Bonhams million pound sale of antique arms headed by pistols owned by Scottish aide-de-camp to King George III

Antique Arms and Armour
18 Apr 2012
London, Knightsbridge

An exceptional pair of Indian 28-bore silver-mounted flintlock pistols with silver barrels was owned by Lt. Col. Alexander Ross (1742-1827), whose extraordinary record of distinguished combat in theatres of war took place on three continents, Europe, America and India, sold at Bonhams today, (18.4.12) for £58,850.

The Ross pistols were estimated to sell for £30,000-40,000. The sale which included some 318 items made a total of £1017,213.

Alexander Ross was given the pistols in India in 1792 by Lt. Col. Claude Martin (1735-1800), a Frenchman who deserted his army to join the East Indian Company, later becoming Superintendent of Artillery and Arsenals to the Nawab of Oudh, and later establishing the Lucknow Arsenal in 1779.

Alexander Ross was the youngest of five sons of Ross of Auchlossin. He entered the army as an Ensign in the 50th Foot in 1760, attaining the rank of Lieutenant a year later. His military record notes him as having served 'in all the actions after the beginning of the year 1760, with the allied army in Germany' during the Seven Years War (1756-1763).

In 1764 he purchased his rank with full pay in the 45th Foot, being promoted to the rank of Captain in 1775. During the American War of Independence he served as Captain of Grenadiers, participating in all of the principal actions before becoming Aide-de-Camp to Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquis Cornwallis, one of the key British commanders of the campaign. After the battle of Camden, South Carolina, in August 1780, Cornwallis sent Ross to England with the dispatches, recommending Ross as 'a very deserving officer' to the Secretary of State for the American Colonies, Lord George Germain and worthy of his patronage.

He was raised to the rank of Major in 1781, and returned to America in time to serve at the Siege of Yorktown where, alongside Colonel Thomas Dundas, he was one of the two British participants at the negotiations for the surrender of the town. Cornwallis' surrender resulted in his being placed on parole until the close of hostilities. He remained as such despite the efforts of Ross, who travelled to Paris in 1782 in an attempt to exchange an American diplomat in return for Cornwallis' release from parole.

Ross was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in 1783, shortly after the end of the war, and appointed Deputy Adjutant-General in Scotland. He was later transferred to the post of Adjutant-General in India after Cornwallis was appointed Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief there in 1786. He appears to have remained in this post until about 1794, during which time he 'was present in every action that took place', including the Third Anglo-Mysore War (1789-92) against Tipu Sultan, serving alongside Lieutenant-Colonel Claude Martin who was acting as an Aide-de-Camp to Cornwallis.

Cornwallis and Ross appear to have returned to England together, the latter having been promoted to Colonel the previous year and appointed Aide-de-Camp to King George III. That same year he was sent as military adviser on a mission to Vienna to discuss the possibility of placing the emperor's forces under Cornwallis' command, accompanying Earl Spencer and Thomas Grenville. Ross protested strongly, as he was about to return to Scotland on private matters, but was talked round by William Pitt and Thomas Dundas, although the mission eventually proved unsuccessful.

He received the rank of Major-General in 1795 and followed Cornwallis, now Master of the Ordnance, to Warley Camp, where he was appointed Surveyor-General of Ordnance in succession to the Earl of Berkeley, and whilst holding this post married Isabella Evelyn.

He was made Lieutenant-Colonel of the 76th Foot in 1795, Colonel of the 89th in 1797, and then of the 59th in 1801, and expressed the wish to retire along with his old commander that year. However, Cornwallis prevailed upon him to remain in service, and the following year he was appointed Lieutenant-General, finally attaining the rank of General in 1812 and later being made Governor of Forts George and Augustus in Scotland.

On his retirement he leased Lamer Park in Hertfordshire, and in 1826 the year before his death was granted the crest of an upright branch of myrtle or laurel. His only son, Charles, went on to marry Cornwallis' grand-daughter and to edit Cornwallis' correspondence, published in 1859, in which he described his father as Cornwallis' 'most intimate friend'.

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