Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lester, Frederick Parkinson

LESTER, FREDERICK PARKINSON (1795–1858), major-general, Bombay artillery, third son of John Lester, merchant, of Racquet Court, Fleet Street, and his wife, Elizabeth Parkinson, born on 3 Feb. 1795, was educated at Mr. Jephson's academy at Camberwell and at Addiscombe. He qualified for a commission on 22 April 1811. His commissions, all regimental ones in the Bombay artillery, were dated, second lieutenant 25 Oct. 1811, lieutenant 3 Sept. 1815, captain 1 Sept. 1818, major 14 May 1836, lieutenant-colonel 9 Aug. 1840 (Bombay G. O. 8 Sept. 1840), brevet-colonel 15 March 1851 (G. O. 3 June 1851), major-general 28 Nov. 1854. Of his forty-five years of service thirty-seven were passed in India, chiefly as acting commissary of ordnance, commissary of stores, secretary to, and afterwards ordinary member of the military board. A system of book-keeping by double entry, introduced by him, was ordered to be generally adopted in the ordnance department (Mil. Com. 21 May 1834, No. 2484). As an ordinary member of the military board he was ‘specially thanked for his zealous and efficient services’ by the governor of Bombay (G. O. 7 April 1847). Lester was a man of deep religious convictions, and his leaving a mess breakfast-table at which Sir John (afterwards Lord) Keane [q. v.] was present, in protest against the profane tone of the conversation, placed him long under an official cloud. In April 1858 he was appointed to the command of the southern division of the Bombay army, with headquarters at Belgaum, and assumed command there on 12 May 1857. His wise measures during the months of May to September 1857 were believed by Sir George Le Grand Jacob [q. v.] ‘in all probability to have prevented an explosion at Belgaum’ (Western India, p. 218). These measures, of which there is a memorandum in possession of the family, consisted chiefly of the repair of the fort, the removal of the powder and ammunition within the fort, night patrols, chiefly of civilian volunteers, deportation of suspected sepoys, removal of guns, gun-carriages, horses, &c., from the exterior to the interior of the fort; removal of the depot of H.M. 64th, with its four hundred European women and children, into the fort; vetoing the proposal of the commanding officer of the 29th Bombay native infantry, backed by the political agent, Mr. Seton-Karr, to disarm the regiment as mutineers, on the ground of the inadequacy of any European force for the task, and the certainty of a failure, ending in disaster; the holding of courts-martial and execution and punishment of rebels on the arrival of British troops (10 Aug. 1857) (see Stuart, Reminiscences). One of these courts-martial consisted entirely of native non-commissioned officers. The measures were preventive only, but they were among the measures which prevented the flame of insurrection spreading to Western India, and Lester has hardly been given the credit justly due to him in respect of them. He was found dead in his bed of heart disease at 7 a.m. on 3 July 1858, at Belgaum.

Lester married first, in 1828, at St. Thomas's Church, Bombay, Helen Elizabeth Honner, by whom he had two children, who died in infancy; and secondly, in 1840, at Mahableshwur, Charlotte Pratt, daughter of the Rev. Charles Fyvie; by her he had five children, two of whom survive.

[Information supplied by the India office and by Lester's younger surviving son, Mr. H. F. Lester, barrister-at-law; W. K. Stuart's Reminiscences of a Soldier, ii. 292–5; Le Grand Jacob's Western India, pp. 213 et seq.; Gent. Mag. 1858, pt. ii. p. 243.]

H. M. C.