Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Abercromby, John (1772-1817)

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ABERCROMBY, Sir JOHN (1772–1817), general, was the second son of the famous Sir Ralph Abercromby, and the elder of the two sons who followed their father's profession. He entered the army in 1786 at the age of fourteen, as ensign in the 75th regiment, of which his uncle Robert was colonel. He became lieutenant in the same regiment in 1787, and captain in 1792, and first saw service as aide-de-camp to his father in the campaigns in Flanders in 1793 and 1794. His father's military reputation and dependence on his services caused him to rise rapidly. In May 1794 he became major in the 94th, and in July, when only twenty-two, lieutenant-colonel in the 112th regiment. In 1795 he exchanged into the 53rd, and accompanied his father to the West Indies in 1796 and 1797, to Ireland in 1798, and in the expedition to the Helder in 1799 as military secretary. This was a post of more than usual importance on the staff of Sir Ralph, who was extremely short-sighted, and had in action to depend entirely for his knowledge of what was happening on his personal staff. In this capacity young Abercromby particularly distinguished himself, and on more than one occasion, notably at the attack on Morne Fortunée in St. Lucia, the father owed much of his success to his son's power of explaining the military situation. He was promoted colonel on 1 Jan. 1800, and thus removed by his rank from his father's personal staff, but was appointed a deputy-adjutant-general in the army under Sir Ralph in the Mediterranean, and attached to General Hutchinson's division. In Egypt he greatly distinguished himself, and was at least twice publicly thanked by General Hutchinson in general orders.

At the time of the rupture of the peace of Amiens in 1803, he unfortunately happened to be travelling in France, and with other travelling Englishmen was seized and imprisoned by Napoleon at Verdun. Nevertheless in his absence he was promoted major-general in 1805, and made colonel of his old regiment, the 53rd, in 1807. He was at last exchanged for General Brennier, who had been taken prisoner by Sir A. Wellesley at the battle of Vimeiro in 1808, was allowed to return to England, and was appointed commander-in-chief at Bombay in 1809. In this capacity he led the division from Bombay, which was to co-operate in the expedition sent by Lord Minto from India to capture the Mauritius. This island, which formed the base of the French fleet and of innumerable French privateers, caused immense damage to the Indiamen sailing between England and India, and Lord Minto had determined to subdue it. On his way the Ceylon, on which General Abercromby and his staff had embarked, was taken by the French frigate Venus, but on 18 Sept. was fortunately recaptured by Captain Rowley in the Boadicea. On 22 Nov. he left the island of Rodriguez with the Madras and Bombay divisions, and was joined, when in sight of the Mauritius, by the division from Bengal. He took command of the whole force as senior general present, and on 29 Nov. disembarked at an open roadstead, and advanced with 6,300 Europeans, 2,000 sailors lent to him by Admiral Bertie, and 3,000 Sepoys, upon Port Louis, the capital of the island. On 30 Nov. he fought a smart action, which showed the French general that resistance was impossible, and on 2 Dec. Decaen surrendered the island. Abercromby returned to Bombay in 1811, and continued to command the forces there till 1812, when he was appointed commander-in-chief and temporary governor of Madras. This presidency had lately been disturbed by the well-known mutiny of the Madras officers, on account of which Sir George Barlow had been recalled; but the quiet manner and good nature of General Abercromby had as good an effect as similar qualities had had during his uncle Sir Robert's command at Calcutta. In May 1813 Mr. Hugh Elliot assumed the governorship, and in December of the same year General Abercromby's health was so much impaired by the climate that he had to go home. On his return he was well received; he had been promoted lieutenant-general in 1812, and was now in 1814, on the extension of the order of the Bath, made a K.C.B. In 1815 his brother George resigned the seat for Clackmannan to him, and in 1816 he was made a G.C.B.; but his health was too bad for him to take any prominent part in politics, and on 14 Feb. 1817, when on the continent for his health, he died at Marseilles, where he was buried with full military honours. Some French writers have asserted that he was in command of an escort which conducted Napoleon to St. Helena; but there does not seem to be any record of the presence of any troops or any general officer on board the Northumberland, except the ordinary complement of marines. Sir John seems to have possessed the military abilities of his family, but had but little chance of showing them, except as military secretary to his father, and in the easy conquest of the Mauritius.

[For General John Abercromby's services in early life see the memoir of his father; for his services in Egypt see Sir R. Wilson's Campaign in Egypt; and for the capture of the Mauritius see the despatches in the Annual Register and Gentleman's Magazine, the Asiatic Annual Register, and Lady Minto's Lord Minto in India.]

H. M. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.1
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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42 i 16 f.e. Abercromby, Sir John: for 1814 read 1815