Royal Naval Biography/Colville, John

Rear-Admiral of the White; Commander-in-Chief on the Irish station; and one of the Sixteen Representative Peers of Scotland.

The family of Colville, in North Britain, sprang from that of the Colvilles in England, who accompanied William the Conqueror from Normandy. The subject of this sketch is the eldest son of the late peer, and brother of the Hon. Sir Charles Colville, a Lieutenant-General in the army, who commanded at the capture of Cambray, June 24, 1815. He was born in the year 1765; entered the naval service at an early age; was a Lieutenant at the commencement of the war with the French republic; and commanded the Star sloop, in 1795, and until his promotion to the rank of Post-Captain, Dec. 6, 1796. We subsequently find him in the Ambuscade frigate, on the Jamaica station, from whence he returned to England on the 19th Jan. 1802. During the remainder of the short-lived peace, he was employed in the Channel for the suppression of smuggling.

Soon after the re-commencement of hostilities against France, Captain Colville was nominated to the command of the Sea Fencibles on the coast of Cumberland. His next appointment was, in the autumn of 1804, to the Romney, of 50 guns, in which ship he had the misfortune to be wrecked near the Texel, on the 22d Nov. following.

Previous to his departure from Holland, on being exchanged for the commandant of the Dutch marine forces captured at Surinam, Captain Colville, in consideration of the kind treatment he had received, addressed the following letter to Admiral Kihkert, the Commander-in-Chief at the Texel:

“Sir,– Before I quit this place, so different from the usual state of captivity and hardships we had to expect, I beg leave, as well on my own part as on that of my officers, who belonged to His B. Majesty’s ship the Romney, to return you our most sincere thanks, and to assure you, that the very humane attention which we unfortunate men experienced from you, shall never be effaced from our memories.

“We request you to assure Captain Verderoon, and the other captains and officers of the ships under your orders, that we are sensible of the great friendship which has been shown to us. I will not intrude upon your occupations by a long letter; the remembrance of having shown every service of humanity and friendship to the unfortunate, is sufficient for Admiral Kihkert; yet we should have proved deficient in the respect that is due to him, if we had not, before our departure, assured him of our warmest gratitude.

“Permit me, Admiral, to give you the assurance of my highest consideration and respect, with which I, personally, have the honor to be, Sir,

“Your most obedient humble Servant,
“John Colville.”

On the 31st Dec. 1804, Captain Colville was tried by a court-martial, assembled on board the Africaine, at Sheerness, for the loss of the Romney. After a full investigation of all the circumstances relative thereto, it appeared to the court, that the loss of the ship was occasioned by the thickness of the fog, and the ignorance of the pilots in regard to the tides, &c. they having undertaken a charge, to which it appeared they were wholly incompetent. The sentence of the court was, that the pilots be mulcted of all their pay for the Romney, and rendered incapable of taking charge of any of his Majesty’s ships and vessels of war in future, and to be imprisoned in the Marshalsea, one for the space of six, and the other for twelve calendar months. Captain Colville, his officers, and crew, were honorably acquitted of all blame, it appearing to the court, that the utmost exertions were used by them to save the ship after she had struck, and to prevent the ship’s company from becoming prisoners to the enemy; and the court expressed, by the president, the high satisfaction which they felt at their conduct, under the very trying circumstances attendant upon that unfortunate occasion.

In the following year, Captain Colville was appointed to the Sea Fencible service at Margate; and about the spring of 1807, he obtained the command of l’Hercule, a 74 gun-ship, in which he was employed during that and the succeeding year on the coast of Portugal. He afterwards commanded the Queen, another third rate, on the North Sea station, and in the West Indies.

Our officer succeeded to his present title on the demise of his father, March 8, 1811. He was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral, Aug. 12, 1819; and on the 10th Nov. 1821, hoisted his flag in the Semiramis frigate, as Commander-in-Chief on the Irish station. At the general elections in 1818 and 1820, he was chosen a representative peer for Scotland.

Lord Colville married, in Oct. 1790, Elizabeth, youngest daughter of the late Francis Ford, of the Lears, Barbadoes, Esq. a Member of Council in that island, sister of the late Sir Francis Ford, and aunt of the present Baronet of that name.


Vice-Admiral of the Blue.
(Vol I. Part II. p. 754.)

This officer was born in the year 1768. He entered the royal navy under the auspices of Sir George B. Rodney, and was present at the defeat and capture of Count De Grasse, April 12th, 1782. As first lieutenant of the Santa Margaritta frigate. Captain (afterwards Sir Eliab) Harvey, we find him assisting at the capture of all the French West India islands, by the naval and military forces under Sir John Jervis and Sir Charles Grey, in 1794[1]. He subsequently served in the active squadron commanded by Sir John B. Warren, off Brest, where he assisted at the destruction of a French frigate (la Felicity) and two corvettes (l’Alert and l’Espion) in Aug. 1794[2]. His next appointment was to the Impregnable 90, Captain (afterwards Sir Andrew) Mitchell, attached to the Channel fleet, from which ship he appears to have been promoted to the command of the 18-gun-brig Star, one of the first vessels of that description ever armed with 32-pounder carronades, in 1795. He continued in that sloop, principally in the North Sea (under the orders of Lord Duncan), and on the Channel station, until posted, Dec. 6th, 1796. Previous to his commissioning l’Ambuscade, in 1800, he had acted for some time as captain of the Penelope frigate, and been entrusted with the command of the squadron stationed off Havre[3].

The following correspondence took place after the loss of the Romney, near the Texel, and the consequent captivity of her commander, officers, and crew:

Rear-Admiral Kirkhert” (commander-in-chief of the Batavian fleet)
to the Britannic Captain Colville, at the Helder.

Brutus, in the New Diep, 22d Nov. 1804.

“Sir,– Having learnt this morning that the crew of the Romney have not been treated according to my intention, I have sent two officers to make the necessary arrangements, and to give such orders as will insure that they shall be so treated henceforward as to prove that they are no longer considered as enemies; and I beg you to be assured, that so long as yourself and countrymen shall continue under my care, it shall be my endeavour to prove to you how desirous I am to soften the rigour of your misfortunes. I have stationed on shore a naval officer, called Toussaint, in order that you may avail yourself of the opportunity which will be offered through him of conveying to me any complaint, if, contrary to my wishes, any cause should arise; and if you should have occasion to make any request of me, you may send it by one of your officers, who, under the conduct of the above-named lieutenant, will be at liberty to go at all times wherever you may desire. The application which you have made for shirts, &c. for your people, shall be forwarded to Government, because there are not the means of procuring them here. I have the honor to salute you.

(Signed)A. Kirkhert[4].”

Captain the Hon. John Colville to Rear-Admiral Kirkhert.

Helder, 1st December, 1804.

“Sir,– Previous to leaving this place, where our captivity has been rendered so void of its usual attendant sufferings, permit me to offer to you, on the part of myself and fellow sufferers, late of H.B.M. ship Romney, the only proof that the unfortunate like ourselves can offer of their gratitude, in the unfeigned assurances that the recollection of the humane attentions wc have experienced from you can never be erased from our memories.

“To Captain Verdooren, and the other captains and officers of the ships under your command, we request you to tender our assurances of the sense we feel of all their kindness to us.

“I will not trespass on your time with a long letter; the recollection of having exercised to the unfortunate all the kindest offices of humanity must be sufficiently gratifying to Admiral Kirkhert; but we should feel in some measure unworthy of them, had we departed from the Helder without offering this humble tribute of our gratitude.

“Permit me, Admiral, to assure you of the very high consideration and respect with which I have personally the honor to be, &c.


L’Hercule[6] formed part of the fleet under Admiral Gambier, at the siege of Copenhagen in 1807; and on her return from thence was ordered to the coast of Portugal. His Lordship commanded the Queen, 74, between three and four years, and was employed in her on the coasts of France and Spain, as well as in the North Sea and West Indies, from which latter station he escorted home, without the loss of a single vessel (even missing), the last Leeward Island convoy, consisting of no less than 370 sail. Before giving up the command of that ship, he assisted in bringing home the army which embarked in the Garonne, after the peace with France, in 1814.

Lord Colville retained the chief command on the Irish station until May 1825; and was advanced to the rank of Vice-Admiral on the 22d July, 1830.

  1. See Vol. I. Part I. p. 19.
  2. See id. p. 213, et seq.
  3. The name of the former ship was afterwards changed to the “Seine.”
  4. The above is translated from the original in French.
  5. This copy of Captain Colville’s original letter to his generous and humane enemy, we have obtained since the publication of our first volume, containing as perfect an account of his services as we were then able to produce. That which we published as a copy, in 1823, is, it now appears, merely a re-translation from the Dutch papers.
  6. See Vol. I, Part II. p. 756.