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Royal Naval Biography/Broughton, William


WILLIAM BROUGHTON, Esq.
[Captain of 1831.]


Son of the late Captain William Robert Broughton, R.N., C.B., colonel of the royal marines, a distinguished officer and circum-navigator, who died at Florence on the 12th Mar. 1821, and nephew to General Sir John Delves Broughton, Bart.

The subject of this memoir was born on the 23d Oct. 1804, at Doddington Hall, Cheshire, the seat of his grand-father, the Rev. Sir Thomas Broughton, Bart.; and entered the royal navy in 1817, as midshipman on board the Spencer 76, commanded by his father, and stationed as a guard-ship at Plymouth, he shortly afterwards went to the Royal Naval College, from whence he was discharged Mar. 1820, into the Rochfort 80, fitting out for the flag of Sir Graham Moore, commander-in-chief on the Mediterranean station. In June 1823, he joined the Rose 18, Commander Henry Dundas, and in Jan. 1821, the Cambrian 48, Captain Gawen W. Hamilton, C.B., which ship, after having been employed for three months in blockading Algiers, returned to England m the month of June following. We next find him proceeding to India, in the Boadicea 46, bearing the broad pendant of Commodore Sir James Brisbane, C.B., by whom he was entrusted with the command of a boat attached to the expedition against Ava, for a period of four months, during which he was in three severe battles and several skirmishes, the particulars of which are given in Chapter IV. of the Appendix to Vol. III. Part I.

Mr. Broughton’s promotion to the rank of lieutenant took place April 8th, 1825, but his commission, appointing him fourth of the Liffey 50, did not reach him until Jan. 1st, 1826, previous to which he had suffered greatly in health from the climate and severe privations.

After the treaty of Melloone, Lieutenant Broughton was sent to Rangoon with despatches, and an order to join the Alligator 28, of which ship he had charge during the subsequent operations of the combined flotilla in the Irrawaddy[1]. His next appointment was, Mar. 8th, 1827, to the Briton 46, Captain the Hon. William Gordon, under whom he continued to serve until paid off in April 1830. In this latter ship he visited St. Petersburgh, North and South America, the British West India islands, and Havannah. His promotion to the rank of commander took place Feb. 5th, 1830, on which occasion he was appointed to the Primrose sloop, employed on the African station. Four days after joining that vessel, he was severely wounded in action with a large Spanish slaver, the capture of which ship he thus briefly re ported in an official letter addressed to Captain Alexander Gordon, of H.M. ship Athol, dated at the island of Ascension, Oct. 5th, 1830:–

“Sir,– Proceeding in execution of your orders of the 3d Sept., I had the good fortune to fall in, at 11-30 p.m. on the 6th of that month, with the Spanish ship Velos Passagero, Jose Antonio de la Vega, master, from Wydah, hound to Havannah, pierced for 28 guns, hut having only 20 mounted; and from the officer whom I sent to board not being allowed to examine her below, as usual, I concluded she had slaves on board. Finding I had much the advantage of her in sailing, and wishing to avoid the effusion of blood by a night action with a vessel crowded with slaves, I remained by her until morning, when, being within hail, and still resolutely refused permission to search her, we opened our fire, which she returned immediately, the ships nearly touching each other; after the second broadside we laid her on board, and in ten minutes carried her, with a loss on our side of three killed and twelve wounded; the Velos had 46 killed and 20 wounded, out of a crew of as near as I could ascertain 155 men of different nations, and having on board 555 slaves, five of whom were killed. Being myself wounded in the act of boarding, my place was ably taken by Lieutenant Butterfield, seconded by acting Lieutenant Foley, Mr. Fraser, acting master, and Mr. Bentham, midshipman, to each of whom I feel deeply indebted for their zealous exertions; as also to Mr. Williamson, acting purser, who rendered his services on deck during the action; and I feel myself called upon to notice in particular the conduct of the acting surgeon, Mr. Lanes, who, though dangerously ill, exerted himself in an extraordinary manner in his attention to the wounded, having no assistant on board. I cannot speak too highly in praise of the gallantry and good conduct of the warrant and petty officers and ship’s company, who distinguished themselves not only for their steadiness in action, but for their great personal exertions in refitting the two ships afterwards. I enclose the list of killed and wounded[2].”

The Velos Passagero had been on the African coast at least two years, trafficking for a cargo of slaves, and endeavouring to obtain 1400 or 1500; but having been closely watched by the British squadron, she was unsuccessful, and about to proceed on her return voyage: fortunately for the objects of humanity, the Primrose fell in with her. In the act of boarding. Commander Broughton received a thrust from a pike in the abdomen, and was obliged to return to his own quarter-deck, faint from loss of blood, the intestine being partially cut. The enemy, who had been driven from their guns, were now strongly posted on the forecastle, and fought most desperately, imagining that they would not receive quarter. Of the twenty wounded men, six died. The Spanish commander had his arm amputated above the elbow, and another man underwent a similar operation close to the shoulder joint. The total number of officers, men, and boys on board the Primrose at the commencement of the action, including 25 native Africans, who secreted themselves until its termination, was 135. The Velos Passagero had not a single boy among her crew. For his gallant conduct on this occasion. Commander Broughton was advanced to the rank of captain, Nov. 22d, 1831; and as a further mark of the approbation of the Admiralty, his first lieutenant, Butterfield, was shortly afterwards promoted.

Captain Broughton married, in 1833, Eliza, eldest daughter of John Perfect, of Pontefract, co. York, Esq.



  1. See Naval Operations in Ava, pp. 107–120.
  2. Killed. – One seaman and two marines. Wounded. – Mr. Watts, boatswain, and one marine, dangerously; Commander Broughton, Mr. Fraser, acting master, and two men, severely; Mr. Bentham, midshipman, and five men, slightly.