Donkin, Rufane Shaw (DNB00)

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DONKIN, Sir RUFANE SHAW (1773–1841), general, colonel 11th foot, surveyor-general of the ordnance, belonged to a respectable Northumbrian family, said to be of Scottish descent, and originally named Duncan. His father, General Robert Donkin, who died in March 1821, at the age of ninety-four, had been a brother-officer of Wolfe on the staff of General Fowke in Flanders, and afterwards served on the staff of General Rufane in Martinique, of Lord Granard when commander-in-chief in Ireland, and of General Gage in America. He is stated to have been a personal friend of David Hume, the historian, and to have written, at the suggestion of the latter, an account of the famous siege of Belle Isle, at which he was present. He was author of ‘Military Recollections and Remarks’ (New York, 1777). He married in 1772 Mary, daughter of the Rev. Emanuel Collins [q. v.], and by her had a son and two daughters. Rufane Shaw Donkin, the eldest child, was born in 1773, and on 21 March 1778 appointed to an ensigncy in the 44th foot at New York, in which his father then held the rank of major. He became lieutenant in 1779. He was educated at Westminster School until the age of fourteen, and appears afterwards to have been a very persevering student. At one time when on leave from his regiment—probably after its return from Canada in 1786—he studied classics and mathematics in France for a year, and when on detachment in the Isle of Man, read Greek for a year and a half with a Cambridge graduate. He obtained his company 31 May 1793. His first active service was with the flank companies of the 44th foot in the West Indies, at the capture of Martinique, Guadaloupe, and St. Lucia, and the subsequent loss of Guadaloupe in 1794, the rest of the regiment being meanwhile in Flanders. After his return home Donkin was brigade-major, and for several months aide-de-camp to General Musgrave, commanding at Newcastle-on-Tyne. He became major 1 Sept. 1795. He served under Sir Ralph Abercromby at St. Lucia in 1796, where the 44th lost twenty officers and over eight hundred men, chiefly from fever. Donkin was removed to Martinique in a state of insensibility, and afterwards invalided home dangerously ill. He was promoted to lieutenant-colonel 24 May 1798, and was detached in command of a provisional light battalion, composed of the light companies 11th foot, 23rd fusiliers, and 49th foot, with the expedition to Ostend, where he greatly distinguished himself, but was wounded and made prisoner. Transferred to the 11th foot, he went in command of that regiment to the West Indies in 1799, but returned in 1800. He went out a fourth time to the same station in 1801, and served there till 1804. In 1805 he was appointed to the permanent staff of the quartermaster-general's department, and served as an assistant quartermaster-general in Kent, under Generals Sir John Moore and Francis Dundas, and also with the Copenhagen expedition of 1807. In 1808 he brought out a reprint of the French text of Count L'Espinasse's ‘Essai sur l'Artillerie’ (Paris, 1800). It was printed by Rouse, Kirby, & Lawrence of Canterbury, and was translated into English forty years afterwards by Major P. J. Begbie, Madras artillery. In 1809 Donkin was appointed assistant quartermaster-general with the army in Portugal, and as a colonel on the staff commanded a brigade in the operations on the Douro and at the battle of Talavera, but soon returned home (see Gurwood, Well. Desp. iii. 262, 298, 373; compare with Parl. Hist., 3rd ser. xvii. 55), and was appointed quartermaster-general in Sicily in succession to Colonel H. E. Bunbury [see Bunbury, Sir Henry Edward]. He served in that capacity in Sicily, and in the operations on the east coast of Spain in 1810–13, and at the moment was blamed as the cause of Sir John Murray's disaster at Tarragona in the latter year, but the evidence on Murray's court-martial showed that the latter had ignored his quartermaster-general altogether, and disregarded his views (see Napier, Hist. Penins. War, book xx. cap. 1). Donkin, who had become major-general in 1811, was next appointed to a command in the Essex district, and in July 1815 to one at Madras, whence he was afterwards transferred to the Bengal presidency. Before leaving England he married, 1 May 1815, Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Dr. Markham, dean of York, and granddaughter of Archbishop Markham (see Lives of the Markhams, privately printed, 1854, p. 51). Donkin commanded the 2nd field division of the grand army under the Marquis of Hastings in the operations against the Mahrattas in 1817–18, and by skilful movements cut off the line of retreat of the enemy towards the north (see Lond. Suppl. Gaz. 25 Aug., 26 Sept. 1818; also Gent. Mag. lxxxix. i. 73–8, 262–3). Donkin's letters to Colonel Nicol and the Marquis of Hastings at this time form Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 23759. He was made K.C.B. 14 Oct. 1818. While employed as above he had the misfortune to lose his wife, who died at Meerut, at the age of twenty-eight, on 21 Aug. 1818, leaving him with an infant son. Much shattered in health, bodily and mentally, Donkin was invalided to the Cape. While there in 1820 he was requested to assume the government of the colony during the absence of Lord Charles Somerset. He administered it in 1820–1, his name being meanwhile retained on the Bengal establishment. This was the period of the settlement of the eastern frontier, and the now thriving town on the shore of Algoa Bay was named by Donkin Port Elizabeth, after his late wife. He seems to have been popular, but was not supported by Earl Bathurst, the colonial minister. In a letter addressed to that nobleman, and entitled ‘A Letter on the Cape of Good Hope, and certain events which occurred there under Lord Charles Somerset’ (London, 1827), Donkin published ‘an account of the measures adopted by me generally in my administration of the colony of the Cape of Good Hope, but particularly as to my measures for establishing five thousand settlers in that colony, and those pursued by Lord Charles Somerset for the total subversion of all I had done under your lordship's instructions.’ A printed volume of ‘Proclamations and other Official Documents issued by Sir Rufane Donkin when Acting Governor of the Cape of Good Hope’ is in the Brit. Mus. Library. Donkin, who had become a lieutenant-general in 1821, was made G.C.H. some time after his return from the Cape, ‘in recognition of his services at various times in connection with the German Legion.’ He was made colonel of the 80th foot in 1825.

The rest of Donkin's life was principally devoted to literary and parliamentary pursuits. He was made F.R.S., was one of the original fellows of the Royal Geographical Society, and a fellow of other learned societies. He was a contributor to various periodicals, among others to the ‘Literary Gazette’ (see Lit. Gaz. 1841, p. 301); but the statement (Gent. Mag. new ser. xvi. 318) that he wrote in the ‘Quarterly Review’ appears to be incorrect, as it is stated on the best authority that he never wrote a line there. Donkin published ‘A Dissertation on the Course and probable Termination of the Niger’ (London, 1829, 8vo), dedicated to the Duke of Wellington, in which he argued, chiefly from ancient writers, that the Niger was a river or ‘Nile’ bearing northwards, and probably losing itself in quicksands on the Mediterranean shore (in the Gulf of Sidra, according to the subsequent ‘Letter to the Publisher’). This view was refuted in the ‘Quarterly Review,’ lxxxi. (1829), in an article by Sir John Barrow [q. v.], who testified, from personal knowledge, that Donkin was ‘an excellent scholar, of a clear, logical, and comprehensive mind, vigorous in argument, and forcible in language,’ and that ‘consequently whatever proceeds from his pen will always be entitled to respect and most close attention’ (Quart. Rev. lxxxi. 226). Donkin, dissatisfied and apparently not knowing who was the writer of the review, rejoined with ‘A Letter to the Publisher’ (London, 1829). Some of his writings appear never to have been published. Mention is made (Jerdan, Portraits, vol. iii.) of a dissertation penned by Donkin when at Syracuse on the two sieges of that place by Nicias and Marcellus, as related by Thucydides and Livy, in which he maintained that certain difficulties in the narrative could only be elucidated by a military man reading them on the spot and in the original tongues. This seems not to have been printed, and the same remark applies to ‘A Parallel between Wellington and Marlborough,’ said to have been his latest work. He is described as a most agreeable companion, abounding in interesting anecdote. On 5 May 1832 Donkin married his second wife, Lady Anna Maria Elliot, daughter of the first Earl of Minto, who survived him and died without issue in 1855. Donkin was returned to parliament for Berwick in 1832 and 1835, in the whig interest, each time after a sharp contest. He was made surveyor-general of the ordnance in 1835. At the general election of 1837 he was defeated at Berwick, but in 1839 came in for Sandwich. He was transferred to the colonelcy of his old regiment, the 11th foot, the same year, and became general 28 June 1838.

Donkin, whose health had for some time given serious concern to his friends, committed suicide by hanging at Southampton 1 May 1841. His body was buried in a vault in Old St. Pancras churchyard, London, together with an urn containing the heart of his first wife. The shameful desecration of the place formed the subject of correspondence in the ‘Times,’ 1874. The churchyard is now a recreation-ground, and the Donkin tomb has been repaired.

[The best biographical notice of Donkin is in Jerdan's National Portraits, vol. iii., and is accompanied by an engraved portrait after Mather. An account of his father and family will be found in Gent. Mag. xcii. i. 273–4. Some of Donkin's letters are in Brit. Mus. Add. MSS. Of these the earliest, 21736, f. 127, is a schoolboy note, dated Exeter, 1785, addressed to General Haldimand in the name of Mrs. Hope, wife of the colonel of the 44th foot, which had not yet returned home from Canada. MS. 23759 contains Donkin's letters to Colonel Nicol and the Marquis of Hastings, above noted. The rest are communications to and from Sir Hudson Lowe, and are of no special interest.]

H. M. C.