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Royal Naval Biography/Durham, Philip Charles


SIR PHILIP CHARLES DURHAM,


Vice-Admiral of the White; Knight Commander of the most honorable Military Order of the Bath; and Knight of the French Military Order of Merit.

This officer is the third son of the late James Durham, of Largo, in Fifeshire, N.B. Esq., and was one of the Lieutenants of the Royal George, hearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Kempenfelt, when that ill-fated ship sank at her anchors at Spithead, by which melancholy accident 900 souls are supposed to have perished, among whom were the Rear-Admiral, several of the officers, and many women and children. Captain Waghorn, Lieutenant Durham, and about 300 others, were picked up by the boats[1].

At the commencement of the war with France, in 1793, the subject of this memoir commanded the Spitfire sloop, and captured several of the enemy’s privateers. On the 24th June in the same year, he was made post into the Hind, of 28 guns, stationed in the Channel.

Early in 1794, Captain Durham, being off the Start, was chaced by six French frigates, one of which approached so near to the Hind as to exchange a few shot, which killed two men and wounded some others. Captain Durham, before the rest could come up, got close in shore, upon which the Frenchmen tacked and stood over to their own coast. Our officer was soon after appointed to the Anson, a cutdown 64, mounting 46 guns, 24-pounders on the main-deck, long twelves and 42-pounder carronades on the quarterdeck and forecastle. In this ship he was employed for several years on the coasts of France and Ireland, principally under the orders of Sir John Borlase Warren.

In the summer of 1795, the Anson formed part of the armament sent against Quiberon, the proceedings of which will be found in our memoir of Viscount Exmouth[2]. On the 30th March, 1796, in company with la Pomone, Galatea, and Artois, she fell in with a fleet of seventy sail going for provisions for the French fleet in Brest, under the escort of five frigates, a ship of 22, and a brig of 20 guns. An engagement immediately ensued; but the enemy pushing through the Passage du Raz, the only ships taken were l’Etoile, of 30 guns, and four merchantmen.

On the 27th July, 1797, the Anson assisted at the destruction of la Calliope French frigate, and capture of part of her convoy laden with naval stores[3]. At the latter end of the same year, in company with the Phaeton, she took la Daphne, of 30 guns and 276 men, in the Bay of Biscay. In the ensuing autumn, the same ships, being off Bourdeaux, captured la Flore, of 36 guns.

After seeing the last mentioned prize safe into Plymouth, Captain Durham was employed watching a French squadron, with a large body of troops on board, destined to join the rebels in Ireland. He kept company for three weeks, experiencing much bad weather, until the enemy appeared off the Irish coast, and were encountered by Sir John B. Warren[4]. The Anson, in consequence of a press of sail, unfortunately carried away her mizen-mast, main lower, and top-sail yards, on the night of the 11th Oct. 1798, just as she was closing with the sternmost of the French ships; and her Commander, officers, and men, flattering themselves they should be fully repaid for all their fatigue and anxiety. By indefatigable exertions, the ship was got in a state fit for service, and joined in the latter part of the action, engaging five French frigates for a considerable period, and sustaining a loss of 4 officers and 11 men badly wounded, four of the latter mortally. On the 18th of the same month, Captain Durham, in company with the Kangaroo sloop, fell in with, and after a gallantly disputed action of an hour and a quarter, captured la Loire, pierced for 50 guns, mounting 46, with 664 seamen and soldiers, 48 of whom were killed, and 75 wounded. The Anson had 2 men killed and 14 wounded. La Loire had on board cloathing complete for 3000 men, 1020 muskets, 200 sabres, 360 pouches, 25 cases of musket ball cartridges, and one brass field-piece, with a great quantity of ammunition and entrenching tools. She had previously been severely handled and much crippled by the Mermaid, a small frigate commanded by the late Captain Newman.

In addition to the above mentioned national vessels, the Anson, during the time she was commanded by Captain Durham, captured several French and Spanish privateers. She was also in occasional attendance on their late Majesties at Weymouth. On the 9th Sept. 1799, a grand naval fete, consisting of a ball and dinner party, was given on board by Captain Durham and his lady, which the royal family honored with their presence.

We next find Captain Durham commanding the Endymion frigate, and employed in escorting the trade from Portugal and the Mediterranean. In 1802, the Hon. East India Company presented him with a service of plate, value 400 guineas, for his peculiar attention in convoying safe home a large fleet of Indiamen.

On the renewal of the war, in 1803, he was appointed to the Defiance, of 74 guns, the fastest sailing ship of her rate in the British navy. At the latter end of the same year, he recaptured the Flying Fish, from the coast of Africa, laden with ivory, gold-dust, &c.

The Defiance formed part of the force under Sir Robert Calder, in the action with the combined squadrons of France and Spain, July 22, 1805[5]; on which occasion she had 1 man killed and 7 wounded. On the ever memorable 21st Oct. in the same year, she sustained a much heavier loss, having had 17 men slain and 53 wounded. Among the latter number was Captain Durham, whose exertions after the battle, in endeavouring to save l’Aigle, a French 74, from being wrecked, were particularly noticed by Nelson’s gallant successor, Vice-Admiral Collingwood, in his official despatches.

At the public funeral of his heroic chief, our officer bore the banner of the deceased, as a Knight of the Bath. He subsequently commanded the Renown, of 74 guns, and from her removed into the Colossus of the same force, in which ship he terminated his services as a Captain. His promotion to the rank of a Flag-Officer took place July 31, 1810.

In 1811, we find Rear-Admiral Durham commanding a division of the North Sea fleet, employed off the Scheldt. During the two following years his flag was flying on board the Bulwark, in the Channel. Towards the conclusion of the war, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief at the Leeward Islands, and proceeded thither in the Venerable, 74. On his passage out, in company with the Cyane sloop, he had the good fortune to fall in with, and capture, two French frigates of the largest class, the Alcmene and Iphigenia; the former, in an attempt to board the Venerable, had 32 officers and men slain, and 50 wounded. On the part of the British, 2 seamen were killed and 4 wounded[6]. A few days previous to the above event, the Venerable had captured le Jason, French letter of marque, from Bourdeaux, bound for New York, with a cargo composed of silks, wines, and other articles of merchandize.

On the 2d Jan., 1815, Rear-Admiral Durham was nominated a K.C.B. In the autumn of the same year, he co-operated with the late Lieutenant-General Sir James Leith, in reducing the island of Guadaloupe, and securing the other French colonies in the West Indies, for Louis XVIII. For this service, he was rewarded with the Cross of the Order of Military Merit of France; and is, we believe, the only British subject who enjoys that mark of distinction.

Sir Philip C. Durham was advanced to the rank of Vice-Admiral, Aug. 12, 1819. He married, first, in 1J99, Lady Charlotte Bruce, third daughter and seventh child of Charles, fifth Earl of Elgin, by Martha, only child of Thomas White, Esq., banker in London. Lady Charlotte’s mother filled the highly important office of governess to her late R. H. the Princess Charlotte of Wales. Married, secondly, Oct. 16, 1817, the daughter of Sir John Henderson, Bart., of Fifeshire.



  1. On the 29th Aug. 1782, the Royal George, of 100 guns, being on the heel at Spithead, overset and sank, by which fatal accident about nine hundred persons were instantly launched into eternity, among whom was that brave and experienced officer Rear-Admiral Kempenfelt.

    The Royal George had been careened to have her seams caulked as she lay at anchor, without going into harbour. This surely was a hazardous expedient, especially in a roadstead so much exposed to sudden squalls as Spithead; and the object to be gained by it should have been very important and very evident, to have justified its adoption; and if in this instance it was at all justifiable, the execution of it ought to have been attended to with peculiar care. But the dreadful accident winch happened, affords a fatal proof that the proper precautions for security had not been taken. On the above-mentioned day, at six A.M., the weather being fine, and the wind moderate, it was thought a favourable opportunity to heel the ship, and orders for that purpose were accordingly given. By ten o’clock, she was careened sufficiently to enable the workmen to get to the part that leaked; but in order to repair it as effectually as possible, the ship was heeled another streak. After this was done, the ship’s crew were allowed to go to dinner; but the dock-yard men continued at their work, and had almost finished it, when a sudden and violent squall took the ship on the raised side, and the lower-deck ports to leeward having been unaccountably left open, the water rushed in; in less than eight minutes the ship filled, and sank so rapidly that the officers in their confusion made no signal of distress; nor indeed, if they had, could any assistance have availed, for after her lower ports were in the water, no exertions could have prevented her from going to the bottom. When the Royal George went down there were upwards of 1200 persons on board, including 300 women and children. The people who were on deck, to the number of 200 and upwards, were saved by going out on the top-sail yards, which remained above water after the ship reached the bottom. About 70 more were picked up by the boats from the other ships at the anchorage. Rear-Admiral Kempenfelt, the rest of the officers, and about 900 people, were drowned. Repeated attempts have since been made to weigh the Royal George, but in vain.

    In the beginning of 1783, a monument was erected in the church-yard of Kingston, in the island of Portsea, to the memory of Rear-Admiral Kempenfelt, and his fellow sufferers. A large sum of money was also raised by subscription for the relief of the widows, &c. of those who perished.

  2. See p. 219.
  3. See Captain John C. White, in our next volume.
  4. See p. 171.
  5. See p. 405.
  6. See Captains Thomas Forrest, and James Andrew Worth, vol. 2.