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Sir William Draper (1721-1787)

This article was written by Henry Manners Chichester in 1888

Sir William Draper, lieutenant-general, was born in 1721 at Bristol, where his father, Ingleby Draper, was an officer of customs. His grandfather was William Draper of Beswick, near Beverley, a famous Yorkshire fox-hunting squire. His uncle, Charles Draper, was a captain of dragoons.

After attending Bristol grammar school in his very early years he was soon transferred to Eton, became a scholar of King's College, Cambridge in 1740, where he took his B.A. degree in 1744, and subsequently became a fellow of his college, and was awarded an M.A. in 1749. Meanwhile, instead of taking holy orders as his friends had intended, he obtained an ensigncy in a regiment of foot then commanded by Lord Henry Beauclerk on 26 March 1744.

Beauclerk's regiment, of which Henry Seymour Conway was afterwards colonel, was present at Culloden 16 April 1746, and on 21 May following Draper was appointed adjutant of one of the battalions of the Duke of Cumberland's own regiment, 1st foot guards, in which at first he held no other rank. He went to Flanders with the 2nd battalion 1st guards in January 1747 and became lieutenant and captain in the regiment 29 April 1749. He appears at one time to have been aide-de-camp to the second Duke of Marlborough when master-general of the ordnance and on 23 February 1756 married his first wife, Caroline, second daughter of Lord William Beauclerk, brother of his old colonel and son of the first Duke of St. Albans.

On 14 November 1757 Draper, still a lieutenant and captain 1st foot guards, was commissioned as lieutenant-colonel commandant to raise a regiment of foot a thousand strong for service in the East Indies. The regiment took rank as the 79th foot, but in an early impression of the army list for 1758 figures wrongly as the 64th. The rendezvous was at Colchester. The regiment was partly formed of companies drafted entire from the 4th, 8th, and 24th foot, and the authorities appear to have considered the old-fashioned wooden ramrods good enough for it, in place of steel. Draper arrived at Madras with the regiment, which lost fifty men by ‘Brest fever’ (ship-typhus) on the way out, in the Pitt Indiaman on 14 September 1758 and at its head repeatedly distinguished himself during the siege of Fort St. George from November 1758 to January 1759. When Stringer Lawrence resigned on account of ill-health in February 1759, the command of the troops in Madras devolved on Draper, who was too ill to take it up, and returned home soon afterwards.

Early in 1760 Draper was appointed deputy quartermaster-general of a projected secret expedition under Major-general Kingsley. The expedition was originally intended to proceed to Mauritius and Bourbon (Réunion), but this was changed, and it was secretly instructed to rendezvous at Quiberon for an attack on the fortress of Belle Isle, on the coast of Brittany. Various circumstances, including the death of the king, delayed the operations, and on 13 December 1760 the authorities, as the season was so far advanced, ordered the troops, which had been long on board ship at Spithead, to be relanded. Draper held no rank in the expedition which captured Belle Isle the year after. He was promoted colonel 19 February 1762, and in June that year again arrived at Madras with the rank of brigadier-general, in the Argo frigate, to assume command of an expedition against Manilla. His original instructions are preserved among Lord Leconfield's manuscripts. Under Draper and Admiral Cornish the expedition appeared off Manilla unexpectedly 25 September 1762. A landing was effected with great difficulty owing to the advanced season, and on 6 October 1762 the place was carried by assault with comparatively little opposition, the victors accepting bills on Madrid for a million sterling in lieu of pillage. Draper returned home at once and presented the Spanish standards to his old college. On Wednesday, 4 May 1763, ‘the Spanish standards taken at Manilla by General Draper, late fellow, were carried in procession to King's College chapel by the scholars of the college. A Te Deum was sung, and the Rev. W. Barford, fellow and public orator, delivered a Latin oration. The flags were placed on either side of the altar-rails, but were afterwards removed to the organ-screen’.

The Spanish court refusing to recognise the treaty, Draper strongly urged the government to insist on payment of the ransom, his share of which amounted to £25,000. He published his views in a pamphlet entitled Colonel Draper's Answer to the Spanish Arguments claiming the Galleon and refusing Payment of the Manilla Ransom from Pillage and Destruction’ (London, 1764). But the government were not in a position to press the matter, and Draper, recognising the hopelessness of the case, let it drop. He had been in 1761 appointed governor of Great Yarmouth, a post worth £150 a year, and on 13 March 1765 he was made colonel of the 16th foot, his old corps, the 79th, having ceased to exist. On 4 March 1766 he received permission to exchange with Colonel Gisborne to the Irish half-pay of the late 121st (King's Royal Volunteers), a brief-lived regiment of foot lately disbanded in Ireland, and to retain his lieutenant-governorship on the English establishment as well. He was made Knight of the Bath [KB] the same year.

On 21 January 1769 appeared in the Public Advertiser the first of the famous letters of Junius, containing an attack on various high personages, and among others on the Marquis of Granby, then commander-in-chief. Draper, who appears to have been rather vain of his scholarship, and claimed ‘very long, uninterrupted, and intimate friendship’ with Granby, replied in a letter dated 26 January 1769, defending Granby against the aspersions of his anonymous assailant. Junius retorted with sarcasms on Draper's tacit renunciation of the Manilla claims, and on his exchange with Colonel Gisborne, the latter, an everyday transaction, being represented as ‘unprecedented among soldiers.’ ‘By what accident,’ asked Junius, ‘did it happen that in the midst of all this bustle and all these claims for justice to your injured troops, the name of the Manilla ransom was buried in a profound, and since then an uninterrupted silence? Did the ministers suggest any motive powerful enough to tempt a man of honour to desert and betray his fellow-soldiers? Was it the blushing ribbon which is now the perpetual ornament of your person? or was it the regiment which you afterwards (a thing unprecedented among soldiers) sold to Colonel Gisborne? or was it the governorship, the full pay of which you are content to hold with the half-pay of an Irish colonel?’. Draper in reply stated that in September 1768 he and Admiral Sir S. Cornish had waited on Lord Shelburne in respect of the Manilla claims, and had been frankly told, as by previous secretaries of state, that their rights must be sacrificed to the national convenience. He continued: ‘On my return from Manilla his majesty, by Lord Egremont, informed me that I should have the first vacant red ribbon, as a reward for my services in an enterprise which I had planned as well as commanded. The Duke of Bedford and Mr. Grenville confirmed these assurances many months before the Spaniards had protested the ransom bills. To accommodate Lord Clive, then going upon a most important service in Bengal, I waived my claim to the vacancy which then happened. As there was no other vacancy until the Duke of Grafton and Lord Rockingham were joint ministers, I was then honoured with the order, and it is surely no small honour to me that in such a succession of ministers they were all pleased to think that I deserved it; in my favour they were all united. On the reduction of the 79th foot, which served so gloriously in the East Indies, his majesty, unsolicited by me, gave me the 16th foot as an equivalent. My reasons for retiring are foreign to the purpose; let it suffice that his majesty was pleased to approve of them; they are such as no one can think indecent who knows the shocks that repeated vicissitudes of heat and cold, of changes and sickly climates will give the strongest constitutions in a pretty long course of service. I resigned my regiment to Colonel Gisborne, a very good officer, for his Irish half-pay and £200 Irish annuities, so that, according to Junius, I have been bribed to say nothing more of the Manilla ransom and to sacrifice those brave men by the strange arrangement of accepting £380 per annum and giving up £800.’ Junius then insinuated that Draper had made a false declaration on accepting his half-pay, which Draper likewise disproved. The correspondence ended with Junius's seventh letter. It was reopened on the republication of Junius's letters by Draper repeating his denials of Junius's statements and defending the Duke of Bedford against the gross accusations of the latter. It finally closed with Draper's ‘Parting Word to Junius,’ dated 7 October 1769, and Junius's reply. The correspondence was subsequently published under the title of The Political Contest (London, 1769).

Draper was credited with the authorship of the letters signed Modestus, replying to Junius's observations on the circumstances attending the arrest by civil process of General Gansell of the guards, but in a footnote to Wade's Junius, it is stated that the writer in the Public Advertiser using that signature was a Scottish advocate named Dalrymple. While the controversy was at its height Draper lost his wife, who died on 1 September 1769, leaving no issue.

Draper left England soon after for a tour in the northern provinces of America, which were then beginning to attract travellers. He arrived at Charleston, North Carolina, in January 1770; journeyed north through Maryland, where he met with a distinguished reception, and at New York the same year married his second wife, Susanna, daughter of Oliver De Lancey, senior, of that city, afterwards brigadier-general of loyalist provincials during the war of independence, and brother of Chief-justice James De Lancey. The lady's family was wealthy, but she appears to have received a pension of £300 a year from the Irish civil establishment soon after her marriage.

Draper became a major-general in 1772. In 1774 Horace Walpole speaks of him as the probable second in command of the reinforcements going to America, and as writing plans of pacification in the newspapers. Before and after his second marriage Draper resided at Manilla Hall, Clifton Downs, now [i.e.1889] the convent of La Mère de Dieu, where he erected a cenotaph to the thirty officers and one thousand men of the old 79th who fell in the East Indies in 1758-65. He became a lieutenant-general in 1777. In 1773 he lost his second wife, who left one child, a daughter born in 1773, who survived her parents, and on 17 March 1790 married John Gore. She died a widow at Hot Wells on 26 July 1793.

In 1779 Draper was appointed lieutenant-governor of Minorca, under Lieutenant-general Hon. James Murray, at a salary of £730 a year and allowances. He served through the famous defence of Fort St. Philip against a combined force of French and Spaniards from August 1781 until February 1782, when want and the ravages of the scurvy compelled the plucky little garrison to accept honourable terms. There appears to have been no cordiality between Draper and Murray, and shortly before the end of the siege Draper was suspended by Murray. After their return home Draper preferred twenty-nine charges of misconduct of the most miscellaneous character against the governor, who was tried by a general court-martial, presided over by Sir George Howard, K.B., which sat at the Horse Guards in November-December 1782 and January 1783. The court honourably acquitted Murray of all charges save two — some arbitrary interference with auction dues in the island, and the issue of an order on 15 October 1781 tending to discredit and dishonour the lieutenant-governor — for the which he was sentenced to be ‘reprimanded.’ The king approved the finding and sentence, but in recognition of Murray's past services dispensed with any reprimand other than that conveyed by the finding. The king also ‘expressed much concern that an officer of Sir William Draper's rank and distinguished character should have allowed his judgment to be so perverted by any sense of personal grievance as to view the general conduct of his superior officer in an unfavourable light, and in consequence to exhibit charges against him which the court after diligent investigation have considered to be frivolous and ill-founded.’ Lest some intemperate expressions let fall by Draper should lead to further consequences, the court dictated an apology to be signed by Draper and accepted by Murray. The matter then ended.

Newspaper accounts of the trial describe Murray as ‘very much broke,’ but Draper looked ‘exceedingly well and in the flower of his age; his star was very conspicuous and his arm always carefully disposed so as never to eclipse it.’ The proceedings of the court were published from the shorthand notes of Mr. Gurney, but as Draper's rejoinder to Murray's defence, though read before the court, was not included therein, Draper published it under the title Observations on the Hon. Lieutenant-general Murray's Defence (London, 1784). In a letter to Lord Carmarthen, dated in 1784, Draper urges his claims, stating that his lieutenant-governorship, his wife's fortune in America, and his just claims to the Manilla ransom have all been sacrificed to save the country further effusion of blood and treasure. During the remainder of his life Draper lived chiefly at Bath, where he died 8 January 1787. He was buried in the abbey church, where was erected a tablet to his memory bearing a Latin epitaph composed by his old fellow-student at Eton and Cambridge, Christopher Anstey of the Bath Guide.

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