Open main menu

Royal Naval Biography/Beauchamp-Proctor, William

[Post-Captain of 1806.]

Eldest son of Sir Thomas Beauchamp Proctor, Bart, by Mary, second daughter of Robert Palmer, of Sunning, co. Berks, Esq. was born at his father’s seat, Langley Park, Norfolk, Oct. 14, 1781; and commenced his professional career, as a Midshipman, on board the Stag frigate, in Sept. 1794. Previous to the completion of his fourteenth year, this officer was slightly wounded in an action with a Dutch frigate, the capture of which has been noticed in our memoir of his first commander, the present Sir Joseph Sydney Yorke[1], K.C.B. with whom he continued, on very active service, until the early part of 1798, when he left the Stag in order to join Earl St. Vincent, commander-in-chief on the Mediterranean station; under whose auspices he completed his time as a Midshipman on board the Flora frigate, commanded by Captain (now Commissioner) Middleton[2].

Mr. Proctor next joined the flag-ship of Lord Keith, on promotion; and in Sept. 1800, he was made a Lieutenant into la Diane prize frigate, recently taken by the blockading squadron off Malta, in which we subsequently find him serving on the coast of Egypt, where he received the Turkish gold medal, in common with numerous other officers. His commission as a Commander bears date April 29, 1802.

On the renewal of hostilities, May 1803, Captain Proctor’s early and stedfast patron. Earl St. Vincent, was pleased to appoint him to the Zebra bomb, in which vessel he was actively employed off Havre, under the orders of Captain (now Rear-Admiral) Oliver, who speaks highly of his conduct at the bombardment of that port, in July and Aug. 1804, as will be seen by reference to the official letters written on those occasions, both of which are given in our memoir of Captain John Sykes, at the commencement of this volume.

In the latter month, Captain Proctor was appointed to the Saracen, a new brig of the largest class, which vessel he commanded on the Channel station until Mar. 1805, when he joined the Hindostan 54, for a passage to India, being ordered thither on promotion.

In July, 1805, we find the subject of this sketch assuming the command of la Dedaigneuse frigate; but owing to the ministerial changes which took place before his appointment to her was known in England, he had the mortification not to be confirmed as a Post-Captain for nearly fourteen months from that period. His commission as such bears date Sept. 5, 1806.

Towards the latter end of 1808, an occurrence took place off the Isle of France, which we shall describe in the words of a contemporary writer, to whom we are indebted for part of our information on this subject.

After relating the movements of a French frigate, on her return from a very successful cruise in the Indian Ocean, and informing his readers that Captain Proctor was then stationed off the Isle of France, Mr. James says:

“On the 21 St (Nov.), at sunset, the” (enemy’s ship) “Sémillante was discovered from the mast-head of the Dédaigneuse, who immediately crowded all sail upon a wind in chase, with light airs. At about midnight the two frigates crossed each other on opposite tacks, and were not more than half a mile apart. As the Sémillante approached on the larboard tack, the Dédaigneuse fired two or three bow-chasers at her; and, on hearing the French frigate beat to quarters, the British frigate discharged her broadside as the guns would bear. Putting her helm a-lee, the Dédaigneuse then prepared to tack after her opponent; but, owing to the lightness of the wind, the ship would not come round. A quarter boat was lowered down to tow; and at length, by wearing, the Dédaigneuse got on the same tack as the enemy. In the mean time the Sémillante had greatly increased her distance. All sail was again set in chase; but, having lost a great deal of copper from her bottom, being very foul, and at best a bad working ship, the Dédaigneuse kept gradually dropping astern. Finding this to be the case. Captain Proctor, at about 5 P.M., shortened sail and hauled to the wind on the starboard tack. Very soon afterwards the Sémillante anchored in Port-Louis; and such vessels of her convoy” (all English prizes) “as did not enter with her, succeeded in gaining Riviere Noire.”

La Dédaigneuse continued off the Isle of France until her water and provisions were nearly expended, when she proceeded to Madagascar, and from thence to Bombay.

“In the mean time,” says Mr. James, “some insinuations, thrown out by a portion of his officers, had induced Captain Proctor to apply for a court martial on his conduct when in the presence of the Sdraillante.”

That was not the case – Captain Proctor applied for a court-martial in consequence of the commander-in-chief having expressed himself dissatisfied with his conduct. – Every officer belonging to la Dédaigneuse gave strong evidence in his favor – all the rest of Mr. James’s statement is perfectly correct.

“The court sat on board the Culloden, in Bombay harbour, on the 27th Mar. 1809: and, after the fullest investigation, declared that the conduct of Captain Proctor appeared to have been marked by the greatest activity, zeal, and anxiety for the service; that the manoeuvres of the Dédaigneuse, while in the presence of the enemy, were directed with judgment and skill, very honourable to Captain Proctor; and that the escape of the enemy’s frigate resulted entirely from the bad sailing of the Dédaigneuse. An houourable acquittal of course followed; and the president of the court returned Captain Proctor his sword, with a very handsome eulogium on his character.”

Captain Proctor returned to England for the recovery of his health, in the autumn of 1809; since which period he has not been afloat. He married, May 19, 1812, Anne, eldest daughter of Thomas Gregory, Esq., and niece and heiress of Thomas Brograve, of Springfield Place, Essex, Esq.

Agent.– Messrs. Cooke, Halford, and Son.

  1. See Vol. I. p. 438.
  2. Whilst belonging to the Flora, Mr. Proctor was lent for short periods to the Alcmene and Minerve, two very active frigates, commanded by Captains Henry Digby and George Cockburn.