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Sir Ralph Abercromby - A Tullibody Hero

LIEUTENANT GENERAL SIR RALPH ABERCROMBY OF TULLIBODY, (1734-1801), was the eldest son of George Abercromby, and was born in October 1734 in Menstrie Castle. Educated at Rugby and Edinburgh University, in 1754 he was sent to Leipzig to study civil law, with a view to his proceeding to the Scottish bar. On returning from the continent he expressed a strong preference for the military profession, and a cornet's commission was accordingly obtained for him in March 1756 in the 3rd Dragoon Guards. He served with his regiment in the Seven Years' war, and the opportunity thus afforded him of studying the methods of the Great Frederick moulded his military character and formed his tactical ideas. 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. That up to this time he had scarcely been engaged in active service was owed mainly to his disapproval of the policy of the United Kingdom government, and especially to his sympathies with the American colonists in their struggles for independence; and his retirement is no doubt to be ascribed to similar feelings. On leaving the army he, for a time, took up political life as Member of Parliament for Clackmannanshire. He did not really enjoy doing this, and, retiring in favour of his brother, he settled in Edinburgh and devoted himself to the education of his children. When France declared war against Britain in 1793, he hastened to resume his professional duties; and, being esteemed one of the ablest and most intrepid officers in the whole British forces, he was appointed to the command of a brigade under the Duke of York, for service in Holland. He commanded the advanced guard in the action at Le Cateau, and was wounded at Nijmwegen. The duty fell to him of protecting the British army in its disastrous retreat out of Holland, in the winter of 1794-1795. In 1795 he received the honour of a knighthood of the Bath, in acknowledgement of his services. The same year he was appointed to succeed Sir Charles Grey, as commander-in-chief of the British forces in the West Indies.


The picture above shows the Tron Tree, Tullibody. It was planted in 1801 to commemorate Sir Ralph's departure on what was to be his final campaign. None of the buildings or the tree exists today - they were all demolished in the 1960s.
Click on the small pictures to see a larger version.
Menstrie castle - picture above - was the birthplace of Sir Ralph Abercromby in 1734. The castle is 15th century with 17th century additions. The castle was modernised in the 20th century (converted to flats), but it still contains a commemorative room to the Baronets of Nova Scotia, in recognition of the Castle as the birthplace in 1580 of Sir William Alexander, founder of Nova Scotia. Picture taken in March 2005.

In 1796 Grenada was suddenly attacked and taken by a detachment of the army under his orders. He afterwards obtained possession of the settlements of Demerara and Essequibo, in South America and of the islands of St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Trinidad. He returned in 1797 to Europe, and, in reward for his important services, was appointed colonel of the regiment of Scots Greys, entrusted with the governments of the Isle of Wight, Fort-George and Fort-Augustus, and raised to the rank of lieutenant general. He held, in 1797-1798, the chief command of the forces in Ireland. There he laboured to maintain the discipline of the army, to suppress the rising rebellion, and to protect the people from military oppression, with a care worthy alike of a great general and an enlightened and beneficent statesman.

When he was appointed to the command in Ireland, the British government confidently anticipated an invasion of that country by the French. He used his utmost efforts to restore the discipline of an army that was utterly disorganised. 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. 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. After holding for a short period the office of commander-in-chief in Scotland, Sir Ralph, when the enterprise against Holland 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. His country applauded the choice when, in 1801, he was sent with an army to dispossess the French of Egypt. His experience in Holland and the West Indies particularly fitted him for this new command, as was proved by his carrying his army in health, in spirits and with the requisite supplies, in spite of very great difficulties, to the destined scene of action. The debarkation of the troops at Aboukir, in the face of strenuous opposition, is justly ranked among the most daring and brilliant exploits of the British army. A battle in the neighbourhood of Alexandria (March 21, 1801) was the sequel of this successful landing, and it was Sir Ralph's fate to fall in the moment of victory. He was struck in the thigh by a spent ball, which could not be extracted. Only when the General was confident the battle had been won did he allow himself to be carried to the rear. Sir Ralph was taken aboard Admiral Lord Keith's flagship, 'The Foudroyant', which lay at anchor 20 miles offshore, where he died seven days later. He was buried in Malta.
His old friend and commander, the Duke of York paid a just tribute to the great soldier'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.''
By a vote of the House of Commons, a monument was erected in his honour in St. Paul's cathedral.

Sir Ralph's widow was created Baroness Abercromby of Tullibody and Aboukir Bay, and a pension of £2000 a year was settled on her and her two successors in the title.

I made some corrections to the above following an illustrated lecture about Sir Ralph Abercromby given by Major Colin Innes to the Historical Society in the Abercromby Hotel, Tullibody on 25th October 2001. As Major Innes wrote in an e-mail - 'In that document I gave you there is an account of the Landings at Aboukir Bay on 8th March 1801, the Battle of Mandora on 13th March 1801 and then the Battle of Alexandria on 21st March 1801. Abercromby beat Napoleon's Army of the Orient three times within a fortnight! The old General is particularly famed for the Battle of Alexandria which was so decisive.' I have that Document - Jimson