Royal Naval Biography/Blackwood, Henry
HON. SIR HENRY BLACKWOOD,
Baronet; Rear-admiral of the Red; Knight Commander of the most honorable Military Order of the Bath, and of the Sicilian Order of St. Ferdinand and of Merit.
This officer, the youngest son of the late Sir John Blackwood, Bart., of Ballyliddy, co. Down, by the late Baroness Dufferin and Clanboye, was born Dec. 28, 1770; entered the naval service under the protection of the late Admiral M‘Bride, and served as Midshipman with Admiral Cosby, on the Mediterranean station. In 1790, we find him doing the duty of Signal-Midshipman on board the Queen Charlotte, bearing the flag of Earl Howe, from whom he received his first commission. On the memorable 1st June, 1794, he was senior Lieutenant of the Invincible, 74, and during the action went with a message from Captain Pakenham to Earl Howe; after the delivery of which he received orders from his Lordship to take possession of le Juste, a French 84-gun ship, whose fire had recently been silenced.
On the return of the victorious fleet to Spithead, Lieutenant Blackwood was promoted to the rank of Commander, in the the Megaera fire-vessel. His post commission bears date June 2, 1795; and from that period until July 1796, we find him in the Nonsuch, of 64 guns, stationed as a floating battery at Hull. His next appointment was to the Brilliant, a small frigate, in which, after compelling a Spanish vessel of superior force to seek refuge under the batteries of Teneriffe, he sustained an action with two French ships of war each mounting 44 guns, and by a series of masterly manoeuvres, succeeded in effecting his escape.
Soon after this event, Captain Blackwood removed into the Penelope, a new frigate, of 36 guns, forming part of a squadron under the orders of Lord Nelson, on the Mediterranean station. In that ship, which for discipline, sailing, and manoeuvring, was the admiration of every officer who there witnessed her, he was employed in the blockade of Malta and watching le Guillaume Tell, of 86 guns, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Decres, who had escaped from the battle of the Nile, and taken shelter in Valette harbour. Under cover of a dark night, March 30, 1800, the French ship ventured out; but was soon descried by Captain Blackwood, who immediately gave chace, and in less than an hour arrived close up with her. The superior sailing of the Penelope enabled our officer to place her so that she became only casually exposed to the enemy’s stern-guns, whilst she repeatedly raked le Guillaume Tell within musket-shot, and with such effect that, just before the dawn of day on the 31st, the latter was reduced to her head-sails and spanker, and these were greatly damaged by the Penelope’s fire. The Lion and Foudroyant, ships of the line, were thus enabled to come up in succession, ana bring the enemy to close action, which continued with great fury on both sides for several hours, when le Guillaume Tell being totally dismasted, and, in consequence of her violent motion, unable to keep the lower-deck ports open, struck her colours, and was taken possession of by the Penelope. The total loss sustained by the British squadron appears to have been 17 men slain and 110 wounded; that of the enemy, about 200 killed and wounded.
Captain Dixon, the senior officer present on this occasion, in his official letter to Commodore Troubridge, declared that he had not language to express the high sense of obligation he felt himself under to Captain Blackwood, for his prompt and able conduct in leading the Lion and Foudroyant to the enemy; for the gallantry and spirit so highly conspicuous in him, and for his admirable management of the Penelope. “To your discriminating judgment” adds he, “it is unnecessary to remark of what real value and importance such an officer must ever he considered to his Majesty’s service.” The French Admiral also did ample justice to Captain Blackwood’s conduct, as appears by his letter, published in the Moniteur, in which he ascribes his capture to the heroic intrepidity of the commander of the English frigate, in previously bringing him to action, and damaging his rigging.
The Penelope towed the prize into Syracuse, after which she returned to her station off Malta, and assisted in the blockade of that island until its surrender, Sept. 5, 1800.
On the 7th Jan. 1801, Captain Blackwood received the royal permission to accept and wear the insignia of a Commander of the Sicilian Order of St. Ferdinand and of Merit. During the same year he served with considerable distinction under Lord Keith, on the expedition against the French in Egypt; after which the Penelope returned to England, and arrived at Spithead, March 19, 1802.
At the breaking out of the late war, Captain Blackwood was appointed to the command of the Euryalus, of 36 guns, then just launched; and in that frigate, on the coast of Ireland, under the late Lord Gardner, at Boulogne under Lord Keith, and off Cadiz with Viscount Nelson, he again distinguished himself by his activity and ability.
As every thing connected with the memory of Lord Nelson must ever be interesting to Britons, particularly those of the naval profession, we shall here give Captain Blackwood’s account of the conversation he had with his Lordship on the morning of the glorious 21st Oct. 1805, the last day of that great commander’s life.
“At six o’clock on the morning of the 21st, my signal was made to repair on board the Victory. In a few minutes I went on board, and had the satisfaction to find the Admiral in good, but very calm spirits. After receiving my congratulations, at the approach of the moment he so long and so often had wished for, he replied, ‘I mean to day to bleed the Captains of the frigates, us I shall keep you on board until the very last minute.’ His mind seemed entirely directed to the strength and formation of the enemy’s line, as well as to the effects which his novel mode of attack was likely to produce. He seemed very much to regret, and with reason, that the enemy tacked to the northward, and formed their line on the larboard instead of the starboard tack, which latter line of bearing would have kept the Straits’ mouth open. Instead of which, by forming to the northward, they brought the shoals of Trafalgar and St. Pedro under our lee; and also with the existing wind, kept open the port of Cadiz, which was of infinite consequence to them. This movement was in a great degree the cause of Lord Nelson’s making the signal to prepare to anchor, the necessity of which was impressed on his mind to the last moment of his life; and so much did he think of the possibility of the enemy’s escape into Cadiz, that he desired me to employ the frigates, as much as I could, to complete the destruction of the enemy, whether at anchor or not; and not to think of saving ships or men; for annihilation to both was his first object, and capture but a secondary one. During the five hours and a half that I remained on board, in which I was not ten minutes from his side, he frequently asked me, What I should consider as a victory? the certainty of which he never for an instant seemed to doubt, although from the situation of the land he questioned the possibility of the subsequent preservation of the prizes. My answer was, ‘That considering the handsome way in which battle was offered by the enemy, their apparent determination for a fair trial of strength. and the proximity of the land, I thought if fourteen ships were captured, it would be a glorious result;’ to which he always replied, ‘I shall not, Blackwood, be satisfied with any thing short of twenty.’ A telegraphic signal had been made by him to denote, That he intended to break through the rear of the enemy’s line, to prevent their getting into Cadiz. I was walking with him on the poop, when he said, ‘I’ll now amuse the fleet with a signal;’ and he asked me, ‘If I did not think there was one yet wanting?’ I answered, That I thought the whole of the fleet seemed very clearly to understand what they were about, and to vie with each other who should first get nearest to the Victory, or Royal Sovereign. These words were scarcely uttered, when his last well-known signal was made, England expects every man will do his duty. The shout with which it was received throughout the fleet, was truly sublime. Now, said Lord Nelson, I can do no more. We must trust to the Great Disposer of all Events, and the justice of our cause. I thank God for this great opportunity of doing my duty. About 10 o’clock his Lordship’s anxiety to close with the enemy became very apparent. He frequently remarked to me, that they put a good face upon it; but always quickly added, I’ll give them such a dressing as they never had before; regretting at the same time the vicinity of the land. At that critical moment I ventured to represent to his Lordship the value of such a life as his, and particularly in the present battle; and I proposed hoisting his flag in the Euryalus, whence he could better see what was going on, as well as what to order in case of necessity. But he would not hear of it, and gave as his reason the force of example; and probably he was right. My next object, therefore, was to endeavour to induce his Lordship to allow the Temeraire, Neptune, and Leviathan, to lead into action before the Victory, which was then the headmost ship. After much conversation, in which I ventured to give it as the joint opinion of Captain Hardy and myself, how advantageous it would be to the fleet for his Lordship to keep as long as possible out of the battle, he at length consented to allow the Temeraire, which was then sailing a-breast of the Victory, to go a-head, and hailed Captain E. Harvey, to say such were his intentions, if the Temeraire could pass the Victory. Captain Harvey being rather out of hail, his Lordship sent me to communicate his wishes, which I did; when on returning to the Victory, I found him doing all he could to increase rather than diminish sail, so that the Temeraire could not pass the Victory; consequently, when they came within gun-shot of the enemy, Captain Harvey, finding his efforts ineffectual, was obliged to take his station a-stern of the Admiral.”
“Of the Victory and Royal Sovereign,” continues Captain Blackwood, “it would be impossible to decide which achieved the most. They both, in my opinion, seemed to vie with each other in holding forth a brilliant example to the rest of the fleet. They were literally in themselves a host. Admiral Villeneuve assured me, that on seeing the novel mode of attack intended to be made on the combined fleets, and which at that moment, he confessed, he could not in any way prevent, he called the officers of his ship around him, and pointing out the manner in which the first and second in command of the British fleet were each leading his column, he exclaimed, Nothing but victory can attend such gallant conduct. When Lord Nelson found the shot pass over his ship, he desired Captain Prowse, of the Sinus, and myself, to go on board our ships, and in our way to tell all the Captains of line-of-battle ships, that he depended on their exertions; and that if, by the mode of attack prescribed, they found it impracticable to get into action immediately, they might adopt whatever they thought best, provided it led them quickly and closely along-side an enemy. He then again desired me to go away; and as we were standing on the front of the poop, I took his hand, and said, ‘I trust, my Lord, that on my return to the Victory, which will be as soon as possible, I shall find your Lordship well, and in possession of twenty prizes.’ On which he made this reply, God bless you Blackwood, I shall never speak to you again."
Previous to this parting, Captain Blackwood had witnessed with Captain Hardy, by Lord Nelson’s desire, the paper that has been so often before the public; in which the services of the celebrated Lady Hamilton to her country, during her continuance at the court of Naples, were strongly recommended by the Admiral to the attention of Government.
Towards the close of the action that ensued, and which terminated so gloriously for Great Britain, the Royal Sovereign, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Collingwood, being almost totally dismasted, the Euryalus was ordered to come and remain within hail of her, for the purpose of making the necessary signals; a service which Captain Blackwood performed with great attention. After the battle, the Vice-Admiral shifted his flag to her, that he might more easily communicate his orders to, and collect the other ships, and tow the Royal Sovereign out to seaward.
To alleviate the sufferings of the wounded prisoners, the humane successor of Nelson sent Captain Blackwood with a flag of truce to the Governor of Cadiz, proposing to give them up to the care of their own hospitals, on his sending boats for their conveyance, and giving receipts for their number; with an engagement that they should not serve again by sea or land until regularly exchanged; a proposal that was received with becoming thankfulness on the part of the Governor, and with the strongest expressions of gratitude by the whole country.
The Euryalus soon after returned to England, and her commander had the melancholy satisfaction of taking a part in the procession at the public funeral of his late noble friend. On this occasion he acted as train-bearer to the chief-mourner, Sir Peter Parker, Bart., Admiral of the Fleet.
At the commencement of the ensuing year, Captain Blackwood was appointed to the Ajax, of 80 guns; in which ship he accompanied Sir John T. Duckworth on the expedition against Constantinople.
At 9h P.M. on the 14th Feb. 1807, the squadron being then at anchor off the Dardanelles waiting for a fair wind to run up, the Ajax was discovered to be on fire; and in ten minutes from the first alarm, the smoke had gained so much upon those who were endeavouring to stifle it, that several men fell down with buckets in their hands, from suffocation; and though it was bright moon-light, those on deck could only distinguish each other by speaking or feeling; consequently all attempts to hoist the boats out were ineffectual, and the destruction of the ship became inevitable.
On the flames bursting up the main hatchway, thereby dividing the fore from the after part of the ship, Captain Blackwood called to the people to go forward and save themselves as fast as they could. He had no sooner reached the forecastle himself, than all parts of the vessel abaft the centre of the booms appeared in a raging flame. After exhorting the officers and men, to the number of 400, who were assembled about him, to be cool, and depend on the boats of the squadron, and finding that he could no longer be of service to them, he jumped overboard from the sprit-sail yard; and, after being about half an hour in the water, was picked up by one of the boats of the Canopus, and taken on board that ship much exhausted.
The Ajax burnt all night, and drifted on the island of Tenedos, where she blew up at five o’clock next morning, with a most awful explosion. The unhappy sufferers of her ward-room were Lieutenants Mitchell and Sibthorp; Captain Boyd of the Royal Marines; Mr. Owen, the Surgeon; and Mr. Donaldson, the Master. The Gunner, who had two sons on board, threw one of them into the sea, from whence he was taken up by one of the boats; but the poor man, going below for the other, perished in the flames. The remainder of the commissioned and warrant officers, 1 Surgeon’s Mate, a Pilot, 17 Midshipmen, the Captain’s Clerk, the Schoolmaster, 289 seamen, and 60 marines, were rescued, but several of them died after they were taken on board the different ships. Three merchants of Constantinople were on board; two perished; also a Greek pilot. One woman, out of three, saved herself by following her husband with a child in his arms down a rope from the jib-boom end. The total number whose lives were preserved, appears to have been 384.
The cause of this melancholy accident has never been exactly ascertained; but that there was a light in the breadroom, where there ought not to have been one, is certain; for when the First Lieutenant broke open the door of the Surgeon’s cabin, the after bulk-head was already burnt down; and as the Purser’s steward, his assistant, and the cooper, were among the missing, it is but reasonable to suppose the fire was occasioned by their negligence. In pursuance of the standing orders, Captain Blackwood had received the First Lieutenant’s report of his having visited all parts of the ship, with the warrant officers and master at arms, and found all clear and safe; he had also received the particular report of the latter, but not that of the subaltern of the marine guard, who was accustomed to visit all below, and make his report at 9 o’clock; at which hour, as already stated, this unfortunate event took place.
During the subsequent operations of the squadron, Captain Blackwood served as a volunteer in the Royal George, bearing the flag of Sir John T. Duckworth, from whose official letter to Lord Collingwood, relative to the forcing of the passage of the Dardanelles, we make the following extract; “To Captain Blackwood, who, after the unfortunate loss of the Ajax, volunteered to serve in the Royal George, great praise is due for his able assistance in regulating the fire of the middle and lower-decks; and when the Royal George anchored, he most readily offered his services to convey a message to the Endymion, of great moment, her pilot having refused to take charge of the ship. From thence he gave his assistance to regulate the landing of the troops from the [Turkish] 64, and setting her on fire; indeed, where anxious service was to be performed, there was his earnest desire to be placed. His officers too requested to serve in the squadron; and their services, in passing through the Dardanelles, met with approbation.”
Towards the latter end of 1807, Captain Blackwood, who had previously undergone the customary ordeal of a court-martial, and been fully acquitted of all blame on account of the loss of the Ajax, was appointed to the Warspite, a new third rate, fitting at Chatham; and in the summer of 1810, we find him commanding the in-shore squadron, off Toulon, consisting of the Warspite, Ajax, and Conqueror, 74’s, Euryalus frigate, and Sheerwater brig. On the 20th July, a detachment of the enemy’s fleet, consisting of six sail of the line, (one a three-decker) and four frigates, put to sea from that port for the purpose of liberating a frigate and convoy, which had been forced to take refuge in Bandol; and no less, to endeavour to cut off the Euryalus and Sheerwater; but the determined conduct of Captain Blackwood, who brought to in order of battle , with his little squadron, and engaged the headmost ships of the enemy’s line, had the effect of completely frustrating their intentions, as regarded the English frigate and brig; though the latter was under their guns, and repeatedly fired at by one of the line-of-battle ships, and a frigate, but without being struck by either. For his gallantry on this occasion. Captain Blackwood had the satisfaction to receive the thanks of Sir Charles Cotton, the Commander-in-Chief on that station.
In the spring of 1813, soon after his return from the Mediterranean, our officer captured three American letters of marque, and several valuable merchantmen. He continued to command the Warspite during the remainder of that year; and in May, 1814, was appointed Captain of the fleet assembled at Spithead, under H.R.H. the Duke of Clarence, who, it will be remembered, hoisted his flag in the Impregnable, of 98 guns, on the occasion of the allied Sovereigns’ visit to this country. On the 4th of the following month, Captain Blackwood was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral, and shortly after to the dignity of a Baronet of Great Britain. In Aug, 1819, he was nominated a K.C.B., and about the same time appointed Commander-in-Chief in the East Indies, at which station he sailed in the Leander, of 60 guns, on the 7th Jan. 1820. He returned to England, Dec. 11, 1822.
Sir Henry Blackwood married, first, Jan. 12, 1795, Jane Mary, second daughter of Launcelot Crosbie, of Tubrid, Esq.; secondly, June 3, 1799, Eliza, fourth daughter of Captain Martin Waghorn, R.N.; and thirdly. May 9, 1803, a daughter of the late Governor Francis Gore. His eldest son is a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy.
- The Blackwoods are descended from an ancient Scottish stock. The family estate in Downshire was sequestered by James II’s parliament, but restored on the accession of the Prince of Orange. Sir Henry’s grandfather was created a Baronet in 1763. The descent of his mother was, by her paternal grandmother, from Archibald Hamilton, brother of James Viscount Clanboye, ancestor of the Earls of Clanbrassil. Her Ladyship was created Baroness Dufferin and Clanboye in 1800, the next year after her husband’s demise. She was always admired amongst her numerous friends, for the dignity of her manner and the wit of her repartee.
- See note *, at p. 502.
- See p. 119.
- The Brilliant was at the Nore during the mutiny in 1797, and four of her best seamen were severely flogged by order of the delegates for speaking disrespectfully of them. She was one of the ships ordered by the chief ringleader, Parker, to moor across the Thames, in order to obstruct the navigation of that river. See p. 160, et seq. In the following year, we find her at Newfoundland, under the orders of Vice-Admiral Waldegrave, now Lord Radstock.
- See p. 378.
- See p. 281.
- An account of the last moments of Lord Nelson’s life will be given under the head of Captain Sir Thomas M. Hardy, in our next volume. Captain Blackwood went in his boat through the fire of both fleets, to obtain intelligence of his Lordship’s safety; and arrived in the cockpit of the Victory as he was breathing his last.
- See p. 316, et seq.
- See p. 316, et seq.