On this day – 24 June 1845
Few Irishmen are associated with the states of Java, Sumatra or Nepal, but the elegantly named Rollo Gillespie had ties to all three in his short and eventful life.
Essentially he served in army units in the far-east – hence the link with these exotic locations.
Gillespie was born in Comber in Co.Down on a date unknown in 1766. At twenty years old, in the pattern of the times, he was involved in a duel in which he killed his opponent. He fled to Scotland but returned to stand trial two years later, where he was acquitted when a verdict of justifiable homicide was returned.
In 1792 he was shipped out with his cavalry unit, the Light Dragoons, to Jamaica. He was, however, shipwrecked and when he managed to get to the island of Madeira contracted yellow fever. After his recovery he was made Adjutant General of St.Domingo where, one night eight unfortunate thieves broke into his house in an attempt at burglary. Rollo killed six of them with his sword. The other two barely managed to escape with their lives.
He then transferred with his unit to India. While there he was accused of fraud but was, once again, acquitted, on this occasion by a military court. While in India he, almost single-handedly rescued a unit consisting of sixty men during the Vellore mutiny of 1806. After a successful sojourn on Java he transferred to Nepal in 1814 where he took part in a small war against the Gurkhas. In an attack on a Gurkha hill fort he was heard to shout the words, ‘One shot more for the honour of Down’ – a cry normally heard on a football field. They were his last. A Gurkha sharpshooter, probably attracted by his sentimental urgings, drew a bead on Rollo and put a bullet through his head. He died almost instantly.
Rollo Gillespie reached the rank of Major General in the British Army. A 55 foot high memorial was erected to him in Comber. 50 lodges of the Masonic order attended the dedication, which took place 168 years ago, on this day.
A memoir of major-general sir R.R. Gillespie [by W. Thorn.].