Royal Naval Biography/Duncan, Henry
HON. HENRY DUNCAN,
A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1806.]
The Duncans are a very antient and highly respectable family in Perthshire, N.B. of which the late Lord Duncan became the representative on the death of his brother, to whose estates he succeeded, in 1797. We need scarcely add, that they owe their present elevated rank to one of our most splendid naval victories.
The late Admiral Viscount Duncan entered the naval service when very young, and distinguished himself under Keppel, at the reduction of Goree, Belleisle, and the Havannah, in 1769, 1761, and 1762. He commanded the Monarch of 74 guns, in the action between Rodney and de Langara, Jan. 16, 1780; and on that occasion compelled a Spanish two-decker to surrender, after a sharp conflict, in which she was assisted by two other ships, each mounting 70 guns. He also commanded the Blenheim, a second rate, at the relief of Gibraltar by Lord Howe; and bore a part in the engagement with the combined fleets, off Cape Spartel, in Oct. 1782. At the age of 66 years, after a life of hard service, it fell to his lot to obtain a victory, which at once excited the gratitude of his country, and gained him the honors of the British peerage. His patent of nobility passed the Great Seal, on the 30th Oct. 1797.
Numberless are the instances of Lord Duncan’s greatness of mind, which shone forth in an uncommon degree during the general mutiny that took place the second year after his appointment to the chief command of the North Sea fleet. At that alarming epoch, being deserted by the rest of his ships, he blockaded the Dutch fleet for many weeks, amidst the most tempestuous weather, with only the Venerable 74, and Adamant of 50 guns, anchoring whenever it was possible in the narrow channel leading out of the Texel; by his firmness and sage advice, prevented the contagion from spreading among their crews; and, by his masterly manoeuvres, deterred Admiral de Winter from sailing to the assistance of the rebellious forces in our sister kingdom. On one occasion, when the enemy shewed a disposition to force the passage, he desired the Master of the Venerable to sound, and let him know what depth of water there was; and on being told, he coolly observed, that “should the ship be sunk, his flag would still be seen flying!” This proves what his resolution was; and it was his conduct at this dread period which caused the peers of Great Britain to pay him the compliment they did, by ordering that all the Lords should be summoned to attend the House on the occasion of returning him thanks: “a distinction,” as stated by the Lord Chancellor when addressing the noble Admiral, “unprecedented, but called for by the. general admiration his conduct had inspired.”
We cannot on the present occasion omit to present our readers with a copy of the speech which Admiral Duncan is said to have made to the Venerable’s crew, June 3d, 1797; bearing, as it does, every mark of authenticity in its unaffected piety, its ardent patriotism, its indignant grief, and its simple yet impressive eloquence, so admirably adapted to the hearts and understandings of its auditors.
“My lads,– I once more call you together, with a sorrowful heart, occasioned by what I have lately seen – the disaffection of the fleets: I call it disaffection, for the crews have no grievances. To be deserted by my fleet, in the face of an enemy, is a disgrace which I believe never before happened to a British Admiral; nor could I have supposed it possible. My greatest comfort, under God, is, that I have been supported by the officers, seamen, and marines, of this ship; for which, with a heart overflowing with gratitude, I request you to accept my sincere thanks. I flatter myself much good may result from your example, by bringing those deluded people to a sense of the duty which they owe, not only to their King and Country, but to themselves.
“The British navy has ever been the support of that liberty which has been handed down to us by our ancestors, and which, I trust, we shall maintain to the latest posterity; but that can only be done by unanimity and obedience. This ship’s company, and others who have distinguished themselves by their loyalty and good order, deserve to be, and doubtless will be, the favorites of a grateful country: they will also have, from their inward feelings, a comfort which will be lasting, and not like the false and fleeting confidence of those who have swerved from their duty.
“It has often been my pride with you to look into the Texel, and see a foe who dreaded coming out to meet us. My pride is now humbled indeed: my feelings are not easily to be expressed – our cup has overflowed, and made us wanton! The all-wise Providence has given us this check as a warning, and I hope we shall improve by it. On HIM then let us trust, where our only security can be found. I know there are many good men among us; for my own part, I have full confidence in you; and once more I beg to express my approbation of your conduct.
“May God, who has thus far conducted you, continue to do so: and may the British navy, the glory and support of our country, be restored to its wonted splendour; and be not only the bulwark of Britain, but the terror of the world. This can only be effected by a strict adherence to our duty; therefore let us pray that the Almighty God may keep us in the right way of thinking. God bless you all.”
This speech is said to have so affected the Venerable’s crew, that scarce a dry eye was to be seen on their retiring from the quarter-deck. On a subsequent day, when conversing with the Captains who had been sent to reinforce him, the veteran chief wound up his observations respecting the probability of a battle soon taking place, with the following laconic and humorous address:– “Well, gentlemen, when Winter does approach, I have only to advise you to keep up a good fire!” The result of his combat with Admiral de Winter has been stated in a note at p. 150 et seq. of our first volume.
The hero of Camperdown married Henrietta, second daughter of the Right Hon. Robert Dundas, Lord President of the Court of Session in Scotland, M.P. for Edinburgh, and elder brother of the late Viscount Melville. By that lady he had eight children, one of whom, Henry, the youngest son, is the officer whose services we are about to notice. His Lordship retained the chief command on the North Sea station till the commencement of 1800; from which period he enjoyed the sweets of retirement, the delightful retrospect of a long life spent in the service of his country, the otium cum dignitate in the fullest force of the expression, till his lamented demise, which took place at Cornhill, in the county of Durham, when on his way from London to Edinburgh, Aug. 4, 1804.
The Hon. Henry Duncan was born at Gosport, in Hampshire, April 27, 1786; his father then commanding the Edgar 74, stationed at Spithead as a guard-ship.
Having evinced an early predilection for the royal navy, he was allowed to quit the High School, Edinburgh, in order to join the Lutine frigate; but happily Lord Duncan changed his mind as to the officer under whose protection he should place his son, the very evening before that ship sailed from North Yarmouth with specie for the British army in Holland, and only twenty-four hours previous to her total destruction on a sand-bank near the Texel.
The first ship in which Mr. Henry Duncan actually went to sea, was the Maidstone of 32 guns, commanded by Captain Ross Donnelly (an officer possessing the esteem and confidence of all his superiors), whom he joined at Spithead, about the 6th of April, 1800.
A few days after his embarkation, the subject of this memoir had a second narrow escape: a boat which he had just before left, in consequence of his obtaining leave to remain on shore, having upset on her return to the ship, by which accident one man perished, and the rest of her crew were for some time placed in a state of imminent danger.
From this period the Maidstone was employed convoying the trade to and from Quebec and Oporto, and cruising on the Havre station, till the suspension of hostilities in 1801, when Mr. Duncan removed with Captain Donnelly into the Narcissus, a new 32-gun frigate, fitted with Gover’s 24 pounders on the main-deck, and then preparing to receive on board the annual presents for the Dey of Algiers, whose Ambassador she also conveyed to Barbary.
During the peace of Amiens, the Narcissus visited Gibraltar, Algiers, Malta, Toulon, Leghorn, Palermo, Messina, Syracuse, Smyrna, Athens, and most of the Greek islands; captured a large piratical galley, and assisted at the evacuation of Egypt. While engaged in the latter service, Mr. Duncan, who had previously received an order from Lord Keith to act as a Lieutenant, was nearly carried off by a disorder which proved fatal to many persons, both naval and military, then employed at Alexandria.
Being advised to try change of air, Mr. Duncan left Egypt in a transport, Jan. 18, 1803; and after performing full quarantine in the lazaretto at Malta, went on board the Kent 74, lying in Valette harbour, where he continued until an opportunity offered of rejoining his proper ship, in the month of April following; at which period his commission appears to have been confirmed by the Admiralty. The proceedings of the Narcissus, from that time till her departure for England, are sufficiently described in our memoir of her worthy commander.
Mr. Duncan continued to fill the station of Lieutenant on board the Narcissus until that ship was ordered home, in Sept. 1804. He then exchanged into the Royal Sovereign, a firstrate, bearing the flag of Sir Richard Bickerton, Bart., and was serving as junior Lieutenant of that ship when his excellent father’s death was communicated to him; on which melancholy occasion he received a letter from Lord Nelson, particularly characteristic of that great man, who was always peculiarly happy in choosing the moment proper for conferring his favors. The following is a copy:–
“Victory, Oct. 4, 1804.
“My dear Sir, There is no man who more sincerely laments the heavy loss you have sustained than myself: but the name of Duncan will never be forgot by Britain, and in particular by its navy, in which service the remembrance of your worthy father will, I am sure, grow up in you.
“I am sorry not to have a good sloop to give you, but still an opening offers which I think will ensure your confirmation as a Commander: it is occasioned by the very ill state of health of Captain Corbett, of the Bittern, who has requested a few weeks’ leave to reside on shore at the hoapital. You will be confirmed before he resumes his command.
“You had better get your things on board the Seahorse this afternoon, as she will go to Malta in the morning. I am ever, my dear Sir, with every kind wish, most faithfully yours,
(Signed)“Nelson & Bronte.”
“Hon. H. Duncan.”
Finding on his arrival at Malta, that Captain Corbett had recovered his health sufficiently to retain the command of the Bittern, and that he did not feel disposed to give her up, Captain Duncan returned to the fleet, as a passenger, in the Active frigate, and served as a volunteer on board the Royal Sovereign, during Nelson’s excursion to the coast of Egypt in quest of M. Villeneuve, whose ships, it will be remembered, were dispersed in a heavy gale shortly after their departure from Toulon, and thereby escaped for a time an encounter they so much dreaded.
Captain Duncan’s commission as a Commander having been confirmed Nov. 6, 1804, he returned home in the Renown, a third-rate, commanded by Sir Richard J. Strachan, Bart.; and after a short stay with his friends in Scotland, was appointed to the Minorca, a new brig of 18 guns, which vessel he commissioned at Chatham on the 21st Aug. 1805. He obtained post rank, while serving under the orders of Lord Collingwood, on the Mediterranean station, Jan. 18, 1806; but was not superseded in the command of the Minorca until April 19th following, when he joined the Britannia of 100 guns, at Gibraltar, for a passage to England, where he arrived in company with three of the Trafalgar prizes, on the 17th of the ensuing month.
From this period, Captain Duncan used every effort to obtain another appointment; but having at that time no other claim than his father’s services, they were not deemed sufficient by the then first Lord of the Admiralty, and he did not succeed until Lord Howick was replaced at that Board by Mr. T. Grenville, who immediately nominated him to the Porcupine of 24 guns, then recently launched at Plymouth; in which ship he sailed for the Mediterranean with despatches and specie, on the 10th July; and joined Lord Collingwood off the Dardanelles, Sept. 2, 1807. During the remainder of that year, we find him most actively employed in the Adriatic, where the Porcupine and her boats captured and destroyed upwards of forty vessels, laden chiefly with grain and wine for the French garrisons at Ragusa and Cataro; also an Italian gun-boat, mounting one long brass 24-pounder and several swivels, with a complement of about 50 men; and a trabacolo loaded with ordnance stores of every description necessary for fortifying the island of Curzola. The importance of this service was thus acknowledged by his commander-in-Chief, in an official letter, dated on board the Ocean, at Syracuse, Dec. 21, 1807:–
“I cannot too strongly express my high approval and admiration of the zeal and activity with which you have annoyed the enemy in their operations off Cataro, and prevented their supplies, a service which at this moment is particularly important, and I beg you will express my approbation of the conduct of Lieutenant Price and the officers and men under his orders in the attack and capture of la Safo gun-boat, us also in the other instances you have particularized. I am, &c.
“Hon. Captain Duncan.”
In Jan. 1808, Captain Duncan captured two large French armed ships, laden with grain and gunpowder for the relief of Corfu, and having on board a reinforcement for the garrison of that island. A Russian transport mounting 18 guns, a merchant brig under similar colours, and a French vessel laden with hospital stores, were also intercepted by him in the course of the same month; but, unfortunately, the state of the weather obliged him to destroy many of his former prizes; and one of the above ships, although quite new, foundered alongside of the Porcupine, in consequence of some deficiency in the fastening of her stem; by which accident 2 men were drowned, and 23 others narrowly escaped sharing the same fate.
During a subsequent cruise, Captain Duncan fell in with two French squadrons, one from Rochefort, the other from Toulon, consisting altogether of nine sail of the line and seven frigates. This formidable force he continued to watch (in company with the Active), keeping almost constantly insight of one division or the other, for nearly three weeks, at the end of which time the enemy formed a junction and put into Corfu, from whence the Porcupine was sent by Captain Moubray, the senior officer, to apprise Lord Collingwood of their arrival. His Lordship, however, had not the good fortune to meet with them on their return to the westward, and they were consequently enabled to reach Toulon in safety.
After cruising for some time off Tunis, and to the westward of Sicily, where he re-captured one British merchantman and prevented several others from falling a prey to four French privateers, which he discovered dogging a large convoy, Captain Duncan conveyed Mr. Hill, his Majesty’s minister to the court of Sardinia, from Palermo to Cagliari, where he was landed on the 4th June, 1808. The Porcupine then proceeded to cruise between Naples and Toulon, where she was frequently engaged with the enemy’s land batteries^ while capturing and destroying vessels under their protection. On the 25th June, Captain Duncan fell in with a French schooner, near Monte Christo, which he captured, after a chase of eleven hours, the enemy having in vain endeavoured to run her on shore, about four leagues south of Bastia. She proved to be la Nouvelle Enterprise, a remarkably fine letter of marque, pierced for 14 guns, mounting six 6-pounders, with a cargo of bale goods, from Leghorn bound to Turkey. Alluding to this capture, Lord Collingwood, in a letter written off Cadiz, says:–
“I approve of your having seen this vessel into Palermo, for the reasons you have assigned. I hope you will have had further success against the enemy in your return to Toulon along the coast of Italy at least I feel satisfied that your exertions will merit it; but those things depend much on chance, and the enemy are very cautious in getting out of gun-shot of their numerous batteries. As the schooner appears well calculated for the service of Malta, I have ordered her to be surveyed and valued, and if found fit, to be taken into the service, to supply the place of the late Ventura.”
In July 1808, on the revolution breaking out in Spain, the Duke of Orleans, who was at the time residing at Palermo, wished to be sent to Spain to join the insurgents against the French under Buonaparte, and persuaded our minister in Sicily to apply to Captain Duncan, then commanding the Porcupine in Palermo bay, to convey his Highness to Cadiz. Captain Duncan was sent for by Sir W___ D___ , and the wishes of the duke, backed by those of the minister, communicated to him in presence of his Highness. Captain Duncan would have wished that the minister had consulted with him privately; but as he did not do so, he took upon himself to refuse. He saw at once that a Frenchman was not the person to go to Spain at that moment. It was in vain that Sir W___ and the duke tried to bring him to their way of thinking; the first by pointing out to him the responsibility he would incur, the latter by flattering him with the idea that he would have the honor of conveying a Prince of Bourbon to head an army about to restore that family to the throne of France. At length, somewhat irritated, the duke said he was surprised at so young a man standing out against their opinions, and added, “If an officer in our marine had refused to do what a minister ordered him, he would have been broke for it.” The cool answer was, “Please your Highness, it is perhaps our misfortune that our marine has not yet attained to the perfection yours had: but our commander-in-chief is not under any minister. I am young, it is true; but I am to do what he would do if he were here: and I am sure he would never consent to your going to Spain.” They then asked him to convey the duke to the fleet; he replied he would take till next day to consider of it. Next morning he wrote a letter to Sir W___ D___ , saying that he thought the duke going to the fleet would leave the Admiral no alternative but that of sending him on; and it would therefore be better to write to Vice-Admiral Thornbrough, and let him know what his Highness’s wishes were, and that the Halcyon brig would sail at 12 o’clock for the fleet, but could not wait longer, even for his despatches. Captain Duncan prevented further remonstrance with himself, by going to sea in the Porcupine. A day or two after a ship of war arrived at Palermo, took the duke on board, conveyed him to Cadiz, where he was not permitted to land, and Lord Collingwood returned him forthwith to Palermo.
On the 9th of the same month, Captain Duncan, then off Mount Circello, on the coast of Romania, observed two French gun-boats, with a merchant vessel under their convoy, going along-shore to the westward; and as the Porcupine was becalmed, he sent his boats in pursuit of them, under the orders of Lieutenant Price; who, after a row of eight hours, in a hot sun, drove the latter on shore, and forced the gun-boats to take shelter under the batteries of Port d’Anzo. At this time, seeing three very suspicious vessels coming down with a fresh breeze from the westward, Captain Duncan was obliged to recall the boats; but before he could cut the strangers off, they also got into the same harbour. Next morning, observing that one of them, a large polacre ship, lay farther out than the others, and wishing to give a check to the trade along the coast, which the enemy imagined, from their numerous fortifications, they could carry on without molestation, he determined to attack her. As soon as it was dark the boats went in, under the command of his first Lieutenant, and succeeded in bringing her out from under the heavy fire of two batteries, a tower, and three gun-boats. In the execution of this service the British had 6 men severely, and 2 slightly wounded. The prize was loaded with salt, mounted eight long 6-pounders, and had on board between 20 and 30 men, perfectly prepared for the attack.
Eleven days after this event, Captain Duncan drove on shore, near Mount Circello, a French polacre ship, which was afterwards completely destroyed by his boats, under the command of Lieutenant Francis Smith, and without any loss, though exposed to the fire of a tower, mounting two guns, within pistol-shot of her; she was about 200 tons burthen, from Naples, loaded with iron hoops and staves.
On the 8th Aug. the Porcupine chased another French ship into the passage between Planosa and Elba, where she took refuge under a tower and battery: at night Captain Duncan sent Lieutenant Smith with the boats and a party of marines to attack her; and notwithstanding the heavy fire of the vessel, the forts, the French soldiers who lined the beach to which she was moored, and one of her guns which had been landed, they most gallantly boarded and brought her out. She proved to be la Conceptione, mounting 4 guns, from Genoa, bound to the island of Cyprus, with bale goods. The British, on this occasion, had 2 men killed and 8 wounded; among the latter was Lieutenant James Renwick, R.M., a most excellent and gallant officer, who received three musket-ball wounds, but happily neither of them proved mortal.
Captain Duncan continued in the Porcupine till Oct. 2, 1808, when he left her at Malta, and proceeded in the Spider brig to join the Mercury of 28 guns, at Messina, the Admiralty having appointed him, without application, to that frigate; a change by no means so gratifying to him as their Lordships doubtless intended. Writing to the Commander-in-chief on the subject of his removal, he says, “I am particularly sorry at the change of ships, as this is, in my opinion, inferior to the Porcupine in almost every respect, and is so old and so bad, that I am afraid she will soon be obliged to go home, which is, of all things, what I wish least.” Notwithstanding the Mercury was so old and defective, she was destined to perform greater services before her departure from the Mediterranean, than several of our crack frigates were during the whole war.
After serving very actively and efficaciously, as senior officer, on the coasts of Sicily, Calabria, and Naples, where he assisted in capturing a French ship, loaded with bale goods, from Tunis bound to Leghorn; and a settee with a cargo of cotton, from Barbary, bound to Marseilles; as well as in destroying several coasting traders; Captain Duncan conveyed Mr. (now Sir Charles) Stuart to Trieste, on his way to the Austrian court, then about to declare war against the French Emperor.
Having put that gentleman on board the Amphion frigate, and placed himself under the orders of Captain Hoste, the subject of this memoir resumed his former station in the Adriatic, where the Mercury’s boats, imitating those of the Porcupine, distinguished themselves by several gallant enterprises, judiciously planned by Captain Duncan, and ably executed by the brave officers and men under his command. The capture of la Leda, Venetian gun-boat, at Rovigno, on the 1st April, and of la Pugliese, French national schooner, in the harbour of Barletta, on the 7th Sept. 1809, will be found amply described in our forthcoming memoir of Captain Watkin Owen Pell, who commanded the boats on each of those occasions.
In April, 1809, Captain Duncan co-operated with the Austrian forces in obtaining possession of Capo d’Istria, a town near Trieste, during the course of which service the Amphion and Mercury were obliged to anchor on a lee shore, in a gale of wind, and to destroy the signal posts in order to prevent the enemy having a knowledge of their situation, and bringing guns against them from Venice.
Subsequent to this event, the Mercury assisted at the attack of Pesaro and Cesenatico, the result of which was the destruction of the enemy’s fortifications at the entrance of those harbours, and the capture of twenty-five sail laden with oil, hides, hemp, almonds, grain, &c., besides one large vessel loaded with iron, burnt in the latter port; and the seizure of a large quantity of hemp and iron, which had been collected in the magazines on shore. Captain Duncan’s conduct in these attacks is thus noticed by Sir Jahleel Brenton, the gallant officer under whom he was then serving:–
“As the enemy made no active resistance (at Pesaro), I can only express my admiration of the zeal and promptitude with which Captain Hoste and the Hon. Henry Duncan executed the orders they received, and the manner in which they placed their ships.
“The Mercury, from Captain Duncan’s anxiety to place her as near the town (of Cesenatico) as possible, took the ground, but in so favorable a position as gave the fullest effect to her fire: she was, however, hove off by 6 P.M. without having sustained any injury. I never witnessed more zeal and energy than were evinced by Captain Duncan on this occasion.”
Returning down the Adriatic, on his way to Malta, Captain Duncan observed seven large trabacolos and several smaller ones, hauled upon the beach at Rotti, near Manfredonia, and sent a flag of truce to desire them to be given up, as he was unwilling to hurt the town; which being refused, the Mercury was anchored within half gun-shot, in four fathoms; and after a few broadsides the boats’ crews and marines were enabled to land and destroy them, tinder the directions of Lieutenant Robert James Gordon, who had already distin guished himself on many occasions, and who was in this instance severely burnt by an explosion of gunpowder, while blowing up one of the vessels.
Two days after the affair at Rotti, Captain Duncan, being off Cape St. Angelo, discovered three ships and a cutter in the N.E. coming down before the wind, and four French privateers in chase of and firing at them. He immediately hauled towards the strangers, and had the satisfaction of saving four Sicilian merchantmen, with valuable cargoes, from being captured. On the Mercury’s approach, the enemy hauled their wind, and Captain Duncan did not pursue them, he having on board important despatches from the British Ambassador at Vienna, and there being but little or no prospect of cutting them off from the land. It is almost superfluous to add, that his continued exertions were duly appreciated by Lord Collingwood, who expressed, “great satisfaction that the Mercury had been able to effect such good service.”
On his return to the Adriatic, Captain Duncan was sent, with the Redwing of 18 guns under his orders, to blockade a French frigate and several brigs of war, then lying at Ancona. Whilst off that harbour, he captured three merchant vessels, destroyed several signal posts in the vicinity of the port, and challenged the frigate, but could not induce her commander to come out and fight him. From thence he proceeded off Ragusa, where he took sixteen sail of merchantmen, during a cruise of only 10 days.
A short time subsequent to the capture of la Pugliese, (already adverted to), Captain Duncan was selected by Lord Collingwood to command a squadron employed in guarding Sicily from an invasion then threatened by the usurper of the Neapolitan throne; but the Mercury, on being surveyed, was found to be too defective for further active service; and indeed declared to be even in an unfit state to go home at that season of the year. Circumstances, however, rendering it necessary for all the effective ships on the station to be retained, Captain Duncan received orders to take charge of the trade, then collecting at Malta, the whole of which he escorted in safety to the Downs, where he arrived, after a tempestuous passage, in the month of Feb. 1810.
The Mercury was paid off, at Woolwich, shortly after her arrival; and in June following Captain Duncan received an appointment of a much more gratifying description, it being to the Imperieuse, a fine 38-gun frigate, of which he assumed the command at Gibraltar, on the 22d Sept., having followed her thither, as a passenger, in the Milford 74.
In May 1811, the Imperieuse and Resistance were detached to Algiers, in quest of two French frigates; but not meeting with them, Captain Duncan was obliged to content himself with obtaining the release of a Cephalonian brig, which had been carried into Tripoli by an Algerine cruiser. He was afterwards sent on two short cruises, under the orders of Captains Blackwood and Dundas, during which he assisted at the capture of ten merchant vessels. With the exception of those three trips he was constantly attached to the inshore squadron off Toulon, for upwards of nine months; a service of the most irksome nature to an officer of his enterprising spirit. The time, however, was approaching, when his talents for conducting operations along shore were again to be called into action.
In July, Sir Edward Pellew, who had recently succeeded Sir Charles Cotton in the chief command of the Mediterranean fleet, relieved Captain Duncan from his mortifying situation, by sending him to Naples on a special service, for the able execution of which he received that officer’s particular thanks.
On the 11th Oct. 1811, being the fourteenth anniversary of Lord Duncan’s victory, his son commenced a series of active operations in the Imperieuse, by attacking three of the enemy’s gun-vessels, each carrying an 18-pounder and 30 men, moored under the walls of a strong fort, near the town of Possitano, in the Gulf of Salerno.
About 11 A.M. the frigate was anchored within range of grape, and in a few minutes the enemy were driven from their guns, and one of the gun-boats was sunk. It, however, became absolutely necessary to get possession of the fort; for although silenced, yet (from its being regularly walled round) the ship could not dislodge the soldiers and those of the vessels’ crews who had made their escape on shore, and taken shelter in it. The marines and a party of seamen were therefore landed under the command of Lieutenant Eaton gravers, first of the Imperieuse, who forced his way into the battery in the most gallant style, under a very heavy fire of musketry, obliging more than treble the number of his brave companions to fly in all directions, leaving behind about thirty men and fifty stand of arms. The guns, which were 24-pounders, were then thrown over the cliff, the magazines, &c. destroyed, and the two remaining gun-vessels brought off. The Imperieuse, on this occasion, had her fore-top-sail-yard shot away, and sustained a loss of 3 men killed and wounded.
On the 19th and 21st of the same month, the boats of the Imperieuse, assisted by those of the Thames frigate, under cover of both ships, anchored close to the shore for their support, captured ten armed polacres loaded with oil, which they launched and brought off from the beach near Palinuro, on the coast of Calabria, where the vessels were banked up with sand, and defended by a large detachment of Neapolitan troops. This service was likewise executed under the direc-. tions of Lieutenant Travers, whose intrepidity and judgment we shall hereafter have frequent occasion to notice. The above capture led to one of still greater importance, as will be seen by Captain Duncan’s official report to Rear-Admiral Freemantle, dated at Melazzo, in Sicily, Nov. 7, 1811:–
“On the 21st ult,. the Imperieuse and Thames discovered ten of the enemy’s gun-boats in the port of Palinuro, with a number of merchant vessels, and a quantity of spars intended for the equipment of the Neapolitan navy, hauled up on the beach; but, from the strength and situation of the harbour, I did not think the force I then had sufficient to attack it with a prospect of complete success; I therefore sent the Thames to Sicily to request the assistance of a detachment of soldiers, and on the 28th she rejoined me with 250 of the 62d regiment, under Major Dailey, but unfortunately at the commencement of a S.W. gale, which precluded all possibility of landing till the evening of the 1st instant, when the troops, together with the marines of both ships under Lieutenant Pipon, and a detachment of seamen under Lieutenant Travers, the whole commanded by Captain Napier, were disembarked from the Thames at the back of the harbour, and immediately ascended and carried the heights in a very gallant style, under a heavy fire from the enemy, who were assembled in force to oppose them, and who soon after dark endeavoured to retake their position; but one volley obliged them instantly to retire. The Imperieuse had in the mean time been endeavouring to occupy the attention of the gun-boats and battery in front; but the light and baffling winds prevented our getting any nearer than long range during the evening. Next morning, finding that nothing could be done on the land side against the battery and a strong tower that protected the vessels on the beach, and within pistol-shot of which the gun-boats were moored, I ordered the Thames to close; and, having directed Captain Napier to return on board her, we bore up at the commencement of the seabreeze, and running along the line of gun-boats within half musket-shot, obliged them almost instantly to surrender. Two were sunk. We then anchored close to the fort, which in about fifteen minutes was completely silenced, and in a quarter of an hour more the colours were struck to his Majesty’s ships, and it was instantly taken possession of by Lieutenant Travers, who, on seeing us stand in, had most gallantly pushed down the hill with a party of seamen and marines, and was waiting almost under the walls of the fort, ready to take advantage of any superiority the ships might have over it. The guns, 24-pounders, were then thrown into the sea, the gunboats secured, and the crews of both ships sent to launch the vessels and spars, which could not be completed till after noon next day; when the troops, who had all this time remained in undisputed possession of the heights, were re-embarked, the marines withdrawn from the tower, which was completely blown up, together with two batteries, and a signal-tower on the hill, the ships and prizes putting to sea with the land breeze. Caraccioli, Captain of a frigate, commanded the division of gun-boats; and General Pignatelli Cercaro the land forces, which consisted latterly of about 700 men, including peasantry. * * * * * *. Enclosed is a list of the vessels taken and destroyed, and a return of the killed and wounded: among the former I have to regret Lieutenant Kay of the 62d regiment, and Lieutenant Pipon, R.M. of the Imperieuse.”
Having escorted his prizes to Melazzo, and disembarked the troops at that place, Captain Duncan proceeded to Minorca for the purpose of rejoining the fleet, and on his passage thither re-captured an English ship from Newfoundland. On his arrival at Mahon, he had the gratification of receiving the following letter from the commander-in-chief, dated Dec. 19, 1811:–
“Sir,– I have received and read with great satisfaction your letters of the 24th Oct. and 9th Nov., stating the services you have performed on the coast of Calabria, in company with Captain Napier of H.M.S. Thames. I have forwarded them to the Admiralty, recommending to their Lordships’ notice these testimonies of your zeal and gallantry, and of those who have served under your orders. I sincerely regret the loss you have sustained on this occasion. I desire you will convey to Captain Napier, and to the officers, seamen, and marines employed on these services, my entire approbation of their excellent conduct, and I have directed Admiral Freemantle to express to Major Dailey, and the officers and men of the detachment of the 62d regiment, acting with you at Palinuro, my thanks for their co-operation.
“I have requested their Lordships’ attention to the distinguished services of Lieutenant Eaton Travers, first of the Imperieuse, on this and former occasions. I am, &c.
“Hon. Capt. Duncan.”
With the exception of his capturing a Neapolitan cutter, while on a cruise with the Swallow hrig under his orders, we find no further particular mention of Captain Duncan till June 27, 1812, on which day he assisted at the destruction of a French convoy, and the batteries of Languilla and Alassio, in the Gulf of Genoa, by a squadron under the command of Captain Patrick Campbell. In the execution of this service the Imperieuse had 4 men killed, and a Lieutenant (William Walpole) and 10 other persons wounded.
On the 17th Aug. following, Captain Duncan then reconnoitring Naples, a squadron consisting of a 74-gun ship, bearing a Commodore’s broad pendant, a frigate, a corvette, thirteen large cutter-rigged gun-boats, and nine smaller ones, got under weigh, apparently with an intention of attacking the Imperieuse and her consort, the Cephalus brig of 18 guns. Captain Duncan allowed them to approach nearly within reach, when the frigate and gun-boats, which formed the lee division, shewed an inclination to annoy him with long shot, and he ordered the brig to wear and meet them; which her commander, the late Captain Edward Flin, did in a very handsome style, under a heavy fire, and actually obliged the whole to tack from him. The line-of-battle ship was at this time on Captain Duncan’s weather quarter, and had it fully in her power to run down and close with him; but she seemed not to wish to leave her own shore at a greater distance; and on the Imperieuse making all sail towards her, she took in hers, and continued firing at long range. It was now sunset, and every likelihood of a calm; the British therefore gave the headmost vessels a well-directed broadside, and stood off. The enemy hauled close under the land, except the gun-boats, which, trusting to their oars, followed the Imperieuse and Cephalus a short time, keeping up a distant fire. At day-light, on the 18th, Captain Duncan observed that the whole had returned to their anchorage. It was his intention, had the breeze continued, to have laid the 74 on board; and with such men as he commanded there is no doubt that she would easily have been carried. The enthusiastic zeal of the crews of the Imperieuse and Cephalus exceeded any thing he had ever witnessed, and made him “doubly regret, that the situation of the enemy would not allow of his giving full scope to their valour.” This spirited affair took place before thousands of spectators; and certainly did not leave King Joachim much to boast of the improvement of his navy. We believe the 74 bore his name; she fell into the possession of the British, by the capitulation of Naples, in 1815.
Captain Duncan continued off Naples, with two frigates under his orders, till the defects of the Imperieuse rendered it necessary for her to leave that station in order to be refitted. He then escorted a fleet of transports, having troops on board, from Palermo to Alicant, and returned from the latter place to Mahon, where his ship was hove down and new coppered. Whilst there he received an appointment to the Resistance 38, and was at the same time offered the Undaunted, another beautiful frigate of the same class, should he prefer her to the other. The following genuine epistle from his crew, however, prevented him from accepting either:–
“Sir,– Being informed you are going to lave us, we have taken the liberty at the unanimous request of all hands, to return you our most grateful thanks for your continued goodness and indulgence to us since we have had the happiness of being under your command. Your continued attention to our comforts is more than we ever experienced in any Ship, and more than we posably can do with any other Captain – from gratitude for your past goodness to us, we humbly hope our best services will still be exerted under your command, and hope you will not lave us. Every one is praying for your continuance with us. We humbly beg to say that we will fight and spell the last drop of our blood under your command, more willingly than any other Ship’s Company up here will do, and only wish we had the oppertunity of convincing you by the capture of any two Frinch Frigates that we might be lucky enough to fall in with, and in as short time and as much to your satisfaction, as any other frigate posably could do – for in fighting under your command we fight under a Captain to whom we owe Eternal gratitude, and to whom we have the strongest attachment. We humbly Beg Pardon for the liberty we have taken, and remains with the greatest reapect and duty, Sir, your very humble Servants.
(Signed)The Ship’s Company of the Imperieuse.”
In April 1813, Captain Duncan left Mahon, in the Imperieuse, Sir Edward Pellew having not only yielded to the wishes of her crew, but likewise added to their gratification by appointing their favourite Captain to the command of a squadron, consisting of three frigates and two brigs, employed watching the Neapolitan marine, then composed of one 74, two frigates, and a corvette, besides several smaller vessels of war and numerous gun-boats; to which was afterwards added a second line-of-battle ship.
In addition to the duty of blockading Naples, Captain Duncan was directed to annoy as much as possible the enemy’s trade along the coast, between that city and Leghorn; but those orders were rendered nugatory in a considerable degree, through his being obliged to pay particular attention to the island of Ponza, which the enemy had threatened with an attack. He, however, captured a French privateer, and one or two merchant vessels; nor did he quit that station without giving the Neapolitans frequent opportunities to engage his very inferior force. On one occasion we find him standing in with his frigates, and challenging the line-of-battle ships by firing several broadsides at them, as they lay at their anchors; but although they got under sail, and he remained in sight all the next day, they were not sufficiently high-minded to leave the bay, and resent so great an insult.
In Sept. 1813, a French convoy having collected at Port d’Anzo, Captain Duncan proceeded off that harbour, and waited for an opportunity to make a dash at the enemy; but none occurred previous to the arrival of the Edinburgh 74, which ship had been despatched from Palermo, in consequence of the intelligence he had sent thither by Captain Manley, of the Termagant. The result of the attack has been stated in our memoir of the Hon. George H. L. Dundas, who, being senior officer, of course assumed the command; he, however, adhering to the judicious arrangements already made by the subject of this memoir, who had a few days before lessened the enemy’s means of resistance, by causing the destruction of a strong martello tower.
Towards the latter end of the same year, Captain Duncan requested and obtained permission to accompany a squadron under the present Sir Josias Rowley, who was then about to make a descent on the coast of Italy. “The ready and useful assistance” he afforded that officer “on every occasion,” during the subsequent operations at Via Reggio and Leghorn, was duly acknowledged by him in his official despatch, a copy of which will be found at p. 424 et seq.
Soon after the termination of this expedition, Captain Duncan was appointed to the command of a squadron employed on the coasts of Sardinia and Corsica; but hearing that an armament was preparing at Palermo to renew the attack upon Leghorn, he again volunteered his services, and assisted in escorting 5000 troops to that place, where they were landed without opposition, the French garrison having been withdrawn previous to their arrival.
The evacuation of Leghorn was speedily followed by the reduction of Genoa and its dependencies; but Captain. Duncan was prevented from joining the naval force employed on that occasion, in consequence of a fever which broke out among his gallant crew, and obliged him to proceed to Mahon, where he was detained from April 10th till May 8th, 1814, previous to which all military operations in Europe had terminated. Providentially, of 250 men who went to the hospital, not a single person died.
The Imperieuse returned to England about the middle of July, 1814; and Captain Duncan, immediately on his arrival, was appointed to the Glasgow, a new frigate, mounting 50 guns; in which he conveyed Viscount Melville from Portsmouth to Plymouth, at the commencement of October; and then cruised between Scilly and Cape Finisterre, until the final conclusion of the war with America. He had not the good fortune, however, to meet with any of the enemy’s cruisers; and the recapture of one British merchantman was the only service which he had an opportunity of effecting.
On the return of Buonaparte from Elba, the Glasgow was placed under the orders of Admiral Lord Keith; and after a short cruise on the coast of la Vendee, Captain Duncan was nominated by the Admiralty to the command of a squadron, intended at first to be employed between Capes Finisterre and St. Vincent, but ultimately sent to cruise across the Bay of Biscay, in order to intercept the fugitive usurper. Hearing at length of Napoleon’s surrender to the Bellerophon, and observing the royal colours displayed at Brest, Captain Duncan put into that port, where he remained four days, and then returned to Plymouth.
From the foregoing statement, it will appear very evident to our readers, that Captain Duncan, although he never had the good fortune to encounter a frigate at sea, was both active and successful in coast operations against the enemy: he did as much along shore as any officer we have ever heard of. Having no frigates to fight, he never lost an opportunity of attacking the enemy’s convoys in their own ports, destroying batteries, and cutting out work for himself in every possible shape. If the Captain of a British frigate meets an enemy’s ship of that description, he fights her, and he can do no less: the officer who goes out of his way to cut out work for himself, has the credit of the planning to be added to that of the execution of any particular enterprise. Having found it impossible to specify every individual capture made by Captain Duncan, or at which he assisted, while commanding the Porcupine, Mercury, and Imperieuse, we must content ourselves with giving the grand total of vessels taken and destroyed in his presence between Sept. 1807 and Jan. 1814; viz. fifteen gun-boats, one national schooner, three armed transports, two privateers, three letters of marque, and upwards of two hundred merchantmen, exclusive of six recaptures; he also assisted at the destruction of eight towers and thirteen batteries. For his indefatigable exertions and valuable services, he was deservedly rewarded with the insignia of a C.B. in June 1815. The proof of the value of those services is, that they led to the promotion of four Lieutenants serving under his immediate command.
The Glasgow being paid off at Chatham, Sept. 1 following, and Great Britain then at peace with all the world, Captain Duncan did not attempt to obtain further employment until June 1818, when he was appointed to the Liffey of 50 guns, in which ship he conveyed Field-Marshal Lord Beresford from Portsmouth to Lisbon, and then proceeded on an anti-piratical cruise round the West India Islands.
After touching at Port Royal, and the Havannah, Captain Duncan returned to Spithead; and in the autumn of 1819, we find him attending on his present Majesty, then Prince Regent, during his aquatic excursion in that neighbourhood. Whilst thus employed, the Liffey had the honor of hoisting the royal standard, the Prince having condescended to visit her, at the same time paying Captain Duncan the flattering compliment of saying that he did so “because he had never seen a ship that pleased him so much before.”
The Liffey subsequently conveyed Sir Charles Bagot, H. M. Ambassador to the court of St. Petersburgh, from North Yarmouth to Cronstadt; and on her return from thence was despatched in company with the Active frigate, under sealed orders, to Naples; where she continued from the 6th. Oct. 1820, until the end of Feb. 1821.
Captain Duncan was next sent to Lisbon, on secret service of a highly important nature; and whilst there he received the thanks of the Cortes for his exertions in subduing a fire which had broke out in one of the public buildings. He had also the honor of a private audience with the King of Portugal, when that monarch arrived in the Tagus, from Rio Janeiro, after an honorable exile of nearly fourteen years.
In Aug. and Sept. 1821, we again find the Liffey attending upon our own sovereign, whom she accompanied first to Ireland, and afterwards to Calais. On her return from the latter service, she was ordered to be paid off at Portsmouth; and Captain Duncan has not since been afloat.
Previous to their separation, Oct. 17, 1821, the officers of the Liffey gave a superb entertainment to their late commander upwards of thirty persons sat down to dinner. The accustomed patriotic toasts having been given, the President, after an appropriate speech, in which he expatiated on the uninterrupted harmony that had reigned among all classes, proposed “the health of the Hon. Captain Duncan, under whose command they had all enjoyed so large a portion of comfort and happiness; who both in his public and private character, had acquired, and would ever retain their utmost respect and esteem.” This toast was hailed with the most enthusiastic and long continued bursts of applause. Captain Duncan, in an animated speech, returned thanks; and expressed his approbation of the conduct of all his officers, whose lot, he observed, it had been to visit together several European capitals, in all of which he was proud to say, they had left impressions highly favorable to the British name. Many other appropriate toasts followed, and the evening was spent in the greatest concord and conviviality.
Captain Duncan’s great anxiety has always been, to push on the officers serving under his command; and in this respect he has been particularly successful. Not one of his first Lieutenants possessed interest, yet no less than five of them were made Commanders, and a sixth individual may be said to have obtained that rank through him. Lieutenants Price, Pell, and Travers, whom we have already mentioned in the course of this memoir, were promoted for their respective services in the Porcupine, Mercury, and Imperieuse. The action at Languilla and Alassio, June 27, 1812, led to the advancement of Lieutenant William Walpole. The Prince Regent’s visit to the Liffey was followed by the promotion of Lieutenant William Henry Higgs; and his successor, Williams Sandom, although not made until after the ship was paid off would in all probability have been a Lieutenant still, But for the fortunate circumstance of his having attracted Captain Duncan’s notice during the war, by which means alone he obtained an appointment to the Liffey.
There is another point which Captain Duncan has great reason to pride himself upon; namely, his attention to Naval Gunnery; and a recital of the circumstance which we are told first led him to see the necessity of attending thereto, may be a useful lesson to our young officers.
A few weeks after the Porcupine was manned, Captain Duncan chased a ship during the night in the Archipelago, which proved to be an American merchant vessel. While hailing her, and when the two ships were almost touching each other, a gun on board the Porcupine went off by accident, and a whole broadside followed. The guns were all double shotted, and Captain Duncan naturally supposed the neutral ship would be cut to pieces. Although happy to hear she had not suffered, his surprise was very great to find that a broadside could be fired so close without producing any effect: from that moment he saw the absurdity of the common form of exercise, which he had been accustomed to pay as much attention to as is generally done; and that real exercise, and the greatest and most constant attention to it, was necessary. In a short time the crew of the Porcupine became perfect gunners; the Mercury’s were the same; and never, during the war, did the firing of any ship surpass that of the Imperieuse. One day, under a battery, the captain of a gun was asked by an officer why he did not fire? The man replied, “The quoin edgeways is too much, and not enough put in flat; I am chipping a bit of wood for it.” This answer shews how cool and correct his people were in handling their guns – they used to say themselves, that they would cut a frigate asunder in fifteen minutes. Unfortunately they never had an opportunity of displaying their skill in so highly desirable a manner; but no battery they were ever opposed to could stand their fire many minutes. We should here remark, that very few of Lord Cochrane’s men were then remaining in the Imperieuse: it is true his Lordship first taught that frigate’s crew how to use great guns with skill and dexterity: it is also certain that Captain Duncan completed them in that important science; and it is but justice to both to add, that Captain Duncan has been often heard to declare how much he admired and how much he had profited by his Lordship’s system of gunnery. Lord Cochrane probably did not think otherwise of Captain Duncan’s, when he recommended him as his successor to his favorite ship, although unacquainted with him until they had met on service a few months before. The crew of the Glasgow, perhaps the finest set of men ei r er collected on board a ship, were well trained to their guns under Captain Duncan; and the perfection to which he brought the Liffey’s firing, aided by Sir William Congreve’s sights, is sufficiently shewn in the extract from his journal, published in a treatise on that subject by the latter ingenious officer.
Captain Duncan married, April 22, 1823, Mary Simpson, only daughter of Captain James Coutts Crawford, R.N. and grand-daughter of the late Alexander Duncan, of Restalrig House, near Edinburgh, Esq. by whom he has a son, born June 23, 1824; and a daughter, born May 31, 1825.
Agent.– J. Woodhead, Esq.
HON. SIR HENRY DUNCAN..
(Vol. II. Part II. p. 979.)
This officer was appointed one of H.M. naval aides-de-camp on the 4th Aug. 1830; and Storekeeper of the Ordnance on the 30th Dec. following. He was presented at court, “on being granted the precedence of the son of an earl,” Feb. 21st, 1834; and has recently received the honor of knighthood, on retiring from office, and being nominated a Knight Commander of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order. His brother, Viscount Duncan, was created Earl of Camperdown in 1831.
- See Vol. I, note at p. 581.
- Oct. 9, 1799. See note at p. 16 of this volume.
- See vol. I. p. 664**.
- See vol. I. p. 665, et seq.
- See id. at note p. 589.
- In the spring of 1807.
- The particulars of several gallant exploits performed by the Porcupine’s boats, will be given in our memoir of her first Lieutenant, the present Captain George Price.
- The Porcupine’s crew consisted entirely of impressed men.
- Captain Duncan was then little more than 22 years of age.
- Lieutenant Francis Smith had previously distinguished himself in the Porcupine’s boats, particularly at the capture of la Safo, and of the polacre ship, cut out of Port d’Anzo. See Memoir of Captain George Price.
- See p. 267 of this volume.
- One gun-vessel, carrying two 18-pounders and 50 men, and three others of one 18-pounder and 30 men each, destroyed. Six vessels of the latter description, twenty-two feluccas laden with oil, cotton, figs, raisins, silk, &c. taken; and 20 large spars brought off from the beach. Total loss on the part of the British, 5 killed and 11 wounded.
- The high approbation of the Admiralty was conveyed to Captain Duncan in a letter from their Lordships’ Secretary, dated Jan. 23, 1812.
- See p. 293 of this volume.
- See Captain Duncan’s official letter to Sir Edward Pellew.
- See memoir of Commander Eaton Travers, and p. 423 et seq. of this volume. N.B. Previous to this event, one of Captain Duncan’s squadron had taken a convoy, consisting of 3 gun-boats and 12 merchant vessels; and another captured a large French brig, and a privateer of 3 guns and forty men.
- See p. 1001.
- See p. 995.
- During a debate on naval affairs in the House of Commons, Lord Cochrane complained that the Admiralty did not pay attention to the recommendation of officers. Mr. Croker said in reply, “that his Lordship should be the last to make such an accusation, as the Board had attended to his recommendation, even so far as to the appointment of a successor to his ship,” or words to that effect. We state this from memory, consequently cannot give the exact date when the conversation alluded to took place.