Lieutenant-General Robert Stuart of Annat and Rait Born at Powblack Farm (Doune) 13 May 1744 the son of a farmer, Robert Stuart joined the Bengal Army of the East India Company as a cadet in 1764. By the time he retired from that force in 1803 he reached the rank of Lieutenant-General. Subsequently he served at that level in the British Army of India.
He was awarded the title Behadur (the Brave) by the Moghul Emperor Shah Alam. Robert Stuart died 18 February 1820 and is buried in Kilspindie Churchyard (Carse of Gowrie). On the family tomb in that churchyard is a plaque written in Persian (the court language of the Moghul Empire):
“The Support of the State, Helper of the Kingdom General Robert Stuart, Behadur War a Veritable Sword of Mohammed A Faithful Servant of Shah Alam Ghazi 1212 AH (1834 AD)”
In the 1780s the East India Company army consisted of 70,000 sepoys and 15,000 British troops; in Bengal half of the officer cadre were Scottish. By 1791, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Stuart commanded the 6th Native Infantry Brigade on the Western frontier of Oudh, Northwest of Delhi, with orders to resist Sikh excursions. On January 3rd whilst out riding near Anupshar, Stuart was captured by Sikh outriders, armed with spear, matchlock and scimitar. The 29th battalion under Captain John Breadley pursued in vain as the entire Sikh Army withdrew into their territory. Stuart was now the prisoner of Banga Sing who demanded a ransom for his prisoner. However, Sing allowed Stuart to correspond with the British authorities and their allies; 41 of these letters are held in Perth & Kinross Archives. The letters are pasted into a hardback book and are arranged in chronological order. They chronicle his ten months of captivity and attempts to persuade the British Government to organise an armed rescue attempt instead of negotiating. Many include details of his incarceration and plans to storm his prison. Many of the letters are to a third party, the Begum Sumroo, the ruling princess of the state of Sardhana (between Sikh territory and British controlled India). Begum Sumroo was acting as an intermediary in negotiations and supported Stuart by providing foods and clothing. One issue raised by Stuart in the letters is that of food tampering which he believed was taking place. The letters end on 22 September 1791 and it seems that Stuart was released on 24 October 1791 in exchange for a ransom of 15,000 Rupees – paid for by the East India Company.
After returning to Scotland, Stuart settled own with the huge fortune he had accumulated during his colonial service. He also brought back buffalo and Arabian horses. His retirement was spent at Annat Lodge on Kinnoull Hill, which he purchased from the original builder – a house later associated with the artist Sir Everett Millais and his wife Effie Gray, and later with botanist and entomologist Francis Buchanan White. Plans by Stuart to build a castle at Rait never came to fruition.
Perth & Kinross Archives is home to may of the surviving papers of Robert Stuart, donated by his descendants in 2006. Perth Museum & Art Gallery has a collection associated with Stuart including a portrait in oils (Baird).