Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/D'Urban, Benjamin

D'URBAN, Sir BENJAMIN (1777–1849), lieutenant-general, entered the army as a cornet in the 2nd dragoon guards or queen's bays in 1793. He was promoted lieutenant in March, and captain on 2 July 1794, in which year he accompanied his regiment to the Netherlands, where he served during the retreat from Holland, and in Westphalia after the return of the infantry to England, under the command of Major-general David Dundas. In 1795 he exchanged into the 29th dragoons in order to accompany Sir Ralph Abercromby to the West Indies, and served under him in San Domingo in 1796. In April 1797 he returned to England in command of the remnant of his regiment. In that year he exchanged into the 20th dragoons, and acted as aide-de-camp to Major-general the Earl of Pembroke, commanding at Plymouth until May 1799. In July 1799 he accompanied Major-general St. John to Jamaica as aide-de-camp, but returned in November of that year on being promoted major into the Warwickshire Fencibles. He went on half-pay in April 1800, and joined the Royal Military College, which was just established at Great Marlow under the superintendence of General Jarry, in order to instruct officers in staff duties and the higher branches of the military profession. He was appointed major in the 25th light dragoons, but still continued at the Royal Military College, where his proficiency was so great that he was in 1803 appointed superintendent of the junior department of the college. He then exchanged into the 89th regiment, and was promoted lieutenant-colonel by brevet on 1 Jan. 1805. He threw up his staff appointment at the college in June 1805, in order to accompany his regiment on foreign service, and served during the futile expedition to Hanover under Lord Cathcart (1755–1843) [q. v.] In December 1806 he was made lieutenant-colonel of the 9th garrison battalion, and in October 1807 of the 1st West India regiment; but he remained all the time employed in various staff appointments, and particularly in establishing a system of communication by means of the semaphore between Dublin and the ports of the southern and south-western districts of Ireland. In November 1807 he was appointed assistant quartermaster-general at Dublin, but was soon transferred to Limerick, and finally to the Curragh, when Sir David Baird was in command there, and he accompanied that general to the Peninsula in the same capacity, but was immediately detached to the force left under Sir John Cradock in the neighbourhood of Lisbon. He served under Sir Robert Wilson in the Lusitanian legion in Castille and Estremadura until April 1809, when Beresford arrived to organise the Portuguese army. Beresford knew of D'Urban's high reputation as a staff officer, and he was immediately selected to fill the important post of quartermaster-general under the new arrangements, with the rank of colonel in the Portuguese army. He most ably seconded Beresford's efforts, and served in the capacity mentioned throughout the Peninsular war without once going on leave, and was successively promoted brigadier-general and major-general in the Portuguese army, and colonel in the English army on 4 June 1813. He was with Beresford at all the great battles of the Peninsular war, and at its close was made one of the first K.C.B.'s on the extension of the order of the Bath, a K.T.S., and received a gold cross and five clasps for the nine pitched battles and sieges at which he had been present, namely Busaco, Albuera, Badajoz, Salamanca, Vittoria, the Pyrenees, the Nivelle, the Nive, and Toulouse. He remained in Portugal after the close of the war until April 1816, when he was summoned to England, and appointed colonel of the royal staff corps and deputy quartermaster-general at the Horse Guards in the place of Major-general John Brown. He was made a K.C.H. in 1818, and promoted major-general on 12 Aug. 1819. In 1820 he was made governor of Antigua, and in 1824 was transferred to Demerara and Essequibo — settlements which were combined with Berbice in 1831 to form British Guiana, of which D'Urban was then made first governor. In 1829 he was made colonel of the 51st regiment, and, after returning to England, he in 1833 was appointed governor and commander-in-chief of the Cape of Good Hope. In 1837, when he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general, he was succeeded at the Cape by Major-general Sir George T. Napier, K.C.B. In 1840 he was made a G.C.B. The chief event of his governorship of the Cape was his final occupation of Natal, where a large body of Dutch Boers had settled, being dissatisfied with the English administration of the colony and the immigration of English colonists. Their settlement was considered dangerous by the government at home, and D'Urban was ordered to take possession. His connection with these operations, which created a new colony, is perpetuated in the name of Durban given officially to Port Natal. In January 1847 D'Urban was transferred to the command of the forces in Canada, and on 25 May 1849 he died at Montreal, aged 72.

[Royal Military Calendar; Gent. Mag. December 1849.]

H. M. S.