Abercromby, Sir Ralph (1734–1801), soldier, was born at Menstrie, Clackmannan, Scotland, and baptised 26 October 1734, son of George Abercromby, lawyer and landowner, and Mary Abercromby (née Dundas). He studied law in Edinburgh and Leipzig before entering the British army at the age of 22. In 1762, then a captain, he went with his regiment, the 3rd Dragoon Guards, to Ireland, where he was stationed for ten or more years, taking the opportunity to study the country, which was to stand him in good stead many years later. Although as MP for Clackmannan (1774–80) he voted according to his principles rather than his patrons, and as a soldier he declined to serve against the American colonists, he rose to major-general (1787) and was made a KB for his service in the Netherlands. After campaigning in the West Indies (1795–6), where he showed enlightened concern for the welfare of his men, he was appointed (2 December 1797) as commander-in-chief of government forces in Ireland. A man of ‘strong intellect and great intensity of purpose’, he ‘saw himself as an invigorating force in Irish military life’ (McDowell, 589). On touring the country, he formed a poor opinion of the upper class, and objected to their efforts to use the army as a local police force by stationing small detachments on or near their estates. He tried, with limited success, to discipline and to restrain the army and concentrate it in units of reasonable size in order to turn it into a respected and effective fighting force. On 26 February 1798 he issued a famous order deploring ‘irregularities’ and describing the army as ‘in a state of licentiousness which must render it formidable to everyone but the enemy’. The order brought criticism from other officers and created a political furore. Speaker John Foster (qv) led a cabal against him. Abercromby, though generally supported by the lord lieutenant, Lord Camden (qv), disagreed with him over the power of the military to act without civil authority. He resigned his command in mid March and left Ireland towards the end of April, less than a month before overt rebellion began, having commanded the forces in Ireland too briefly to bring about the reforms that would have made them more effective.
After serving as head of garrisons in Scotland for eighteen months, Abercromby commanded a division in the Netherlands, and declined a peerage for his services. While commanding British troops in the Mediterannean, he defeated the French at Aboukir (Abu Qir) near Alexandria (21 March 1801) but was mortally wounded; he died on 28 March 1801 and was buried in Malta. Monuments to him were erected in Malta, in St Paul's cathedral, London, and at St Giles's, Edinburgh. He married (17 November 1767), at Ferntower, Perthshire, Mary Anne Menzies (d. 1821); they had seven children. His widow was created a baroness (1801).