Open main menu

LAWSON, ROBERT (d. 1816), lieutenant-general, colonel-commandant royal artillery, entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, on 17 July 1758, and passed out as a lieutenant-fireworker, royal artillery, on 25 Dec. 1759. His subsequent promotions were: second lieutenant 1766, first lieutenant 1771, captain-lieutenant 1779, captain 1782, major 1793, lieutenant-colonel 1794, colonel 1801, major-general 1808, lieutenant-general 1813. He served through the famous siege of Belle Isle in 1761, and was afterwards some years at Gibraltar. He went to America with Lord Cornwallis in 1776 and was deputy-bridgemaster of the army under Sir William Howe [q. v.], and in 1779 was appointed bridgemaster to Sir Henry Clinton the elder [q. v.] There is little information respecting his services in America, but in the royal military repository, Woolwich, is a model of 'a field-carriage for small mortars to be used occasionally as howitzers.' which is stated to have been invented and used by him at the siege of Charleston, and another showing his plan of mounting mortars for firing at various elevations, 'experimented and approved at New York in 1780' (Official Cat Museum of Artillery). He returned home from America in 1783, and was afterwards three years in command of the artillery (three companies) in the island of Jamaica. In January 1793 he was appointed to command the first formed troop of the royal horse artillery, now the famed 'chestnut troop.' The four oldest troops of the horse brigade were trained under him, and he devised the system of manoeuvre enabling them to act with cavalry (Duncan, ii. 33-5). In 1799 he appears to have been in command of the artillery at Newcastle-on-Tyne (ib. ii. 95), and in January 1800 he was appointed to command the artillery of the expeditionary force destined for the Mediterranean. With some difficulty the temporary rank of brigadier-general, which had been accorded to officers of like standing of other arms, was obtained for him (ib. ii. 105). The movements that followed have been described by the regimental historian (ib. ii. 105-7). How the troops were shipped and landed and reshipped, how clerkdom was allowed to run riot in queries and surcharges and disallowances, while the sick were left without tents, tents issued without poles, and the like, read like parodies of the Crimean blunders of fifty years later. Lawson commanded the artillery throughout the campaign in Egypt, in which, in the words of Abercromby's successor, Lord Hutchinson, he overcame difficulties that appeared insurmountable. His professional memoranda on the operations (cf. ib. ii. chap, xvi.) were published some years ago by the Royal Artillery Institute, Woolwich, for the instruction of gunners of later generations. During the invasion alarms of 1808 a project for the defence of London was started, which had the support of Mr. Pitt, and Lawson, with the rank of brigadier-general, had the selection of sites for the batteries, but no practical results followed, and Lawson's services were transferred to Chatham, where the detached works known as Forts Pitt and Clarence were in course of construction, and where he was stationed for several years. Lawson was appointed colonel-commandant of the old 10th battalion royal artillery in 1808. He died at Woolwich, after fifty-six years' military service, on 26 Feb. 1816. His son, Lieutenant-colonel Robert Lawson, C.B., a distinguished peninsular artillery officer, only outlived him three years.

[Kane's List of Officers Roy. Artillery, Woolwich, rev. ed. 1869; Proceedings Roy. Artillery Institute, Woolwich, xiv. 489-90; Duncan's Hist. Roy. Artillery, London, 1872, 2 vols.; Mitchell's Records Roy. Horse Artillery, London, rev. ed. 1888; Official Catalogue Artillery Museum. Woolwich; Hosier's Invasions of England, London, 1876, vol. ii. chap, xix.]

H. M. C.