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Royal Naval Biography/Devon, Thomas Barker

Knight of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order.
[Post-Captain of 1825.]

Second son of George Barker Devon, Esq. many years Remembrancer of the First Fruits and Tenths.

This officer was born at Sutton, co. Middlesex, Oct. 8th, 1784. He entered the royal navy, as midshipman, on board the Duke of 90 guns. Captain John Holloway, in April, 1797. was removed from that ship, after the mutiny at Spithead[1], to the Royal Sovereign, first-rate, bearing the flag of Sir Alan (afterwards Lord) Gardner, second in command of the Channel fleet; and, in the autumn of 1800, joined the Romney 50, Captain Sir Home Popham, with whom he returned home from the Red Sea and East Indies, in April, 1803[2]. On the 23rd June following, we find him suffering shipwreck, near the Texel, in la Seine frigate. Captain (now Sir David) Milne; and subsequently serving mider Lord Gardner, by whom he was appointed a lieutenant of the Dragon 74, Captain Edward Griffith (now Vice-Admiral Colpoys), about May, 1804. In this ship he was present at the capture of two Spanish third rates, by the fleet under Sir Robert Calder, off Cape Finisterre, July 22d, 1805[3].

After this action, Mr. Devon was successively appointed to the Shannon 38, Captain (now Sir Philip B. V.) Broke, with whom he visited the arctic regions; and Crocodile 22, Captain the Hon, George Cadogan, of which ship he was first lieutenant when she conveyed the future Duke of Wellington to the shores of Portugal, in 1808. Towards the end of the ensuing year, he obtained the command of the Brevdrageren gun-brig, mounting twelve 18-pounder carronades, with a complement of 50 officers and men. The following is his official account of an action between that vessel and a Danish squadron, the united force of which was fifty-four long 18-pounders, and not less than 480 men; – dated Aug. 2d, 1811:

“At 5 p.m. on the 31st ultimo, being off Long Sound, on the coast of Norway, in company with H.M. cutter Algerine[4], and the two prizes we had captured the day before, the wind light and variable, three vessels were observed standing out from the land: two boats were despatched to reconnoitre, who returned with information that the strangers were enemy’s brigs of the largest class. Having prepared every thing for battle, we made sail, and commenced sweeping from them until daylight, when one of their vessels appearing much separated from the rest, we bore down to attack her, in company with the Algerine. Observing our intention, she made every exertion to rejoin the others, who, during this manoeuvre, had closed with us considerably. At 8 a.m., we again commenced sweeping from the enemy; at 10, observed the nearest brig, which appeared to be the commodore, telegraph her consorts, and they immediately despatched their boats; – thus assisted, towing and sweeping, with her sails clewed up, she advanced first towards us. At 11 a.m., Lieutenant Blow signified his intention of attacking this vessel, in the hope of disabling her before the others could join; – swept round, and, at 11-30, commenced action in concert with the Algerine. At 30 minutes past noon, in close action within musket-shot, the second brig commenced tiring upon us; observed the Algerine sweep round and haul out of the battle; – she soon after made the signal to discontinue action, which was, however, impracticable on my part. Thus finding ourselves in the midst of the enemy^s squadron, with scarcely a prospect of escape, I resolved that they should not find an easy conquest, and, with the colours of my country displayed in every conspicuous part of the vessel, prepared to defend His Majesty’s brig until the last extremity. At 1 p.m., a boat from the Algerine, with ten men and three sweeps, came to our assistance. A light air springing up from the N.W., with the help of sweeps and boat towing, we fortunately, by 2 p.m., were only within long range of shot: the enemy’s sails being clewed up, prevented her taking advantage of the breeze, which favored our escape. The chase now again commenced, and continued, within gun-shot, until sunset; the enemy keeping up a teasing fire, but unable to bring us to action. At 9 p.m., night coming on, the enemy left off chase; we, however, continued sweeping from them until midnight, when our people were quite exhausted, having been nearly 30 hours at the sweeps and in action.

“No language of mine can describe the bravery and exertion displayed by the gallant fellows under my command, and my sincerest thanks are due to every individual on board the Brevdrageren, whose crew, officers included, consisted only of 47; neither can I close this letter without recommending to the notice of the commander-in-chief, Mr. Anderson, sub-lieutenant; Mr. Edwards, second master; and Mr. Sukings, pilot; for their steady determined assistance in the time of real danger: – the former has been fifteen years in the service, six of which as sub-lieutenant; the master is an intelligent, active, zealous young man, worthy of every encouragement.

“Considering the great superiority of the enemy, the damage we have sustained has been inconsiderable; eight shots in the hull, the fore-mast badly wounded, and the sails, standing and running rigging, somewhat injured: our loss consists of one killed and three wounded.

(Signed)Thomas B. Devon.”

Thus, by dint of gallantry, exertion, and perseverance, was saved from capture a vessel which the Danes would, probably, have been still more anxious to possess had they known that she formerly belonged to their navy. Her consort mounted ten 18-pounder carronades, and had on board about 60 officers and men, of whom only one was killed and not any wounded. “A very serious investigation,” says Captain Brenton, “would have taken place on the conduct of the lieutenant of the Algerine, but before any complaint could reach the Admiralty, he was dismissed from the command of his vessel for another breach of discipline[5].”

That Lieutenant Devon’s conduct was highly approved by his commander-in-chief and the Board of Admiralty, the following copies of official documents will testify.

Extract of a letter from Admiral (afterwards Sir William) Young, to Captain Charles S. J. Hawtayne, of H.M.S. Quebec, commanding the Heligoland squadron, dated Aug. 24th, 1811–

“I desire you to inform Lieutenant Devon, that I have transmitted an account of his very gallant action to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty; and to assure him, and all the officers and crew of the Brevdrageren of my high approbation of the perseverance and determined courage with which they defended themselves against such very superior force: and that I have great pleasure in learning that of such brave men so few were killed or wounded in the unequal contest.”

Copy of a letter from Admiral Young to Lieutenant Devon, dated Aug. 30th, 1811:

“Having transmitted to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty your letter addressed to Captain Hawtayne, giving an account of an action you bad sustained against three national brigs, on the coast of Norway, their lordships have commanded me to express to you their approbation of the gallant conduct of yourself, your officers, and crew, on the occasion. I have to desire that you communicate the same to the officers and crew of the Brevdrageren accordingly.”

The approbation of the Admiralty was further marked, by the promotion, in Sept. following, of the Brevdrageren’s sub-lieutenant; but her commander did not obtain superior rank until nearly twenty months afterwards, during which period he was most actively employed on the Heligoland station, where several of his crew were killed and wounded in various skirmishes with the enemy. Among other captures made by him in 1812, were a French lugger privateer, and an armed custom-house vessel, the latter cut out from the port of Delfzyl, in the river Ems.

In March, 1813, Lieutenant Devon, then just returned to Heligoland, after a six weeks’ cruise in very tempestuous weather, received information of the distressed state of the French forces at Cuxhaven, and of the entrance of a Russian army into Hamburgh. His sub-lieutenant, second master, and many men, were then absent in prizes, and himself and the remainder of his crew almost worn out with excessive fatigue; notwithstanding which he hastened to represent to Lieutenant Francis Banks, commanding the Blazer gun-brig, the necessity of going immediately to the Elbe, and at length prevailed upon him to proceed thither, accompanied by the Brevdrageren. The timely appearance of these vessels at the entrance of that river, prevented the escape of two large gun-schuyts, which they took possession of and destroyed, and led to the destruction of eighteen others by the enemy themselves, which formidable flotilla would otherwise have been removed to Holland, under the superintendence of a French naval officer[6].

On the same day, Mar, 16th, Lieutenant Devon landed, and opened a communication with the castle of Ritzbuttel, on which the Hamburgh flag was at that time displayed, the French troops, 1200 in number, having already commenced their retreat from Cuxhaven to Bremen: the result of his interview with the provisional authorities was an agreement, subsequently ratified and acted upon by his senior officer, that the above colours should be hoisted in conjunction with the British, at all the deserted batteries, which were to be taken immediate possession of by a small military detachment brought from Heligoland; and that all military and other stores belonging to the enemy should be delivered up to the Blazer and her consort. On the 21st of the same month. Lieutenant Devon made the following official report to Lieutenant Banks:

“Agreeably with your arrangement, I proceeded with the galley of the Brevdrageren and cutter of the Blazer, in search of the Danish privateer, said to infest the upper part of the river. At day-light this morning, we discovered two galliots, which were at first supposed to be merchant vessels; but on approaching them they hailed and instantly opened a fire. In this critical situation, there was no safety but in resolutely boarding, and I took advantage of the cheerful readiness of our people. We carried them under the smoke of their second discharge, without the loss of a man, and only two wounded on the part of the enemy; the galley boarding the first, and the Blazer’s cutter, in the most gallant manner, the second. They proved to be the Danish gun-boats Jonge Troutman, commanded by Lieutenant Lutkin; and Liebe, Lieutenant Writt, each mounting two long 18-pounders and three 12-pounder carronades, with a complement of 25 men.

“When you consider that each of these formidable vessels was carried by a single boat, one by a cutter with twelve men, and the other by a galley with nine, the conduct of the brave fellows under my orders needs no comment: and I beg to return my sincere thanks to them, and to Mr. Dunbar, the master of the Blazer.

“These vessels were sent, three days ago, from Gluckstadt, for the express purpose of intercepting the trade from Heligoland.”

(Signed)Thomas Barker Devon.”

The Jonge Troutman and Liebe were captured near Brunsbuttel, on the Hanoverian side of the Elbe, about six leagues distant from the anchorage of the British brigs. The success of this daring attack must be partly attributed to the explosion of some cartridges on the deck of the former galliot, which threw her crew into confusion, just as Lieutenant Devon was in the act of boarding. The Liebe surrendered, without opposition, on seeing the fate of the Jonge Troutman, and that her captors were hastening to the support of the Blazer’s cutter. One of the nine persons in the Brevdrageren’s galley was Mr. Frederick Devon, midshipman, brother to her commander, and then only 13 years of age.

On the 4th of the ensuing month, Admiral Young wrote to Lieutenant Devon as follows:

“I have had the pleasure, this morning, of desiring Lieutenant Banks to convey to you and to those who were with you, the expression of the Admiralty’s approbation of your conduct in the capture of the Danish gun-boats, which does indeed well deserve to be approved of. I am afraid that gun-boats make but bad prizes; but whatever these may produce, I have desired my agent to distribute my share of it among the crews of the two boats by which they were taken, and I heartily wish it were much more than I fear it will be.”

Extract of the Admiral’s letter to Lieutenant Banks.

“I desire you will inform Lieutenant Devon, the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty are pleased with his gallant conduct, and with that of the men who were with him. I have great pleasure in transmitting this expression of their Lordships’ approbation of so very gallant an achievement.”

In a memorial subsequently forwarded by Lieutenant Devon to the Admiralty, he informed their lordships that since Jan. 1st, 1812, he had been nine times personally engaged with the French and Danes, and that he had captured, in addition to the privateer, custom-house cutter, and armed galliots already mentioned, nearly thirty merchant vessels of different descriptions. On the 4th May, in the same year, he was at length promoted to the rank of commander; and, in farther testimony of their lordships’ approval of his very meritorious services, the Brevdrageren was rated a sloop of war, and continued under his command.

Before the end of May, 1813, Cuxhaven and Hamburgh were again in the possession of the enemy, as will be seen by reference to our memoir of Captain John M‘Kerlie, who then commanded on the Heligoland station. In Oct. following, we find the Brevdrageren attached to the squadron under Captain Arthur Farquhar, of the Desirée frigate, who had been sent to co-operate with the allied forces in the neighbourhood of the German rivers. Previous to his joining that officer, Captain Devon had had two interviews with Viscount Melville, on the subject of the said service; and on one of these occasions he was called to London express, by a telegraphic message, – a proof of the opinion entertained by the First Lord, of his abilities and zeal.

After the capture of the enemy’s shipping at Braak, in the duchy of Oldenburgh, by a detachment under Captain M‘Kerlie, of which mention has been made in that officer’s memoir, Captain Devon handsomely volunteered to conduct the two principal vessels down the Weser, and was accordingly placed in charge of a new 20-gun corvette, which he carried by night between Blexen and Bremer-lehe, and then, through a still narrow and intricate navigation, to her destined anchorage at the mouth of the river: – a repetition of this dangerous service was rendered unnecessary, by the sudden arrival of a battalion of Russian infantry and some Cossacks, with which force, being at that time the senior naval officer on the spot, he immediately commenced active co-operation against the above mentioned fortresses. He was subsequently entrusted with the command of the seamen landed by Captain Farquhar to erect batteries and mount sea ordnance for the reduction of those strong works, the Russians having come unprovided with any artillery, – which services were effected under very considerable difficulties and a continual sharp fire.

The operations in the Weser having been completed by the subjugation of Blexen and Bremer-lehe, Captain Devon was despatched from thence, with two gun-vessels under his orders, to support another detachment of the allied army, advancing by Embden towards Delfzyl, into which place the French had thrown a large reinforcement. There were then no less than seventeen armed vessels lying in the haven, all perfectly equipped; notwithstanding which, he anchored the Brevdrageren just out of range of the enemy’s batteries, and immediately established a most rigorous blockade. He also assisted in repelling numerous sorties made by the enemy, who, however, held out until the occupation of Paris by the allies, in April, 1814. On the 28th of the following month, the Secretary of State at the Hague addressed a letter to Captain Devon, of which we shall here give an extract:–

“The Baron Van der Capellan, commanding the forces by land, has acquainted me with the assistance you have so effectually lent him, and in such a distinguished manner, during the blockade. I fed it incumbent on me to express my sentiments on the occasion, and to assure you of th<t high esteem which you have inspired fur the character of a British naval officer, and of your personal merits in particular.

(Signed)T. H. Mollierus.”

An unpleasant discussion with the Prussian authorities, occasioned by Captain Devon having prevented them from seizing a quantity of valuable spars, in the charge of an agent employed by the British government, terminated the Brevdrageren’s services in the river Ems; but on this, as on every former occasion, her commander’s conduct met with official approbation. She returned home in July, 1814; and being then found unfit for further service, was soon afterwards put out of commission.

Captain Devon’s next appointment was, Sept. 26, 1814, to the Icarus brig, of 10 guns, which vessel formed part of the squadron sent to escort Napoleon Buonaparte to St. Helena, from whence we find her despatched to the Isle of France and Calcutta; she was paid off, on her return home, in April, 1817. Captain Devon subsequently received an official notification from Count Munster, the Hanoverian Minister, as follows:

“44, Grosvenor Place, Nov. 30th, 1820.

“Sir,– It gives me great pleasure to have to acquaint you, that His Majesty, in consideration of the active, gallant, and zealous services you rendered when under the orders of Captain Farquhar, commanding a detached squadron in the rivers Elbe, Weser, and Ems, in the year 1813, has been most graciously pleased to nominate and appoint you a Knight of the Royal Guelphic Order, the decoration of which will be transmitted to you by the first opportunity.


Captain Devon was advanced to the rank he now holds. May 27th, 1825. He married, in April, 1809, Anne, daughter of Mr. Tompson, a respectable medical practitioner in the neighbourhood of Exeter.

Agent.– Messrs. Stilwell.

  1. See Vol. I, p. 109.
  2. See Suppl. Part I. p. 56, et seq.
  3. See Vol. I. Part I. p. 405, and Part II. p. 507.
  4. Commanded by Lieutenant John Aitkin Blow.
  5. Brenton’s Nav. Hist. V. 329. Lieutenant Blow has since been promoted to the rank of commander.
  6. See Admiral Young’s orders to Captain John M‘Kerlie, at p. 190 of Suppl. Part III.