LATHAM, ROBERT, mason, engineer, captain; d. 1713.
Of Robert Latham’s antecedents nothing is known beyond the fact that he was a master mason. As such he received an appointment as a military engineer and was posted to St John’s, Newfoundland, in 1701. There he was engaged in building and strengthening the defences. Latham’s first years in Newfoundland were uneventful, except for a dispute with the minister, John Jackson, about the occupancy of a house inside Fort William. As military chaplain Jackson claimed precedence over Latham, and his claim appears to have been upheld.
When Captain Thomas Lloyd was ordered to return to England in 1704, Lieutenant John Moody, his successor, fearing a possible attack by the French, appointed Latham acting lieutenant in command of the south battery, sometimes called the South Castle, a strongly built stone defence work. French forces, under Auger de Subercase, attacked St John’s 21 Jan. 1704/5; but both Fort William and the South Castle survived the siege until the French withdrew, with heavy losses, on 23 February. During that time Latham with a dozen or so soldiers and a number of civilian inhabitants repelled repeated French attacks. The English merchant, Colin Campbell, had been taken prisoner and was forced on more than one occasion to approach Latham, under a flag of truce, with the object of inducing him to visit Lieutenant Moody in Fort William and persuade him to surrender. Each time these overtures were repulsed. Allegations were subsequently made that the French had planned an ambush – their Indian allies would have killed Latham on his way to the fort.
Latham was confirmed as a lieutenant in the Newfoundland Independent Company, 2 May 1705. Unfortunately friction arose between Latham and Moody who accused his lieutenant of disobedience and of setting a bad example for the soldiers. In October Moody was superseded by Major Lloyd, who brought with him a brevet captaincy for Latham. Latham remained on very good terms with the new garrison commander. When Moody and Jackson returned to England, the latter continued his feud against Latham – and indirectly against Lloyd – in a report dated 2 Feb. 1706 to the House of Commons: “Mr. Latham as Chief Mason had a large sum sent him yearly to pay labourers, most of which he employed in buying liquors and in trade. . . . He . . . refused to pay me much that is owed, and would not make my lodgings in the fort fit to live in.”
Latham was ordered to return to England by the Board of Ordnance in 1707. In a report to the Duke of Marlborough, master-general of the ordnance, dated 13 Dec. 1707, the board stated that Latham had expended considerable sums of money on the fortifications at St John’s without rendering any satisfactory accounts. They had, therefore, recalled him “last Summer,” appointing George Vane in his place. Major Lloyd wrote to the Board of Trade praising Latham’s efficiency and diligence, and stressing his popularity with the inhabitants; Lloyd hoped Latham would be permitted to return the following spring. Despite – or because of – this recommendation Latham was not re-appointed to Newfoundland.
In 1710 the Board of Ordnance appointed Latham as engineer at Fort St Phillip in the island of Menorca. He died there early in 1713.
Dalton states that Latham was appointed to Menorca in 1712; however, PRO, W.O. 53/448 (Board of Ordnance, bill books for Menorca, 1710) show that Capt. Robert Latham signed for his first pay in July of 1710 at Fort St Phillip, Menorca.