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Royal Naval Biography/Domett, William

Admiral of the Blue; Knight Grand Cross of the most honourable Military Order of the Bath.

This officer, who was born in the year 1754, is descended from a respectable family in Devonshire. In 1769, he entered the naval service, as a Midshipman, under the patronage of the late Lord Bridport, on board the Quebec frigate, commanded by Lord Ducie; and served in that ship upwards of three years on the West India station.

The Quebec being paid off on her return to England, Mr. Domett was received by Captain Elphinstone (now Viscount Keith) on board the Scorpion sloop, in which vessel he remained until the spring of the year 1775, when he joined the Marlborough, of 74 guns, commanded by the late Viscount Hood, and from that ship went to the Surprise frigate, Captain (afterwards Admiral) Robert Linzee[1], stationed at Newfoundland.

In the spring of 1777, we find the Surprise assisting in the defence of Quebec, and annoying the American army in its retreat from before that important place, which it had besieged for about five months. Soon after this event Mr. Domett was appointed acting Lieutenant of the Romney, a 50-gun ship, bearing the flag of Admiral John Montagu, Commander-in-Chief at Newfoundland, with whom he retured to England in the fall of the year; and on his arrival, was commissioned to the Robust, of 74 guns, in which ship he was present in the action between Keppel and d’Orvilliers, July 27, 1778[2]; and the battle which took place off Cape Henry, March 16, 1781[3]. In the latter affair the Robust sustained a greater loss in killed and wounded than any other ship in the British squadron; and by having at one time three of the enemy’s vessels to contend with, her masts, sails, rigging, and boats, were cut to pieces. The following complimentary letter, addressed by Vice-Admiral Arbuthnot to Captain Cosby, is a sufficient proof of the high estimation in which the conduct of her officers and crew was held by the Commander-in-Chief on that occasion.

Royal Oak, off Cape Charles, March 1781.

“Dear Sir.– You have, since the time that we left Gardiner’s Bay, conducted yourself like an experienced, diligent officer, particularly on the 16th inst., in which you have approved yourself a gallant Naval Commander, that has done honour to yourself and country; and both yourself, officers, and ship’s company, have my warmest thanks for your spirited conduct. *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

(Signed)M. Arbuthnot.

Captain Cosby, Robust.

In the ensuing autumn, Lieutenant Domett was removed to the Invincible, of 74 guns, commanded by the late Sir Charles Saxton, Bart., and was on board that ship in Rear-Admiral Graves’s action with the French fleet, off the Chesapeake, on the 5th Sept. in the same year[4]. Soon after this he was taken into the Barfleur, and had the honor of serving as signal-officer to Sir Samuel Hood, during the memorable and masterly manoeuvres of that distinguished Admiral at St. Kitts, and the several battles which took place with the French fleet under de Grasse, an account of which will be found under the head of Retired Captain John N. Inglefield. He also participated in the glorious victory of April 12, 1782[5], when, on the Ville de Paris striking to the Barfleur, and the first Lieutenant being sent to take possession of that ship, Mr. Domett was appointed to succeed him in that situation. Some days after this event, Sir Samuel Hood having been detached in pursuit of the fugitives, came up with and captured two 64-gun ships, one frigate, and a sloop of war[6], to the command of which latter vessel, the Ceres of 16 guns, Lieutenant Domett was promoted by Sir George Rodney, with whose despatches relative to this fresh success he returned to England.

On the 9th Sept. in the same year, our officer was advanced to the rank of Post-Captain, and selected by his friend Rear-Admiral Sir Alex. Hood, to command his flag-ship, the Queen of 98 guns, in which vessel he accompanied the fleet under Earl Howe to the relief of Gibraltar, and was present in the skirmish which took place off Cape Spartel, on the 20th Oct.[7] The Queen, on that occasion, had 1 man killed and 4 wounded.

Captain Domett’s next appointment was early in 1785, to the Champion of 24 guns; and from that period until the month of October 1787, he was employed as senior officer on the Leith station. In the spring of 1788, he obtained the command of the Pomona frigate, and was ordered to the coast of Africa, and the West Indies, from whence he returned at the commencement of the year 1789, and was then removed to the Salisbury, bearing the flag of the late Admiral Milbanke, Commander-in-Chief at Newfoundland.

Our officer continued in the Salisbury until the month of June 1790, when, in consequence of the dispute with Spain relative to Nootka Sound, he was selected to command the London of 98 guns. This appointment proceeded from the influence, and was made ’at the express desire of Sir Alexander Hood, who had chosen that ship for the reception of his flag. The London proceeded to Torbay, where a fleet was assembled under the command of Earl Howe; but the misunderstanding with the Court of Madrid having been accommodated, it was dismantled at the end of the same year; and Captain Domett immediately appointed to the Pegasus, in which frigate he again served on the Newfoundland station, and soon after his return from thence proceeded to the Mediterranean as Flag-Captain to the late Admiral Goodall, in the Romney of 50 guns, where he continued until the commencement of the war with France, in 1793, at which period he was again applied for by his old friend and patron, to be his Captain in the Royal George, a first rate, attached to the Channel fleet under Earl Howe[8].

During the partial action of May 29, 1794, and the decisive battle of June 1st in the same year, full account of which is given in our memoir of Lord Gambier[9], the Royal George was exposed to an incessant and fierce cannonade, by which her foremast, with the fore and main topmasts, were shot away, 20 of her men killed, and 72 wounded. On the return of the victorious fleet to port, Admiral Hood was created an Irish peer, by the title of Lord Bridport; and some time after succeeded Earl Howe, as Commander-in-Chief.

At the dawn of day on the 22d June, 1795, his Lordship’s look-out frigates made the signal for an enemy’s squadron, consisting of twelve ships of the line, two of 56 guns, eleven frigates, and two corvettes, attended by some smaller vessels. His Lordship soon perceived that it was not the intention of the enemy to meet him in battle; consequently he made the signal for four of the best sailing ships, and soon afterwards for the whole of the British fleet, to chace, which continued all that day and during the night, with very little wind. Early on the morning of the 23d, six of the English ships had neared the enemy so considerably as to be able to bring them to an engagement about six o’clock. The battle continued nearly three hours, and then ceased, in consequence of the greater part of the French squadron having worked close in with port l’Orient, leaving three of their line-of-battle ships in the hands of the British, as a substantial reward for their brave and determined perseverance[10].

On the following day Lord Bridport despatched Captain Domett with his official account of the action to the Admiralty, where he arrived on the morning of the 27th.

The following is an extract from his Lordship’s public letter, which we introduce for the purpose of evincing the estimation in which that nobleman held the bearer’s professional conduct: “I beg also to be allowed to mark my approbation, in a particular manner, of Captain Domett’s conduct, serving under my flag, for his manly spirit, and for the assistance I received from his active and attentive mind.

Our officer continued in the command of the Royal George for a considerable time after Lord Bridport struck his flag, amounting in the whole to a period of about seven years and a half; a greater length of time, perhaps, than ever fell to the lot of an individual successively to command a first rate. During this period the Royal George was considered as one of the best disciplined and most expert ships in the British Navy.

In the month of Nov. 1800, in consequence of the Royal George being ordered to receive the flag of Sir Hyde Parker, Captain Domett was removed into the Belleisle of 80 guns, one of the prizes taken off l’Orient; and on a promotion of Flag-Officers taking place, Jan. 1, 1801, he had the honour of being nominated to one of the vacant Colonelcies of the Marine corps.

In the succeeding month, the subject of this memoir was appointed Captain of the fleet to be employed in the Baltic, under the command of Sir Hyde Parker. He accordingly proceeded with that officer in the London, a second rate, to the Sound; and after the battle, which took place off Copenhagen, on the 2d April[11], and the departure of the Commander-in-Chief for England, he served in the same capacity under the gallant Nelson, during the short time his Lordship’s health allowed him to retain the command of the force employed in that quarter. On his arrival from the Baltic, Captain Domett immediately resumed the command of his old ship, the Belleisle, then off Ushant; and in a short time afterwards the late Hon. Admiral Cornwallis applied for him to be appointed Captain of the Channel fleet, in which situation he continued to serve until the truce of Amiens.

During the temporary suspension of hostilities, Captain Domett served as senior officer, with a broad pendant, on the coast of Ireland; but on the renewal of the war with France, he resumed his old station as Captain of the Channel fleet, under the gallant and persevering Cornwallis, with whom he shared the duties and fatigues of service, in an unusually long protracted blockade, during the severest season of the year, and until April 1804; on the 23d of which month he was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral. About the same time he received the thanks of the Common Council of London, his name having been inadvertently omitted when that body voted thanks to the other Flag-Officers, for their perseverance in blocking up the enemy’s fleet at Brest.

Soon after his promotion, the Rear-Admiral was offered a command in the North Sea; but ill health obliged him to decline it. About six months after he came on shore he was appointed one of the Commissioners for the revision of Naval Affairs, the purport of which commission was, to form a complete digest of regulations and instructions for the civil department of the Navy.

In the spring of 1808, our officer was called to a seat at the Board of Admiralty, where he continued until the summer of 1813, when he succeeded the late Sir Robert Calder as Commander-in-Chief at Plymouth, having been in the intermediate time advanced to the rank of Vice-Admiral[12].

Towards the conclusion of the war we find him employed on the coast of France, with his flag in the Royal Oak of 74 guns, under the orders of Lord Keith. At the enlargement of the Order of the Bath, Jan. 2, 1815, the Vice-Admiral was nominated a K.C.B.; and on the 16th May, 1820, he succeeded the Hon. Sir George C. Berkeley, as a G.C.B. Sir William Domett’s promotion to the rank of Admiral of the Blue took place August 12, 1819.

  1. Admiral Linzee died at Little Park, near Wickham, co. Hants, in Sept. 1804.
  2. See note †, at p. 195.
  3. See p. 40.
  4. See p. 133.
  5. See p. 35, et seq.
  6. See p. 37.
  7. See pp. 17, 106.
  8. Captain Cooke, of the Bellerophon, who fell at Trafalgar, was first Lieutenant of the Royal George, under Captain Domett.
  9. See p. 75, et seq.
  10. The fleet under Lord Bridport consisted of fourteen sail of the line, six frigates, and three smaller vessels; in addition to which, three other British line-of-battle ships were in sight, and joined in the chace, but were at too great a distance to share in the action, which only ceased when under the fire of the French batteries. The total loss sustained on our side was 31 killed, and 115 wounded. The captured ships were le Tigre, le Formidable, and l’Alexandre, (formerly British,) which had been taken by a French squadron at the commencement of the war.
  11. See Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Foley.
  12. Oct. 25, 1809.