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Royal Naval Biography/Goate, William


WILLIAM GOATE, Esq.
[Post-Captain of 1809.]

Son of the late Lieutenant-Colonel Goate, of the West Suffolk militia.

This officer received his first commission in Nov. 1790; and at the commencement of the French revolutionary war, we find him serving as junior Lieutenant of the Orpheus a 32 gun frigate. Captain Henry Newcome, on the African station, where he assisted at the capture of several merchant vessels, in April, 1793[1].

Proceeding to Sierra Leone, in charge of four prize-brigs, with Mr. Willoughby and two other midshipmen under his orders. Lieutenant Goate struck on a shoal off Rio Grande, to the southward of the river Gambia, and in less than a quarter of an hour his vessel went to pieces, as did likewise Mr. Willoughby’s very soon afterwards. The perilous situation of the whole, owing to their ignorance of the coast, and having neither charts nor pilots on board, is thus described by one of the prizemasters:

“We parted company with our frigate on the 25th of April, and on the 27th or 28th, when running along the coast of Bissaos, with a strong breeze, at about 4-30 A.M., the moon then shining very bright, but at times obscured by a heavy scud, two of the brigs struck almost at the same moment, and were soon dashed to pieces; their crews, however, were fortunately enabled each to save a boat, and thereby reach the other vessels.

“At this critical period, Lieutenant Goate displayed great judgement and self-possession, in adopting the only measure by which himself and his companions could possibly be saved; destruction still appearing almost inevitable.

“The two brigs which had not struck were both very light, and a heavy swell was setting them towards the shoal: to beat off was impossible; and to anchor, was quite out of the question. The only chance of escape was to run over the shoal, if a passage could be found, and this desperate manoeuvre he immediately decided upon.

“At day-light, nothing could be seen to leeward but high foaming breakers; both vessels, however, bore up, keeping as close together as circumstances would allow. From the moment we entered the reef, the sight was indescribably grand and sublime; a hollow deceitful swell rearing its head as high as our tops, the spray dashing over us, and sheets of foaming water, in the midst of which black rocks were occasionally visible. The lead was useless; every thing depended upon a good eye and quick helm: how many times we scraped the bottom it is impossible to say; but certain I am that every one on board then considered death inevitable, and prepared himself accordingly. No person who has ever seen the shoals of Rio Grande will say that it was possible for us to have gone through, unless we had been specially protected by the Almighty. Had the remaining brigs been wrecked no boat could have lived; and even if Providence had allowed us to reach the shore in them, we knew that slavery would have been our lot. Our escape from either death or a horrible captivity, may justly be pronounced miraculous.”

In Oct. 1793, the Orpheus, then under the orders of Rear-Admiral Macbride, co-operated with a detachment of the British army, commanded by Sir Charles Grey, in repelling an attempt made upon the town of Nieuport, and compelling the enemy to retire along the road to Dunkirk.

On her return from this service, the Orpheus was ordered to the East India station, where she captured Le Duguay-Trouin, a French frigate of 34 guns, May 5, 1794. The following is an extract of the official letter written by Captain Newcome on this occasion:

“On the 6th of May, Captain Osborne, of the Centurion, made the signal for a sail, and Captain Pakenham, of the Resistance, for seeing two Round Island, hearing S.W. by W., six or seven leagues. I lay-to till the strangers ran down so near to us that we could lay up for them, and then made the signal to chase. At 11-45, I got near enough to fire a shot at the ship; at 11-55, I brought her to action; and by a little after 12, I got close upon her starboard quarter, where we kept till 1-5 P.M., so very close, that at times I expected to be on board. The enemy then struck, at which time the Centurion and Resistance were about three miles astern, coming up under a great press of sail. She proves to be a French frigate, le Duguay-Trouin, formerly the Princess Royal, East Indiaman, fitted out at the Isle of France; mounting 26 eighteen-pounders, 2 nines, and 6 fours, and having on board 403 men. I cannot say too much in praise of the steady, cool, and brave conduct of the officers, seamen, and marines of H.M.S. Orpheus. Our loss is very inconsiderable, considering the superior force of the enemy: Mr. Singleton, midshipman, killed; Mr. Staine’s master’s-mate, badly wounded in the left hand; and 8 seamen slightly. The enemy had 21 killed and 60 wounded.

“I must beg leave to recommend to their lordships’ notice Lieutenants Broughton and Goate; also Mr. Staines, who commanded a division of guns in the absence of Lieutenant Hodgskin, who was unfortunately on board a Danish ship, with one mate, one midshipman, and 20 seamen. At the time le Duguay-Trouin struck, we were about two leagues from the passage between Flat-island and Coin-au-Mire, and one league from the shore. The other sail, a small brig, made her escape through the channel, and got safe into Port Louis.”

The Orpheus, a 12-pounder frigate, went into action with only 194 officers, men and boys; but, on the other hand, le Duguay-Trouin’s crew and passengers were so sickly that Captain Newcome was obliged to seek the first port where refreshments were likely to he procured, and the damages of his own ship repaired. He accordingly anchored at Mahe, one of the Seychelle islands, and, finding that the French had formed a settlement there, summoned it to surrender. This being agreed to, a party under Lieutenant Goate took possession of the place. May 17th, captured a merchant brig, and hrought off a quantity of naval and military stores.

In 1795, and the following year Lieutenant Goate assisted at the capture of Malacca, Amboyna, and Banda, with their several dependencies[2]. His promotion to the rank of Commander took place Septemher 16, 1799; and he was afterwards successively appointed to the Sylph, Derwent, and Mosquito brigs. In the latter vessel he captured the Sol Fulgen Danish privateer, of 6 guns and 24 men, off Heligoland, May 25, 1809. The proceedings of a small force under his orders, in July following, are detailed by him in a letter to the Admiralty, of which the following is an extract:

“I proceeded up the Elbe with H.M. vessels named in the margin[3], and anchored out of gun-shot of the battery at Cuxhaven, on the 7th inst.; and as it was too strong to be attacked by water, I was determined on landing and taking it by storm, having previously made the necessary preparations for that purpose.

“At day-light on the morning of the 8th, I disembarked with Captain Watts of the Ephira, and the commanding officers, seamen, and marines of the respective vessels; the first boats that landed were fired upon by the enemy’s advanced post, and they then retreated to the battery. We marched on to storm, but from our appearance the enemy thought proper to retreat, about 80 in number, so that we took the battery (which had 6 guns, 24-pounders, and surrounded by a ditch) without opposition. His Majesty’s colours were then hoisted on the French flag-staff, and afterwards those of Hamburgh on the castle of Ritzbuttle. We then dismounted the guns and put them on board of vessels lying in the harbour, as well as several other small pieces of cannon, with all the shot and military stores. The battery was then undermined, and by a variety of explosions, blown up.

“Two French gun-boats, with 2 guns each, which were lying in the harbour, were also taken possession of. I afterwards gave the town of Cuxhaven in trust to the civil governor, and embarked all the seamen and marines.”

This was the prelude to a more important, and equally successful enterprise, the particulars of which are given at p. 870 et seq, of Vol. II. Part II. “The zeal and ability evinced by Captain Goate” on the latter occasion, was officially acknowledged by his senior officer, Lord George Stuart.

Captain Goate’s post-commission bears date Aug. 15, 1809 ; and his last appointment was May 4, 1813, to the Fortunée frigate, employed on Channel service.

Agents.– Messrs. Stilwell.



  1. On the 22d April, 1793, the barge and cutter of the Orpheus captured two French brigs in Senegal roads. One of these vessels was boarded by Lieutenant Richard St. Lo Nicholson and Mr. Nisbet J. Willoughby, midshipman, who found a party of officers from the shore assembled at supper in her cabin, totally unconscious of an enemy being so near.

    On the 21th of the same month, the launch, barge, and cutter, commanded by Lieutenants Nicholson, John Broughton, and Goate, cut out two brigs and a schooner, under a heavy but ill-directed fire from the fort on Goree island.

  2. See Bulletins of 1796, pp. 50–55, and 314–318.
  3. Mosquito 18 guns, Captain Goate; Briseis 10, Captain Robert Pettet; Ephira 10, Captain George Edward Watts; five gun-brigs, one armed schuyt, and one cutter.