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Royal Naval Biography/Fahie, William Charles


Rear-Admiral of the White; Commander-in-Chief at Halifax; a Companion of the must honorable Military Order of the Bath; and Knight Commander of the Neapolitan Order of St. Ferdinand and of Merit.

This officer served with great credit as a Lieutenant during the West India Campaign in 1794. He subsequently commanded the Woolwich, a 44-gun ship, armed en flute, on the Leeward Island station; and was posted into the Perdrix, of 22 guns and 153 men, Feb. 2, 1796.

On the 13th Jan. 1798, an unfortunate circumstance occurred at English Harbour, Antigua, in consequence of Lieutenant Charles Peterson, of the Perdrix, disobeying the orders of Lord Camelford, acting commander of the Favorite sloop, and at that time senior officer in the harbour, Captain Fahie being absent on leave. The alarm guns having been tired, Lord Camelford sent an order to Lieutenant Peterson to hold the crew of the Perdrix in readiness to act, and to row guard during the night; which order he refused to obey, alleging, that notwithstanding the absence of Captain Fahie, he did not consider Lord Camelford authorized to issue such command. Both ships were alongside the dock-yard repairing, and their respective crews witnessed the altercation which took place between the parties. At length Lieutenant Peterson directed his men to come on shore with arms, and having drawn them up in a line, placed himself at their head with a sword by his side. Lord Camelford finding it was necessary to adopt the most decisive and prompt measures to check this violent and mutinous proceeding, ordered a party of marines from the Favorite to be landed; and taking a pistol from one of his officers, went up to Lieutenant Peterson, and demanded whether he still persisted in refusing to obey his orders? To which the Lieutenant replied, “Yes, I do refuse.” Lord Camelford. instantly shot him dead, and desired the men collected about him to return to their ships, which they did peaceably. On the following day the Matilda and Beaver arrived, when his Lordship surrendered himself to Captain Mitford of the former vessel, by whom he was sent to the Commander-in-Chief, then at Fort Royal Bay, Martinique. A Court-Martial subsequently assembled on board the Invincible, to try Lord Camelford for the death of Lieutenant Peterson. After hearing the whole of the evidence adduced on the occasion, and what the Prisoner had to offer in his defence, and maturely and deliberately weighing and considering the same; and being fully sensible of the necessity of prompt measures in cases of mutiny, they were unanimously of opinion, that the very extraordinary and manifest disobedience of Lieutenant Peterson, both before and at the instant of his death, to the lawful orders of his superior officer, and the violent measures adopted by the deceased to resist the same, were acts of mutiny highly injurious to the discipline of the service; they did therefore adjudge his Lordship a most honorable aquittal[1].

On the 11th Dec. 1798, Captain Fahie fell in with, and after an action of 42 minutes, captured l’Armée d’Italie, French privateer, of 18 guns and 117 men; of whom 6 were killed and 5 wounded. The Perdrix had only one man wounded. We next find him. in the Hyaena, of 28 guns, escorting a fleet of merchantmen from England to the Leeward Islands. In the summer of 1805, he was appointed to the Amelia frigate, and from her removed into the Ethalion, in which ship he assisted at the capture of the Danish West India Islands, in Dec. 1807[2].

Captain Fahie’s next appointment was to the Belleisle, of 74 guns, one of the squadron employed at the reduction of Martinique, in Feb. 1809[3]. He subsequently commanded the Pompée, another line-of-battle ship; and on the 10th April, after a long and arduous pursuit, and close action of an hour and a quarter, in which he was partially joined by the Castor frigate, captured the French ship Hautpoult, of 74 guns and 680 men, between 80 and 90 of whom were killed and wounded. The loss sustained by the British amounted to 11 slain and 41 wounded; among the latter were Captain Fahie and his first Lieutenant. The Hautpoult was a perfectly new ship, and had sailed from l’Orient in the month of February preceding, in company with two other 74’s and two frigates, expressly for the relief of Martinique. Captain Fahie was soon after appointed to the command of his prize, whose name was changed to the Abercromby, on her being taken into the British navy.

Early in 1810, an armament under the orders of Sir Alexander Cochrane and Lieutenant-General Beckwith, proceeded against Guadaloupe; the surrender of which colony on the 6th Feb., was quickly followed by that of the islands of St. Martin, St. Eustatia, and Saba. This latter service was, in conjunction with Brigadier-General Harcourt, most ably performed by Captain Fahie, to whom Sir Alexander had given the temporary rank of Commodore during the expedition.

Soon after this event, by which the flags of France and Holland were expelled from the Antilles, our officer returned to England. He continued to command the Abercromby, on the Lisbon station and in the Channel, during the remainder of the war. At the general promotion June 4, 1814, he obtained a Colonelcy of Royal Marines; and in the following year was nominated a Companion of the most honorahle Order of the Bath.

Subsequent to the escape of Buonaparte from Elba, we find Captain Fahie in the Malta, of 84 guns, co-operating with the Austrian General, Baron Laner, in the siege of Gaeta, which was defended with great obstinacy until the 8th Aug. 1815, on which day the allied forces took possession of it for his Majesty the King of the Two Sicilies, who has since conferred upon Captain Fahie the insignia of a K.F.M. in testimony of his royal regard and esteem, and of the distinguished services rendered by Captain Fahie during the operations against that fortress.

Our officer was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral, Aug. 12, 1819; and early in the ensuing year, appointed Commander-in-Chief at the Leeward Islands. In Dec. 1821, he relieved Vice-Admiral Colpoys in the command at Halifax, on which station he still continues. Mrs. Fahie died at Brompton, April 20, 1817.

  1. Lord Camelford was killed in a duel with a Mr. Best, March 14, 1804. For the particulars of that transaction we refer our readers to Faulkner’s History of Kensington, p 177, &c.
  2. See p. 263.
  3. See p. 264.