Royal Naval Biography/Forrest, Thomas
THOMAS FORREST, Esq.
A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1809.]
We first find this officer serving as senior Lieutenant of the Emerald frigate. Captain (now Lord James) O’Bryen, by whom the following honorable testimony is borne to his gallant conduct when employed on a very hazardous service, in March 1804:
“H.M.S. Emerald, off St. Pierre’s, Martinique, March 13, 1801.
“Sir,– I have the honor to enclose you a letter I have received from Lieutenant Forrest, first of H.M.S. under my command, who I this morning sent, accompanied by 30 volunteers, on board the Fort-Diamond armed sloop, with directions to work to windward, so as to enable the sloop to weather the Pearl rock, and to bear down on an armed schooner, which had (finding it impossible to get into St. Pierre’s, this ship being to leeward), anchored close in shore, under cover of the battery at Seron. I at the same time sent the boats of this ship in a different direction, in order to take off the attention of the battery from the manoeuvre in contemplation, to be performed by Lieutenant Forrest.
“It affords me particular satisfaction to bear testimony to the handsome and gallant manner in which the service was executed. Lieutenant Forrest having laid the enemy’s schooner on board, under a heavy fire from her and the battery.
“In the performance of this service great judgment was exhibited, as, by the mode of doing it, a chain, by which she was fastened to the shore, was broke, 20 feet of which is now hanging to the schooner’s bow. The crew of this vessel“ (consisting of about 60 whites and blacks), “finding it impossible to withstand British intrepidity, jumped overboard and swam ashore, which they were enabled to do from her being moored close to it.
“It affords me particular pleasure to inform you, Sir, that this exploit was performed without any loss on our part, two men only being slightly wounded. I have been rather more circumstantial in this detail, than perhaps the mere capture of a privateer justifies, but I feel I should not do justice to the gallant conduct of Lieutenant Forrest, the judgment he exhibited, and the brave and cool conduct of the petty officers and men under his command, which he speaks of in high terms, had I neglected relating every circumstance that took place, which has excited admiration and emulation in the breasts of the spectators; and I must beg to add, that the general conduct of this officer, ever since he has been under my command, has been such as to entitle him to my approbation. The captured schooner, whose name I can only guess at from a letter found on board, the only paper left, is the Mosambique, pierced for 14 guns, with 10 eighteen-pounder carronades mounted; she is from Guadaloupe, and fitted for a three months’ cruise, to all appearance perfectly new, copper-bottomed and fastened, sails apparently well, and seems calculated for the King’s service.
“To Commodore Hood.”
The subject of this memoir was made a Commander Jan. 22, 1806; and in the following year we find him regulating the Impress, and acting as agent for prisoners of war, at North Yarmouth. His next appointment was to the Prometheus sloop of war.
The capture of three Russian gun-vessels, each mounting 2 long 18-pounders, and an armed transport, by a detachment of boats under the orders of Captain Forrest, at Fredericsham, in the Gulph of Finland, is thus officially described by the senior officer of the squadron to which the Prometheus was at that time attached.
“H.M.S. Princess Carolina, Aspo, July 26, 1809.
Having been informed that the enemy had at this place several gunboats to protect their coasting trade, which is of the greatest consequence in supplying their army, &c. in all parts of Finland, and it having been represented to me by Captain Forrest the probability of their being destroyed, himself having offered in the most handsome manner to command the expedition, which I immediately accepted, and having directed the boats of H.M. ships Princess Carolina, Minotaur, Cerberus, and Prometheus (in all 17), armed in the best possible way, to put themselves under the command of Captain Forrest, and to assemble alongside the Prometheus at six o’clock yesterday evening, I have now the happiness to inform you of a successful attack he he made that night about half-past ten, on four gun-boats, three of which he has captured, and also a new brig laden with provisions: the captured gun-boats had on board 137 men, besides 23 in the brig. They are very complete and well found. Were it possible for me to say any thing which could add to the meritorious conduct of so gallant and good an officer as Captain Forrest, I should most willingly do it; but I trust the success of this brilliant action will do more justice to the intrepidity of every officer and man employed on this service, than any language I can possibly use.
(Signed)“Charles Dudley Pater.”
The prizes taken on this occasion were very dearly purchased, no less than 70 of the British being killed and wounded, including among the latter Captain Forrest, who in his own official letter says:
“Our loss is severe indeed, as might be expected from the nature of the force, and the extreme obstinacy with which the enemy defended their charge; the crew of one gun-boat being to a man killed or dangerously wounded. I cannot find words to express the zeal and intrepidity exhibited upon this occasion by all, and the manifest superiority of our seamen when it came to the cutlass.”
The enemy’s total loss amounted to 87 killed and wounded. Sir James Saumarez, when reporting the sanguinary affair to the Admiralty, informed their lordships that “the undaunted bravery displayed by Captain Forrest, the officers and men employed under his orders, was beyond all praise.”
For his gallantry in the above action, Captain Forrest was immediately advanced to post rank, and his commission dated back to July 25, 1809. On the 9th Feb. 1812, we find him appointed to the Cyane 22, in which ship he accompanied Rear-Admiral Durham to the Leeward Islands at the commencement of 1814. “His meritorious conduct, not only in assiduously keeping sight of, but repeatedly offering battle to the Iphigenia, a French frigate of the largest class,” during her flight from the Venerable 74, was duly acknowledged by that officer, in his public letter reporting the subsequent capture of the enemy’s ship.
In Mar. 1814, Captain Forrest was removed to the Sybille frigate; and since the peace he has commanded the Ister of 42 guns, on the Mediterranean station; and Isis 50, bearing the flag of Sir Lawrence W. Halsted, at Jamaica. He obtained the insignia of a C.B. in 1815.
Agent.– Sir Francis M. Ommanney.