Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Horsford, John

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HORSFORD, Sir JOHN (1751–1817), major-general H.E.I.C. Bengal artillery, son of John Horsford, gentleman, of St. George's, Middlesex, was born 13 May 1751. He was sent to Merchant Taylors' School in 1759, and matriculated at St. John's College, Oxford, 30 June 1768, and was a fellow from 1768 to 1771, but never took a degree. Disinclination to enter the church as his friends desired was the alleged cause of his enlisting, under the assumed name of Rover, in the East India Company's artillery early in 1772. The inquiries set on foot attracted the attention of Colonel Pearce, commanding the Bengal artillery. Horsford having pointed out an error in a Greek quotation in some papers he was copying for the colonel, that officer, as the story goes, suddenly called him by his right name as he was leaving the room. An order, dated Fort William, 9 March 1778, addressed to ‘Captain Watkin Thelwall, commanding No. 1 company, notifies that Sergeant John Rover, of the company under your command, is this day appointed a cadet of artillery under the name of “John Horsford.”’ Horsford's commissions were dated: lieutenant-fireworker, 31 March 1778; first-lieutenant, 5 Oct. 1778; captain, 26 Nov. 1786; major, 6 Aug. 1801; lieutenant-colonel, 1 May 1804; colonel, 25 July 1810; major-general, 4 June 1811. Except General Litellus Burrell [q. v.] Horsford is an almost unique example of a man rising from the ranks to a high military position in the East India Company's army. Horsford commanded a company of Bengal artillery detached to Madras in the second Mysore war, under Lord Cornwallis, in 1790–1, including the capture of Bangalore, the action at Arikera, and operation against Seringapatam. He commanded the artillery in the campaigns under Lord Lake in 1803–5, including the battles of Alighur and Delhi, siege of Agra, capture of Deig, and siege of Bhurtpore. He commanded a brigade and also directed the artillery at the siege of Komanur, August-November 1807. On the resignation of Colonel Nicholas Carnegie in 1808 Horsford succeeded to the command of the Bengal artillery, of which he remained virtually the head until his death. He was not engaged in the Nepaul war; but the artillery arrangements for those operations and for the grand army under the Marquis of Hastings, which subsequently took the field against the Pindarrees, were directed by him. He was made a K.C.B. 7 April 1815, and 28 June 1816 was appointed an extra major-general on the staff of the grand army. His last military operation was the direction of the artillery at the siege of Háthras in March 1817. He died at Cawnpore of heart disease, on 20 April, ten days after his return from the field, in the sixty-sixth year of his age and the forty-fifth of his military service, during which he never had a day's leave from his duties. The historian of the Bengal artillery writes of him: ‘A sound constitution and strict temperance enabled him to endure what our modern nervous temperaments would shrink from. Intellectually, in scientific attainments and habits of order and system he stood confessedly unrivalled’ (Stubbs, ii. 235). In March 1801, at Cawnpore, Horsford addressed a paper to Lord Lake setting forth the defects in organisation of the artillery branch. In June 1816 he addressed a similar memorial to the Marquis of Hastings, which showed that the lessons taught by the great continental wars in Europe had not escaped him. His high reputation secured attention to his representations, and although he did not live to see the results, the reorganisation of the Bengal artillery that followed in 1817–18 added largely to the efficiency of that famous corps.

[Foster's Alumni Oxon. vol. ii.; Robinson's Register of Merchant Taylors' School, ii. 120; East India Registers and Army Lists; Stubbs's Hist. of the Bengal Artillery (London, 1877), ii. 234–8, and passim; Gent. Mag. 1817, pt. ii. p. 561.]

H. M. C.