Henry Hoppner Meyer, 1780 - 1847
Portrait of Lt General Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin, GCH KCB FRS FRGS (1772-1841)
oil on canvas
140 x 110 cm. (55.1/4 x 43.1/4 in.)


in full regalia with his hand on an ivory-handled Mughal/Indian sword, wearing Knight of the Garter insignia and the Guelphic Order.


Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin, (1773–1841), army officer, belonged to a respectable Northumbrian family, said to be of Scottish descent, and originally named Duncan. His father, General Robert Donkin (1726/7–1821), served in Flanders, the West Indies, Ireland, and America, was reputedly a personal friend of the historian David Hume, and published two books about his military experiences. In 1772 he married Mary, daughter of the Revd Emanuel Collins. Rufane Shaw was the eldest of their three children, and the only son. General Robert Donkin had served with many famous British commanders including Wolfe and Gage and his Colonel, William Rufane. Young Rufane was baptised at St David's Church, Exeter on 9 October 1772 with the name Rusaw Shaw Donkin.

On 21 March 1778 Rufane was appointed to an ensigncy in the 44th foot, in which his father then held the rank of major, advancing to lieutenant on 9 September 1779 through purely paper transactions. He was educated at Westminster School in London until the age of fourteen and appears afterwards to have been a diligent student. At one time when on leave from his regiment—probably after its return from Canada in 1786—he studied classics and mathematics in France for a year, and when on detachment in the Isle of Man, read Greek for a year and a half with a Cambridge graduate. He obtained his company on 31 May 1793, and became Captain and in September he sailed for the West Indies with the flank companies of the 44th foot to be involved in the capture of Martinique, Guadeloupe, and St Lucia, and the subsequent loss of Guadeloupe in 1794.

After his return to England he was brigade major, and for several months aide-de-camp, to Major-General Thomas Musgrave, commanding at Newcastle upon Tyne, and advanced to major on 1 September 1795. He went back with the regiment to the West Indies in Lieutenant-General Sir Ralph Abercromby's expedition, which in April and May 1796 recaptured St Lucia (which had been again occupied by the French in 1795); here the 44th lost 20 officers and over 800 men, chiefly from fever. He gained the rank of Major in 1796.

Donkin was removed to Martinique unconscious and afterwards invalided home dangerously ill. Having recovered, in May 1798 Donkin was detached from the regiment to command a provisional light battalion, composed of the light companies 11th foot, 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers, and 49th foot, with Major-General Eyre Coote's expedition to Ostend, which sought to destroy the basin, gates, and sluices of the Bruges Canal, thus hampering the concentration of French troops for an invasion of England. On 20 May Donkin distinguished himself in an action near Ostend, in which he was wounded and taken prisoner but earned Coote's special praise for his conduct. He transferred to the 11th foot as lieutenant-colonel on 24 May and joined it in temporary captivity near Douai.

In 1799 the 11th sailed for the West Indies, but a regimental historian, quoting an official War Office record that he was 'in London on regimental duty' during December 1799, has noted that 'no evidence' exists for his having served in the West Indies in 1799–1800, as claimed in the Dictionary of National Biography (Robinson, 284). There is no doubt, however, that he did command the regiment there in 1801, when the 11th took part in the capture of numerous islands, which were returned to France after the peace of Amiens. On 29 April 1802 Donkin proposed that convicts who had opted to serve in the West Indies should not be kept there for life but be allowed to serve a normal term of engagement with a regiment, once they had proved their good conduct; this change was authorized by the War Office on 18 April 1803. His regiment remained in the West Indies but in May 1804 was declared 'unfit for service' (ibid., 292), having suffered severe loss through disease, and Donkin himself left on sick leave later that year.

On 16 May 1805 Donkin was appointed to the permanent staff of the quartermaster-general's department, serving as an assistant quartermaster-general in Kent, and then with the Copenhagen expedition of 1807. In 1808 he issued a reprint of the French text of Comte L'Espinasse's Essai sur l'artillerie (1800), which was translated into English forty years later. Meanwhile, he had been promoted colonel, on 25 April 1808, and in 1809 was appointed assistant quartermaster-general with the army in Portugal. As a colonel on the staff he commanded a brigade in the operations on the River Douro and at the battle of Talavera (for which he received a gold medal), but he soon returned home and was subsequently appointed quartermaster-general in Sicily. He served in that capacity in Sicily, and also in the operations in 1810–13 on the east coast of Spain where he was initially blamed for Lieutenant-General Sir John Murray's disaster at Tarragona in 1813. However, evidence at Murray's court martial showed that the general had disregarded Donkin's views, and he was vindicated. After a short period on half pay, Donkin, who had become major-general on 4 June 1811, was next appointed to a command in the Essex district, and in July 1815 to one at Madras, from which he was afterwards transferred to the Bengal presidency. Before leaving England he had married, on 1 May 1815, Elizabeth Markham (1789/90–1818), the eldest daughter of Dr Markham, dean of York, and granddaughter of Archbishop Markham.

In India Donkin commanded the 2nd field division of the grand army under the marquess of Hastings in the operations against the Marathas in 1817–18, and by skilful movements cut off the line of retreat of the enemy towards the north. He was appointed KCB on 14 October 1818, though, unfortunately, his wife died at Meerut, aged twenty-eight, on 21 August 1818, leaving him with an infant son. Elizabeth died of a fever at Meerut, leaving a son, George David, aged only eight months. Unable to care for this young child alone, he was sent to England to be cared for by his grandfather, the Dean of York. Much shattered in health, body, and mind, he was invalided to the Cape. While there, he was requested to assume the government of the colony during the absence of Lord Charles Somerset, and did so in 1820–21, his name being meanwhile retained on the Bengal establishment. His first decision was to accept the request from the Captain of the sloop HMS Menai to assist with the landing of the settlers in Algoa Bay. To this end, Moresby set sail for Algoa Bay from Cape Town during March 1820.

During April 1820, Donkin amended Somerset’s original plan for the location of the Settlers. When Somerset had earlier intimated to Bird, the Colonial Secretary, that he wished to segregate the Settlers by nationality, Donkin misunderstood that comment to provide him with carte blanche to locate the settlers anywhere in the Cape and not necessarily, as Somerset had implied, at a different location on the Eastern Border. The effect of this change was to defeat the primary purpose of the whole Scheme which was to provide a bulwark against the Xhosa tribes on the eastern frontier.
This error in judgement was to be further compounded when a Magistrate, Daniel Johannes van Ryneveld, who had previously been the deputy Landdrost at Clanwilliam, commented favourably on this district to Donkin. Based upon this unwelcome news, the Colonial Secretary, Colonel Bird, despatched his brother-in-law, Mr Buissine, a Land Surveyor, to survey the area. Afterwards, Buissine was to compile a report on the Crown Land available in the area. To fulfil his commitments to the settlers, Donkin required 100 acres of land to be issued as a grant to adult male settlers. In his report, Buissine stated that there was only sufficient land for 80 families whereas the estimated number of families believed to be on board the East Indian and the Fanny was of the order of 125.

Even before receiving the report from Buissine, Donkin wrote to Lord Bathhurst informing him that all the Settlers from Cork would be accommodated at Clanwilliam. Donkin then left for the Zuurveld on the Eastern Border. This lamentable cascade of events had doomed the Irish settlement a priori. For the Irish, their journey of thirteen weeks ended on Sunday 30thApril 1820 at Simons Bay – now Simonstown.
On the 6th June 1820, Sir Rufane Donkin arrived in the unnamed hamlet on the shores of Algoa Bay where the Settlers had commenced landing from the 10th April 1820. His role was to superintend the settlement of the immigrants to the Cape. It was on this day that he named the embryonic town after his late wife, Elizabeth.
Envisioning that a seaport would be required to a developing interior, Donkin offered land in the nascent town to settlers who possessed capital to acquire it. To this end, he authorised the surveyor, James Swan, to prepare a plan of the lots available to those wanting to settle here. Donkin granted 1,300 acres of land north of the Papenkuils River to Charles Gurney and the settlers from Deal in Kent. This group of boatmen planned to establish a fishing village. Two of the party returned to England to acquire whaleboats but the venture was not successful being declared insolvent by August 1828.

Moresby continued to provide assistance to the arriving settlers. In gratitude, Moresby was granted a large piece of land in the Baakens Valley, which was later known as Rufane Vale, and a building facing the sea was granted to him. A house, to be named Markham House, was commenced on the erf and Donkin laid the foundation stone.

Captain Sir Fairfax MoresbyDuring August 1820, Donkin selected a prominent site for use as a memorial to his wife. A Settler draughtsman, Thomas Willson, made drawings for a pyramid similar to that of Caius Cestius in Rome and Willem Reed supplied the stone. The builders were soldiers from the Fort. In June 1821, Knobel surveyed 5 morgen 535 sq roods [4 hectares] of land around the memorial which was to remain an open space in perpetuity. The Pyramid is approximately 10 meters high and the sides at the base measure about 8 meters each. It was declared a National Monument on the 8th July 1938.

“It was Donkin who realised that a port was going to be needed on this part of the coast and took the first steps to establish one, naming this prospective village after his wife. He set aside land on the hill overlooking the bay to be forever an open space and the site of a memorial. His choice of a pyramid is not at all unusual for the time and the proportions are those of the memorial to Gaius Cestius in Rome and the architect Hawksmoor’s pyramid in the grounds of Castle Howard in Yorkshire, to name only two, and have nothing whatsoever to do with Egypt. In addition, of course, it was also an uncomplicated structure for the soldiers, who had to build it of the local sandstone."

The pyramid bears an inscription which is a touching testimony to Donkin’s love for his wife. There is, however, no truth in an often repeated rumour that her heart lies buried under the pyramid. Although he did, in fact, carry her heart away from India, it was buried in England. Returning to the Donkin/Duncan family: since coat-armour, like tartan, is tied to a family name, the Duncans have not only a different tartan from the Robertsons, but also a different coat of arms. Since any coat of arms is the property of only one person at any one time, different branches of the family bear different versions of that coat of arms.

ALTHOUGH General Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin left no descendants at the Cape and only spent a couple of years in the colony, the adoption of his arms in 1861 by the town of Port Elizabeth (which he had founded in 1820) has left an abiding influence in the heraldry of the Algoa Bay region.


He seems to have been popular at the Cape. However, in a communication to Earl Bathurst, the colonial secretary who appointed him, which was published in London as A letter on the Cape of Good Hope, and Certain Events which Occurred there under Lord Charles Somerset (1827), Donkin gave an account of his measures in Cape Colony particularly for establishing settlers there, and those pursued by Somerset 'for the total subversion of all I had done under your lordship's instructions'. Donkin had become a lieutenant-general on 19 July 1821 and was made GCH in 1824 in recognition of his services in connection with the King's German Legion (DNB). On 20 April 1825 he was made colonel of the 80th foot.
The rest of Donkin's life was principally devoted to literary and parliamentary pursuits. He was made a fellow of the Royal Society, was one of the original fellows of the Royal Geographical Society, and was a fellow of other learned societies. He contributed to various periodicals, including the Literary Gazette. He published A Dissertation on the Course and Probable Termination of the Niger (1829), dedicated to the duke of Wellington, in which he argued, chiefly from ancient writers, that the Niger was a river or ‘Nile’ bearing northwards and probably losing itself in quicksands on the Mediterranean shore (in the Gulf of Sidra, according to the subsequent Letter to the Publisher). This view was refuted in 1829 in the Quarterly Review by Sir John Barrow, who nevertheless testified, from personal knowledge, that Donkin was 'an excellent scholar, of a clear, logical, and comprehensive mind, vigorous in argument, and forcible in language' (QR, 81, 1829, 226). Donkin, dissatisfied and apparently not knowing who had written the review, replied with A Letter to the Publisher (1829). Some of his writings appear never to have been published, including 'A parallel between Wellington and Marlborough', said to have been his last work. He was described by contemporaries as a most agreeable companion, and always had many interesting anecdotes to relate. On 5 May 1832 he married his second wife, Lady Anna Maria Elliot, daughter of the first earl of Minto. They had no children, and she survived him, dying in 1855. He was returned to parliament for Berwick in 1832 and 1835, in the whig interest, each time after a sharp contest.

In 1835 he was made surveyor-general of the ordnance, and he foreshadowed developments in 1855 by suggesting that the civil business of the Board of Ordnance be transferred to the War Office, and command of the Royal Artilleryto the commander-in-chief of the army at the Horse Guards. At the general election of 1837 he was defeated at Berwick upon Tweed, but in 1839 returned for Sandwich in Kent. On 15 March 1837 he became colonel of his old regiment, the 11th foot, and was promoted general on 28 June 1838. Donkin, whose health had for some time caused concern, committed suicide by hanging, at Southampton on 1 May 1841. He was buried in a vault in St Pancras old churchyard, London, together with an urn containing the heart of his first wife.

A report in the British newspaper, The Spectator, 8th May 1841, records his suicide as follows:
Saturday, at Southampton. Sir Rufane had for some time been labouring under mental derange-ment; and had more than once told Dr. Haviland, his medical attendant, that he thought he should at some time commit suicide, but that he did not think he should have sufficient strength of mind to do it. He was usually attended by two keepers; but on Saturday he retired to his room, and feigning to be sleepy, requested the man who was with him to leave him alone. The man complied, and Sir Rufane locked the door. When the keepers, and afterwards Dr. Haviland, knocked at the door, he snored as if asleep. They were alarmed, however; and when nearly half an hour had elapsed, before a ladder could be procured and his room had been entered through the window, he was found hanging by a handkerchief to the rail at the foot of his bed. An inquest was held on the body, and a verdict of “Temporary Insanity” was returned.
Clearly the loss of his first love lay heavily on his soul but exacerbating it must have been the death of his father in March of that year as well as the death of his son after that of his father.

Rufane Donkin's cousin, Charles Collier Michell, served as the surveyor-general of the Cape Colony.


Known Portraits:

• G. Hayter, group portrait, oils (The House of Commons, 1833), NPG
• W. Holl, stipple (after H. Mayer, 1831), BM, NPG; repro. in W. Jerdan, National portrait gallery of illustrious and eminent personages (1831)
• H. Mayer, oils, City Hall, Port Elizabeth, South Africa


• Port Elizabeth City Library, letter-book
• Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa, Cory Library for Historical Research, corresp.
• BL, corresp. with Lord Hastings and Nicol, Add. MS 23759
• BL, corresp. with Sir Hudson Lowe, Add. MSS 20131–20150, 20226
• Mount Stuart, Isle of Bute, letters to Lord Hastings
• NAM, letters to Carlo Joseph Doyle during third Maratha War
• NAM, corresp. with Sir Benjamin D'Urban
• NAM, corresp. with Frederick Maitland
• NL Scot., letters to Sir George Murray
• NMM, corresp. with Sir Benjamin Hallowell
• U. Nott. L., corresp. with Lord William Bentinck, etc.

H. M. Chichester, revised by John Sweetman DNB

Artist biography

Henry Meyer (12 June 1780 - 28 May 1847) was an English portrait painter, more known as a stipple and mezzotint engraver.

Meyer was born John Meyer in London - a son of John Meyer and Anna Torade Hoppner who married at St James Westminster 22 December 1767. Contrary to other accounts Henry Meyer's father was a hairdresser and not an engraver. Joseph Farington recorded that Henry Meyer was a nephew of John Hoppner, referring to him as 'Mier' (8 February 1810), and in the obituary of Meyer in Gentleman's Magazine (1847 ii 665).

Portrait of Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin, 19th century, by Meyer

A prominent early 19th-century artist, Henry Meyer was admitted as a pupil to Christ's Hospital, London in 1791 where he studied under Benjamin Green. On 25 August 1794 he was apprenticed to Benjamin Smith for seven years and ultimately trained in engraving techniques at the Royal Academy Schools under Francesco Bartolozzi.

His first published engravings appeared in the early 19th century attributed to J. H. Meyer, he later dropped the J and most of his works were published under the name Henry Meyer or H. Meyer. In the ensuing years he showed his skill at portraits and decorative subjects. He produced engravings of such notables as Lady HamiltonAdmiral NelsonSir John NichollLord HawkesburyLord Byron, and Giuseppe Ambrogetti. His painting of Charles Lamb was hung in the India Office for many years. He was a founding member of the Society of British Artists, exhibiting many of his works with this association between 1824 and 1830, and acting as its president in 1828/9.