Royal Naval Biography/Deans, Robert


Second son of the late Admiral Deans, of Huntington, North Britain, who died in 1815. This officer entered into the royal navy, as midshipman on board the Woodlark sloop, on the North Sea station, in 1804; and afterwards served under the flag of Vice-Admiral (afterwards Sir Edward) Thornbrough, Lord Collingwood, and Sir Charles Cotton, in the Mediterranean. His first commission bears date June 15th, 1811; and was presented to him by the Right Hon. Charles Yorke, as a reward for his gallant conduct in an unsuccessful attack, by the boats of the Cherokee, Clio, and Bellette sloops (of which former vessel he was then acting lieutenant) upon some galliots lying at Egersund, in Norway; on which occasion he had two fingers shot off, and was otherwise severely wounded.

After remaining a few months at sick-quarters. Lieutenant Deans was appointed to the Venerable 74, Captain Sir Home Popham, employed in co-operation with the patriots on the north coast of Spain; where he occasionally landed in command of a division of small-arm men. During the pursuit of the enemy from St. Ano Castle to the town of Santander, he was in the act of receiving orders from Sir George Collier, when that officer and Captain (now Sir Willoughby T.) Lake, were wounded[1]. In Feb. 1813, he followed Sir Home into the Stirling Castle 74, fitting out for the reception of Earl Moira (afterwards Marquis of Hastings), Governor-General of India, by whom he was highly complimented for his exertions in saving the lives of two seamen, who fell overboard during the voyage to Bengal. From May 1815 until Sept. 1818, on the 9th of which latter month he was made a commander, we find him serving as flag-lieutenant to Sir Home Popham and Sir William J. Hope, in the river Thames and on the Leith station. In 1817, he won the silver bugle given by the royal company of Scottish archers, with whom he did duty, as one of King George IV.’s body guard, during his Majesty’s gracious visit to Scotland.

In 1820, when the spirit of radicalism was raging in the west of Scotland, Commander Deans joined the Edinburgh yeomanry cavalry, of which corps Viscount Melville, then First Lord of the Admiralty, was colonel. On the 30th April, 1827, be obtained the command of the Clio sloop; and on the 12th Nov. following, was tried by a court-martial for having run that vessel on shore, off Coquette Island, on the coast of Northumberland, whereby she lost her rudder and two anchors and cables. The charge was specially grounded on the first article of the fifth section of the new naval instructions, viz.:

“On all occasions, where a ship is in pilot-water, or in the neighbourhood of the land, of rocks, or of shoals, the captain is to take particular care that the hand-lead be kept constantly going, whether the pilot, or the master, thinks this precaution necessary or not; and if it shall appear that a ship has been brought into danger of running on shore, or has been wrecked, by a neglect of this precaution, the captain will be held responsible for it.”

The Court having heard Commander Deans’ narrative, and evidence of all the circumstances, agreed, that the charge of a neglect of this instruction had been proved against Commander Deans; but in consideration of his high character in the service, and his attention to every other part of his duty, did adjudge him only to be reprimanded, and admonished to be more careful in future. Mr. Sam. Birt, master of the Clio, was afterwards tried for a neglect of the 22d article of his instructions, which also refers to keeping the lead going in pilot-water; when he was, in consideration of the good character given him by his commander, only reprimanded, and admonished to be more careful in future.

In Nov. 1829, Commander Deans was appointed to the Childers sloop, on the North Sea station; and in Jan. 1831, he and his first lieutenant appeared before a court-martial on charges, the nature of which will be seen by his


Mr. President and Gentlemen of this Honourable Court: – I stand before you as the commander of one of his Majesty’s ships of war, on my trial, on charges brought forward by the friends of a midshipman, late belonging to the Childers, under my command, for tricing him up in the main-top, and for subsequently putting him in irons; which charges, I allow, of themselves imply cruelty and oppression; but I trust I shall not fail to make it appear, that a disposition to be cruel, overbearing, or oppressive towards those placed under my command, is wholly foreign to my feelings, and cannot with justice or truth be maintained against me – proved not only by those officers and men lately under my command in the Clio, but most fully so by the officers and men of the Childers.

“I trust that this Hon. Court will be of opinion that such a step as that I was compelled to adopt towards Mr. Collymore, midshipman, was absolutely required, in justice to the maintenance of the necessary discipline of the service, caused not only by his mutinous manner and gestures at the time of his misconduct, but also for his repeated acts of insubordination and contempt of orders previously; one of which, with the permission of this Hon. Court, I beg leave to state: – When H.M. ship Childers was at anchor off Harwich, in the month of April of last year, on or about the 12th day of that month, I directed a boat to be sent at night, under the command of Mr. Donaldson, the gunner, with Mr. Collymore, and six men, along the coast to look out for smugglers; and it blowing very hard, the boat was obliged to land. At daylight the party returned on board. On the evening of the following day, a person respectably dressed as a farmer came on board the Childers, and complained to me that his house had, the previous night, been attacked by three men and an officer, and that his windows had been broken, and his premises had sustained other injury, and that the party had put himself and his family in bodily fear. He suspected the men belonged to the Childers, and therefore came to complain of the outrage committed. I immediately sent for Mr. Collymore and the boat’s crew, who in the presence of the complainant and my officers, most positively denied any knowledge of the transaction; and then, not doubting the word of Mr. CoUymore, I dismissed the complaint. Two days afterwards, while I was on shore, a constable came on board the Childers, with a deposition, taken on oath, before a county magistrate, relative to the above case; and on Mr. Collymore being closely interrogated on the subject by Lieutenant M‘Donald, the then commanding officer, he unhesitatingly acknowledged the facts, as I have now stated them to this Hon. Court, and admitted that he had committed the outrage complained of. Hereupon Lieutenant M‘Donald, accompanied by Mr. Collymore, immediately appeared before the magistrate, at Felixton, who, in consideration of Mr. C.’s youth and inexperience, mitigated the severity of the fine for this outrage, by reducing it to five pounds, which Mr. C. paid. On Mr. C.’s return to the Childers, I judged it necessary to express to him mv sincere regret and astonishment at his ungentlemanly and unofficer-like conduct on this occasion. I pointed out to him how greatly at variance such behaviour was with his station in life; and, Gentlemen, I reminded him of the untruth he had spoken – that I hoped his future conduct would be correct. Mr. President and Members of this Hon. Court, I beg you will mark the sequel: instead of improving his conduct by the advice I had given him, he still proceeds in a course of inattention to his duty, and immediately afterwards commits serious acts of insubordination. The first to which I beg to call the attention of this Hon. Court was on the evening of the 2d April last. Mr. Collymore, in company with Mr. Free, also a midshipman of the Childers, quitted the ship without leave, and did not return to her until day-light the following morning. After giving them a severe lecture, and resorting to the minor punishment of stopping their leave, I was induced to forgive them this offence, assuring them that a repetition of conduct so unofficer-like and ungentlemanly would not fail to meet with its deserts, as I would not again overlook such glaring acts of misconduct. But, Mr. President and Gentlemen of this Hon. Court, instead of this admonition having the effect I hoped it would have had, Mr. Collymore, accompanied by Mr. Free, before-mentioned, during the time Mr. C. had charge of the watch on board the Childers, took a boat and went on shore, and did not return until day-light the following morning. When this disgraceful act was reported to me, I sent for these young gentlemen (not wishing to resort to severe measures, which might have proved injurious to their future prospects in life), and desired them to apply to the Admiralty for their discharge from the Childers, for private reasons, thereby giving them an opportunity of rejoining the service when any officer might be disposed to receive them. After these repeated acts of forbearance and kindness, as well as the fatherly advice I had given these misguided youths (particularly Mr. Collymore), I appeal to the breasts of this Hon. Court if the charge of cruelty can for a moment be substantiated against me.

“Mr. President and Gentlemen, I come now to the period when the offence of tricing up into the main-top is alleged against me; this occurred while lying at the Little Nore, and when the letters of these young gentlemen, applying for the discharge from the service, were under the consideration of the Board of Admiralty. I acknowledge the correctness of that part of the evidence as regards the tricing Mr. Collymore up in the main-top, which measure I beg to assure this Hon. Court I was compelled to resort to, in consequence of his direct disobedience of my orders, in the presence of the whole of my officers and ship’s company. And here I beg to state, that I consider it as a principle due to the discipline necessary to be maintained on board all of H.M. ships, that the opposition of an inferior to a superior, cannot be permitted without striking at the very root of discipline; and I have further to observe, that such a course of punishment has been, and still continues to be, customary in the service. I was induced to order the first lieutenant to see him seized to the rigging, in deference to his feelings, because he was yet in the situation of an officer.

“I now beg to state to you, Mr. President and Gentlemen of this Hon. Court, the circumstance of my ordering Mr. Collymore to be placed in irons. I have stated in the outset of my defence, Mr. Collymore had frequently quitted the ship without leave, and I considered he would do so again, in opposition to all the advice and the orders I had given to him; I also conceived his mutinous behaviour and gestures exhibited towards myself on this occasion, called for great severity of punishment; I was therefore compelled to order him, repugnant as I felt it was to my feelings at the moment, to be placed in irons, the severity of which order was far more in idea than in reality, for it appears by the sworn evidence of Serjeant Lees, that he was so confined, for the space only of four hours and a half, namely, from 4 p.m. to half-past p.m. of the same evening, thereby disproving his charge that he was confined in irons one night and part of two days. Here, sir, allow me to remark, that Mr. Collymore had, by his disgraceful behaviour in the Childers, forfeited the good wishes and opinions and respect of all the officers and ship’s company, who had witnessed, in so many instances, his insubordinate and unofficerlike conduct, and who had heard him acknowledge having committed the outrage I have described, which he, but a few hours previously, in their presence, denied all knowledge of.

“Mr. President and Gentlemen, I beg to observe, that I am not aware that I am deprived, as a commander of one of H.M. ships of war, of the power of putting any petty officer or seaman in irons, whose conduct, from disobedience of the positive orders of his superior, amounts to a species of mutiny, and consequently demands severity of punishment.

“And now, Mr. President and Gentlemen of this Hon. Court, unassisted by the talents of counsel, or the opinions of any legal adviser, I have thus laid before you these statements, founded in facts. I only request the patience of this Hon. Court for a short time, during the examination of witnesses, if the Court should deem it necessary to examine them, in corroboration of my assertions. I merely ask, would either of vou have acted differently to what I have, had your orders been set at defiance on the quarter-deck of either of your respective ships, by a midshipman whom you had brought into the service, as I had Mr. Collymore, and whom you had fostered, as I had him, in every respect as a son.

“Mr. President and Gentlemen, I have served in H.M. navy twenty-seven years, upwards of twelve years of that period as a commander, with a character unsullied, with a character respected by every officer and man I have served with; and though I have unceasingly studied to act up to what I consider to be the true discipline of the naval service, my conscience acquits me of ever having conducted myself towards any one subordinate to me with undue severity. I have been severely wounded in H.M. service, and have lost two fingers from my left hand in action, and have a musquet-ball now in my right arm. Sir, my father was in H.M. navy fifty-nine years, and died an admiral of the red squadron. I mention this merely to shew, that I am not unworthy the rank and situation I hold in the service. Sir, on the justice or injustice of the charges brought against me this Hon. Court are, I am sensible, fully competent to determine; and I beg to avow, that I have the highest respect for this Court, and that I have every reliance on its justice, and perfect confidence in the rectitude of my own conduct. With these sentiments. Sir, I close my defence, and shall cheerfully bow to your decision.”

The Court was then cleared, and after some few minutes deliberation was again opened, when they declared their opinion to be, that no charge had been proved against Lieutenant Worsfold, his evidence therefore was admissible if Commander Deans should think proper to call upon him. – I should wish, said the latter, that Lieutenant Worsfold be called, to state to the court the general conduct of Mr. Collymore, for the last three months he served in the Childers. – The lieutenant was then sworn, and deposed as follows:–

“The day previous to Mr. Collymore being hauled up into the maintop, I had mustered the ship’s company at divisions, with their scrubbed hammocks, and directed Mr. Collymore, as the midshipman of the second division, to take a list of the hammocks that were returned, fresh marked or repairing. On the following day, on inquiring for this list, I sent to Mr. Collymore for it, which was brought to me by the master of the watch. It was written in pencil, as I conceived, not in a proper manner to be sent to me; I accordingly sent for him on deck, and desired him to repeat over the names that were not legible to me; he then told me that he had not done it himself, but that one of the master’s assistants of the same division had done it; I reprimanded him for not obeying my orders, which he appeared to take no notice of whatever; I then ordered him to go to the mast-head; he still continued to treat my orders with contempt, and in fact turned himself round, his back partly towards me, looking about as if insensible it was to him I was addressing myself; I moved towards him and repeated my orders three or four times more, but when I asked him the question whether he meant to attend to what I had said, he replied no. I immediately went down below and told Commander Deans of the circumstance; he followed me on deck and ordered Mr. C. to go to the mast-head; he still continued to treat Commander D. as he had already done me; I was then desired by Commander D. to send for the main-top men, who adjusted a half-inch rope under his arm and hauled him up into the top; I was then desired to go up and see him secured to the topmast rigging, and after a great resistance by his nearly knocking me out of the top, he was seized to the rigging by the elbows, with his face towards the mast; I then sent the men below, and went myself to report to the commander, that Mr. Collymore was secured. Shortly afterwards. Commander Deans went on shore, and I went below, but came upon deck in about ten minutes, and looking aloft, I found that Mr. Collymore was out of the top; I immediately sent for the serjeant, and desired him to bring Mr. Collymore on deck to me, judging he was below in his berth; he came, when I asked him if he had leave to come down? he told me no; I ordered him to go aloft again; finding he still persevered in the same line of conduct he had previously observed, I ordered the serjeant to take him below, and put a sentry at his berth-door, and told him he was to consider him (Mr. C.) as a prisoner under arrest. Shortly afterwards, considering it too great an indulgence for him to be below in his berth, I desired the serjeant to bring him up and put him on the poop with a sentinel over him. On Commander Deans coming on board after four o’clock, he questioned me how he came there; I told him about his coming down from the top, when he ordered him to be placed in irons under the poop; about eight o’clock he was removed to his hammock in the steerage. The next morning he was brought up under the poop and placed under the sentry’s charge; about nine o’clock he was sent with a sentinel below to his berth under arrest, where he remained for three days, during the investigation that took place by Sir Jahleel Brenton, on board the Donegal. Two or three days afterwards he was discharged from the ship.

“Commander Deans.– State to the Court his general conduct for the last three mouths. Lieutenant Worsfold.– He was in general inattentive to his duty; he left the ship twice at night time, without permission, returning at day-light in the morning; the last time he left the ship it was his watch on deck.

“Commander Deans. – State to the Court my general treatment of the officers and men on board the Childers. Lieutenant Worsfold – Commander Deans has expressed his wish frequently that the officers and ship’s company should be made as comfortable as possible. No person could do more than he did to make them so.

“Lieutenant Gordon G. Macdonald, second lieutenant of the Childers, was then called, who corroborated the above evidence of Lieutenant Worsfold, and stated that Mr. Collymore was extremely inattentive to his duty, so much so that he frequently expostulated with him, and advised him to pay more attention to it. On the evening of the 14th April last, a man, having the appearance of a farmer, came on board the Childers, and made a complaint, when the commander sent for Mr. Collymore and the boat’s crew. The farmer said his house had been attacked, the windows broken, his family had been put in bodily fear by the threats of a party, who, when asked what they came for at that time of night, answered, they were in search of smuggled goods; that he was induced to open the door, and allow them to come in; that they soon after departed; and the next morning he discovered that one of his gates had been broken, which he strongly suspected to have been done by them. Hereupon Commander Deans immediately inquired of Mr. Collymore and the boat’s crew if they were the aggressors, all of whom positively denied having any knowledge of the transaction. Two days afterwards. Lieutenant Macdonald was commanding officer, when a constable came on board, with a warrant to take Mr. Collymore before a county magistrate. Lieutenant Macdonald sent for Mr. Collymore, and mentioned to him his suspicions that he and the boat’s crew were the parties alluded to in the deposition made by the farmer, and advised him immediately to acknowledge it, if it was so. After some little hesitation, Mr. Collymore acknowledged that he was the person who had attacked the house. Lieutenant Macdonald immediately wrote a note to the magistrates, to say that he would appear, with the young gentleman (Mr. C.) the next morning; which he did. The fact was then acknowledged by Mr. Collymore before the magistrate, which he had previously denied. He then expressed contrition for what had occurred, and, after a severe admonition from the magistrate, he was fined five pounds; which he paid. Lieutenant Macdonald then bore testimony to the treatment of Mr. C. by Commander Deans, which he said was kind and indulgent to such a degree as the service could possibly admit of.

“John Taylor, master’s assistant, was then called, who swore to the fact of Mr. Collymore having left the ship during his (Mr. Taylor’s) watch, about half-past nine or ten o’clock at night; and when he was to have been relieved by Mr. C, the corporal reported that he had gone out of the ship.

“Commander Deans then stated, that he had no further evidence to bring forward; when the Judge-Advocate declared that the defence was concluded. The Court was then cleared, and after about two hours deliberation was again opened, and the following sentence delivered:–

“The Court having read the evidence in support of the charges, &c. &c., and having maturely and deliberately considered the same, &c., is of opinion that in giving an order to Mr. J. R. Collymore to go to the mast-head as a punishment, the said Lieutenant William Worsfold was borne out by the general custom of the service, and the particular circumstances of the case; and the Court is further of opinion, that the means resorted to, to enforce obedience, by Commander Deans, have also been practised in the service, and were in some degree justified by the previous incorrigible conduct of the said J. R. Collymore. The Court nevertheless cannot but consider that those means are generally unofficerlike and improper; and although fully sensible that the general conduct of Commander Robert Deans towards the officers and ship’s company under his command has been kind and indulgent, the Court feels itself called upon to admonish the said Commander Robert Deans to be more circumspect in his conduct for the future, and he is hereby admonished accordingly, and the Court doth adjudge the said Lieutenant William Worsfold to be acquitted.”

The President then returned Commander Deans his sword, which he said had been often and honourably drawn in defence of his country.

On the 21st June, 1831, the Childers sailed from Portsmouth with despatches to South America. She was paid off in the beginning of 1833.

Commander Deans has never been granted a pension for his wounds, the surgeons not considering him to have sustained injuries in the service equal to the loss of a limb. He is treasurer and a director of the Scottish military and naval academy, and also of the Edinburgh and Leith seamen’s friend society. He married, in Feb. 1821, Mary, eldest daughter of the late Richard Clay, of Gloucester Place, Portman Square, London, Esq.