Royal Naval Biography/Giffard, John

Rear-Admiral of the White.

This officer entered the naval service in April, 1780, as a Midshipman, on board the Canada, of 74 guns, commanded by the late Sir George Collier, and forming part of the Channel fleet then under the orders of Sir Charles Hardy.

In March, 1781, the Canada sailed from Spithead in company with a formidable armament sent to relieve Gibraltar, and whilst on that service was one of the ships engaged with the enemy’s flotilla[1]. Returning from thence, and being ordered by Vice-Admiral Darby to look out a-head of the fleet, she discovered, and after an arduous chase and short action, captured the Leocadia, a Spanish frigate of 36 guns, commanded by Don Francisco De Wenthuisen, a brave and meritorious officer, who unfortunately lost his right arm on that occasion, and was afterwards killed on board the San Josef, in the memorable conflict off Cape St. Vincent.

We subsequently find the Canada, commanded by the Hon. William Cornwallis, proceeding with Rear-Admiral Digby to the American station, from whence she accompanied Sir Samuel Hood to the West Indies, and bore a very conspicuous share in his brilliant actions at St. Christopher’s[2] as well as in the battles fought between Rodney and de Grasse, on the 0th and 12th April, 1782, on which latter glorious occasion she sustained a loss of 12 men killed and 23 wounded.

Returning to England in the ensuing autumn, in company with the French prizes and a convoy under Rear-Admiral Graves, the Canada encountered that tremendous hurricane which proved so fatal to the Centaur[3], Ville de Paris, and many other ships. She, however, reached Spithead on the 5th Oct. with the loss of her mizen-mast and fore and maintop-masts, and in so leaky a condition as to render it necessary for her to be immediately put out of commission.

In 1788, when the gallant Cornwallis hoisted a broad pendant on board the Crown, of 64 guns, on being nominated to the chief command in the East Indies, Mr. Giffard, who had previously completed his time as a Midshipman in the Ardent, 64, and Trimmer sloop of war, again joined that officer, by whom he was at length promoted, in 1790, to the rank of Lieutenant, in the Vestal frigate, and afterwards removed successively into the Crown, and Minerva. He continued to serve in India till 1793, when ill health compelled him to return home.

Lieutenant Giffard’s next appointments were to the Theseus, 74, and Queen Charlotte, a first-rate. The latter ship formed part of Lord Bridport’s fleet in the action off l’Orient, June 23, 1795, on which occasion she was very warmly engaged, sustained considerable damage in her masts, sails, and rigging, and had 36 men killed and wounded.

In Feb. 1796, our officer obtained the rank of Commander, in the Raven sloop of war, and on the 1lth of August following sailed from Spithead, in company with a large convoy under the orders of Sir Hyde Parker; who, finding on his approach towards Cadiz, that the French Admiral Richery had left that port, proceeded with his squadron to the West Indies, leaving the Raven in charge of the merchantmen, with orders to conduct them to Lisbon; for the able performance of which important service the thanks of the Board of Admiralty were conveyed to Captain Giffard through Vice-Admiral Vandeput, at that time commanding on the coast of Portugal.

We next find the Raven conveying to Sir John Jervis the intelligence of a British squadron under Rear-Admiral Mann having been chased by the Spanish fleet, in the neighbourhood of Gibraltar. By the former officer, who then held the chief command on the Mediterranean station, Captain Giffard was made post, into la Mignonne, of 32 guns, by commission dated Oct. 19, 1796, and some time after removed into la Mahonesa, another frigate, the command of which he retained till June, 1798, when she was paid off at Plymouth, preparatory to her being broken up.

Captain Giffard was subsequently appointed in succession to the Active and Loire frigates, and Magnificent, 74. In the former he captured the French cutter privateer, le Quinola, of 14 guns and 48 men; and in the latter was sent with several other ships to the West Indies, for the purpose of watching the motions of a powerful armament, despatched from France immediately after the signing of the definitive treaty of peace at Amiens, to attempt the re-conquest of St.Domingo.

In the early part of April, 1802, some heavy shot fired from the lower Cabritta, went over the Magnificent, as she lay at anchor in Prince Rupert’s Bay, Dominica. This was the first symptom of a dangerous insurrection of the 8th West India regiment, then in garrison at Fort Shirley, which was marked by acts of the most shocking barbarity; and but for the prudent conduct of Captain Giffard, would most probably have deluged the island in blood, and produced the ruin of the colony.

On the return of the officer whom he had sent on shore for the purpose of obtaining information, with a note from the President, stating that the lives of the loyal inhabitants depended on the presence of the Magnificent, and the exertions of her commander; Captain Giffard, who had already got his ship under weigh, and prepared for action, immediately landed a large party of seamen and marines, with a quantity of ammunition and provisions for the militia. He afterwards went on shore himself to concert a plan of attack on Fort Shirley, and to offer the active co-operation of the navy. On the arrival of the Governor from Rosseau, and preparations being made for storming the inner Cabritta, the mutineers offered to receive the forces sent against them with presented arms, then to ground them at the word of command, and submit unconditionally. This was performed so far as the ceremony of presenting and grounding their arms; but, when ordered to advance three paces, they refused to obey, and many took up their pieces and fired. This was instantly returned by the British troops, and a dreadful slaughter ensued among the black soldiers, who were soon put to the rout. The Magnificent having in the mean time bore up round Prince Rupert’s Head, opened her fire on the flying revolters with so much effect as to cut off their retreat, while the boats of that ship, and of others which had joined since the commencement of the mutiny, were sent to bring off the prisoners, many of whom were afterwards tried and executed.

Captain Giffard was ordered to England soon after this event; and his ship being paid off at Portsmouth on the 31st Aug. following, he remained unemployed till the renewal of hostilities in 1803, when he obtained the temporary command of the Prince of Wales, a second rate. His next appointment was to the Dryad frigate, in which he conveyed Lord Gardner to Cork, and remained for some time under that officer’s orders, on the Irish station. We subsequently find him in the Athenienne, of 64 guns, employed on the coast of Italy, and assisting in the defence of Gaeta; on which service several of his crew were killed and wounded in different actions with the enemy. From that ship he removed into the Zealous, 74, off Cadiz, the command of which he retained till June, 1807, when ill health obliged him to return to England. On his arrival he found himself appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the Royal Naval College, and he continued to preside over that establishment till the general promotion of Aug. 12, 1819, on which occasion he was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral. The following day he had the honor of dining with his present Majesty, on board the royal yacht at Spithead.

Our officer married, in 1802, a daughter of the late Sir John Carter, Knt., of Porstmouth, and sister of the present M.P. for that borough. By that lady he has had eight children, seven of whom are now living; the eldest died at Wickham, Jan. 28, 1820, aged 16 years.

Residence.– Wallington, Fareham, Hants.

  1. See p. 4, and note ‡, at p. 33.
  2. See Retired Captain J. N. Inglefield, in our next volume.
  3. See pp. 429 and 679.