Royal Naval Biography/Fleming, John
JOHN FLEMING, Esq.
We first find this officer serving as master’s-mate on board the Fisgard[errata 1] frigate, Captain (now Sir T. Byam) Martin, by whom he is mentioned, in an official letter to Sir John B. Warren, as having distinguished himself at the capture of a French gun-vessel, two armed chasse marées, and eight other vessels laden with supplies for the Brest fleet, June 11th, 1800. Twelve days afterwards, he assisted at the destruction of three batteries, mounting seven 24-pounders, situated on the banks of the Quimper river; and in the night of July 1st following, at the destruction of five national vessels (mounting altogether fifty guns) and fifteen others laden with valuable cargoes, lying under the protection of six heavy batteries at the south-east part of Noirmoutier, besides flanking guns on every projecting point of that island. His first commission bears date Oct. 2d, 1800.
In 1806, the Committee of the Patriotic Fund voted Lieutenant Fleming a sword, for his gallant conduct in command of the boats of la Franchise frigate, Captain (now Sir Charles) Dashwood, at the capture of El Raposa, a Spanish national brig, in the bay of Campeachy. This brilliant exploit was thus officially reported to Vice-Admiral Dacres, Commander-in-chief at Jamaica:
“H.M.S. Franchise, off Campeachy, Jan. 7th, 1806.
“Sir,– Having received information from a neutral, that several Spanish armed vessels had very lately arrived in the bay of Campeachy, and conceiving it practicable, from the local knowledge I had of that place, that they might be cut out without running much risk; I have presumed in consequence to extend the limits of the orders with which you honored me, and come to this anchorage; and although I am well aware of the great responsibility, yet, as it was undertaken solely with a view of forwarding the King’s service, by distressing his enemies, so I have the vanity to hope it will be sanctioned with your high approbation.
“I have, therefore, the honor to report that I, last evening, anchored the Franchise in quarter-less four fathoms, a-breast the town of Campeachy; and as it was impossible, from the shallowness of the water, to approach nearer to the shore than five leagues, I despatched the senior officer. Lieutenant John Fleming, accompanied by Lieutenant Peter John Douglas, the third; Lieutenant Mends of the marines, and Messrs. Daly, Lamb, Chalmers, and Hamilton, midshipmen, in three boats, with orders to scour the bay, and bring off such of the enemy’s vessels as they might fall in with. But from the distance they had to row, joined to the darkness of the night, and the uncertainty of their position, it was four o’clock in the morning before they could possibly arrive, long after the rising of the moon, which unfortunately gave the enemy warning of their approach, and ample time for preparation, even to the tricing up of their boarding nettings, and projecting sweeps to prevent the boats from coming alongside: although the alarm was thus given from one end of the bay to the other, and instantly communicated to the castle on shore, yet nothing could damp the ardour and gallantry of the officers and crew who had volunteered on this (as it ultimately proved) hazardous service; for that instant two of his Catholic Majesty’s brigs, one of twenty guns, and one hundred and eighty men, the other of twelve guns and ninety men, accompanied by an armed schooner of eight, and supported by seven gunboats of two guns each, slipped their cables, and commenced a most severe and heavy cannonading on the three boats, which must soon have annihilated them, had not Lieutenant Fleming, with great presence of mind, and unchecked ardour, most boldly dashed on, and instantly laid the nearest brig on board. He was so quickly supported by his friend, Lieutenant Douglas, in the barge, and Mr. Lamb, in the pinnace, that they carried her in ten minutes, notwithstanding the very powerful resistance they met with. The whole of this little flotilla pursued them for some distance, keeping up a constant fire of guns and musketry, which was so smartly returned both by the brig and boats, that they soon retired to their former position, leaving Lieutenant Fleming in quiet possession of his prize, which proved to be the Spanish monarch’s brig Raposa, pierced for sixteen, but only twelve guns mounted, exclusive of cohorns, swivels, and numerous small arms, with a complement of ninety men, but only seventy-five actually on board; the captain, Don Joaquin de la Cheva, with the senior lieutenant, the civil officers, and a boat’s crew, being absent on shore. She appears almost a new vessel, coppered, sails well, and, in my humble judgment, admirably calculated for His Majesty’s service. It is with the most heartfelt satisfaction I have to announce, that this service was performed with< out the loss of a single man, and only seven slightly wounded. But I lament to say, that that pleasure is, in a great measure, damped by the great effusion of blood on the part of the enemy, they having had an officer and four men killed, many jumped overboard and were drowned, and the commanding officer and twenty-five wounded; many of whom, I am sorry to add, are, in the surgeon’s opinion, mortally. I have, therefore, from motives of humanity, sent the whole of them on shore with a flag of truce, where the brave, but unfortunate wounded, can be better taken care of, which, I trust, you will approve. Lieutenant Fleming speaks in the highest terms of approbation of the prompt and gallant support he met with from Lieutenants Douglas and Mends, as well as the other officers and crew under his orders. Indeed there was not a man on board but was anxious to be of the party; and I am sorry I could not indulge Lieutenant Thomas John Peshall, the second; but his presence was absolutely necessary on board.
“To an officer of your discriminating judgment, I trust I shall stand excused if I take the liberty of recommending Lieutenant Fleming to your notice for his meritorious conduct on this occasion. He appears to me to be an officer of distinguished merit and bravery, and I understand he was highly respected by his late captain, the good, the amiable, and my gallant predecessor, the Honorable John Murray. I have the honor to be, &c.
Lieutenant Fleming subsequently commanded the Bramble schooner, and Barbadoes sloop of war, both stationed in the West Indies; where he was at length promoted to his present rank, by commission dated Nov. 2d, 1814. On the 11th April preceding, he had captured the American privateer Polly, mounting one long 18-pounder and four long sixes, with a complement of 57 men. He afterwards, in the same sloop, added the following armed vessels to his list of prizes:
Fox, privateer schooner, 7 guns and 72 men, taken Jan. 11th; Vidette, letter of marque brigantine, 3 guns and 30 men, Feb. 15th; and Avon, privateer brig, 14 guns and 129 men, March 8th, 1815.
The Avon, (pierced for 22 guns,) mounted three long 24-pounders and eleven long nines. She sustained a short action with the Barbadoes, and had ten of her crew killed and wounded; the British, one officer and three men wounded.
We lastly find Commander Fleming assisting at the reduction of Guadaloupe, in Aug. 1815; on which occasion his conduct was highly praised by Rear-Admiral Sir Philip Durham.
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