Call, Sir John 1732-1801, first baronet, of Whiteford, Cornwall, Indian military engineer, was descended from an old family which, it is said, once owned considerable property in Devon and Cornwall. His father, John Call of Launcells, Cornwall, was in respectable but not affluent circumstances. Young Call was born at Fenny Park, near Tiverton, in 1732. It is believed that he was educated at Blundell's school in that town. When about seventeen he was recommended to the notice of Benjamin Robins, the celebrated mathematician, who at that time received the appointment of chief-engineer and captain-general of artillery in the East India Company's settlements. Robins left England in 1749, and arrived at Fort William in July 1750, bringing with him eight young writers, one of whom was Call, who acted as his secretary. Robins having died in July 1751, and war having commenced with the powers on the coast of Coromandel, Call, who was appointed a writer on the Madras establishment that year (Prinsep, Madras, civ), was employed in the capacity of engineer to carry on the erection of the defensive works at Fort St. David. In the beginning of 1752 he accompanied Captain (afterwards Lord) Clive on an expedition against the French, who had possessed themselves of the province of Arcot, and were plundering up to the very gates of Madras. After the great successes achieved by Clive, the army marched back to Fort St. David, where Call received the appointment of engineer-in-chief before he had attained his twentieth year. He retained that situation until 1757, when he was appointed chief-engineer at Madras, and soon after of all the Coromandel coast. He was chief-engineer at the reduction of Pondicherry, and in various operations under Lord Pigot and Sir Eyre Coote. In 1762 he had the good fortune, when serving with General Caillaud, to effect the reduction of the strong fortress of Vellore, which ever since has been the point d'appui of the British in the Carnatic. During the greater part of the war against Hyder Ali in 1767-8 Call was with the army in the Mysore. In 1768 he was appointed a member of the governor's council (ib.), and soon after was advanced by the East India Company, in recognition of his general services, from the fourth to the third seat in council. He was strongly recommended by Clive to succeed to the government of Madras on the first opportunity, but having received news of his father's death, he determined to return home, although strongly urged by Clive to remain. In 1771 he served as high-sheriff of Cornwall. In March 1772 he married Philadelphia, third daughter and coheiress of William Batty, M.D., by whom he had six children. In 1782 Call was employed by Lord Shelburne, then prime minister, to inquire into the state of the crown lands, woods, and forests, in which office he acted conjointly with Mr. A. Holdsworth. In November 1782 they made their first report (see Parl. Reps. on Land Revenue in Accts. and Papers). Their work was interrupted by changes of ministry, but during the session of 1785-6 Sir Charles Middleton, Call, and Holdsworth were appointed parliamentary commissioners with ample powers to pursue the inquiry. His public duties now requiring his frequent presence in London, Call offered himself for the pocket borough of Callington, near his country residence, and on the recommendation of Lord Orford was unanimously returned at the general election of 1784. In 1785 he purchased the famous house of Field-marshal Wade in Old Burlington Street. At the general election of 1790 he was a second time returned unanimously for the borough of Callington. In recognition of his public services he was created a baronet on 28 July 1791. Call was a fellow of the Royal Society and of the Royal Antiquarian Society, but his name does not appear as the author of any printed works. Some letters of his addressed to Warren Hastings and to Dr. Lettsom will be found in Brit. Mus. Add. MSS. Call became totally blind in 1795, and died of apoplexy at his residence, Old Burlington Street, London, on 1 March 1801.
Gent. Mag. (lxxi.) i. 282, 369
Prinsep's Madras Civilians
Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornubiensis, i. 54
Nichols's Lit. Anecd. iv. 612
Accts. and Papers, vols. xxxvi. and xxxvii., 1787-92.
Contributor: H. M. C. [Henry Manners Chichester]