Ainslie, Robert (1730?-1804) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 01
Ainslie, Robert (1730?-1804)

by Arthur Henry Grant
1904 Errata appended.

AINSLIE, Sir ROBERT (1730?–1804), baronet, ambassador and numismatist, was the third and youngest son of George Ainslie, Esq., the representative of the ancient Scottish family of Ainslie of Dolphington, chief of the name, who married Jane, daughter of Sir Philip Anstruther, baronet, and died in 1733. The issue of the marriage of George Ainslie was a family of seven children, and included four daughters, three of whom were married and established in France. Sir Robert, who was born either in 1729, or most probably in 1730, is described as having ‘resided in the earlier part of his life at Bordeaux,’ where his father had been for some time settled as a merchant, although he is said to have returned to Scotland in 1727, and to have purchased the estate of Pilton, in the county of Midlothian (Debrett's Baronetage of England, 1808). The elder brothers of Sir Robert were Sir Philip Ainslie, knight, who was born in 1728, and died on 19 June 1802; and George Ainslie, a general in the army, colonel of the 13th regiment of foot, and lieutenant-governor of the Scilly islands, who died on 7 July 1804.

Robert Ainslie is first noticed in the ‘London Gazette,’ 20 Sept. 1775: ‘The king has been pleased to appoint Robert Ainslie, Esq., to be his majesty's ambassador to the Ottoman Porte, in the room of John Murray, Esq., deceased; and his majesty was pleased this day to confer upon him the honour of knighthood, upon which occasion he had the honour to kiss his majesty's hand.’

Sir Robert Ainslie left England in May, 1776, for Constantinople, where he arrived in November following, and remained till 1792. Sir Robert Ainslie had the reputation while in Turkey of being a great favourite and boon companion of the Sultan Abdu-l Ahmed (Ahmed IV.) (Biog. Dict. Soc. D. U. K.).

On 8 Sept. 1796, a few years after his return to England, Sir Robert Ainslie received a grant of a pension of 1,000l. on the civil list, to be held ‘during the joint lives of his majesty and himself’ (Annual Register, 1798); and was elected a member of the parliament which met on the 27th of the same month, with Lord Paget as his colleague, for the close borough of Milborne Port, Somerset. At the general election of 1802, his seat in parliament was transferred to Mr. H. Leycester. Sir Robert on 13 Oct. 1804 (London Gazette) was created a baronet, with remainder, in default of issue male, to his nephew, Robert Sharp Ainslie, son of General Ainslie. The ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for December 1796 records the death of his son:—‘December 20, 1796, Mr. Ainslie, eldest son of Sir Robert Ainslie. This young gentleman was to have been married to Miss Baldwin, daughter of Mr. Baldwin, M.P. for Malton, on Thursday, but in consequence of a violent fever was carried off two days preceding.’

Sir Robert Ainslie died ‘after a long illness, in the 83rd year of his age’ (Courier, 25 July 1812) at Bath, on 21 July 1812.

Sir Robert Ainslie took advantage of his position at Constantinople to amass a collection of ancient coins from Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, and the north of Africa. The most characteristic were described by l'Abate Domenico Sestini, who dedicated to Sir Robert a work which has gone through several editions, entitled ‘Lettere e Dissertazioni Numismatiche sopra alcune Medaglie rare della Collezione Ainslieana,’ 4 vols. 4to, Leghorn, 1789–90, a fifth volume of which, with the enlarged title ‘e di altri Musei,’ appeared at Rome in 1794, and four others, referring to particular collections, were published at Berlin in 1804–6. Sestini continued his exposition of the Ainslie collection in a smaller work, and more special in its scope, entitled ‘Dissertazione sopra alcune Monete Armene del Principi Rupinensi della Collezione Ainslieana,’ 4to, Leghorn, 1790. This work is at present bound up with a copy of the first four volumes of the ‘Lettere e Dissertazioni,’ which, according to an inscription, probably autographic, on the fly-leaf, was ‘presented from Sr Robt Ainslie, June 5, 1795,’ to the British Museum. Another volume of Sestini's is entitled ‘Descriptio Numorum Veterum ex Museis Ainslie, Bellini, Bondacca, Borgia,’ &c., Leipsic, 1796. Sir Robert had been the ‘Mæcenas’ of Sestini's dedication of the ‘Lettere e Dissertazioni’ of 1789; seven years later, in the preface to the ‘Descriptio,’ he was a malignant speculator and trader in antiquities.

Sir Robert Ainslie's researches embraced antiquities of various kinds, objects of natural history, and illustrations of the East and its current life. Three volumes of drawings were published, in the words of the dedication, ‘under his auspices.’ The first of these is entitled ‘Views in Egypt, from the original drawings in possession of Sir Robert Ainslie, taken during his Embassy to Constantinople by Luigi Mayer; engraved by and under the direction of Thomas Milton; with historical Observations and incidental Illustrations of the Manners and Customs of the Natives of that Country,’ eleph. fol. London, 1801. This was followed by two bilingual volumes, English and French, entitled ‘Views in the Ottoman Empire, chiefly in Caramania,’ &c., 1803; and ‘Views in Palestine,’ &c., 1804. The coloured plates in these volumes are ninety-six in number; and fifty-four were afterwards given in the first edition, and seventy-one in the second edition, of ‘Views in Turkey in Europe and Turkey in Asia,’ &c., London, 1810. A selection from all these appeared in 1833 as a group of engravings, uncoloured and of smaller size, with the title of ‘A Series of Twenty-four Views illustrative of the Holy Scriptures,’ &c.

[Debrett's Baronetage of England, 1808; Lodge's Genealogy of the Peerage and Baronetage, 1859; the London Gazette, 1775, 1804, &c.; Gentleman's Magazine, Aug. 1812, &c.; Annual Register, 1798, &c.; Biog. Dict. Soc. D. U. K.; Lowndes's Bibliographer's Manual, 1864.]

A. H. G.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.3
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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189 i 24 Ainslie, Sir Robert: for 1804 read 1812