FLETCHER, Sir Robert (c.1738-76), of Ballinasloe, co. Roscommon and Lindertis, Angus.
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Family and Education
b. c.1738,1 1st s. of Robert Fletcher of Ballinasloe by Elizabeth, da. of William Lyon of Carse, Angus. m. 17 Dec. 1774, Anne, da. of John Pybus, banker, of Cheam, Surr., s.p. Kntd. 29 Dec. 1763.
Ensign Bengal army 1757, capt. 1760, maj. 1764, lt.-col. 1765, col. 1769, brig.-gen. 1774.
Fletcher’s father served in the ’45 as a major in Lord Ogilvy’s regiment, and was reported to have escaped after Culloden to Bergen.2 He returned to Scotland soon after 1754.
Fletcher’s career was brief but stormy. Appointed a writer at Madras in May 1757, he transferred to the army four months later. He was dismissed the service when a lieutenant for insolence, but Eyre Coote secured his reinstatement. He then rose rapidly in his profession, and on his return to England in 1763 was knighted for gallantry in action. Sent out to India once more in command of a brigade, he was involved in the ‘batta’ mutiny against Clive in 1766, court-martialled, and again cashiered. He then sailed to England to get the sentence quashed.
At the general election he was first reported to be canvassing Bridport,3 but moved on to stand at Malmesbury, where he and Sir William Mayne were defeated by the Howard candidates. He then presented himself at the neighbouring borough of Cricklade, and though ‘an entire stranger’, took over an interest abandoned by Clive’s brother-in-law, and secured his return.4 It was said to have cost him £4,000.5
In the House he voted at first with Opposition, to which most of his friends belonged. But his main interest was to secure restoration to the Company’s service. His first attempt was frustrated by Clive’s friends; John Walsh described the Company’s general court in a letter to Clive, 8 Apr. 1768:
The court was over at four by the previous question being put on the motion for thanking and reinstating Fletcher. The thanking part he before had modestly moved to be withdrawn. We carried it by about thirty majority, though Sir Robert had been very industrious in mustering friends.
Fletcher then persuaded George Grenville to ask Clive not to maintain his opposition, and Clive agreed.6 On 15 Dec. 1769 Fletcher was appointed to Madras as colonel, though he did not sail until the summer of 1771. In the meantime he had moved over to Administration, voting with the majority over Brass Crosby on 27 Mar. 1771, and attacking Barré.
Within a few months of his return to India he was again embroiled, this time with the governor, Josias Dupré. By January 1773 they were ‘at daggers drawn’,7 and Dupré dismissed him from the council and ordered him to Trichinopoly, where he could do no mischief. In this situation Sir Robert recollected that he had duties to his constituents at home, and sailed for England in March 1773.8 He arrived in time to take an active part in the House in the spring of 1774. On 25 Feb. he spoke and voted against the motion to perpetuate the Grenville Act, and three days later gave notice that he would move for an inquiry into the affairs of the Company.
In April 1774 the Company re-appointed him to Madras with the rank of brigadier-general. He remained in England until after the general election, when he canvassed Cricklade, but was forced to decline the day before the poll.9
He arrived once more in India in June 1775 to take up his old command, and was soon involved in conspiracy. This time he kidnapped the new governor, Lord Pigot, and confined him to prison. His own explanation was:10
Opposition in our council ran to such violence between the majority, of which I was a member, and the minority, led by Lord Pigot, that matters came at length to mutual suspension, or rather expulsion, of each side. Lord Pigot expelled first the majority, and took possession of the Fort. We, to prevent bloodshed, were obliged to arrest his person.
Fletcher was now increasingly ill with tuberculosis, and left in October 1776 in the Greenwich on a voyage to restore his health. He died at Mauritius on 24 Dec. 1776. The King, not knowing of Fletcher’s death, wrote in April 1777 of his part in the coup: ‘Sir Robert Fletcher appears with his usual inclination to disputes.’11
The large fortune which he left was the subject of litigation, and in 1778 his friend George Dempster wrote:12
Few fortunes acquired in the East will bear a very minute investigation ... Will it become his executors to tell the chancellor in open court that the nabob had promised the commander-in-chief of the Company’s forces ten thousand pound about the time that the Company’s governor, and that governor Lord Pigot, was by the intrigues of that very nabob deprived of his government, of his liberty, and in consequence of his life? ... would one wish to see Colonel Capper giving his public testimony of the means by which Sir Robert obtained a parcel of the most valuable pearls of India from the same nabob? ... To keep the whole of this matter as quiet as possible is a duty we all owe to Sir Robert.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: J. A. Cannon
- 1. His parents were m. in 1736.
- 2. Sc. Hist. Soc. viii. 210-11.
- 3. Jesse, Selwyn, ii. 275.
- 4. Letter of T. Carter, 14 Apr. 1771, Powis mss.
- 5. J. Walsh to Clive, 8 Apr. 1768, ibid.
- 6. Grenville to Clive, 28 Mar. 1769, ibid.
- 7. A. Owen to Orme, 31 Jan. 1773, Orme mss.
- 8. HMC Palk, 216.
- 9. Bath Chron. 13 Oct. 1774.
- 10. HMC Stopford-Sackville, i. 356.
- 11. Fortescue, iii. 440.
- 12. Letters of G. Dempser, ed. Fergusson, 102.