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Royal Naval Biography/Brett, Peircy


Eldest son of the late Captain Peircy Brett, R.N.; and grandson of Captain William Brett, R.N., brother to Admiral Sir Peircy Brett, who, as a lieutenant, circumnavigated the globe with Anson; and afterwards fought a most gallant action, of which the following account is given by Schomberg;

“On the 9th of July, 1745, the Lion, of 60 guns and 400 men, commanded by Captain Peircy Brett, being on a cruise in lat. 47° 17' N., fell in with the Elizabeth, a French ship of war, of 64 guns and 600 men, and a small frigate, the latter having on board Prince Charles, son of the Pretender, and several officers of distinction, who were accompanying him, in order to support his efforts to land in Scotland. At 5 p.m., the Lion got within pistol-shot of the Elizabeth, when a most obstinate battle began, and continued with great fury till ten; at which time the Lion had lost her mizen-mast, and all her other masts and yards were so much wounded, and rigging and sails cut to pieces, that she became unmanageable. The Elizabeth not being so much crippled in her rigging, her commanding officer availed himself of the opportunity, set what sail he could, and got off. The Lion had 45 men killed and 107 wounded. Captain Brett, with all his lieutenants and the master, were among the wounded. The Elizabeth had her captain and 64 men killed, and 144 wounded; besides which she was so much damaged, that it was with difficulty she reached Brest. After the action, the frigate pursued her course, and landed Prince Charles at Lochabar, on the 27th of July.”

In 1753, having conveyed King George II. to Holland, Captain Brett received the honor of knighthood. In 1758, he was first captain to Lord Anson, in the Royal George, and subsequently commodore in the Downs. In 1759, he became a colonel of marines; in 1762, a rear-admiral; and in Dec. 1766, a lord of the Admiralty. He died an admiral of the blue, in May, 1781. His nephew, Peircy, first went to sea with the late Lord Hood; and was in the action off Ushant, between Keppel and D’Orvilliers, July 27th, 1778; but served mostly on the North American station. He attained post rank in 1787; and died in 1792, aged 32 years, leaving a widow and four sons, viz. – Peircy, the subject of the following sketch; Spencer Phipps, who, while serving as a lieutenant of artillery under General Skerrit, was killed in the attack of the bridge at Seville, Aug. 27th, 1812[1]; William Thomson, now a major in the Hon. East India Company’s artillery; and Henry, a lieutenant, R.N. which rank he attained in Oct. 1810[2]. The mother of these gentlemen is a daughter of the late Captain David Phipps, R.N., descended from Sir William Phipps, who, in 1687, after great perseverance, discovered the wreck of a Spanish plate ship that had been under water 44 years; for which service the honor of knighthood and a gold medal was conferred upon him by King James II. This medal, together with the first piece of silver that was brought up from the wreck, is still preserved in the family. Sir William, whose brother was Constantine first Lord Mulgrave, subsequently obtained the government of the Massachusetts, in New England: his descendant, the above-mentioned Captain David Phipps, died in the year 1811, aged 87.

Mr. Peircy Brett, junior, was born at Westbere, near Canterbury, Feb. 20th, 1785; and admitted at the Royal Academy, Portsmouth, May 29th, 1797. He first embarked on board the Royal Sovereign, flag-ship of Sir Henry Harvey, second in command of the Channel fleet. May 17th, 1801; served during the peace of Amiens, in the Bittern sloop. Captain Robert Corbett, on the Mediterranean station; and was appointed, by Sir Richard Bickerton, to act as lieutenant in the gun-boat service at Gibraltar, May 16th, 1805. On the reduction of that establishment, in Oct. following, he joined the Donegal 74, Captain (now Sir Pulteney) Malcolm; and, on the 23d of the same month, assisted at the capture of El Rayo, a Spanish first-rate, forming part of the division under Admiral Gravina, which, on its return to port after the battle of Trafalgar, had been immediately ordered to sea again, for the purpose of attempting the rescue of some of the disabled prizes. The other services in which he participated at this memorable period have been noticed in Vol. I. Part II. p. 592 et seq.

On the 12th Nov. 1805, Mr. Brett was appointed, by Collingwood, lieutenant of the Tigre 80, Captain Benjamin Hallowell (now Sir B. H. Carew); in Aug. 1806, to the Madras 54, Captain Charles Marsh Schomberg; in July, 1807, to the Repulse 74, Captain the Hon. Arthur Kaye Legge; and subsequently to the Queen 98, Captain Thomas George Shortland; all on the Mediterranean station, from whence he returned home in Sept. 1808. His subsequent appointments were, about Sept. 1808, to the Implacable 74, then commanded by Captain George Charles Mackenzie, but afterwards by Captain (now Sir T. Byam) Martin; – in Jan. 1810, to the Formidable 98, Captain James Nicoll Morris; and, in May, 1811, to the Egmont 74, Captain Joseph Bingham, under whom he served until advanced to his present rank, Feb. 1st. 1812. The Implacable was first employed in bringing home part of Sir John Moore’s gallant army from Corunna; and next on the Baltic station: – the Formidable formed part of a squadron under Sir Joseph Yorke, employed in escorting troops to Lisbon; and on her return was ordered to the Baltic; – the Egmont cruised for some time off Cherbourg, and ultimately bore the flag of Rear-Admiral George J. Hope, to whom was confided the care of the Russian fleet sent to this country for its better security, in the year 1812.

Commander Brett married, in Nov. 1821, Harriet, only surviving daughter of the late Thomas Brookes, of Henwick-house, co. Berks, Esq.

  1. A monument to his memory was erected at Seville, by General Downie, in Sept. 1812.
  2. The above officer was present at the capture of the Isles of France and Java; and has seen much other active service.