Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Douglas, Howard
DOUGLAS, Sir HOWARD (1776–1861), third baronet, of Carr, Perthshire, general, colonel 15th foot, son of Vice-admiral Sir Charles Douglas, first baronet [q. v.], by his second wife, Sarah, daughter of James Wood, was born at Gosport in 1776. Having lost his mother when he was three years old, and his father being away at sea, he was brought up by his aunt, Mrs. Helena Baillie of Olive Bank, Musselburgh. He was sent to the grammar school at that place, but his early boyhood was chiefly spent with the fishermen, from whom he gained his first knowledge of the sea. He was intended for the navy, but his father dying suddenly in 1789, young Douglas's guardians obtained for him a nomination to the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. A simple entrance-examination in reading, writing, and arithmetic to the rule of three had lately been established, and in this he failed outright, to his sore distress. He passed a few weeks later, entering the academy as cadet 29 June 1790. He speedily showed ability in mathematics, and became a favourite with Dr. Charles Hutton [q. v.] Douglas appears to have been a daring boy, and he spent all his spare time on the river, and improved his knowledge of seamanship by practically working his passage to and from the north at holiday times in the Leith and Berwick smacks. He passed out of the academy as a second lieutenant royal artillery 1 Jan. 1794, and became first lieutenant 30 May 1794. According to some accounts he served under the Duke of York on the continent, but this appears doubtful (see Duncan, Hist. Roy. Art. ii. 57–8). As a subaltern of nineteen years of age he commanded the artillery of the northern district during the invasion alarms rife there after the return of the troops from Bremen in the spring of 1795. In August the same year he embarked for Quebec as senior officer of a detachment of troops on board the Phillis transport, which was cast away at the entrance of the St. Lawrence. The sufferings of the survivors were intensified by their failure to reach a settlement, and an attempted mutiny of the soldiers, which was stopped by the resolute conduct of Douglas. The castaways were rescued by a trader and carried to Great Jervis, a remote unvisited fishing station of Labrador, where they passed the winter. Subsequently they were rescued and carried to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Douglas served three months, thence proceeding to Quebec, where he remained a year, during which time he was employed in command of a small cruiser, scouting for the French fleet said to be making for Quebec. In 1797 he was detached to Kingston, Upper Canada, where he passed two years chiefly hunting and fishing among the Indians, and was employed by the Canadian government on a mission to the Cherokees. On one occasion he skated all the way from Montreal to Quebec to attend a ball, a feat which cost the life of a brother-officer who accompanied him. Douglas returned home in 1799, and his ready seamanship saved the timber-laden vessel in which he made the voyage. Full details of Douglas's earlier career are given in his biography by Fullom.
In July 1799 Douglas married Anne, daughter of James Dundas of Edinburgh. By her, who died 12 Oct. 1854 (Gent. Mag. new ser. xlii. 643), he had a family of three daughters and six sons, the eldest survivor being the fourth baronet, General Sir Robert Percy Douglas, colonel 2nd Prince of Wales's North Staffordshire regiment (late 98th foot) and late lieutenant-governor Cape of Good Hope, a distinguished officer, born in 1805 (Burke, Baronetage).
Douglas became a captain-lieutenant royal artillery 2 Oct. 1799. He acted for two years as adjutant of the 5th battalion royal artillery; was in charge of a company at Plymouth for one year; served a year and a half with one of the newly formed troops of horse artillery at Canterbury and Woolwich; and ten months with Congreve's mortar-brigade in 1803–4 (see Phllippart, Roy. Mil. Cal. 1820). The latter, organised by General Congreve, father of the inventor of the rocket, consisted of twenty 8-inch mortars carried on block-trail carriages of the pattern reintroduced in 1860, and drawn by teams driven by postilions instead of by wagoners on foot, as previously was the custom with field artillery. Attached to the equipment was a battery of field guns and wagons with entrenching tools, &c. The object was in the event of the enemy effecting a landing to harass him at night by a continuous shell fire, preparatory to an attack by the three arms at daybreak. Details are given by Douglas in his ‘Defence of England’ (London, 1860), pp. 27–9. Douglas became a captain in the royal artillery in 1804, but his services being required at the Royal Military College, he was placed on half-pay, and subsequently retired from the artillery and appointed to a majority in the 1st battalion of the army of reserve on 12 Oct. 1804, and the next day placed on half-pay of the York rangers, a corps reorganised for special service in the suppression of the African slave trade, which was then reduced. It was distinct from the later royal York rangers. On the retired list of that corps Douglas continued until promoted to the rank of major-general.
The Military College had been recently founded, the senior department being at High Wycombe. Douglas was in 1804 appointed commandant of the senior department, and afterwards ‘inspector-general of instructions,’ an office which he retained until its abolition in 1820 (Parl. Papers; Accts. and Papers, 1810, vol. ix.; Rep. Select Comm. 1854–5, xii. 157–8). Douglas improved and extended the system of instruction, and raised the disciplinary tone of the establishment. Among the pupils during his tenure of command were Philip Bainbrigge, Henry Hardinge, William Maynard Gomm, and many other well-known officers of the Peninsular epoch. He became brevet lieutenant-colonel 31 Dec. 1806.
In 1808 the reduction in the number of officers at the senior department led Douglas to seek active employment. He was appointed assistant quartermaster-general in Spain, and sent out with despatches to Sir John Moore. He joined the retreating army in December at Benevente, and was present at the battle of Corunna, 18 Jan. 1809. In July 1809 he accompanied the Walcheren expedition in the same capacity, and took an active part in the artillery attack on Flushing. The journal of the expedition, signed by the quartermaster-general, Sir Robert Brownrigg, and appended to the report of the parliamentary commissioners, is from his pen (see ‘Scheldt Papers,’ in Accounts and Papers, 1810). The same year he succeeded to the baronetcy on the death of his elder half-brother, Vice-admiral Sir William Henry Douglas, second baronet, on 23 May 1809. Douglas resumed his college duties, and on 2 July 1811 the reflecting circle or semicircle known by his name was patented by him, and described by Cary the optician in Tilloch's ‘Philosophical Magazine,’ July–December, 1811, pp. 186–7. The same year Douglas was selected by Lord Liverpool to proceed to the north of Spain to inspect and report on the state of the Spanish armies in Galicia and Asturias, and on the military resources of that part of the country then not wholly occupied by the French, and to report in what way these resources, regular and irregular, including the guerilla system, which had become very formidable, should be encouraged and extended (Fullom, Life of Douglas, pp. 235–6). After conferring with Lord Wellington he proceeded on his mission, and was present at the operations on the Orbigo and Esta, in the combined naval and military operations of the Spaniards and a British naval squadron under Sir Home Popham the younger, on the north coast of Spain in the early part of 1812, in the attack on and reduction of Lequertio, siege of Astorga, operations on the Douro, siege of Zamorra and attack on the ports of the Douro (see Fullom, ib. pp. 112–217; Douglas, Modern Fortifications, pp. 235–47; Gurwood, Well. Desp. vol. v.; Napier, Hist. Penins. War, bks. xvii–xix.; James, Naval Hist. vol. v.) He joined the army on the advance to Burgos at the end of August 1812, and appears to have predicted the failure of the siege (Fullom, p. 206), but did not await the result, the home government having recalled him from the mission, ‘which you have executed to the perfect satisfaction of his majesty's government,’ in consequence of ‘the repeated and earnest representations of the supreme board of the Royal Military College in regard to the detriment which the establishment suffers during your absence’ (Despatch from Lord Liverpool, ib. p. 218). Douglas became brevet colonel 4 June 1814, and major-general 19 July 1821.
In 1816 Douglas brought out the first edition of his work on military bridges, which is said to have furnished Telford with the idea of the suspension principle in bridge construction. It was compiled as a manuscript text-book for the use of the Military College, and was submitted to the authorities in 1808, together with a plan of organisation for a corps of pontooners. In 1819 he published his treatise on Carnot's system of fortification; and in 1820 the first edition of his treatise on naval gunnery. The preface to the latter states that observations made and opinions formed respecting the state of gunnery in the British navy during the war had led the writer to reflect how that important branch of our national system might be improved. The work was dedicated to Lord Melville, then first lord, and published with the sanction of the admiralty. Contrary to expectation, it attracted little notice from the public, but was well received by the navy, and long afterwards bore fruit in the establishment of the Excellent gunnery-ship and other improvements. Douglas's strictures on Carnot drew a rejoinder from a French engineer, M. Augoyat. Copies of the latter work were forwarded by Douglas, then residing in Paris, to the Duke of Wellington, who was officially interested in the fortresses then in course of erection by the Prussians on the Rhine frontier, and led to the artillery experiments carried out at Woolwich, in accordance with Douglas's suggestions, in 1822. From 1823 to 1831 he was governor of New Brunswick, where he founded the university of Fredericton, and did much to improve the roads, the lighting of the coast, and other matters, and displayed great firmness and tact in checking the attempted American encroachment on the Maine frontier in 1828. The Maine boundary question having been referred for arbitration to the king of the Netherlands, Douglas was recalled and sent on a mission to the Hague to supply information on certain points. He was afterwards employed on a secret mission of observation on the Dutch frontier during the Belgian revolution. He opposed the views of the government of the day regarding the timber duties, and after its defeat on that question gave in his resignation. While at home at this period he published his work on naval tactics, defending his father's claim as originator of the manœuvre of ‘breaking the line.’ The work was suggested by a conversation with Douglas's very old friend and school companion Sir Walter Scott, during a visit to Abbotsford (Lockhart, Life of Scott, p. 365). Douglas unsuccessfully contested Liverpool in the conservative interest in 1832, and again in 1835. In the latter year he was appointed lord high commissioner of the Ionian Islands, which he held, conjointly with the command of the troops without staff pay, until 1840. The post was acknowledged to be a difficult one, but despite much misrepresentation at home Douglas governed wisely and well. He foiled conspiracy, domestic and foreign, used his position in the very focus of Russian intrigue to turn his information to the best account, promoted education and public works, and improved the revenue. He introduced a new code of laws based on the Greek model, known as the Douglas code. He founded a prize medal to be given annually in perpetuity at the Ionian College, under the name of the Douglas medal, for the higher proficiency in mathematics, physic, or law. At his departure the Ionian States erected a column at Corfu recording the many useful public acts of his government. Douglas became a lieutenant-general in 1837, and in 1841 was made colonel of the 99th foot, in succession to Sir Hugh Gough. He was transferred to the 15th foot in 1851, in which year he became a general. He was returned for Liverpool in 1842 as a supporter of Sir Robert Peel, obtaining the seat vacated by Sir Cresswell Cresswell. He was a frequent and very moderate and judicious speaker on service questions. He voted against his party on the measure for the repeal of the corn laws, and at the dissolution of 1847 withdrew from parliamentary life. During the remainder of his life he took an active interest in professional subjects, and was often consulted by the ministers on service matters, as by Sir Robert Peel in 1848 respecting the introduction of iron ships into the navy; by Lord Aberdeen in 1854 respecting the descent on the Crimea, which Douglas opposed on the grounds that the season was too far advanced and the army insufficiently provided; by Lord Panmure in 1855 on the subject of army education, Douglas having called attention to the decline of military education in the army; and by Sir John Pakington on the question of ship-armour, which was under discussion at the time of his death, and which Douglas strongly opposed, maintaining that artillery power would in the end always prove superior to any armour that could be carried. His published works exhibit the wide scope and reach of his scientific attainments, and it has been well said that the value of his labours lay in his peculiar capacity for grafting new discoveries on old experience and hitting the wants of the generation which had sprung up since his own youth (Gent. Mag. 3rd ser. xii. 91–2). Douglas died at Tunbridge Wells on 9 Nov. 1861, in the eighty-sixth year of his age, and was buried beside his wife at Boldre, near Lymington, Hampshire. An engraved portrait of him, from a photograph taken not long before his death, forms the frontispiece to Fullom's biography. By his will (personalty sworn under 16,000l.) Douglas left all his scientific papers to his second surviving son, Admiral Henry John Douglas, who died 18 May 1871.
Douglas was a F.R.S. of 1812. He was one of the fellows of the Royal Geographical Society when first formed. A notice of his election as an associate of the Institute of Naval Architects arrived the day of his death. He received the honorary degree of D.C.L. from the university of Oxford 1 July 1829 in recognition of his patriotic conduct in New Brunswick, and his services to education in founding the Fredericton College, which was endowed by royal charter with the privileges of a university on the model of Oxford, and of which he was the first chancellor. He was made C.B. in 1815, K.C.B. in 1840, and G.C.B., civil division, in 1841. Shortly before his death Palmerston offered Douglas the military G.C.B., but he declined, saying he was too old. He was made G.C.M.G. in 1835 on appointment to the government of the Ionian Islands, and had the grand cordon of Charles III of Spain, and the Peninsular medal with clasp for Corunna. He was many years a commissioner of the Royal Military College; was a patron of the Royal United Service Institution and of the Wellington College, in which he took a lively interest; and was president of the Royal Cambridge Asylum. For many years he held the post of gentleman of the bedchamber to the late Duke of Gloucester.
The following is a list of Douglas's published works, of which it has been truly remarked (Quart. Rev. 1866, cxx. 509) that although little read when they first appeared, they have been accepted in the end, not in England only, but all over the world, as works of authority on the subjects of which they severally treat: 1. ‘Essay on the Principle and Construction of Military Bridges and the Passage of Rivers in Military Operations,’ 1st edition, London, 1816; 2nd edition, London, 1832; 3rd edition, enlarged, London, 1853, 8vo. 2. ‘Observations on the Motives, Errors, and Tendency of M. Carnot's System of Defence, showing the Defects of his New System of Fortifications, and the alterations he has proposed with a view to improve the defences of existing places,’ London, 1819, 8vo. 3. ‘Treatise on Naval Gunnery,’ 1st edition, London, 1820, 300 pp. 8vo; 2nd edition, London, 1829; 3rd edition, London, 1851; 4th edition, London, 1855; 5th edition, London, 1860, over 660 pp. 8vo. The work has been reprinted in America, and French and Spanish editions appeared in 1853 and 1857 respectively, copies of which are in the British Museum Library. 4. ‘Observations on the Proposed Alterations of the Timber Duties,’ London, 1831, 8vo. 5. ‘Considerations on the Value and Importance of the British North American Provinces and the circumstances on which depend their Prosperity and Connection with Great Britain,’ 1st edition, London, 1831, 8vo; 2nd edition, same year and place. 6. ‘Naval Evolutions; containing a review and refutation of the principal essays and arguments advocating Mr. Clark's claims in relation to the action of 12 April 1782’ (action between the British and French fleets under Rodney and De Grasse), London, 1832, 8vo. 7. ‘Speech of Sir Howard Douglas … on Lord Ingestre's Motion for an Address to the Crown to order another Commission for the investigation of Mr. Warner's alleged discoveries,’ London, 1845. 8. ‘Observations on the Naval Operations in the Black Sea and at Sebastopol,’ London, 1855, 8vo. 9. ‘On Naval Warfare under Steam,’ 1st edition, London, 1858; 2nd edition, London, 1860, 8vo. 10. ‘Observations on the Modern System of Fortification, including the proposals of M. Carnot, to which are added some reflections on entrenched positions, and a treatise on the naval, littoral, and internal defence of England,’ London, 1859, 8vo. 11. ‘The Defence of England,’ London, 1860, 8vo. 12. ‘Postscript to Remarks on Iron Defences in the 5th edition of Naval Gunnery, in answer to the “Quarterly Review,”’ 1st edition, London, 1860; 2nd edition, London, 1861, 8vo.[For genealogy see Burke's Baronetage. Foster's Baronetage contains numerous errors. For Douglas's services see Philippart's Roy. Mil. Cal. 1820, and Hart's Army List. In Colonel F. Duncan's Hist. Royal Artillery his name appears only once. A Life of Sir Howard Douglas (London, 1862, 8vo) was written by the late Stephen Watson Fullom, who was at one time his private secretary. It gives much interesting information, derived from family sources and from Douglas's old brother-officers, especially concerning his services in America in 1795–9, in Spain in 1811–12, in New Brunswick and the Ionian Islands, and of the last few years of his life, but it contains numerous errors in names and dates. A good biographical notice appeared in Gent. Mag. 3rd ser. xii. 90–2. Douglas's speeches in parliament will be found in the volumes of Parl. Debates for 1842–7. Further details must be sought in the several editions of his works and in his evidence before various parliamentary committees on questions relating to naval and military science and military education.]