A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen/Abercromby, Sir Ralph
ABERCROMBY, Sir Ralph, a distinguished general officer, under whom the British arms met their first success in the French revolutionary war, was the eldest son of George Abercromby of Tullibody, in Clackmannanshire, a gentleman of ancient and respectable family, and of Mary, daughter of Ralph Dundas of Manor. He was born at Menstrie, in the parish of Logic, on the 7th October, 1734. His education seems to have been regarded with more care than was usually manifested by the Scottish country gentlemen of the early and middle parts of the last century. After passing through the customary course at Rugby, he became a student, first in the university of Edinburgh, and subsequently in that of Göttingen. He entered the army, as cornet in the 3rd dragoon guards, May 23, 1756, and became a lieutenant, in the same regiment, in the year 1760; which rank he held till April, 1762, when he obtained a company in the 3rd horse. In this regiment he rose, in 1770, to the rank of major, and, in 1773, to that of lieutenant-colonel. He was included in the list of brevet colonels in 1780, and, in 1781, was made colonel of the 103rd, or king's Irish infantry, a new regiment, which was broken at the peace in 1783, when Colonel Abercromby was placed on half-pay. It may be noticed, in passing, that he represented the shire of Kinross in the British parliament from 1774 till 1780; but made no attempt to render himself conspicuous, either as a party-man or as a politician. In September, 1787, he was promoted to the rank of major-general, and next year obtained the command of the 69th foot. From this corps he was, in 1792, removed to the 6th foot; from that again to the 5th; and in November, 1796, to the 2d dragoons, or Scots Greys.
On the breaking out of the French revolutionary war, Abercromby had the local rank of lieutenant-general conferred on him, and served with distinguished honour in the campaigns of 1794 and 1795, under the Duke of York. He commanded the advanced guard in the affair of Cateau (April 16, 1794), in which Chapuy, the French general, was taken prisoner, and thirty-five pieces of cannon fell into the hands of the British. In the reverses that followed, the British army escaped entire destruction solely by the masterly manoeuvres of Abercromby, who was second in command. He was wounded at Nimeguen, in the month of October following; notwithstanding which, the arduous service of conducting the retreat through Holland, in the dreadfully severe winter of 1794, was devolved wholly upon him and General Dundas. Than this retreat nothing could be conceived more calamitous. The troops did all that could be expected from them in the situation in which they were placed. Oppressed by numbers, having lost all their stores, they made good their retreat in the face of the foe, amidst the rigours of a singularly severe winter, resembling more that of the arctic circle than that of the north of Germany. For the removal of the sick, nothing could be procured but open waggons, in which they were exposed to the intense severity of the weather, to drifting snows, and heavy falls of sleet and rain. The mortality, of course, was very great. The regiments were so scattered, marching through the snow, that no returns could be made out, and both men and horses were found in great numbers frozen to death. " The march," says an eye-witness, "was marked by scenes of the most calamitous nature. We could not proceed a hundred yards without seeing the dead bodies of men, women, children, and horses, in every direction. One scene," adds the writer, " made an impression on my mind, which time will never be able to efface. Near a cart, a little further in the common, we perceived a stout-looking man and a beautiful young woman, with an infant about seven months old at the breast, all three frozen dead. The mother had most certainly died in the act of suckling her child, as, with one breast exposed, she lay upon the drifted snow, the milk, to all appearance, in a stream drawn from the nipple by the babe, and instantly congealed. The infant seemed as if its lips had just then been disengaged, and it reposed its little head upon the mother's bosom, with an overflow of milk frozen as it trickled down from its mouth. Their countenances were perfectly composed and fresh, as if they had only been in a sound and tranquil slumber." The British army reached Deventer, after incredible exertion, on the 27th of January, 1795; but they were not able to maintain the position, being closely pursued by a well-appointed army, upwards of fifty thousand strong. They continued their progress, alternately fighting and retreating, till the end of March, when the main body, now reduced one-half, reached Bremen, where they were embarked for England. Nothing could exceed the vigilance, patience, and perseverance of General Abercromby during this retreat, in which he was ably seconded by General Dundas and Lord Cathcart; nor did the troops ever hesitate, when ordered, to halt, face about, and fight, even in the most disastrous and distressing circumstances.
While the French were making those gigantic efforts at home, which confounded all previous calculations in European warfare, they also made unexpected struggles abroad. They repossessed themselves in the West Indies of Guadeloupe and St. Lucia, made good a landing upon several points in the island of Martinique, and made partial descents on the islands of St. Vincent, Grenada, and Marie Galante. In these various incursions they plundered, in the several islands, property to the amount of one thousand eight hundred millions of livres (about 72,000,000). To put an end to these depredations, a fleet was fitted out in the autumn of the year 1795, for the purpose of conveying a military force to the West Indies; sufficient for not only protecting what yet remained, but recovering that which had been lost. The charge of the land troops was given to Sir Ralph Abercromby, with the appointment of commander-in-chief of the forces in the West Indies. In consequence of thia appointment, he took the command, and hastened the embarkation; and, although the equinox overtook them, and, in the squalls that usually attend it, several of the transports were lost in the Channel, the fleet made the best of its way to the West Indies, and by the month of March, 1796, the troops were landed and in active operation. St. Lucia was speedily captured by a detachment of the army under Sir John Moore, as was St. Vincent and Grenada by another under General Knox. The Dutch colonies, Demerara, Essequibo, and Berbice, on the coast of Guiana, likewise fell into the hands of the British about the same time, almost without stroke of sword. The remainder of 1793 having been thus employed, Sir Ralph made preparations for attacking, early in 1797, the Spanish island of Trinidad. For this purpose, the fleet sailed, with all the transports, from the island of Curacao on the morning of the 15th February, 1797, and next day passed through the Barns into the Gulf of Bria, where they found the Spanish admiral, with four sail of the line and one frigate, at anchor, under cover of the island of Gaspagrande, which was strongly fortified. The British squadron immediately anchored opposite, and almost within gun-shot of the Spanish ships. The frigates, with the transports, were sent to anchor higher up the bay, at the distance of about five miles from the town of Port d'Espagne. Dispositions were immediately made for attacking the town and the ships of war next morning by break of day. By two o'clock of the morning, however, the Spanish squadron was observed to be on fire. The ships burned very fast, one only escaping the conflagration, which was taken possession of by the British. The Spaniards, at the same time that they had set their ships of war on fire, evacuated the island. The troops, under Sir Ralph Abercromby, were of course landed without opposition, and the whole colony fell into the hands of the British. Sir Ralph next made an attack upon Porto Rico, in which he was unsuccessful, and shortly after he returned to Britain, and was received with every mark of respect. He had, in his absence, been complimented with the colonelcy of the second dragoons or Scots Greys, and nominated governor of the Isle of Wight. He was now (1797) advanced to the dignity of the Bath, raised to the rank of a lieutenant-general, and invested with the lucrative governments of Fort George and Fort Augustus.
The disturbed state of Ireland at this time calling for the utmost vigilance, Sir Ralph Abercromby was appointed to the command of the forces in that unhappy country, where he exerted himself most strenuously, though with less success than could have been wished, to preserve order where any degree of it yet remained, and to restore it where it had been violated. He was particularly anxious, by the strictest attention to discipline, to restore the reputation of the army; for, according to his own emphatic declaration, it had become more formidable to its friends than to its enemies. During this command he did not require to direct any military operations in person; and the Marquis Cornwallis having received the double appointment of lord-lieutenant and commander-in-chief of the forces, Sir Ralph transferred his head-quarters to Edinburgh, and, on 31st of May, assumed the command of the forces in Scotland, to which he had been appointed.
In the year 1799, an expedition having been planned for Holland, for the purpose of restoring the Prince of Orange to the Stadtholdership, Sir Ralph was again selected to take the chief command. The troops destined for this service being assembled on the coast of Kent, sailed on the 13th of August, under convoy of the fleet which was commanded by Vice-Admiral Mitchell; and, after encountering heavy gales, came to anchor off the Texel, on the 22d of the month. On the 27th, the troops were disembarked to the south-west of the Helder point, without opposition. Scarcely had they begun to move, however, when they were attacked by General Daendels, and a warm, but irregular, action was kept up from five o'clock in the morning till five in the afternoon, after which the enemy retired, leaving the British in possession of a ridge of sand-hills stretching along the coast from south to north. In this day's evolutions, the enemy lost upwards of one thousand men, and the British about half that number. Encouraged by this success, Sir Ralph Abercromby determined to seize upon the Helder next morning, when he would be in possession of a seaport, an arsenal, and a fleet. The brigades of Generals Moore and Burrard were ordered to be in readiness to make the attack early in the morning; but the garrison was withdrawn through the night, leaving a considerable train of artillery, a naval magazine, thirteen ships of war, and three Indiamen, which fell into the hands of the British without opposition. Admiral Mitchell, having shipped pilots at the Helder, immediately stood down into the Texel, and offered battle to the Dutch fleet lying there; the whole of which, consisting of twelve sail of the line, surrendered to the British admiral, the sailors refusing to fight, and compelling their officers to give up the ships for the service of the Prince of Orange. Taking the surrender of the fleet as the criterion of Dutch feeling, the most extravagant hopes of the success of the expedition were entertained by the people of England. The sentiments of the people of Holland, generally, were not as yet in unison with those of her sailors, and every precaution was taken for defence. The British army, in the meantime, left the sand-hills, and took up a new position, their right extending to Petten, on the German Ocean, and their left to Oude Sluys on the Zuyder Zee. A fertile country was thus laid open to the invaders; while the canal of Zuyper, immediately in front, contributed to strengthen their position, enabling them to remain on the defensive, until the arrival of additional forces. At day-break of 11th September, the combined Dutch and French army attacked the centre and right of the British lines, from St. Martins to Petten, with a force of 10,000 men, which advanced in three columns; the right, composed of Dutch troops, commanded by General Daendels, against St. Martins; the centre, under De Monceau, upon Zuyper Sluys; and the left, composed entirely of French troops, under General Brune, upon Petten. The attack, particularly on the left and centre, was made with the most daring intrepidity, but was repulsed by the British, and the enemy lost upwards of a thousand men. On this occasion, General Sir John Moore was opposed to General Brune, and distinguished himself by the most masterly manoeuvres; and, had the British been sufficiently numerous to follow up their advantage, the United Provinces might have shaken off the French yoke even at this early period. The want of numbers was felt too late; but, to remedy the evil, the Russian troops, engaged for the expedition, were hastily embarked at the ports of Cronstadt and Revel, to the number of seventeen thousand, under the command of General D'Hermann, and were speedily upon the scene of action. The Duke of York now arrived as commander-in-chief; and his army, with the Russians and some battalions of Dutch troops, formed of deserters from the Batavian army, and volunteers from the Dutch ships, amounted to upwards of thirty-six thousand men, a force considerably superior to that under Generals Daendels and Brune. In consequence of this, the Duke of York, in concert with D'Hermann, made an immediate attack upon the enemy's position, which was on the heights of Camperdown, and along the high sand-hills, extending from the sea, in front of Petten, to the town of Bergen-op-zoom. Any deficiency of numbers on the part of the enemy was far more than counterbalanced by the advantages of their position; improved, as it was, by strong entrenchments at the intermediate villages, and by the nature of the ground, intersected by wet ditches and canals, whose bridges had been removed, and the roads rendered impassable, either by being broken up, or by means of felled trees stuck in the earth, and placed horizontally, so as to present an almost impenetrable barrier. The attack, however, notwithstanding all disadvantages, was made with the most determined resolution, early on the morning of the 19th of September, and was successful at all points. By eight o'clock in the morning, the Russians, under D'Hermann, had made themselves masters of Bergen-op-zoom; but they no sooner found the place evacuated, than they flew upon the spoil, and began to plunder the citizens, whom they had professedly come to relieve. The vigilant enemy seized the opportunity to rally his broken battalions, and, being reinforced from the garrison at Alkmaar, attacked the dispersed Russians with so much impetuosity, that the latter were driven from Bergen-op-zoom to Schorel, with the loss of Generals D'Hermann and Tcherchekoff, wounded and taken prisoners. This failure of the Russians compelled the other three columns of the British army to abandon the positions they had already stormed, and return to the station they had left in the morning. .For this disappointment three thousand prisoners taken in the engagement was but a poor recompense; whila the impression made upon the minds of the Dutch, by the conduct of the Russians, was incalculably injurious to the objects of the expedition. The conflict was renewed on the 2d of October, by another attack on the whole line of the enemy, the troops advancing, as before, in four columns, under Generals Abercromby, D'Esson, Dundas, and Pulteney. The centre ascended the sand-hills at Campe,.and carried the heights of Schorel; and, after a vigorous contest, the Russians and British obtained possession of the whole range of sand-hills in the neighbourhood of Bergen-op-zoom; but the severest conflict, and that which decided the fate of the day, was sustained by the first column under Sir Ralph Abercromby. He had marched without opposition to within a mile of Egmontop-Zee, where a large body of cavalry and infantry waited to receive him. Here Sir John Moore led his brigade to the charge in person; he was met by a counter-charge of the enemy, and the conflict was maintained till evening with unexampled fury. The Marquis of Huntly, who, with his regiment (the ninety-second), was eminently distinguished, received a wound by a musket-ball in the shoulder; and General Sir John Moore, after receiving two severe wounds, was reluctantly carried off the field. Sir Ralph Abercromby had two horses shot under him, but he continued to animate the troops by his example, and the most desperate efforts of the enemy were unavailing. Their loss in this day's engagement was upwards of four thousand men. During the night they abandoned their posts on the Lange Dyke and at Bergen-op-zoom, and next day the British took up the positions that had been occupied by the French at Alkmaar and Egmont-op-Zee. Brune having taken up a strong position between Beverwyck and the Zuyder Zee, it was determined to dislodge him before the arrival of his daily-expected reinforcements. In the first movements made for this purpose the British met with little opposition; but the Russians, under General D'Esson, attempting to gain a height near Buccum, were suddenly charged by an overwhelming body of the enemy. Sir Ralph Abercromby, observing the critical situation of the Russians, hastened with his column to support them. The enemy also sent up fresh forces, and the action, undesignedly by either party, became general along the whole line, from Lemmen to the sea, and was contested on both sides with the most determined obstinacy. About two o'clock in the afternoon, the right and centre of the Anglo-Russian army began to lose ground, and retire upon Egmont; where, with the co-operation of the brigade under Major- General Coote, they succeeded in keeping the enemy in check during the remainder of the day. Evening closed over the combatants, darkened by deluges of rain; yet the work of mutual destruction knew no intermission. The fire of musketry, which ran in undulating lines along the hills, with the thunder-flash of the artillery, and the fiery train of the death-charged shell, lighted up with momentary and fitful blaze the whole horizon. About ten o'clock at night, worn out by such a lengthened period of exertion, though their mutual hostility was not in the least abated, the contending parties ceased fighting, and the British were left in possession of the ground upon which they had fought, with upwards of two thousand of their companions lying dead around them. General Brune was, in the course of the night or next morning, reinforced by an addition of six thousand men, and the ground he occupied was by nature and art rendered nearly impregnable. The British lay through the night exposed to the weather, which was terrible, on the naked sand-hills; their clothing drenched, and their arms and ammunition rendered useless by the rain. Nor was the inhospitality of the people less than that of the elements; the greater part being violently hostile, and the remainder sunk in supine indifference. Retreat was therefore a measure of necessity, and next night, the 7th of October, about ten o'clock, amidst a deluge of rain, the troops marched back to their former station at Petten and Alkmaar, which they reached without immediate pursuit or any serious loss. To embark, however, upon such a shore, and in the face of such an enemy, without great loss, was impossible; and, to prevent the unnecessary effusion of blood, an armistice was proposed by the Duke of York, till the troops should be quietly embarked. The French general was willing to accede to the proposal, provided the Dutch fleet were restored, and all forts, dykes, &c., &c., left as they had been taken; or, if any improvements had been made upon them, in their improved state. To the first part of the proposal the duke utterly refused for a moment to listen; and, being in possession of the principal dykes, he threatened to break them down and inundate the country. The fleet was not given up; but in lieu thereof, eight thousand French and Dutch prisoners, that had been taken previous to this campaign, were to be restored, with all that had been taken in it. the Dutch seamen excepted. The troops were instantly embarked, and safely landed in England, with the exception of the Russians, who were landed in the islands of Guernsey and Jersey. Though this expedition totally failed in its main object the liberation of Holland it was not without advantage. The capture of the Dutch fleet, in the then state of affairs, was of very considerable importance. Nor was the impression it left upon the enemy of the superior skill of British officers, particularly of the subject of this memoir, and the daring valour of British troops, without its use in the succeeding periods of the war.
Sir Ralph Abercromby, now a universal favourite, and esteemed the most skilful officer in the British service, was appointed in the month of June, 1800, to command the troops sent out upon a secret expedition to the Mediterranean, and which were for the time quartered on the island of Minorca, where he arrived on the 22d of June. The very next day the troops were embarked for Leghorn, where they arrived on the 9th of July; but in consequence of an armistice between the French and the Austrians, they were not allowed to land. Part of them now proceeded to Malta, and the remainder sailed back to Minorca. Sir Ralph himself arrived again at that island on the 26th of July, and on the 3d of September the troops were again embarked, and on the 14th the fleet came to anchor off Europa point in the bay of Gibraltar. On the 20th the armament sailed for the bay of Tetuan to procure water, and on the 23d returned to Gibraltar. In a few days the fleet was again ordered to rendezvous in the bay of Tetuan; and, on the 30th of October, the whole, consisting of upwards of two hundred sail, came to anchor off Cadiz, and preparations were made for landing the troops without delay. On the 6th the troops got into the boats, and everything was ready for the disembarkation. In consequence of a flag of truce from the shore, the landing was delayed, and in the afternoon the troops returned to their respective ships. The negotiations between the commanders having failed, the order was renewed for disembarking the troops next day. This order was again countermanded about midnight; the morning became stormy, and at break of day the signal was made for the fleet to weigh, and by the afternoon the whole fleet was again under sail. Part of the forces were now ordered for Portugal under the command of general Sir James Pulteney, and the remainder for Malta, where they arrived about the middle of November. Than this sailing backwards and forwards, nothing was ever exhibited more strongly indicative of extreme folly and absolute imbecility in the national councils.
It was now resolved by the British government to drive the French out of Egypt, and the armament, which had uselessly rolled about the Mediterranean for so many months, was appointed for that purpose. Sir Ralph Abercromby, accordingly, embarked at Malta on the 20th of December for the bay of Marmorice, on the coast of Caramania; where cavalry horses were to be procured, and stores collected for the expedition, which, it was calculated, would sail for Alexandria by the 1st of January, 1801. Many things, however, occurred to retard their preparations. Among others of a like nature, three hundred horses, purchased by order of Lord Elgin, the British ambassador at Constantinople, were found, when they arrived at Marmorice, so small and so galled in their backs, as to be of no use, so that it was found necessary to shoot some, and to sell others at the low price of a dollar a-piece. It was believed that Lord Elgin had paid for a very different description of horses, but the persons to whose care they had been confided had found their account in changing them by the way. Good horses were procured by parties sent into the country for that purpose; but the sailing of the expedition was in consequence delayed till the end of .February, instead of the first of January, as had been originally intended; and from the state of the weather, and other casualties, the landing could not be attempted before the 8th of March, on which day it was accomplished in Aboukir Bay, in a manner that reflected the highest honour on the British troops. During this delay Bonaparte had found means to reinforce his army in Egypt, and furnish it with all necessary stores; and the weather, preventing the immediate disembarkation of the troops, enabled the French to make every preparation to receive them. The sand-hills which form the coast, they had lined with numerous bodies of infantry, and every height was bristling with artillery. A most tremendous discharge of grape-shot and shells from the batteries, and of musketry from the infantry that lined the shore, seemed for a moment to stay the progress of the boats as they approached. But it was only for a moment. The rowers swept through the iron tempest to the beach; the troops leaped on shore, formed as they advanced, and rushing up the slippery declivity without firing a shot, drove the enemy from their position at the point of the bayonet. Successive bodies, as they were disembarked, proceeded to the help of their precursors, and, in spite of every obstruction, the whole army was landed before night; and Sir Ralph Abercromby advancing three miles into the country, took up a position with his right resting upon lake Madyeh or Aboukir, and his left stretching to the Mediterranean. On the 12th he moved forward to attack th French, who were most advantageously posted on a ridge of hills, their right towards the sea, and their left resting upon the canal of Alexandria. On the morning of the 13th, the army marched in two lines by the left, to turn the right flank of the enemy. Aware of this, the French, with their whole cavalry, and a considerable body of infantry, poured down from the heights and attacked the heads of both lines, but were repulsed by the advanced guard, consisting of the 90th and 92nd regiments, with incomparable gallantry. The first line then formed into two, and advanced, while the second line turned the right of the French army, and drove it from its position. The enemy, however, made a regular retreat, and contested every inch of ground till they had reached the heights of Nicopolis, which form the principal defence of Alexandria. Anxious to carry these heights, Sir Ralph Abercromby unfortunately ordered forward the reserve under Sir John Moore, and the second line under general Hutcheson, to attack (the latter the right, and the former the left) both flanks at once. Advancing into the open plain, they were exposed to the whole range of the enemy's shot, which they had it not in their power to return; and, after all, the position was found to be commanded by the guns of the forts of Alexandria, so that it could not have been kept though they had stormed it. They were accordingly withdrawn, but with a most serious loss of men; and the British army took up the ground from which the enemy had been driven, occupying a position with its right to the sea and its left to the canal of Alexandria; a situation of great advantage, as it cut off all communication with Alexandria, except by the way of the Desert. In this action, Sir Ralph was nearly enveloped in the charge of the French cavalry, and was only saved by the intrepidity of the 90th regiment. The garrison of Aboukir surrendered on the 18th; but to counterbalance this advantage, the French commander-in-chief, Menou, arrived at Alexandria from Cairo on the 20th, with a reinforcement of nine thousand men. Expecting to take the British by surprise, Menou, next morning, March the 21st, between three and four o'clock, attacked their position with his whole force, amounting to from eleven to twelve thousand men. The action was commenced by a false attack on the left, their main strength being directed against the right, upon which they advanced in great force and with a prodigious noise, shouting, "Vive la France! Vive la Republique!" They were received, however, with perfect coolness by the British troops, who not only checked the impetuosity of the infantry, but repulsed several charges of cavalry. Greater courage was perhaps never exhibited than on this occasion: the different corps of both nations rivalled each other in the most determined bravery, and presented the extraordinary spectacle of an engagement in front, flanks, and rear, at the same time; so much were the contending parties intermingled. Nine hundred of Bonaparte's best soldiers, and from their tried valour denominated Invincibles, succeeded in turning the right of the British, between the walls of a large ruin and a battery. Three times did they storm the battery, and three times were the successive parties exterminated. Getting at last into the rear of the reserve, the 42nd and the 28th regiments charged them with the bayonet, and drove them step by step into the inclosure of the ruin; where, between six and seven hundred of them being already stretched lifeless on the ground, the remainder called out for quarter, and were made prisoners. Not one of them returned. Equally determined was their attack on the centre, and it was there repelled with equal success. A heavy column having broken through the line, the cavalry accompanying it wheeled to their left and charged the rear of the reserve; but this charge was broken by the accidental state of the ground, which had been excavated into pit-holes about three feet deep for the men to sleep in, before the arrival of their camp equipage. Over these holes they had to make their charge, and in consequence were completely routed, more than three hundred of them being left dead on the spot. Finding all his movements frustrated, Menou at length ordered a retreat, which he was able to effect in good order; the British having too few cavalry to pursue. His loss was supposed to be between three and four thousand men, including many officers, among whom were general Raize, commander of the cavalry, who fell in the field, and two generals who died of their wounds. The loss of the British was also heavy, upwards of seventy officers being killed, wounded, and missing. Among these was the lamented commander-in-chief. Having hastened, on the first alarm, towards the cannonading, Sir Ralph must have ridden straight among the enemy, who had already broken the front line and got into its rear. It was not yet day, and, being unable to distinguish friend from foe, he must have been embarrassed among the assailants, but he was extricated by the valour of his troops. To the first soldier that came up to him, he said, "Soldier, if you know me, don't name me." A French dragoon, at the moment, conjecturing the prize he had lost, rode up to Sir Ralph, and made a cut at him, but not being near enough, only cut through the clothes, and grazed the skin with the point of his sabre. The dragoon's horse wheeling about, brought him again to the charge, and he made a second attempt by a lounge, but the sabre passed between Sir Ralph's side and his right arm. The dragoon being at the instant shot dead, the sabre remained with the general. About the same time it was discovered that he had been wounded in the thigh, and was entreated to have the wound examined; but he treated it as a trifle, and would not for a moment leave the field. No sooner, however, had the enemy begun to retreat, and the excitement of feeling under which he had been acting to subside, than he fainted from pain and the loss of blood. His wound was now examined, and a large incision made in order to extract the ball, but it could not be found. He was then put upon a litter, and carried aboard the Foudroyant, where he languished till the 28th, when he died. His body was interred in the burial ground of the commandery of the Grand Master, under the walls of the castle of St Elan, near the town of Valetta in Malta.
Of the character of Sir Ralph Abercromby there can be but one opinion Bred to arms almost from his infancy, he appeared to be formed for command. His dispositions were always masterly, and his success certain. He had served in America, in the West Indies, in Ireland, in the Netherlands, in Holland, and in Egypt, and had in all of these countries gained himself great distinction. In the two latter countries, especially, he performed services that were of incalculable advantage to his country. The battle of the 21st of March, or of Alexandria, while it decided the fate of Egypt, left an impression of British skill and of British valour upon the minds of both her friends and her enemies, that materially contributed to the splendid results of a contest longer in continuance, and involving interests of greater magnitude, than Britain had ever before been engaged in. The manner in which he repressed the licentiousness of the troops in Ireland, was at once magnanimous and effective; and he ended a life of dignified exertion by a death worthy of a hero. "We have sustained an irreparable loss," says his successor, "in the person of our never enough to be lamented commander-in-chief, Sir Ralph Abercromby; but it is some consolation to those who tenderly loved him, that, as his life was honourable, so was his death glorious. His memory will be recorded in the annals of his country, will be sacred to every British soldier, and embalmed in the recollection of a grateful posterity."
Sir Ralph Abercromby was married to Mary Anne, daughter of John Menzies of Fernton, Perthshire; by whom he had issue four sons and three daughters, who survived him. On the official account reaching England of the fate of her lamented husband, his widow was elevated to the peerage, May 28, 1801, as Baroness Abercromby of Aboukir and Tullibody, with remainder to the heirs-male of the deceased general; and, on the recommendation of his majesty, the House of Commons, without one dissentient voice, granted an annuity of two thousand pounds to Lady Abercromby, and the next two succeeding male heirs of the body of Sir Ralph Abercromby, to whom the title of Baron Abercromby should descend. The House of Commons, farther, sensible of the great merits of this distinguished British commander, voted a monument to his memory, at the public expense, which was subsequently erected in St Paul's cathedral.
ABERNETHY, John, an eminent writer on physiology. The birth and parentage of this gentleman were so obscure, that it is impossible to say with certainty whether he was a native of Ireland or of Scotland. It is even affirmed that he was himself ignorant of the country of his birth. Upon the supposition that he was born in Scotland, his name is introduced in the present work. The date of his birth is given loosely as 1763-64. His parents having brought him in his infancy to London, he commenced his education at a day-school in Lothbury, where he acquired the elements of classical literature. Having afterwards been bound apprentice to Mr Charles Blick, surgeon to St Bartholomew's Hospital, he had the advantage of attending that noble institution, where he eagerly seized every opportunity of making himself practically acquainted with his profession. He also had the advantage of attending the lectures of Mr John Hunter, at the time when that gentleman was commencing the development of those great discoveries which have made his name so famous. The curiosity which those discoveries excited in the public at large, was felt in an uncommon degree by Mr Abernethy, whose assiduity and ardour as a pupil attracted the notice of the lecturer, and rendered the latter his friend for life.
While as yet a very young practitioner, his reputation procured for Mr Abernethy the situation of assistant-surgeon at St Bartholomew's, and he soon after commenced a course of lectures in the hospital, which, though not very successful at first, became in time the most frequented of any in London, so as to lay the foundation of a medical school of the highest reputation in connection with this institution. On the death of Sir Charles Blick, his former master, Mr Abernethy, now considered as the best teacher of anatomy, physiology, and surgery in the metropolis, was elected surgeon to the hospital.
The first publications of Mr Abernethy were a few Physiological Essays, and one on Lumbar Abscess, which, with some additions, formed his first volume, published 1793-97, in 8vo, under the title of "Surgical and Physiological
- He was born in 1705, called to the bar in 1728, and died, June 8, 1800, at the advanced age of ninety-five, being the eldest member of the college of justice.
- The following panegyric upon Sir Ralph in another character, was written before his death: "As a country gentleman, ever attentive to all within the circle of his movement, he stands high in the estimation of his neighbours and dependents; and when his military glory shall have fallen into oblivion, it will be gratefully remembered that he was the friend of the destitute poor, the patron of useful knowledge, and the promoter of education among the meanest of his cottagers: as an instance it may be mentioned, that in the village of Tullibody, on his paternal estate, a reading school, under his immediate inspection, was established many years back." Campbell's Journey through Scotland, 4to, 1802, vol. ii.