Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brooke, Robert

BROOKE, ROBERT (d. 1802?), of Prosperous, county Kildare, governor of St. Helena from 1787 to 1801, was youngest son of Robert Brooke, and grandson of the Rev. William Brooke of Rantavan House, county Cavan (Burke's Landed Gentry, see Brooke of Drumvana). He entered the service of the East India Company on 14 Aug. 1764 as ensign on the Bengal establishment, became lieutenant on 25 Aug. 1765, and substantive captain on 10 Dec. 1767. He signalised himself on several occasions in the operations against Cossim Ali and Soojah Dowlah under Lord Clive, during which time he served with the 8th sepoys. Detached to Madras with two companies of Bengal sepoy grenadiers, he served through the campaigns of 1768-9 against Hyder Ali, with General Joseph Smith, and was subsequently chief engineer of Colonel Wood's force. On one occasion he was sent as envoy to Hyder Ali. Returning to Bengal he was given command of two battalions lent as guards to the Mogul. While so employed he put down a formidable revolt in the province of Corah, for which service he was rewarded with the collectorship of the province, together with a commission of 2 per cent, on its revenues while in command of the troops on the frontier. He raised the Bengal native light infantry, and commanded that battalion in two campaigns against the hill-robbers about Rajmahal, in which he distinguished himself by his lenity and humanity no less than by the success of his operations. He also rendered good service against the Mahrattas and in the Rohilla war. His services were acknowledged by the court of directors on 19 April 1771, and again on 30 March 1774, in terms almost unprecedented in the case of an officer of junior rank. He returned home on furlough in 1774, and invested the fortune he had realised by his collectorship at Corah in an attempt to develope the cotton manufacture in Ireland, with which object he erected the industrial village of Prosperous, in the barony of Clane, county Kildare. About the same time he married Mrs. Wynne, née Mapletoft, who bore him several children. The enterprise at Prosperous met with patronage and support in distinguished quarters, and in 1776 Brooke received the thanks of parliament for his patriotic endeavours. The manufacturing processes cotton-printing excepted are stated to have been carried to some perfection, but in a commercial sense the undertaking proved a failure, and after many vicissitudes the works, counting some 1,400 looms, in 1787 had to be given up for the benefit of the creditors. They were eventually burned by the rebels in 1798. His own fortune and that of his wife having thus been sacrificed, and an elder brother, who was partner in the enterprise, and others having become involved in the ruin, Brooke applied to the court of directors to reinstate him in his former rank, for, having overstayed his leave, he had been struck off the rolls from 14 April 1775. The directors declined to accede to the request, but immediately afterwards appointed him to the governorship of the island of St. Helena, in succession to Governor Corneille. There he displayed much energy. He improved the buildings, strengthened the defences, and established a code of signals. The island became a depot for the company's European troops, and during his governorship over 12,000 recruits were drilled in its valleys. His spirited measures for seizing the Cape of Good Hope with a small naval squadron carrying a landing-force of 600 light infantry, blue-jackets, marines, and seamen-volunteers, though anticipated by the expedition from home under General Craig and Admiral Keith, won for him the special thanks of the home government. The court of directors recognised his exertions by the gift of a diamond-hilted sword, presented to him in 1799 at St. Helena, at the head of a garrison parade, Brooke then holding local rank as colonel. A serious illness compelled him to embark for England on 10 March 1801, and he died soon after.

Particulars and certificates of his public services in India and in Ireland will be found in the 'British Museum Collection of Political Tracts,' under the heading: 'Brooke, Robt. A Letter from Mr. Brooke to an Honourable Member of the House of Commons (Dublin, 1787).' A notice of his governorship appears in the 'History of St. Helena,' compiled by Thomas Digby Brooke, who was for many years colonial secretary on the island, and was a nephew of Governor Brooke, being a son of the elder brother who was partner in the concern at Prosperous. A few unpublished letters to Warren Hastings in 1773, and from the Marquis Wellesley, are among ' Add. MSS.,' British Museum.

[Burke's Landed Gentry; Political Tracts, 1787-8; Dodswell and Miles's Lists of Bengal Army; Warburton's Hist, of Dublin, ii. 971; Brooke's Hist, of St. Helena (2nd ed. 1823); Add. MSS. 29133, 13710, and 13787.]

H. M. C.