Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Milne, David
MILNE, Sir DAVID (1763–1845), admiral, son of David Milne, merchant of Edinburgh, and of Susan, daughter of Mr. Vernor of Musselburgh, was born in Edinburgh on 25 May 1763. He entered the navy in May 1779, on board the Canada,with Captain Hugh Dalrymple, and continuing in the same ship with Sir George Collier [q. v.] and Captain William Cornwallis [q. v.], was present at the second relief of Gibraltar, at the capture of the Spanish frigate Leocadia, at the operations at St. Kitts in January 1782, in the actions off Dominica on 9 and 12 April 1782, and in the disastrous hurricane of 16-17 Sept. 1782. On arriving in England he was appointed to the Elizabeth of 74 guns; but she was paid off at the peace; and Milne, having no prospect of further employment, entered the merchant service, apparently in the East India trade, and continued in it until the outbreak of the war in 1793, when he joined the Boyne, going out to the West Indies with the flag of Sir John Jervis. On 13 Jan. 1794 Jervis promoted him to be lieutenant of the Blanche, in which, under the command of Captain Robert Faulknor [q. v.], he repeatedly distinguished himself, and more especially in the celebrated capture of the Pique (5 Jan. 1795). When, after a very severe action, the Pique struck, neither ship had a boat that could float, and the prize was taken possession of by Milne and ten seamen swimming to her. For his gallantry he was promoted to be commander of the Inspector sloop, 26 April 1795; and on 2 Oct. 1795 he was posted to the Matilda frigate in reward for his service as superintendent of transports, an office he continued to hold while the Matilda cruised under the command of her first lieutenant.
In January 1796 he was appointed, at his own request, to the Pique, ‘the frigate he had so materially contributed to capture’ (O'Byrne), and being stationed at Demerara for the protection of trade, the governor forwarded to him on 16 July a memorial from the resident merchants, to the effect that the admiral had promised them a convoy to St. Kitts by 15 July; that if their ships waited longer, they would miss the convoy to England; and that if they sailed without convoy they would forfeit their insurance. Under these circumstances, Milne consented to take them to St. Kitts; and arriving there too late for the convoy to England, on the further representation of the masters of the vessels, he took charge of them for the voyage home, anchoring at Spithead on 10 Oct. On the 11th he wrote to the admiralty, explaining his reasons, and enclosing copies of the correspondence with the governor and merchants of Demerara (Captains' Letters, M. 1796). His conduct, under the exceptional circumstances, was approved, and the Pique was attached to the Channel fleet. She was thus involved in the mutinies at Spithead in 1797, and when these were happily suppressed, was actively employed on the coast of France. On 29 June 1798, in company with the Jason and Mermaid frigates, she fell in, near the Penmarks, on the south coast of Brittany, with the French 40-gun frigate Seine, and brought her to action suffering severely before the Jason could come up. The three all got aground, and after an obstinate fight the Seine surrendered as the Mermaid also drew near. The Jason and Seine were afterwards floated off, but the Pique, being bilged, was abandoned and burnt. Milne, with her other officers and men, brought the Seine to England, and was appointed to command her, on her being bought into the English navy (James, ii. 247; Troude, iii. 137).
In October 1799 he went on the west coast of Africa, whence, some months later, he convoyed the trade to the West Indies. In August 1800 he was cruising in the Mona passage, and on the morning of the 20th sighted the French frigate Vengeance, a ship of the same size and force as the Seine. The Vengeance was under orders to make the best of her way to France, and endeavoured to avoid her enemy. It was thus close on midnight before Milne succeeded in bringing her to action. Twice the combatants separated to repair damages; twice the fight was renewed; and it was not till near eleven o'clock the next forenoon, 21 Aug., that the Vengeance—dismasted and sinking—hailed to say that she surrendered. It was one of the very few frigate actions fought fairly to an end without any interruption from outside; and from the equality of the parties, is aptly pronounced by James to have been ‘as pretty a frigate match as any fought during the war’ (James, iii. 23; Troude, iii. 215; Chevalier, iii. 25). But Milne received no reward. He continued to command the Seine in the West Indies and Gulf of Mexico till the peace, when he took her to England and paid her off, April 1802. He was reappointed to her in April 1803; but three months later, 21 July, she was wrecked on a sandbank near the Texel, owing to the ignorance of the pilots, who were cashiered by sentence of the court martial, which honourably acquitted Milne. He was then for several years in charge of the Forth district of Sea Fencibles. In 1811-12 he commanded the Impétueux off Cherbourg and on the Lisbon station. He was then appointed to the Dublin, from which he was moved into the Venerable. This ship was reported to be one of the dullest sailers in the service, but by a readjustment of her stowage she became, under his command, one of the fastest. Milne afterwards commanded the Bulwark on the coast of North America, returning to England as a passenger on board the Loire frigate in November, on the news of his promotion to flag-rank on 4 June 1814.
In May 1816 he was appointed commander-in-chief on the North American station, with his flag in the Leander, but his sailing was delayed to permit of his going as second in command under Lord Exmouth in the expedition against Algiers [see Pellew, Edward, Viscount Exmouth]. For this purpose, he hoisted his flag in the Impregnable of 98 guns, and in her took a very prominent part in the action of 27 Aug. 1816, in which the Impregnable received 233 shot in her hull, many of them between wind and water, and sustained a loss in men of fifty killed and 160 wounded. It was a curious coincidence that the ship which, after the Impregnable, suffered most severely was the Leander, commanded by Captain Chetham, Milne's old first lieutenant in the Seine. The loss of the two together in killed was more than half of the total loss sustained by the English fleet. For his services on this occasion Milne was nominated a K.C.B., 19 Sept. 1816, and was permitted to accept and wear the orders of Wilhelm of the Netherlands and Saint Januarius of Naples. The city of London presented him with its freedom and a sword; and as a personal acknowledgment Lord Exmouth gave him a gold snuff-box.
In the following year Milne went out to his command in North American waters, returning to England in the summer of 1819. In 1820 he was elected member of parliament for Berwick. He was made vice-admiral on 27 May 1825, G.C.B. 4 July 1840, admiral 23 Nov. 1841. From April 1842 to April 1845 he was commander-in-chief at Plymouth, with his flag in the Caledonia. On his way to Scotland after completing this service, he died on board the Clarence, packet-steamer from London to Granton, 5 May 1845. A portrait by Sir Henry Raeburn, in the uniform of a rear-admiral, painted in 1819, is in the possession of the family; a copy, by G. F. Clarke, is in the Painted Hall at Greenwich, to which it was presented by Milne's sons.
Milne was twice married: first, in 1804, to Grace, daughter of Sir Alexander Purves, bart.; and secondly, in 1819, to Agnes, daughter of George Stephen of the island of Grenada. By the first marriage he had two sons, the younger of whom is the present admiral of the fleet, Sir Alexander Milne, bart., K.C.B., and G.C.B. The elder, David Milne-Home (1805-1890), was one of the founders, and for many years chairman of the council of the Scottish Meteorological Society. It was he who, in 1877, first urged ‘the singular advantages of Ben Nevis for a high-level observatory,’ and it was largely through his energy and influence that the proposal was carried into effect in 1883 (Report of the Council of the Scottish Met. Soc., 25 March 1891).[Information from Sir Alexander Milne; O'Byrne's Nav. Biog. Dict.; Marshall's Roy. Nav. Biog. ii. (vol. i. pt. ii.) 681 ; Naval Chronicle, xxxvi. 353; James's Naval History (edit, of 1860); Troude's Batailles navales de la France; Chevalier's Hist. de la Marine frangaise; Foster's Baronetage.]