Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Auchmuty, Samuel
AUCHMUTY, Sir SAMUEL, G.C.B. (1756–1822), a distinguished general, who attained his rank by merit alone, was born at New York in 1756. His grandfather, a distinguished Scotch lawyer, had established himself at Boston in the reign of William III, and his father, after being educated at Harvard and Oxford, had become rector of the principal Church of England church in New York. When the colonies declared war, Dr. Auchmuty and his brother, who was judge of the high court of admiralty at Boston, at once declared for the king, and young Samuel was present with the 45th regiment as a volunteer at the battles of Brooklyn and Whiteplains. The need of rewarding the loyal colonists caused to be given to young Auchmuty in 1777 an ensigncy, and in 1778 a lieutenancy in the 45th without purchase. On the conclusion of peace he went to England with his regiment, but soon found it impossible to live on his lieutenant's pay, or to expect any promotion in England; so in 1783 he exchanged into the 52nd regiment, then under orders for India, and was at once made adjutant. He saw service in the last war with Hyder Ali, and was promoted captain in the 75th regiment for his services in 1788. Lord Cornwallis perceived his aptitude for Indian warfare, and made him a brigade-major in 1790, in which capacity he served in the campaigns of 1790 and 1791 against Tippoo Sultan, and with Baird's division at the siege of Seringapatam in 1792. Lord Cornwallis was so pleased with his conduct that he took him to Calcutta, made him deputy-quartermaster-general to the king's troops there, and soon afterwards major by brevet in 1794. Sir Robert Abercromby, the successor of Cornwallis as commander-in-chief, found him equally useful, and made him lieutenant-colonel by brevet in 1795. He acted as Sir Robert's military secretary for three years, and, after serving with him in the short campaign against the Robillas, went home with him in 1797. He had left England a poor lieutenant, and now returned after fourteen years' service a lieutenant-colonel, with two powerful patrons in Cornwallis and Sir Robert Abercromby. He was promoted brevet-colonel and
lieutenantlieutenant-colonel of the 10th regiment in 1800, and ordered at once to the Cape; there he took command of a mixed force, which was sent to the Red Sea to co-operate with the army coming from India under Sir David Baird to assist Sir Ralph Abercromby in subduing the French in Egypt. Baird had learned his merit at Seringapatam, and on his arrival made him adjutant-general of his whole army. It was now that he first gained popular reputation; Baird's march across the desert and passage down the Nile read like a story of romance, and was enjoyed accordingly by the English people, and the general's chief lieutenants, notably Beresford and Auchmuty, became popular heroes. After the capture of Alexandria, Colonel Auchmuty was for a short time adjutant-general of the whole army in Egypt, and on his return to England in 1803 was made a knight of the Bath. From 1803 to 1806 he was commandant in the Isle of Thanet, and in the latter year was made colonel of the 103rd regiment, and ordered to command the reinforcements for South America.
The English expedition to Buenos Ayres in 1806 had been nothing less than a filibustering expedition. It had occurred to Sir Home Popham when at the Cape, that though England was at peace with Spain, the English people and ministers would not object to his seizing a rich city like Buenos Ayres, which would open a new channel for trade. He made an easy conquest with the help of a small force under Colonel Beresford, which he had borrowed from Baird, and sent home a glowing account of his new possession. People and ministers were alike delighted, and Sir Samuel Auchmuty was made a brigadier-general, and ordered to reinforce Beresford as advanced guard of a still larger reinforcement. On reaching the river Plate he found matters very different from what he had expected. The Spaniards had arisen, and their militia had reoccupied Buenos Ayres, and captured Beresford and his small force. Sir Samuel disembarked; but found it impossible to retake Buenos Ayres, or to remain encamped in safety on the banks of the river with only 4,800 men. He decided therefore to attack the city of Monte Video, which, though strongly fortified, was much smaller than Buenos Ayres, and succeeded in storming it, after a desperate defence, with a loss of 600 men, or one-eighth of his whole army. When the news of his success reached England, he was voted the thanks of parliament, and the news of the capture of Buenos Ayres was confidently expected. But General Whitelocke, who superseded him, had not his military ability. He prepared, indeed, to take Buenos Ayres, but instead of one or at most two strong attacks on the important points, he divided his force into five columns, each too weak to make a real impression. Nevertheless, two of the columns, including Auchmuty's, did what they were ordered; but on hearing that two more had capitulated. General Whitelocke made terms with the Spanish commandant, Liniers, to leave South America and give up Monte Video. On his return he was tried by court martial and cashiered, but Auchmuty, who had done well what he was ordered, was marked out for further advancement.
In 1808 he was promoted major-general, and in 1810 appointed commander-in-chief at Madras. At this time Lord Minto was governor-general of India, and had a fixed intention to seize all the French possessions in Asia, and also those of their allies, the Dutch, in order to secure safe communication with England, and to be the only European power in Asia. He had therefore sent General John Abercromby to take the Mauritius in 1810, and in 1811 ordered Sir Samuel Auchmuty to organise a force for the capture of Java. The governor-general himself accompanied the expedition, which reached Java on 4 Aug. and occupied Batavia on 8 Aug. Gen. Janssens, the Dutch governor, had given up the capital as indefensible, and had retired to a strong position at Cornelis, which he had fortified. This position Auchmuty attacked on 28 Aug., but the Dutch made a stubborn resistance, and were only defeated by a gallant charge of Major-general Rollo Gillespie, who got behind the position, and was the hero of the day. The last resistance of the Dutch was overcome at Samarang on 8 Sept., after which General Janssens surrendered, and in October Lord Minto and Auchmuty returned to India. For his services on this occasion he received a second time the thanks of parliament, and was made colonel of the 78th regiment. In 1813 he handed over his command to John Abercromby, and left for England. On his return he was promoted lieutenant-general, but the peace of 1815 prevented his again seeing active service. After being unemployed some years, Auchmuty was in 1821 appointed to succeed Beckwith as commander-in-chief in Ireland, and was sworn of the Irish privy council. He did not long enjoy this high command; for he fell off his horse dead on 11 Aug. 1822, in Phoenix Park, and was buried in Christ-church Cathedral. Sir Samuel Auchmuty was an extremely able Indian officer, and had served with distinction in every quarter of the globe but Europe; his great merit is shown by the high rank which he, the son of a loyal and therefore ruined American colonist, without money or political influence, had managed to attain.
[For General Auchmuty's services see the Royal Military Calendar, 3rd edition, 1820. For his Egyptian campaign see Sir R. Wilson's History of the Campaign in Egypt, 1803; Hook's Life of Sir David Baird; and more particularly the Count de Noe's Mémoires relatifs à l'Expédition Anglaise partie du Bengale en 1800 pour aller combattre en Egypte l'Armée de l’Orient, Paris, 1826. For the capture of Monte Video see the despatches in the Annual Register; Whitelocke's Court Martial; and the Memoir of Sir S. F.Whittingham. The despatches on the capture of Java are printed at length in the Royal Military Calendar; and see also Lady Minto's Lord Minto in India.]