Royal Naval Biography/Duff, Norwich

[Post-Captain of 1822.]

Eldest, son of the late Captain George Duff, R.N. who fell with Nelson at the ever memorable battle of Trafalgar, and of whose services we shall here give an outline; first stating, however, that he was the youngest son of James Duff, of Banff, N.B. Esq. by his first wife, a Miss Skene, of Rubislaw, in Aberdeenshire; and grandson of Alexander Duff, of Hatton, in the same county, Esq. whose lady was the eldest daughter of William, the first Earl of Fife.

Mr. George Duff was born in 1764; and we first find him serving under his grand-uncle, Commodore, afterwards Vice-Admiral, Robert Duff; who married Helen, fourth daughter of the above-mentioned nobleman, and died at Queen’s Ferry, in Linlithgowshire, June 6, 1787. He appears to have joined that experienced and distinguished officer, whose broad pendant was then hoisted on board the Panther 60, in Sept. 1777. He was present at the capture of the Spanish Admiral Don Juan de Langara, Jan. 16, 1780; and he also served under Captain Houlton, of the Montagu 74, in Sir George Rodney’s actions with the Count de Guichen, off Martinique, April 17th, and May the 15th and 19th, 1780[1]. In the ensuing year, he shared in two other actions with the French fleet; the first of which was conducted by Sir Samuel Hood, off the same island; and the latter by Rear-Admiral Thomas Graves, near the Chesapeake[2]. In 1782, he witnessed the masterly manoeuvres of Hood, when opposed to De Grasse, during the siege of St. Kitts; and bore a part at the battles of the 9th and 12th April, terminating in the capture of that celebrated French commander[3]. The total loss sustained by the Montagu, in her various encounters with the enemy, amounted to at least 120 officers and men, killed and wounded.

While serving in the West Indies, Mr. Duff received a severe wound in the leg, which was healed with great difficulty, and often proved troublesome to him during the remainder of his life. This injury was occasioned by the falling of one of the Montagu’s masts, in a tremendous hurricane, on which occasion she was blown out from the anchorage at St. Lucia, thrown upon her beam-ends, and only saved by cutting away all her spars.

In 1784, Mr. Duff came home senior lieutenant of the Camilla 20, Captain John Hutt; in which ship he soon returned to the Jamaica station, where we subsequently find him serving as first of the Europa 50, bearing the broad pendant of Commodore Gardner, commander-in-chief. He was promoted to the command of the Martin sloop, employed on the coast of Scotland, in 1790; and advanced to post rank Feb. 9, 1793. These steps he obtained through the influence of the Duke and Duchess of Gordon, who recommended him in the first instance to the patronage of the late Lord Melville, then Treasurer of the Navy; and secondly to the Earl of Chatham, presiding at the Board of Admiralty.

Captain Duff’s appointments during the French revolutionary war were to the Resource of 28 guns, the Glory 98, Duke 98, Ambuscade 32, Glenmore 36, and Vengeance 74.

The Duke bore the broad pendant of Commodore the Hon. George Murray, and had her main-mast shivered to pieces by lightning, during the operations against Martinique, in June 1793[4]. The Ambuscade and Glenmore were very actively employed on the North Sea and Irish stations, in affording protection to the West India trade, and in various other services. The Vengeance formed part of the fleet under Sir Andrew Mitchell, during the mutiny in Bantry Bay; but Captain Duff, though strict in discipline, was so much respected and beloved by all under his command, that not one of her crew could be prevailed upon by the ringleaders to enter into their views. After the trials and execution of these unhappy men[5], she sailed for Jamaica in company with the squadron ordered thither, under Rear-Admiral George Campbell, to watch the movements of an armament sent from Brest, for the purpose of reducing the Blacks in the French part of St. Domingo to obedience.

In 1803, when the war was renewed, and a general invasion of Great Britain threatened by Napoleon Buonaparte, Captain Duff, without pay or emolument, assisted in examining the coasts of the Frith of Forth, and in making arrangements for its defence. – A division of the craft which were voluntarily offered for the guarding of that estuary was then placed under his direction by the Earl of Moira, commander of the forces in Scotland, who, generously and unsolicited, seconded his application to be again called into active service; as had before been done, without effect, by his steady patron, the Duke of Gordon.

Upon the general promotion in the navy, which took place April 23,1804, Captain Duff received the last appointment he was ever to hold; and immediately proceeded to join the Mars 74, then off Ferrol. During the winter of that year, he was successively employed in the blockade of Rochefort and Brest. On the 22nd May, 1805, he was detached from the grand fleet, to cruise off Cadiz, where he continued under the orders of Vice-Admiral Collingwood, until Nelson arrived from England and resumed the chief command on that most important station. A few days after this event, he was honored by his lordship with the command of a detachment, stationed midway between the inshore squadron and the main body of the British fleet; the former keeping close to the blockaded port, and the latter constantly out of sight of it, but within signal distance of Captain Duff’s division.

On the morning of the ever memorable 21st October, the ships composing that detachment were recalled, and ordered to take their proper places in the line-of-battle^ The signal was then made for Captain Duff to lead the lee division of the fleet, and to break the enemy’s line; but the Mars, notwithstanding every exertion, was passed by the Royal Sovereign and the Belleisle, both of which ships were in action a few minutes before her.

In her way down astern of the Belleisle, the Mars suffered severely from the heavy raking fire of two French and two Spanish 74’s: after closing with them who was obliged to come head-to wind, in order to avoid running on board the Santa Anna 112, flag-ship of Vice-Admiral d’Aliva, whereby she lay with her stern exposed to one of each nation. On paying off again, she became warmly engaged with a third French 74; and presently received a most destructive raking broadside from one of her first opponents, which almost cleared the poop and quarter-deck of both officers and men. It was at this moment, about 1-15 p.m., while Captain Duff was standing at the break of the quarter-deck, looking over the side, that a shot struck him on the breast, knocked off his head, and killed two seamen who were immediately behind him. His body fell on the gangway, where it lay, covered with a union-jack, until the end of the battle.

The total loss sustained by the Mars in this tremendous conflict was 29 killed, and 69 wounded. Among the former were Messrs. Alexander Duff, master’s-mate, and Edward Corbyn and Henry Morgan, midshipmen: among the latter we find Lieutenants Edward William Garrett and James Black; Captain Thomas Norman, R.M.; Mr. Thomas Cook, master; and Messrs. John Young, George Guiren, William John Cook, John Jenkins, and Alfred Luckraft, midshipmen.

Captain Duff was a man of fine stature, strong and well made, above six feet in height, and had a manly, open, benevolent countenance. His Majesty’s service could not boast of a better or more gallant officer. We can add, that he was also a tender husband, an affectionate parent, a dutiful son, and a sincere friend! He married. May 6, 1791, Sophia, second (laughter of the late Alexander Dirom, of Muiresh, in Aberdeenshire, Esq. and by that lady had five children, three of whom survived to mourn their father’s death.

His only surviving son, Mr. Norwich Duff, first embarked on board the Aurora frigate, Captain the Hon. George Elliot, in July, 1805; and joined the Mars about four weeks previous to the battle of Trafalgar ; after which he was removed, by the directions of Vice-Admiral Collingwood, into the Euryalus 36, Captain the Hon. Henry Blackwood, under whom he served, in that ship and the Ajax 80, until the latter was destroyed by fire, near the island of Tenedos, in the night of Feb. 14, 1807[6]. Being then but an indifferent swimmer, he did not quit the ship until forced to do so by the flames, when he dropt from the spritsail yard into the sea, and was fortunately picked up by a boat belonging to the Canopus.

Two days after the destruction of the Ajax, Mr. Duff, then only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, joined the Active frigate, Captain Richard Hussey Moubray, one of Sir John T. Duckworth’s squadron in the expedition against Constantinople; and he appears to have been employed in her boats at the destruction of the formidable Turkish battery on Point Pesquies[7]. On the 26th Mar. 1808, he witnessed the capture of the Friedland, a Venetian brig of war, mounting 16 long 12-pounders, and having on board the commander-in-chief of the Italian marine.

Early in 1809, the Active, then commanded by Captain (now Sir James A.) Gordon, escorted a fleet of merchantmen to England, and was paid off soon after her arrival. In Aug. following, however, we find her re-commissioned by the same officer, with whom Mr. Duff returned to the Adriatic, where he bore a part in many boat attacks, and also in one of the most severe and brilliant actions, between two squadrons of ships, that has ever been recorded[8]. Among the most important of the former services, were the capture and destruction of two valuable convoys; one in the harbour of Grao, the other near the island of Ragosniza, on the 29th June, 1810, and 27th July, 1811[9].

After the battle off Lissa, Mr. Duff was sent with a party of men, under Lieutenant George Haye, to assist in navigating the Corona frigate, one of the prizes, into port. Early in the ensuing night, that ship caught fire, and the whole of her main-mast and rigging were instantly in flames. The Active was then towing her; but it being known that she had a number of ready primed shells on board. Captain Gordon gave orders instantly to cut her adrift. “She now presented a most awful spectacle, and was quite given up as lost. No possible assistance could be afforded from the squadron, and she had to trust alone to her own exertions. These, however, were not wanting; and by the extraordinary perseverance and coolness of the British officers and men on board, the fire was at length extinguished.” Many of the prisoners, in endeavouring to swim to the Active, were drowned.

In Sept. following, Mr. Duff was sent to Malta in a prize, for the purpose of passing his examination; hut he was fortunate enough to regain the Active a few days before the severe action in which Captain Gordon lost his leg[10]. On la Pomone striking her colours, he was sent with a few men to board and take possession of her; when owing to an accident, the boat was upset in lowering down, and he remained overboard a considerable time before another could be sent to rescue him, the whole of them being more or less disabled with shot. The total loss sustained by the Active, in the battles of March 13th and Nov. 29th, 1811, amounted to 17 killed, and 53, including 2 mortally, wounded.

A few days previous to the latter date, Mr. Duff had been appointed acting lieutenant of the Nautilus sloop, but he was not informed thereof until the arrival of the Active at Malta, to refit. There being then a vacancy in that frigate, occasioned by the recent promotion of Lieutenant William Henderson[11], he obtained an order to fill it, and continued to serve in her until she was paid off at Sheerness, in June, 1812. His first Admiralty commission bears date Nov. 14, 1811.

On the 14th Sept. 1812, Lieutenant Duff was appointed third of the Seahorse 38, fitting out at Woolwich, under the command of Captain Gordon, with whom we afterwards find him successively employed on the Jamaica station, off Iceland, and in the blockade of Cherbourg. On the 13th Nov. 1813, he assisted at the destruction of a French lugger privateer, of 16 guns and 72 men[12]. On the 29th of the following month, he was appointed flag-lieutenant to Vice-Admiral the Hon. Sir Alexander I. Cochrane, K.B. who promoted him to the command of the Espoir brig of 18 guns, on the Halifax station, June 15, 1814.

The Espoir formed part of the naval force in the Chesapeake during the operations against Washington, Baltimore, &c. and she subsequently joined the expedition assembling in the West Indies preparatory to an attack on New Orleans. After the termination of hostilities between Great Britain and America, she was employed in protecting the fisheries and trade on the coast of Labrador and in the bay of Fundy, on which services she continued until relieved by another sloop, fitted on the peace establishment, in Aug. 1816.

Captain Duff paid off the Espoir, at Portsmouth, in Oct. 1816; and was appointed to the Beaver of 10 guns, fitting for the Jamaica station, Jan. 1, 1817. His last appointment was, July 1, 1817, to the Rifleman 18, principally employed on the Spanish Main, which sloop he put out of commission at the above port, Aug. 11, 1818. His advancement to post rank took place April 23, 1822.

Agent.– J. Hinxman, Esq.