Rollo Gillespie

A monument to the famous soldier stands in Comber square

Hugh Robert Rollo Gillespie was born in January 1766. The early part of his childhood was spent in Cherryvalley, east Belfast, followed by a move to Spa in Bath. At the age of ten, his parents bought him a commission as ensign which entitled him to wear a sword. Three years later, while still a schoolboy, he was promoted to lieutenant without having done a day’s duty in the army.

Following a duel, Gillespie was tried on a charge of wilful murder at Maryborough, Queen’s County, at the summer assize of 1788. The jury brought in a verdict of ‘justifiable homicide’, and Gillespie was discharged upon his own recognisance to plead the king’s pardon in the court of King’s Bench, Dublin.

Gillespie then refused the persuasions of friends to settle down on his estate and instead resolved to see active service. He accepted promotion in 1792 to a lieutenancy in the newly raised 20th Jamaica Light Dragoons. As a volunteer with French planters in St Domingo, Gillespie was present at the capture of Tiburon in February 1794. In 1796, a gang of eight desperadoes broke into his quarters, murdering his slave boy and attacking Gillespie, who defended himself with his sword, killing six of his assailants while the remaining two fled. However, news of his assassination reached Europe and appears to have hastened his mother’s death.

After extended and notable service in India, in 1811 Gillespie commanded the advance of Sir Samuel Auchmuty’s force in the expedition against Java, which landed near Batavia and took possession of the city. Although suffering from fever, he directed the principal attack on the Dutch lines at Cornelis the day after, and Auchmuty attributed the successful issue to Gillespie’s gallantry, energy and prompt judgment.

Gillespie was promoted Major-General on April 1, 1812, and in October of that year threw up his Java command and returned to India, where he led a division of Bengali troops in the war against Nepal. Among the frontier defences was the fort of Kalunga, near Deyra Dhoon, perched in an almost inaccessible position in the Himalayas. Leading an attack on Kalunga in October 1814, Rollo Gillespie was shot through the heart.

Gillespie’s body was brought to Meerut, where an obelisk was erected in his memory. News of his death did not reach England for some months, and he was awarded the Knight Commander of the Bath in the New Year’s honours’ list. A public monument was erected in St Paul’s Cathedral in 1820.

A monument in Comber square was unveiled on June 24, 1845. Fifty lodges of the Masonic Order were present, and between 25,000 and 30,000 people crowded into the town to witness the ceremony. A distant relative, also in the army, posed for the sculptor. Recorded at the foot of the column are Rollo Gillespie’s famous last words: ‘One shot more for the honour of Down’.

© Darren Taylor,