Royal Naval Biography/Dickinson, Richard

[Captain of 1828.]

A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath; Knight of the Royal French Order of St. Louis; and Knight (2nd class) of the Imperial Russian Order of St. Anne.

This officer is the son of the late Mr. R. Dickinson, of Bambrough, co. Northumberland, a Master in the royal navy; and was born about the year 1786. He entered the service at the early age of twelve years; obtained the rank of lieutenant in Aug. 1806; and was appointed to the Loire frigate, Aug. 1, 1808. In Feb. 1809, he assisted in capturing la Hebe, French national ship, of 20 guns (pierced for 34) and 160 men. In 1810, he was present at the reduction of Guadaloupe. In 1811, he had a narrow escape from shipwreck on the coast of Holland[1]. And, during the late war with America, he was most actively employed on the Halifax station; where the Loire, then commanded by Captain Thomas Brown, captured the Rolla privateer, of 5 guns and 80 men. His next appointments were. May 27th, 1815, to the Northumberland 74, fitting out for the flag of Sir George Cockburn, and soon afterwards employed in conveying Napoleon Buonaparte to St. Helena; – and, Aug. 4th, 1818, to be first lieutenant of the Salisbury 58, flag-ship of Rear-Admiral Donald Campbell, in which he served at the Leeward Islands until advanced to the rank of commander, by commission dated Jan. 29th, 1821[2].

In May 1827, Commander Dickinson[errata 1] was appointed to the Genoa 74, Captain Walter Bathurst, on the Mediterranean station, where he arrived in time to bear a conspicuous part at the battle of Navarin. The loss sustained by the Genoa, the command of which, it will be seen, devolved upon him during the heat of that sanguinary conflict, consisted of –

Messrs. P. Brown and Charles Bussell (midshipmen), Mr. A. J. T. Rowe (master’s-assistant), and twenty-two seamen and marines killed; Captain Bathurst (second in command of the British squadron), mortally wounded; Captain Thomas Moore (R.M.), Mr. Herbert Blatchford Gray (midshipman), and twelve men severely wounded; and Lieutenant Henry Richard Start, Mr. James Chambers (volunteer of the first class), and seventeen men slightly wounded.

On the eleventh day after this battle, the ship’s company of the Genoa addressed their commander-in-chief as follows:–

“The humble Petition to your Honour of the Petty officers,
Seamen, and Marines, of His Majesty’s ship Genoa.

“With gratitude they thank your Honour for the able manner in which you led them to action, and most heroically supported them in it, and hope your Honour will long live to enjoy the merited rewards of your noble conduct.

“Your petitioners beg leave, with all humility, before they leave the station, to express to your Honour their feelings of sincere regret for the loss of their late lamented Commander, whom they ever found a father and a friend; and your petitioners, with all humility, beg to express their joy at finding his loss supplied by their present worthy commander.

“They had before found him, as an officer, active and able in the execution of his duty, as well as gentlemanly in command; but they have now found him, in the moment of danger, a leader under whom they should never fear any enemy.

“They therefore humbly solicit your Honour to represent their feelings to His Royal Highness the Lord High Admiral.

“And your petitioners hope that your Honour will permit Captain Dickinson to take the ship home, as captain, in the event of her going to England.

“We are, honoured Sir, your most obedient and humble servants,

The Crew of His Majesty’s Ship Genoa.”

To Vice Admiral Sir E. Codrington,
K.C.B. &c. &c.

We have elsewhere stated, that Commander Lewis Davies, of the Rose sloop, was promoted to the vacancy occasioned by Captain Bathurst’s death; and that the Genoa returned home under the command of Captain the Hon. C. L. Irby, by whom she was paid off, at Plymouth, in Jan. 1828. Commander Dickinson, who had not then served the full time necessary to qualify him for a captain’s commission, was appointed, on the 3d of that month, to the Wasp sloop ; and advanced to his present rank on the 13th of May following. In the meantime he had been nominated a C.B., and decorated with the Cross of St. Louis, and the Order of St. Anne. We subsequently find him applying for permission also to wear the Russian order of St. Wladimer, and his late Commander-in-chief writing an official letter on the same subject, of which the following is a copy:–

“92, Eaton Square, June 14th, 1829.

“Sir,– In obedience to the directions of the Lords Commissioners of die Admiralty, in your letter of the 8th of this month, I have the honor to inform their Lordships, that the mistake of two distinct Russian Orders leaving got into the possession of Captain Dickinson, appears to me to have arisen from one of them having been sent to the Mediterranean through Count Helden, without its having been known that another had been conferred upon him in England through Count Lieven.

“As I understand that the Government do not think the Commanders serving in the Asia and Albion entitled to either of these Russian distinctions, I cannot but regret that Captain Dickinson should have been placed in this respect above those two officers; since I have every reason to approve (as I do most highly) of the conduct of Captain Baynes Captain Campbell, and have no reason to approve of the conduct of the Genoa, from the time of the command of her having devolved on Captain Dickinson. As it is probable that the selection of Captain Dickinson for the distinction in question, may have arisen from Captain Bathurst having been reported, in the return signed by Captain Dickinson and the surgeon, as killed in the action, it is incumbent on me to inform their Lordships, that Captain Dickinson himself conducted me down to Captain Bathurst, in the cockpit of the Genoa, at eight o’clock in the evening of the 20th of October, several hours after the battle was over, and that both he and the surgeon must have heard Captain Bathurst calmly and collectedly describing to me what had passed upon deck before he was wounded. In fact, Captain Dickinson, when subsequently reproved by me for having made this false return, acknowledged his recollection of having so conducted me into the cockpit, and of Captain Bathurst not having expired until about three o’clock in the morning of the 21st. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)Edward Codrington.”

To the Secretary of the Admiralty.

In consequence of this letter, the Board of Admiralty directed Captain Dickinson to return the order of St. Wladimer, that the mistake of two honorary distinctions having been sent to him might be explained to the Russian ambassador. On the 17th of the following month, Sir Edward Codrington again wrote to their Lordships’ secretary as follows:

“Sir,– In obedience to the desire of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that I should slate specifically all the points of Captain Dickinson’s conduct with which I was dissatisfied during the period of his being in temporary command of His Majesty’s ship Genoa, in order that the same may be investigated before a court-martial, (a measure which their Lordships are pleased to consider due as well to the character of Captain Dickinson as to the interests of the public service), I have the honor to state for their Lordships’ information, that from not making proper use of her springs directed by my order of the 19th of October, 1827, to be placed on the anchors, the broadside of the Genoa was not directed to her regular opponent in the Ottoman line, and that in such a position, she could not fire any of her guns except those of her stern and quarters without endangering the Asia, and others of the allied squadron on her larboard side, and Albion and others on her starboard side; that, consequently, shot which injured the Asia, and which came in that direction, were apparently fired by the Genoa, and that the Genoa did positively fire into the Albion, probably (according to her log-book) mistaking that ship for one of the Ottoman fleet, although the Albion had an English ensign at her mast-head to prevent such mistakes; – that Captain Dickinson having been reproved by me for not using the Genoa’s springs, and having accounted for it by his inability to get the men from their guns for that purpose, it was nevertheless asserted in the ship’s log book that the springs were used; – that the account of the battle given in the Genoa’s log-book erroneously implies, that she had three Ottoman ships of the line opposed to her on her starboard side, three 60-gun frigates on her larboard side and a-head, and a double-banked frigate astern; that Captain Dickinson returned Captain Bathurst as killed, and procured the surgeon’s signature to that return, knowing that he did not die until many hours after the battle was over, and that be retained his faculties to give orders during the whole time of the battle; and that by this mis-statement he gained an honorary distinction which might not otherwise have been conferred on him; – that the refittal of the Genoa for leaving Navarin, and engaging the batteries, if requisite, was unjustifiably tardy; and that the same slackness prevailed on her way to Malta; – that the Genoa’s mizen-mast was suffered to go by the board on the 21st, the day after the battle, for want of being properly secured; – that the Genoa continued firing after the battle was over, at the risk and to the probable injury of the allied ships, until hailed from the Asia to cease.

“In farther addition to the statement in my former letter, which was confined to the object of getting Captains Baynes and Campbell placed at least upon a level in honorary distinctions with Captain Dickinson, I have now, in obedience to their Lordships’ pleasure that I should state specifically all the points of Captain Dickinson’s conduct with which I was dissatisfied, to inform their Lordships of an instance of insubordination, of which I would gladly have avoided the exposure.

“That Captain Dickinson himself presented to me a letter in the nature of what is called a ‘round robin,’ purporting to come from the crew of the Genoa, and desiring that I would appoint him in preference to any other officer to succeed Captain Bathurst as Captain of the Genoa: and it in due to myself to explain, that I was then induced to relinquish the reporting to his Royal Highness the Lord High Admiral this instance of insubordination, which your letter has now made it incumbent on me to bring forward, by Captain Dickinson’s strongly expressed contrition for errors which he said he had fallen into inadvertently; his own entreaties that I would overlook them being supported by Captains Ommanney, Spencer, and others, who united with me in an anxious desire to avoid the exposure of such misconduct in this individual instance, on an occasion where a zealous execution of the service was the general characteristic of the three combined squadrons. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)Edward Codrington.”

In another letter, dated June 24th, 1829, Sir Edward asserts, that “owing to the Genoa not using her springs, the fire of her own opponent would not have been silenced but for the exertions of the other British ships;” and that, “although less injured than the Asia, the Albion, la Syrene, or the Azof, she was the last ship of the combined fleet ready to leave Navarin, even after having had a whole watch of the Glasgow frigate to assist her. It did not appear to me,” continues the Vice-Admiral, “that any benefit would be derived to the service from my publicly reporting at the time this inferiority of conduct evinced in the Genoa after she fell under the command of Captain Dickinson, more particularly as I had had the pleasure of expressing my marked approbation of the manner in which that ship had taken up her station under Captain Bathurst.”

“The public investigation which took place in consequence of the above allegations commenced on the 26th Aug. and did not terminate until Sept. 17th, 1829, when the Judge Advocate pronounced as follows:–

“The Court are of opinion, that the charges have not been proved against Captain Richard Dickinson.

“That the charge stating that the account of the battle given in the Genoa’s log-book, ‘erroneously implies that the Genoa had three Ottoman ships of the line opposed to her on the starboard side, three 60-gun frigates on her larboard side and a-head, and a double-banked frigate astern,’ is frivolous and groundless.

“That the return made by Captain Dickinson, ‘that Captain Bathurst was killed in action, knowing that he did not die until many hours after the battle was over,’ was made without the slightest appearance of any improper motive.

“That the charge, stating, ‘that the Genoa continued firing after the battle was over, at the risk, and to the probable injury of the allied ships, until hailed from the Asia to cease,’ is vexatious.

“That ‘the letter presented by Captain Dickinson to Sir Edward Codrington, purporting to come from the crew of the Genoa, and desiring that Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Codrington would appoint him in preference to any other officer to succeed Captain Bathurst, as Captain of the Genoa,’ appears to be a petition which was presented without any improper motive being imputable to Captain Dickinson; but in presenting which he was guilty of an impropriety for which he has already received the reproof of his commander-in-chief. And the Court doth adjudge the said Captain Richard Dickinson to be Honorably Acquitted, and he is hereby honorably acquitted accordingly.

On the 30th of April, 1830, Captain Dickinson was to the Talbot 28, fitting out for the Cape of Good Hope station; where he is now serving under the orders of Commodore Schomberg, C.B.

  1. See Rear-Admiral A. W. Schomberg.
  2. The first anniversary of the accession of King George IV., which was commemorated by the promotion of the senior lieutenants of all the flag-ships employed on foreign stations; and also of twelve midshipmen who had passed their examinations previous to Jan. 1816.

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