Monday, 30 July 2007

Chartist Lives: Sir Thomas Arbuthnot

He was the fifth son of John Arbuthnot (1729–1797) of Rockfleet, co. Mayo, inspector-general of the linen board, and his wife, Anne (d. 1782), the only daughter of Richard Stone, a London banker. Charles Arbuthnot and Sir Robert Arbuthnot were his brothers. He entered the army as an ensign in the 29th foot in 1794, and after serving in that and other regiments joined the staff corps under Sir John Moore in 1803. He subsequently served as quartermaster-general at the Cape of Good Hope, before he joined the army in the Peninsula in 1808, and was appointed assistant quartermaster-general to General Picton’s division for the greater part of the war. He was twice wounded, once in the West Indies and during one of the later actions in the Peninsula.

Arbuthnot[1] was appointed an aide-de-camp to the prince regent in 1814, and a KCB in January 1815. Promoted major-general in 1825, he was sent the following year to Portugal as a brigade commander. He then commanded a district in Ireland, attaining the rank of lieutenant-general in 1838. In August 1842, at the height of the Chartist crisis, he was appointed to a newly constituted command, with headquarters at Manchester, of both the northern and midland districts, giving unity of control over the extensive disturbed areas. The army was the mainstay of public order; Arbuthnot had a crucial role, and was used by Sir James Graham, the home secretary to implement his policy against the Chartists. Arbuthnot retained the post until his death. He died, aged seventy-two, at Salford on 26th January 1849; his funeral was at St Philip’s Church, Salford. Arbuthnot had a considerable military reputation. He was highly regarded by Sir Thomas Picton, while the duke of Wellington admired his judgement and efficiency to the extent that he selected him for the crucial command during the Chartist crisis.

[1] Sources: J. Haydn The book of dignities: containing rolls of the official personages of the British Empire, 1851, Annual Register (1849) and F. C. Mather Public order in the age of the Chartists, 1959

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