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Royal Naval Biography/Curzon, Henry

Vice-admiral of the White.

The noble family of Curzon is very ancient, being descended from Giraline de Curzon, whose name appears in the roll of Battle Abbey, among the nobles and gentry who came into England with William the Norman, in whose favor he no doubt stood high; for we find upon record the manor of Locking, co. Berks, and that of Fishead in Oxfordshire, granted him by the Conqueror, whose son Henry I. also conferred upon him several considerable estates, and among others the manor of Kedleston in Derbyshire, at which place his descendants have been seated ever since the reign of Edward I.

From Giraline’s second son, Richard, descended Nathaniel Curzon, who was raised to the dignity of the peerage by the title of Baron Scarsdale, of Scarsdale, co. Derby, April 9, 1761, and subsequently appointed Chairman of the Committee of Privileges of the House of Lords. His Lordship married Lady Caroline Colyear, eldest daughter of Charles, Earl of Portmore, by Juliana, Duchess Dowager of Leeds, and had issue; Nathaniel, by whom he was succeeded in the title; Henry the subject of this sketch; and several other children[1].

The Hon. Henry Curzon was born on the 24th May 1765; and went to Westminster School in April 1774, at which seminary he continued till the month of December 1776; when he entered the naval service as a Midshipman on board the AEolus frigate, commanded by Captain Atkins, whom he accompanied to the West Indies. Returning from thence in the autumn of 1779, as convoy to the homeward bound trade, the AEolus was obliged to put into Cork to avoid the combined fleets of France and Spain, then on a cruize in the mouth of the Channel[2].

In January 1781, Mr. Curzon was removed into the Magnanime of 64 guns, Captain Charles Wolseley, in which ship he proceeded to the East Indies; and on his arrival there early in 1782, was received on board the Superb, 74, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hughes, the Commander-in-Chief on that station. In the course of the same year he was present in three general actions between the British fleet and that of France commanded by M. de Suffrein. The Superb’s loss on those occasions amounted to 70 killed and 167 wounded, among whom were several officers of distinguished merit[3].

On the 1st Feb. 1783, the subject of this memoir was made a Lieutenant, into the Monarca, another ship of the line, commanded by Captain John Cell, and one of Sir Edward Hughes’s squadron in the battle off Cuddalore, June 20th following, on which day she had 6 men slain, and 14 wounded. This action terminated the naval war in India; and the Monarca being paid off soon after her arrival at Portsmouth, in May Lieutenant Curzon was immediately appointed to the Flora, of 36 guns, on the Jamaica station, where he remained till December 1785; at which period, being attacked with the fever of that climate, he was obliged to return to England for the recovery of his health. He subsequently served in the Ambuscade and Aquilon frigates, commanded by Captains O’Hara and Montagu; and from the latter vessel, which had been principally employed in the Mediterranean, he was appointed towards the close of the year 1789, first Lieutenant of the Adamant, a 50-gun ship, then fitting to receive the flag of Sir Richard Hughes, by whom he was promoted to the rank of Commander, in the Brisk sloop, early in 1790.

Returning to England in the ensuing summer, the Brisk was paid off at Portsmouth; but our officer soon after commissioned the Tisiphone fireship, attached to Lord Howe’s fleet, in which he remained until the termination of the dispute with Spain respecting Nootka Sound, and at the general promotion November 22nd following, was advanced to the rank of Post-Captain. His next appointment was in May 1791, to the Lapwing of 28 guns, on the Mediterranean station, where he served under the orders of Admirals Peyton and Goodall; and on the French army taking possession of Nice, in 1792, he was sent to Villa Franca for the purpose of affording protection to the British subjects and their property at the former place. Whilst on that service he received many insults in consequence of his refusing to salute the revolutionary flag and wear the national cockade, to induce him to do which the French used both entreaties and menaces. At length, on his taking advantage of a fortunate circumstance to put to sea, the republicans, who had not been prepared for such a sudden movement, on perceiving him tinder sail and out of reach of the castle, made signals to their ships in the offing to intercept him; but the French squadron being far to the westward of the port, could not arrive in time to cut him off and prevent his rejoining the British Admiral in Leghorn road.

In the spring of 1793, Captain Curzon convoyed home a great number of English and Dutch merchantmen from Gibraltar, and immediately after his arrival received orders to repeat signals to the rear division of Earl Howe’s fleet. For his conduct on that service he received a warm recommendation from the Commander-in-Chief to the first Lord of the Admiralty; and in compliance with that gallant veteran’s request was appointed to the Pallas, a frigate on a new construction, mounting 32 18-pounders, in which ship he served with the Channel and Mediterranean fleets under Lords Howe, Bridport, and St. Vincent, and was also present at the masterly retreat of the Hon. William Cornwallis, before the fleet commanded by Admiral Villaret de Joyeuse, off l’Orient, an event that reflects immortal honor on all concerned, and for which the squadron received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament[4].

Our officer retained the command of the Pallas until April 4, 1798, on which day she broke her best bower anchor during a heavy gale of wind in Plymouth Sound, and drove on shore under Mount Batten. The storm was so violent, attended with a tremendous sea, that no assistance could possibly be afforded to her, and it was for a considerable time doubtful whether any of the crew could be saved. The ship however, fortunately swung round and heeled over to the shore, by which means her people were sheltered from the breaking of the sea, and enabled to reach the land on the ebb-tide, excepting one man who was killed by the fall of the masts. The greater part of her stores and materials were also preserved, but the vessel herself was completely wrecked.

Captain Curzon’s next appointment was in the month of Feb. 1799, to the Indefatigable, of 46 guns[5], in which ship he accompanied the expedition against Ferrol, in the autumn of 1800[6]; and on the 23d Oct. following, captured the Venus French frigate of 32 guns and 200 men, from Rochefort, bound to Senegal. About the same period he also intercepted several large privateers. In December 1800, our officer was superseded at sea, being nominated to the command of the Montagu, 74; but that ship having sailed for Lisbon and the West Indies with an acting Captain before he could arrive in England to join her, he was appointed to the Audacious, of the same force, at Plymouth, which vessel he fitted out; but, when nearly ready for sea, found his health so much impaired as to be under the necessity of retiring for a while from active service.

From this period Captain Curzon’s health continued in a very precarious state until the year 1807, when being sufficiently recovered to resume the duties of his profession, he again applied for employment, and in the month of June was appointed to the Elizabeth, a new third rate. In Nov. following, he accompanied a squadron under Sir W. Sidney Smith to the coast of Portugal, for the purpose of blockading Lisbon, then about to be occupied by the French[7], and in which port a Russian squadron under Admiral Siniavin had taken refuge. Subsequent to his arrival off the Tagus, he was detached to examine into the resources and military condition of the Azores, under the idea that it might be necessary to form some establishments at those islands, of which he made a very interesting report.

Early in 1808, the late Sir Charles Cotton assumed the command on the Lisbon station, and Captain Curzon continued to be employed in the blockade of the Tagus until the period of the Convention of Cintra, when the British entered that river according to the articles of capitulation, and the Elizabeth was attached to the squadron under Rear-Admiral Tyler, ordered to escort the Russian ships to England[8].

In Jan. 1809, we find Captain Curzon superintending the embarkation of Sir John Moore’s army at Corunna; and for his services on that occasion he received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament, in common with the other officers employed on that important service[9]. The Elizabeth was soon afterwards sent to strengthen the naval force at Rio Janeiro, in consequence of a French squadron being supposed to have gone to the Rio de la Plata. Having formed a junction with Rear-Admiral de Courcy, and examined the ports along the coast of Brazil and the above mentioned river, without hearing any thing of the enemy, Captain Curzon returned to Rio Janeiro, and thence with the trade from that place and Bahia under his protection to England, where he arrived in April, 1810. During his absence, our officer received the honorable appointment of a Colonel of Royal Marines[10]. He subsequently commanded the squadron employed in the blockade of Cherbourgh; and at the general promotion, July 31, 1810, was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral.

From this period Rear-Admiral Curzon made repeated applications for a command; but no vacancy occurring for active service in which he could be employed, he had no opportunity during the remainder of the war of hoisting his flag.

His commission as Vice-Admiral bears date, June 4, 1814.

Residence.– 13 Wigmore Street, Cavendish Square.

  1. At the celebrated battle of Waterloo, the Hon. William Curzon, son of the present peer, and Dep. Ass. Adj. Gen. to the army in the Netherlands, displayed the most chivalrous ardor. Riding along the field, with Lord March, he received a ball in his chest. “Farewell, dear March!” said he, as he fell to the ground. His companion was not permitted to perform those tender offices which his heart dictated. A furious onset of cuirassiers called him to his post; and his wounded friend, seeing him nobly rally a Nassau regiment, which he led to the charge in person, feebly but heroically exclaimed, “That’s right that’s right well done my dear March!” and immediately expired.
  2. On the 15th Aug. 1779, the French and Spanish fleets, consisting of sixty-six sail of the line and twenty-two frigates, besides fire-ships, bombs, and several other vessels of war, the whole under the command of the Count d’Orvilliers and Don Josef de Cordova, having, by some unaccountable event, escaped the notice of the British fleet, at this time cruizing in the Soundings, entered the Channel, and paraded two or three days before Plymouth. Some French frigates anchored in Cawsand bay, and captured a few coasting vessels. On the 16th, the Ardent of 64 guns, standing down Channel, fell in with the enemy’s armament, and mistaking it for the British, was surrounded and taken in sight of Plymouth.
  3. The French Admiral de Suffrein, after his unsuccessful attack upon Commodore Johnstone at Porto Praya (already related in our memoir of Sir Henry d’Esterre Darby), fulfilled the second object of his commission, by securing the Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope; and having left there some French troops to strengthen the garrison, he proceeded to the island of Mauritius, where he formed a junction with the squadron of M. D’Orves, which increased his force to ten sail of the line, a 50-gun ship, three frigates, and three smaller vessels, mounting in the whole 870 guns, and carrying 7071 men. With this fleet he sailed for the coast of Coromandel, accompanied by a number of store-ships and transports, on board of which were embarked 3457 troops. On the 15th Feb. 1782, the enemy appeared off Madras, and was instantly pursued by the squadron under Sir Edward Hughes, consisting of eight ships of the line, one of 50 guns, and two small vessels, carrying 628 guns and 4820 men. In the course of the following day six vessels of the French convoy were captured; five of which proved to be British prizes recently taken, and the sixth a huge transport of 1,300 tons burden, deeply laden with a train of artillery, intended as a present to Hyder Aly, a large quantity of gun-powder, and a complete assortment of other military stores; she also had on board a number of land officers, and about 300 soldiers. The hostile squadrons remained in full view of each other, practising various manoeuvres till about the afternoon of the 17th, when five of the British ships were obliged to sustain an action on disadvantageous terms, the situation of the enemy preventing Sir Edward Hughes from bringing the whole of his force into play. The brunt of the battle fell on the Superb, Hero, and Exeter, the former bearing the flag of the Commander-in-Chief; the latter the broad pendant of Commodore King. After enduring these disadvantages for about two hours, a sudden squall of wind enabled the five English ships to become ia turn the aggressors; and they renewed the engagement with such vigour and effect, that in twenty-five minutes, those of the enemy within their reach, after having sustained considerable damage, suddenly hauled their wind, and together with their companions stood off to the north-east. The loss of the British in this conflict amounted to 32 slain, and 95 wounded. Among the killed were Captain Stephens of the Superb, and Captain Reynolds of the Exeter. On the morning after the action, the enemy being out of sight, Sir Edward Hughes made the best of his way to Trincomalee, the only place in that quarter where his ships could be properly repaired; and about the middle of March he returned to Madras.

    The securing of Trincomalee from the designs of an enemy, now powerful in the East both by sea and land, and the protection of an expected convoy, recalled Sir Edward Hughes to Ceylon, before the end of the month; and on his way thither March 30, he was joined by the Sultan, 74, and Magnanime, 64, from England. These ships having had a tedious and bad voyage, were extremely sickly, and their crews much reduced by the scurvy. On the 8th April, the French fleet appeared in sight, and, accompanying the British squadron to the coast of Ceylon, gained the wind, as the latter was steering for Trincomalee, in the night of the 11th. At daylight on the following morning, they crowded all sail, and their copper-bottomed ships came up so fast with the English rear, that an action was unavoidable, although nothing could be more untoward for the latter, they being hemmed in upon a rocky coast, by an enemy much superior in effective strength, with the wind full in his favour. At 9 A.M. Sir Edward Hughes formed his line of battle; but the enemy spent upwards of three hours in various manoeuvres, which seemed to indicate a want of resolution. At length about 1h 30’ P.M. the engagement began in the van of both squadrons; and soon after M. de Suffrein, in the Hero 74, and his second astern, l’Orient of the same force, bore down on the Superb within pistol shot, and continued in that position, giving and receiving a most dreadful fire for nine minutes; the French Admiral then stood on, greatly damaged, to attack the Monmouth, of 64 guns, which was already closely engaged with another of the enemy’s ships; this made room for the vessels in M. de Suffrein’s rear to come up and attack the British centre, where the battle raged with the greatest violence. The conflict lasted till near six o’clock, when the squadron being in 15 fathoms water, and the Monmouth with only her foremast and bowsprit standing, drifting towards the shore, Sir Edward Hughes made the signal to anchor, and the French squadron drew off in great disorder to the eastward.

    The hostile fleets continued for several days in view of each other, repairing their damages, and equally apprehending an attack from the opposite party; at length, on the 19th, the French bore down, as if with an intent to renew the combat; but, on arriving within two miles of their adversaries, they suddenly tacked, and by the evening were out of sight. The loss sustained by the British in this encounter was 137 killed and 430 wounded; The action fell particularly heavy on the Superb and Monmouth; in these ships the slaughter was very great. The French acknowledged a loss of 139 killed, and 364 wounded.

    After this event, the enemy proceeded to Batacalo, a Dutch port in the island of Ceylon, about twenty leagues to the southward of Trincomulee, where they were detained till the month of June in repairing their shattered ships. M. de Suffrein then repaired to the Coromandel coast, and having re-victualled, and replenished his vessels with 400 sailors, as many sepoys, and 300 artillerymen, he appeared, on the 5th July, before Negapatnam, where Sir Edward Hughes was lying with his squadron, after a repair at Trincomalee. The British Admiral immediately stood out to sea, and on the following day brought the enemy to a close action, which continued about two hours; by which time the latter appeared to have suffered so much that nothing but a sudden shift of wind could have prevented them from undergoing a decided defeat. The engagement was afterwards partial and irregular, and ended with the retreat of the French to Cuddalore. One of their ships, la Severe, of 64 guns, having become ungovernable, fell alongside the Sultan, 74, and struck her colours; but finding an opportunity to escape, she availed herself of it; and the British Admiral’s subsequent demand of her was answered by the excuse that the ensign had come down in consequence of the halliards being shot away, and not from design. In this action the English force consisted of three ships of 74 guns, two 70’s, five 64’s, one 50, and one of 20 guns. The enemy had three 74’s, seven 64’s, two 50’s, three frigates, and one smaller vessel. The loss sustained by the former amounted to 77 killed and 233 wounded; the latter had 178 slain and 601 wounded.

    Sir Edward Hughes finding the stores, provisions, and ammunition of his squadron nearly exhausted, was now under the necessity of proceeding to Madras to get a supply. On his arrival there, July 20, he was joined by the Sceptre, of 64 guns, which had sailed from England in company with a reinforcement for the squadron in the East Indies, but had parted from the other ships soon after clearing the British Channel. In the mean time M. de Suffrein, having refitted his ships at Cuddalore, repaired to Point de Galle, in Ceylon, where he found two French men of war, one of 74 guns the other a 64, with a convoy of troops and artillery, just arrived from Europe. The British Admiral knew nothing of the movements of the enemy, until the 16th Aug. when he was joined by the Coventry frigate, Captain Mitchell, who after sustaining an engagement with the Bellona, of 40 guns, had discovered their fleet at anchor in Batacalo road.

    Sir Edward upon receiving this intelligence used all possible diligence to get his ships ready for sea, being apprehensive that during the absence of the squadron, the enemy might make themselves masters of Trincomalee. He sailed from Madras on the 20th; but the wind blowing strong from the southward, it was not until the night of Sept. 2, that he arrived off the former place; and on the following morning at day-break, he had the mortification to behold the French colours flying on all the forts, and above thirty sail riding at anchor in the different bays, the Commandant of Trincomalee having surrendered by capitulation on the 30th of August.

    On the appearance of the British squadron M. de Suffrein got under sail with fifteen ships of the line, including three 50’s, besides frigates, &c.; and about 2{{{1}}}h 30’ P.M. an action commenced, which was maintained with extraordinary spirit on both sides for nearly five hours; the rival commanders in the Superb and Hero, dealing out their rage with unremitting fury upon each other. This battle was memorable for the slaughter it produced of British officers, among whom were Captains Wood, Watt, and Lumley, of the Worcester, Sultan, and Isis; but, like the three preceding combats between these habitual antagonists, proved indecisive. The loss of men by the English, amounted to only 51 slain and 283 wounded; while on the side of the French the killed were 412, and the wounded 676, a circumstance which their ministry for a long time concealed. The enemy returned to Trincomalee on the night of the action; and such was their hurry and confusion lest they should be pursued, that POrient, one of their best ships, ran on shore in the dark and was lost. Sir Edward Hughes returned to Madras, where he narrowly escaped the effects of a dreadful hurricane on the 15th Oct., which caused the wreck of several British traders, besides a great many coasting vessels laden with rice, and eventually produced a shocking famine among the natives. The intention of the Admiral in going to Madras was, only to give his ships such a partial repair as might enable them to proceed to Bombay, where they were to receive a thorough equipment; but before he could accomplish this purpose, he was driven out to sea by the hurricane just alluded to.

    The squadron on its passage to Bombay experienced a continued series of tempestuous weather. The Superb was dismasted, and otherwise so much damaged, that Sir Edward Hughes was obliged to shift his flag to the Sultan; and the fleet was so scattered, that the ships did not all arrive till the 21st Dec., and then in a very weak and sickly condition. They were there joined by five sail of the line and a frigate, that had arrived from England, under the command of Commodore Sir Richard Bickerton, father of the present Admiral of that name.

    Sir Edward Hughes thus reinforced, returned to Madras towards the close of April 1783; but though his fleet left Bombay in excellent health, the scurvy had made such ravages among the crews, that by the 8th June, the sick amounted to no less than 1,125 men, of whom 605 were in the last stage of the disorder. These were sent to the hospital at Madras; yet within a fortnight the healthiest ships had from 7O to 90 men each, and some double that number, incapable of duty. With his force thus diminished he was cruizing of Cuddalore, for the purpose of covering and protecting the army before that place, when M. de Suffrein arrived on the coast from Trincomalee. On the 20th June, about 4h P.M., the French fleet, consisting of fifteen sail of the line, three frigates, and a fire-vessel, made an attack, favored by the wind, upon the British, who upon this occasion had eighteen line-of-battle ships, and nine other vessels. A heavy cannonade ensued on both sides, and continued without intermission during three hours, at the end of which the enemy drew off, and retired to Pondicherry roads. In this fifth and last battle between Sir Edward Hughes and M. de Suffrein, the loss of the former amounted to 99 killed and 431 wounded. A few days afterwards all hostilities were terminated by the intelligence of a general peace.

  4. See p. 354.
  5. On this occasion Captain Curzon succeeded Sir Edward Pellew, (now Viscount Exmouth,) who had been appointed to a ship of the line. The Indefatigable was built as a 64 in 1784, and cut down to a frigate in 1794.
  6. See note at p. 220.
  7. See p. 319.
  8. At the end of March 1808, Sir Charles Cotton had reason to expect that the Russian squadron, in consequence of a disagreement with the French, would come out. This expectation induced him, early in the following month, to make overtures for a conditional surrender. These, however, were unsuccessful; and it was not until the French General Junot had agreed to evacuate Portugal, that Admiral Siniavin could be induced to put the ships under his orders into the hands of the British, to be held as a deposit, until six months after the conclusion of a peace between Great Britain and Russia. See p. 432.
  9. See p. 335.
  10. Oct. 25, 1809.