonel of the regiment (1773) and brevet colonel in 1780, and in 1781 he became colonel of the King's Irish infantry. When that regiment was disbanded in 1783 he retired upon half pay. Up to this time, he had scarcely been engaged in active service, and this was due mainly to his disapproval of the policy of the government, and especially to his sympathies with the American colonists in their struggles for independence. His retirement is no doubt to be ascribed to similar feelings. On leaving the army he for a time took up political life as member of Parliament for Clackmannanshire and Kinross-shire. This, however, proved uncongenial, and, retiring in favour of his brother, he settled at Edinburgh and devoted himself to the education of his children.

War service

However, when France declared war against Great Britain in 1793, he hastened to resume his professional duties. Being esteemed one of the ablest and most intrepid officers in the whole British forces, he was appointed to the command of a brigade under the Duke of York, for service in the Netherlands. He commanded the advanced guard in the action at Le Cateau, and was wounded at Nijmegen. The duty fell to him of protecting the British army in its disastrous retreat out of Holland, in the winter of 1794–1795. In 1795, he received the honour of an Knighthood of the Bath, in acknowledgment of his services.

The same year he was appointed to succeed Sir Charles Grey, as commander-in-chief of the British forces in the West Indies. In 1796, Grenada was suddenly attacked and taken by a detachment of the army under his orders. Abercromby afterwards obtained possession of the settlements of Demerara and Essequibo, in South America, and of the islands of Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and Trinidad.

On 17 April 1797, Abercromby, with a force of 7,000-13,000 men, [Confirmation of troop count is unattainable, only Spanish and Puerto Rican sources are available regarding troop count.] which included German mercenary soldiers and Royal Marines and a 60 to 64 ship armada, invaded the island of Puerto Rico. Captain General Don Ramón de Castro and his forces consisting, among other, of the Milicias Disciplinadas, mostly Puerto Rican born, the Regimiento Fijo de Puerto Rico and the Real Cuerpo de Artillería repelled the attack. On 30 April, after two weeks of fierce combat, which included prolonged artillery exchanges and even hand to hand combat, unable to overcome San Juan's first line of defense, Abercromby withdrew. This was to be one of the largest invasions to Spanish territories in the Americas.

Abercromby returned to Europe, and, in reward for his important services, was appointed colonel of the regiment of Scots Greys, entrusted with the governments of the Isle of Wight, Fort-George and Fort-Augustus, and raised to the rank of lieutenant-general. He held, in 1797–1798, the chief command of the forces in Ireland. There he laboured to maintain the discipline of the army, to suppress the rising rebellion, and to protect the people from military oppression, with the care worthy of a great general and an enlightened and beneficent statesman. When he was appointed to the command in Ireland, an invasion of that country by the French was confidently anticipated by the British government. He used his utmost efforts to restore the discipline of an army that was utterly disorganized; and, as a first step, he anxiously endeavoured to protect the people by re-establishing the supremacy of the civil power, and not allowing the military to be called out, except when it was indispensably necessary for the enforcement of the law and the maintenance of order. Finding that he received no adequate support from the head of the Irish government, and that all his efforts were opposed and thwarted by those who presided in the councils of Ireland, he resigned the command. His departure from Ireland was deeply lamented by the reflecting portion of the people, and was speedily followed by those disastrous results which he had anticipated, and which he so ardently desired and had so wisely endeavoured to prevent.

After holding for a short period the office of commander-in-chief in Scotland, Sir Ralph, when the enterprise against the Dutch Batavian Republic was resolved upon in 1799, was again called to command under the Duke of York. The campaign of 1799 ended in disaster, but friend and foe alike confessed that the most decisive victory could not have more conspicuously proved the talents of this distinguished officer.

His country applauded the choice when, in 1801, he was sent with an army to dispossess the French of Egypt. His experience in the Netherlands and the West Indies particularly fitted him for this new command, as was proved by his carrying his army in health, in spirits and with the requisite supplies, in spite of very great difficulties, to the destined scene of action. The debarkation of the troops at Abukir, in the face of strenuous opposition, is justly ranked among the most daring and brilliant exploits of the British army.


A battle in the neighbourhood of Alexandria (21 March 1801) was the sequel of this successful landing, and it was Abercromby's fate to fall in the moment of victory. He was struck by a spent ball, which could not be extracted, and died seven days after the battle, aboard HMS "Foudroyant", which was moored in the harbour.

His old friend and commander the Duke of York paid a tribute to the soldier's memory in general orders: "His steady observance of discipline, his ever-watchful attention to the health and wants of his troops, the persevering and unconquerable spirit which marked his military career, the splendour of his actions in the field and the heroism of his death, are worthy the imitation of all who desire, like him, a life of heroism and a death of glory." He was buried in the Commandery of the Grand Master, the Knights of St John, Malta

By a vote of the House of Commons, a monument was erected in his honour in St Paul's Cathedral, Abercromby Square in Liverpool is named in his honour. His widow was created Baroness Abercromby of Tullibody and Aboukir Bay, and a pension of £2,000 a year was settled on her and her two successors in the title.

He had seven children. Of four sons, all four entered Parliament, and two saw military service.
* Hon. Anne Abercromby (d. 17 September 1844)
* Hon. Mary Abercromby (d. 1825)
* Hon. Catherine Abercromby (d. 7 May 1842)
* George Abercromby, 2nd Baron Abercromby (1770–1843)
* General Hon. Sir John Abercromby (1772–1817)
* James Abercromby, 1st Baron Dunfermline (1776–1858)
* Lt.-Col. Hon. Alexander Abercromby (1784–1853)


* [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9001652/Sir-Ralph-Abercromby Encyclopaedia Britannica, Sir Ralph Abercromby]
*cite web|author=Alonso, María M.|title=Chapter XIV - Abercromby's Siege|work=The Eighteenth Century Caribbean & The British Attack on Puerto Rico in 1797|url=http://www.nps.gov/saju/14.html|accessmonthday=July 7 |accessyear=2006
*Historia del Pueblo de Puerto Rico - Arturo Morales Carrión

External links

* [http://www.npg.org.uk/live/search/portrait.asp?LinkID=mp00010&rNo=8&role=sit# NPG D11101 "The Death of General Sir Ralph Abercromby, K.B." by Francis Legat, National Portrait Gallery]

NAME = Sir Ralph Abercromby
ALTERNATIVE NAMES = Sir Ralph Abercrombie
SHORT DESCRIPTION = British general
DATE OF BIRTH = 7 October 1734
DATE OF DEATH = 28 March 1801
PLACE OF DEATH = Alexandria, Egypt

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