1st Baron Napier of Magdala
Robert Napier, centre poring over his maps, with his leading officers during the Abyssinian campaign
Robert Napier, 1st Baron Napier of Magdala was a British soldier born in Colombo, Ceylon, and then served for many years in India, distinguishing himself in the relief of the Siege of Lucknow. Napier was educated at the East India Company military training school at Addiscombe and was commissioned into the Bengal Engineers in 1826 and sent to India in 1828.
Napier served in the 1st Anglo-Sikh War commanding the Bengal Engineers at the Battle of Mukdi and was subsequently wounded at the Battle of Ferozeeshah. He was chief engineer at the siege of the fortress of Kote Kangra and later directed the siege of Multan at the beginning of the 2nd Anglo-Sikh War, being wounded during the siege.
The Seige of Multan
In 1852 Napier was sent to the North West frontier and commanded forces in campaigns against the Hazaras and Afridis. He was chief engineer during the second relief of Lucknow in 1858 and in 1860 served in the campaign to force the Emperor to sign a previously agreed treaty. The expedition led by General Hope-Grant was responsible for the destruction of the Summer Palace in Peking.
In 1867 Napier commanded a force that was sent to Abyssinia to punish the Emperor for taking European hostages and sacked the emperor’s capital. His leadership was regarded as a model of command as he accomplished his task with little loss of life.
Napier's campaign in Abyssinia was his greatest achievement. The Emperor Tewodros II was holding a number of Protestant missionaries in his mountain top stronghold, Magdala. Following the construction of a port at Zula on the Red Sea, Napier's force was able to land and then march into the Abyssinian highlands.
Having reached Magdala after a three month march, Napier ordered his men to attack Tewodros' 9,000 strong army. It was defeated with just the loss of two British soldiers and Napier subsequently ordered his men to take Tewodros' stronghold. Tewodros committed suicide and then Napier ordered the burning and looting of the Palace. Many of the items taken back to Britain are in public collections, like the V&V where there was a recent exhibition of the loot.
In 1870 Napier became Commander-in-Chef in India and two years later was given the substantive rank of full general. He became Governor of Gibraltar in 1876 and Field Marshall in 1883. In 1890 he caught influenzia and died, and was buried in St Paul's Cathedral.
Field Marshall Napier