Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Monson, William (1760-1807)

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MONSON, WILLIAM (1760–1807), Indian officer, fourth son of John, second baron Monson [see under Monson, Sir John, first baron], by his wife Theodosia, daughter of John Maddison of Harpswell, Lincolnshire, was born 15 Dec. 1760. In 1780 he received a commission in the 52nd regiment of infantry, with which he proceeded to India. By 5 Aug. 1785 he had risen to the rank of captain. Taking part in the war carried on by the English against Tippoo, sultan of Mysore, during the administration of Charles, lord Cornwallis [q. v.], he commanded a light company of the 52nd regiment, which successfully attacked the southern entrenchment of Seringapatam, Tippoo's capital, on 22 Feb. 1792. Monson continued in India after the peace, and had by September 1795 reached the rank of major. In 1797 he exchanged into the 76th English regiment, which had recently come out to India, and received the grade of lieutenant-colonel. On the outbreak of the Mahratta war in 1803 Monson was appointed by Lord Lake [see Lake, Gerard] to the command of the first infantry brigade of the army destined for the invasion of the Mahratta dependencies in Northern India, and he led the storming party which took Allyghur on 4 Sept. 1803, receiving a severe wound, which incapacitated him from field duty for six months. In April 1804 Monson, now restored to health, and in high favour with Lord Lake, was sent, with a force of about four thousand men, all natives except the artillerymen, to keep watch on the large army of Jeswunt Rao Holkar, who was threatening our ally the rajah of Jeypore. Monson reached Jeypore on 21 April. Two days later Holkar broke up his camp and retreated southwards, Monson steadily following till the Mahratta chief crossed the Chumbul, when he was directed by Lord Lake to take up a position at Kotah, so as to guard against any attempt of Holkar to return north. He, however, persisted in advancing, on his own responsibility, due south, along the line of the Chumbul, thinking that a continued pursuit would cause Holkar to disband his army. But he had no sooner reached the village of Peeplah than Holkar, with an overwhelming force, estimated at seventy thousand strong, retraced his steps and took up a strong position at Rampoorah, on the banks of the Chumbul. Monson advanced up to the Mahratta camp in battle array. But Holkar gave no sign of alarm, and the English commander, losing his presence of mind, determined to retreat. The Mahrattas, flushed with triumph, started in pursuit. They annihilated his cavalry detachment, under Lieutenant Lucan, near Peeplah, but Monson, with the infantry, managed to escape. He marched by Mokundra and Tonk Rampura to Hindown, which was reached on 27 Aug. Monson's little force had been hotly pursued the whole way by Holkar's numerous cavalry, and owing to the bad state of the roads they had been compelled to abandon all their guns and baggage. A final and determined attempt was made by Holkar to bar Monson's path outside Hindown, but Monson's sepoys held firm, and the Mahrattas drew off. The remnant of Monson's corps straggled into Agra on 29 Aug. Only a few hundred out of the original force seem to have survived.

Monson's retreat inflicted a severe blow on English prestige. He himself was to blame, first for the advance beyond Kotah, and secondly for the movement up to the Mahratta camp, followed by a sudden retreat, which had the natural result of drawing the Mahrattas after him. On the other hand, Lake has been censured for sending Monson out with so small a force, and for not coming to his assistance the moment the retreat began. In spite of his defeat Monson was again employed by Lake in the final operations against Holkar in Northern India. At the battle of Deeg, 14 Nov. 1805, he acted as second in command to General Fraser, and on his superior being wounded Monson obtained the chief command, and the privilege of writing a report of the victory to Lord Wellesley. On 21 Feb. 1806 Monson was chosen by Lord Lake to head the last of the four unsuccessful assaults on Bhurtpoor. Monson now returned to England. In December 1806 he entered parliament as member for Lincoln. He died at Bath in December 1807.

Monson married at Calcutta, 10 Jan. 1786, Anne, youngest daughter of John Debonnaire. She died 26 Feb. 1841. Their only son, William John (1796–1862), became sixth Baron Monson in 1841, and the sixth baron's son and successor, William John, was created Viscount Oxenbridge in 1886, and was master of the horse in Mr. Gladstone's fourth ministry.

[Collins's Peerage, ed. 1812; Gent. Mag. 1807, pt. ii. p. 1235; Philippart's East India Military Calendar; Thorn's Last War in India against the Mahrattas; Grant Duff's Hist. of the Mahrattas; Cornwallis Corresp.; Wellesley Despatches (Owen's selections); Army Lists; Mill's Hist. of India; Malleson's Essay on Lord Lake, Calcutta Review, May 1866.]

G. P. M-y.