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Royal Naval Biography/Black, James

A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1813.]

Obtained the rank of lieutenant July 20, 1799; and was wounded on board the Mars 74, Captain George Duff, at the memorable battle of Trafalgar[1]. His commission as commander bears date Sept 8, 1810; at which period he was appointed to the Port d’Espagne sloop. We next find him in the Weazle brig, of 18 guns, on the Mediterranean station.

On the 22d April, 1813, at day-light, the island of Zirona then bearing W.S.W., distant about 4 miles. Captain Black discovered an enemy’s convoy close to the main land, making for the ports of Tran and Spalatro, to which he immediately gave chase. As he neared them, the merchant vessels separated, the greater part, together with 10 gun-boats, bearing up for the bay of Boscaline; these he continued in pursuit of under all sail: at 5-30 A.M. they anchored in a line about a mile from the shore, hoisted French colours, and commenced firing at the Weazle; the wind blowing strong at S.E. directly into the bay, her sails and rigging were considerably damaged before she could close with them; and seeing the enemy erecting batteries on shore. Captain Black was at first unwilling to go close in, but at six he anchored with springs upon his cable within pistol-shot of the enemy, and commenced action with them: they stood his fire for about 20 minutes, when the whole cut, ran closer to the shore, and again opened theirs; their increased distance was now too great for the Weazle’s carronades to have their proper effect; – she therefore cut, ran within half-pistol shot, and renewed the fight: the enemy then opened their fire from three heavy guns on shore placed at the distance of 30 yards apart, and from 200 or 300 muskets on the heights immediately over her: she continued engaged in this manner until 10 o’clock, when three of the gun-boats struck their colours, two were driven on shore, and one was sent to the bottom. The remainder were soon reinforced by four vessels of similar description from the eastward, which at first anchored outside the Weazle, and consequently obliged her to engage on both sides; but they shortly after ran in and joined the others, then behind a point of land, where their masts only could be seen from the brig’s deck: on forming a junction, the whole began a most destructive fire, their grape-shot striking the Weazle, over the land, in every part, while she could with difficulty man four guns, and at the same time keep the marines and a few sailors at small arms, several of her men being away in prizes, and two boats absent; added to this all her grape was expended. At 3 P.M. the enemy discontinued their fire; but after a silence of 40 minutes they once more commenced, and kept it up, without intermission, till 6-30, when the action entirely ceased for that day.

The Weazle was now in a most critical situation, being but a vey few yards from a lee-shore, almost a complete wreck, the whole of her running and greater part of the standing rigging gone, most of the sails cut from the yards, the masts shot through in several places, many shot in the hull (5 between wind and water), 5 men killed and 20 wounded: both her pumps being shot away between decks, it was with great difficulty she could be kept free by constantly baling at the hatchways.

At dark, the Weazle’s boats succeeded in destroying the gun-vessels that had struck; also those on shore, and eight sail of merchantmen; bringing away their anchors to supply the place of her own, all of which were rendered unserviceable by shot.

The next morning, at day-light, having then warped a short distance from the land, the Weazle was attacked by the remaining eight gunboats, and again assailed with a heavy fire of musketry from the heights; this was most annoying, the enemy having taken up a raking position, her last cable being half shot through, and the wind blowing strong into the bay, so that she could not venture to bring her broadside to bear upon them. All this day and night she was employed in warping out, but made very little progress, her crew being so greatly reduced in number, und almost exhausted with fatigue.

On the 24th, the enemy had erected a battery on a point of the bay, close to which the Weazle must necessarily pass; this they opened upon her about noon, when she arrived within range. At 1 P.M. the gunboats, having pulled out in a line astern, commenced their fire also, and, supported by the musketry from the shore, continued it all the time she was warping out. At 5, they ventured within range of her larboard broadside, but were soon driven off, from which period she received no further annoyance.

The conduct of Captain Black, his officers, and crew, during these three days of most arduous service, deserves the warmest praise; indeed, we are at a loss which most to admire, their determined bravery in action, or their steady perseverance in warping out of the enemy’s bay. One of the killed was Mr. James Toby, boatswain; among the wounded (twenty-five in number), were Captain Black, Lieutenant Thomas Whaley, Mr. William Simkin, master’s-mate, Mr. James Steuart, midshipman[2], and Mr. Benjamin Bremmer, carpenter; the first named petty officer lost his right arm early in the action.

Respecting this truly gallant affair, the late Sir Thomas F. Freemantle, under whose orders Captain Black was then serving in the Adriatic, expressed himself as follows:–

“In having the honor of forwarding, for the information of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, Captain Black’s report of his attack on an enemy’s convoy near Spalatro, it is my duty to represent what his modesty has not allowed him to make an official report of, namely, that he is himself badly wounded by a musket-ball, which passed through his right hand, and now confines him.

“Having made it my business to enquire and examine into all the particulars, I can have no hesitation in saying, that many would have undertaken the enterprise, but few vessels under such circumstances could have been extricated from such a force, and such difficulties, as were opposed to the Weazle. Much credit is due to Captain Black, his officers, and ship’s company, for their gallantry, perseverance, and steadiness.”

On the 24th May, 1813, the Weazle, in company with the Haughty gun-brig, captured and destroyed six French vessels, laden with grain, from Stagno[errata 1] bound to Cattaro: in the performance of this service, the second master of the Haughty was slightly wounded. Captain Black subsequently assisted at the capture of Mezzo, an island near Ragusa, defended by 6 long 9-pounders, a 5½-inch howitzer, and 60 men, including the commandant: his “zealous and indefatigable exertions” on this occasion will be fully noticed under the head of Captain John Harper, C.B. Another service of a somewhat similar nature, in which he was soon afterwards engaged, is thus described by Rear-Admiral Freemantle:–

“The boats of the Milford, with those of the Weazle, succeeded last night (Aug 4, 1813) in surprising the garrison of Ragosniza. They left this ship after dark, about 7 leagues from the land, and having passed the sea-battery within pistol-shot, unperceived, landed at the back of the island: at day-light, the enemy were saluted with a general cheer from the top of the hill, and our people carried the battery, open in the rear, without much resistance, containing six 24-pounders and two 7½-inch mortars.

“Although I have more than once had occasion to mention the zeal of Captain Black, I should be wanting if I were not to make known his unwearied endeavours to forward the public service, and how much I am indebted for the cordiality with which he received my suggestions: he speaks in high terms of the conduct of all employed. We sustained no loss; the enemy had 2 killed and 1 wounded. They seem to have attached much importance to this place, for the protection of their convoys, as two engineers, with a great number of artificers, were employed erecting a tower at the top of the hill; – those, with an officer of rank, made their escape; a captain, subaltern, and 61 soldiers, remain prisoners. The civic guard laid down their arms, and were permitted to return to their habitations.”

On the 18th of the same month, the marines and small-arm men of the Weazle, in conjunction with those of the Saracen and Wizard, brigs, destroyed two batteries, situated on commanding points at the entrance of Boco di Cattaro[3]. Six days subsequent thereto, Captain Black captured two French gun-vessels, from Fano bound to Otranto. Independent of their respective crews, amounting to 69 men, they had on board 16 military officers and 21 soldiers.

Captain Black’s post commission bears date July 20, 1813. He was nominated a C.B. in 1815.

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