Royal Naval Biography/Bingham, Arthur Batt
ARTHUR BATT BINGHAM, Esq.
[Post-Captain of 1812.]
This officer is lineally descended from Robert De Bingham, of Binghams Melcombe, near Blandford; whose direct ancestor formed a matrimonial alliance with the Turbevilles, of Dorsetshire, in the reign of Henry I,; and from whose fourth son the Earl of Lucan and Baron Clanmorris trace their descent. A place called Binghams, near Shaftesbury, now belonging to Captain Bingham’s mother, and which will become his own at her demise, has been in the possession of the family ever since they first settled in England. Binghams Melcombe was so named in consequence of the above marriage.
Mr. Arthur Batt Bingham was made a lieutenant, May 1, 1804; and at the commencement of 1809, we find him serving as first of la Nereide frigate. Captain Robert Corbett, on the Cape of Good Hope station.
On the 1st May, 1809, la Nereide sailed from Simon’s bay, where she had refitted after being dismasted in a hurricane, and proceeded on a cruise off the Mauritius and Bourbon, then in a state of blockade. In Aug. following, his ship’s company requiring a change of diet. Captain Corbett anchored off St. Rose, on the eastern side of the latter island, and commenced an attack, within grape-shot, upon two batteries commanding that anchorage. Immediately afterwards, the Sapphire sloop, Captain Bertie Cornelius Cator (acting) ran between him and the shore, and opened her broadside, which soon had the effect of silencing the enemy’s fire: a party of men from the frigate then landed, under the command of Lieutenant Bingham, who made the French governor prisoner, spiked the guns (6 in number), burnt their carriages, and blew up a store of rockets. Lieutenant Bingham then laid a train for the purpose of destroying a bomb-proof magazine, containing 100 barrels of gunpowder; but, unfortunately, the explosion took place much sooner than he expected, and he was blown to a considerable distance, badly scorched and wounded. Having succeeded in making a descent on Bourbon, Captain Corbett lost no time in demanding the necessary supplies, and kept the French officer on board la Nereide, until his requisition was complied with: in the mean time the enemy’s guns were brought off, and sunk in deep water, by Captain Cator.
In the performance of the above service, the British had several men killed and wounded: one of la Nereide’s marines was slain on the quarter-deck, by a grape shot, just as Lieutenant Bingham was passing him to get into his boat. Captain Cator’s conduct, and that of the subject of this memoir, was highly spoken of by Captain Corbett, in his official letter to Vice-Admiral Bertie.
La Nereide formed part of the squadron under Captain, (now Sir Josias) Rowley, at the capture of St. Paul’s, Isle Bourbon, in Sept. 1809. On that occasion. Lieutenant Bingham took possession of la Caroline French frigate, and conveyed her commander’s sword to Captain Corbett. Towards the close of the same year, he received an Admiralty commission, promoting him to the command of the Caledon, an old, rotten, iron-fastened ship, in which he shortly afterwards returned to England.
Captain Bingham’s next appointment was, about Nov. 1810, to the Little Belt, a Danish-built corvette, mounting eighteen 32-pounder carronades and 2 long nines, with a complement of 121 officers, men, and boys. In that vessel he proceeded to the Halifax station, at a period when the conduct of the Americans plainly shewed, that they were bent on war with England. On the 19th April, 1811, being then at Bermuda, he received an order from Rear-Admiral Sawyer, of which the following is a copy:–
“You are hereby required and directed to put to sea in H.M. sloop under your command, and proceed, without loss of time, off Charlestown, where you may expect to meet Captain Pechell, in the Guerriere, to whom you will deliver the accompanying packet, and follow his orders for your further proceedings. Should you not meet the Guerriere of’ Charlestown, you will stand to the northward, and use your utmost endeavours to join him off the Capes of Virginia, or off New York; and in the event of not meeting the Guerriere, you will cruise as long as your provisions and water will last, and then repair to Halifax for further orders. You are to pay due regard to protecting the trade of his Majesty’s subjects, and the capture or destruction of the ships of the enemy. You are to be particularly careful, not to give any just cause of offence to the government or subjects of the United States of America; and to give very particular orders to this effect to the officers you may have occasion to send on board ships under the American flag. You are not to anchor in any of the American ports, but in case of absolute necessity, and then put to sea again as soon as possible.
While executing this order. Captain Bingham was most wantonly attacked by Commodore Rodgers, of the U.S. navy, in a frigate mounting 32 long 24-pounders and 22 forty-two pounder carronades, with a complement of 475 men, including at least 300 British subjects. The following is Captain Bingham’s official account of this unexpected rencontre:–
“H.M. sloop Little Belt, May 21, 1811.
“Sir,– I beg leave to acquaint you, that in pursuance of your orders to join H.M.S. Guerriere, and being on my return from the northward, not having fallen in with her, at about 11 A.M. May 16th, I saw a strange sail, to which I immediately gave chase; at 1 P.M. discovered her to be a ship of war, apparently a frigate, standing to the eastward, which, when she made us out, edged away for us, and set her royals: made the signal No. 275, and finding it not answered, concluded she was an American frigate, as she had a commodore’s blue pendant flying at the main; hoisted our colours, and made all sail south, the course I intended, steering round Cape Hatteras, the stranger edging away, but not making any more sail. At 3-30, he made sail in chase, when I hoisted the private signal, which was not answered. At 6-30, finding he gained so considerably on us as not to be able to elude him during the night, being within gun-shot, and clearly discerning the stars in his broad pendant, I imagined the more prudent method was to bring to, and again hoist the colours, that no mistake might arise, and that he might see what we were; the ship was, therefore, brought to, colours hoisted, guns double-shotted, and every preparation made in case of a surprise. By his manner of steering down, he evidently wished to lay his ship in a position for raking, which I frustrated by wearing three times. About 8-15 he came within hail. I hailed, and asked what ship it was? He repeated my question. I again hailed, and asked what ship it was? He again repeated my words, and fired a broadside, which I immediately returned. The action then became general, and continued so for three-quarters of an hour, when he ceased firing, and appeared to be on fire about the main-hatchway. He then filled. I was obliged to desist from firing, as the ship falling off, no gun would bear, and I had no after-sail to keep her to. All the rigging and sails cut to pieces, not a brace or bowline left: he hailed, and asked what ship this was? I told him; he then asked me if I had struck my colours? my answer was, No; and I asked what ship that was? As plainly as I could understand, (he having shot some distance at this time) he answered, the United States frigate. He fired no more guns, but stood from us, giving no reason for his most extraordinary conduct. At day-light, saw a ship to windward, which, having made out well what we were, bore up and passed within hail, fully prepared for action. About 8 o’clock he hailed, and said, if I pleased he would send a boat on board? I replied in the affirmative, and a boat accordingly came, with an officer, and a message from Commodore Rodgers, of the President, United States frigate, to say, that he lamented much the unfortunate affair (as he termed it) that had happened, and that had he known our force was so inferior, he should not have fired at me. I asked his motive for having fired at all; his reply was, that we fired the first gun at him, which was positively not the case. I cautioned both the officers and men to be particularly careful, and not suffer more than one man to be at each gun. Nor is it probable that a sloop of war, within pistol-shot of a large 44-gun frigate, should commence hostilities. He offered me every assistance I stood in need of, and submitted to me that I had better put into one of the ports of the United States, which I immediately declined. By the manner in which he apologised, it appeared to me evident, that had he fallen in with a British frigate, he would certainly have brought her to action; and what further confirms me in that opinion is, that his guns were not only loaded with round and grape shot, but with every scrap of iron that could possibly be collected.
“I have to lament the loss of 32 men killed and wounded, among whom is the master. H.M. sloop is much damaged in her masts, sails, rigging, and hull; and, as there are many shot through between wind and water, and many still remaining in her side; upper works all shot away, starboard pump also; I have judged it proper to proceed to Halifax, which will, I hope, meet with your approbation.
“I cannot speak in too high terms of the officers and men I have the honor to command, for their steady and active conduct throughout the whole of this business, who had much to do, as a gale of wind came on the second night after the action. My first Lieutenant, Mr. John Moberly, who is in every respect a most excellent officer, afforded me very great assistance in stopping the leaks himself in the gale, securing the masts, and doing every thing in his power. It would be the greatest injustice were I not also to speak most highly of Lieutenant Thomas Levell; Mr. M‘Queen, master, who was wounded in the right arm; and Mr. Wilson, master’s mate. Indeed the conduct of every officer and man was so good, it is impossible for me to discriminate.
“I hope, Sir, in this affair, I shall appear to have done my duty, and conducted myself as I ought to have done against so superior a force; and that the honor of the British flag was well supported.
(Signed)“A. B. Bingham.”
“To Rear-Admiral Sawyer, &c. &c. &c.”
The following references to the Naval Chronicle will enable the reader to place himself more fully in possession of all the facts and circumstances relating to the above action:–
For remarks contained in the National Intelligencer, usually considered the organ of the American government; and for an account of the engagement, taken from the Norfolk Gazette, see vol. xxv. pp. 502, et seq. For remarks contained in the New York Evening Post, see vol. xxvi. p. 33; extract of a letter from Halifax, id. p. 34; additional particulars copied from the Nova Scotia Gazette, id. p. 35; statement by an officer of the Little Belt, id. p. 36; remarks on the same, id. p. 37; official letter from Commodore Rodgers to the secretary of the U.S. navy, id. pp. 38–40; strictures on ditto, extracted from the Boston Repertory, id. p. 198; American Court of Inquiry relative to the action, id. p. 423; President Maddison’s message to Congress, Nov. 5, 1811, vol. xxvii. p. 28, et seq.; British Court of Inquiry, id. pp. 57–61; and affidavits of two deserters from the U.S. ship President, id. pp. 61–63.
“Captain Bingham’s modest, but full and clear statement,” corroborated as it is, in every part, by the solemn declarations of all his officers, and by the oaths of the two deserters, who were British subjects, renders any comment from us unnecessary; “we have only to admire the extraordinary bravery and firmness with which he, his officers, and ship’s company, supported the honor of the British flag when opposed to such an immense superiority of force:” – these were the terms in which Rear-Admiral Sawyer expressed himself, in a letter to the Admiralty, dated at Bermuda, June 11, 1811.
The Little Belt was paid off soon after this extraordinary and unaccountable transaction; the Admiralty having previously refused to try her commander by a court-martial, although he had applied for a public investigation of his conduct, in consequence of Commodore Rodgers and Mr. Madison having both publicly asserted, that the first act of aggression was committed by him: the verbal thanks of the Board were subsequently conveyed to Captain Bingham by the Right Hon. Charles Yorke, who then presided over our naval administration; and a commission promoting him to post rank, was signed by their lordships on the 7th Feb. following.
In 1812, Captain Bingham, by desire of H.R.H. the Duke of Clarence, assisted at the installation of the Order of the Bath, as an esquire to the proxy of Sir Richard G. Keats. His subsequent appointments were, Nov. 18, 1813, to the Myrtle of 20 guns; Sept. 25, 1819, to the Dover, flag-ship of Rear-Admiral (now Sir Robert Waller) Otway, at Leith; and Nov. 9, 1826, to the Thetis, 46, in which frigate he is at present employed, under the same officer, on the South American station.
Agents.– Messrs. Stilwell.
- See Vol. I. Part II. p. 627.
- Calling upon the stranger, if a British ship of war, to shew her number.
- Commodore Rodgers officially reports, that the “appearance” of the Little Belt “indicated she was a frigate.” Had she been a deep-waisted ship, such an assertion might appear plausible; but she was a low flush-decked vessel, similar in size, number of ports, and general appearance, to the U.S. sloop Hornet: in length she scarcely exceeded the space between the President’s bow and her gangway ladder.
- Killed, – Mr. Samuel Woodward, midshipman, 7 seamen, and 1 marine. Wounded, – 2 seamen, mortally; 2 ditto, dangerously; Mr. James M‘Queen (acting master), 5 seamen, 2 marines, and 1 boy, severely; the boatswain, carpenter, 4 seamen, 2 marines, and 2 boys, slightly.
- See Nav. Chron. vol. xxvi. p. 82.