Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Otway, Robert Waller

OTWAY, Sir ROBERT WALLER (1770–1846), admiral, seoond son of Cooks Otway of Castle Otway, co. Tipperary, by Elizabeth, daughter of Samuel Waller of Lisbrian, Tipperary, was born on 26 April 1770 (Foster). He entered the navy in April 784 on board the Elizabeth, guardship at Portsmouth, with Captain Robert Kingamill. In September 1785 he joined the Phaeton in the Mediterranean. The Phaeton was paid off in August 1786, and in November Otway joined the Trusty, going to the Mediterranean with the broad pennant of Commodore Cosby. On the return of the Trusty in February 1789, he was entered on board the Blonde, going to the West Indies, where, and on the coast of Africa, in different ships, he remained till promoted to the rank of lieutenant. on 8 Aug. 1793. In December he was appointed to the Impregnable of 98 guns, bearing the flag of rear-admiral Benjamin Caldwell [q.v.], and in her was present in the battle of l June 1794. On this occasion the Impregnable foretopsail-yard was badly injured, and Otway, accompanied by a midshipman, going aloft, succeeded in securing it so that the ship remained under control-a timely service, for which Caldwell publicly thanked him on the quarter-deck. Shortly afterwards, when, on his appointment as commander-in-chief in the West Indies, he shifted his flag to the Majestic, he took Otway with him as first lieutenant, and in the following January promoted him to the command of the Thorn sloop.

In her, in April, Otway captured La Belle Creole, a large schooner fitted out from Guadeloupe by Victor Hugues, in order to co-operate with the disaffected inhabitants of Saint-Pierre, Martinique, in burning the town and massacring the royalists, who, in acknowledgment of the service thus unwittingly rendered them, presented Otway with a sword valued at two hundred guineas. In May he captured the Courier National, a sloop of greatly superior force (cf. James i. 321). He afterwards rendered important assistance against the insurgents in St. Vincent and Grenada, and on 30 Oct. 1795 was posted by Sir John Laforey [q.v.], the new commander-in-chief, to the 32-gun frigate Mermaid (see Ralph, iv. 5 n.) In her, and afterwards in the Ceres of 32 guns and the Trent of 36, Otway, continuing in the West Indies for the next five years, had a singularly adventurous and successful career. He had an important share in the capture of Grenada in 1796; he cut out or destroyed several la privateers; and in July 1796, having information that the frigate Hermione [see Pigot, Hugh, d. 1797; Hamilton, Sir Edward] was in La Guayra, he went thither, and on the night of the 7th pulled in with two of his boats. The Hermione, however, was not there; but, finding a corvette which had lately arrived from Spain, he boarded and carried her, and by break of day had towed her out of range of the batteries. But it was a dead calm; a flotilla of gunboats was seen coming out in pursuit; and defence or escape seemed equally impossible. Otway ordered two guns, loaded to the muzzle, to be got ready, and when the gunboats were on the point of boarding, fired them through the corvette's bottom. The gunboats had as much as they could do to save their countrymen from drowning, and in the confusion Otway drew off his men in his own boats. In his six years in the West Indies he was said to have captured or destroyed two hundred of the enemy's privateers or merchantmen. The Trent, in 1799 and 1800, 'is supposed to have made as many captures as ever fell to the lot of one vessel in the same space of time' (Brenton, Naval History, ii. 448).

In November 1800 the Trent returned to England with the flag of Sir Hyde Parker (1739-1807) [q. v.], with whom Otway went to the Royal George, and thence, in February 1801, to the London, when Parker took command of the fleet for the Baltic. It is said, apparently on Otway 's authority (Ralfe; O'Byrne), that it was at his suggestion that the fleet advanced against Copenhagen through the Sound instead of by the Great Belt. During the battle which followed, when the commander-in-chief determined to hoist the celebrated signal to 'discontinue the action,' Otway was sent to the Elephant with a verbal message to Nelson to disregard it if he saw any probability of success [see Nelson, Horatio, Viscount]. He was sent home with despatches, and, on rejoining the flag in August, was appointed to the Edgar, in which he went out to the West Indies, and returned in July 1802. During 1804-5 he commanded the Montagu off Brest under Cornwallis; in the spring of 1806 he was detached, under the command of Sir Richard John Strachan [q. v.], in pursuit of the French squadron under Willaumez, and in 1807 was sent to the Mediterranean, where he was employed on the coast of Calabria, and afterwards, in 1808, on the coast of Catalonia in co-operation with the Spanish patriots. In August 1808 he was moved to the Malta for a passage to England; but in the following May he again went out to the Mediterranean in command of the Ajax, in which, and afterwards in the Cumberland, he was employed in the continuous blockade of Toulon and the French coast. In December 1811 his health gave way, and he was compelled to invalid. In May 1813 he was again appointed to the Ajax, for service in the Channel and Bay of Biscay. In the autumn he co-operated with the army in the siege of San Sebastian, and early in 1814 convoyed a fleet of transports, with some five thousand troops on board, from Bordeaux to Quebec. He afterwards assisted in equipping the flotilla on Lake Champlain. On 4 June 181 4 Otway was promoted to the rank of rear-admiral, and from 1818 to 1821 was commander-in-chief at Leith. On 8 June 1826 he was nominated a K.C.B., and at the same time was appointed commander-in-chief on the South American station, then — in the turmoil of insurrection, revolution, and civil war — a post calling for constant watchfulness and tact. He returned to England in 1829. On 22 July 1830 he was promoted to be vice-admiral, and on 15 Sept. 1831 was created a baronet. He was promoted to be admiral on 23 Nov. 1841, and was nominated a G.C.B. on 8 May 1845. He died suddenly on 12 May 1846. He had married, in 1801, Clementina, eldest daughter of Admiral John Holloway, and by her had a large family. His two eldest sons, both commanders in the navy, predeceased him; the third, George Graham Otway, succeeded to the baronetcy. A portrait, lent by Sir Arthur John Otway, the fourth son and third baronet, was in the Naval Exhibition of 1891.

[Marshall's Roy. Nav. Biogr. i. 691, and xii. (vol. iv. pt. ii.) 427; Ralfe's Naval Biogr. iv. 1 (with a portrait ‘engraved from a miniature in the possession of Lady Otway’); O'Byrne's Nav. Biogr. Dict.; James's Naval History; Foster's Baronetage.]

J. K. L.