Royal Naval Biography/Carnegie, William


Rear-Admiral of Great Britain; Admiral of the White; Knight Grand Cross of the most honourable Military Order of the Bath; Governor of the British Linen Company in Scotland: Doctor of Laws; and a Vice-President of the Naval and Military Bible Society.

The family of this nobleman has been settled for some centuries in the county of Angus, in Scotland. His ancestors came originally from Hungary, about the year 1200, at which time the family name was either de Bolinhord, or Ballinhard; but getting possession of the lands and barony of Carnegie, they adopted that, agreeably to the custom of the age and country.

In the reign of King Charles I., David, the eldest of four brothers, was created Earl of Southesk, and Lord Carnegie; and John, the second, was advanced to the dignities of Lord Inglismaldy, Lord Lour, and Earl of Ethie; which titles he afterwards exchanged for those of Earl of Northesk and Lord Rosehill. In consequence of the attachment of this family to that unfortunate monarch, they were fined by Oliver Cromwell 10,000l. They were afterwards equally remarkable for their support of the revolution, and for their steady loyalty to the House of Hanover. In the rebellion in 1715, when the family mansion was taken possession of by the Old Pretender, the Countess of Northesk was obliged to seek refuge in the Castle of Edinburgh, where she was delivered of the late George Earl of Northesk (named after his Majesty, King George I., who was one of his sponsors by proxy). He died in 1792, having served with a considerable degree of credit in the Royal Navy, and attained the rank of Admiral of the White.

The subject of this memoir is the second, son of the above peer, by the Lady Anne Leslie, eldest daughter of Alexander, fifth Earl of Leven and Melville; and was born about the year 1758. In 1771 he embarked with the Hon. Captain Barrington, in the Albion. He next served with Captain Macbride, in the Southampton, and Captain Stair Douglas, in the Squirrel; was made acting Lieutenant in the Nonsuch, and confirmed by Lord Howe in 1777, into the Apollo. He afterwards served with Admirals Sir John Lockhart Ross, and Sir George B. Rodney; and by the latter was made a Commander after the action with the Count de Guichen, April 17, 1780[1], and appointed to the Blast fire-ship, from which he removed into the St. Eustatia, and was present in her at the reduction of the island of that name, Feb. 3, 1781[2]. Captain Carnegie obtained Post rank on the 7th April, 1782, and at the ensuing peace returned to England in the Enterprise frigate, and was put out of commission. In 1788 he succeeded his elder brother, as Lord Rosehill; and in 1790, on the Spanish armament, was appointed to the command of the Heroine, of 32 guns; but was paid off when the apprehension of a war with that power ceased. In 1792, on the demise of his father, his Lordship succeeded to the Earldom and estate; in January, 1793, he commissioned the Beaulieu frigate, and went to the Leeward Islands; whence he returned towards the close of that year, in the Andromeda, which ship was shortly after put out of commission.

In 1796 Lord Northesk was elected one of the sixteen representatives of the peerage of Scotland, in the Parliament of Great Britain. He was in the same year appointed to the command of the Monmouth, of 64 guns; and employed in the North Sea, under the orders of the late Viscount Duncan; until, in May 1797, the spirit of disaffection which had originated in the Channel Fleet, unfortunately spread to that squadron; and the Monmouth was one of the ships brought to the Nore. The subsequent events of that temporary delirium among our seamen are already noticed in our memoir of Admiral Sir John Knight; to which we shall only add, that when the firmness of the mutineers began at length to be a little shaken, they determined to try to effect a reconciliation with government through the medium of Lord Northesk. For this purpose, on the 6th June, the two delegates of the Monmouth were rowed on board that ship, where his Lordship was confined, and informed him, it was the pleasure of the committee that he should immediately accompany them on board the Sandwich, as they had proposals to make leading to an accommodation; his Lordship complied, attended by one officer; he found the convention in the state cabin, consisting of 60 delegates, with the chief ringleader, Parker, sitting at their head.

Before they entered upon business, the president demanded of the gentleman who accompanied Lord Northesk, “who he was?” the answer was, “An officer of the Monmouth, who accompanied the Captain as secretary.” – “Who knows him? – say, delegates of the Monmouth, what kind of man is he?” The two delegates stated he was a worthy good man; on which it was unanimously voted he might attend the conference. Parker then said to Lord Northesk, “That the committee, with one voice, had come to a declaration of the terms on which alone, without the smallest alteration, they would give up the ships; and that they had sent for him as one who was known to be the seamen’s friend, to be charged with them to the King, from whom he must pledge his honour to return on board with a clear and positive answer within fifty-four hours.”

Parker then read the letter, which contained some compliments to his late Majesty’s virtues, and many severe strictures on the demerits of his ministers. His Lordship informed the delegates, that “he certainly would bear the letter as desired; but he could not, from the unreasonableness of their demands, flatter them with any expectation of success.” They persisted that the whole must be complied with, or they would immediately put the fleet to sea. Parker then delivered the following paper to Lord Northesk, to ratify his credentials; he was rowed on board the Duke of York Margate packet, with three cheers from the rebels.

Sandwich, June 6, 3 P.M.

“To Captain Lord Northesk.

“You are hereby authorized and ordered to wait upon the King, wherever he may be, with the resolutions of the committee of delegates; and are directed to return back with an answer within fifty-four hours from the date hereof.

R. Parker, President."

Lord Northesk proceeded to London with this despatch; and after stopping a short time at the Admiralty, he attended Earl Spencer to the King. The demands of the seamen were rejected as exorbitant and unreasonable. Captain Knight, whom they had permitted to go on shore upon the promise to return, carried down the refusal of the Lords of the Admiralty.

After the trials were over, Lord Northesk resigned the command of the Monmouth, and remained unemployed till the year 1800, when he was appointed to the Prince, of 98 guns, in which ship he continued on Channel service till the suspension of hostilities, when he again came on shore; and the same year was re-elected one of the sixteen representative Peers of Scotland.

On the renewal of the war in 1803. his Lordship was immediately appointed to the Britannia, of 100 guns, at Portsmouth, and soon after received the honour of a visit on board that ship, from their Royal Highnesses the Dukes of York and Cambridge. Towards the close of the same year, the Britannia was stationed at St. Helen’s, to guard that end of the Isle of Wight, in case of an invasion. She afterwards formed a part of the Channel fleet, commanded by the Hon. William Cornwallis.

Lord Northesk was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral, April 23, 1804, and, with his flag in the Britannia, continued to serve in the arduous blockade of Brest, till August in the following year; when he was detached with a squadron, under the orders of Sir Robert Calder, to reinforce Vice-Admiral Collingwood off Cadiz.

In the glorious and decisive battle of Trafalgar[3], his Lordship took a distinguished share in achieving the victory. Previously to that memorable event, the Britannia had been directed by Lord Nelson, in consequence of her heavy rate of sailing, constantly to take a position to windward of him; and, on the morning of the glorious 21st Oct. 1805, he ordered by signal, that she should assume a station as most convenient, without regard to the order of battle; and afterwards sent verbal directions to Lord Northesk, to break through the enemy’s line a-stern of the fourteenth ship. This was effected in the most masterly and gallant manner; though the Britannia was severely galled in bearing down, by a raking fire from several of the enemy. On passing through the line, and hauling up, she was the fourth ship of the van division in action, the Victory, Temeraire, and Neptune, alone preceding her; and, in a short space of time, completely dismasted a French ship of 80 guns, on board of which a white handkerchief was waved in token of submission. She afterwards singly engaged, and kept at bay, three of the enemy’s ran ships, that were attempting to double upon the Victory, at that time much disabled, and warmly engaged with two of the enemy. During the whole continuance of this long and bloody conflict, Lord Northesk zealously emulated the conduct of his illustrious leader; nor was his conduct after the action less meritorious, while his skill and promptitude were equally conspicuous in the arduous task of securing the captured ships. And, when the order was given for destroying the prizes, after removing from them the British Seamen, his zeal in that truly dangerous service, in a tempestuous sea, and heavy gale of wind, was exceeded only by his exemplary humanity. Though urgent signals were made, and repeated, “to expedite their destruction;” his Lordship would on no account suffer l’Intrepide, the nearest of the captured ships to the Britannia, to be scuttled or burned, till his boats had rescued from the devoted prize all her wounded men, and the whole of her surviving crew.

For his eminent services as third in command of the victorious fleet, Lord Northesk was honoured with the insignia of the Order of the Bath; and both Houses of Parliament, the Corporation of London, and of several other cities and public companies, concurred in voting him their thanks. In addition to which the citizens of the metropolis presented him with a handsome sword, and the Goldsmith’s Company their freedom.

His Lordship was advanced to the rank of Vice-Admiral, April 28, 1808; became an Admiral, June 4, 1814; and has since been constituted Rear-Admiral of Great Britain and Ireland, and of the Admiralty thereof, and also of the navies and seas of the United Kingdom.

The Earl of Northesk married, in 1789, to Mary, only daughter of the late William Henry Ricketts, of Longwood, co. Hants, Esq., and niece of the Earl of St. Vincent. His eldest son, Lord Rosehill, a Midshipman on board the Blenheim, was lost with Sir Thomas Troubridge in that ship, in 1807[4].

A portrait of the noble Earl, by T. Phillips, was exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1807.

Residence.– Rosehill House, near Winchester, Hants, and Ethie House, Forfarshire.

  1. See note at p. 104.
  2. See p. 127.
  3. The French Admiral Villeneuve, with twenty-seven sail of the line, arrived at Cadiz from Ferrol, Aug. 21, 1805; the small force under Vice-Admiral Collingwood at that station being incapable of offering him any molestation. Intelligence of this movement having been immediately transmitted to England, the, command of a fleet able to cope with the united navies of France and Spain was offered to Viscount Nelson, and unhesitatingly accepted. His Lordship accordingly hoisted his flag on board the Victory, and sailed from Portsmouth on the 15th September. Having formed a junction with Vice-Admiral Collingwood, and stationed a line of frigates to convey intelligence of the enemy’s motions, his Lordship cruized off Cape St. Mary, waiting till the combined fleets should venture out. To provoke his adversary to this resolution, Lord Nelson, who daily expected a reinforcement from England, detached several ships of the line, under Rear-Admiral Louis, upon a particular service, in so open a manner that the enemy became almost immediately acquainted with it, and resolved to attack him in the supposed reduced state of his fleet. Besides the numerical advantages which Admiral Villeneuve believed himself possessed of, his resolution is said to have been decided by personal motives; his conduct in the West India excursion [ See Vice-Admiral Sir Pulteney Malcolm. ] had been contemptuously glanced at in the official paper of his government; and Buonaparte had sarcastically and impatiently spoken of him; he was upbraided by the Spaniards, for not having better supported them in the action off Cape Finisterre [ See Vice-Admiral Charles Stirling. ]; and it was understood that another Admiral was on the road from Paris, to supersede him in the command. A victory, therefore, was the only thing that could redeem his character; and he was conscious that a defeat could add but little to his actual state of humiliation. Influenced by these motives, the French commander, on the 19th October, left Cadiz with the combined fleets, amounting to thirty-three sail of the line, of which eighteen were French and fifteen Spanish, and steered towards the Gut of Gibraltar. They were immediately followed by the British fleet consisting of twenty-seven ships of the line, which came up with them on the 21st, off Cape Trafalgar, near the southern point of Andalusia. Lord Nelson had previously laid a plan of attack, which was a master-piece of naval skill, and assured him of success. The enemy on his approach drew up in form of a crescent, and waited for the British fleet, which bore down in a double column, the great commander’s last telegraphic signal being, “England expects every man will do his duty” and nobly indeed was it performed on this memorable day, the battle of Trafalgar being without parallel in the annals of British victory.

    The dreadful conflict was begun about noon by Vice-Admiral Collingwood, in the Royal Sovereign, breaking through the enemy’s line, at about the twelfth ship from the rear, in so gallant a manner as to excite general admiration; Lord Nelson at the same time made his way about the tenth ship from the van; the succeeding ships breaking through in all parts a-stern of their leaders, and engaging the enemy at the muzzles of their guns. The attack was irresistible, and its effect decisive. In the midst of this bloody conflict, Lord Nelson was seen on the quarter-deck of the Victory, dressed in full uniform, decorated with the various orders with which his former services had been rewarded, as well by his own sovereign, as by foreign princes. The glitter of these honours fatally pointed him out as a mark for the vengeance of the enemy; he was shewing his satisfaction with the progress of the battle by his customary token of a rapid movement up and down of the stump of his right arm, when a musket-ball, discharged by a marksman on the poop of the Bucentaure, the French Admiral’s flag ship, entered his left shoulder, and producing an immediate paralysis of the lower parts, laid him prostrate. Fully aware of the nature of his wound, his Lordship declared it to be mortal, and sent an officer with his last farewell to his second in command. He then suffered himself to be carried below, where, whilst he lived, he constantly demanded news of the battle, and expressed the most lively satisfaction on being assured that it went on well. Soon after this accident, l’Achille, a French 74, which had struck her colours, took fire and blew up; but about 200 of her men were saved through the generous exertions of the British.

    About three P.M., the Spanish Admiral Gravina, with ten sail of the line, some of which had struck, joining the frigates to leeward, bore up for Cadiz; five of the headmost ships in the van, under Rear-Admiral Dumanoir, a few minutes afterwards, tacked and stood to the southward; but the sternmost was intercepted by the British, and the others were subsequently taken by a squadron under the orders of Captain, now Admiral, Sir Richard John Strachan.

    At 4h 40’ all firing had ceased; and the British remained in possession of nineteen ships of the line, of which two were first rates, and none under 74 guns; with three flag-officers, namely, Admirals Villeneuve, D’Aliva, and Cisneros. General Contamin, who commanded the land forces embarked in the combined fleets, was also taken prisoner.

    On the return of Admiral Gravina to Cadiz, he was immediately ordered to sea; and Vice-Admiral Collingwood, on whom the command of the British fleet had devolved, found it necessary to form a line, in order to cover his disabled ships and the prizes; a heavy gale, however, prevented a renewal of the action; the Spanish Admiral’s ship was dismasted, and he again put into port, leaving in possession of his adversaries a twentieth ship, El Rayo, of 100 guns.

    Such an action could not fail of being bloody even to the victors, who lost in killed and wounded 1563 men, besides the host which fell in the single person of their gallant commander. Of the loss sustained by the enemy no return was published; but it may in some measure be judged of, from the facts of two of the prizes, both 74’s, having 400 men killed and wounded in each, and another of the same force, 350. From the tempestuous weather that ensued, only four of the captured vessels could be preserved; of the rest, nine were wrecked (many with their whole crews on board), two burned, and three sunk; among the latter was the Santissima Trinidada, of 140 guns, the largest and finest ship of war ever built. The Santa Anna and another, which had been taken, being driven near the shore of Cadiz, procured such assistance as enabled them to get in. On board the former was the Spanish Vice-Admiral D’Aliva, who had been suffered to remain on account of his dangerous wounds; but his sword had been surrendered by his Captain, and he was reclaimed as a prisoner of war.

    Notwithstanding the disasters which attended the prizes, the destruction of the combined fleets was as complete as could be expected under the circumstances of fighting them close to their own shore; had the battle been in the open sea, still fewer would have escaped. As it was, only three of the nine which got into Cadiz, were in a repairable state for a length of time; the others being mere wrecks; and it may be observed that the battle of Trafalgar left to Great Britain the dominion of the sea, with the example of the life and death of Nelson for its preservation.

    It is almost superfluous to add, that all the honours which a grateful country could bestow, were heaped upon the memory of the hero. His brother was created an Earl, with a grant of 6,000l. a year; 10,000l. were voted to each of his sisters; and 100,000l. for the purchase of an estate. A public funeral was decreed, and a public monument. Statues aud monuments also were voted by most of our principal cities. His gallant successor, Vice-Admiral Collingwood, was raised to the peerage; gold medals were distributed to the Captains, as on former occasions; and a grand promotion was ordered to commemorate his glorious triumph.

    By the following lists will be seen the loss sustained by each British ship, and the manner in which those of France and Spain were disposed of:

    British Fleet.
    Guns. Killed. Wounded.
    Victory 100 Vice-Admiral Viscount Nelson, K.B.
    Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy.
    57 75
    Royal Sovereign 100 Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood.
    Captain Edward Rotheram
    47 94
    Britannia 100 Rear-Admiral Earl of Northesk.
    Captain Charles Bullen.
    10 42
    Temeraire 98 Eliab Harvey 47 76
    Prince 98 Richard Grindall.
    Neptune 98 Thomas F. Freemantle. 10 34
    Dreadnought 98 John Conn. 7 26
    Tonnant 80 Charles Tyler. 26 50
    Mara 74 George Duff. * 29 69
    Bellerophon 74 John Cooke. * 27 123
    Minotaur 74 C. J. M. Mansfield. 3 22
    Revenge 74 Robert Moorsom. 28 51
    Conqueror 74 Israel Pellew. 3 9
    Leviathan 74 H. W. Bayntun. 4 22
    Ajax 74 Lieut. J. Pilfold. † 2 9
    Orion 74 Captain Edward Codrington. 1 23
    Agamemnon 64 Sir Edward Berry. 2 7
    Spartiate 74 Sir Francis Laforey. 3 20
    Africa 64 Henry Digby. 18 44
    Belleisle 74 William Hargood. 33 93
    Colossus 74 James Nicoll Morris 40 160
    Achille 74 Richard King. 13 59
    Polyphemus 64 Robert Redmill. 2 4
    Swiftsure 74 William Gordon Rutherford. 9 8
    Defence 74 George Hope. 7 29
    Thunderer 74 Lieut. J. Stockham. † 4 12
    Defiance 74 Captain P. C. Durham. 17 53
    449 1114

    * Killed.

    † Acting in the absence of their Captains, who were attending as witnesses on the trial of Sir Robert Calder.

    Combined Fleets.

    Sent to Gibraltar.

    * San Ildefonso 74
    * San Juan Nepouauceno 74
    * Bahama 74
    * Swiftsure 74


    * Monarca 74
    * San Francisco de Asis 74
    * El Rayo 74
    * Neptuno 74
    Fougueux 74
    Indomptable 84
    Bucentaure † 80
    Berwick 74
    Aigle 74


    Intrepide 74
    * San Augustin 74


    * Santissima Trinidada ‡ 140
    Redoubtable 74
    * Argonauta 80

    Taken, but got into Cadiz in the gale, dismasted.

    * Santa Anna § 112
    Algeziras ‖ 74

    Returned to Cadiz.

    Pluton 74
    * San Juste 74
    * San Leandro 64
    Neptune 74
    Argonaute 74
    Heros 74
    * Principe d’Asturias ¶ 112
    * Montanez 74

    Taken Nov. 4, 1805, by Sir R. J. Strachan.

    Formidable ** 80
    Mont Blanc 74
    Scipion 74
    Duguay Trouin 74

    Blew up during the action.

    Achille 74

    *  Spanish ships.

    †  The flag ship of Admiral Villeneuve.

    ‡  The flag ship of Rear-Admiral Cisneros.

    §  The flag ship of Vice-Admiral d'Aliva.

    ‖  The flag ship of Vice-Admiral Magon – Killed.

    ¶  The flag ship of Vice-Admiral Gravina.

    ** The flag ship of Vice-Admiral Dumanoir.

  4. See Captain Sir Edward T. Troubridge, Bart.