Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Napier, George Thomas

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NAPIER, Sir GEORGE THOMAS (1784–1855), general and governor of the Cape of Good Hope, second son by his second wife of Colonel George Napier [q. v.], was born at Whitehall, London, on 30 June 1784. Unlike his elder brother Charles, he was a dunce at school. On 25 Jan. 1800 he was appointed cornet in the 24th light dragoons (disbanded in 1802), an Irish corps bearing ‘Death or Glory’ for its motto, in which he learned such habits of dissipation that his father speedily effected his transfer to a foot regiment. He became lieutenant on 18 June 1800, and was placed on half-pay of the 46th foot in 1802. He was brought into the 52nd light infantry in 1803, became captain on 5 Jan. 1804, and served with the regiment under Sir John Moore at Shorncliffe, in Sicily, Sweden, and Portugal. He was a favourite with Moore from the first, and one of his aides-de-camp at Coruña. Through some mistake he was represented in the army list as having received a gold medal in February 1809 for the capture of Martinique, at which action he was not present. He served with the 52nd in the Peninsular campaigns of 1809–11. At Busaco he was wounded slightly when in the act of striking with his sword at a French grenadier at the head of an opposing column. He and his brother William were two out of the eleven officers promoted in honour of Massena's retreat. He became an effective major in the 52nd foot in 1811, and volunteered for the command of the stormers of the light division at the assault on Ciudad Rodrigo on 19 Jan. 1812. John Gurwood [q. v.] of the 52nd led the forlorn hope. Napier on this occasion lost his right arm, which he had had broken by a fragment of shell at Casal Novo three days before (Gurwood, Wellington Despatches, v. 473–7, 478). Napier received a brevet lieutenant-colonelcy and a gold medal. He went home, married his first wife, and was appointed deputy adjutant-general of the York district. He rejoined the 52nd as major at St. Jean de Luz at the beginning of 1814, and was present with it at Orthez, Tarbes, and Toulouse. Immediately after the latter battle he was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the 71st highland light infantry, which he brought home to Scotland. On 25 July the same year he was appointed captain and lieutenant-colonel 3rd foot guards (Scots guards), in which he served until 19 April 1821, when he retired on half-pay of the late Sicilian regiment. He was made C.B. on 4 June 1815, became a brevet-colonel on 27 Aug. 1825, major-general 10 Jan. 1837, K.C.B. 10 July 1838, colonel 1st West India regiment 29 Feb. 1844, lieutenant-general 9 Nov. 1846, general 20 June 1854. He had the Peninsular gold medal for Ciudad Rodrigo, and the silver medal and four clasps.

Napier was governor and commander-inchief at the Cape of Good Hope from 4 Oct. 1837 to 12 Dec. 1843. He enforced the abolition of slavery, abolished inland taxation, depending for colonial revenue on the customs duties, and ruled the colony for nearly seven years without a Kaffir war. He sent a detachment of troops to Port Natal, and the Boers were driven out of that territory during his government (see Ann. Reg. 1842; Moodie, Battles in South Africa, vol. i.) After his return in 1844 Napier resided chiefly at Nice. King Charles Albert offered him the command of the Sardinian army, which he declined. After Chillianwalla Napier was proposed for the chief command in India, ‘but thought, in common with the people of England, that it belonged by right to his brother Charles.’ He died at Geneva on 16 Sept. 1855. Napier married, first, on 28 Oct. 1812, Margaret, daughter of John Craig of Glasgow; secondly, in 1839, Frances Dorothea, eldest daughter of R. W. Blencowe, and widow of William Peere Williams-Freeman of Fawley Court, Oxfordshire. By his first wife he had two daughters and three sons—General Thomas Conolly Napier, C.B., of the late Cape mounted riflemen; Captain John Moore Napier, 62nd regiment, who died in Sind in 1846; and General William Craig Emilius Napier, colonel King's Own Scottish Borderers (late 25th foot).

Napier wrote for his children ‘Passages in the Early Military Life of General Sir G. T. Napier,’ a work of exceptional interest, which was published by his surviving son in 1885.

[Burke's Peerage under ‘Napier of Merchistoun;’ Napier's Passages in Early Military Life; Hart's Army Lists; Gurwood's Wellington Despatches, vols. iv. and v.; Moorsom's Hist. of 52nd Light Infantry; Gent. Mag., 1855, pt. ii. p. 429.]

H. M. C.