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Royal Naval Biography/Bremer, James John Gordon

A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1814.]

Was made Lieutenant, Aug. 3, 1805; and advanced to the rank of Commander, Oct. 13, 1807. On the 11th Sept. 1812, being then in the Bermuda brig, off Boulogne, he captured le Bon Genie, French lugger privateer, of 16 guns, but 4 only mounted, and 60 men. This vessel did not surrender till she had received several broadsides of grape, by which 3 of her crew were killed and 16 wounded, most of them severely.

Captain Bremer’s next appointment was, Jan. 1, 1813, to the Royalist, 18-gun brig, in which he assisted at the defence of Castro, on the north coast of Spain, between the 7th and 13th May following[1]. On the 6th Sept. in the same year, he captured the American letter of marque Ned, a very fine copper-bottomed schooner, of 280 tons, pierced for 16 guns, mounting 6, with a complement of 45 men. On the 21st of the ensuing month, the Royalist had 2 men killed and 9, including her first lieutenant and master, wounded, in action with Le Weser French frigate, the capture of which ship is related at p. 276. The following is an extract of his senior officer’s official letter on that occasion:–

“Any encomium I could bestow on Captain Bremer would, I am convinced, fall very short of his deserts; and I beg leave to return him, his officers, and ship’s company, my warmest thanks for the gallant support they afforded us during the action.”

Captain Bremer was promoted to post rank, June 7, 1814; nominated a C.B. in 1815; and appointed to the Comus, of 22 guns, May 30, 1816. He had the misfortune to lose that ship, on a reef of rocks off St. Shott’s, Newfoundland, Oct, 24, 1816[2].

On the 18th Sept. 1823, Captain Bremer was appointed to the Tamar 26; and in Feb. following we find him despatched to take possession of the northern extremity of New Holland, and form a settlement upon Melville Island, in the gulph of Carpentaria. This attempt to establish a commercial intercourse with the Malays is said to have completely failed[3]. He returned home from the East India station, Nov. 28, 1827.

This officer married, March 26, 1811, Mrs. C. Glasse, of Rochester.

Agent.– J. Hinxman, Esq.


[Post-Captain of 1814.]

This officer’s proceedings, while commanding the Tamar 26, and employed in forming a settlement upon Melville Island, in the Gulph of Carpentaria[4], are noticed in King’s Australia, vol. ii. p. 233, et seq. On the 8th Feb. 1827, he made the following official report to Rear-Admiral Gage, commander-in-chief on the East India station:–

“Sir,– I do myself the honor to inform you, that, having sailed from Bombay on the 20th of December, I proceeded with the squadron under my orders, in the further execution of the instructions I had the honor to receive from you.

“Cape Aden, on the coast of Arabia, was seen on the 6th of January, and having cruised there two days, I was, according to previous arrangement, joined by the Hon. Company’s ship, Amherst, from Mocha, having Captain Bagnold, the British Resident at that place, on board. I proceeded across the sea to the African coast, and on the 10th, in the afternoon, made Burburra.

“A number of native vessels were in the harbour, which, on our approach, got under weigh, and, by keeping close in shore, succeeded in escaping us, although a fire was opened on them, as it was my intention to have commenced a strict blockade of the port.

“On anchoring at the entrance of the bay, I sent Lieutenant (John) Downey, with an interpreter, on shore, to the Sheiks of the place, explaining to them the object of our visit (of which they had long been in expectation), and desiring to see them on board, giving them every assurance of safety: they promised to come off the following morning.

“Having, during the night, myself sounded the bay up to the town, at day-light on the 11th, the Tamar, Pandora (sloop) and Amherst, weighed, and stood towards it. On the Amherst, which led, letting go her anchor, the natives set fire to the town in several places, and commenced a general plunder; finding that they were destroying, not only their own property, but also that of the Banyan merchants (natives of India and British subjects, who, consequently, had a right to our protection), and considering that if the place were entirely consumed, the chances of obtaining any thing in the shape of restitution from the offending tribe would be much reduced, I judged that it would be best at once to shew them that they were in our power. The ships, therefore, opened an occasional fire of round shot only (over them), and the boats of the Tamar, Pandora, and Amherst, being manned with 240 men, including the marines of H.M. ships and the sepoys of the Amherst, were despatched under the command of Captain (William Clarke) Jervoise, of the Pandora, to take possession of the town, and endeavour to save as much of it as possible.

“The natives were formidable in point of numbers, consisting probably of 2,000 men, armed according to the custom of the country; but on the boats landing many of them dispersed in various directions: the judicious measures taken by Captain Jervoise, who occupied, with the marines, a commanding hill in the centre of the town, and two other positions to the right and left of it, soon reduced the fire, and restored some confidence; the people coming in by parties, and voluntarily giving up their arms. Part of a division, under Lieutenant (Jeffrey W.) Noble, being in advance, was, however, attacked, and a marine belonging to this ship was unfortunately killed; several of the natives also have fallen, which I much regret.

“Two of the Sheiks now came off; and having seen that order was in some degree re-established, our force was withdrawn at eleven o’clock, and a negociation entered into, regarding the retribution to be rendered to us. The Sheiks solemnly promising to use every exertion in their power to bring back the others of their tribe, and to settle the affair as we should direct. They had, however, been so dispersed, that it would require some days to recall them, and to convince them that we did not wish to injure them. Four days were accordingly given them to effect this object; and, as a proof that they were desirous to come to some understanding, they immediately supplied the squadron with fresh provisions from the neighbouring hills.

“I trust, Sir, I may be permitted to avail myself of the little affair of the landing, to express my thanks to Captain Jervoise. The occasion was in itself trifling, but it still may be considered to have been sufficient to display the zeal and judgment of that excellent officer, when it is remembered that he landed in presence of an armed population; decidedly inclined to be hostile, and of eight or ten times the number of his own men; it may consequently be taken as an earnest of what might be expected, when an opportunity more worthy of the display of his gallantry and professional talents shall present itself. Captain Jervoise speaks in the highest terms of the conduct of Mr. Downey, senior lieutenant of this ship, who was constantly near him and to whose presence of mind and steadiness he was much indebted. Lieutenant Downey has been several years with me; and I sincerely wish that the circumstances had been of a more important character, on his account; for he is an old, gallant, and deserving oficer. Lieutenant (John) M‘Donell, of the Pandora, was the organ of communication between Captain Jervoise and myself, and is most highly spoken of by his commander; who also reports, in the strongest terms, the officer-like conduct of Lieutenants Sawyer, of the Amherst, and (John Septimius) Roe and Noble, of the Tamar:– in truth, the presence of mind and steadiness of every officer and man was admirable, in a situation (surrounded as they were) in which the smallest indecision might have produced most deplorable consequences, and a shedding of blood, which it was my most anxious wish to avoid, – consistently with my determination to shew that we must be respected.

“Captain Maillard, of the Amherst, ran his ship into an unknown port, in admirable style: and I can only say, that, on real service, I should not desire a more able coadjutor.

“I fear that I have been betrayed into great length in the relation of these circumstances; but, when officers and men have so well performed their task, I trust you will consider that I ought not, as I feel that I could not, refrain from offering my testimony as to their merit.

“The Atholl having chased to leeward, by signal, did not gain the anchorage until the afternoon; or I am sure I should have received all the assistance from Captain Murray which the occasion could by any possibility have required. I now beg leave to proceed in my narrative of subsequent events.

“On the day appointed, ten or twelve of the Sheiks came on board: they expressed their contrition for the outrage on the brig, and their earnest desire to make every restitution in their power. – They said, however, that, unfortunately, the season throughout the whole country had been peculiarly bad; that their people had, in a moment of panic, destroyed the town, and a great quantity of valuable goods; and that the alarm of our visit had been so great, that the caravans from the interior, by which alone they could hop« to repay us, would not approach the coast: they therefore besought us to deal as leniently with them as possible. Thirty thousand dollars were at first demanded; but on their expressing their utter inability to pay so large a sum, it was finally reduced to fifteen thousand, which is to be paid in three yearly instalments, of five thousand each, either in money, or produce to that amount. They swore on the Koran to abide by this arrangement; and numbers of the people returned to the town daily, after the result was made known. Considering, however; that it would be necessary to have a written document regarding the transaction, I drew op articles of agreement, binding them to a due performance of their covenant. It was, most certainly, the first time they had ever been parties to any thing in the shape of written treaty. I was anxious to give them an idea of the justice of our dealings with, and intentions toward them. I also considered, that by endeavouring to raise them in their own estimation, I should not only advance them in the scale of civilisation, but add to the security of the commercial intercourse which might hereafter exist. The sum which they have agreed to pay falls far short of that which Mr. Lingard, the late master of the Mary-Anne, has stated to be his loss. But on an attentive consideration of this statement, it will be seen that much of it depended on his probable profits, if he had been in possession of his vessel; a mode of calculation certainly not admissible under such circumstances. It is well known, that the last season has been unusually bad throughout the whole of Abyssinia, no rain having fallen, and the crops consequently failing: the unfortunate burning of Burburra, by which property probably to the amount of 50,000 dollars was consumed, was another circumstance which rendered the expectation of a larger sum hopeless at the moment. On the other hand, it must be observed, that produce to the amount of fifteen thousand dollars at Burburra, will, on an average, bring at least twice that sum in the Indian or Arabian markets; and I therefore beg to express my hopes, that, on a view of the ease in all its bearings, you will. Sir, consider that the arrangement entered into was the best that circumstances enabled me to make. The inhabitants of that part of the coast had never before seen ships of war; the appearance of the squadron has had the best effect, by shewing them the power of that flag which they had ventured to insult. Intelligence of our force was, I know, sent from one extreme to the other; and their astonishment at the strength and magnitude of our vessels was so great, that I am convinced they will hereafter be glad to cultivate our friendship, and that a British vessel may trade without the smallest risk of molestation.

“I am happy in thinking our visit has opened a new and wide field for mercantile adventure, and the employment of British capital. The port of Burburra is a very fine one, and the articles of export from it are valuable – they consist of gums, myrrh, copal, the best kinds of hides, ostrich feathers, ghee, in immense quantities, ivory, and occasionally a small quantity of gold-dust: – their coffee is in extreme abundance, and is said to be equal to that of Yemen. These articles are brought down by caravans from the interior to Burburra, in the N.E. monsoon, from October to April, during which period the weather is very fine. In exchange for these valuable articles of trade, they take iron and linens, British or Indian; but it is very probable that broad cloth, and many other articles of English manufacture, would here find a ready sale, Sheep and oxen are abundant and good; the former, indeed, excellent.

“Burburra, unfortunately, does not, however, afford water but, eighteen miles to the eastward of it, at a place called Kearra, are good wells which produce that necessary in such quantities that the squadron completed in three days; in quality it was superior to any which is to be had in these seas, with the exception of Maculla, in Arabia.

“On the 6th, I received a request from Captain Bagnold, regarding the movements of the squadron, which I will make the subject of a separate letter; but I cannot close this without expressing my thanks to that officer, for the assistance I received from him on all occasions in which his local knowledge of the customs and languages of the country could be useful.

“Considering that no further necessity existed for the continuance of the squadron at Burburra, I sailed thenuce on the 6th, and intend to proceed to Aden, in order to take a cursory survey of that bay, and the one to the westward of it, as they are both imperfectly known, but appear to be excellent anchorages. By the means of thirty sets of sights for chronometers, the longitude of Burburra is 45° 4' 13" E., by lunar observations 45° 4' 30"; and its latitude is 10° 26' 41" N. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)J. J. Gordon Bremer.”

  1. See p. 140, et seq.
  2. See Nav. Chron. Vol. 36. p. 511.
  3. Morning Post, June 25, 1827.
  4. See Supplement, Part III. p. 300.