Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Napier, George (1751-1804)

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NAPIER, GEORGE (1751–1804), colonel, was the eldest son of Francis Scott, afterwards Napier, fifth Lord Napier of Merchiston (d. 1773), by his second wife, the daughter of George Johnston of Dublin. He was born in Edinburgh on 11 March 1751, educated under the supervision of David Hume, the historian, and on 8 Oct. 1767 was appointed ensign in the 25th foot, then known as the Edinburgh regiment. The regiment was in Minorca and commanded by Lord George Lennox. Napier became lieutenant in it on 4 March 1771. He subsequently obtained a company in the old 80th royal Edinburgh volunteers, raised in 1778, and served on the staff of Sir Henry Clinton (1738?–1795) [q. v.] in America. There Napier, who stood six feet two, with a faultless figure, was reputed one of the handsomest and most active men in the army. He was at the siege of Charleston, South Carolina, and, when Major John André [q. v.] was taken, offered to continue André's services as a spy in uniform. Clinton refused to sanction the proposal. Napier lost his wife and young children by yellow fever, and was himself put on board ship insensible and, it was thought, dying. Clinton took upon himself to sell his commission for the benefit of the remaining child, an infant daughter. Napier recovered on the voyage, and in August 1781 married again.

On 30 Oct. 1782 he re-entered the army as ensign in the 1st foot guards, of which he became adjutant, and was afterwards promoted to a company in the old 100th foot. His brother-in-law, the Duke of Richmond [see Lennox, Charles, third Duke of Richmond and Lennox], as master-general of the ordnance, found Napier a temporary berth as superintendent of Woolwich laboratory. In 1788 Napier communicated to the Royal Irish Academy, of which he was a member, a memoir on the ‘Composition of Gunpowder,’ in which he states, ‘I was ably assisted when superintending the Royal Laboratory at Woolwich.’ It is probable that Sir William Congreve [q. v.], who was appointed controller of the laboratory in 1783, had a considerable share in the experiments. This paper appeared in the ‘Royal Institute of Artillery Transactions,’ 1788, ii. 97–118, and was translated into Italian and, it is believed, other languages. In 1793, Napier, a captain on half-pay of the disbanded 100th foot, was appointed deputy quartermaster-general, with the rank of major, in the force collected under the Earl of Moira [see Hastings, Francis Rawdon] to assist the French royalists in La Vendée, which eventually joined the Duke of York's army at Mechlin in July 1794. Napier was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the newly raised Londonderry regiment on 25 Aug. 1794, and worked hard to discipline the regiment, which was at Macclesfield; but it was drafted to the West Indies the year after, to Napier's disgust and in defiance of the men's engagements. A place was then created for Napier as ‘chief field engineer’ on the staff of Lord Carhampton, the Irish commander-in-chief. When the troubles broke out in 1798, Napier did not fly, like most of the gentry, but fortified his mansion at Celbridge, Kildare, and armed his sons and servants. Eventually he removed his family to Castletown. He commanded a yeomanry corps in the rebellion. Marquis Cornwallis appointed him comptroller of army accounts in Ireland; and Napier, a man of varied attainments, set to work loyally to reduce to order the military accounts, which were in disgraceful confusion. He became a brevet-colonel on 1 Jan. 1800. He died of consumption on 13 Oct. 1804 at Clifton, Bristol. There is a memorial slab in the Redlands Chapel there.

Napier married, first, Elizabeth, daughter of Captain Robert Pollock, by whom he had several children, all of whom, together with their mother, died in America, with the exception of Louisa Mary, who survived and died unmarried on 26 Aug. 1856; secondly, the Lady Sarah Bunbury, fourth daughter of the second Duke of Richmond [see Lennox, Charles, second Duke of Richmond, Lennox, and Aubigny]. At the age of seventeen she captivated the youthful George III, and it was thought would have become queen. Horace Walpole speaks of her as by far the most charming of the ten noble maidens who bore the bride's train at the subsequent marriage of the king with Charlotte of Mecklenburg on 8 Sept. 1761 (Letters, iii. 374, 432; Jesse, Memoirs of George III, i. 64–9; Thackeray, Four Georges). She married in 1762 Sir Charles Thomas Bunbury, M.P., the well-known racing baronet, from whom she was divorced in 1776. By her marriage with Napier she had five sons and three daughters, among the former being the distinguished soldiers Charles James Napier [q. v.], George Thomas Napier [q. v.], and William Francis Patrick Napier [q. v.], and the historian, Henry Edward Napier [q. v.] George III settled 1,000l. a year on her and her children at Napier's death. Lady Sarah, who had been long totally blind, died in London in 1826, aged 81. She was said to be the last surviving great-granddaughter of Charles II.

[Burke's Peerage, under ‘Napier of Merchistoun’ and ‘Richmond and Lennox;’ Napier's Life and Opinions of Sir Charles James Napier, i. 47–55; Passages in Early Military Life of Sir George Thomas Napier, p. 24; Army Lists; Jesse's Life and Reign of Geo. III, vol. i.; Walpole's Letters, vols. iii–ix.]

H. M. C.