Royal Naval Biography/Brace, Edward

[Post-Captain of 1800.]

A Companion of the most Honorable Military Order of the Bath; and a Knight of the Royal Orders of Charles III. of Spain; St. Maurice and St. Lazarus, of Sardinia; and Wilhelm of the Netherlands.

This officer is a son of Francis Brace, of Stagbatch, co. Hereford, Esq. He entered the navy when extremely young, about the year 1781; and after visiting the West Indies, where he served under Captains Macbride and Pakenham, proceeded with Commodore Cornwallis, in the Crown of 64 guns, to the East India station; from whence he returned as a Lieutenant of the Ariel sloop, in the autumn of 1792, after an absence of nearly four years.

On the 13th May, 1793, the Iris, a 32-gun frigate, to which Mr. Brace had previously been appointed, fell in with, and engaged a French ship of superior force; but owing to the loss of her fore and mizen-lower-masts, and main-top-mast, had the mortification to see the enemy escape. The Iris on this occasion had 5 men killed and about 30 wounded.

Mr. Brace subsequently removed with Captain Lumsdaine into the Polyphemus 64; and was first Lieutenant of that ship at the capture of la Tortue of 44 guns, having on board a considerable number of troops, Jan. 5, 1797. In the ensuing summer we find him commanding the Kangaroo of 18 guns on the Irish station; where he rendered essential service to the country, by beating out of Cork harbour during a heavy gale of wind, and conveying information to the different cruisers on the coast, of M. Bompard’s approach with a formidable French squadron, which was consequently encountered and defeated by Sir John Borlase Warren, on the 12th Oct. 1798[1].

We have already shewn in what manner seven of M. Bompard’s ships were disposed of[2]; and alluded to the drubbing which one of them received from an English frigate of far inferior force, previous to her capture: but having omitted to notice the zeal and gallantry displayed by Captain Brace on that occasion, we gladly avail ourselves of this opportunity to do so, taking Captain Newman’s official letter as our guide.

At eight A.M. on the 15th Oct. that officer, in the Mermaid, mounting twenty-six long 12-pounders, six long 6’s, and eight 24-pr. carronades, with a complement of 208 men, being on his way towards Black Cod Bay, in company with the Revolutionnaire frigate, and Kangaroo, brig, fell in with and pursued two of Bompard’s squadron, retreating from the scene of their late disaster. Having gained considerably on the fugitives before sun-set, Captain Newman was in hopes of bringing them to action that night, and made the signal to prepare accordingly. At the commencement of the chase, the Frenchmen kept their wind; but towards the evening, were right before it with all sail set. They then spoke and hauled from each other, which necessarily separated the British frigates, Captain Twysden in the Revolutionnaire, and Captain Newman, each pursuing one; the latter officer was followed, though at a great distance astern, by his friend Captain Brace.

The weather being very thick and squally, Captain Newman lost sight of the Revolutionnaire at 7 P.M., and shortly after of his chase. He then hauled to the wind, and was soon joined by the Kangaroo. On the following morning, he again fell in with one of the enemy’s ships, and lost no time in making sail after her. “At 3 P.M. the Kangaroo came up with, and engaged the enemy, in a most gallant manner; but unfortunately her fore-top-mast was shot away by the enemy’s stern-chasers, and Captain Brace was rendered incapable of pursuit[3].” Captain Newman continued the chase during the night; and at day-light on the 17th, perceived the Frenchman preparing to give him battle, as no other vessel was in sight. Despising his superiority both in guns and men, the British commander ran alongside, and commenced a warm action, which lasted from 6h 45' till 9h 30' A.M.; when the Mermaid, having lost her mizen-mast and main-top-mast, and being in other respects so much damaged as to be a mere wreck, was compelled to haul off, and her opponent thus obtained a few hours’ respite from her destined fate[4].

The Anson, a cut down 64, mounting 46 guns, and commanded by Captain Philip Charles Durham, having lost her mizen-mast, and main-lower and top-sail-yards, during the chase of M. Bompard’s squadron, and received very considerable damage in her other masts, yards, sails, and rigging, whilst engaged with five of the French frigates on the 12th Oct., had parted from her consorts during a gale of wind; and in this situation, with 15 of her officers and men wounded, 4 of the latter mortally, and her complement still further reduced by the absence of others in a re-captured vessel[5], on the morning of the 18th she discovered a large frigate to leeward, without her fore and main-top-masts. This was the ship that had escaped from the Mermaid and Kangaroo, and one of those which the Anson had engaged on the 12th. On the preceding night (17th), the Anson and Kangaroo joined company; and Captain Durham, thinking the latter’ s services might be useful in the Anson’s disabled state, ordered Captain Brace to remain with him. The Kangaroo, since her late disaster had, with creditable alacrity, replaced her fore-top-mast; and, as soon as her old antagonist was discovered, got up her top-gallant-masts, and made sail in chase.

The Anson, being far to leeward of the Kangaroo, was, of course, first up with the enemy; and, at about 10h 30' A.M., a spirited action took place between the two ships. At 11h 45', the Kangaroo came up under a press of sail, and received a shot from the Frenchman, accompanied by several vollies of musketry. To this salute, Captain Brace immediately replied by a broadside; and shortly after, the enemy’s mizen-mast fell. Already reduced to a defenceless state by the Anson’s powerful fire, she then surrendered, and was taken possession of by a boat from the Kangaroo.

The prize proved to be la Loire, of twenty-eight long 18-pounders, twelve long French 8’s, and six brass 24-pr. carronades. At the commencement of her first action (on the 12th), she had on board 664 men, including troops; 48 of whom were killed and 75 wounded, between that day and her capture. The Anson, in this last affair, had 2 men killed and 14 wounded. The Kangaroo, whose force was sixteen 32pr. carronades and two long 6’s, with a complement of 120 men, escaped without any loss. Captain Brace took la Loire in tow, and proceeded with her to Plymouth.

In Feb. 1800, the Kangaroo captured le Telegraph, French brig privateer, of 14 guns and 78 men; and re-captured an American ship and two British merchantmen. On the 25th of the same month, she fell in with le Grand Decide, a privateer, carrying eighteen brass 12-pounders and 150 men; the action which ensued, was fought in good style at close quarters, and lasted upwards of fifty minutes, when the enemy hauled off; and, although every exertion was made by Captain Brace to renew the engagement, succeeded in effecting her escape. The Kangaroo at this time had 44 officers and men absent in prizes, 6 unable to attend their quarters, and 4 employed below guarding her numerous prisoners; of the remainder, only 6 men were wounded.

Captain Brace was advanced to post-rank, April 22, 1800; and in the following year, commanded the Neptune, a second rate, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Gambier, with whom he afterwards served in the Isis of 50 guns, on the Newfoundland station. His next appointment was in 1803, to be Flag-Captain to his old commander and friend, the late Hon. Sir William Cornwallis, in the Dreadnought of 98 guns, on Channel service. We subsequently find him commanding in succession the Camilla, a 20-gun ship; the Castor and Iris frigates, rated at 32 guns; and la Virginie, mounting 46 guns, with a complement of 281 men[6].

La Virginie was employed on the Irish station about four years and a half; during which period Captain Brace captured the Guelderland, a Dutch frigate of 36 guns and 280 men, including 23 passengers; and two Spanish privateers, each mounting 14 guns. He also re-captured three British West Indiamen, and several other merchant vessels.

The Guelderland was taken on the western coast of Ireland, May 19, 1808, after a gallant defence of an hour and a half, in a night action, during which she had all her masts shot away by the board, 25 men killed, and 40 severely wounded. La Virginie had only 1 man killed and 2 wounded. Vice-Admiral Whitshed, when transmitting Captain Brace’s report of the action to the Secretary of the Admiralty, expressed himself as follows:

“The gallantry and officer-like manner in which this service has been performed, is as strongly exemplified in the modest terms in which it is related, as by the result; and affords an additional proof amongst many, of what may be effected by that order and discipline which I have observed to be so well maintained on board la Virginie.”

La Virginie was paid off in March 1810; and Captain Brace remained without any other appointment till about October following, when he was appointed to the St. Alban’s of 64 guns. In that ship he was employed on the Cadiz station, under Sir Richard G. Keats, who entrusted him with the command of a squadron sent to convey Lieutenant-General Graham (now Lord Lynedoch) and his troops to Tariffa, for the purpose of co-operating with the Spanish General La Penas, in an attack upon the rear of the French besieging army. It being found impracticable to effect a landing any where between Cape Trafalgar and Tariffa, Captain Brace proceeded to Algeziras, where the troops were disembarked under his personal superintendence. From thence the Lieutenant-General immediately marched for Tariffa, to which place the artillery, provisions, stores, &c. of his little army were conveyed in boats, notwithstanding the unfavorable state of the weather, by the indefatigable exertions of the navy. The famous battle of Barrossa followed; and the assistance afforded by Captain Brace to the combined armies, was most handsomely mentioned in the naval and military despatches respecting that truly glorious event[7].

Towards the latter end of 1811, Captain Brace removed into the Berwick of 74 guns, which ship he commanded on the Mediterranean station during the remainder of the war.

A gallant exploit was performed May 16, 1813, by a detachment from the Berwick and Euryalus, under the direction of Mr. Henry Johnston Sweedland, first Lieutenant of the former ship. Upwards of twenty vessels collected in Cavalarie bay, to the eastward of Toulon, under the protection of several land batteries, and la Fortune, a French national xebec mounting ten long 9-pounders and 4 swivels, with a complement of 95 men, were either brought out or destroyed, and the batteries taken in a period of time astonishingly short, the assailants sustaining no greater loss than 1 marine killed, and an ordinary seaman missing. The attack was ably planned; and Lieutenant Sweedland carried it into execution with that calm intrepidity which, while it leaves an enemy nothing to hope from protracted resistance, foresees and provides all that is requisite to ensure success.

In December following, the boats of the Berwick made anight attack on Fort Negaye, near Frejus, for the purpose of capturing a number of merchantmen lying under its protection. Lieutenant Sweedland, who likewise commanded upon this occasion, nothing daunted by the unexpected appearance of two French national schooners in the bay, gallantly pushed on, carried one of the latter and the fort, and obliged the enemy to scuttle the coasting vessels. The second schooner, however, found means to repel the divided force which assailed her, and Lieutenant Sweedland, Mr. James B. Hawkins Whitshed, Midshipman, and several seamen were killed, besides others wounded. The sailors in the fort now turned some field-pieces on this vessel, and damaged her so much, that she was finally scuttled by the enemy[8].

Captain Brace’s services during the operations which led to the surrender of Genoa and its dependencies in April 1814, were duly acknowledged by Sir Josias Rowley, who commanded the squadron employed on that occasion, in conjunction with the British army under Lord William Bentinck. After the reduction of that fortress, he acted as naval Commissioner on shore, until the arsenal was finally cleared of its valuable contents. He then returned to England, refitted his ship, and was again ordered to the Mediterranean. During the war with Murat, occasioned by that chieftain’s secession from the cause of the allied powers, the Berwick was employed under the orders of Captain (now Rear-Admiral) Fahie, at the siege of Gaeta[9]; on which service Captain Brace was the second in command.

On his arrival in England, about June or July 1816, all warfare between the European powers being at an end, and his health much impaired by long and anxious services, Captain Brace was recommended to seek benefit from retirement, and the pleasures of social and family intercourse at home. The dispute with the Dey of Algiers, however, occurring about this time, he was induced to comply with the express wishes of Viscount. Melville and Lord Exmouth; and without any interval of repose, assumed the command of the Impregnable, a 3-decker, which was to form one of the squadron appointed to visit that piratical tyrant, under the orders of the last named nobleman. When the ships arrived at Gibraltar, Rear-Admiral Milne, who had been appointed to the command at Halifax, but allowed, at his own particular request, to accompany the expedition, hoisted his flag on board the Impregnable, as second in command of the squadron.

During the tremendous battle of Aug. 27th, the Impregnable was hulled by two hundred and thirty-three shot, none less than a 24-pounder, about twenty of which passed between wind and water. She however not only maintained her perilous situation about three hundred and fifty yards from a fortification of three tiers, containing 66 guns, flanked by four other works of two tiers each, in which were mounted 60 pieces of cannon, and a redoubt of 4 guns, but succeeded, with the aid of an explosion vessel, in destroying the strongest of all the Algerines’ batteries. She expended no less than 6,730 round shot, and 28,800 pounds of powder. Her killed and wounded amounted to rather more than one-fourth part of the total loss sustained by Lord Exmouth’s fleet[10]; and her masts, yards, sails, and rigging, were much cut up. Captain Brace himself, was slightly wounded in two places; but as he did not allow his name to be included in the report, we suppose it was not his wish to make a longer list than he could possibly avoid, of the casualties on board his ship. The names of Rear-Admiral Milne, and one or two other officers who received wounds, were probably withheld, through the same motive. Such acts of modesty are truly praiseworthy, and should always be recorded.

After the battle, Rear-Admiral Milne removed into his proper flag-ship, the Leander of 60 guns, and proceeded with the commander-in-chief’s despatches to England; but owing to adverse winds, the duplicates brought overland by Captain James Brisbane, of the Queen Charlotte, were received at the Admiralty several days before the Rear-Admiral arrived in England.

Captain Brace having been nominated a Companion of the Bath in 1815, could not, consistently with the regulations of that Order, receive any personal mark of distinction from his own government, for this most hazardous but brilliant service: it having some time previously been determined, not to confer the insignia of a Knight Commander on any other than Flag-Officers in the navy, and General Officers in the army. He however received the Orders of Wilhelm of the Netherlands, and St. Maurice and St. Lazarus of Sardinia, for the skill and valour he had displayed at Algiers; and that of Charles III. of Spain, for his services at Cadiz in 1811.

On the 1st Aug. 1821, Captain Brace was appointed to the Ramillies 74, stationed at Portsmouth; and on the 31st May, 1823, to the Ganges of 84 guns; in which ship he is now absent on foreign service, with the Superb 78 under his orders.

It will thus appear that, during the long period of 43 years, this officer has been in almost constant employ, on various stations and services; his intervals of living on shore out of commission, being very few and very short.

One of Captain Brace’s sisters married the late Captain Newman, of whom we have spoken in the course of this memoir; another is the lady of Rear-Admiral Poyntz. Two of his nephews are also in the navy, viz. Herbert Brace Powell, Esq., a Post-Captain, and Francis Brace, Esq., a Commander. The names and services of those officers will appear in their proper places.

Agents.– Messrs. Atkins and Son.

  1. See Vol. I. p. 171.
  2. See Vol. I. pp. 171, 452, 493, and 535. The other two frigates, a schooner, and a brig, effected their escape. Napper Tandy, a celebrated Irish rebel, was supposed to have been on board the latter vessel.
  3. See Captain. Newman’s letter to Vice-Admiral Kingsmill, in the Nav. Chron. vol. iii. p. 43.
  4. For a memoir of Captain Newman, see Nav. Chron. vol. xxx. p. 361, et seq. At pp. 369 and 370, will be found a full account of his action with la Loire, and the very distressed state in which his little frigate reached Lough Swilly.
  5. See Nav. Chron. vol. iii. note † at p. 396.
  6. The Castor was stationed as a temporary guard-ship at Liverpool; the other three were employed as cruisers.
  7. The British and Spanish armies formed a junction at Tariffa, Feb. 28, 1811, and five days afterwards obtained a most brilliant victory over two divisions of Marshal Victor’s army. The loss of the French, who left behind them two generals, an eagle, and six pieces of cannon, was computed at 3,000 in killed, wounded, and prisoners: on the side of the allies, the loss was stated at 1,243 in slain and wounded.
  8. Lieutenant Sweedland was the eldest son of Sir C. Sweedland, of St. Helen’s Place, London; and it may with truth be said, that, by his premature death, the navy lost one of its ornaments, his country a real patriot, his King a most loyal subject, and his disconsolate family a source of joy. Mr. Whitshed was the eldest son of the present Admiral of that name; he served under Lieutenant Sweedland in the affair at Cavalarie, and by his conduct as a youth, he gave high promise of possessing those virtues so eminently conspicuous in the officer whose fate he shared. His last words were, “Carry her if you can: I am no more.
  9. See Vol. I. p. 718.
  10. See Vol. I. pp. 227 and 682.