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Royal Naval Biography/Fowler, Robert Merrick


ROBERT MERRICK FOWLER, Esq.
[Post-Captain of 1811.]

This officer was made a Lieutenant early in 1800; and appointed first of the Investigator sloop, Captain Matthew Flinders, at the commencement of 1801.

The Investigator (formerly Xenophon) was a north-country-built ship, of 334 tons; and, in form, she nearly resembled the description of vessel recommended by Captain Cook as best calculated for voyages of discovery. She had been purchased some years before into his Majesty’s service; and having been newly coppered and repaired, was considered to be the best vessel which could, at the time of Mr. Fowler’s appointment to her, be spared for the purpose of making a complete examination and survey of the coast of New Holland.

In this sloop. Lieutenant Fowler accompanied Captain Flinders to Terra Australis, and continued until she was laid up at Port Jackson, when he was appointed to command the Porpoise colonial store-ship, formerly the Infanta Amelia Spanish packet[1], and ordered to convey Captain Flinders back to England, in expectation of getting another ship to renew and complete his survey. The loss of the Porpoise is thus described by the latter officer:

“In the beginning of Aug. (1803), the Porpoise was nearly ready to sail; and two ships then lying in Sydney Cove, bound to Batavia, desired leave to accompany us through Torres’ Strait. These vere the Hon.E.I. Company’s extra-ship Bridgewater, conunanded by Edwin H. Palmer, Esq. and the ship Cato of London, commanded by Mr. John Park. The company of these ships gave me pleasure; for if we should be able to make a safe and expeditious passage through the strait with them, of which I had but little doubt, it would be a manifest proof of the advantage of the route discovered in the Investigator, and tend to bring it into general use. On the 10th, I took leave of my respected friend the Governor of New South Wales, and received his despatches for England; and Lieutenant Fowler having given a small code of signals to the Bridgwater and Cato, we sailed out of Port Jackson together, at 11 A.M., and steered north-eastward for Torres’ Strait. * * * * On the 17th at noon, we were in lat. 23° 22', long. 155° 34', and had the wind at S.E. by S. Soon after two o’clock, the Cato being some distance on our larboard quarter, made the signal for seeing land. This proved to be a dry sand bank, which bore S.S.W. about 3 leagues; and the Porpoise sailing faster than the other ships, they were directed to keep on their course whilst we hauled up to take a nearer view of the bank. At 3 o’clock, when it bore S. by E. 5 or 6 miles, we hove to and sounded, but had no bottom at 80 fathoms. The Cato’s Bank, for so it was named, is small, and seemed to be destitute of vegetation; there was an innumerable quantity of birds hovering about, and it was surrounded with breakers; but their extent seemed very little to exceed that of the bank, nor could any other reef near it be discovered. The situation was ascertained to be nearly 23° 6' S., and 155° 23' E.; and we then made sail after the Bridgewater and Cato, to take our station a-head of them as before.

“Some apprehensions were excited for the following night by meeting with this bank; but as it was more than two degrees to the eastward of the great Barrier Reefs, we thought it unconnected with any other, like the two discovered by Captain Ball and Mr. Bampton, further towards the north end of New Caledonia. I had, besides, steered for Torres’ Strait in the Investigator, from reefs several degrees to the westward, without meeting with any other danger than what lay near the Barrier, or belonged to the Strait; and by the time we had rejoined the ships in the evening, the distance run from the bank was 35 miles, and no other danger had been descried. It did not therefore seem necessary to lose a good night’s run by heaving to;, and I agreed with Lieutenant Fowler, that it would be sufficient to make the signal for the ships to run under easy working sail during the night, – to take our usual station a-head, – and to charge one of the Investigator’s warrant officers with the louk-out on the forcastle. These precautions being taken, and the top-sails double reefed, our course was pursued to the N. by W., with a fresh breeze and cloudy weather; and at 8 o’clock the lead was cast, but no bottom found at 35 fathoms. The Bridgewater was then about half a mile on the starboard, and the Cato a mile on the larboard quarter; and their distance seeming to increase at 9, when our rate of going was eight knots, the fore-sail was hauled up to keep them in sight: wind then at S.E. by E.

“In half an hour, and almost at the same instant by the Investigator’s carpenter on the fore-castle, and the master who had charge of the watch on the quarter-deck, – breakers were seen a-head. The helm was immediately put down, with the intention of tacking from them; but the Porpoise having only her three top-sails set, double-reefed, scarcely came up to the wind. Lieutenant Fowler sprang upon deck, on hearing the noise; but supposing it to be occasioned by carrying away the tiller-rope, a circumstance which had often occurred in the Investigator, and having no orders to give, I remained some minutes longer, conversing with the gentlemen in the gun-room. On going up, I found the sails shaking in the wind, and the ship in the act of paying off; at the same time there were very high breakers at not a quarter of a cable’s length to leeward. In about a minute, the ship was carried amongst the breakers; and striking upon a coral reef she took a fearful heel over on her larboard beam-ends, her head being north-eastward. A gun was attempted to be fired, to warn the other vessels of the danger; but owing to the violent motion and the heavy surfs flying over, this could not be done immediately; and before lights were brought up, the Bridgewater and Cato had hauled to the wind across each other.

“Our fore-mast was carried away at the second or third shock; and the bottom was presently reported to be stove in, and the hold full of water. When the surfs permitted us to look to windward, the Bridgewater and Cato were perceived at not more than a cable’s length distance: and approaching each other so closely, that their running aboard seemed to us inevitable. This was an awful moment; the utmost silence prevailed; and when the bows of the two ships went to meet, even respiration seemed to be suspended. The ships advanced, and we expected to hear the dreadful crash; but presently they opened off from each other, having passed side by side without touching; the Cato steering to the N.E., and the Bridgewater to the southward. Our own safety seemed to have no other dependence than upon the two ships, and the exultation we felt at seeing this most imminent danger passed, was great, but of short duration; the Cato struck upon the reef about two cables’ length from the Porpoise: we saw her fall over on her broadside, and the masts almost instantly disappeared; but the darkness of the night did not admit of distinguishing, at that distance, what further might have happened.

“Turning our eyes towards the Bridgewater, a light was perceived at her mast-head, by which we knew she had cleared the reef; and our first sensations were, that the commander would certainly tack, and send boats to our assistance; but when a little reflection had enabled us to put ourselves in his place, it became evident that he would not choose to come so near the reef in the night, blowing fresh as it did; and still less to send his boats and people into the breakers, to their certain destruction.

“The Porpoise had very fortunately heeled towards the reef; so that the surfs which struck against her turned-up side, flew over without washing any thing off the decks; and the smooth appearance of the water under the lee, afforded a prospect of being able to get the boats out on that side. The experiment was tried with a small four-oared gig, and succeeded; but a six-oared cutter was jerked against the sheet anchor by the violence of the shocks, and being stove was filled with water.

“It was by no means certain how long the ship, being slightly built and not in a sound state, might hold together; it was therefore deemed expedient to lighten her, that she might drive further up the coral bank, and lie more easily. On sounding, the depth was found to be 17 fathoms on the windward side, but no more than a few feet on the reef; and Mr. Fowler ordered the main and mizen-masts, and the starboard anchor to be cut away; but on my suggesting to him the possibility of driving over the reef, with the rise of the tide, and sinking in deep water as the Pandora had done[2], the lightening of the ship was not prosecuted further.

“Beyond the smooth water close under the lee, there was a line of breakers, and further on the sea appeared to be tranquil; it therefore seemed probably that boats might approach the ship on that side, and if this information could be conveyed to Captain Palmer of the Bridgewater, that something might be speedily done towards saving the crew; and as it was likely that my influence with him might be greatest, and being a passenger in the Porpoise, no charge made my presence on board immediately necessary, I proposed to make the attempt in the gig, to which Mr. Fowler assented. The boat being obliged to lie at a little distance from the ship, to prevent being stove, I jumped overboard and swam to her; and we pushed through the breakers to the smooth water, receiving two or three surfs by the way, from which we hardly escaped sinking. On examining into the condition of the boat, I found nothing to bale out the water, and only two oars, which did not belong to it; and instead of the proper crew of four men, there were only three; but under the thwarts were stowed away three others, the armourer, a cook, and a marine, who did not know how to handle an oar. These last were set to baling with their hats and shoes, and we rowed towards the Bridgewater’s light, keeping under the lee of the breakers. That ship was standing from us, and I saw that any attempt to get nearer before she tacked would be fruitless; and even afterwards, it was much to be doubted whether, with two awkward oars and an overloaded boat, we could make any way against the sea on the windward side of the reef; I therefore determined to remain under the lee of the breakers until she should approach, and to lie near the Porpoise, that in case of her going to pieces before morning, we might save some of the people. In rowing back we met the cutter, which, the men in her having got the leak partly stopped, had pushed off without an officer, and were going they scarcely knew whither; they furnished us with a third oar, and I desired them to keep close to the gig, near the wreck, until morning. We found the bottom here to be coral rock, and the water so shallow that a man might stand up in many places without being over-head.

“I wished to have got on board the ship, to let them know of the boats being safe, and what we had discovered of the reef; but the breakers between us, and the darkness of the night, cut off all hope of communication before morning. They burned blue lights every half hour, as a guide to the Bridgewater; but her light was lost to us in the boats at 11 o’clock, and after 2 in the morning it was no longer seen from the Porpoise. At that time it appeared to be low water, and the ship lay so much more quiet than before, that the apprehension of her going to pieces before daylight had much subsided: to be prepared however for the next flood, Mr. Fowler employed his people during the night in making a raft of the spare top-masts, yards, &c. with short ropes all round it, by which the people might hold on; and a cask of water, with a chest containing some provisions, a sextant, and the Investigator’s log books, were secured upon the raft.

“Of the poor Cato, we could neither sec nor hear any thing. It appeared that Captain Park, when meeting the Bridgewater on opposite tacks, stopped setting his main-sail and bore away to leeward; had he persevered, both ships must have romc upon the reef together; but by his presence of mind on this occasion, the Bridgewater weathered the breaker and escaped the impending danger. When the Cato struck the reef, it was upon the point of a rock, under the larboard chess-tree; and she fell over to windward, with her decks exposed to the waves. In a short time the decks and holds were torn up, and every thing washed away; and the sole place left, where the unfortunate people could hope to avoid the fury of the sea, was in the larboard fore-channel, where they all crowded together, the greater part with no other covering than their shirts. Every time the sea struck the Cato, it twisted her about upon the rock with such violent jerks, that they expected the stern, which was down in the water, would part every moment. In this situation, some lashing themselves to the timberheads, others clinging to the chain-plates and dead-eyes, and to each other, Captain Park and his crew passed the night; their hope being, that the forecastle of the ship might hold upon the rock till morning, and that the Bridgewater would then send her boats to save them. From the Porpoise they entertained no hope; and until the signal lights were seen, they thought her gone to pieces.

“At the first dawning of day, I got on board the Porpoise by the help of the fallen masts. Every body was in good spirits at seeing the ship hold together so well, and finding the boats safe; for the gig, with all in her, had been given up for lost, some one having thought he saw her sink in the breakers. With the day-light appeared a dry sand bank, not more than half a mile distant, sufficiently large to receive us all, with what provisions might be got out of the ship; and the satisfaction arising from this discovery was increased by the Bridgewater being perceived under sail, and though distant, that she was standing towards the reef. On the other side, the appearance of the poor Cato, with the people waving to us from the bowsprit and forecastle, the only parts above water, was truly distressing.

“The reef seemed to be a mile in breadth, and it extended in an east and west direction, to a distance beyond what could be distinguished from the Porpoise’s deck; but there were in it several wide, and apparently deep openings, by which the Bridgewater might run to leeward; and there anchor or lie to, whilst sending her boats to our assistance. Having made these remarks, I left Mr. Fowler and his people getting up water and provisions; and went to the bank for the purpose of being ready to go off in the gig, so soon as that ship should be near enough, and pointing out to Captain Palmer the means by which he might take on board the two crews, and what else might be saved; but he went upon the other tack soon afterward, and no more was seen of him during the day.

“A number of sea-birds’ eggs scattered over the bank, showed that it was above high-water mark; and I sent the gig back with this intelligence to Lieutenant Fowler. Seeing that the Bridgewater did not approach, he ordered the boat to lie opposite to the Cato; and Captain Park and his men, throwing themselves into the water with any pieces of spar or plank they could find, swam to her through the breakers; and were then taken to the Porpoise, where they received food and some clothing. Several were bruised against the coral rocks, and three young lads were drowned.

“At low-water, which happened about two o’clock, the reef was dry very near to the Porpoise, and both officers and men were assiduously employed in getting upon it provisions and their clothes; they were brought from thence by the boats, for the depth was several feet at a distance round the bank. Before dark, five half hogsheads of water, some flour, salt meat, rice, and spirits were landed, with such of the pigs and sheep as had escaped drowning; and every man from both ships had got on shore. Some of the Cato’s sailors appeared in officers’ uniforms, given to them in the Porpoise; and I was pleased to see that our situation was not thought so bad by the people, as to hinder all pleasantry upon these promotions. Those who had saved great coats or blankets shared with the less fortunate, and we laid down to sleep on the sand in tolerable tranquillity, being much oppressed with fatigue; and except from those of the Cato’s men who had been bruised or cut by the rocks, there was not a complaining voice heard on the bank.

“The Porpoise’s two cutters and the gig were hauled up to high-water mark; but the latter not having been well secured, and the night tide rising higher than was expected, it was carried away, to our great loss. In the morning, we had the satisfaction to see the ship still entire, and thrown higher up the reef; the Cato had gone to pieces, and all that remained was one of the quarters, which had floated over the front ledge of the reef, and lodged near our bank. Of the Bridgewater nothing could be seen; and many fears were entertained for her safety.

“For the better preservation of discipline, and of that union between the crews of the Porpoise and Cato and passengers of the Investigator, so necessary in our circumstances, it was highly expedient that they should be put on the same footing, and united under one head. The Porpoise was lost beyond a possibility of hope, and the situation of the commander and crew thereby rendered similar to that of their passengers; I therefore considered myself authorized and called upon, as the senior officer, to take the command of the whole; and my intention being communicated to Lieutenant Fowler, he assented without hesitation to its expediency and propriety; and I owe to Captain Park a similar acknowledgment. * * * *

“A top-sail yard was set up and secured as a flag staff on the highest port of the bank, and a large blue ensign hoisted to it with the union downward, as a signal to the Bridgewater. We expected, if no accident had happened, that she would come to relieve us from our critical situation so soon as the wind should be perfectly moderate; but I judged it most prudent to act as if we had no such resource, and this was justified by the event. Captain Palmer had even then abandoned us to our fate, and was, at the moment, steering away for Batavia, without having made any effort to give us assistance. He saw the wrecks, as also the sand bank, on the morning after our disaster, and must have known that the reef was not all connected, since it is spoken of by him as lying in patches; but he did not seek to ascertain whether any of the openings were passable for the Bridgwater, and might enable him to take those on board who had escaped drowning. He bore away round all; and whilst the two hapless vessels were still visible from the mast-head, passed the leeward extremity of the reef, and hove to for the night. The apprehension of danger to himself must then have ceased; but he neither attempted to work up in the smooth water, nor sent any of his boats to see whether some unfortunate individuals were not clinging to the wrecks, whom he might snatch from the sharks, or save from a more lingering death: it was safer, in his estimation, to continue on his voyage and publish that we were all lost, as he did not fail to do on his arrival in India.

“The wind blew fresh from the south-eastward on the 18th and 19th, but on the two following days it was moderate, with fine weather; we worked hard on board the Porpoise, and by the 22d had got most of the water and provisions secured in a large tent made with spars and sails; each mess of officers and men had also their private tent; and our manner of living and working had assumed the same regularity as before the shipwreck.

“Our prospects of receiving succour from the Bridgewater having become very feeble, after two days of moderate weather had elapsed, I called a council of all the officers, to deliberate upon the best means of relieving ourselves from the precarious situation in which our misfortune, and Captain Palmer’s want of energy and humanity, had left us exposed; and it was finally determined, that an officer and crew, in the largest of the two six-oared cutters, should endeavour to get to Sandy Cape, 63 leagues distant, and from thence along the coast to Port Jackson, and pray his Excellency, the Governor, to send vessels to carry us either back to that port, or on towards England. But as the safe arrival of the cutter at that season of the year, when strong winds usually prevail from the southward, was a subject of much apprehension; it was resolved that two decked boats, capable of transporting every person remaining on the bank, excepting one officer and boat’s crew, should be immediately laid down by the carpenters, to be built from what was already, and might be still further saved from the wreck; and that, if the officer in the cutter did not return with assistance in two months, the boats should then, or as soon after as they could be ready to sail, proceed to Port Jackson. The first, and principal means, however, through which our deliverance was to be expected, being the safe arrival of the cutter, the choice of an officer to conduct her was next considered. Lieutenant Fowler proposed, and it seemed to be the general wish, that I should undertake the execution of the task; and being satisfied that the preservation of order on the bank, and the saving of the stores would be left in good hands, the hope of being instrumental to the general safety induced me readily to comply. * * *

“On Aug. 26, the largest cutter being ready for her expedition, was launched, and named the Hope. The morning was fine, and wind light from the southward; and notwithstanding its being Friday, which in the seaman’s calendar is the most unfortunate of the whole week to commence a voyage, I embarked for Port Jackson, with the commander of the Cato. * * * * * * The reader has perhaps never gone 250 leagues at sea in an open boat, or along a strange coast inhabited by savages; but if he recollect the 80 officers and men upon Wreck-Reef Bank, and how important was our arrival to their safety, and to the saving of the charts, journals, and papers of the Investigator’s voyage, he may have some idea of the pleasure we felt, but particularly myself, at entering our destined port[3].”

An officer who remained on the bank, relating what occurred there during the absence of Captain Flinders, says,

“A saw-pit was formed, the forge set up, and every thing got in forwardness for laying down a new boat. Our toils were for the present at an end, and we were a very comfortable community, lodged in huts made of sails, looking forward with patience to the arrival of a ship, and each amusing himself in the way best suited to his inclination. An island, situated about nine or ten miles E. by N. of us, attracted our attention, and was visited in the remaining boat, by Lieutenant Fowler, soon after the departure of Captain Flinders. It was much larger, and more perfect in its formation, than our own, being nearly a mile in circumference, abounding in birds, with turtle occasionally visiting it; and it moreover was covered pretty deeply with vegetable soil. The birds were chiefly oceanic, and had resorted thither to hatch their young, which afforded us an opportunity of procuring eggs in plenty. The first visit to this spot repaid us with a supply of all its delicacies, for the boat returned loaded; one turtle was caught, and the cargo was completed with eggs and birds, which was an incitement to future adventurers. About this time also, we had a heavy and productive fall of rain, which came down in such torrents one morning, that our tents were not proof against its violence, and wo were turned out of our beds; but were amply repaid for the interruption of our repose by a fortnight’s supply of excellent wholesome water. This was put to the general stock, and gave confirmation to our hopes of release; for we dreaded at first want of water, which, under a hot sun, is infinitely more distressing than scarcity of victuals. Bread was the only perishable article in the ship, and it was, as you can easily suppose, spoiled by the salt water; but we had flour in abundance, which, when mixed up with a little salt water and hog’s-lard, and baked in the ashes, made a palatable substitute: of fresh water, we had never less than half a gallon a day, so that our situation was neither irksome nor painful. Half allowance, or a gill of spirits, was daily served, over which we talked in the evening; oeconomy and care were only wanting, to make the allowance adequate to our appetites[4].”

Captain Flinders arrived at Port Jackson on the 8th Sept. 1803: the following is an extract of his official letter to Governor King, announcing the fate of the Porpoise:

“I think it proper to notice to your Excellency, that the great exertions of Lieutenant Fowler, and his officers and ship’s company, as well as the passengers belonging to the Investigator, in saving his Majesty’s stores, have been very praise-worthy; and I judge, that the precautions that were taken will exonerate the commander of the Porpoise from the blame that might otherwise be attached to the loss of his Majesty’s armed vessel[5].”

Governor King lost no time in engaging the ship Rolla, Mr. Robert Cumming commander, then lying in Sydney Cove, bound to China, to go to the rescue of the officers and men on Wreck-Reef Bank; and as Captain Flinders agreed with him, that the Cumberland colonial schooner, of 29 tons, was capable of performing the voyage to England by way of Torres’ Strait, he directed the commissary to make that vessel over to him, and to complete her from the stores of the Investigator. The Francis, another vessel of the same description, was likewise ordered to accompany the Rolla, for the purpose of receiving and bringing back those who preferred returning to Port Jackson, and as many stores as she could carry.

Every thing being prepared for his departure, Captain Flinders sailed out of the harbour on the 21st Sept. at daylight, but did not get sight of the ensign upon the top of the bank till the 7th of the following month.

“It was six weeks on this day,” says he, “since I had quitted the reef in the boat, for the purpose of seeking the means to relieve my officers and people. The bank was first seen from the Rolla’s mast head, and soon afterwards two boats were perceived under sail: advancing nearer, we saw one boat make for the Rolla, and the other returning to the bank. The Porpoise had not yet gone to pieces; but was still lying on her beam ends, high up on the reef, a frail, but impressive monument of our misfortune. In the afternoon I anchored under the lee of the bank, in 18 fathoms coral sand, and a salute of 11 guns from it was immediately fired, the carronades of the Porpoise having been transported from the wreck. * * * *

“The two boats we had seen were the Porpoise’s remaining cutter, and a new boat constructed during my absence; it was just completed, and Lieutenant Fowler had this morning gone out to try its sailing against the cutter. It was about the size of the Cumberland, had a deck, and was called the Resource.

“On the 10th, three days after our arrival, the Rolla had received the people destined for her, with part of the provisions and stores; and the Cumberland was ready to sail. * * * *

“The officers’ journals, which were to be sent to the admiralty at the conclusion of the voyage, had not been demanded at the time of our shipwreck; Lieutenant Fowler was therefore directed to take all that were saved belonging to the officers embarked with him in the Rolla; and lest any accident should happen to the Cumberland, I committed to his charge a copy of four charts, being all of the east and north coasts which there had been time to get ready; with these he took a short letter to the Secretary of the Admiralty, and one to the Victualling Board, inclosing such vouchers as had been saved from the wreck. * * * * * At noon (Oct. 11) we parted company with three cheers, the Rolla steering northeastward for China, whilst my course was directed for Torres’ Strait[6].”

At Canton, Lieutenant Fowler embarked as a passenger on board the Hon.E.I.C. ship Earl Camden, commanded by Captain Nathaniel Dance, the senior officer of a most valuable homeward bound China fleet, consisting of sixteen sail of what are commonly denominated “1200-ton ships,” the registered tonnage of most of which exceeds 1300, and in some cases amounts to 1500 tons.

On the 31st Jan. 1804, this fleet sailed from Canton, accompanied by eleven country ships and two other merchantmen, which Captain Dance had been ordered by the Select Committee to convoy as far as their courses lay in the same direction. The Ganges, a fast sailing armed-brig, in the Hon. Company’s service, likewise sailed with him, to be employed in any manner that might tend to the safety or convenience of his charge.

Captain Dance’s celebrated rencontre with the French Rear-Admiral Linois is described in an official letter from him to the Hon. Court of Directors^i of which the following are extracts:–

“On the 14th Feb., at day-break, we saw Pulo Auro, W.S.W. and at 8 A.M. the Royal George made the signal for seeing four strange sail in the S.W. I made the signal for the four ships named in the margin[7] to go down and examine them; and Lieutenant Fowler, R.N. late commander of the Porpoise, having handsomely offered to go in the Ganges and inspect them nearly, I afterwards sent her down likewise; and from their signals I perceived it was an enemy’s squadron, consisting of a line-of-battle ship, three frigates, and a brig. At 1 P.M., I recalled the look-out ships, and formed the line of battle in close order.

“As soon as the enemy could fetch our wake, they put about; we kept on our course under an easy sail: at near sun-set they were close in our rear, and I was in momentary expectation of an attack there, and prepared to support it; but at the close of the day we perceived them haul to windward. I sent Lieutenant Fowler, in the Ganges brig, to station the country ships on our lee-bow, by which we were between them and the enemy; and having so done, he returned with some volunteers from them.

“We lay-to in line of battle all night, our men at their quarters: at day break on the 15th, we saw the enemy about 3 miles to windward, lying-to; we hoisted our colours, offering him battle if he chose to come down. The enemy’s four ships hoisted French colours, the line-of-battle-ship carrying a Rear-Admiral’s flag; the brig was under Batavian colours.

“At 9 A.M. finding they would not come down, we formed the order of sailing, and steered our course under an easy sail; the enemy then filled, and stood towards us.

“At 1 P.M. finding they proposed to attack and cut off our rear, I made the signal to tack and bear down on them, and engage in succession, the Royal George being the leading ship, the Ganges next[8], and then the Earl Camden. This manoeuvre was correctly performed, and we stood towards him under a press of sail. The enemy then formed in a very close line, and opened their fire on the headmost ships, which was not returned by us till we approached nearer. The Royal George bore the brunt of the action, and got as near the enemy as they would permit her. The Ganges and Earl Camden opened their fire as soon as their guns could have effect; but before any other ship could get into action, the enemy hauled their wind, and stood away to the eastward, under all the sail they could set. At 2 P.M . I made the signal for a general chase, and we pursued them till 4 P.M.; when fearing a longer pursuit would carry us too far from the mouth of the straits, and considering the immense property at stake, I made the signal to tack: at 8 P.M. we anchored in a situation to proceed for the entrance of the straits in the morning. As long as we could distinguish the enemy, we perceived them steering to the eastward under a press of sail. The Royal George had one man killed and another wounded, many shot in her hull, and more in her sails; but few shot touched either the Camden or Ganges * * * * * *.

I received great assistance from the advice and exertions of Lieutenant Fowler, whose meritorious conduct in this instance, I hope the Hon. Court will communicate to the Lords of the Admiralty.

“From Malacca, I despatched Lieutenant Fowler, in the Ganges brig, to Pulo Penang, with a packet from the Select Committee to the captain of any of his Majesty’s ships, soliciting convoy to this very valuable fleet. * * * * * *. We arrived at St. Helena the 9th June, under convoy of H.M. ships Albion and Sceptre[9].” * * * * * *

The squadron under Mons. Linois consisted of the Marengo 74, Belle Poule and Semillante, frigates, Burceau 22-gun corvette, and Aventurier 16-gun brig; the latter belonging to the colonial government at Batavia, from whence he had sailed purposely to intercept the China fleet, the property on board of which it is said was of the value of more than 11,000,000l. sterling! The East India Company most liberally rewarded the commanders, officers, and seamen of this fleet, for their excellent conduct on the above occasion. To Lieutenant Fowler they presented 300 guineas for the purchase of a piece of plate. The Committee for managing the Patriotic Fund also came forward in a munificent manner. From that Society he received a sword value 50 guineas, with a suitable inscription. Captain Dance was further rewarded with the honor of knighthood, and the most marked expressions of his late Majesty’s approbation[10].

The subject of this memoir arrived at the Admiralty, Aug. 9, 1804; obtained the rank of Commander Feb. 4, 1806, and was appointed to the Crocus brig about Aug. 1808. His post commission bears date April 20, 1811. He married, June 16, 1813, Caroline Matilda, eldest daughter of James Dashwood, of Harley Street, London, Esq. Mrs. Fowler died in 1816.

Agents.– Messrs. Cooke, Halford, and Son.



  1. See Vol. II. Part I. p. 98.
  2. See Vol. II. Part II. p. 768 et seq.
  3. See Flinders’ Voyage to Terra Australia, II. 297–321.
  4. Nav. Chron. xvi, 227 et seq.
  5. Nav. Chron. v. 32, p. 184.
  6. See Flinders’ Voyage, v. 2, pp. 322–330.
  7. Alfred, Royal George, Bombay Castle, and Hope.
  8. Another 1200-ton ship.
  9. See Suppl. Part I. p. 146.
  10. Sir Nathaniel Dance died at Enfield, co. Middlesex, in Mar. 1827, aged nearly 79 years.