ABERCROMBY, Sir Ralph (1734-1801), of Tullibody, Clackmannan.
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Family and Education
b. 7 Oct. 1734,1 1st s. of George Abercromby of Tullibody by Mary, da. of Ralph Dundas of Manour, Stirling. educ. Alloa sch.; Rugby 1748-51; Edinburgh Univ. 1752-3; Holland and Leipzig 1754-5. m. 17 Nov. 1767, Mary Anne, da. and coh, of John Menzies of Ferntower in Crieff, Perth, 4s. 3da. KB 22 July 1795. suc. fa. 1800.
Cornet 3 Drag. Gds. 1756; capt. 3 Horse (Ireland) 1762, maj. 1770, lt.-col. 1773; lt.-col. 37 Ft. 1775, brevet col. 1780; col. 103 Ft. 1781; Irish half-pay 1783-90; maj.-gen. 1787; col. 69 Ft. 1790, 6 Ft. 1792, 7 Drag. Gds. 1795, 2 (R. North British) Drag. 1796-1801; lt.-gen. 1797; c.-in-c. W.I. 1793-7, Ireland 1797-8, Scotland 1798-9, Holland 1799, Mediterranean 1800; lt.-gov. I.o.W. 1795-8; gov. Fort George 1798-1801.
PC [I] 4 Jan. 1798.
Abercromby was a soldier by choice despite his initial legal training. During his earlier period in Parliament he found great difficulty in supporting Sir Lawrence Dundas, to whom, along with other interests, he owed his seat. An agreement precluded him from representing the county in 1784 and he declined to come forward in 1788.2 In the years between his two periods as a Member, he built up a considerable military reputation in the war with France and in the autumn of 1795 went out with an expeditionary force to the West Indies.3 When at sea, he was pressed by his son to stand for the county, although he had previously indicated that he did not wish to seek election in 1796. His success was due to a complicated division among the local interests and in effect he was returned by Sir Lawrence Dundas’s heir, Lord Dundas.4 His election was perfectly agreeable to Henry Dundas.
Although Abercromby was in England during the summer of 1796, there is no evidence that he ever spoke or even took his seat in the House.5 On his return from the West Indies, he was sent to Ireland in the hope that his knowledge of the country would prove useful in quelling the disorders there.6 But in Ireland, as earlier in America, Abercromby realized that any attempt at settlement must be preceded by redress of grievances, and believed that before he could use his troops to check rebellion they must be disciplined.7 He clashed with the policy of the officials in Dublin, who complained to the English cabinet that he was interfering in politics. They engineered his resignation.8 He returned to England in April 1798, having already relinquished his seat in Parliament to his brother, Sir Robert. Dundas consoled him with the government of Fort George.
Abercromby’s political career was brief and unremarkable. Owing to his military commitments he was rarely able to attend the House. In his military career he disliked administrative details, but his fellow soldiers considered him a capable, courageous and fair-minded general.9 He was compared favourably with his successor as commander of the Egyptian campaign and his troops had confidence in his judgment.10
He died, much lamented and praised, on 28 Mar. 1801, from wounds received in the battle of Alexandria. In September 1799 he had refused the offer of a peerage in reward for his services in the Dutch expedition for his eldest son’s sake,11 but his widow was created in May 1801 Baroness Abercromby of Aboukir and Tullibody, with reversion to their son George, who obtained a pension.