Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Napier, William John
NAPIER, WILLIAM JOHN, eighth Lord Napier (1786–1834), captain in the navy, eldest son of Francis, seventh baron Napier [q. v.], was born on 13 Oct. 1786, and entered the navy in 1803 on board the Chiffonne, with Captain Charles Adam [q. v.] During 1804 and 1805 he was with Captain George Hope in the Defence, and in her was present at the battle of Trafalgar. He was then for a year in the Foudroyant, carrying the flag of Sir John Borlase Warren [q. v.], and was present at the capture of Linois's squadron on 13 March 1806. From November 1806 to September 1809 he was in the Imperieuse with Lord Cochrane, during his remarkable service on the coasts of France and Spain, and in the attack on the French fleet in Aix roads [see Cochrane, Thomas, tenth Earl of Dundonald]. He was promoted to be lieutenant on 6 Oct. 1809, and for the next two years served in the Kent, on the Mediterranean station. He was afterwards with Captain Pringle in the Sparrowhawk, on the coast of Catalonia, and being promoted, on 1 June 1812, to the command of the Goshawk, continued on the same service till September 1813. He then went out to the coast of North America in the Erne, and, though promoted to post rank on 4 June 1814, remained in the same command till September 1815, when the Erne returned to England and was paid off.
In the following March Napier married Elizabeth, daughter of the Hon. Andrew James Cochrane Johnstone [q. v.], and cousin of his old captain, Lord Cochrane, and, settling down in Selkirkshire, applied himself vigorously to sheep-farming. In January 1818 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. With great personal labour,
and against much opposition and ignorant prejudice, he opened out the country by new roads, in the survey of which he himself took part. He drained the land, built shelters for the sheep, and largely contributed to bringing in the white-faced sheep of the Cheviots as a more profitable breed than the black-faced sheep of the district, some account of all which he published under the title of ‘A Treatise on Practical Store-farming as applicable to the Mountainous Region of Etterick Forest and the Pastoral District of Scotland in general’ (8vo, 1822).
On 1 Aug. 1823, by the death of his father, he succeeded to the peerage, and from 1824 to 1826 he commanded the Diamond frigate on the South American station. In December 1833 he was appointed chief superintendent of trade in China, and took a passage out with Captain Chads in the Andromache. He arrived at Macao on 15 July 1834, and after arranging the establishment, as it was called, went up to Canton, which he reached on the 25th. This measure was contrary to and in defiance of the wishes of the viceroy, Loo, who refused to hold any correspondence with him, as, by established custom, all communications regarding trade passed through the hong merchants. It was Napier's object to break down this custom, and open direct intercourse with the government. Loo, on the other hand, was determined not to admit this, and ordered Napier to return to Macao. Napier refused to go, and was in consequence subjected to many petty annoyances, such as the withdrawal of all domestic servants, while at the same time the trade was stopped. Anxiety, worry, and annoyance, added to the heat and confinement, now made Napier seriously ill, and the surgeon on his staff decided that he must leave Canton.
Napier reached Macao on 26 Sept., and died there on 11 Oct. 1834. He left a family of five daughters and two sons, of whom the eldest, Francis, succeeded as ninth baron.[Marshall's Roy. Nav. Biog. vii. (Supplement, pt. iii.) 255; Gent. Mag. 1835, i. 267–9, 429; Blackwood's Mag. xiii. 175; Parl. Papers, 1840, vol. xxxvi., including correspondence relating to China, 1840, pp. 1–51; Additional Papers relating to China, 1840, pp. 1–4, and Paper relating to China, 3 April 1840; Foster's Peerage.]