Royal Naval Biography/Adam, Charles

[Post-Captain of 1798.]

This officer was a Midshipman of the Monarch 74, and commanded a gun-boat at the capture of the Cape of Good Hope, in 1795[1]. His good conduct on that occasion was particularly mentioned in Sir George Keith Elphinstone’s public letter to the Admiralty. In the following year we find him commanding the Swift sloop of war, and subsequently the Albatross, on the East India station, where he obtained the rank of Post-Captain in la Sybille, of 48 guns and 300 men, June 12, 1799.

On the 23d Aug. 1800, la Sybille assisted at the capture of five Dutch armed vessels, and the destruction of twenty-two merchantmen, in Batavia Roads[2]. Five days afterwards her boats captured a brig of 6 guns and 16 men, from Samarang, laden with rice. In October following she took no less than twenty-four Dutch proas, four of which mounted 6 guns each, laden with coffee, sugar, and rice, and five others in ballast.

On the 19th Aug. 1801, Captain Adam being off the Seychelles, observed signals flying on St. Anne’s; upon which he hoisted French colours, stood round the island, and discovered an enemy’s frigate, with her foremast out, and some smaller vessels, lying in Mahé Road, the passage to which was extremely intricate, being formed by many dangerous shoals. The necessary preparations having been made, and a man placed at the mast head to look out for shoal water, la Sybille stood in to attack the enemy, who at 10 A.M. fired a shot, and shewed her colours: in fifteen minutes after la Sybille, now under English colours, came to an anchor, with a spring on her cable, and at 10h 25' commenced a smart fire, which was instantly returned by the French frigate, assisted by a well-constructed battery, erected in a raking position on the neighbouring shore, from whence hot shot were frequently fired. The cannonade was kept up with great spirit for nearly twenty minutes, when the enemy struck her colours, cut, and drifted on a reef. While an officer and party went to take possession, la Sybille brought her broadside to bear on the battery, the fire from which soon ceased.

The prize proved to be la Chiffonne, of 42 guns, four of which, from her unengaged side, were mounted in the battery on shore, and a complement of 250 men, 23 of whom were killed, 30 wounded, and about 100, including those stationed at the battery, effected their escape. La Chiffonne had sailed from Nantz on the 14th April preceding, for the purpose of landing 32 persons on the Seychelles, who had been suspected of conspiring against the life of Napoleon Buonaparte, at that time First Consul of the French republic. She was quite a new frigate. Her fore-mast had been taken out and landed, in order to have the cheeks, a fish, and some hoops replaced. La Sybille had only 2 men killed, and a Midshipman slightly wounded[3].

Although la Chiffonne would certainly have been no match for la Sybille in an action at sea, the dangerous circumstances under which she had been approached and attacked, entitle Captain Adam, his officers, and crew, to a considerable degree of credit. The enemy was, it is true, inferior to the British frigate in point of guns and men but she had such advantages of position, as more than counterbalanced the deficiency.

On his arrival at Madras, in company with la Chiffonne, Captain Adam was presented by the Insurance Company of that place with an elegant sword, value 200 guineas. He returned to England in la, Sybille, April 20, 1803, and at the renewal of the war was appointed to the command of his prize, which had been added to the British navy as a 36-gun frigate. He subsequently served in the North Sea.

On the 10th June, 1805, at 7 A.M. a division of the French flotilla, consisting of two corvettes and fifteen gun-vessels, carrying in the whole 51 guns, 4 eight-inch mortars, and 3 fieldpieces, accompanied by fourteen transports, sailed from Havre, bound to Fécamp; and when about mid-way between those places, were chased by Captain Adam, who was cruising off the coast with the Falcon sloop of war, Clinker gun-brig, and Frances armed cutter, under his orders. At about 9h 30' la Chiffonne, then in 10 fathoms water, considerably a-head of her companions, and close in with the flotilla, opened her fire upon the enemy’s van; but in a quarter of an hour, shoaling her water, was compelled to haul farther off. At about 10h 30', by which time the Falcon and Clinker had closed, she recommenced firing; and shortly afterwards one of the French vessels was observed in flames, which were, however, soon extinguished; at the same time some of the other vessels ran on shore. Towards noon la Chiffonne again hauled out into deeper water. Two hours afterwards the attack was renewed, and at 3 h 15; P.M. one of the enemy’s brigs had her fore-topmast and main-mast shot away. As the British passed along the coast, the forts kept up an incessant fire of shot and shells, and continued to do so until the flotilla, &c. had completely sheltered themselves under the batteries at Fécamp. The engagement did not cease till past four o’clock; by which time la Chiffonne had been much cut up in her rigging, received a shot between wind and water, besides several higher up, and sustained a loss of 2 men killed, and 3 wounded. The Falcon suffered in rigging and sails, and had 4 men wounded; the Clinker, 1 killed and 1 wounded. The French admit a loss of 3 killed and 12 wounded, including the commander of a gun-brig.

Towards the latter end of the same year we find Captain Adam commanding the Resistance, a fine new frigate, in which he captured l’Aigle, a French privateer of 14 guns and 66 men, near the Owers, Dec. 27, 1807. On the 8th Mar. 1807, his boats destroyed an armed schooner, and a chasée maree, in the port of Archové, near Cape Machicaco. This service was performed under the directions of Lieutenant Corbyn, who had previously carried a battery which commanded the harbour.

Captain Adam’s next appointment was to the Invincible 74, on the Mediterranean station. In that ship he was employed on the coast of Catalonia, co-operating with the Spanish patriots, to whose cause he rendered great service by his activity and exertions.

The Invincible formed part of a squadron under Captain (now Sir Edward) Codrington, assisting in the defence of Tarragona, during the siege of that ill-fated city, by Marshal Suchet’s army, in 1811. The following is an extract from the public letter of that excellent officer, to Admiral Sir Charles Cotton, Bart., dated June 29:

“I cannot conclude my history of our operations at Tarragona without assuring you, that the zeal and exertion of those under my command, in every branch of the various services which have fallen to their lot, have been carried far beyond the mere dictates of duty. The Invincible and Centaur have remained with me the whole time, immediately off Tarragona; and Captains Adam, White, and myself, have passed most nights in our gigs, carrying on such operations under cover of the dark, as could not have been successfully employed in sight of the enemy; I do not mean as to mere danger, for the boats have been assailed with shot and shells both night and day, even during the time of their taking off the women and children, as well as the wounded, without being in the smallest degree diverted from their purpose. It is impossible to detail in a letter all that has passed during this short, but tragic period. But humanity has given increased excitement to our exertions; and the bodily powers of Captain Adam have enabled him, perhaps, to push to a greater extent that desire to relieve distress, which we have all partaken in common[4].”

In April 1813, a party from the Invincible, in conjunction with some Spanish troops, surprised and obtained possession of a French battery at Ampolla, and carried the town of Perello by storm; by which means two of the enemy’s privateers, employed in maintaining a correspondence with Tarragona, and intercepting the trade passing the mouth of the Ebro, were taken; and the communication between Tortosa and the Col de Balaguer was much straightened[5].

Early in June following, the fort of the Col de Balaguer, situated in a most difficult pass, through which the high road from Tortosa to Tarragona winds, armed with 12 pieces of ordnance, including 2 ten-inch mortars, and 2 howitzers, with a garrison of 101 officers and men-, was taken after a siege of five days, by a naval and military force under the command of Captain Adam and Lieutenant-Colonel Prevost, of the 67th regiment[6]. On the following morning, those officers, accompanied by four others, and the same number of dragoons, set off to reconnoitre in the direction of Tortosa. After riding about sixteen miles, and when turning the corner of a road, they suddenly fell in with Suchet’s advance guard of cavalry, who immediately charged them, and took one of the dragoons prisoner. Finding they had got into a scrape, Captain Adam and his companions retreated with all speed towards the Col de Balaguer, and fortunately succeeded in reaching Fort St. Phillipe, which they blew up a few days afterwards, in consequence of Sir John Murray abandoning the siege of Tarragona.

Captain Adam at present commands the Royal Sovereign yacht. He married, Oct. 4, 1822, Elizabeth, daughter of the late Patrick Brydone, Esq.

Agent.– Muspratt, Esq.

  1. See Vol. I. p. 47. et seq.
  2. See Vol. I. p. 771.
  3. Captain Adam at the same time took possession of a schooner and a grab ketch, under French colours; the former he gave over to Lieutenant Campbell, late of the Spitfire schooner, who had been wrecked on the Sherhome Duboplam, an African island hitherto unknown to the English, and recently discovered by the inhabitants of the Seychelle islands. Lieutenant Campbell having charge of despatches from Bombay, bound to the Red Sea, was thus enabled to proceed on his voyage.
  4. The French army under Marshal Suchet inarched upon Tarragona about the end of April, 1811, and the investment of that city was completed to the sea, on the 4th May. Its defence became more obstinate as the siege advanced; for being open by sea, it was able to receive succours of every kind, by means of the English squadron on the coast. On the 21st June, the enemy made a furious assault, and after much bloodshed on both sides, obtained possession of the lower town and its dependencies, by which event 80 pieces of cannon fell into their hands. Although scarcely any hopes now remained of an effectual resistance, the garrison in the body of the place still held out, and determined to await a final assault. This took place on the afternoon of the 28th; when, a practicable breach being made, the assailants rushed in, and almost immediately carried the town. Suchet, who, in a former despatch, had expressed his apprehension of being obliged “to set a terrible example, and intimidate for ever Catalonia and Spain, by the destruction of a whole city” too well verified his menace. He thus relates the catastrophe:

    “The fury of the soldiers was increased by the resistance of the garrison, who every moment expected their deliverance, and thought to secure suocess by a general sortie. The fifth assault, still more vigorous than the preceding, made yesterday in broad day on the fortification, has occasioned a horrible massacre, with but little loss on our side. The terrible example I foresaw with regret, in my last report to your highness, has taken place, and will for a long time be recollected in Spain. Four thousand men have been killed in the city; from 10 to 12,000 endeavoured to make their escape over the walls into the country; 1000 have been sabred or drowned; nearly 10,000, of whom 500 are officers, have been made prisoners, and are setting off for France; nearly 1000 wounded are in the hospitals of the city, where their lives were respected in the midst of the carnage. Three Field-Marshals and the Governor are among the prisoners: many others among the slain!!”

    Further particulars of this day of horror are given in Captain Codrington’s letter, from which we have just quoted. He described the panic that prevailed on the entrance of the French, in the following words:

    “Those already without the walls stripped, and endeavoured to swim off to the shipping, while those within were seen sliding down the face of the batteries; each party thus equally endangering their lives more than they would have done by a firm resistance to the enemy. A large mass of people, some with muskets and some without, then pressed forward along the road, suffering themselves to be fired upon by about 20 French, who continued running beside them at only a few yards distance. At length they were stopped entirely by a volley from one small part of the enemy, who had entrenched themselves at a turn of the road, supported by a second a little higher up, who opened a masked battery of two field-pieces. A horrible butchery then ensued; and shortly afterwards the remainder of these poor wretches, amounting to above 3,000, tamely submitted to be led away prisoners by less than as many hundred French. The launches and gun-boats went from the ships the instant the enemy were observed by the Invincible (which lay to the westward) to be collecting in their trenches; and yet, so rapid was their success, that the whole was over before we could open our fire with effect. All the boats of the squadron and transports, were sent to assist those who were swimming, or concealed under the rocks; and, notwithstanding a heavy fire of musketry and field-pieces, which was warmly and successfully returned by the launches and gunboats, from 5 to 600 were then brought off to the shipping, many of them badly wounded. * * * * Our own ships, as well as the transports, have been the receptacles of the miserable objects which saw no shelter but in the English squadron; and you will see by the orders which I have found it necessary to give, that we have been called upon to clothe the naked, and feed the starving, beyond the regular rules of our service.”

    Captain Codrington further stated, “that General Contreras, the Commandant of the garrison, (to whose exposition of the siege we have already alluded at p. 873, of our first volume,) was reported to have been wounded and taken prisoner, but not before he had particularly distinguished himself; that the Governor of Tarragona (Gorizales) with a handful of men, defended himself to the last, and was bayoneted to death in the square, near his own house; that man, woman, and child, were put to the sword upon the French first entering the town; and afterwards, all those found in uniform, or with arms in their houses; and that the females of all ages underwent the most brutal violation; after which many of them were said to have been thrown into the names, together with the badly wounded Spaniards. A thousand men were left by the ferocious Sachet to destroy the works, and the whole city was set on fire.”

    Thus fell Tarragona; and thus, through treachery, or if we may be allowed to use a softer term, through heinous neglect on the part of Spanish officers holding the most responsible situations, who omitted to have ammunition forwarded in sufficient quantity to the troops stationed on the walls, the French were afforded an opportunity of carrying on their designs against the southern provinces of Spain, without apprehension of any considerable force remaining behind to check their movements. “Had I been assisted by the army on shore” says General Contreras, “as I Was assisted by the squadron of Commodore Codrington, Tarragona certainly would not have fallen.

  5. See Commander Joseph Corbyn, in our next volume.
  6. See Captain W. F. Carroll, C.B.