Thomas Graham, 1st Baron Lynedoch

General Thomas Graham, 1st Baron Lynedoch, GCB, GCMG (19 October 1748 – 18 December 1843) was a Scottish aristocrat, politician and soldier.

After his education at Oxford, he inherited a substantial estate in Scotland was married and settled down to a quiet career as a landowning gentleman. However, with the death of his wife, when he was aged 42, he immersed himself in a military (and later political) career, during the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars.

Early life and education

Thomas Graham was the third and only surviving son of Thomas Græme of Balgowan, in Perthshire and Lady Christian Hope, a daughter of the first Earl of Hopetoun. He was born in 1748, and was educated at home, by Rev. Mr. Fraser, minister of Moneydie, and afterwards by James Macpherson, the collector and translator of Ossian's poems. He was sent to Christchurch College, Oxford, in 1766, and in the following year the death of his father put him in possession of a handsome and unencumbered estate.

On leaving college, he spent several years on the Continent, where he learnt the French and German languages. On his return to Scotland he devoted himself to the management and improvement of his estate. He enclosed his lands, erected comfortable farmhouses and offices, granted leases to his tenants, encouraged them to provide improved implements of husbandry, and to cultivate on a large scale potatoes and turnips, which had hitherto been regarded as mere garden plants. He also set himself to cultivate improved breeds of horses, cattle, and sheep.

In 1785, he purchased the estate of Lynedoch or Lednock, situated in a picturesque part of the valley of the Almond, and took great delight in planting trees and oak coppices, and in beautifying the sloping banks which border the course of that stream. He was fond of horses and dogs, and was distinguished for his skill in country sports. He rode with the foxhounds, and accompanied the Duke of Athole—who subsequently became his brother-in-law—in grouse-shooting and deer-stalking on the Athole moors. He later said that he owed much of that education of the eye with reference to ground and distances, so useful to a military man, to his deer-hunting at this period of his life in the Forest of Athole.inote|Taylor|Taylor

Life as a country gentleman

In 1772, aged 24, Graham stood as a Whig a candidate for Perth, in opposition to the brother of the Duke of Athole, but was defeated by a majority of only six votes. Two years later (1774) he married Mary, second daughter of the ninth Earl Cathcart. Her elder sister, on the same day, became Duchess of Athole. "Jane," wrote Lord Cathcart, "has married, to please herself, John, Duke of Athole, a peer of the realm; Mary has married Thomas Graham of Balgowan, the man of her heart, and a peer among princes." He spent the next eighteen years as a quiet country gentleman, distinguished only as a daring rider and sportsman, and a good classical scholar, making occasional visits to London and Edinburgh.inote|Taylor|Taylor

His dynamic nature is demonstrated by the alacrity with which he dealt with a highwayman, who stopped his carriage in Park Lane and demanded money, jewels, and watches, at gunpoint while two accomplices seized the horses’ heads. Graham, who was at the opposite side of the carriage, leapt across the ladies to the carriage-door, and collaring the assailant, threw him to the ground. Then, drawing his sword, which at that period formed part of a dress suit, he threatened to run the man through, if his associates holding the horses’ heads attempted to come to his assistance. They immediately fled, and the prostrate highwayman was given into custody. inote|Taylor|Taylor

The Honourable Mrs Graham (1757-1792)

Thomas Graham married the Honourable Mary Cathcart, daughter of 9th Baron Cathcart who was ambassador to Catherine the Great.He was a solicitous husband. Notably, when his wife discovered on the morning of an Edinburgh ball that she had left her jewel-box at Balgowan, he rode the ninety miles to and from Balgowan using relays of horses to ensure that she would have her jewellery at the ball.inote|Taylor|TaylorHer portrait by Thomas Gainsborough was highly acclaimed when exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1777. The painting now hangs in the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh. []

Loss of his wife

Mrs. Graham’s health began to decline, and on the recommendation of her medical adviser she went, in the spring of 1792, to the south of France, along with her husband and sister. Despite this course of action, she died on board ship, off the coast near Hyères, on 26 June 1792. Her sorrowing husband hired a barge to take the casket to Bordeaux but near Toulouse a group of French soldiers opened the coffin and molested the body. He closed the casket and returned home to deposit her remains in a mausoleum, which he built in the churchyard of Methven, where, after the lapse of upwards of half a century, he would himself be laid in the same tomb. [Antony Brett-James, "General Graham" (London: Macmillan, 1959)]

The loss of his wife preyed deeply upon Graham’s mind, and first he set out for twelve-months of foreign travel. However, still overwhelmed by great sorrow, and now in his forty-third year, he tried to drown the thought of his irreparable loss amid the toils and dangers of a military life. Before the incident near Toulouse, Graham had sympathised with France and the revoultionary ideals but from that point on he detested the French and saw his military career as a way to take revenge. [Antony Brett-James, "General Graham" (London: Macmillan, 1959)]

Sir Walter Scott, in his "Vision of Don Roderick," thus touchingly refers to the romantic motive which led the sorrowing husband of Mrs. Graham to devote himself to a military career:

:'Nor be his praise o’erpast who strove to hide:Beneath the warrior’s vest affection’s wound;:Whose wish Heaven for his country’s weal denied;:Danger and fate he sought, but glory found.:From clime to clime, where’er war’s trumpets sound:The wanderer went; yet Caledonia! still:Thine was his thought in march and tented ground::He dreamed ‘mid Alpine cliffs of Athole’s hill,:And heard in Ebro’s roar his Lynedoch’s lovely rill."

Bessie Bell and Mary Gray

Bessie Bell, daughter of the Laird of Kinvaid, was on a visit to Mary Gray, at her father's house at Lednock, now called Lynedoch, when the plague of 1645 broke out in the country. Taking alarm at the report, the two young ladies, in order to avoid the deadly infection, set to work and built themselves a bower, which they "theekit wi' rashes" according to the ballad, in a very retired and romantic spot known as the Burn Braes, about three quarters of a mile west from Lynedoch House. Here they lived in safety for some time, whilst the plague raged with great fury. But, ultimately, they caught the infection from a young gentleman of Perth, who, it is said, was in love with the one or the other. According to custom in cases of plague, the bodies did not receive the ordinary form of sepulture. It seems that they were allowed to lie in the open and "beik fornenst the sun", as the ballad avers, until the flesh had disappeared and only the bone skeletons remained, when these were taken with safety and put beneath the green sod of the Dronach-haugh, at the foot of the brae of the same name, and near to the bank of the river Almond. In 1787 Lynedoch estate passed into the possession of Mr. Thomas Graham. On his return from a pilgrimage abroad, Graham found that the wall erected round the graves by Major Barry half a century before had fallen into a dilapidated state. He had the remains of the wall removed and a neat stone parapet and iron railings, 5 feet high, placed round the spot and covered the graves with a stone slab, on which was inscribed the words, "They lived, they loved, they died."

Military career

Defence of Toulon

Graham joined the British army, as a volunteer, and was amongst the troops sent to assist in the defence of Toulon, one of the few places which held out against the French Revolutionary Government. Napoleon Bonaparte, then a lieutenant of artillery, rose to prominence through his part in the siege.

Graham distinguished himself by his courage and energy: for instance, on one occasion, when a private soldier was killed, Graham snatched up his musket and took his place at the head of the attacking column. Graham was at this time acting as aide-de-camp to Lord Mulgrave. In a general order referring to the repulse of an attack by the French on an important fort, Mulgrave expressed "his grateful sense of the friendly and important assistance which he had received in many difficult moments from Mr. Graham, and to add his tribute of praise to the general voice of the British and Piedmontese officers of his column, who saw with so much pleasure and applause the gallant example which Mr. Graham set to the whole column, in the foremost point of every attack."

It is worthy of notice that it was at Toulon that Graham first became acquainted with his life-long friend, Rowland Hill, then a captain, who ultimately became Viscount Hill, and commander-in chief of the British army.

Campaign of 1796

On his return to Scotland, Graham raised, in Perthshire, the first battalion of the 90th regiment (Balgowan’s ‘Grey Breeks,’ as they were called), of which he was appointed lieutenant-colonel in 1794, and nominated Rowland Hill major. Shortly after he was unanimously chosen to represent the county of Perth in Parliament.

In 1795 he was stationed with his regiment at Gibraltar; but, soon becoming wearied of the listlessness of garrison duty, he obtained permission to join the Austrian army on the Rhine as British Commissioner. In this capacity he shared in the disastrous campaign of 1796, and afterward assisted Wurmser in the defence of Mantua, when it was invested by the French under General Bonaparte. The garrison was reduced to the greatest extremities from want of provisions, and Colonel Graham undertook the perilous duty of conveying intelligence to the Imperialist General Alvinzi, at Bassano, fifty miles distant, of their desperate situation.

Quitting the fortress, wearing a cloak of the country over his uniform, on 24 December, amid rain and sleet, he crossed the Mincio, in a boat which was repeatedly stranded in consequence of the darkness. He pursued his way on foot during the night, wading through deep swamps, and crossing numerous watercourses and the river Po, in constant danger of losing his way, or of being shot by the French pickets, and at daybreak he concealed himself till the return of night, when he resumed his journey. After surmounting numerous hardships and perils, he at length reached in safety, on 4 January, the headquarters of the Austrian general. But on the 14th the Austrians were defeated, and Mantua, soon after, was forced to surrender.


Colonel Graham now returned to Scotland, but in the autumn of 1797 he rejoined his regiment at Gibraltar. In the following year he took part, under Sir Charles Stuart, in the reduction of Minorca, where he greatly distinguished himself.

He then repaired to Sicily, and obtained the warmest acknowledgments of the King and Queen of Naples for his effective exertions on their behalf. In 1798 he was entrusted with the charge of the operations against the important island of Malta, which was at that time in the possession of the French. With the local rank of brigadier-general, he had under his command the 30th and 89th regiments, and some corps embodied under his immediate direction.

Owing to the great strength of the place, he was obliged to resort to a blockade, and after being invested for nearly two years, the garrison were compelled by famine to surrender in September 1800, and the island has ever since remained a portion of the British Empire. Colonel Graham’s services were very shabbily acknowledged by the Government of that day, who reserved their patronage and honours for the officers belonging to their own political party.

In the summer of 1801 he proceeded to Egypt, where his regiment (the 90th) had greatly distinguished itself under Sir Ralph Abercromby, but he did not arrive until the campaign had terminated by the capitulation of the French army. He availed himself of the opportunity, however, to make a tour in that country and in Turkey. He spent some time in Constantinople, whence he travelled on horseback to Vienna—a journey which in later years he used to mention as one of the most agreeable rides he had ever enjoyed.


After spending some time in the discharge of his parliamentary duties, and in attending to the improvement of his estates, Colonel Graham was stationed with his regiment in Ireland, and was then sent to the West Indies, where he remained for three years. When the Ministry of "All the Talents" was dismissed in 1807, on account of the favour they had shown for the Roman Catholic claims to equal privileges, Colonel Graham supported their policy, and denounced as hypocrisy the cry of "No Popery" raised by Mr. Perceval. But his approval of the proceedings of the Whig Ministry, and of Roman Catholic emancipation did not find favour with the Perthshire electors—a small body in those days—and on the dissolution of Parliament in May 1807, Colonel Graham declined to seek re-election, and Lord James Murray was returned without opposition in his stead.


In 1808 Colonel Graham accompanied Sir John Moore as his aide-de-camp to Sweden, and then to Spain. He served with Moore throughout the whole of his campaign, terminating in the arduous and trying retreat to Corunna, in which Graham’s services were especially valuable to the harassed troops. As Sheridan said in the House of Commons, "In the hour of peril Graham was their best adviser; in the hour of disaster Graham was their surest consolation".

When Sir John Moore received his death-wound at the battle of Corunna, Colonel Graham was at his right hand, and had his left hand on the mane of Sir John’s horse. He at once rode away for medical assistance. Before he returned his dying general missed him, and anxiously asked, "Are Colonel Graham and my aides-de-camp safe?"—one of his last inquiries. Moore's body was carried to Colonel Graham’s quarters, and Graham was one of the select company who witnessed Moore’s burial on the rampart of the citadel of Corunna.


After his return to England, Colonel Graham was promoted to the rank of major general, and was appointed, in the summer of 1809, to command a division under Lord Chatham, in the fatal Walcheren expedition. An attack of malaria fever, however, compelled him to return home.

On his recovery he was raised to the rank of lieutenant general, and was sent to Spain, to take command of the British and Portuguese troops in Cádiz, which was at that time closely invested by the French. The British Government attached great importance to the possession of Cádiz, as it was Britain's last stronghold in the Iberian Peninsula. But, as Sir William Napier remarked, while "money, troops, and a fleet—in fine, all things necessary to render Cádiz formidable—were collected, yet to little purpose, because procrastinating jealousy, ostentation, and a thousand absurdities, were the invariable attendants of Spanish armies and government."

General Graham resolved to make an effort to raise the siege by attacking the rear of the besieging army, and in February 1811, he sailed from Cádiz with a force of upwards of 4,000 men, accompanied by 7,000 Spanish troops, under General La Pena, to whom, for the sake of unanimity, the chief command was conceded. The allied troops assembled at Tarifa, in the Straits of Gibraltar, and, moving northward, they arrived, on the morning of 5 March, at the heights of Barrosa, which were on the south of Cádiz and of the lines of the besieging army.

On the instructions of the Spanish general, Graham's force moved down from the position of Barossa to that of the Torre de Bermeja, about half-way to the Santi Petri river, in order to secure the communication across that river. While marching through the wood towards the Bermeja, Graham received notice that the enemy was advancing in force towards the height of Barrosa. As that position was the key of that of Santi Petri, Graham immediately countermarched, in order to support the troops left for its defence; but before the British force could get themselves quite disengaged from the wood, he saw to his astonishment the Spanish troops under La Pena abandoning the Barrosa hill, which the French left wing was rapidly ascending.

At the same time their right wing stood in the plain on the edge of the wood, within cannon-shot. "A retreat," as he says, "in the face of such an enemy, already within reach of the easy communication by the sea-beach, must have involved the whole allied army in all the danger of being attacked during the unavoidable confusion of the different corps arriving on the narrow ridge of the Bermeja at the same time. Trusting," as he says, "to the known heroism of British troops, regardless of the numbers and position of the enemy," General Graham determined on an immediate attack.

In the centre a powerful battery of ten guns, under Major Duncan, opened a most destructive fire upon General Leval’s division, which, however, continued to advance in very imposing masses, but was completely defeated by a determined charge of the British left wing; and the eagle of the 8th regiment of light infantry, and a howitzer, were captured by the British. A reserve formed beyond the narrow valley, across which the French were closely pursued, next shared the same fate. Meanwhile the right wing was not less successful. General Ruffin’s division, confident of success, met it on the ascent of the hill, and, after a sanguinary conflict, was driven from the heights in confusion, leaving two pieces of cannon in the hands of the victors.

"No expressions of mine," said General Graham, in his despatch to the Earl of Liverpool, "could do justice to the conduct of the troops throughout. Nothing less than the almost unparalleled exertions of every officer, the invincible bravery of every soldier, and the most determined devotion to the honour of his Majesty's arms in all, could have achieved this brilliant success against such a formidable enemy so posted.’

"The contemptible feebleness of La Pena," says Sir William Napier, "furnished a surprising contrast to the heroic vigour of Graham, whose attack was an inspiration rather than a resolution—so sure, so sudden was the decision, so swift, so conclusive was the execution." [Napier’s History of the Peninsular War, iii. Appendix.]

The French lost about three thousand men in this action, and six pieces of cannon and an eagle were captured, along with nearly five hundred prisoners, among whom were Generals Ruffin and Rosseau. The loss on the side of the victors was two hundred killed, and upwards of nine hundred were wounded. Had it not been for the actions of the Spanish general, the victory might have had the effect of raising the blockade of’ Cádiz. "Had the whole body of the Spanish cavalry," wrote Graham, "with the horse artillery, been rapidly sent by the sea-beach to form on the plain, and to envelop the enemy’s left; had the greatest part of the infantry been marched through the pine wood to the rear of the British force, to turn his right, he must either have retired instantly, or he would have exposed himself to absolute destruction; his cavalry greatly encumbered, his artillery lost, his columns mixed and in confusion; and a general dispersion would have been the inevitable consequence of a close pursuit. But the movement was lost."

Lord Wellington, in a dispatch to General Graham, says "I beg to congratulate you and the brave troops under your command on the signal victory which you gained on the 5th instant. I have no doubt whatever that their success would have had the effect of raising the siege of Cádiz, if the Spanish troops had made any effort to assist them; and I am equally certain, from your account of the ground, that if you had not decided with the utmost promptitude to attack the enemy, and if your attack had not been a most vigorous one, the whole allied army would have been lost." [The Duke of Wellington’s Despatches, vii. 382.]

The Spanish general, in order to screen himself from criticism, circulated less damning accounts of his own role in the battle, which General Graham refuted by publishing in Spanish, as well as in English, his dispatch to Lord Liverpool, along with a letter to the British envoy, in vindication of his conduct. Lord Wellington mentions that La Pena was to be brought to a court-martial, where he was acquitted but stripped of command. The Cortez voted to General Graham the title of grandee of the first class; he, however, declined the honour. For his brilliant victory at the Battle of Barrosa he received the thanks of Parliament, in his place as a member of the House of Commons.


Graham shortly after joined the army under Wellington, and was appointed second in command. In January 1812, he took part in the siege and capture of Ciudad Rodrigo, and Wellington declared that he was much indebted to him for the success of the enterprise. Three months later he and his friend General Hill received the Order of the Bath. A complaint in his eyes, from which he had been suffering for some time, made it necessary for Graham to return home at this juncture.

"I cannot avoid feeling the utmost concern," wrote Wellington to him, "that this necessity should have become urgent at this moment, and that I should now be deprived of your valuable assistance."

At the general election in October 1812, Sir Thomas Graham contested the county of Perth with Mr. Drummond (afterwards Lord Strathallan), but though he was supported by a number of influential Tories, he lost the election by a majority of seven votes.


His visit to Scotland had the effect of restoring his eyesight, and in May 1813, he rejoined the army at Frinada, on the frontiers of Portugal, bringing with him the insignia of the Order of the Garter to Lord Wellington. On 22 May the British force quit Portugal and moved upon Vittoria in three divisions. The left wing, which was commanded by Sir Thomas Graham, had to cross three large rivers—the Douro, the Esla, and the Ebro—and had to force positions of great strength among the passes of the mountains, continually pressing round the right wing of the retiring French army. General Graham took a prominent part in the battle of Vittoria (21 June), when the French were beaten "before the town, in the town, about the town, and out of the town"; and, by carrying the villages of Gamarra and Abecherco at the point of the bayonet, he intercepted the retreat of the enemy by the high road to Bayonne, and compelled them to turn to that leading to Pampeluna.

He was shortly after directed to conduct the siege of the strong fortress of St. Sebastian, which was defended with great gallantry and skill by General Rey. The first assault, which took place on 25 July, was repulsed with heavy loss, and the siege had in consequence to be raised for a time. It was renewed, however, after the defeat of Soult in the battles of the Pyrenees, and a second attempt to carry the fortress by storm was made on 31 August. The breach was found to present almost insuperable obstacles, and the storming party strove in vain to effect a lodgement. In this almost desperate state of the attack, General Graham ordered a heavy fire of artillery to be directed against the curtain wall, passing only a few feet over the heads of the British troops in the breach. This novel expedient was completely successful. Taking advantage of an explosion on the rampart caused by the fire of the guns, which created confusion among the enemy, the assailants gained a footing on the wall, and after a bloody struggle, which lasted two hours, forced their way into the town. On 9 September the brave Governor Rey surrendered the citadel, and the garrison, reduced to one-third of their number, marched out with the honours of war. The reduction of this important place cost the British three thousand eight hundred men in killed and wounded.

At the passage of the Bidassoa, which separates France and Spain, General Graham commanded the left wing of the British army, and, after an obstinate conflict, succeeded in establishing his victorious troops on the French territory. But the return of the complaint in his eyes, and the general state of his health, obliged him to resign his command and return home. In return for his eminent services, he now received a third time the thanks of Parliament, and the freedom of the cities of London and Edinburgh was conferred upon him. His health was so far recovered that early in 1814 he was able to take the command of the British forces in Holland, and directed the unsuccessful attempt, on 8 March, to carry the strong fortress of Bergen-op-Zoom by a night attack.

On 3 May 1814, he was raised to the peerage by the title of Baron Lynedoch of Balgowan; but, in keeping with his disinterested and high-minded character, he declined the grant of £2,000 a year, to himself and to his heirs, which was voted as usual to accompany the title. Other honours, both British and foreign, were heaped upon him. He was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, of the Spanish Order of St. Ferdinand, and of the Portuguese Order of the Tower and Sword. He was raised to the full rank of general in 1821, was nominated colonel of the 14th Foot in 1826, which in 1834 he exchanged for that of the Royals. He was elected Rector of the University of Glasgow in 1813, and in 1829 was appointed Governor of Dumbarton Castle.

Later life

He was noted for his vigour in his old age. [Journal of Henry Cockburn, i. 149.] He travelled frequently, visiting Italy, Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden, and Russia. In 1841, aged 94, he travelled through France to Genoa and Rome. His riding-horses were sent on to Rome, and he rode frequently in the Campagna. He died at his London home in Stratton Street on 18 December 1843, aged 96, after a very short illness: he rose and dressed himself on the day of his death.inote|Taylor|Taylor

Taylor described Graham as "tall, square-shouldered, and erect, his limbs sinewy and remarkably strong. His complexion was dark, with full eyebrows, firm-set lips, and an open, benevolent air. His manners and address were frank, simple, and polished."


*Graham, John Murray. Memoir of General Lord Lynedoch G.C.B.(Blackwood, 1868)
*Brett-James, Antony. "General Graham" (London: Macmillan, 1959)
*Delavoye, Alexander M. "Life of Thomas Graham, Lord Lynedoch", (London: Marchant Singer, 1880)
*Taylor, James. "The Great Historic Families of Scotland", (London: J. S. Virtue, 1887) Reprinted (Baltimore: Clearfield Company, 1995) ISBN 0-8063-1464-8


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