Open main menu

Royal Naval Biography/Duff, Archibald

[Post-Captain of 1806.]

Embarked as a Midshipman, in June, 1788; served the two first years of his time on board the Champion 24, commanded by Captain (now Admiral) Sampson Edwards, on the Leith station; and the remainder under the late Captain George Duff, in the Martin sloop, Resource frigate. Glory 98, and Duke of the same force; the latter second rate bearing the broad pendant of the Hon. Commodore Murray, during the expedition against Martinique, in June, 1793[1]. His promotion to the rank of Lieutenant took place in the course of the year 1794; and we afterwards find him serving with. Captain Duff, in the Ambuscade and Glenmore frigates, on the North Sea, and Irish stations.

Mr. Duff’s next appointment was to the Foudroyant of 80 guns, commanded by Sir Thomas Byard, with whom he continued on Channel service until that officer’s demise, Oct. 30, 1798. He subsequently joined the Barfleur 98, and proceeded in her to the Mediterranean, where he again removed into the Foudroyant, which ship shortly afterwards received the flag of Lord Nelson, by whom he had the honor of being allowed to remain as one of his Lieutenants.

In Sept. 1799, the subject of this sketch performed a very intrepid and humane action, for which he was deservedly praised, both by his Admiral and Captain, the latter of whom granted him a certificate to the following effect:

“These are to certify that Captain Archibald Duff, when a Lieutenant on board H.M.S. Foudroyant, under my command, in 1799, and when she was lying at anchor in the bay of Palermo, did, in a most gallant manner, jump overboard, and save a seaman belonging to the said ship. This happened in the middle watch, and the night was very dark. The unfortunate man would most certainly have been drowned, had it not been for the exertions of this enterprising young officer.

(Signed)T. M. Handy.”

On the 10th Feb. 1800, Lieutenant Duff assisted at the capture of le Généreux French 74, and a large armed transport, proceeding to the relief of Malta[2]. Soon after this event he joined the ill-fated Queen Charlotte, whose destruction by fire, off Leghorn, has been fully described in our memoir of Captain the Hon. George H. L. Dundas. On that awful occasion Lieutenant Duff was only roused from his sleep by the guns going off as they became heated; and he escaped from the surrounding flames by jumping overboard and swimming to the launch, which was providentially towing astern, and had already been taken possession of by many more men than she could conveniently carry. Mr. Duff fortunately reached her just as they were in the act of casting off the tow-rope, and he had the happiness of being afterwards able to save the lives of several other persons, as appears by the testimony of a respectable officer, who thus expresses himself on the subject:

“Captain Duff, when Lieutenant of H.M. late ship Queen Charlotte, at the time she was burnt, was the means of saving the lives of several men, through his humane and feeling exertions, by over-ruling the objections of those in the boat with him against receiving any more; of which number I was one of the fortunate individuals saved on that melancholy occasion.

(Signed)“William Ferguson, Lieut. R.M.”

After remaining for some time on board the Minotaur 74, Mr. Duff was appointed to command the Bonne Citoyenne sloop of war; but the Admiralty refusing to confirm his acting order, he was obliged to join the Guillaume Tell, a French 80, taken by Lord Nelson’s squadron, and to continue in her until Lord Keith shifted his flag from the Minotaur to the Foudroyant, when he became first Lieutenant of the latter ship, in which capacity, and as acting commander of the Mondovi brig, he continued during the most important part of the campaign in Egypt.

On the surrender of Grand Cairo, the Mondovi was selected to carry home Captain Richard Curry and Major Henry Montressor, the officers charged with the naval and military despatches announcing that conquest[3]; and on her return to the Mediterranean, Lieutenant Duff resumed his former station on board the Foudroyant, but was shortly afterwards appointed by Lord Keith to the command of the Lutine prison-ship, stationed at Minorca, where he remained until she was ordered to be broken up, in consequence of the peace of Amiens. His commission as a Commander was confirmed about the same period. We should here observe that the Mondovi was attacked by seventeen Spanish gun-boats in the Gut of Gibraltar, and succeeded in beating them off, notwithstanding their immense superiority of force. She also captured several French vessels with troops, whilst commanded by Captain Puff, and employed on the coast of Egypt.

Shortly after the renewal of the war, in 1803, Captain Duff was appointed to the Megaera fire-ship, and a few small vessels were occasionally placed under his command for the purpose of watching the enemy’s ports in the Channel. His post commission bears date Jan. 22, 1806.

In 1807, we find Captain Duff commanding the Muros of 20 guns, and convoying a fleet of merchantmen to Halifax; from whence he proceeded to the Jamaica station, and there made several captures.

Whilst cruising off the Havannah, in Mar. 1808, Captain Duff received information that the Spaniards were fortifying Bahia Honda; and, as that was the only port on the north coast of Cuba into which a British ship could run for shelter during bad weather, he considered it a matter of importance to destroy the enemy’s works: but, unfortunately, his pilot ran the Muros on a reef at the entrance of the harbour, and every effort to get her off proved useless. Fortunately, a small privateer was then in company, and with her aid Captain Duff was enabled to carry the whole of his officers and crew to three prize vessels which he had left at the Dry Tortugas, from whence they all returned in safety to Jamaica.

Captain Duff’s last appointment was, in 1813, to the President frigate, then on the Cork station, but subsequently sent to protect the north coasts of Ireland and Scotland against the American cruisers; on which service he continued to be employed until the termination of hostilities in 1815.

In 1819, Captain Duff published “A Claim to the Invention of the Tube Sight, for giving greater effect to the fire of Artillery, more particularly at Sea, as submitted to the Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, on the 4th October 1813, with further illustrations and comparative Remarks on the Tube Sight, as lately recommended by Major-General Sir William Congreve, in his Book of the 4th February, 1818, and tried on board His Majesty’s Ship Liffey.” In this pamphlet Captain Duff says:

“I have hitherto had no reason to believe hut that I was the first to recommend the improved Sight, and to enforce the principle on which its efficiency depends; but my method of applying it was not so fortunate as to meet with the approbation of their Lordships, to whom it was presented about five years ago. This I learn by observing that the same Sight, though with additional apparatus, and applied in a different manner, on a plan of Major-General Sir William Congreve’s, was ordered for trial by the Board of Admiralty in December last, on board H.M.S. Liffey.” – Preface, par. 3.

“Uninformed, however, of the date on which Sir William Congreve first put his ideas on the subject on record, or gave them publicity, further than what his work declares, I shall be ready to yield to him my claim to the original invention whenever he may make it appear that I ought to do so. But as to the practical utility of his plan, I must here repeat that his premises appear to me, morally as well as physically, so unattainable, and his whole process so directly at variance with a seaman’s knowledge and experience, that I do not hesitate to predict (whatever may have been the result of the practice in the smooth water of the river Medway, where probably the different distances were measured or otherwise ascertained,) it will never stand the test of experiment in action, in a rough sea, or in ocean water, where alone its utility must be looked for.” – p. 25.

For the particulars of Captain Duff’s invention we must refer our readers to his pamphlet, which appears to have been published at No. 87, Wimpole Street, Cavendish Square, London.

Captain Duff was presented with two gold medals during the late wars: one he received from the Turkish government for his services in Egypt; and the other from the Royal Humane Society, for his “intrepid and manly exertions m risking his own, to preserve the life of a fellow creature.”

Agent.– J. Petty Muspratt, Esq.


(Suppl. Part I. p. 17.)

Was tried by a court-martial, Mar. 22d, 1805, for using un-officerlike language, and giving superior ratings to persons not qualified. He appears to have been only admonished, and desired to be more circumspect in his conduct for the future.

  1. See Vol. I. p. 40*, and there make the following correction: viz. line 6 from the top, for Monmouth, read Monarch, the latter commanded by Sir James Wallace.
  2. See Vol II. Part I. p. 26.
  3. See Vol. II. Part I. pp. 462–468.