Colebrooke, William Macbean George (DNB01)

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COLEBROOKE, Sir WILLIAM MACBEAN GEORGE (1787–1870), soldier and colonial governor, son of Colonel Paulet Welbore Colebrooke, R.A. (d. 1816; see Gent. Mag. 1816, ii. 466), and a daughter of Major-general Grant, was born in 1787, and educated at Woolwich, entering the royal artillery as a first lieutenant on 12 Sept. 1803. In 1805 he was ordered to the East Indies first to Ceylon, then in 1806 to Malabar, and back to Ceylon in 1807. He went to India in 1809, and served with the field army there through 1810, becoming a captain on 27 Sept. 1810. He next served in Java, and was wounded in the operations against the Dutch in that island in 1811; here he remained under the British occupation, and was deputy quarter-master-general in 1813, being promoted major on 1 June 1813. He was sent as political agent and commissioner to Palembong in Sumatra, and on to Bengal in 1814. He resumed his old duties in Java in 1815, and was ordered to India on the conclusion of peace and the restoration of Java to the Dutch on 19 Aug. 1816. He served through the Mahratta war of 1817-8, and accompanied the expedition to the Persian Gulf in 1818. He returned to England in 1821.

From 1822 to 1832 Colebrooke was one of the commissioners of what was known as the Eastern inquiry. This was in fact a long and elaborate inquiry into the administration and revenues of Ceylon, where he resided on the business of the inquiry from 1825 to 1831. (For his reports see House of Commons Papers, 1832.) On 9 Sept. 1834 he became lieutenant-governor of the Bahamas, whither he proceeded by way of Jamaica, spending about a month in that island and arriving at Nassau on a ship-of-war on 26 Feb. 1835. His first speech to the assembly was on 7 April 1835. He administered the colony during the days when slavery gave way to the apprenticeship system prior to its final abolition, and he showed himself appreciative of the problems which he was called upon to solve. On 13 Feb. 1837 he was gazetted as governor of the Leeward Islands, being at the time on leave in England. He assumed the government of Antigua and the other islands on 11 May 1837, and one of his earliest official acts was the proclamation of Queen Victoria. In this government, as in the Bahamas, he was anxious to improve education and reform prison discipline; he also urged the restoration of the old general council of the Leewards. On 25 July 1840 he left Antigua for Liverpool, and after an extended leave was on 26 March 1841 made lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick. Here his tenure of office was uneventful, the question of the Maine boundary being the chief public matter affecting the colony at that time; he did, however, suggest a special scheme for colonisation, which had no practical results. On 9 Nov. 1846 he became colonel in the army, though he was not colonel of artillery till later. On 27 Nov. 1847 he was gazetted to British Guiana, but never took up the appointment, proceeding instead on 11 Aug. 1848, as governor, to Barbados, where he also administered the Windward Islands. This administration was marked, like previous ones, by special interest in the suppression of crime and the improvement of the prisons. He also suggested a federation of all the Windward Islands, thus anticipating much later proposals. In 1854 the withdrawal of imperial troops from the smaller islands caused some apprehension, but the peace of the islands was not really disturbed. He seems to have left a very good impression on the people of Barbados. He became major-general on the retired list on 20 June 1854. In January 1856 he relinquished his government and returned to England. He was promoted lieutenant-general on 16 Jan. 1859, and he was colonel commanding the royal artillery from 25 Sept. 1859 till his death. He resided at Salt Hill, near Slough, Buckinghamshire, where he died on 6 Feb. 1870. He had become K.H. in 1834, K.B. in 1837, and received C.B. (civil) in 1848.

Colebrooke married, in 1820, Emma Sophia, daughter of Lieutenant-colonel Robert Colebrooke (d. 1808), surveyor-general of Bengal; she died in 1851.

[Colonial Office List, 1864; Boase's Modern English Biogr.; Times, 10 Feb. 1870; records of Colonial Office, among which is a statement in his own writing giving the earlier dates of his career.]

C. A. H.