Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kirkpatrick, William (1754-1812)

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KIRKPATRICK, WILLIAM (1754–1812), orientalist, born in 1754, was eldest son of Colonel James Kirkpatrick, Madras army, and grandson of James Kirkpatrick, M.D., who died in 1770, and was the author of several poetical and medical works. Colonel James Kirkpatrick was the author of a pamphlet on the ‘Organisation of a Body of Light Troops for Detached Service in the East Indies’ (London, 1769; 2nd edit. 1781), and in a critical notice of that work is described as ‘a cavalry leader of experience’ (Monthly Review, 1769). He was in command of the troops at Fort Marlborough, Sumatra, in 1777, and returned home in 1779. He married Katherine, daughter of Alexander Monro, by whom he had three sons—William, George, in the Bombay civil service, and James Achilles. He died at his seat, Hollydale, Kent, in 1818, aged 89. William, his eldest son, a cadet of 1771, was appointed ensign in the Bengal infantry on 17 Jan. 1773, lieutenant 9 April 1777, captain 3 April 1781, major 1 March 1794, lieutenant-colonel 12th native infantry 1 Jan. 1798, lieutenant-colonel commandant 8th native infantry 30 June 1804, colonel 6th native infantry 25 April 1808, major-general 4 June 1811. He was Persian interpreter to Lieutenant-general Giles Stibbert, who was commander-in-chief in Bengal in 1777–9 and 1780–5, and prepared a Persian translation of the articles of war (printed 1782). Afterwards he was resident with Scindia at Gwalior (Cornwallis Corresp. i. 261), and served on Lord Cornwallis's staff as Persian interpreter in the Mysore war of 1790–1. In 1793, in consequence of disputes between the Nepaulese and the lama of Tibet, a Chinese army crossed Tibet, and took up a position near Katmandu, in view of the Ganges valley. The Nepaulese implored the aid of British arms. Cornwallis offered to mediate, and Kirkpatrick was deputed to meet the Nepaulese envoys at Patna, and afterwards proceeded to Nayakote, where the Nepaul rajahs held their court. The officers of the mission, Kirkpatrick and his suite, were the first Englishmen ‘to pass the range of lofty mountains separating the secluded valley of Nepaul from the north-east part of Bengal’ (Account of Nepaul, p. 1). Cornwallis testified that ‘no one could have acquitted himself with more ability, prudence, and circumspection’ (Cornwallis Corresp. ii. 570). In 1795 Kirkpatrick was appointed resident with the nizam of Hyderabad, but in 1797 was invalided to the Cape, being replaced by his brother, Lieutenant-colonel James Achilles Kirkpatrick. At Cape Town Kirkpatrick met the Marquis Wellesley, who took him back to India with him as confidential military secretary. In a despatch dated 10 Jan. 1802 Wellesley declares himself indebted to Kirkpatrick ‘for the seasonable information which enabled me to extinguish French influence in the Deccan, and to frustrate the vindictive projects of Tippoo Sultaun’ (Wellesley Desp. vol. iii. pp. ix–xi). Kirkpatrick was appointed one of the commissioners for the partition of Mysore after the fall of Seringapatam, for which he received a sum of ten thousand pagodas, and in 1801 was made resident at Poona, but was compelled to finally quit India through ill-health the same year.

Kirkpatrick suggested and promoted the Bengal Military Fund. He translated various works from the Persian, and also published a translation of the ‘Diary and Letters of Tippoo Sultaun’ (London, 1804), and an ‘Account of the Mission to Nepaul in 1793’ (London, 1811). He helped to select the library deposited in the India House, Leadenhall Street, and now at the India Office. He was a man of mild and amiable manner, and in his skill in oriental tongues and knowledge of the manners, customs, and laws of India was declared by the Marquis Wellesley to be unequalled by any man he ever met in India. The future Duke of Wellington appears to have had a less favourable opinion of the Kirkpatrick brothers, particularly of Achilles (cf. Wellington Suppl. Desp. i. 95, 244, 250).

Kirkpatrick married at Calcutta, 26 Sept. 1788, Miss Maria Seaton Rawson (Gent. Mag. lvi. pt. i. p. 351), and left four daughters; Clementina, who married Admiral Sir John Louis, bart.; Barbara, who married Mr. Charles Buller, M.P.; Julia, who married Edward Strachey, father of the present Sir Edward Strachey, bart.; and Eliza, who died unmarried. Kirkpatrick died on 22 Aug. 1812, aged 58.

[Memoirs of the Family of Kirkpatrick of Closeburn, privately printed, London, 1885, pp. 60–3; information supplied by the India Office; East India Military Calendar, London, 1823, vol. ii.; Despatches of the Marquis Wellesley in India, London, 1837. A large number of Kirkpatrick's letters and memoranda are among the Mornington Papers in Brit. Mus. Addit. MSS.]

H. M. C.