Royal Naval Biography/Coghlan, Jeremiah
JEREMIAH COGHLAN, Esq.
A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1810.]
It is a generally received, though certainly erroneous opinion, that this intrepid officer was impressed into the naval service of his country: the following short statement will serve to prove that such was not the case:
At p. 214, et seq. of our first volume, Part I, we have noticed the destruction of the Dutton, a ship belonging to the Hon. East India Company, in Jan. 1796.
During the height of the storm, and before boats of any description could venture out to her assistance, Mr. Coghlan, then scarcely sixteen years of age, plunged into the sea with a rope tied round his body, and succeeded in catching hold of two men, whom he conducted safely to the shore.
After saving several lives in a similar manner, and at the imminent risk of being himself beaten to pieces against the rocks, Mr. Coghlan’s strength failed him, – but not so his spirit. Perceiving that the wind had in some measure decreased, he then hastened to the Barbican at Plymouth, obtained a boat, with several volunteers, and instantly proceeded to the wreck, from whence many persons were taken, and conveyed to different pilot vessels which, had begun to approach the citadel. It is supposed that, by Mr. Coghlan’s exertions, on this occasion, not less than 50 men were rescued from a watery grave, before a single boat from any of the men-of-war dared venture to his assistance, – so terrible was the state of the weather.
Mr. Coghlan’s heroic behaviour was fortunately witnessed by Sir Edward Pellew, now Viscount Exmouth, who soon afterwards offered him his patronage if he would consent to enter the navy. An equally flattering offer was likewise made to him on the part of the Hon. Court of Directors; and the Transport-Board marked their sense of his noble conduct by sending him a present of 20 guineas, at the same time directing their agent to distribute thirty more between his daring companions.
At this period, Mr. Coghlan had spent three years on board a merchant vessel, for the purpose of acquiring a practical knowledge of seamanship. Possessing a laudable ambition, and preferring the chance of obtaining fame to the ignoble pursuit of wealth, he readily accepted Sir Edward Pellew’s invitation, and was received by that distinguished officer, as a midshipman, on board the Indefatigable. The important services performed by that ship have been stated at pp. 216-219 of Vol. I, Part I. In the spring of 1799, Mr. Coghlan removed with Sir Edward Pellew to the Impétueux 78; and during the expedition to Quiberon bay, he was appointed by him to command the Viper cutter, as a reward for his gallantry on numerous occasions of boat service. This appointment was most readily sanctioned by the commander-in-chief of the Channel fleet. Earl St. Vincent, who, in a letter to the Admiralty, particularly requested that he might not be superseded. We should here state, that whilst Mr. Coghlan belonged to the above ships he saved the lives of several of their crews who had accidentally fallen overboard. A most brilliant exploit subsequently performed by him, cannot be better described than in the words of his first professional patron:
“My Lord,– I have true pleasure in stating to your lordship the good conduct of Lieutenant Jeremiah Coghlan, to whom, for former gallant behaviour, you had given an acting commission to command the Viper cutter. This gallant young man, while watching Port Louis, thought he could succeed in boarding some of the cutters or gun-vessels which have been moving about the entrance «f that harbour ; and for this purpose be entreated a ten-oared cutter from me, with 12 volunteers. On Tuesday night, the 29th ultimo, he took this boat, with Mr. Silas H. Paddon, midshipman, and six of his own men, making with himself 20; and accompanied by his own boat, and one from the Amethyst, he determined on boarding a gun-brig, mounting three long 24-pounders and four 6-pounders, full of men, moored with springs on her cables, in a naval port of difficult access, within pistol-shot of three batteries, surrounded by several armed craft, and not a mile from a 74 (bearing an Admiral’s flag) and two frigates.
“Undismayed by such formidable appearances, the early discovery of his approach (for they were at quarters), and the lost aid of the other two boats, he bravely determined to attask alone, and boarded her on the quarter; but unhappily, in the dark, jumping into a trawl net, hung up to dry, he was pierced through the thigh by a pike, several of his men hurt, and all knocked back into the boat. Unchecked in ardour, they hauled the boat farther a-head, and again boarded, and maintained, against 87 men, 16 of whom were soldiers, an obstinate conflict, killing 6 and wounding 20, among whom were every officer belonging to her. His own loss, one killed and eight wounded; himself in two places, Mr. Paddon in tax. I feel particularly happy in the expected safety of all the wounded; he speaks in the highest terms of Mr. Paddon and the whole of his party, many of whom were knocked overboard, and twice beat back into the buat, but returned to the charge with unabated courage. I trust I shall stand excused by your lordship for so minute a description, produced by my admiration of that courage which, hand to hand, gave victory to our brave fellows, over four times their number; and of that skill which formed, conducted, and effected so daring an enterprise.
“La Cerbère, commanded by a Lieutenant de vaisseau, and towed out under a very heavy fire, is given up, as a prize, by the squadron, to mark their admiration, and will not, I know, be the only reward of such bravery; they will receive that protection your lordship so liberally accords to all the young men in the service who happily distinguish themselves under your command. I enclose Lieutenant Coghlan’s letter, and have the honor to be, &c.
When transmitting the above letter to the Admiralty, Earl St. Vincent expressed himself as follows:–
“I did not think the enterprise of Sir Edward Hamilton, or of Captain Campbell, could have been rivalled, until I read the enclosed letter from Sir Edward Pellew, relating the desperate service performed by acting Lieutenant Coghlan, of the Viper cutter, on the 29th July, which has filled me with pride and admiration; and, although the circumstance of his not having completed his time in his Majesty’s navy operates at present against his receiving the reward he is most ambitious of obtaining, I am persuaded the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty will do all in their power to console him under his severe wounds, and grant him promotion the moment he is in capacity to receive it.”
On the same day, Aug. 4, 1800, his Lordship addressed the following public and private letters to Sir Edward Pellew:
“Sir,– No language I possess can convey the high sense I entertain of the service performed by acting Lieutenant Coghlan, Mr. Paddon, and the other brave fellows under his command. I request you will return them my thanks in the most public manner, and assure them, collectively and individually, that I shall be proud to take them by the hand, at any time, and in any place, and to tender them any service in the power of. Sir, your most obedient humble servant,
“Dear Sir,– I am quite transported with the noble exploit performed by your friend Coghlan. I have taken the liberty to enclose your private letter to Lord Spencer, and I desire you will acquaint Mr. Coghlan, that I have directed Mr. Makepeace, an eminent goldsmith, in Searle Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, to prepare a sword of 100 guineas value, which I will beg of you to present to this gallant seaman, in the most appropriate manner. Your’s most truly,
On his arrival in port, Mr. Coghlan received, what his aspiring mind valued above all other gifts, a commission, promoting him to the rank of Lieutenant, and confirming him in the command of the Viper, although he had then served only four years and a half in the navy. On the 9th Nov. following, we find him addressing a note to H.R.H. the Duke of Kent, a copy of which we shall now lay before our readers:–
“Lieutenant J. Coghlan, commander of H.M. cutter Viper, in the most respectful and humble terms, entreats the liberty of approaching your Royal Highness, on having fortunately recaptured the Diamond transport, on board of which were your Royal Highness’s baggage and horses, from Halifax; and that he may mark the high respect he feels for your Royal Highness’s person, he has, on his return from sea yesterday, given directions to his agent at Falmouth to deliver the baggage and horses, free of salvage, to whoever may be sent to take charge of them; and he most earnestly implores your Royal Highness’s permission to lay this humble tribute of respect at your feet, as the only means he can ever flatter himself with having, to evince his lively gratitude and high veneration for the very singular and generous instance of his most gracious Sovereign’s goodness towards him, by granting him the honor and permission, by his gracious order in council, to bear the rank of a lieutenant in his navy, before he had completed his regular time of servitude.”
To this offer. Lieutenant Coghlan received the following answer:
“Kensington Palace, 12th Nov. 1800.
“Sir,– I am commanded by H.R.H. the Duke of Kent, to acknowledge your letter of the 9th instant. The very handsome terms in which you have expressed yourself on the fortunate re-capture of the Diamond transport, by the Viper cutter, under your command, is most warmly acknowledged by his Royal Highness, who, unwilling to deprive the seamen of the reward so justly due to their vigilance and activity, and therefore feeling it incumbent upon him to decline any offer to your and their disadvantage, is as forcibly impressed with a high sense of the obligation conferred, as if your generosity had been accepted. His Royal Highness has much pleasure in assuring you, that your name has not been unknown to him, having himself been present at the council, when your meritorious conduct received such an honorable mark of approbation from his Majesty, before whom, it is the intention of H.R.H. to submit this fresh proof of your activity in his service, and attachment to his family and person. I have the honor to be, &c.
(Signed)“James Willoughby Gordon, Aid-de-Camp and Secretary.”
On the 1st April, 1801, Lieutenant Coghlan captured le Heros French brig privateer, of 14 guns and 73 men. The following is an extract of a letter from Sir Edward Pellew to the Hon. Admiral Cornwallis, dated off Rochefort, Aug. 8, 1801:–
“The Viper is just returned from driving into Bourdeaux the ship corvette Tapageur of 16 guns, after some firing, and would have taken her, had she not, in a dastardly manner, run into port.”
Another dashing action on the part of Lieutenant Coghlan is thus described by Sir Edward, in a letter to the commander-in-chief, dated, Sept. 10, 1801:–
“Having sent Lieutenant Coghlan, by signal, in the Viper, to intercept a convoy passing from Pertuis Breton to Sable d’Ollone, I cannot, in justice to him, omit making a report of his gallant conduct, although his endeavours were not crowned with the success they merited.
“On his approach to Sable d’Ollone he had cut off a loaded sloop and drove a brig on shore; but on his boat going to take possession, a large gun-brig, two schooners of 12 guns each, and two luggers of 10, started from Sable d’Ollone, to cut off his boat: upon which he recalled her, and stood direct towards the enemy, making the gun-brig his particular object. After bearing their fire for some time, they all put their heads in shore: the gun-brig lay to, upon which he closed, within pistol-shot, and in ten minutes she was glad to bear up, and run aground in the surf; after which he drove the other four vessels before him into port again. The wind blowing strong off shore, and the tide flowing, the brig, mounting 15 guns, and having on board 100 men, was again got off. The Viper received some 24-pounder shot in her hull, had one man killed, and one wounded.”
The Viper was put out of commission, at Plymouth, Oct. 28, 1801; and Lieutenant Coghlan remained unemployed till the spring of 1802, when he was appointed to the Nimble cutter, and ordered to cruise for the suppression of smuggling. In the course of the same year he received a highly gratifying communication from his native city, of which the subjoined is a transcript:–
“Cork, June, 1802.
“Sir,– A club of gentlemen associated in this town, under the title of the Scotch Corporation, did themselves the honor, on the 4th of last June, of unanimously electing you an honorary Member of their Society; and have accompanied that mark of their esteem with a piece of plate, inscribed with your name: they would feel highly gratified in being enabled to present this for your acceptance at Cork; but should your professional duties, which you have hitherto performed so much to your own and your Country’s honor, deprive them of an early opportunity of fulfilling that wish, I am desired to inform you, that it shall be transmitted to any place of your appointment, where it may be most likely sooner to meet that hand, whose gallant exertions have excited so much admiration. I have the honor to be, with respectful sincerity, &c.
(Signed)“B. Coghlan, Secretary.”
In addition to the above civic reward “a Court of Doyer hundred, held for the city and county of Cork, Aug. 4, 1802,” unanimously agreed to admit Lieutenant Coghlan “a freeman at large; for his gallant service, performed on the night of July 29, 1800.” His promotion to the rank of Commander took place. May 1, 1804 ; on which occasion he was appointed to le Renard, a flush-deck ship-sloop, then at Jamaica, mounting 16-eighteen-pounder carronades and 2 long sixes, with a complement of 121 officers, men, and boys.
On the 20th Mar. 1805, being then in lat. 21°-14'N. and long. 71°-30' W., Captain Coghlan discovered and made sail after a ship to leeward, which he soon perceived was an enemy’s cruiser preparing to receive him. At 2-20 P.M. she opened her fire upon le Renard, but not a gun was returned by the latter until within pistol-shot, at which distance Captain Coghlan placed her on the stranger’s weather bow, when a fire commenced that reflects infinite praise on the officers who directed it; for at the end of 35 minutes the enemy was seen to be in flames, and in 10 minutes afterwards she blew up with a dreadful explosion.
“Every possible exertion was now made,” says Captain Coghlan, “to get out the only boat that could swim to the relief of the few brave but unfortunate survivors, who had just before so gallantly defended themselves, and were now seen all around, on the scattered remnants of the wreck, in a mangled and truly distressing state; and it is with pleasure I add, that of the few who escaped the flames, 55 in number, not a man was drowned.
“The ship proved to be le General Erneuf privateer, late his Majesty’s sloop Lily, commanded by Mons. Paul Gerard Pointe, seven days from Basse-terre, Guadaloupe, carrying 18 twelve-pounder carronades and 2 long guns, with a complement of 160 men, 31 of whom were soldiers, going to cruise for the homeward-bound Jamaica fleet.
“The enemy’s loss was great before the melancholy scene that put an end to the action, she having between 20 and 30 men killed and wounded; the second Captain and one Lieutenant are the only surviving officers: mine is inconsiderable, 9 men only being wounded, some slightly, I hope none dangerously. Our sails, running and standing rigging, have suffered much, the enemy’s fire being principally directed against them; this ship cruised with great success against the trade of his Majesty’s subjects, having made six valuable captures during her former cruise.”
At the commencement of the above action, Mons. Pointe hailed le Renard and ordered her to “strike;” upon hearing which Captain Coghlan took his trumpet, and coolly replied, “Aye! I’ll strike, and d___d hard too, my lad, directly.” As a reward for amply fulfilling this promise, the following communication was made to him as soon as he returned to Jamaica:
“Sir,– Enclosed I have the honor to transmit you a copy of the resolutions of a numerous meeting of this city and parish, held here this day, at the court-house.
“In performing this duty, in conveying you the sentiments of the inhabitants at large, permit me to add the pleasure it gives me in fulfilling their wishes. I have the honor to be. Sir,– &c.
(Signed)“John Jacques, Mayor of Kingston, May 6, 1805.”
“Resolved, that this Meeting, duly impressed with the essential services rendered to the commercial interest of this island by the exertions of the commander of H.M. sloop Renard, his officers and men, during their late cruise, whereby it appears that they have destroyed a vessel of great force, belonging to the enemy, fitted out at Guadaloupe, expressly for the purpose of annoying our homeward bound trade; and in order to shew our grateful sense of the same:
“Resolved unanimously, that the thanks of this meeting be given to Jeremiah Coghlan, Esq. commander of H.M. sloop Renard, his officers and men, for their activity in bringing to action and destroying the privateer ship of war General Ernouf, mounting 20 guns, with a crew of 160 men, 30 of whom were soldiers of the line, commanded by a Lieutenant of the garrison at Guadaloupe.
“Resolved, that the Mayor be requested to communicate the foregoing to Captain Coghlan, in behalf of the Meeting.
(Signed)“John Jaques, Mayor.”
On the 11th Oct. following, Captain Coghlan captured la Bellone privateer, of 4 guns and 50 men; and on the 28th May, 1806, la Diligente, a national brig, hauled down her colours to le Renard, without attempting the least resistance, although mounting 14 long 6-pounders and 2 brass 36-pounder carronades, with a complement of 125 men. When taken on board le Renard, the French commander, Mons. Vincent Thevenard, was struck with the smallness of that vessel, and, with much sang froid, he requested permission to return to his late brig, that he might try his skill in fight, which of course, Captain Coghlan laughed at. He then, with equal gravity, solicited a certificate, stating, that he had not acted cowardly:– Captain Coghlan replied – “No, I cannot do that; but I will give you one, that shall specify you have acted prudently!”
Captain Coghlan’s next appointment was, about Aug. 1807, to the Elk brig, of 18 guns, in which he captured the Spanish letter of marque Posta de Caraccas, Oct. 19, 1807; and the French privateer Harlequin, Feb. 12, 1808; both of these were fine schooners, the former having on board 24,000 dollars in specie, and a cargo of leather and bass rope, from Campeachy, bound to the Havannah. During the whole time that Captain Coghlan commanded the Elk, a period of nearly four years, he was employed as senior ofticer of a light squadron stationed at the Bahamas for their protection, a service which he conducted with his usual activity and success. While thus engaged, he received two more testimonials of public approbation:–
“Government House, Nassau, New Providence, 26th Oct. 1808.
“Sir,– I have the honor to inform you, that I have it in contemplation to avail myself of his Majesty’s permission to return to England, in a few days; and I cannot quit this colony without expressing to you my thanks for the zeal and activity which you have manifested for the protection and welfare of these islands, since you have been on this station: allow me to add my personal acknowledgments for your invariable kindness and attention to myself, and to assure you, that I have the honor to be. Sir, &c.
(Signed)“Charles Cameron, Governor.”
“To Jeremiah Coghlan, Esq. &c. &c. &c.”
“Government House, Nassau, 8th May, 1811.
“Sir,– Your late promotion having rendered the probability of your return to these islands very remote, permit me to say, that, in your departure, the public, as well as individuals, will sustain a very serious loss, because, during the whole period of your command within these islands, you have not only attended more particularly to their defence and the protection of their trade, but have at all times readily accommodated yourself to the wishes of individuals, as far as a due regard to your duty would permit. I have the honor to be. Sir, &c.
(Signed)“W. V. Munnings, President.”
“To Jeremiah Coghlan, Esq.
Commander of H.M. sloop Lik.”
Captain Coghlan’s post commission was signed at the Admiralty, Nov. 27, 1810; but it will be seen, by the date of the President’s letter, that he remained in the Elk for more than five months after his promotion. We next find him commanding the Caledonia of 120 guns, bearing the flag of Sir Edward Pellew, on the Mediterranean station. His appointment to that ship took place, Sept. 30, 1812.
In Aug. 1813, Captain Coghlan volunteered to lead a detachment of marines to the attack of five heavy batteries, defending the bay and town of Cassis, a place situated between Toulon and Marseilles. The heroic manner in which he conducted himself on that occasion, and the successful result of the enterprise, have been stated at pp. 353–355 of Suppl. Part I.
Although a scarcity of seamen prevented the Toulon fleet, as a body, from making any serious attempt to put to sea during the year 1813, large divisions of it frequently came out to manoeuvre, but only when the wind was favorable for returning into port.
At the latter end of October, Sir Edward Pellew was blown off his station by a succession of hard gales, which lasted eight days; and it was not till the evening of Nov. 4, that the inshore squadron, under Captain (now Sir Henry) Heathcote, arrived off Cape Sicie. On the 5th, at 10 A.M., the French commander-in-chief, Count Emeriau, was seen getting under weigh, with fourteen ships of the line, and seven frigates; the wind then blowing strong from E.N.E. and the main body of the British fleet just hove in sight, standing under close-reefed top-sails, to reconnoitre the blockaded port.
At 11-30, just as the enemy’s advanced squadron, of five sail of the line and four frigates, under a Rear-Admiral, had got outside of Cape Sepet, the wind suddenly shifted to N.W., which unexpected occurrence permitted Sir Edward Pellew to hope that the ships under Captain Heathcote would be able to bring them to action.
At 34 minutes past noon, that officer succeeded in getting near enough to open his fire upon the French rear, and he continued to engage them, on opposite tacks, for about half an hour; his ship, the Scipion 74, being well supported by the Mulgrave, Pembroke, Armada, and Pompée.
At one o’clock, the Caledonia stood in shore, athwart hawse of the Scipion, and immediately opened her powerful broadside upon the Wagram of 130 guns, bearing the French Rear-Admiral’s flag: the Boyne and San Josef likewise got into action with that immense ship; but unfortunately neither of these three-deckers could fetch her, owing to the wind heading them as they approached Point St. Marguerite.
Having reached the wake of the Wagram, the Caledonia wore, and hove to on the starboard tack, continuing her fire until the enemy got completely out of gun-shot. In his official report of this skirmish. Sir Edward Pellew says:
“Had the body of the fleet been more advanced when the change of wind took place (at 11-30 A.M.), I am confident we should not only have brought the enemy to close action, but every ship we had weathered would have been our reward, although they had not been above a league eastward of the port, and always under cover of their batteries.
“The casualties are too trifling to mention, were it not for the wounds of two fine young officers, Lieutenant Clarke, R.M. and Mr. Cuppage, signal-midshipman of the San Josef, who each lost a leg by one unlucky shot.”
The other casualties on board the ships engaged in the above affair, and the damages they sustained, were but trifling:–
Caledonia. – three men slightly wounded; one shot through her mainmast, and 3 or 4 in her hull; a shroud and some backstays cut, and her launch and barge destroyed. San Josef, bearing the flag of Sir Richard King, – 2 men slightly wounded. Boyne, Captain George Burlton, – 1 man slightly wounded. Pompée, Captain Sir James Athol Wood, – 2 men slightly burnt by accident. Scipion, 1 man killed by accident, and another slightly wounded. Armada, Captain Charles Grant, – escaped wiihout any loss, but her launch damaged by a shot which passed through that boat and lodged in the booms. Mulgrave, Captain Thomas James Maling, – no loss or damage. Pembroke, Captain James Brisbane, – 3 men slightly wounded; part of her wheel carried away by the first French shot that took effect. Of the loss and damage sustained by the enemy we cannot speak with any degree of certainty.
No chance of a general action now remaining, as the , an extract of whose official letter, acknowledging the assistance he received from his brother captains, will be found at p. 118 of Suppl. Part I.of the Toulon fleet continued to be lessened by sending off draughts of men to Napoleon’s armies. Captain Coghlan exchanged into the Alcmene frigate, and soon after captured la Fleche French national schooner, of 12 guns and 99 men, proceeding from Toulon to Corsica with 24 soldiers. On the 11th April, 1814, he assisted at the capture and destruction of an enemy’s convoy which had run ashore under the batteries of Port Maurice, in the Gulf of Genoa, a service already described in our memoir of Sir James Brisbane
A day or two after the performance of this service, the Alcmene and her consorts, under Captain Brisbane, met Sir Edward Pellew, and proceeded with the fleet to Genoa, off which place this formidable reinforcement arrived just after the enemy had been driven from the whole of the sea-line without the walls by the Anglo-Sicilian flotilla, and the guns of all the batteries turned upon those within by the seamen and marines of Sir Josias Rowley’s squadron. the progress thus made by the small naval force under that excellent officer rendering the co-operation of the fleet unnecessary, Captain Coghlan’s orders to land at the head of a detachment of seamen were countermanded, and in the evening of the same day the besieged fortress surrendered.
We next find Captain Coghlan assisting at the occupation of Corsica, and in establishing Major-General Montresor as provisional governor of that island. During the war with Murat, in 1815, he was sent to the bay of Naples, under the orders of Captain Robert Campbell, by whose authority he negociated with the then existing government for the surrender of the naval arsenal and two line-of-battle ships, the Joachim and the Capri, then lying in the mole.
On the 20th May, 1815, the squadron off Naples was joined by Lord Exmouth, who had made arrangements to cooperate with an Anglo-Sicilian army, under the command of Lieutenant-General Macfarlane: on the following day, however, a military convention was negociated at Teano, by which the imperialists and their allies were to have been placed in possession of the Neapolitan capital on the 23d; but the popular feeling had by that time so strongly manifested itself against Murat, that he fled from the city in disguise, leaving the government in the hands of his wife, and of the General-in-chief, Baron de Carascosa: the former sought the security which had been assured her on board a British man-of-war; and the latter sent to the Austrian commander, requesting that he would prevent the misfortunes with which the capital was menaced, by entering it immediately.
In consequence of the disturbances which broke out at this period. Captain Coghlan landed at the head of about 500 marines, marched to a square where the rioters were drawn up, and was on the point of charging them with the bayonet when they thought proper to submit. He then took possession of all the forts, established himself in the castle of St. Elmo, and assisted the civic guard in preserving tolerable tranquillity until the 2dd, when Prince Leopold, of Sicily entered at the head of the Imperial troops, in the midst of general acclamations.
The Joachim and Capri were afterwards conducted to Malta by the Alcmene, which frigate Captain Coghlan paid off; at Deptford, in Nov. 1815. He at present commands the Forte 44, on the South American station.
This gallant and zealous officer married Mrs. Marshall, widow of Captain John Marshall, R.N. and daughter of Charles Hay, of Jamaica, Esq. a connection of the Errol family. His nephew, Francis Rogers Coghlan, is a Lieutenant R.N.
Agent.– John P. Muspratt, Esq.