Ralph Abercromby

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Sir Ralph Abercromby
Sir Ralph Abercromby by John Hoppner.jpg
Sir Ralph Abercromby, by John Hoppner
Born(1734-10-07)7 October 1734
Menstrie, Clackmannanshire, Scotland
Died28 March 1801(1801-03-28) (aged 66)
Alexandria, Egypt
Buried ( 35°54′10″N14°31′12″E / 35.902722°N 14.519889°E / 35.902722; 14.519889 Coordinates: 35°54′10″N14°31′12″E / 35.902722°N 14.519889°E / 35.902722; 14.519889 )
AllegianceUnion flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg  Great Britain
Service/branchFlag of the British Army.svg  British Army
Years of service1756–1801
Rank Lieutenant-General
Battles/wars Seven Years' War

French Revolutionary Wars

Irish Rebellion of 1798
French campaign in Egypt and Syria


Awards KCB
RelationsBrother: Alexander Abercromby, Lord Abercromby and General Sir Robert Abercromby
Other work Member of Parliament
Governor of Trinidad
Lord Lieutenant of Clackmannanshire
Menstrie Castle Menstrie Castle from the west (approach) road.JPG
Menstrie Castle
Kilwinning Lodge, Edinburgh Kilwinning Lodge, Edinburgh.jpg
Kilwinning Lodge, Edinburgh

Sir Ralph Abercromby KB (sometimes spelt Abercrombie) (7 October 1734 28 March 1801) was a Scottish soldier and politician. He twice served as MP for Clackmannanshire, rose to the rank of lieutenant-general in the British Army, was appointed Governor of Trinidad, served as Commander-in-Chief, Ireland, and was noted for his services during the French Revolutionary Wars.

Order of the Bath Series of awards of an order of chivalry of the United Kingdom

The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate medieval ceremony for appointing a knight, which involved bathing as one of its elements. The knights so created were known as "Knights of the Bath". George I "erected the Knights of the Bath into a regular Military Order". He did not revive the Order of the Bath, since it had never previously existed as an Order, in the sense of a body of knights who were governed by a set of statutes and whose numbers were replenished when vacancies occurred.

Clackmannanshire was a county constituency of the House of Commons of Great Britain from 1708 until 1800, and of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1832.

British Army land warfare branch of the British Armed Forces of the United Kingdom

The British Army is the principal land warfare force of the United Kingdom, a part of British Armed Forces. As of 2018, the British Army comprises just over 81,500 trained regular (full-time) personnel and just over 27,000 trained reserve (part-time) personnel.

Early life

Abercromby was the eldest son of Mary Dundas (d. 1767), daughter of Ralph Dundas of Manour, Perthshire and George Abercromby of Tullibody House, Clackmannanshire. He was brother of the advocate Alexander Abercromby, Lord Abercromby and General Robert Abercromby. He was born at Menstrie Castle in Clackmannanshire. [1]

Perthshire registration county in central Scotland

Perthshire, officially the County of Perth, is a historic county and registration county in central Scotland. Geographically it extends from Strathmore in the east, to the Pass of Drumochter in the north, Rannoch Moor and Ben Lui in the west, and Aberfoyle in the south; its borders the counties of Inverness-shire and Aberdeenshire to the north, Angus to the east, Fife, Kinross-shire, Clackmannanshire, Stirlingshire and Dunbartonshire to the south and Argyllshire to the west. It was a local government county from 1890 to 1930.

Tullibody town set in the Central Lowlands of Scotland

Tullibody is a town set in the Central Lowlands of Scotland. It lies north of the River Forth near to the foot of the Ochil Hills within the Forth Valley. The town is 1.8 miles (2.9 km) south-west of Alva, 1.8 miles (2.9 km) north-west of Alloa and 4.0 miles (6.4 km) east-northeast of Stirling. The town is part of the Clackmannanshire council area.

Alexander Abercromby, Lord Abercromby Scottish advocate, judge and essayist

Alexander Abercromby, Lord Abercromby of Tullibody (1745–1795) was a Scottish advocate, judge and essayist.

Abercromby's education was begun by a private tutor, then continued at the school of Mr Moir in Alloa, then considered one of the best in Scotland despite its Jacobite leanings. After passing some time there, Ralph was sent to Rugby School, where he remained until he was 18. He then became a student at the University of Edinburgh. There he studied moral and natural philosophy and civil law, and was regarded by his professors as sound rather than brilliant. [2] He completed his studies at Leipzig University in Germany, from 1754, taking more detailed studies in civil law with a view to a career as an advocate. [3]

Alloa town in Clackmannanshire, Scotland

Alloa is a town in Clackmannanshire in the Central Lowlands of Scotland. It is on the north bank of the Forth at the spot where some say it ceases to be the River Forth and becomes the Firth of Forth. Geographically, Alloa is south of the Ochil Hills, 5.5 miles (8.9 km) east of Stirling and 7.9 miles (12.7 km) north of Falkirk; by water Alloa is 25 miles (40 km) from Granton.

Rugby School Public school in Rugby, Warwickshire, England

Rugby School is a day and mostly boarding co-educational independent school in Rugby, Warwickshire, England. Founded in 1567 as a free grammar school for local boys, it is one of the oldest independent schools in Britain. Up to 1667, the school remained in comparative obscurity. Its re-establishment by Thomas Arnold during his time as Headmaster, from 1828 to 1841, was seen as the forerunner of the Victorian public school. It is one of the original seven Great Nine Public Schools defined by the Clarendon Commission of 1864. Rugby School was also the birthplace of Rugby football. In 1845, a committee of Rugby schoolboys, William Delafield Arnold, W. W. Shirley and Frederick Hutchins, wrote the "Laws of Football as Played At Rugby School", the first published set of laws for any code of football.

University of Edinburgh public research university in Edinburgh, Scotland

The University of Edinburgh, founded in 1582, is the sixth oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of Scotland's ancient universities. The university has five main campuses in the city of Edinburgh, with many of the buildings in the historic Old Town belonging to the university. The university played an important role in leading Edinburgh to its reputation as a chief intellectual centre during the Age of Enlightenment, and helped give the city the nickname of the Athens of the North.


Abercromby was a Freemason. He was Initiated into Scottish Freemasonry in Lodge Canongate Kilwinning, No. 2, (Edinburgh, Scotland) on 25 May 1753. [4]

Freemasonry group of fraternal organizations

Freemasonry or Masonry consists of fraternal organisations that trace their origins to the local fraternities of stonemasons that from the end of the fourteenth century regulated the qualifications of stonemasons and their interaction with authorities and clients. The degrees of Freemasonry retain the three grades of medieval craft guilds, those of Apprentice, Journeyman or fellow, and Master Mason. The candidate of these three degrees is progressively taught the meanings of the symbols of Freemasonry, and entrusted with grips, signs and words to signify to other members that he has been so initiated. The degrees are part allegorical morality play and part lecture. Three degrees are offered by Craft Freemasonry, and members of any of these degrees are known as Freemasons or Masons. There are additional degrees, which vary with locality and jurisdiction, and are usually administered by their own bodies.


On returning from the continent, Abercromby expressed a strong preference for the military profession, and a cornet's commission was accordingly obtained for him (March 1756) in the 3rd Dragoon Guards. He served with his regiment in the Seven Years' War, and thus, the opportunity afforded him of studying the methods of Frederick the Great, which moulded his military character and formed his tactical ideas. [5]

3rd Dragoon Guards

The 3rd Dragoon Guards was a cavalry regiment in the British Army, first raised in 1685 as the Earl of Plymouth's Regiment of Horse. It was renamed as the 3rd Regiment of Dragoon Guards in 1751 and the 3rd Dragoon Guards in 1765. It saw service for two centuries, including the First World War, before being amalgamated into the 3rd/6th Dragoon Guards in 1922.

Seven Years War Global conflict between 1756 and 1763

The Seven Years' War was a global war fought between 1756 and 1763. It involved all five European great powers of the time plus many of the middle powers and spanned five continents, affecting Europe, the Americas, West Africa, India, and the Philippines. The conflict split Europe into two coalitions: one was led by the Kingdom of Great Britain and included the Kingdom of Prussia, the Kingdom of Portugal, the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and a few other small German states; while the other was led by the Kingdom of France and included the Austrian-led Holy Roman Empire, including the Electorate of Saxony and most of the smaller German states, the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Spain, and Sweden. The Dutch Republic, Denmark-Norway, the Italian States, and the Ottoman Empire did not participate. Meanwhile, in India, some regional polities within the increasingly fragmented Mughal Empire, with the support of the French, tried to crush a British attempt to conquer Bengal.

Abercromby rose through the intermediate grades to the rank of lieutenant-colonel of the regiment (1773) and brevet colonel in 1780, and in 1781, he became colonel of the newly raised King's Irish infantry. When that regiment was disbanded in 1783, he retired on half pay. [5] He also entered Parliament as MP for Clackmannanshire (1774–1780). [6]

In many of the world's military establishments, a brevet was a warrant giving a commissioned officer a higher rank title as a reward for gallantry or meritorious conduct but without conferring the authority, precedence, or pay of real rank. An officer so promoted was referred to as being brevetted. The promotion would be noted in the officer's title.

The 103rd Regiment of Foot was a British Army regiment raised in 1781. Ralph Abercromby was colonel, of the regiment throughout its existence. It served entirely in Ireland before being disbanded in 1784.

Abercromby was a strong supporter of the American cause in the American Revolutionary War, and remained in Ireland to avoid having to fight against the colonists. [7]

When France declared war against Great Britain in 1793, Abercromby resumed his duties. He was appointed command of a brigade under the Duke of York for service in the Netherlands, where he commanded the advanced guard in the action at Le Cateau. During the 1794 withdrawal to Holland, he commanded the allied forces in the action at Boxtel and was wounded directing operations at Fort St Andries on the Waal. In 1795, he was appointed a Knight of the Bath for his services. [5]

That same year, he was appointed to succeed Sir Charles Grey as commander-in-chief of the British forces in the West Indies. In 1796, Grenada was suddenly attacked and taken by a detachment of the army under his orders. Afterwards, Abercromby secured possession of the settlements of Demerara and Essequibo in South America, the islands of Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and Trinidad. [5] A major assault on the port of San Juan, Puerto Rico, in April 1797 failed [8] after fierce fighting where both sides suffered heavy losses.

A medallion showing the capture of Trinidad and Tobago by the British in 1797. Trinidad Ralph Abercromby.JPG
A medallion showing the capture of Trinidad and Tobago by the British in 1797.
Sir Ralph Abercromby, Commander of the British forces that captured Trinidad and Tobago. Tobago Ralph Abercromby.JPG
Sir Ralph Abercromby, Commander of the British forces that captured Trinidad and Tobago.

Abercromby returned to Europe and, in reward for his services, was appointed colonel of the 2nd (Royal North British) Regiment of Dragoons. He was also made Lieutenant-Governor of the Isle of Wight, Governor of Fort George and Fort Augustus in the Scottish Highlands, and promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-general. He again entered Parliament as member for Clackmannanshire from 1796 to 1798. From 1797 to 1798, he was Commander-in-Chief of the forces in Ireland. [5]

To quote the biographic entry in the 1888 Encyclopædia Britannica,

"There he laboured to maintain the discipline of the army, to suppress the rising rebellion, and to protect the people from military oppression, with the care worthy of a great general and an enlightened and beneficent statesman. When he was appointed to the command in Ireland, an invasion of that country by the French was confidently anticipated by the British government. He used his utmost efforts to restore the discipline of an army that was utterly disorganized; and, as a first step, he anxiously endeavoured to protect the people by re-establishing the supremacy of the civil power, and not allowing the military to be called out, except when it was indispensably necessary for the enforcement of the law and the maintenance of order. [5]

Finding that (he) received no adequate support from the head of the Irish government, and that all his efforts were opposed and thwarted by those who presided in the councils of Ireland, he resigned the command. His departure from Ireland was deeply lamented by the reflecting portion of the people, and was speedily followed by those disastrous results which he had anticipated, and which he so ardently desired and had so wisely endeavoured to prevent." [5]

After holding for a short period the office of commander-in-chief in Scotland, Abercromby, when the enterprise against the Dutch Batavian Republic was resolved upon in 1799, was again called to command under the Duke of York. The Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland in 1799 ended in disaster, but friend and foe alike confessed that the most decisive victory could not have more conspicuously proved the talents of this distinguished officer. [5]

In 1801, Abercromby was sent with an army to recover Egypt from France. His experience in the Netherlands and the West Indies particularly fitted him for this new command, as was proved when he carried his army in health, in spirits, and with the requisite supplies to the destined scene of action despite great difficulties. The debarkation of the troops at Abukir, in the face of strenuous opposition, is justly ranked among the most daring and brilliant exploits of the British army. [5]


Death of Gen Sir Ralph Abercrombie by Sir Robert Ker Porter. Abercromby is in the centre and labeled "20." Death of Gen Sir Ralph Abercrombie by Sir Robert Ker Porter (detail).jpg
Death of Gen Sir Ralph Abercrombie by Sir Robert Ker Porter. Abercromby is in the centre and labeled "20."
Abercromby is buried in St. John's Bastion within Fort Saint Elmo, Valletta, Malta. It is also known as Abercrombie's Bastion in his honour. Malta - Valletta - Triq il-Lanca - Fort Saint Elmo (MSTHC) 02 ies.jpg
Abercromby is buried in St. John's Bastion within Fort Saint Elmo, Valletta, Malta. It is also known as Abercrombie's Bastion in his honour.

In 1800 Abercromby commanded the expedition to the Mediterranean, and after some brilliant operations defeated the French in the Battle of Alexandria, 21 March 1801. During the action he was struck by a musket-ball in the thigh; but not until the battle was won and he saw the enemy retreating did he show any sign of pain. He was borne from the field in a hammock, cheered by the blessings of the soldiers as he passed, and conveyed on board the flag-ship HMS Foudroyant which was moored in the harbour. The ball could not be extracted; mortification ensued, and seven days later, on 28 March 1801, he died. [9]

Abercromby's old friend and commander, the Duke of York, paid tribute to Abercromby's memory in general orders: "His steady observance of discipline, his ever-watchful attention to the health and wants of his troops, the persevering and unconquerable spirit which marked his military career, the splendour of his actions in the field and the heroism of his death, are worthy the imitation of all who desire, like him, a life of heroism and a death of glory." [5] He was buried on St John's Bastion within Fort Saint Elmo in Valletta, Malta. The British military renamed it Abercrombie's Bastion in his honour. [10] The adjacent curtain wall linking this bastion to the fortifications of Valletta, originally called Santa Ubaldesca Curtain, was also renamed Abercrombie's Curtain. [11]


By a vote of the House of Commons, a monument was erected in Abercromby's honour in St Paul's Cathedral in London. His widow was created Baroness Abercromby of Tullibody and Aboukir Bay, [1] and a pension of £2,000 a year was settled on her and her two successors in the title. [5]

Abercromby Place in Edinburgh's New Town is named in his honour.


On 17 November 1767, Abercromby married Mary Anne, daughter of John Menzies and Ann, daughter of Patrick Campbell. [12] [13] They had seven children. Of four sons, all four entered Parliament, and two saw military service.

Coat of arms of Ralph Abercromby
Sir Ralph Abercromby Achievement.png
Supporters granted 30th January 1798 [16]
A bee volant proper
Argent a chevron indented Gules between three boars’ heads erased Azure armed Or and langued Sable in the middle chief point a crescent Vert.
On either side a greyhound per fess Argent and Or collar and line Gules charged on the shoulder with a thistle proper.
Vive Ut Vivas

A public house in central Manchester, the 'Sir Ralph Abercromby', is named after him. There is also a 'General Abercrombie' pub with his portrait by John Hoppner as the sign off of the Blackfriars Bridge Road in London. [17]

Three ships have been named HMS Abercrombie after the general but using the variant spelling of his name. [18]

Abercrombie Street in Port of Spain, Trinidad honours his name.

Abercromby Primary School in Tullibody is named after him.

Abercromby Place in Edinburgh's New Town is named after him.

Further reading


    Related Research Articles

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    Menstrie Castle

    Menstrie Castle is a three-storey manor house in the town of Menstrie, Clackmannanshire, near Stirling, central Scotland. From the early 17th century, it was home to Sir William Alexander, 1st Earl of Stirling, who was instrumental in founding the colony of Nova Scotia. It was later owned by the Holburn or Holborne family, who were created Baronets of Menstrie in 1706. The castle was restored in the 20th century, won a Civic Trust award, and now incorporates holiday accommodation, private flats, and a museum and cafe run by the National Trust for Scotland.

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    1. 1 2 Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN   0-550-18022-2, page 4
    2. Abercromby, James (1861). Lieutenant-General Sir Ralph Abercromby, K. B., 1793–1801. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas. p. 16. Retrieved 24 July 2017.
    3. Wilkinson, Spenser (1899). From Cromwell to Wellington: twelve soldiers. London: Lawrence and Bullen, ltd. pp. 288–325. Retrieved 11 July 2017.
    4. History of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning, No. 2. Compiled from the Records, 1677-1888. P.237. By Allan MacKenzie. Edinburgh. Published 1888.
    5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Abercromby, Sir Ralph". Encyclopædia Britannica . 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 44.
    6. "Abercromby, Ralph (1734–1801), of Tullibody, Clackmannan". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
    7. David Andress, The Savage Storm: Britain on me Brink in the Age of Napoleon (2012) p 61
    8. "Abercromby, Sir Ralph, of Tullibody (1734–1801), army officer". www.oxforddnb.com. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/45 . Retrieved 2 February 2019.
    9. The new international encyclopædia. New York: Dodd, Mead and company. 1909. pp. 26–27. Retrieved 11 July 2017.
    10. "St John Bastion Caraffa – Valletta" (PDF). National Inventory of the Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands. 28 June 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 July 2015.
    11. "Sta Ubaldesca Curtain – Valletta" (PDF). National Inventory of the Cultural Property of the Maltese Islands. 28 June 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 July 2015.
    12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Lundy 2011 , p. 3 § 28 cites Pine 1972 , p. 1
    13. Lundy 2011 , p. 3 § 28 cites Cokayne 2000 , p. 12
    14. Logie: A Parish History by Menzies Fergusson
    15. Gazetteer for Scotland
    16. "Grant of Supporters: Lt Gen Sir Ralph Abercromby 1798".
    17. Sir Ralph Abercrombie Inn , retrieved 31 January 2013
    18. Thomas, David (1988). A Companion to the Royal Navy. London: Harrap. p. 55. ISBN   0 245-54572-7.

    Primary sources

    Secondary sources

    Parliament of Great Britain
    Preceded by
    James Abercromby
    (until 1768)
    Member of Parliament for Clackmannanshire
    Succeeded by
    Charles Allan Cathcart
    (from 1784)
    Preceded by
    Burnet Abercromby
    (until 1790)
    Member of Parliament for Clackmannanshire
    Succeeded by
    Sir Robert Abercromby
    Political offices
    Preceded by
    José Maria Chacón
    Governor of Trinidad
    February 1797
    Succeeded by
    Sir Thomas Picton
    Military offices
    New regiment Colonel of the 103rd Regiment of Foot (King's Irish Infantry)
    Preceded by
    Hon. Philip Sherard
    Colonel of the 69th (South Lincolnshire) Regiment of Foot
    Succeeded by
    Henry Watson Powell
    Preceded by
    Lancelot Baugh
    Colonel of the 6th (1st Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot
    Succeeded by
    The Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh
    Preceded by
    Charles Grey
    Colonel of the 7th (The Princess Royal's) Dragoon Guards
    Succeeded by
    Sir William Medows
    Preceded by
    The Earl of Eglinton
    Colonel of the 2nd (Royal North British) Regiment of Dragoons
    Succeeded by
    David Dundas
    Preceded by
    The Earl of Carhampton
    Commander-in-Chief, Ireland
    Succeeded by
    Viscount Lake
    Preceded by
    Studholme Hodgson
    Governor of Carlisle
    Succeeded by
    David Dundas
    Honorary titles
    Preceded by
    The Lord Cathcart
    Lord Lieutenant of Clackmannanshire
    Succeeded by
    The Lord Cathcart