Sir Charles James Napier - Encyclopedia

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SIR CHARLES JAMES NAPIER (1782-1853), British soldier and statesman, was born at Whitehall, London, in 1782, being the eldest son of Colonel George Napier (a younger son of the fifth lord Napier), and of his wife, the Lady Sarah Lennox who had charmed King George III. After the custom of those times Charles Napier had been gazetted an ensign in the 33rd regiment in 1794, and in 1797 his father secured for him the appointment of aide-de-camp to Sir James Duff, commanding the Limerick district. Longing for more active service, Napier obtained a commission as lieutenant in the 95th Manningham's Rifles (Rifle Brigade) in 1800. This newly formed corps was designed to supply a body of light troops for the English army fit to cope with the French voltigeurs and tirailleurs, and was specially trained, at first under the eye of Colonel Coote Manningham, and then at Shorncliffe under the immediate supervision of Sir John Moore. Moore speedily perceived the military qualities of the Napiers, and inspired the three brothers - Charles of the Rifles, George of the 52nd and William of the 43rd - with an enthusiasm which lasted all their lives; but, though happy in his general, Charles Napier quarrelled bitterly with William Stewart, the lieutenant-colonel, and in 1803 left the regiment to accompany General H. E. Fox to Ireland as aide-de-camp. The great influence of his uncle, the duke of xix. 6 a Richmond, and of his cousins, Charles James Fox and the general, procured him in 1804 a captaincy in the staff corps, and in the beginning of 1806 a majority in the Cape regiment. On his way to the Cape, however, he exchanged into the 50th regiment, with which he served in the short Danish campaign under Lord Cathcart in 1807. Shortly after his return from Denmark the both was ordered to Portugal, and in command of it Napier shared all the glories of the famous retreat to Corunna. At the battle of Corunna, one of the last sights of Sir John Moore before he fell mortally wounded was the advance of his own old regiment under the command of Charles Napier and Edward Stanhope, and almost his last words were "Well done, my majors!" The sot suffered very severely and both the majors were left for dead upon the field. Napier's life was saved by a French drummer named Guibert, who brought him safely to the headquarters of Marshal Soult. Soult treated him with the greatest kindness, and he was allowed by Ney to return to England to his "old blind mother" instead of being interned. After about a year he heard that his exchange had been arranged, and, volunteering for the Peninsula, he joined the light division before Ciudad Rodrigo. As a volunteer he served in the actions on the Coa, and again at Busaco, where he was badly wounded in the face. He was ordered to England, but refused to go, and in March 1811, though barely recovered, he hurried to the front to take part in the pursuit of Massena. After the battle of Fuentes d'Onor, he received the lieutenant-colonelcy of the 102nd regiment, which had become entirely demoralized at Botany Bay, and when he joined it at Guernsey in 181r was one of the worst regiments in the service. When he left it in 1813 it was one of the best. He accompanied it in June 1812 from Guernsey to Bermuda, where he wrought a wonderful change in the spirit both of officers and men. By treating his men as friends he won their love and admiration, and became in a peculiar degree the hero of the British soldiers. After seeing further active service against the United States in September 1813 he exchanged back into the 10th regiment, and in December 1814, believing all chance of active service to be at an end, went on half-pay. He was gazetted one of the first C.B.'s on the extension of the order of the Bath in 1814, and was present as a volunteer at the capture of Cambray, but he just missed the great battle of Waterloo. Though an officer of some experience and more than thirty years of age, he now entered the military college at Farnham, and completed his military education. In 1819 he was appointed inspecting field officer at Corfu, in 1820 was sent on a mission to Ali Pasha at Iannina, and in 1821 visited Greece, where he became an ardent supporter of the patriot party. From Corfu he was moved in 1822 to Cephalonia, where he remained for eight years as governor and military resident. He was the model of an absolute colonial governor, and showed all the qualities of a benevolent despot. He made good roads and founded great institutions, but everything must be done by him, and he showed himself averse to interference, whether from the high commissioner of the Ionian Islands, whom it was his duty to obey, or from the feudal magnates of his own little colony, over whom it was his duty to exercise strict supervision. An interesting episode in his command was his communication with Lord Byron when he touched at Cephalonia on his way to take part in the Greek War of Independence. Byron sent a letter to the Greek committee in London recommending Napier's appointment as commander-in,chief. But after many negotiations the scheme came to nothing. In 1827 Napier, who had two years before been made a colonel in the army, quarrelled with Sir Frederick Adam, the new high commissioner, and in 1830, when Napier was in England on leave, Adam seized his papers and forbade him to return. Napier thereupon, refusing promotion to the residency of Zante, retired in disgust, living for some years in the south of England and, after the death of his wife in 1833, in Normandy. Here he wrote his work on the colonies, and also an historical romance on William the Conqueror. Another work, entitled Harold, has disappeared. In 1834 he refused the governorship of Australia, still hoping for military employment. In 1837 he was promoted major-general with his brother George, in 1838 he returned to England and was made a K.C.B.; but he was to wait till 1839 before he received an offer of employment. In that year he was made commanding officer in the northern district, and found his command no sinecure, owing to the turbulent state of the Chartists in the towns of Yorkshire, Lancashire and the Midlands. His behaviour during the tenure of his command is described by William Napier in his life of his brother, and his inability to hold a command which did not carry supreme authority is plainly portrayed. In this particular instance his sympathies were on the popular side, and, though he maintained law and order with the necessary rigour, he resigned as soon as the crisis had passed, and went to India. He was stationed at Poona, and in September 1842, when troubles were expected there, was ordered to Sind.

His command in Sind from 1842 till August 1847 is the period of his life during which, according to his brother, he made good his title to fame, but his acts, more especially at first, have been most severely criticized. There can be little doubt that from the moment he landed in the province he determined to conquer the amirs, and to seek the first opportunity of doing so. He was to be accompanied by James Outram, who had been resident in Sind during the Afghan War, and who felt a great admiration for him, but who had also a warm affection for the amirs, and believed that he could put off the day of their destruction. On the 15th of February 1843, Outram was treacherously assailed at Hyderabad, and on the 17th Napier attacked the Baluch army 30,000 strong with but 2800 men. With these 2800 men, including the 22nd regiment, which would do anything for him, he succeeded in winning the brilliant and decisive victory of Meeanee, one of the most amazing in the history of the British army, in which generals had to fight like privates, and Sir Charles himself engaged in the fray. In the March following, after marching without transport in the most intense heat, he finally destroyed the army of the amirs at the battle of Hyderabad. His success was received with enthusiasm both by the governor-general, Lord Ellenborough, and by the English people, and he was at once made a G.C.B. Whether or not the conquest of Sind at that particular period can be justified, there can be no doubt that Charles Napier was the best administrator who could be found for the province when conquered. Sind, when it came under English rule, was in a state of utter anarchy, for the Baluchis had formed a military government not unlike that of the Mamelukes in Egypt, which had been extremely tyrannical to the native population. This native population was particularly protected by Sir Charles Napier, who completed the work of the destruction of the Baluch supremacy which he had commenced with the victory of Meeanee. The labour of administration was rendered more difficult by the necessity of repressing the hill tribes, which had been encouraged to acts of lawlessness by the licence which followed the Afghan War. The later years of his administration were made very stormy by the attacks on the policy of the conquest which had been made in England. He left Sind, after quarrelling with every authority of the presidency of Bombay, and nearly every authority of the whole of India, in August 1847, and received a perfect ovation on his return from all the hero-worshippers of the Napiers, of whom there were many in England. His short stay in England was occupied with incessant struggles with the directors of the East India Company; but the news of the indecisive victory of Chillianwalla created a panic in England, and the East India Company was obliged by public opinion to summon the greatest general of the day to command its armies. Sir Charles started almost at a moment's notice, but on reaching India found that the victory of Gujrat had been won and the Sikh War was over. No taint of envy was in his nature, and he rejoiced that he had not had to supersede Lord Gough in the moment of defeat. His restless and imperious spirit was met by one equally imperious in the governor-general, Lord Dalhousie. The two men were good friends until, in the absence of Dalhousie at sea, Napier took upon himself to alter the regulations regarding the allowances to native troops; the occasion was urgent, as the troops were in a state of mutiny, but on his return Dalhousie reprimanded the commander-in-chief and reversed his decision. Napier immediately handed in his resignation, and when the duke of Wellington supported Lord Dalhousie and repeated the reprimand he returned to England. He had been credited with foreseeing the Mutiny of 1857, and on the whole with justice. On one occasion he wrote that mutiny was "one of the greatest, if not the greatest, danger threatening India - a danger that may come unexpectedly, and if the first symptoms be not carefully treated, with a power to shake Leadenhall." On the mutiny of the 66th native regiment at Govindgarh he disbanded it, and handed its colours over to a Gurkha regiment, thus showing that he distrusted the high-class Brahman, and recognized the necessity of relying upon a more warlike and more disciplined race. His constitution was undermined by the Indian climate, especially by his fatiguing command in Sind, and on the 2.9th of August 1853 he died at Portsmouth. The bronze statue of him by G. G. Adams, which stands in Trafalgar Square, London, was erected by public subscription, by far the greater number of the subscribers being, as the inscription records, private soldiers.

The chief authority for Sir Charles Napier's life is his Life and Opinions by his brother (1857); consult also MacColl, Career and Character of C. J. Napier (1857); M`Dougall, General Sir C. J. Napier, Conqueror and Governor of Scinde (1860); W. N. Bruce, Sir Charles Napier (1855); and T. R. E. Holmes, Four Famous Soldiers (1889). His own works are Memoir on the Roads of Cephalonia (1825); The Colonies, treating of their value generally and of the Ionian Islands in particular; Strictures on the Administration of Sir F. Adam (1833); Colonization, particularly in Southern Australia (1835); Remarks on Military Law and the Punishment of Flogging (1837); A Dialogue on the Poor Laws (1838?); A Letter on the Defence of England by Corps of Volunteers and Militia (1852); Lights and Shadows of Military Life (trans. from the French, 1840); and A Letter to the Right Honourable Sir J. C. Hobhouse on the Baggage of the Indian Army (1849); Defects, Civil and Military, of the Indian Government (1853); William, the Conqueror, a Historical Romance, edited by Sir W. Napier (1858). On Sind, consult primarily Sir W. Napier, The Conquest of Scinde (1845); The Administration of Scinde (1851); Compilation of General Orders issued by Sir C. Napier (1850); and Outram, The Conquest of Scinde, a Commentary (1846). For his command-in-chief, and the controversy about his resignation, consult J. Mawson, Records of the Indian Command of General Sir C. J. Napier (Calcutta, 1851); Minutes on the Resignation of the late General Sir C. Napier, by Field-Marshal the Duke of Wellington, &c. (1854); Comments by Sir W. Napier on a Memorandum of the Duke of Wellington (1854); Sir William Napier, General Sir C. Napier and the Directors of the East India Company (1857); Sir W. Lee Warner, Life of Lord Dalhousie (1904).

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