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Royal Naval Biography/Gordon, Charles

[Post-Captain of 1807.]

Was made a Commander May 20, 1806; and advanced to post-rank, Dec. 21, 1807. In Nov. 1809, he commanded the Caroline frigate, and assisted at the destruction of more than eighty piratical vessels at Ras-al-Khyma and other ports situated in the Gulf of Persia; a service which will be fully described in our memoir of Captain Samuel Leslie.

Captain Gordon was subsequently appointed to the Ceylon (formerly an East Indiaman) of 672 tons, mounting 24 long 18-pounders, 2 nines, and 14 twenty-four pounder carronades, with a complement of 235 officers, men, and boys. The following is a copy of his official letter reporting the capture of that ship by a French frigate and corvette, “after a most gallant defence,” Sept. 18, 1810:–

H.M.S. Ceylon, St. Paul’s, in the Island of Bourbon, Sept. 22, 1810.

“Sir,– I have to inform your Excellency, that, agreeably to your orders, I proceeded towards the Island of Bourbon, and on the 17th instant, being in expectation of falling in with the blockading squadron off Port Louis, I reconnoitred that harbour, and estimated the enemy’s force at seven frigates and one large corvette. Not finding the squadron, I bore up, at noon, for Bourbon. At one o’clock, two of the enemy’s ships were observed coming out of port, and soon discovered to be in chase of H.M. ship; the headmost gained fast, and the sternmost slowly. I continued under the same sail, endeavouring to draw them as far as possible, which also tended to extend the distance of the chasing ships. At 15 minutes past twelve (midnight), on the enemy’s coming alongside, I found her to be a frigate of the largest class. After a severe conflict of one hour and ten minutes, she hauled off and dropped astern, which I concluded was to wait her consort’s coming up.

“Finding the great superiority of force I encountered (having drawn my conclusion of the enemy’s force before dark), I lost not a moment in repairing my rigging, which was much cut, and made sail, in hopes of reaching the island. At two descried the enemy’s second ship. At 2-15, the headmost coming alongside, I shortened sail to the top-sails, and renewed the action. At 4, I had the satisfaction to see her mizen-mast and three top-masts go by the board; a few minutes afterwards the Ceylon’s fore and main-top-masts fell. At this time H.M. ship being unmanageable, had suffered severely; the rigging and sails being cut to pieces, which entirely precluded all further manoeuvre. The action was maintained and continued with great spirit. At 5 A.M., the enemy’s fore and main-masts standing, with the assistance of his foresail, enabled him to wear close under our stern, and take a raking position on our lee quarter. H.M. ship lying an unmanageable wreck, I directed the mizen-top-sail to be cut away, and endeavoured to set a fore-stay-sail, in hopes of getting the ship before the wind, but without effect. The second ship having opened her fire, with the great advantage the enemy had by having both his ships under command, enabled him to take and keep his raking position, and pour in a heavy and destructive fire, while H.M. ship could only bring a few quarter guns to bear.

“In the shattered and disabled state of H.M. ship, a retreat was impossible. The superiority of the enemy’s heavy and destructive fire left me no hopes of success. Reduced to this distressful situation, feeling the firmest conviction that every energy and exertion was called forth, under the influence of the strongest impressions I had discharged my duty and upheld the honor of H.M. arms, feeling it a duty I owed to the officers and crew, who had nobly displayed that bravery which is so truly their characteristic, when I had lost all hopes of saving H.M. ship, to prevent a useless effusion of blood, I was under the painful necessity of directing a light to be shewn to the second ship, as a signal that we had struck.

“I think it a duty I owe to Captain Ross, of H.M. 69th regiment, to thus publicly acknowledge the able support I received from him and his party of men, who were acting as marines for the time being.”

(Signed)Charles Gordon.”

To Rear-Admiral Drury, &c. &c.

The enemy’s ships proved to be the Venus, of 1105 tons, mounting 28 long 18-pounders, 4 nines, and 12 heavy carronades, with a complement of 380 men; and the Victor corvette, of 16 guns and 150 men. The Ceylon, on quitting Madras, was 47 men short of complement; but she had there embarked 100 soldiers, part of whom were to serve as marines, so that, including Major-General Abercromby and his staff, she had about 295 persons on board at the commencement of the action. Her loss consisted of 10 killed, 5 dangerously, 8 (including Captain Gordon) severely, and 18 slightly wounded. We have already stated that she was retaken in the course of the same day by H.M. sloop Otter, in company with the Boadicea frigate[1]. Her captain, officers, and crew were soon afterwards tried by a court-martial, and honorably acquitted.

Captain Gordon married, Nov. 20, 1818, Anne, eldest daughter of Lieutenant-General Lord Blayney.