Royal Naval Biography/Douglas, George

[Post-Captain of 1812.]

Youngest surviving son of the late Archibald Lord Douglas, of Douglas, in Lanarkshire, Lord Lieutenant and Hereditary Sheriff of the county of Forfar; by Lady Frances Scott, daughter of Francis Earl of Dalkeith, and sister to Henry, third Duke of Buccleugh, K.G. &c. &c[1].

This officer was born, Aug. 2, 1788; and he entered the navy, as a midshipman on board the Excellent 74, Captain the Hon. Robert Stopford, Dec. 17, 1801. While in that ship, he witnessed the suppression of an alarming mutiny among the black troops garrisoned at Fort Shirley, in the island of Dominica, mention of which has been made at p. 750 et seq. of Vol. I. Part II.

On his return from the West Indies, Mr. Douglas joined the Castor frigate, and subsequently the Spencer 74, in which latter ship he completed his time under Captain Stopford. The Spencer accompanied Lord Nelson to the Coast of Egypt in quest of the Toulon fleet under Mons. Villeneuve, and formed part of the squadron with which that great commander pursued the combined forces of France and Spain to the Leeward Islands, in 1805. Unfortunately for those belonging to her, she was sent to compleat her water and provisions, at Tetuan and Gibraltar, a short time previous to the battle of Trafalgar, and thereby prevented from sharing in that most glorious combat[2]. We have already stated that she bore a conspicuous share in Sir John T. Duckworth’s action, off St. Domingo, Feb. 6, 1806, on which occasion her loss amounted to 18 killed and 50 wounded[3].

Mr. Douglas was advanced to the rank of lieutenant, and appointed to the Horatio, a new 38-gun frigate, Aug. 8, 1807. In her, he visited Quebec, and afterwards served on the Halifax and West India stations.

On the 10th Feb. 1809, the Horatio fought a very gallant action with la Junon French frigate, the capture of which is noticed at p. 147 of Vol. II. Part I. For his conduct on that occasion. Lieutenant Douglas, who, to use the words of Lord Mulgrave, then at the head of the Admiralty, “so nobly supplied the place of his disabled captain” was promoted as soon as he had completed the time prescribed by his Majesty’s Order in Council. His commission as a Commander consequently bears date, Aug. 8, 1809.

On the 18th July, 1810, Captain Douglas was appointed to the Brune troop-ship, and he continued to command her until his promotion to post rank, Feb. 28, 1812. His next appointment was, April 28, 1814, to the Levant, mounting eighteen 32-pounder carronades and 2 long nines, with an established complement of 135 officers, men, and boys. The heroic defence made by that ship and her consort, the Cyane, of twenty-two 32-pounder carronades, eight 18-pounder ditto, 2 long sixes, and 185 officers, men, and boys, (10 of the latter supernumeraries), against the Constitution, an American forty-four, mounting 32 long 24-pounders and twenty-two 32-pounder carronades, with 472 persons on board, only three of whom were boys, is deserving of particular notice.

On the 20th Feb. 1815, at 1 P.M., the island of Madeira bearing W.S.W., distant 60 leagues, the Constitution, steering to the S.W. with a light breeze from the eastward, discovered, about 2 points on her larboard bow, and immediately hauled up for, the Cyane, Captain Gordon Thomas Falcon., standing close hauled on the starboard tack, and about 10 miles to windward of her consort. At 1-45, the Constitution got sight of the Levant, then right ahead of her. At 4-0, having stood on to ascertain the character of the stranger, the Cyane made the private signal; and, finding it not answered, bore up for the Levant, with the signal flying for an enemy. The Constitution immediately made all sail in chase, and, at 5-0, commenced firing her larboard bow guns, but ceased soon afterwards, finding her shot fall short. At 5-30, the Cyane having arrived within hail of the Levant, Captain Douglas expressed to Captain Falcon his resolution to engage the enemy’s ship (known from previous information to be the Constitution), notwithstanding her superior force, in the hope, by disabling her, to save two valuable convoys, that had sailed from Gibraltar, a few days previous, in company with the Levant and Cyane.

At 5-45, the British ships made all sail upon a wind, and tried for the weather-gage. At 5-55, finding they could not accomplish their object, they both bore up, in order to delay the commencement of the action until night. The superior sailing of the Constitution defeating that plan also, they then hauled to the wind on the starboard tack, at the distance of less than 200 yards ahead and astern of each other. At 6-5, the Constitution, then about three quarters of a mile to windward, opened her larboard broadside upon the Cyane. Captain Falcon promptly returned the fire; but his shot fell short, while the enemy’s long 24-pounders were producing their full effect. At 6-20, the Constitution ranged ahead, and became engaged in the same manner with the Levant. Captain Falcon now luffed up for the larboard quarter of the frigate; whereupon the latter, backing astern, was enabled to pour into the Cyane her whole broadside.

Meanwhile Captain Douglas bore up, intending to wear round and assist his brother officer. Seeing this, the American filled, shot ahead, and gave the Levant two raking broadsides. Captain Falcon, although without a brace or bowline, except the larboard fore-brace, immediately got on the other tack, and placed his ship between the Levant and Constitution. At 6-50, after sustaining another raking fire, and when about to receive the enemy’s starboard broadside, within hail, having had most of her standing and running rigging cut to pieces, her main and mizen-masts being in a tottering state, some other principal spars wounded, and five carronades disabled, 9 or 10 shot having lodged between wind and water, and several others in the upper part of the hull, the Cyane fired a lee gun, and hoisted a light as a signal of submission.

It was not until 8 P.M. that the Constitution was ready to bear up after the Levant, then considerably to leeward, repairing her heavy damages. At 8-15, which was as soon as he had rove new braces. Captain Douglas again hauled his wind, as well to ascertain the fate of the Cyane, as to renew the desperate contest. On approaching the Constitution and her prize, the Levant, with admirable boldness, ranged close alongside the former to leeward, being unable to weather her; and at 8-30 those very unequal combatants, while passing on opposite tacks, exchanged broadsides. The forty-four then wore under the Levant’s stern, and raked her with a second broadside. At 9-30, finding that the Cyane had undoubtedly surrendered. Captain Douglas once more put before the wind; but, in the act of doing so, his little ship received several more raking broadsides, had her wheel shot away, and her lower masts badly wounded. To fire her stern-chase guns, and steer at the same time, was impossible, owing to a sad mistake in her construction. At 10-30 p.m. therefore, seeing the enemy ranging up on her larboard quarter. Captain Douglas reluctantly struck her colours.

Out of 115 officers and men, and sixteen boys, on board at the commencement of this long action, the Levant had 6 killed and 16 wounded: the Cyane, which ship had only 145 officers and men, and no less than twenty-six boys, sustained a loss of 6 slain and 13 wounded. That of the Constitution, as acknowledged by her commander, Captain Charles Stewart, was 4 killed and 11 (including 2 mortally) wounded. The Levant’s marines, it should be remarked, were young raw recruits, and although considered as men, would all have been rated boys in the American service.

The Levant was soon afterwards retaken at Porto Praya[4]; from whence the Constitution proceeded with her prisoners to Maranham, on the coast of Brazil. The Cyane having also escaped from Sir George Collier, arrived at New York without any further interruption. It need scarcely be added, that Captains Douglas and Falcon were most honorably acquitted, by a court-martial, held at Halifax, Nova Scotia, to try them for the surrender of their respective ships, and justly applauded for the gallant defence they made against an enemy so decidedly superior.

Since the peace, Captain Douglas has remained upon half-pay.

Agents.– Messrs. Atkins and Son.

  1. Lord Douglas died at Bothwell Castle, co. Lanark, Dec. 26, 1827, in his 80th year.
  2. See Vol. II. part I. p. 279, et seq.
  3. See Vol. I. part I. p. 356; and Vol. II. part I. p. 280 et seq.
  4. See Vol. II. Part II. p. 539; and Suppl. Part I. small type at p. 42, et seq.