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Royal Naval Biography/Burgess, Samuel

[Captain of 1830.]

Son of Commander William Burgess, and a native of Cornwall. He entered the royal navy in 1790; served part of his time as midshipman under Captain (now Sir Thomas) Williams; obtained a commission in Nov. 1799; and was senior lieutenant of the Sylph sloop. Captain (now Sir Charles) Dashwood, when that vessel twice engaged and beat off l’Artemise French frigate, of 44 guns and 350 men[1]. We next find him commanding the Pincher gun-brig, on the North Sea station, where he captured a Danish privateer and a French armed lugger, in 1809 and 1812. He also assisted in expelling the enemy from the town of Gessendorf, and at the destruction of a formidable battery commanding the mouth of the river Weser, on which occasion he was officially commended for his “indefatigable exertions in forwarding orders to the different detachments” from a squadron under Captain Lord George Stuart[2]. His subsequent appointments were, Aug. 25th, 1813, to command the Vixen gun-brig; – Mar. 25th, 1815, to be first lieutenant of the Boyne 98, flag-ship of Lord Exmouth; – and, July 3d, 1816, to be flag-lieutenant to the same officer, in which capacity he served at the memorable battle of Algiers. On the 16th Sept. following, he was promoted to the rank of commander; on the 24th Jan. 1827, appointed to the Alert sloop, fitting out for a “particular service;” and on the 27th Nov. 1829, advanced to the command of the Warspite 76, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral (now Sir Thomas) Baker, on the South American station. The Alert was employed for a considerable time in the Pacific, under the immediate orders of Captain Jeremiah Coghlan, C.B.

On the 25th Nov. 1830, Captain Burgess assumed the command of the Thetis 46, then at Rio Janeiro, from whence she was about to sail for England, with specie to a very considerable amount. Eleven days afterwards he addressed the following report to Rear-Admiral Baker:–

Cabo du Praia decano, Dec. 6, 1830.

“Sir,– Under the most poignant feelings of grief and distress, it is my melancholy duty to communicate to you the total loss of H.M.S. Thetis, on Cape Frio, last night about 8 o’clock, with every thing belonging to her; the officers, crew, and myself barely escaping with our lives, by being landed through the surf up a precipitous rough rock, which some of the crew had been so fortunate as to reach by jumping upon the first point she struck against. By the shock of the bowsprit being carried away, all three lower-masts fell aft, and killed and wounded several; the former, with the. missing, amount to 16. I am sorry that among them are the late Captain Bingham’s youngest son, and Mr. Long, the Admiralty clerk. I am just landed, and am anxious to give you as early knowledge of this sad catastrophe as I can, in order to obtain relief for the officers and crew, who, from their cut feet and bruises, are unable to undertake a journey to Rio Janeiro. I trust you will make every allowance for this hurried statement, the causes being more unaccountable than any thing I have ever met with in the whole course of my naval experience; as, from all the precautionary measures taken, nothing but the strongest current, and the thick hazy weather, with hard rain, can possibly be offered in extenuation. I am, &c.

(Signed)Samuel Burgess.”

On his return home, in Mar. 1831, Captain Burgess was tried by a court-martial; when it appeared from the evidence adduced, that the loss of the Thetis was owing to too much confidence having been placed in the dead reckoning, in consequence of which she had unnecessarily deviated from the usual track of ships bound homeward, without due allowance having been made for the frequent influence of the winds upon the set of the currents on the Brazilian coast; and it was also proved, that under such circumstances the precaution of sounding, so strictly pointed out by the general printed instructions, was entirely neglected. The Court was therefore of opinion, that blame was imputable to Captain Burgess and to Mr. William Gowdy, the master, for their conduct upon the occasion; but in consideration of their former long services, and good conduct subsequent to the loss of the ship, did adjudge Captain Burgess to lose only one year’s rank in H.M. naval service, and Mr. Gowdy two years’ seniority as master; the remaining officers and ship’s company were acquitted of all blame.

Agents.– Messrs. Booth & Pettet.