Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 40.djvu/51

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


of the Baltic Fleet; Hansard's Parliamentary Debates; Gove's Sir Charles Napier in the Mediterranean and the Baltic and elsewhere.]

J. K. L.

NAPIER, Sir CHARLES JAMES (1782–1853), conqueror of Sind (Scinde), eldest son of Colonel the Hon. George Napier [q. v.] and his second wife, Lady Sarah Bunbury, was born at Whitehall, London, on 10 Aug. 1782. George Thomas Napier [q. v.], Henry Edward Napier [q. v.], and William Francis Patrick Napier [q. v.] were his brothers. When he was only three, the family moved to Celbridge, on the Liffey ten miles from Dublin. His father was a very handsome man, with a fine figure and great strength, both of body and of mind. His mother was, says Horace Walpole, ‘more beautiful than you can conceive … she shone, besides, with all the graces of unaffected but animate nature.’ Charles Napier, owing to an accident, was sickly as a child, and never attained the fine proportions for which the family were remarkable. He was also short-sighted; but he had an admirable constitution and a high spirit.

On 31 Jan. 1794 he obtained a commission as ensign in the 33rd regiment, from which he was promoted to be lieutenant in the 89th regiment on 8 May the same year. He joined the regiment at Netley Camp, where it formed part of an army assembling under Lord Moira [see Hastings, Francis Rawdon-]. His father was assistant quartermaster-general to the force, and when it sailed for Ostend Napier was sent back to Ireland, having exchanged into the 4th regiment; but, instead of joining his regiment, was placed with his brother William as a day-scholar at a large grammar school in Celbridge. When the rebellion took place in 1798, Colonel Napier fortified his house, armed his five boys, and offered an asylum to all who were willing to resist the insurgents. The elder Napier, with Charles at his side, used to scour the country on horseback, keeping a sharp look-out. In 1799 Charles became aide-de-camp to Sir James Duff [q. v.], commanding the Limerick district. In 1800 he resigned his staff appointment to join the 95th regiment, or rifle corps, which was being formed at Blatchington, Sussex, by a selection of men and officers from other regiments. He was quartered for the next two years at Weymouth, Hythe, and Shorncliffe. In June 1803 he was appointed aide-de-camp to his cousin, General Henry Edward Fox [q. v.], commander-in-chief of the forces in Ireland, and served against the insurgents. He accompanied General Fox to London when he was transferred to the command of the home district. While serving on the London staff he saw much of his cousin, Charles James Fox [q. v.], and the cheerful society at St. Anne's Hill was a pleasant interlude in his life.

On 22 Dec. 1803 he was promoted captain in the staff corps, a newly organised body of artificers to assist the royal engineers and the quartermaster-general. In 1804 he was quartered at Chelmsford and Chatham. In October his father died; the family were left in straitened circumstances, but Pitt bestowed pensions on the widow and daughters. In the middle of 1805 Napier went with his corps to Hythe, where he was employed in the construction of the Military Canal, and came under the personal supervision of Sir John Moore [q. v.], who was at that time training the 43rd, 52nd, and rifle regiments, to fit them for the distinguished part they were to play as the light division in the Peninsula. Napier's brothers William (in the 43rd) and George (in the 52nd) were thus in the same command.

On 29 May 1806, on the accession of Fox to power, Napier was promoted to a majority in a Cape Colonial corps, from which he exchanged into the 50th regiment, then quartered at Bognor, Sussex. During the next two years and a half he was moved about with the regiment to Guernsey, Deal, Hythe, and Ashford, and was frequently in command of the battalion. After the battle of Vimiera (August 1808) Napier was ordered to join the first battalion of the 50th at Lisbon, and, as the colonel had obtained leave of absence, Napier found himself on arrival at Lisbon in command of the battalion. Sir John Moore at once incorporated the regiment in the army going to Spain. Napier's battalion was in Lord William Bentinck's brigade, and distinguished itself throughout the famous retreat. On 16 Jan. 1809, at Coruña, it behaved splendidly, with Napier leading it. Napier was five times wounded: his leg was broken by a musket shot, he received a sabre cut on the head, a bayonet wound in the back, severe contusions from the butt end of a musket, and his ribs were broken by a gunshot. Eventually he was taken prisoner; his name was returned among the killed, but his life was saved by a French drummer. He was taken to Marshal Soult's quarters, where he received every attention. Marshal Ney, who succeeded Soult in command at Coruña, was particularly kind, and on 20 March set him at liberty, on parole not to serve again until exchanged, it having been represented to Ney that Napier's mother was a widow, old and blind. It was not until January 1810 that an exchange was effected, and Napier was able to rejoin his regiment. Finding it