Royal Naval Biography/Bourchier, Henry

[Post-Captain of 1811.]

Eldest son of Captain John Bourchier, who died Lieutenant-Governor of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich, Dec. 30, 1809[1].

This officer was made a lieutenant May 1, 1804: we first find him serving in the Unicorn frigate, and commanding one of her boats at the capture of le Tape-à-bord French privateer, of four 6-pounders and 46 well-armed men, after a long pursuit and an obstinate resistance, off St. Domingo, May 6, 1805[2]. His promotion to the rank of commander took place April 20, 1808, on which occasion he was appointed to the Demerara sloop, employed at the Leeward Islands.

From that vessel Captain Bourchier removed to the Hawke brig, of 16 guns, about Feb. 1809; and in the latter he captured le Furet privateer, of 14 guns and 86 men, on the Channel station, Feb. 7, 1811. He also witnessed the destruction of a 40-gun frigate, near Cape Barfleur, March 25 following[3]. The very gallant manner in which he obtained a post commission will be seen by the following copy of an official letter addressed by him to Admiral Sir Roger Curtis, Aug. 19, in the same year:–

“Sir,– I beg leave to state to you, that, in obedience to your directions, I proceeded, in H.M. brig under my command, to the eastward of St. Marcou, in order to intercept any of the enemy’s trade bound to the westward; at 2 P.M. St. Marcou bearing W. by N. six leagues, we observed from the mast-head a convoy of French vessels steering for Barfleur; all sail was immediately made in chase, and, on our near approach, we perceived them to be protected by three-armed national brigs, and two large luggers, the former carrying from 12 to 16 guns each, the latter from 8 to 10 each, apparently well-manned. Convinced, from their hauling out from their convoy in close order, it was their intention to attack us, I immediately hove-to to receive them, and at 3-30 P.M. Point Piercu bearing N.W. ½ W. 4 miles, the action commenced within half-pistol-shot, and continued with great spirit on both sides, until we succeeded in driving on shore two of the brigs, and the two luggers, with fifteen sail of their convoy; but, in the act of wearing, to prevent the third brig raking us, we unfortunately grounded, which enabled her and a few of the convoy to escape, although having previously struck to us. My whole attention at this time was to getting H.M. brig off, by lightening her of her booms, spars, anchors, and a few of her guns, &c. which was effected in an hour and a half, under incessant discharges of artillery and musketry, which completely lined the shore. I thought it then most prudent to anchor, in order to replace the running rigging; during which time I despatched the boats, under the command of Lieutenant David Price, my second lieutenant (my first being in a prize), to bring out or destroy as many of the enemy’s vessels as practicable; he succeeded in bringing out the Heron national brig, pierced for 16 guns, mounting only 10, and three large transports, laden with timber for ship-building; the rest were on their broadsides, and completely bilged, and he was only prevented from burning them, by the strength of the tide being against him; which service was conducted in a most masterly and gallant manner, under a galling fire of musketry from the beach, lined with troops. Lieutenant Price speaks in very high terms of the gallantry displayed by Mr. Smith, master, and Mr. Wheeler, gunner, who handsomely volunteered their services on the occasion.

“The grateful task is now left to me. Sir, to express my sense of admiration of the very steady, uniform, brave, and determined conduct of the whole of my officers and ship’s company, which will ever entitle them to my sincerest and warmest thanks; and I feel I am only barely doing justice to the merits of Lieutenant Price[4], in recommending him most strongly to their lordships’ notice, for his spirited conduct in the action, as also in the boats, and in short on all occasions; he is a most deserving and meritorious young officer, to whom I feel myself much indebted: nor can I pass unnoticed the zeal and attention of Mr. Henry Campling, purser, who volunteered to command the marines and small-arm men, and to whose continued and well-conducted fire I attribute the loss of so few men, which has been trifling, when the superiority of force opposed to us is considered, being only one man killed and four wounded.

“It is with much satisfaction I add, that H.M. brig has suffered in nothing but the running rigging and sails, except what damage she may have received from grounding; at present she makes nearly two feet water an hour; and as the prizes are not in a condition to proceed by themselves, I have judged it right to make the best of my way to Spithead with them, which I trust will meet with your approbation. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)H. Bourchier.”

Captain Bourchier was advanced to post rank on the very day that his letter reached the Admiralty, Aug. 22, 1811. His next appointment was to the San Josef, a first rate, fitting for the flag of Rear-Admiral Foote, who was then preparing to assume a command on the Mediterranean station. The narrow escape of that noble ship from destruction, in Mar. 1813, is thus described by a gentleman then resident at Plymouth:–

“His Majesty’s dock-yard here has been again placed in considerable hazard, by a fire which broke out in the Captain 74, lately converted into a hulk, and moored off the jetty-head. When this alarming circumstance was first discovered, the San Josef lay alongside, for the purpose of removing her stores, in order to be docked, and in a few minutes she would probably have been involved in a similar calamity; but every heart and every hand being on the alert, the lashings which fastened her to the hulk were cut, and she was fortunately separated: hawsers were got out, and she was speedily removed, with other ships of war, to a safe disance. By midnight, the conflagration, aided by the fanning of a light wind, had taken possession of most of the upper parts of the ship, and by 2 A.M. the internal parts were so completely ignited, that they presented the appearance of iron in a state of red heat, without losing their original shape and connexion. At this period, the spectacle was one of the most magnificent, but awful sights that can be conceived. The paly lustre of the moon contrasted itself at first with the fiery glare, but the latter soon assumed the predominance, and flung its influence over every object in the vicinity, imparting a singular hue to the countenances of the numerous spectators on shore, and of those on duty in the surrounding boats. Fearing the ship would drift when the fire came to the bitts that hold the mooring-chain, the shipwrights of the dock-yard drove large clamps in the bow, and ring-bolts through the stem, to which were attached chains, and sundry boats to convey her to the western shore. All attempts to scuttle her by the common means being found impracticable from the intense heat, some carronades and field-pieces were conveyed as near as possible in dock-yard lighters, and they discharged at intervals more than 200 shots, which penetrated between wind and water, but without effect; for as the hulk became more buoyant by the operation of the flames, she rose considerably, and the shot-holes appeared above water. This novel species of bombardment was rendered peculiarly grand by the attendant echoes, and continued until 4 A.M. when, being nearly consumed to the water’s edge, her bow gradually drooped, the water rushed in through her ports, and she majestically glided to the bottom, contending, as she went, with the waves, which were unable, for some time, to quench the mighty mass of fire, and glorious, like the hero who once commanded her, in her exit[5]! The fire was first discovered in the galley; but how it originated cannot be ascertained. A part of the San Josef’s stores, with Captain Bourchier’s property, had been removed to the hulk; the remainder of the stores, and the luggage of the officers and crew, were to have been transferred the following day.”

Shortly after this disastrous occurrence, Captain Bourchier was superseded, in consequence of Rear-Admiral Foote having accepted the appointment of second in command at Portsmouth, and the San Josef being ordered to prepare for the reception of Sir Richard King, who had selected another officer to serve as his flag-captain. We subsequently find him commanding the Medina of 20 guns, and Athol 28: he was appointed superintendant of the quarantine establishment at Milford, in Jan. 1827.

Agent.– J. Copland, Esq.

  1. See Nav. Chron. vol. 21, p. 87.
  2. See p. 422.
  3. See Vol. I. Part II. p. 691.
  4. A Post-Captain of 1815.
  5. We scarcely need remind our readers that Nelson had his broad pendant flying in the Captain when he boarded and captured the San Josef.