Erskine, Henry (d.1765) (DNB00)

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ERSKINE, Sir HENRY or HARRY (d. 1765), fifth baronet of Alva and Cambuskenneth in Clackmannanshire, lieutenant-general, was second son of Sir John, the third baronet, who was accidentally killed in 1739, and his wife, the Hon. Catherine, second daughter of Lord Sinclair. His name first appears in the books at the war office on his appointment to a company in the 1st Royal Scots, 12 March 1743. The probable explanation is that his previous service was passed in the same regiment, which was very many years on the Irish establishment. Horace Walpole alludes to his having served under General Anstruther in Minorca (Letters, ii. 242). Erskine served as deputy quartermaster-general, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, in the blundering expedition to L'Orient in 1746, under command of his uncle, Lieutenant-general Hon. James St. Clair, where he was wounded. He afterwards served with the 1st Royal Scots in Flanders, where his elder brother, Sir Charles, fourth baronet, a major in the same regiment, was killed at the battle of Val (otherwise Laffeldt or Kisselt), 2 July 1747. Erskine was returned in parliament for Ayr in 1749, and represented Anstruther from 1754 to his death in 1765. His name was removed from the army list in 1756, owing to his opposition to the employment of the Hanoverian and Hessian troops; but he was afterwards restored and rose to the rank of lieutenant-general. He was colonel in succession of the 67th foot (Oct. 1760), the 25th foot (May 1761), then the Edinburgh regiment, and the 1st Royal Scots (Dec. 1762), in which he succeeded his uncle, the Hon. James St. Clair, de jure Lord Sinclair, who died in 1762, without taking up the title. Erskine was secretary of the order of the Thistle. He married in 1761 Janet, daughter of Peter Wedderburn of Chesterhall, and sister of Alexander Wedderburn, afterwards lord chancellor of England, and first Earl of Rosslyn, by whom he left two sons and one daughter, the eldest of whom succeeded his maternal uncle as second Earl of Rosslyn [see Erskine, James St. Clair, second Earl of Rosslyn]. Erskine died at York, when returning from the north to his residence at Kew, 9 Aug. 1765.

Erskine was an accomplished man, and for some time a fashionable figure in political circles in London. Horace Walpole sneers at him as a military poet and a creature of Lord Bute's (Letters, ii. 242). Philip Thicknesse (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. ix.) has left an account of a transaction in which Erskine, on behalf of Lord Bute, endeavoured to prevent the publication of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's letters, entitled ‘An Account of what passed between Sir Harry Erskine and Philip Thicknesse, Esq. …’ (London, 1766, 8vo). A letter from Lord Bute to Erskine, dated 8 April 1763, respecting Lord George Sackville, stating that the king admitted and condemned the harsh treatment of the latter, but was prevented by state reasons from affording him the redress intended, is printed at length in ‘Hist. MSS. Comm.,’ 9th Rep. 111,116. Erskine is always credited with the authorship of the fine old Scottish march, ‘Garb of Old Gaul,’ but Major-general D. Stewart of Garth, a regimental authority, states that the words were originally composed in Gaelic by a soldier of the 42nd highlanders, and were set to music by Major Reid of the same regiment, afterwards the veteran General John Reid, and that several officers claimed to be the English adapters.

[Foster and Burke's Peerages, under ‘Rosslyn;’ War Office Records; Army Lists; Beatson's Nav. and Mil. Memoirs (1794), vol. ii., for account of L'Orient expedition; H. Walpole's Letters; Brit. Mus. Cats. Printed Books, Music; Major-general D. Stewart's Sketches of the Scottish Highlanders (Edinburgh, 1822), i. 347; Scots Mag. 1765, p. 391.]

H. M. C.