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Royal Naval Biography/Barlow, Robert

[Superannuated Rear-Admiral.]

Knight Commander of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath; Fellow of the Royal Society; and late Commissioner of Chatham Dock-Yard.

This officer is the eldest son of the late William Barlow, of Bath, co. Somerset, Esq. by Hilare, daughter of Robert Butcher, of Walthamstow, in Essex, Esq. and was born in London, December 25, 1757. His youngest surviving brother, George H. Barlow, formerly Governor-General of India, was created a Baronet June 29, 1803. The family appear to have been settled originally at Fordbridge, in Staffordshire.

We are not acquainted with the exact period at which Mr. Barlow entered the naval service; but we know that he served with credit under the late Earl Howe and Lord Mulgrave, during the whole of the American war. His promotion to the rank of Lieutenant took place in November, 1778; and he appears to have assisted at the capture of la Minerve, a French frigate of 32 guns and 316 men, Jan. 4, 1781, and to have accompanied the grand fleet to the relief of Gibraltar in 1782; on which latter occasion he was first Lieutenant of the Courageux 74.

From 1786 till 1789, Lieutenant Barlow commanded the Barracouta cutter, and cruised with very great success against the smugglers. In 1790, he was promoted to the rank of Commander, and soon after appointed to the Childers brig of 16 guns, with orders to resume his former station on the coast of Cornwall. As this appointment was given him by the Admiralty, without any solicitation on the part of himself or his friends, we may reasonably conclude, it was in consequence of the favorable impression made on their Lordships’ minds by the long list of captures which he had transmitted to the Board, when superseded in the command of the Barracouta, at the expiration of the usual period of service. Whatever might have been their expectations as to his future exertions, it is certain they were not disappointed, Captain Barlow having captured several fine vessels laden with contraband goods, one of which was a new cutter of one hundred and fifty tons, with a cargo of one thousand ankers of spirits.

On the 2d Jan. 1793, a few weeks previous to the declaration of war by the French National Convention against Great Britain, the Childers, whilst reconnoitring the port of Brest, was fired at by a battery, from which she was not more than three-quarters of a mile distant. Imagining the national character of his vessel was doubted, Captain Barlow immediately hoisted his colours, whereupon the republicans displayed the French ensign, with a red pendant over it; and the signal was immediately answered by the adjacent forts, which opened a heavy cross fire upon the little brig; and she must inevitably have been destroyed, if a breeze springing up had not enabled her to stem the tide, by which she had been driven close to the entrance of the harbour. Fortunately, being so small an object, she was hit by only one shot, a 48-pounder, which struck one of her guns, and then split into three pieces, but providentially did not injure a man. This was the first act of decided hostility committed against Great Britain; and on the 15th of the following month, Captain Barlow, being off Gravelines, captured le Patriote privateer, the first armed vessel taken from the French republic.

Captain Barlow obtained post rank May 24, 1793; commanded the Pegasus of 28 guns, one of the repeating frigates to Earl Howe’s fleet, on the memorable 1st June, 1794[1]; and subsequently the Aquilon and Phoebe frigates, the latter mounting 44 guns, with a complement of 261 men.

His appointment to the latter ship was in Dec. 1795; and on the 10th Jan. 1797, he captured l’Atalante, a French corvette of 16 guns[2]. On the 21st Dec. following, being on a cruise to the westward, he discovered and immediately pursued an enemy’s frigate; but the difference in point of sailing between the two ships being inconsiderable, the Phoebe sustained much damage in her masts, sails, and rigging, from the Frenchman’s stern guns, before she could close with the chase; and at the moment when Captain Barlow was about to commence the attack, his opponent hove in stays. The Phoebe being under a crowd of sail, the night extremely dark, and her commander not aware of the enemy’s intention to practise this manoeuvre, a few minutes necessarily elapsed before he could get fairly alongside. The action commenced at ten P.M., and continued about three quarters of an hour, when the French ship surrendered, and proved to be la Nereide of 36 guns and 330 men, 20 of whom were slain and 55 wounded. The Phoebe had 3 men killed and 10 wounded.

Subsequent to this event, Captain Barlow captured l’Hazard, of 10 guns and 60 men, laden with spices, ivory, and gum, from Senegal, valued at 10,000l. sterling; three French privateers, mounting in the whole 58 guns, and manned with 455 men; and l’Heureux, a flush-decked ship of 22 brass 12-pounders and 220 men. The latter vessel, mistaking the Phoebe for an East Indiaman, bore down, and did not discover her error until within musket-shot, when she commenced a well-directed and spirited fire, by which 1 man was killed and 5 wounded on board the British frigate. The enemy, however, paid, dear for his temerity, being soon obliged to strike, with the loss of 18 men slain and 25 wounded.

This affair occurred March 5, 1800; and from that period until Feb. 19th, in the following year, we find no particular mention of Captain Barlow. On the latter day, being near Gibraltar, he discovered an enemy’s frigate close to Ceuta, steering under a press of sail to the eastward. At 7h 30’ P.M., he had the good fortune to bring her to close action, which was maintained with unremitting fury within pistol-shot about two hours; the French commander resolutely opposing the animated and skilful exertions of Captain Barlow, until his ship was almost a wreck, with five feet water in her hold, several of her guns dismounted, and her decks encumbered with dead and dying men. At length she surrendered, and proved to be l’Africaine of 44 guns and 315 men, besides 400 troops and artificers, under the command of General Desfourneaux, having on board 6 brass field-pieces, several thousand stand of arms, and a great quantity of ammunition, from Rochefort bound to Egypt.

The tremendous and well-directed fire from the Phoebe, was productive of dreadful slaughter on board l’Africaine, whose loss amounted to 200 men, including M. de Saunier, Chief of Division, with many of the principal sea and land officers slain, and 143 wounded[3].

The Phoebe, although her net complement, including 18 boys, was 261, had sailed from Cork 7 men short, and had since manned and sent to Gibraltar one recaptured vessel, and another detained under suspicious circumstances; so that the total number on board was only 239. Of these but 1 man was slain, and 12 wounded.

For his courage and excellent conduct on this occasion, Captain Barlow was deservedly rewarded with the honor of knighthood, June 16, 1801, and soon after appointed to the Triumph of 74 guns; in which ship he served on the Mediterranean station until the latter end of the year 1804, when she returned to England, and was put out of commission. In the autumn of 1805, Sir Robert obtained the command of the London, a second rate, from whence he was removed into the Barfleur, a ship of the same class, some time previous to his being nominated First Captain of the North Sea fleet, under Lord Keith. His next appointment was in the summer of 1806, to be Deputy Comptroller of the Navy; an office which he held until Sept. 1808, when he succeeded the late Captain Charles Hope, as Commissioner of Chatham Dockyard. He was created an extra K.C.B. May 20, 1820[4]; and superannuated with the rank of Rear-Admiral, Jan. 24, 1823.

Sir Robert Barlow married, Sept. 8, 1785, Elizabeth, daughter of William Garrett, of Worting, co. Southampton, Esq., and by that lady, who died Sept. 17, 1817, had several sons and daughters; of the latter, one is married to the Right Hon. Viscount Torrington[5]; another to her cousin, George Ulric, eldest son of Sir George H. Barlow; and a third to Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Dashwood, of the 3d regiment of guards, second son of Sir Henry Dashwood, Bart.

Agent.– Sir Francis M. Ommanney.

  1. See Vol. I, p. 75, et seq.
  2. L’Atalante had sailed from Brest in company with a powerful fleet, under the orders of M. de Galles, having on board 25,000 troops, commanded by General Hoche, destined for the invasion of Ireland. The outset of this expedition was attended by several disasters, and the whole project was defeated by the elements. Many of the vessels composing the armament were either captured or wrecked, and several foundered; the remainder returned to France in a wretched condition.
  3. A return to this effect, signed by her commander, Captain Majeadie, whose name appears in the latter list, was presented to Captain Barlow; but the former officer at the same time stated, that the report probably fell short of the actual loss sustained, especially in killed.
  4. See Vol. I, note §, at p. 116.
  5. See Vol. I, p. 663*.