Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Boyd, Robert (1710-1794)

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BOYD, Sir ROBERT (1710–1794), general, colonel 39th foot, and governor of Gibraltar, is first noticed in official lists about 1740, when he appears as (civilian) storekeeper of ordnance at Port Mahon, Minorca, at a salary of 182l. 10s. per annum, in succession to Mr. Ninian Boyd, by whom the post had previously been held for a good many years. Robert Boyd was still storekeeper sixteen years later, in 1756, when the garrison, commanded by the aged general, afterwards Lord Blakeney, was besieged by the French and Spaniards. During this time, on 19 May 1756, he distinguished himself by a gallant but unsuccessful attempt to carry despatches in an open boat, in view of the enemy, from Governor Blakeney to Admiral Byng, whose long-expected fleet was in the offing, in consequence of which he was one of the first witnesses called by the crown at the subsequent trial of the unfortunate admiral. In recognition of his services at Minorca Boyd received a commission in the army as lieutenant-colonel unattached, bearing date 25 March 1758. On 13 Jan. 1760 he was brought into the 1st foot guards, then commanded by the Duke of Cumberland, as captain-lieutenant and lieutenant-colonel, and on 23 July following was promoted to captain and lieutenant-colonel in the regiment, being at the time in Germany on the personal staff of the Marquis of Granby, then in command of the British troops serving under Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick. A couple of letters from Colonel Boyd to Sir Andrew Mitchell, dated from Germany in January 1759 and December 1760, show that there was some intention of sending him to India in command of a regiment, but, the East India Company having applied for an officer who had served in India before, he escaped what appears to have been an unwelcome duty (Mitchell Papers, Add. MSS. 6860, p. 86). On 18 Sept. 1765 he exchanged from the Guards to the 39th foot, and on 6 Aug. 1766 was promoted colonel of that regiment, in succession to Lieutenant-general Aldercron, deceased. On 25 May 1768 he was appointed lieutenant-governor of Gibraltar, whither his regiment had proceeded (Home Off. Military Entry Books, vol. xxvii.) Sundry references to Colonel Boyd will be found in the Calendars of Home Office Papers for 1760-70, and a number of letters written by him whilst acting governor of Gibraltar are in British Museum, Add. MSS. 24159 to 24163. He became a major-general in 1772, and lieutenant-general in 1777. He was second in command under Lord Heathfield during the famous defence of Gibraltar from 1779 to 1783, and it was at his suggestion that red-hot shot were first employed for the destruction of the enemy's floating batteries (Drinkwater, p. 129). For his distinguished services at this eventful period he was created K.B. In May 1790 he succeeded Lord Heathfield as governor. On 12 Oct. 1793 he attained the rank of general, and died on 13 May 1794. He was buried in a tomb constructed by his directions in the king's bastion on the sea-line of defences, in the salient angle of which is a marble tablet, the very existence of which is now unknown to many dwellers on the Rock, with the following inscription: 'Within the walls of this bastion are deposited the mortal remains of the late General Sir Robert Boyd, K.B., governor of this fortress, who died on 13 May 1794, aged 84 years. By him the first stone of the bastion was laid in 1773, and under his supervision it was completed, when, on that occasion, in his address to the troops, he expressed a wish to see it resist the combined efforts of France and Spain, which wish was accomplished on 13 Sept. 1782, when, by the fire of this bastion, the flotilla expressly designed for the capture of this fortress were utterly destroyed.

A mural tablet in the King's Chapel, Gibraltar, also records the date of his death and the place of his burial.

[Angliæ Notitiæ, 1727-55; Ordnance Warrant Books in Public Record Office; Beatson's Nav. and Mil. Memoirs (ed. 1804), i. 490-1; Shorthand Report Trial Admiral Byng, Brit. Mus., Trials; Annual Army Lists; Hamilton's Hist. Gren. Guards, vol. iii. Appendix; Cannon's Hist. Rec. 39th Foot; Add. MSS. 5726 C and 6860 f. 86; Add. MSS. Lord Granby's Orders; Add. MSS. 24159-63; Calendars Home Office Papers, 1760-72; Drinkwater's Siege of Gibraltar (ed. 1844), pp. 11-12, 129, 164-6; Scots Mag. lvi. 442; Notes and Queries, 6th ser. x. 6.]

H. M. C.