Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Alms, James

ALMS, JAMES (1728–1791), captain in the navy, was born at Gosport, 15 July 1728, in an humble station, his father having been, it is said, a domestic servant to the Duke of Richmond. He entered the navy early, and was rated midshipman by Captain Watson of the Dragon, a ship in which he had his small share of the battle off Toulon, 11 Feb. 1744. Afterwards he was with Boscawen in the Namur, in the action off Cape Finisterre, 3 May 1747; as also in the East Indies, when the ship was lost in a tremendous storm, 12 April 1749, near Fort St. David's, some 30 leagues to the southward of Madras: on this occasion, almost the whole of the ship's company perished, Alms being one of the twenty-three survivors. He was shortly afterwards promoted to the rank of lieutenant; and being at home, on very meagre half-pay, he obtained the command of an East Indiaman, and was for some three or four years employed trading between Bombay and China; although, his ship being taken up by government for the carriage of stores, he was present at the capture of Gheriah by his old captain, Rear-Admiral Watson, 12–13 Feb. 1756. In March 1759 he was appointed first lieutenant of the 74-gun ship Mars, commanded by Captain Young, and in her took part in the blockade of Brest, which culminated on 20 Nov. in the crushing defeat of the French in Quiberon Bay. He continued in the Mars for nearly two years longer, during the further operations on the coast of France, and in February 1762 went out to the West Indies as acting captain of the Alarm frigate. In her he was present at the reduction of Martinique by Vice-Admiral Rodney, and of Havana by Sir George Pocock; but notwithstanding the strong recommendations of Commodore Keppel and his brother the Earl of Albemarle, he was not confirmed in his rank until 20 June 1765. During this time, and till 1770, he lived with his family at Chichester, after which for three years he commanded a frigate in the Mediterranean; and in 1776 was employed as registering captain for the Sussex district. He was at this time suffering from a severe asthma, which prevemted his accepting any more active service; nor did he feel equal to any appointment until, in the end of 1780, he was offered the 60-gun ship Monmouth, fitting for the East Indies. This he accepted, hoping that the warm climate might prove beneficial to his complaint. He sailed on 13 March 1781, as one of the squadron under Commodore Johnstone, and was with him in the notorious action in Praya Bay. He parted from Johnstone at the Cape of Good Hope, and passed on to join Sir Edward Hughes; which, after refitting at Bombay, he finally did on 11 Feb. 1782, in time to take part in the battle off Sadras on 17 Feb., and also in that off Providien on 12 April. By the skilful dispositions of the Bailli de Suffren, the Superb and the little Monmouth had to sustain the concentrated attack of three, four, or five of the French ships. The Monmouth was reduced to a wreck; her ensign nailed to the stump of the mizenmast, and the pennant to the stump of the mainmast; the wheel shot away; and the ship, under no control, a helpless log, lay between the lines, a target for every gun which the enemy could bring to bear. Eventually a rag of sail was hoisted on the stump of the foremast, and a lucky shift of wind enabled Captain Wood, in the Hero, to take her in tow and place her, in comparative safety, to leeward of the English line. In this severe contest, the Monmouth lost 147 killed and wounded, out of a nominal complement of 500, and an actual one of probably not much more than 400; for she had lost many men on the outward passage by sickness and death. Captain Alms's eldest son, a lieutenant of the Superb, fell in the same action; and, indeed, the Superb's loss in men was somewhat greater than that of the Monmouth; but she had a much larger complement; and her rigging was not so shattered. Still commanding the Monmouth, Captain Alms had a full share of the battles off Negapatam on 6 July, and off Trincomalee on 3 Sept.; his health broke down during the winter, and he was obliged to go on shore at Madras for several months. It was virtually the end of his active service; for though, in September 1783, he resumed his command, it was for little more than to take the ship home. He arrived at Spithead in June 1784; and after living in domestic retirement at Chichester for a few years, died on 8 June 1791, and was buried in the cathedral.

[Charnock's Biog. Nav. vi. 546; Official Documents in Record Office. The memoir in the Naval Chronicle, vol. ii., professes to be written from the papers of Mr. Edward Ives (author of ‘A Voyage from England to India’, &c.), who was certainly well acquainted with Captain Alms; but it is so crowded with mistakes of carelessness or ignorance, that but little reliance can be placed on its statements.]

J. K. L.