Romer, Wolfgang William (DNB00)

ROMER, WOLFGANG WILLIAM (1640–1713), military engineer, born at The Hague on 23 April 1640, was third son, in a family of six sons and five daughters, of Mathias Römer of Dusseldorf and Anna Duppengiezeer, who were married at Aix-la-Chapelle on 2 Jan. 1637. His father was ambassador to Holland from the elector palatine, who stood godfather to young Wolfgang at his baptism on 17 May 1640. Romer entered the service of the prince of Orange as a military engineer, and saw much service before 1688, when he accompanied Prince William to England. At that time he held the rank of colonel.

By royal warrant of 13 May 1690 he was appointed engineer in Ireland at 20s. a day, to commence from 1 March 1689. He took part in the campaigns of 1690 and 1691, and was employed on the fortifications of Cork, Longford, and Thurles. He remained in Ireland until 1692, when he was appointed by royal warrant of 7 July chief engineer of the artillery train fitted out at St. Helen's for the expedition against the coast of France. On 26 July he embarked with fourteen thousand troops in transports, and joined the fleet at Portland, when the expedition was abandoned. In 1693 he was chief engineer of the ordnance train of the expedition to the Mediterranean; he served under Lord Bellamont [see Coote, Richard], and embarked in the fleet under Delaval, Killigrew, and Rooke, to convoy the so-called Smyrna fleet. On 8 May 1694 he was directed by royal warrant to report on the defences of Guernsey, and to lay out any additional works which were urgent, with a special allowance of 20s. a day. A plan of Castle Cornet, drawn by Romer when on this duty, is in the British Museum.

At the beginning of 1697 Romer was ordered to New York, but objected to go on the proposed salary of 20s. per diem. The board of ordnance recommended that his warrant should be cancelled, and that he should be discharged from the king's service. The king was, however, well acquainted with his value, and although the board had suspended him in February, in August the suspension was removed, ‘from the time of its being first laid on,’ and Romer accompanied Lord Bellamont, the newly appointed governor, to New York as chief engineer and with pay of 30s. a day. Bellamont had so high an opinion of Romer that he was specially allowed to retain his services beyond the term arranged.

Romer made a plan of the Hudson River, New York, and the adjoining country. In 1700 he explored the territories of the five Indian nations confederated with the British, and made a map of his journey among them. These maps are in the British Museum. From 1701 to 1703 he was engaged in fortifying Boston harbour. He built on Castle Island a formidable work of defence, called Fort William, mounting one hundred guns. It was destroyed on 17 March 1776, when the British evacuated Boston. Many years afterwards a slate slab with a Latin inscription was found among the ruins, giving the dates when the work was commenced and finished, and stating that it was constructed by Romer, ‘a military architect of the first rank.’ Romer constructed defensive posts and forts in the Indian territories, and many of them were executed at his own expense, for which he was never reimbursed. He was a member of the council of New York province; his knowledge of the colony, and especially of the Indians, was invaluable both to Lord Bellamont and to Lord Cornbury, who succeeded to the government in 1702.

In 1703 Romer, who was suffering from ‘a distemper not curable in those parts for want of experienced surgeons,’ applied to return to England. The board of ordnance nevertheless ordered him to go to Barbados in the West Indies, and it was only on the intervention of the council of trade, who represented his eminent services, that on 14 Aug. 1704 he was ordered home so soon as he should be relieved. He remained in America until 1706. He completed the plans of Castle Island, Boston Bay, which are now in the British Museum. On his homeward voyage he was captured by the French and carried to St. Malo, where he was liberated on parole. The usual offer of twenty seamen in exchange for a colonel was refused by the French commissioner of sick and wounded, and Romer returned to England to negotiate for an exchange. The board of ordnance suggested that the French might accept the Marquis de Levy, taken in the Salisbury, or Chevalier Nangis.

In September 1707 Romer visited Düsseldorf, carrying a letter of recommendation from the queen to the elector palatine. In 1708, his exchange having been effected, he was employed in designing defences for Portsmouth, which were submitted to the board of ordnance in the following year, and in the construction of Blockhouse Fort at the entrance of Portsmouth Harbour. He continued in charge of the Portsmouth defences, occasionally visiting other fortified towns, such as Harwich, which he reported on in 1710, and places in Flanders, until his death on 15 March 1713. He was buried at Düsseldorf, where he had some property.

A miniature of him, in uniform, done in middle age, is in possession of the family.

His son, John Lambertus Romer (1680–1754?), born in 1680, served in the train of artillery in Flanders, Spain, and on several expeditions, and in 1708 was ensign in Brigadier Rooke's regiment. On 28 Aug. of that year he was appointed by royal warrant assistant engineer to his father at Portsmouth, and was employed on works for protecting the shore near Blockhouse from the sea. In August 1710 he went to Ireland to settle his affairs. On 4 April 1713 he was promoted to be lieutenant in the 4th foot. In 1715 he was placed on half-pay from his regiment, and on 20 April appointed engineer at Sheerness, his district comprising the defences of the Thames and Medway. He was employed at Portsmouth at the end of 1716, but returned to Sheerness on 7 April of the following year. At the end of July 1719 he joined the expedition to Vigo, under Lord Cobham, and took part in the capture of the citadel, which surrendered on 10 Oct. On his return home he was appointed engineer in charge of the northern district and Scotland, and arrived in Edinburgh on 19 March 1720. In Scotland he had under his charge the erection of barracks, proposed by Field-marshal Wade, at Inversnaid, Ruthven, Bernera, and Killiwhinen. He had also important defence work at Forts Augustus, William, and George. On 24 Sept. 1722 he was promoted engineer-in-ordinary, and on 30 Oct. he went to the office of the board of ordnance in London, whence he carried out the administration of the Scottish and northern engineer districts for many years. He was promoted to be sub-director of engineers on 1 April 1730, captain-lieutenant on 22 Dec. 1738, and captain in the 4th foot (Barrell's regiment) on 19 Jan. 1739. In 1742 he became director of engineers. During 1745 and 1746 he served under the Duke of Cumberland in the suppression of the Jacobite rebellion, and was wounded at Culloden, 16 April 1746. He retired from the service in 1751. The date of his death is not given, but it is stated that he was buried in St. Margaret's, Westminster. He married, in 1711, Mary Hammond, by whom he had a son John (1713–1775), many of whose descendants entered the army and distinguished themselves in active service.

Among plans drawn by John Lambertus Romer (in the British Museum) may be mentioned Fort Augustus, Scotland, and the fortifications of Portsmouth in 1725. Two miniatures of him, in uniform, at about the ages of twenty and forty-five years, are in the possession of his descendant, the Hon. Mrs. Wynn of Rûg Corven, Merionethshire, younger daughter of Colonel Robert William Romer of Brynceanlyn, Merionethshire (d. 1889), great-great-grandson of John Lambertus Romer.

[War Office Records, Royal Engineers' Records; Cal. State Papers; William Smith's Hist. of New York, by Carey, Philadelphia, 1792; Daniel Neal's Hist. of New England to 1700, London, 1790; private sources.]

R. H. V.