Ralph Abercromby

For his grandson, the diplomat, see Ralph Abercromby, 2nd Baron Dunfermline. For his great-grandson, see Ralph Abercromby (meteorologist). For the public house in Manchester, see Sir Ralph Abercromby (pub).
Sir Ralph Abercromby

Sir Ralph Abercromby, by John Hoppner
Born (1734-10-07)7 October 1734
Menstrie, Clackmannanshire, Scotland
Died 28 March 1801(1801-03-28) (aged 66)
Alexandria, Egypt
Buried at Fort Saint Elmo, Valletta, Malta (35°54′10″N 14°31′12″E / 35.902722°N 14.519889°E / 35.902722; 14.519889Coordinates: 35°54′10″N 14°31′12″E / 35.902722°N 14.519889°E / 35.902722; 14.519889)
Allegiance  Great Britain
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1756–1801
Rank Lieutenant-General

Seven Years' War

French Revolutionary Wars

Irish Rebellion of 1798
French campaign in Egypt and Syria

Awards KCB
Relations Brother: Alexander Abercromby, Lord Abercromby and General Sir Robert Abercromby
Other work Member of Parliament
Governor of Trinidad
Lord Lieutenant of Clackmannanshire

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

He twice served as MP for Clackmannanshire, and he was appointed Governor of Trinidad.

Early life

He was the eldest son of George Abercromby of Tullibody, Clackmannanshire, and a brother of the advocate Alexander Abercromby, Lord Abercromby and General Sir Robert Abercromby. He was born at Menstrie Castle, Clackmannanshire.[1] Educated at Rugby and at the University of Edinburgh, he was sent to Leipzig University in 1754 to study civil law with a view to career as an advocate.

Abercromby was a Freemason. He was a member of Canongate Kilwinning Lodge No 2, Edinburgh, Scotland.[2]


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, who moulded his military character and formed his tactical ideas.[3]

He 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 King's Irish infantry. When that regiment was disbanded in 1783, he retired upon half pay.[3] He also entered Parliament as MP for Clackmannanshire (1774–1780).[4]

He 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.[5]

When France declared war against Great Britain in 1793, he 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.[3]

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.[3] A major assault on the port of San Juan, Puerto Rico, in April 1797 ended in disaster after fierce fighting where both sides suffered heavy losses.

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.

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.[3]

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.[3]

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."[3]

After holding for a short period the office of commander-in-chief in Scotland, Sir Ralph, when the enterprise against the Dutch Batavian Republic was resolved upon in 1799, was again called to command under the Duke of York. The campaign of 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.[3]

In 1801, he 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.[3]


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.

Abercromby was injured at the Battle of Alexandria on 21 March 1801 and died of his wounds seven days later aboard HMS Foudroyant, which was moored in the harbour.

His 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."[3] 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.[6] The adjacent curtain wall linking this bastion to the fortifications of Valletta, originally called Santa Ubaldesca Curtain, was also renamed Abercrombie's Curtain.[7]

By a vote of the House of Commons, a monument was erected in his honour in St Paul's Cathedral in Abercromby Square, Liverpool. 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.[3]


On 17 November 1767, Abercromby married Mary Anne, daughter of John Menzies and Ann, daughter of Patrick Campbell.[8][9] They had seven children. Of four sons, all four entered Parliament, and two saw military service.

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.[11]

Three ships have been named HMS Abercrombie after the general but using the variant spelling of his name.[12]



    1. 1 2 Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, page 4
    2. Denslow, William R. 10,000 Famous Freemasons, Vol. I, A-D.
    3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11  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.
    4. "ABERCROMBY, Ralph (1734-1801), of Tullibody, Clackmannan.". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
    5. David Andress, The Savage Storm: Britain on me Brink in the Age of Napoleon (2012) p 61
    6. "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.
    7. "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.
    8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Lundy 2011, p. 3 § 28 cites Pine 1972, p. 1
    9. Lundy 2011, p. 3 § 28 cites Cokayne 2000, p. 12
    10. Gazetteer for Scotland
    11. Sir Ralph Abercrombie Inn, retrieved January 2013 Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
    12. Thomas, David (1988). A Companion to the Royal Navy. London: Harrap. p. 55. ISBN 0 245-54572-7.

    Primary sources

    Secondary sources

    Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ralph Abercromby.
    Wikisource has the text of the 1921 Collier's Encyclopedia article Abercrombie, Sir Ralph.
    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
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