# Royal Naval Biography/Carden, John Surman

JOHN SURMAN CARDEN, Esq.
[Post-Captain of 1806.]

This officer is the eldest son of the late Major Carden, a member of the Templemore family in Ireland, by Miss Surman, of Treddington, near Tewkesbury, in Gloucestershire, at which place he was born on the 15th Aug. 1771.

At the commencement of the dispute with our colonies, Mr. Carden, senior, (then a Lieutenant in the army) proceeded to America, where his services on many occasions were so conspicuous as to obtain him the rank of Major in a provincial regiment, “The Prince of Wales’s Royal Americans.” During his absence, her late Majesty, Queen Charlotte, attending to the recommendation of General Rooke, commanded Mrs. Carden to return from Ireland, and take charge of one of the royal progeny, as nurse; at the same time nominating her son, the subject of this memoir, a page to the King, and procuring him an ensigncy in his father’s regiment. Unfortunately, however, Mrs. Carden declined accepting the proffered situation until she could receive her husband’s consent a refusal which put an end to the youngster’s prospects of advancement, either at court or in the army; his name being immediately erased from the list of pages, and subsequently struck off the strength of his regiment, which extreme youth had prevented him from joining, although repeatedly ordered to do so. Mrs. Carden shortly after departed this life, at the age of 26 years; and was soon followed by the Major, who died of wounds received in action with the enemy, leaving two sons and two daughters.

Mr. John Surman Carden having ultimately determined to become a sailor, and obtained an introduction from the late Duke of Beaufort to Captain Charles Thompson of the Edgar 74, was received as a Midshipman on board that ship, in 1788. In the following year we find him proceeding to the East Indies in the Perseverance frigate, Captain Isaac Smith, with whom he returned to England at the commencement of the French revolutionary war; when he joined the Marlborough 74, commanded by the Hon. George C. Berkeley, under whom he continued to serve until his promotion to the rank of Lieutenant, which took place immediately after Lord Howe’s battle, June 1, 1794[1].

Lieutenant Carden, whose sight had been materially injured by an explosion of gunpowder during the above engagement, subsequently followed Captain Berkeley into the Formidable, a second-rate; and on leaving that ship, joined the Barfleur, another three-decker, commanded by the late Vice-Admiral Dacres. His next appointment was to the Queen Charlotte, of 100 guns, bearing the flag of his friend, Sir Charles Thompson, through whose influence he became first Lieutenant of the Fisgard frigate, fitting at Plymouth, in Sept. 1798. His commission as Commander, dated Oct. 25, in the same year, was presented to him on account of his gallant conduct in an action with l’Immortalité, of 42 guns and 580 men, the capture of which ship has already been described in our memoir of Sir Thomas Byam Martin, K.C.B.[2], from whose official letter to Lord Bridport we make the following extract:

“I should wish to recommend the steady good conduct of Mr. Carden, first Lieutenant of the Fisgard, on this occasion, but not to the prejudice of any other person, as every officer and man on board behaved with that courage and intrepidity which at all times distinguish his Majesty’s subjects in the presence of an enemy.”

In the summer of 1800, Captain Carden was appointed to the Sheerness, a 44-gun ship, armed en flute, attached to the expedition then about to sail for the Helder, where he commanded a division of boats at the debarkation of the army, under cover of a warm and well-directed fire from the bombs, gun-brigs, and other small vessels[3].

During the remainder of the war, he appears to have been employed in co-operation with the French royalists, on the coast of la Vendee; and conveying troops to the Mediterranean and Red Sea, for the purpose of reinforcing the British army in Egypt.

This latter service afforded Captain Carden an opportunity of crossing the desert of Suez, and visiting Grand Cairo, from whence he returned to his ship, bringing with him, as volunteers for the different regiments in India, many of the very men whom he had previously landed at Minorca. On his return from the Red Sea he surveyed the ports of Zeyla and Barbora, in the Arabian Gulf (ports which had never before been entered by any European ship), and with much difficulty, as well as personal risk, succeeded in establishing a source of supply for his countrymen, should any reverse have obliged the army to approach that quarter. His exertions at this period are thus noticed in a letter written by the late Rear-Admiral John Sprat Rainier, dated Dec. 23, 1820:

“My dear Carden,– I look back with pleasure to our arduous services in the Red Sea and India; though being performed in that remote region, they are unknown and unnoticed in this quarter of the globe. The Governor of Bombay attributed the preservation of the magazines, arsenal, and dock, almost entirely, to the zealous and active exertions of the navy, when that rich and combustible city was nearly reduced to ashes: your distinguished conduct on that occasion, I well remember. But our exertions did not terminate here; we rescued the property of thousands, and the lives of many, at the extreme peril of our own. I imagine Sir Home Popham, if alive, would have borne testimony to the value of your assistance in that remarkable and most essential service of enabling the British army to cross the desert between Cossire and the Nile, which it is allowed would have been impracticable but with the aid the squadron afforded at the very crisis of commencing their march[4].” * * * *

The fire alluded to by Rear-Admiral Rainer, broke out at Bombay on the 17th Feb. 1803, and burnt down the greater part of the town, leaving only the dock-yard, arsenal, castle, and European buildings. In the midst of the conflagration, Captain Carden distinguished himself by his intrepidity in forcing open a magazine, the outer door of which had already caught fire, and setting a noble example to his men, by seizing the nearest barrel of gunpowder, carrying it, covered with his jacket, to the ramparts, and throwing it from thence into the ditch. By this daring act, the lives of many hundred persons were saved; yet, strange to say, the only reward Captain Carden ever received was the thanks of the Governor and Council, conveyed to him, in common with other officers, through the naval commander-in-chief. He was soon after obliged to invalid in consequence of hepatitis, brought on by his great exertions, and return home as a passenger on board an Indiaman.

Captain Carden’s next appointment, which took place immediately after his arrival in England, was to command the Sea Fencibles quartered on the borders of the Frith of Forth, where he continued until appointed to the Moselle brig in Dec. 1804. Previous to his quitting North Britain, he was presented with the freedom of the united boroughs of Burntisland, Kirkaldy, Kinghorn, and Dysart. His postcommission bears date Jan. 22, 1806; but he does not appear to have given up the command of the Moselle until the month of March following. A letter from Captain George Mundy, bearing testimony to his attentive and able conduct while engaged in the blockade of Cadiz, will be found at p. 336 of this volume.

In Jan. 1809, we find Captain Carden commanding the Ville de Paris, a first-rate, and assisting at the embarkation of the unfortunate army which had entered Spain under Sir John Moore. Speaking of this service, his friend, Rear-Admiral Rainer, continues his letter in the following terms:–

“ * * * * Sir David Baird will join me in this[5], as well as in the estimation of your services at Corunna. The services of the navy upon this occasion, have been depressed by the misfortunes of the period, including the state of the weather, which caused the fleet to disperse, and was destructive of all order; and they have been obscured by political misrepresentations. The fact was this, that with the boats of the men of war and transports only, and under the disadvantage of a gale of wind, and night operations, we embarked the whole army, amounting, if my memory be correct; to 24,000 men, in about 36 hours. In all this, you performed, as upon other occasions, a zealous and important part. Believe me ever, my dear Carden, most truly yours,

(Signed)J. S. Rainier.”

Captain Carden was afterwards appointed in succession to the Ocean 98, Mars 74, and Macedonian frigate. His capture, by an American man of war, is thus described by him in a letter to John Wilson Croker, Esq. dated at sea, Oct. 28, 1812:–

“Sir,– It is with the deepest regret I have to acquaint you, for the information of my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that H.M. late ship Macedonian, was captured on the 25th instant, by the U.S. ship United States, Commodore Decatur, commander: the detail is as follows:

“The truly noble and animating conduct of my officers, and the steady bravery of my crew, to the last moment of the battle, must ever render them dear to their country.

“My first Lieutenant, David Hope, was severely wounded in the head, towards the close of the battle, and taken below; but was soon again on deck, displaying that greatness of mind, and exertion, which, though it may be equalled, can never be excelled; the third Lieutenant, John Bulford, was also wounded, but not obliged to quit his quarters; the second Lieutenant, Samuel Mottley, and he, deserve my highest acknowledgments. The cool and steady conduct of Mr. Walker, the Master, was very conspicuous during the battle; as also that of Lieutenants Wilson and Magill, of the marines.

“On being taken on board the enemy’s ship, I ceased to wonder at the result of the battle. The United States is built with the scantling of a 74 gun-ship, mounting thirty long 24-pounders (English ship guns) on her main-deck, and twenty-two 42-pounder carronades, with two long 24-pounders on her quarter-deck and forecastle, howitzer guns in her tops[7], and a travelling carronade on her upper-deck; with a complement of 478 picked men.

“The enemy has suffered much in masts, rigging, and hull, above and below water; her loss in killed and wounded I am not aware of, but I know a Lieutenant and 6 men have been thrown overboard[8].

(Signed)John S. Carden.”

As no correct account of the Macedonian’s armament has hitherto been published, we shall here give an authentic statement, shewing the comparative force of that ship and her formidable opponent.

 MACEDONIAN UNITED STATES Main-deck ... 28 long eighteen-pounders 30 long twenty-four-pounders. Quarter-deck,andForecastle, ${\displaystyle \scriptstyle {\left.{\begin{matrix}\ \\\\\ \ \end{matrix}}\right\}\,}}$ ${\displaystyle \scriptstyle {\left\{{\begin{matrix}\ \\\\\ \ \end{matrix}}\right.}}$ 16 thirty-two-pounder carronades, ${\displaystyle \scriptstyle {\left.{\begin{matrix}\ \\\\\ \ \end{matrix}}\right\}\,}}$ ${\displaystyle \scriptstyle {\left\{{\begin{matrix}\ \\\\\ \ \end{matrix}}\right.}}$ 22 forty-two-pounder carronades, 2 long twelve-pounders, and 2 ditto brass eight-pounders[9]. 2 long twenty-four-pounders. Total 48 guns, exclusive ofa boat’s carronade. 54 guns, exclusive of three⁠howitzer-pieces in the tops,⁠and a travelling carronade.
 Broadside weight of metal ${\displaystyle \scriptstyle {\left\{{\begin{matrix}\ \\\ \end{matrix}}\right.}}$ long guns, 272 ${\displaystyle \scriptstyle {\left.{\begin{matrix}\ \\\ \end{matrix}}\right\}\,}}$ 528 pounds. ${\displaystyle \scriptstyle {\left\{{\begin{matrix}\ \\\ \end{matrix}}\right.}}$ long guns, 384 ${\displaystyle \scriptstyle {\left.{\begin{matrix}\ \\\ \end{matrix}}\right\}\,}}$ 846 pounds. carronades, 256 carronades, 462
 Complement ${\displaystyle \scriptstyle {\left\{{\begin{matrix}\ \\\\\ \ \end{matrix}}\right.}}$ Officers 23 ${\displaystyle \scriptstyle {\left.{\begin{matrix}\ \\\\\ \ \end{matrix}}\right\}\,}}$ Total 297[10] ${\displaystyle \scriptstyle {\left\{{\begin{matrix}\ \\\\\ \ \end{matrix}}\right.}}$ 80 ${\displaystyle \scriptstyle {\left.{\begin{matrix}\ \\\\\ \ \end{matrix}}\right\}\,}}$ Total 509[11]. Seamen and Marines 178 478 Landsmen 61 [12] Boys 35 1 Size in tons 1081 1670[13].
The manner in which Captain Carden was received by his generous enemy, after the surrender of the Macedonian, is worthy of mention. On presenting his sword to Commodore Decatur, the latter started back, declared he never could take the sword of a man who had so nobly defended the honor of it, requested the hand of that gallant officer, whom it had been his fortune in war to subdue, and added, that though he could not claim any merit for capturing a ship so inferior, he felt assured Captain Carden would gain much, by his persevering and truly gallant defence[14]. The Commodore subsequently gave up all the British officers’ private property, extending his generosity to even a quantity of wine, which they had purchased at Madeira for their friends in England.

Captain Carden, his officers, and surviving crew, returned to Bermuda in Mar. 1813; and on the 27th May following, a court-martial was assembled on board the St. Domingo 74, to inquire into their conduct during the above action, and to try them for surrendering their ship. The following is an extract from the sentence:–

“The Court having most strictly investigated (during its sitting of four days) every circumstance, and examined the different officers, and many of the crew, and having very deliberately and maturely weighed and considered the whole and every part thereof, is of opinion–

“That, previous to the commencement of the action, from an over anxiety to keep the weather gage, an opportunity was lost of closing with the enemy; and that, owing to this circumstance, the Macedonian was unable to bring the United States to close action, until she had received material damage; but as it does not appear that this omission originated in the most distant wish to keep back from the engagement, the Court is of opinion, that Captain John Surman Carden, the officers, and ship’s company, in every instance throughout the action, behaved with the firmest and most determined courage, resolution, and coolness, and that the colours of the Macedonian were not struck until she was unable to make further resistance. The Court does, therefore, most honorably acquit Captain John Surman Carden, the officers and remaining company of his Majesty’s late ship Macedonian; and they are most honorably acquitted accordingly.

“The Court cannot dismiss Captain Carden, without expressing its admiration of the uniform testimony which has been borne to his gallantry and good conduct throughout the action; nor Lieutenant David Hope, the other officers, and ship’s company, without expressing the highest approbation of the support given by him and them to their Captain, and of their courage and steadiness during the contest with an enemy of very superior force; a circumstance, that whilst it reflects high honour on them, does no less credit to the discipline of the Macedonian. The Court also feels it a gratifying duty to express its admiration of the fidelity to their allegiance, and attachment to their King and Country, which the remaining crew appear to have manifested, in resisting the various insidious and repeated temptations which the enemy held out to seduce them from their duty, and which cannot fail to be fully appreciated.”

The President, Commodore Henry Hotham, on returning Captain Carden his sword, highly extolled the distinguished valour displayed by him, and concluded hy saying, that whenever the honor of the British flag should be entrusted to him, he felt assured it would receive additional glory.

The approbation of an enormously thronged court, on this occasion, was enthusiastic to a degree. Captain Carden was immediately charged, by the commander-in-chief, with despatches for the Admiralty, and he arrived in London the very morning previous to a discussion in the House of Commons[15] on the “despondent and heartless state of the British navy” when the gallant defence made by the Macedonian appears to have been adduced by Ministers as the criterion of British valour, as well as to confute the unjust charge preferred by Lord Cochrane, the framer of the motion; in reply to whose animadversions, Mr. Croker, Secretary to the Admiralty, expressed himself in terms to the following effect:–

“He would assert, without the fear of contradiction, that no person in that House, or in the Country, except the noble Lord himself, ever thought of attributing the captures made from us by the Americans, to the despondent spirit and heartless state of our crews, and not to the superior dimensions and weight of metal of the enemy’s ships. What would be the consequence, were the noble Lord’s assertions to be admitted by the House? What was the fact with regard to the Java and the Macedonian? Were the brave and gallant men who fought the Macedonian against an overbearing superiority of size and numbers, and an overwhelming superiority of metal, despondent, faint, and heartless? The Macedonian had been fought with such determined gallantry, and such persevering intrepidity, as to give the officers and men an honor, that was as justly merited as it wag pure and untainted; and it was only now attempted to, be blown upon by the noble Lord. He would state one fact respecting the courageous and dauntless character maintained by the crew of that frigate in the extremity and crisis of danger. Immediately before the surrender of the Macedonian, loud, cordial, and repeated cheering was given he could not better describe the nature of these cheers, nor more adequately praise the noble spirit displayed by her crew, than by assuring the House, that the cheering proceeded from the cockpit; and that the wounded and the dying were those who raised the patriotic shouts. Would the noble Lord call these men depressed and heartless, who were not only susceptible of such manly and generous feelings, but who were capable of giving to them, even in the bitter moments of bodily anguish, and inevitable death, the energetic tone and expression so truly characteristic of British seamen?”

On the day after the debate alluded to, several members of the House of Commons waited upon Captain Carden, congratulated him on his arrival in England, and declared they had never witnessed more enthusiastic applause than the recital of his gallant defence had the night before created. On revisiting his native place he was received with unbounded acclamations of joy and respect; and soon after honored with the freedom of Worcester, Gloucester, and Tewkesbury. The following is an extract from the Naval Chronicle, vol. 30, p. 182:–

“On the 23d Aug. (1813), the Earl of Coventry entertained the Mayor and Corporation of Worcester with a splendid dinner at Croome; after which a most interesting ceremony followed, in the presentation of the freedom of that city to the gallant Captain Carden, by the Earl of Coventry, at the head of the Body Corporate, who had previously voted it to him at a Chamber Meeting. Upon which occasion the noble Earl addressed Captain Carden in the following words:–

“Captain Carden,– I feel proud to have the honor of presenting the Freedom of the ancient and loyal City of Worcester, conferred on you by this respectable assembly, in testimony of the high sense they entertain of the signal and meritorious services you have so eminently and repeatedly displayed in the defence of your King and Country; and more particularly for your gallant and memorable defence of H.M.S. Macedonian, against so superior and overwhelming a force. The sentence of the court-martial on this occasion has afforded universal satisfaction; and I doubt not that an early opportunity will be offered you of adding fresh lustre to the renown already acquired by the exercise of those professional talents and valour hitherto so conspicuous, and on which I have this day the happiness to congratulate you.”

On looking over Mr. James’s account of the battle between the Macedonian and United States, we find that gentleman, after commenting upon what he terms the ineffectual fire of the British, frigate, expressing himself as follows:– “A Captain, where he knows that his men, for want of practice, are deficient in gunnery, should strive his utmost to close with his antagonist; especially when he also knows, that that antagonist excels in an art, without some skill in which, no American ship of war would trust herself at sea.” That the crew of the Macedonian were constantly exercised at the great guns, whilst commanded by Captain Carden, is sufficiently proved by the letters which he received from his late third and first Lieutenants, the present Captain George Richard Pechell, and Commander David Hope. The following are extracts from those letters:–

Aldwich, Chichester, May 14, 1824.

“Your very humble and most obedient servant,
Geo. R. Pechell.”

To Captain J. S. Garden, R.N.

Newton, by Musselburgh, June 22, 1824.

“Dear Sir,– I have just received your letter of the 10th instant, in which you mention that Mr. James, in his Naval History, has stated that you knew the ship’s crew of the Macedonian were, for want of practice, deficient in gunnery. That statement is certainly totally unfounded; as in no ship in the British service could there have been more attention paid to the practical part of gunnery than was done by you to the crew of the Macedonian: the cruise previous to our unfortunate capture we were under the command of Sir P. C. Durham, in Basque Roads, and stationed in-shore, where we were almost every day engaged with the enemy. They were not only well-trained, but the greatest attention was paid to every department relating to the guns. The magazine was examined every week by the first Lieutenant, to see that the cartridges and powder were in good order, and ready for action; there was general exercise every evening before sunset; a division exercised through the day, and frequently fired at a mark; in fact, every thing was done to make the ship in all respects ready to meet the enemy.

“As to the state of discipline in the ship, that has been so strongly expressed by the sentence of the court-martial, where the evidence was examined upon oath, that any comment of mine would be unnecessary, were I not called upon by you to state my opinion. I now do so, as an officer who has served his country nearly twenty-eight years; and having been frequently in action with the enemy, in no instance did I ever see men more devoted to the honor and service of their country than the ship’s company of the Macedonian. * * * * * *.

“And you must recollect that circumstance, Sir, which happened towards the end of the action, when the United States was observed making sail to get from under our lee; and as we had not a yard standing except the foreyard, with a small piece of the foresail, the helm was put a weather as a last resource, to try and lay her on board on the weather quarter, when the fore brace was shot away, and the sail fell aback and prevented us. At that moment every man was on deck, several, who had lost an arm, and the universal cheer was, ‘Let us conquer or die’.

“I remain, dear Sir, yours obediently,
David Hope.”

To Captain J. S. Garden, R.N.

Agent.– John Chippendale, Esq.

1. See note † at p. 15 of this volume.
2. See vol. I. p. 493.
3. See id. note at p. 415.
4. See the remainder of Rear-Admiral Rainier’s letter at p. 1010.
5. See p. 1009.
6. “In bearing down to attack the American ship, the whole of the Macedonian’s carronades on the engaging side, had their chocks, which, in this frigate, were fitted outside, cut away by the raking fire of the United States. Thus was disabled the entire upper-deck battery of the Macedonian, before she had well begun the action.” – See James’s Nav. Occ. p. 154.
7. Eight-pounders, one in each top.
8. “The loss of the United States is stated by Commodore Decatur at no more than 5 killed and 7 wounded. Among the latter is included, ‘Lieutenant Funk, who died four hours after the action.’ Mr. Clark (editor of a naval work published at Philadelphia, Jan. 3, 1814), also notices one of the seamen as having been mortally wounded; which coincides with Captain Carden’s statement, that a Lieutenant and 6 men had been thrown overboard. According to the proportions between the killed and wounded, the American slightly wounded cannot have been enumerated; a circumstance that receives confirmation from the fact, that the American officers, when questioned on the subject of their loss, told each a different story.“See James’s Nav. Occ. p. 158.

By reference to the minutes of the court-martial afterwards held on Captain Carden, &c., it will be seen that one of the Macedonian’s quarter-masters, an old British seaman, made oath, that he served his time with many of the United States’ crew, out of an English port; that his first cousin was one of the traitors, and that they had declared to him that the American ship had 18 persons slain in the action. Captain Carden, in a letter to Mr. James, dated May 17, 1824, and afterwards published in the Hampshire Telegraph, says, that the United States was pumped out every watch till her arrival in port, from the effect of shot received under water, and that two 18-pounders had passed through her main-mast in an horizontal line; he adds, “had such mast been the size only of the Macedonian’s, that is the same diameter, it would most probably have fallen early in the action, five of her main shrouds having been cut away by the Macedonian’s shot, on the side engaged.” In reply to Mr. James’s assertion, “that the British frigate bore down to the attack in a heedless and confident manner, and that the United States opened a fire from her long twenty-fours, almost every shot of which struck either the hull or the masts of the Macedonian,” (see Nav. Hist. v. 5, p. 304,) Captain Carden declares, that every shot of the enemy’s broadside fell far short, and that one of the first that struck her was a forty-two-pounder, which killed the serjeant of marines. The mizen topmast was shot away at the cap about the same time, and fell forward into the main-top.

9. The two brass 8-pounders (prize guns) were only fired once – the solder by which pieces of metal for securing the locks had been affixed to them having run the first discharge, and filled the touch-holes.
10. Among the Macedonian’s crew were many men said to be native Americans, and other foreigners, eight of whom refused to fight, and were consequently sent below. This reduced the number actually at quarters to 289 officers, men, and boys: few of the latter were worth ship room in time of action.
11. Captain Garden, in his official letter, gave the United States a complement of 478 men; but he did not include in that number 30 officers, whose names were not entered in her victualling book, from whence he took his account.
12. There is no rating for landsmen allowed in the American navy.
13. Taken from the register of New York dock-yard. – The United States was superior to any ship of her class in the American navy. Her sides, on the cells of her main-deck ports, were of the same scantling as our 74-gun ships on their lower-deck port-cells, composed of live-oak; and her sides such a mass of this wood, that carronade grape would scarcely penetrate them. She was termed the “Waggon of the American Navy,” from her thick scantling, having been originally intended for a larger class ship; and her masts were precisely the same dimensions as those of our then second class seventy-fours.
14. The national legislature voted their thanks to Commodore Decatur, the officers, and crew, of the frigate United States; also a gold medal to Commodore Decatur, and silver medals to each of the officers, in honor of the brilliant victory gained by that frigate over the Macedonian! See James’s Nav. Occ. Appendix, p. xxxi.
15. July 5, 1813.
16. See Lord Darnley’s Speech in the House of Peers, May 14, 1813.