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Royal Naval Biography/Browne, Thomas

[Post-Captain of 1802.]

This officer entered the naval service at an early age as a Midshipman on board the Thetis frigate, commanded by Captain John Blankett, to whom he had been recommended by the late Hon. Admiral Barrington, whose patronage he enjoyed in consequence of a family connexion.

After serving for a considerable time in the Thetis, and witnessing Captain Blankett’s spirited conduct in resenting an insult offered to the British flag by a Venetian Commodore[1], Mr. Browne joined the Carysfort of 28 guns, in which ship he completed his time as a petty officer on the Mediterranean station. We subsequently find him on board the Barfleur and Royal George, three-deckers, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Barrington; with whom he continued till his promotion to the rank of Lieutenant about the close of 1790.

Early in 1793, Lieutenant Browne received an appointment to the Intrepid 64; and during the ensuing four years he appears to have been engaged in a great variety of services on the West India station, particularly at St. Domingo, where he was frequently landed with a division of seamen, to assist the British troops in their contest with Toussaint de l’Ouverture, and other native chiefs in the French interest; a contest attended with an alternate series of good and bad fortune, but from which our brave countrymen were at length obliged to retire, in consequence of the sad reduction of their force by that dreadful scourge the yellow fever, which is said to have carried off no less than 12,000 soldiers and 500 sailors, previous to the evacuation of the island.

In Feb. 1796, the Intrepid chased a French ship of war into a small cove near Porto Plata, on the north side of St. Domingo, where she was boarded and taken possession of by Lieutenant Browne, whose conduct on this occasion is deserving of great praise, he having volunteered to attack her with the boats, after his Captain, the Hon. C. Carpenter, had been induced to haul off from the shore, through the representations of his pilot, and an officer commanding a cutter under his orders, the former of whom refused to take charge of the Intrepid if any attempt were made to follow the enemy, whilst the latter, who had been sent to reconnoitre, reported that they had landed some guns and thrown up a battery for the purpose of defending their ship, which then lay aground. She proved to be la Perçante, of twenty 9-pounders, and six brass 2-pounders, with a complement of near 200 men, the whole of whom fled on Lieutenant Browne’s approach, and groped their way through the prickly-pear bushes to a town at some distance. The prize being got off without damage, was taken into the King’s service, and named the Jamaica.

Lieutenant Browne returned to England with his health greatly impaired by the pestilential climate of St. Domingo; notwithstanding which he continued in active service until promoted to the command of the Chapman armed ship, in 1800, previous to which he had been appointed, as first Lieutenant, to several frigates, and the Elephant of 74 guns. His post commission bears date April 29, 1802.

We now lose sight of Captain Browne till the spring of 1806, when he assumed the command of the Tonnant, an 80-gun ship, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Eliab Harvey, under whom he served in the Channel fleet till May 1809. He subsequently held an appointment in the Sea Fencibles; and after the dissolution of that corps acted as Flag-Captain to Rear-Admiral T. Byam Martin, in the Aboukir of 74 guns, which ship he commanded during the siege of Riga; on which occasion between 300 and 400 of his crew were daily lent to the gun-boats employed in the defence of that city.

Captain Browne was next appointed to the Ulysses 44, and stationed in the Belt, for the protection of convoys passing to and from the Baltic. In Dec. 1813, he conducted the army under Sir Thomas Graham to the Scheldt; and in the following summer escorted a fleet of merchantmen to Jamaica. On his return from thence he was nominated Commodore on the coast of Africa, where he had the satisfaction of destroying the only two British slave factories that had been suffered to exist until his arrival, one of which contained three hundred houses and a great quantity of stores. The squadron under his orders also captured thirty sail of vessels employed in the negro trade; and many more would no doubt have shared the same fate, but for the circumstance of his being obliged to leave the station in order to procure supplies at St. Helena, the provisions of the ships ordered to convoy the homeward bound trade having been completed from the Ulysses.

At St. Helena, Captain Browne received information of Buonaparte’s flight from Elba; and finding a very valuable fleet of Indiamen waiting there for the protection of a ship of war, he resolved to sacrifice his prospects of making a fortune rather than allow them to run the risk of being captured. Unfortunately the passage home presented him with no opportunity of resigning his charge to any other ship of force; and tranquillity having been restored in Europe previous to his arrival, the service he had rendered was not looked upon in so important a light as it otherwise would have been. It was, however, fully appreciated by the Hon. East India Company, who voted him a larger sum for the purchase of plate than had ever been given to any Captain before him[2]. Since that period he has not been employed.

Mrs. Browne is the eldest daughter of the late ___ Jenkins, Esq., who was lost in a hurricane on the West India station, just after his promotion to the command of the Guachapin sloop of war. Her grandfather and great-grandfather were also commissioned officers in the royal navy.

Agents.– Messrs. Maude.

  1. During the general peace which succeeded the contest between Great Britain and her American colonies, the Thetis, on entering the bay of Tunis, accompanied by the Sphynx of 20 guns, was fired at three times by a Venetian 84, bearing the broad pendant of a Commodore, and forming part of a large squadron then employed in the blockade of that port. Indignant at such conduct, and observing that the last shot passed close under his bows, Captain Blankett lost no time in anchoring alongside of the Venetian, and demanding an ample apology. In this situation the ships remained till the following day; when the Commodore, who had previously sent a corvette to communicate with his Admiral in the offing, suddenly got under weigh and proceeded to sea. Captain Blankett hereupon made the signal to slip and chase; and on closing with the fugitive gave her a shot, which being allowed to pass unnoticed, a second was discharged with so much precision, as to graze the rail of the stern-gallery, where the Commodore and his officers were assembled. This unexpected salute caused the Venetian to bring up all standing; and the British ships having soon after anchored, with springs on their cables, in a very advantageous position, her commander was at length constrained to make the required apology.
  2. The fleet alluded to was worth 10,000,000l. sterling.