Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Petrie, Martin

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PETRIE, MARTIN (1823–1892), colonel, was born on 1 June 1823, at the Manor House, King's Langley, Hertfordshire, being the second son of Commissary-general William Petrie (d. 1842), who had seen active service in Egypt, Italy, and France. His mother Margaret was daughter and coheiress of Henry Mitton of the Chase, Enfield. Colonel Petrie was sixth in descent from Alexander Petrie, D.D. [q. v.] His infancy was spent in Portugal, and his childhood at the Cape of Good Hope, at which places his father held appointments. In youth he was chiefly in France, Italy, and Germany. On 14 April 1846 he entered the army as an ensign in the royal Newfoundland corps, and served for eleven years in North America, becoming a lieutenant on 7 Jan. 1848 and captain on 5 May 1854. On 26 Jan. 1855 he was transferred to the 14th foot regiment, and left Newfoundland on 20 March in the small steamer Vesta, which carried twenty-four passengers, seven of them, including Captain Petrie, being officers on their way to join regiments in the Crimea. When three hundred miles off St. John's the vessel, already damaged by ice-floes, was caught in a terrific storm, and the engine-room was flooded. Petrie's mechanical skill and great courage enabled him to save the ship. He was called the ‘hero of the Vesta;’ but his hands were so severely lacerated and frostbitten that he was invalided for some time, and could not proceed to the Crimea.

In May 1856 Petrie joined the Royal Staff College, and in December 1858 he passed the final examination, coming out first on the list. He was attached to the topographical department of the war office from 10 March 1859 to 30 June 1864; and in 1860, during his first year there, he brought out a standard work in three volumes, ‘The Strength, Composition, and Organisation of the Armies of Europe,’ showing the annual revenue and military expenditure of each country, with its total forces in peace and war. In 1863 he published a volume giving more detailed information respecting the British army, ‘The Organisation, Composition, and Strength of the Army of Great Britain,’ which reached a fifth edition in 1867. Petrie also compiled two important volumes, ‘Equipment of Infantry’ and ‘Hospital Equipment’ (1865–6), forming part of a series on army equipment. For the long period of eighteen years (1864–1882) he was examiner in military administration at the staff college, and latterly at the Royal Military College also. He became major on 13 July 1867, and exchanged to the 97th foot on 18th Dec.; in July 1872 he retired on half-pay, in 1876 became colonel, and in 1882 withdrew from the service. Petrie read some papers on military matters at the Royal United Service Institution, of which he was a member; and as an enthusiastic freemason he was master of the St. John's, Newfoundland, lodge, and a member of the Quatuor Coronati lodge in London. He was active in philanthropic and religious work, and was a trustee of the Princess Mary Village Homes.

Petrie died on 19 Nov. 1892, at his house Hanover Lodge, Kensington Park, London, and was buried at, Kensal Green. His wife, Eleanora Grant, youngest daughter of William Macdowall of Woolmet House, Midlothian, and granddaughter of Sir William Dunbar of Durn, baronet, died on 31 Jan. 1886, leaving two daughters, of whom the elder, authoress of 'Clews to Holy Writ', 1892, is the wife of Professor Charles Ashley Carus-Wilson of McGill University, Montreal, and the younger is an honorary missionary of the Church Missionary Society in Kashmir.

[Private information; war office records.]

G. A. A.