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Royal Naval Biography/Carter, Charles

[Post-Captain of 1802.]

This officer is a brother of Captain Benjamin Carter, R.N., whose name appears immediately above the preceding sketch; and of Brevet-Major Carter, R.M. He entered the naval service in the summer of 1783, as a Midshipman on board the Hermione frigate, commanded by Captain John Stone, a friend of his uncle, John Carter, Esq., one of the senior Magistrates of Kent; with whom he continued on the West India and Halifax stations till the latter end of 1785. He subsequently served under Sir Charles M. Pole,, in the Crown of 64 guns; from which ship he removed, at the commencement of 1787, into the Scorpion sloop of war, at that time employed on Channel service, but afterwards sent to the coast of Guinea and the Leeward Islands, from whence she returned under the command of Sir Charles Hamilton, after an absence of nearly three years.

The Scorpion being paid off at the commencement of the Spanish armament, Mr. Carter was turned over with her other petty officers and crew to the Leopard of 50 guns; but as that ship was destined for foreign service, and he had nearly served a sufficient time to qualify him for a commission, his uncle’s intimate friend, the late Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley, kindly consented to receive him on board the Bellerophon 74; and when he had passed his examination recommended him to the patronage of Earl Howe, from whose flag-ship he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, November 22, 1790.

During the Russian armament, in 1791, he served on board the Barfleur, a second rate, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Faulknor; and we subsequently find him crossing the Channel for the purpose of acquiring a knowledge of the French language, fencing, &c., in which manner he employed his time until the beginning of 1793, when he returned home in consequence of the approaching war between Great Britain and France.

On his arrival in England, Lieutenant Carter reported himself to the Admiralty, and was immediately appointed to the Trimmer sloop of war, on the Jersey station, where he assisted at the capture of one of the first armed vessels taken under the tricoloured flag.

The Trimmer being paid off, on account of her defective state, shortly after Mr. Carter had returned from conducting the above prize into Falmouth, be was then appointed third Lieutenant of the Alexander 74, commanded by Captain R. R. Bligh, whom he gallantly supported in his memorable defence against a powerful French squadron under Rear-Admiral Neilly, an event already alluded to in our memoir of Captain F. P. Epworth, and which will be more fully noticed hereafter.

The treatment experienced by Lieutenant Carter and his fellow captives, affords us an instance of the brutal and ferocious conduct of the friends of “Liberty and Equality,” towards those who had the misfortune to fall into their hands at that unhappy epoch. On their arrival at Brest, after being stripped of every article of property, except the clothes on their backs, they were put on board a prison ship, but soon transferred from thence to a castle (originally a receptacle for culprits under sentence of death), where they were confined in cells with naked walls, having neither tables, chairs, nor any other furniture, and obliged to sleep on straw, without the least covering. In this miserable abode they passed three months, during which the fever, so common in crowded gaols, proved fatal to many, and numbers died for want of the common necessaries of life, their diet consisting of nothing more than black bread, horse-bean soup, and occasionally a scanty supply of salt fish[1].

In order to escape from such a scene of wretchedness, Lieutenant Carter agreed with Captain Cracraft, late of H.M.S. Daphne, and Lieutenant Godench of the Alexander, to try the experiment of scaling the castle wall, and breaking their way into a depot of military equipage adjoining the back wall of their dungeon. This enterprise was undertaken in the dead of the night, while all but those engaged in the plot were asleep; and at dawn of day they were enabled, by forcing a door of the store room, to reach the extremity of the prison court-yard, which led by a circuitous road to the town of Brest.

Pushing on with rapid strides, and singing the favorite national air of the Carmagnoli, Lieutenant Carter and the other two officers, dressed in the garb of sailors, and wearing the tri-coloured cockade as a deception, succeeded in reaching the hotel de la Republique, a house used by tfce masters of American vessels, one of whom had previously made arrangements for secreting them there until an embargo then existing should be removed, when it was hoped they would be able to smuggle themselves on board his ship. In this expectation, however, they were unfortunately disappointed; for on approaching the place of embarkation, Lieutenant Carter was recognized by a young aspirant belonging to the Marat, with whom he had formerly conversed in French, and who now caused him to be seized, and conducted with Captain Cracraft, under an escort, to the Amiral, a place of security erected near the quay, where they were locked up in a small room, admitting little or no light, and detained, with nothing to support nature but bread and water, and without a chair or any resting place till the next day, when they were conducted back to the castle, which, with all its horrors, was a palace when compared to their temporary prison. Lieutenant Godench, by mixing with the crowd on the quay, fortunately effected his escape.

After this unsuccessful attempt, Lieutenant Carter was agreeably surprised to find the republicans relax a little in their rigorous treatment of himself and his fellow prisoners, it being ordered that two persons from every mess, without discrimination, should be permitted to go out of the castle and receive their rations at the Commissary’s office, which was situated about a furlong from the gate, instead of having their wretched portion brought to them by the gaolers; an indulgence they gladly availed themselves of, as it afforded them the benefit of a little fresh air, than which nothing could have been a greater luxury.

On one of those occasions a noted gaoler, known by the name of Peter, seized the subject of this memoir by the collar, in order to give the preference of going out to a seaman whom he knew. Indignant at this attack upon his person, Lieutenant Carter lost all command of himself, and with his fist knocked the rascal bleeding to the ground, where he lay for some time, vociferating “corporal du garde” with all his might. A file of soldiers soon arrived on the spot, and proceeded to search for the offender, who, listening to the advice of his friends, had in the interval put on a female dress, as the only chance of escaping their vengeance, an assault on a republican being deemed a capital offence, and mercy out of the question. A strict scrutiny ensued; but Lieutenant Carter had the good fortune to elude the enemy’s vigilance, and remain undiscovered in his metamorphosed state, till time and a coup d’argent had had the effect of allaying the resentment of the wretch through whom his life had thus been brought into jeopardy.

It was about this period that the Alexander’s officers resolved to make their distressing situation known to Admiral Villaret de Joyeuse, who commanded the French naval forces at Brest, and to request his interference with the government in their behalf. Accordingly a memorial, drawn up by Lieutenant Carter, and bearing their respective signatures, was forwarded to that officer, whose reply thereto, and their subsequent removal to Quimper on parole, are presumptive proofs that he as an individual ought not to be charged with having contributed to their sufferings[2].

Encouraged by this favorable commencement, Lieutenant Carter now entered into correspondence with other French authorities; and at length, in May 1J95, he was ordered to be exchanged for Mons. la Cosse, an officer of the same rank, who had been captured by Earl Howe on the 1st June, 1794.

On his return to England, in a neutral vessel from Morlaix, he was appointed to the Magnificent 74, on the North Sea station; and we subsequently find him serving as first Lieutenant of the Galatea, a 32-gun frigate, forming part of a squadron employed in the Channel under the orders of Sir John Borlase Warren, who makes very honorable mention of his conduct in boarding and assisting at the destruction of l’Andromaque, of 44 guns and 300 men, near Arcasson, on the 23d Aug. 1796, the particulars of which event, and others not already noticed in our memoir of his commander, the present Admiral Sir Richard G. Keats, will appear in the supplement to this work.

Lieutenant Carter continued in the Galatea, and shared in a series of active services under the command of Captain Keats, and his successor, Captain Byng, now Viscount Torrington, until promoted to the rank of Commander, May 15, 1800; on which occasion he was appointed to the Adventure, a 44-gun ship, armed en flute, and attached to the armament then about to sail from Cork for the purpose of making a diversion on the enemies’ coasts, and of ultimately joining the grand expedition destined against the French army in Egypt. To his great disappointment, however, the Adventure, after conveying the 82d regiment to Belleisle, Corunna, Cadiz, Tetuan, and Minorca, was found to be in so leaky a state as to render it impossible for her to continue on that service; in consequence of which she was ordered to carry Sir James Pulteney and his staff, with the 52d regiment to Lisbon, from whence she returned home in the spring of 1801; and being surveyed, was soon after put out of commission.

Captain Carter was advanced to post rank April 29, 1802, and appointed to a command in the Sea Fencible service about July, 1803; from which time he appears to have been stationed in the Isle of Wight till the dissolution of that corps in March 1810. During his continuance there he made repeated applications for an appointment more congenial to his zealous disposition; and two days after the discharge of the above force we find him endeavouring to prevail upon the nobleman then at the head of the Admiralty to employ him actively afloat, by offering to serve without pay, depending on his own exertions against the enemy for remuneration; but this, like all his former efforts, proved unavailing, and he was again compelled to yield to a state of painful inactivity, whilst his more fortunate brother officers were reaping laurels, and laying the foundation of future ease for themselves, and competence for their families.

In Aug. 1813, the subject of this memoir was appointed to superintend the impress service at Gravesend; and he subsequently received a commission to command El Corso as a post ship, in consequence of his suggesting the propriety of placing the vessel destined to receive the men under the direct controul of the Regulating Captain; by which means, among other advantages, the prompt co-operation of her boats with those belonging to the establishment on shore, might always be depended upon.

El Corso was paid off at the termination of the war in 1814; but on the renewal of hostilities in the following year, Captain Carter commissioned the Port Mahon, and resumed his station on the river Thames, where he continued, under the orders of Sir Home Popham, till Aug. 12, 1816, since which he has not been employed.

Captain Carter married Sophia Holmes, youngest daughter of that excellent officer, the late Admiral Sir Richard Rodney Bligh, G.C.B., under whom he had so bravely fought at the commencement of the French revolutionary war. By that lady he has issue six sons and two daughters, the whole of whom are under age.

  1. “Officers and men shared the same lot; they were denied the commonest rations of provisions, and reduced to starvation. A wretched dog that had crept into the cells was kitted, and his head alone sold for a dollar, to satisfy the cravings of nature. A prisoner, in a state of delirium, threw himself into the well within the prison walls: his dead body, after lying some time was taken out, but no other water allowed to the people to drink. An English lady and her daughters, confined along with the men, had no separate apartment, and all their privacy was supplied by the generous commisseration of the British sailors, who, standing side by side close together, with their backs towards the fair captives, formed a temporary screen while they changed their garments.” See Brenton’s Naval History, Vol. I, p. 364. N.B. Th number of prisoners confined in the castle amounted originally to 700, among whom were many women and children.
  2. For a copy of the French Admiral’s letter see pp. 562 and 563.