Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Munro, Hector

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MUNRO, Sir HECTOR (1726–1805), general, born in 1726, was son of Hugh Munro of Novar, Cromartyshire, and his wife Isobel Gordon, who died in 1799, aged 92. The Novar family was an ancient branch of Munro of Foulis, from which it separated in the fifteenth century. According to family tradition, Hector, when quite a lad, saved the life of a lady whose horses had run away with her, and she subsequently obtained a commission for him in the army. His name first appears in the military records, on appointment as ensign in the company commanded by Sir Harry Munro of Foulis in Lord Loudoun's highlanders, 28 May 1747 (Home Office Military Entry Book, vol. xix. f. 461). This was an unnumbered higland regiment, raised by John Campbell, fourth earl of Loudoun [q. v.], the greater part of which was taken by the clans on 30 March 1746, and sent to Prince Charles's headquarters at Inverness (cf. Fraser, Earls of Cromartie, ii. 397). The officers' commissions were dated June 1745. Among them was a George Munro of Novar. There is a local tradition that Hector Munro was of the number taken by the clans, and that he escaped from his escort by the way. At the date of his commission, the regiment was embarking for the Low Countries, where, with some regiments of Scots-Dutch, it distinguished itself at the defence of Bergen-op-Zoom, July-September 1747. It was disbanded at Perth in June 1748 (see Stewart, Scottish Higlanders, vol. ii.)

Munro was reappointed to the army as ensign in the 48th foot (Lord H. Beauclerk's) 4 Feb. 1749 (Home Office Military Entry Book, vol. xxii. f. 94); was promoted lieutenant in the 31st foot, in Ireland, 5 Jan. 1754; and in August 1756 obtained his company in the newly raised second battalion of that regiment, which was formed into the 70th foot in April 1758. The year after, Major (afterwards General) Staates Long Morris, who had been a captain in the 31st, and had married the widowed mother of the young Duke of Gordon [see under Gordon, Alexander, fourth Duke], raised a regiment of highlanders on the Gordon estates. Hector Munro, on 14 Oct. 1759, was appointed junior major of the new corps, which assembled at Gordon Castle in December 1759, and was numbered as the 89th foot. Under Munro's command the regiment embarked at Portsmouth for India in December 1760, and arrived at Bombay in November 1761. During the next four years the corps did good service in various parts of India. The greater part of the regiment was brought home and disbanded in 1765, and it was remarked that during its five years' service there was only one change among its officers, and not a single desertion from its ranks. In the eight companies originally raised not a single man was ever flogged (Stewart, vol. ii.) Early in 1764 Munro was ordered to Patna to replace Major John Carnac [q. v.] in command of the company's forces. The time was extremely critical, and Carnac's sepoys in a state of mutiny. Taking with him the men of the 89th and 96th regiments who were willing to extend their service in India, Munro proceeded to Calcutta, where, at the request of the council he remained a short time, to acquaint himself with the views of individual members and the general position of affairs. On 13 Aug. he repaired to Patna, and by stern measures effectually stamped out the mutiny. On 27 Oct. 1764, with a force of seven thousand men, including some fifteen hundred European details, and twenty guns, he utterly routed the confederated princes of Hindostan in a great battle at Buxar in Behar. The enemy, who had fifty thousand men, left six thousand men and 133 guns on the field. The victory saved Bengal, and placed Hindostan at the feet of the conquerors. The battle ranks among the most decisive ever fought (Malleson, Decisive Battles of India, p. 208). The prize-money of the victors amounted to the enormous sum of twelve lacs of rupees. Munro resigned the command of the company's troops soon afterwards, where he spent some years on half-pay as lieutenant-colonel a rank he attained on 8 Oct. 1765. In 1768 he was returned to parliament for the burghs of Inverness, Nairn, Forres, and Fortrose, which he represented for many years. He became a brevet-colonel in 1777.

Unfortunate disputes in the Madras government led the court of directors, in June 1777, to appoint a temporary council, consisting of Sir Thomas Rumbold [q. v.] as president, John Whitehill as second, and Munro, who was to command the troops, with the local rank of major-general, as third, without power of further advancement (see Mill, Hist. of India, ed. Wilson, iv. 118 et seq.) Munro landed with Rumbold at Madras in February 1778 and assumed command of the army. In the same year he captured Pondicherry from the French. He was made K.B. in 1779. But his administrative action did not satisfy the directors. In their letter of 10 Jan. 1781 the court of directors dismissed Rumbold and other members of the council, and severely censured Munro for the council's treatment of the zemindars of the northern circars, and of other questions of native policy (ib.) In the meantime the military situation grew serious. In July 1780 Hyder Ali swept over the Carnatic with an immense army. Munro, in opposition to the advice of his second in command, Lord Macleod [see Mackenzie, John, Lord Macleod], marched to Conjeveram, to meet a detachment under Colonel William Baillie (d. 1782) [q. v.], ordered down from Guntoor. Baillie's detachment was destroyed, between Pollilore and Conjeveram, on the morning of 10 Sept. 1780. Munro then fell back to Chingleput, and subsequently moved his forces to St. Thomas Mount. There he was encamped when Sir Eyre Coote (1726-1783) [q. v.] landed on 5 Nov. 1780, and assumed the command-in-chief. Munro commanded the right division of Coote's army, which carried the day at the great victory of Porto Novo on 1 July 1781. At Pollilore, on 27 Aug. following, a harsh reply to a suggestion from Munro caused an estrangement between him and Coote, and Munro, who was in wretched health, remained for a time unemployed at Madras. At the request of the new governor, Lord Macartney, he took command of the expedition against the Dutch settlements, which captured Negapatam, after a four weeks' siege, on 12 Nov. 1781, and afterwards returned home. He became a major-general on the English establishment from 26 Nov. 1782. After his return he received the sinecure appointment of barrack-master-general in North Britain. He was appointed colonel of the 42nd highlanders (Black Watch) on 1 June 1787, became a lieutenant-general in 1793, and general on 1 Jan. 1798.

Munro spent his latter years in enlarging and improving his estate at Novar. He was returned again and again for the Inverness burghs, which he represented altogether for thirty-four years, and he was during that time a steady supporter of the government of the day. He was more than once provost of Inverness and other towns. In his prime Munro was a robust, handsome man, a firm but humane disciplinarian, and, although not a great tactician, a brave, enterprising, and successful soldier. In his later years he proved himself a beneficent and public-spirited country gentleman. He accepted the Chiltern Hundreds in 1801. He was defeated for Inverness at the general election of 1802, and petitioned, but the petition was withdrawn. Munro died at Novar on 27 Dec. 1805, aged 79 (inscription on tombstone at Novar). He was married and had a daughter, Jean, who died in 1803, having married in 1798 Lieutenant-colonel (afterwards Sir Ronald) Craufurd Ferguson [q. v.]

Munro was succeeded in the Novar property by his brother, Sir Alexander Munro, kt., many years consul-general at Madrid, and afterwards a commissioner of excise, who died at Ramsgate on 26 Aug. 1809, aged 83 (see Scots Mag. 1809, p. 416). Alexander Munro's official correspondence in Spain is among the British Museum Add. MSS. (period 1771-8, 24167-72; period 1785-7, 28060-2). He was succeeded by his son, by whom the collection of pictures now at Novar was formed. At his death in 1865 Novar passed into the female line, now represented by the Munro-Fergusons of Raith, Kirkcaldy, Fifeshire (see Burke, Landed Gentry, 1888 ed. vol. ii.)

[Information from private sources; Stewart's Sketches of the Scottish Highlanders (Edinburgh, 1823), vol. ii., under ‘Loudoun's Highlanders’ and ‘89th Gordon Highlanders;’ Wilks's Hist. Sketches of S. India, vol. ii.; Mill's Hist. of India, vol. iv., and particularly footnotes and references by H. Wilson; Barrow's Life of Lord Macartney; Malleson's Decisive Battles of India, under ‘Baksah’ (Buxar) and ‘Porto Novo;’ Cannon's Hist. Rec. 42nd Royal Highlanders—‘Suceession of Colonels;’ Brit. Mus. Addit. MSS.; Munro's letters to Warren Hastings and Lord Macartney; Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep.]

H. M. C.