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JOHN GOURLY, Esq.
[Post-Captain of 1817.]

Entered the navy about Mar. 1781; and was on board the Belle Poule frigate, Captain Philip Patton, when she captured the Cologne French privateer, of 32 guns and 215 men, commanded by the famous Luke Ryan: who defended his ship with great bravery, until the Berwick 74 arrived within gun-shot, and was about to open her fire. The Belle Poule also formed part of the squadron under Sir Hyde Parker, when that gallant veteran encountered the Dutch Admiral Zoutman, on the Dogger Bank, Aug. 5, 1781.[1]

After the peace of 1783, Mr. Gourly served as midshipman and master’s-mate in several line-of-battle ships; and at the commencement of the French revolutionary war, we find him proceeding to the Mediterranean, with Lord Hood, in the Victory of 100 guns. On his arrival at Toulon, in Aug. 1793, he was promoted by that officer, and sent to command a floating battery, mounting four long 24-pounders and a 10-inch howitzer, stationed above all the shipping in the N.W. arm of the harbour.

On the 19th September, Lieutenant Gourly opened his fire upon one of the enemy’s encampments, and threw shells, with considerable effect, into a battery which had given great annoyance to the British ships. In the course of the ensuing night, the republicans threw up three field-batteries purposely to get rid of such an unwelcome and troublesome visitor; one of three long 18-pounders right abreast of his vessel, and but little more than 300 yards distant; another, of two long 9-pounders, on her bow; and the other, of two howitzers, right a-head. These all commenced firing at day-light on the 20th, and a heavy cannonade was kept up on both sides until nearly dark, by which time the vessel was in a sinking state, having received about forty shot under water, and more than sixty above. Scarcely was the last man removed from her when she went down, with her colours nailed to the head of her tottering mast. Strange to say, only one of her crew was killed, and the wounded did not exceed six or eight in number.

Lieutenant Gourly was next appointed to command the Vigilant, of 10 guns, and employed in forwarding supplies to the garrison of Toulon, from a bay about 7 miles distant. On this service he continued four weeks, almost every day annoyed by the enemy’s musketry, but without sustaining any serious loss. We subsequently find him cruising on the coast of Italy, and assisting at the sieges of St. Fiorenzo and Calvi. After the reduction of Corsica, Lieutenant Gourly joined the Britannia, a first rate, bearing the flag of Vice -Admiral Hotham, by whom he was appointed to command the Vanneau armed brig, recently captured from the French, and employed in carrying despatches to various parts of Italy. A circumstance occurred in the spring of 1795, which we cannot forbear relating.

Ten musters of merchant vessels, and a little boy, who had been taken prisoners by the French, and kept in close confinement for two years, obtained their liberty at the above period, and arrived at Bastia, in a cartel, without cloaths or any means of subsistence; no person there knew any of them – no one would give them money for their bills on England. The Vanneau came from the adjacent coast, while they were wandering about the streets in this deplorable condition, and Lieutenant Gourly,the moment he heard of their distress,invited the whole of them to dinner, after which he went on shore and requested the Hon. John Erskine, then commissary-general, to cash him a bill for 55l. which sum was all that they required for their present support. That gentleman refused to take the bill, but offered to lend him as many dollars as he wanted. Lieutenant Gourly then mentioned how he intended to apply them, upon which his friend said, “I will not lend the money to you for any such purpose – I will lend it to the men myself – the loss of such a sum might greatly hurt a poor officer, but will not harm me if I were to lose it, which I am sure I shall not: there is the cash, tell the poor fellows I will trust them with double the amount if they want it.” In a few days afterwards, the Vanneau took these men to Leghorn, from whence they promptly remitted every shilling to their generous benefactor. One of them is at this time a meritorious officer in the navy.

In June, 1796, when General Buonaparte took possession of Leghorn, Lieutenant Gourly contributed by his exertions to rescue the British Factory, and property of considerable value. On the 10th of the following month, he witnessed the surrender of Porto Ferrajo, in Elba, to the forces under Commodore Nelson and Major Duncan, R.A. the latter of whom had sailed from Corsica under the protection of the Vanneau.

In a short time after the occupation of the above place, orders were given by Sir Gilbert Eliot, Viceroy of Corsica, to take possession of Capraja, an island then belonging to the Genoese, but which had long afforded shelter and protection to French privateers, as well as to pirates of all nations. Having embarked a body of soldiers, under Major Logan, of the 51st regiment, on board the Captain 74, and Gorgon troop-ship. Commodore Nelson sailed from Bastia, accompanied by the Vanneau and Rose, the latter vessel a cutter, commanded by Lieutenant ____ Walker. On the following day, la Minerve frigate. Captain George Cockburn, joined him, and was attached to the expedition.

During the passage thither, Lieutenants Walker and Gourly were called on board the commodore’s ship, by signal, to furnish whatever information they possessed respecting Capraja, and to point out the best spot to disembark at. Nelson knew that they were both well acquainted with the localities of the island. They agreed, that it might be effected at a place which he mentioned when shewing them a chart, but added, that there was another, much more eligible, on the northern, or opposite side. He replied, you shall have 250 soldiers sent on board your vessels immediately; make sail, and land them there. In three hours after this, these men were safely put on shore, and they soon got possession of a 2-gun battery, together with the heights above; the enemy flying into the town.

Meanwhile, Nelson was baffled in his attempt to effect a landing on the southern side of the island; the sand being so loose that the men who jumped on shore sunk almost to their knees at every step, the ascent very steep, and the enemy numerous and strongly posted. The intervening high land prevented him from knowing what had been accomplished on the other side, until the Rose, using her sweeps, brought him the gratifying intelligence.

There were then lying in the harbour of Capraja, three French privateers, full of men; and to prevent their escape. Lieutenant Gourly placed his brig within musket-shot of the batteries at the entrance, where he continued watching them until la Minerve, favoured by a light breeze, came to his assistance. Next morning, Sept. 18, 1796, the commodore also got round ; the troops were landed, and the privateers destroyed by their crews: the island then surrendered without any further resistance. In his official report of this occurrence. Nelson highly commended the commanders of the Rose and Vanneau, for their diligence, intelligence, and zeal.

The Vanneau was subsequently selected to perform a secret service; but in working out of Porto Ferrajo, she unfortunately struck, and was bilged, on a sunken and previously unknown rock.

In June, 1797, Lieutenant Gourly was appointed to command the Thunder bomb-ketch; and on the 2d of the following month, we find him joining the fleet under Earl St. Vincent, off Cadiz. The naval bulletins of that year afford us the following information:

Sir Horatio Nelson to Earl St. Vincent, July 4, 1797.

“In obedience to your orders, the Thunder was placed, by the good management of Lieutenant Gourly, assisted by Mr. Jackson, master of the Ville de Paris, within 2500 yards of the walls of Cadiz, and the shells were thrown from her with much precision, under the direction of Lieutenant Baynes, R.A. Unfortunately, it was soon found that the large mortar was materially injured from its former services; and I therefore judged it proper to order her to return. The Spaniards having sent out a great number of mortar-boats, gun-boats, and armed launches, I directed a vigorous attack to be made on them, which was done with such gallantry that they were drove and pursued close to the walls, and must have suffered considerable loss. I have the pleasure to inform you, that two mortar-boats and an armed launch remained in our possession.[2]

Earl St. Vincent to Evan Nepean, Esq. July 10, 1797.

“Rear-Admiral Nelson ordered a second bombardment of Cadiz, on the night of the 5th, and appointed Mr. Jackson to place the Thunder, Terror, and Strombolo. It produced considerable effect in the town and among the shipping. Ten sail of the line, among them the ships bearing the flags of Admirals Mazarredo and Gravina, warped out of the reach of shell, with much precipitation, the following morning. This important service was effected with very little loss on our side.[3] The Rear-Admiral meditated another operation on the night of the 8th, but the wind blew so strong down the bay, he could not get his bomb-vessels up to the point of attack in time.”

Lieutenant Gourly returned to England, in very ill health, at the close of 1797; and he does not appear to have been again actively employed during the remainder of that war. After the renewal of hostilities, in 1803, he commanded one of the revenue cruisers, then under the orders of the Admiralty, and was presented by the owners of some Greenland ships, at Leith, with a gold watch, for his attention in convoying them on their outward voyage. In Dec. 1804, he visited the Texel, with a flag of truce, and was very kindly received by the Dutch Admiral, Verdoroon, who complimented him in the most flattering manner, on his seamanship, perseverance, and success, in entering the Nieuve Diep under circumstances of extreme difficulty and danger. Admiral Verdoroon not only received him courteously, but kept him to dinner, and invited all his captains to meet him; a circumstance which gave great offence to the French general then commanding at the Helder.

Shortly after his return from Holland, Mr. Gourly was appointed flag-lieutenant to Rear-Admiral Vashon, in which capacity he served at Leith until 1807, when he joined the Trident 64, and again sailed for the Mediterranean.

On the arrival of that ship at Malta, the governor. Sir Alexander J. Ball, gave Lieutenant Gourly an order to act as commander of the Tuscan brig, and sent him to the Barbary coast. On his return from thence, he received an Admiralty commission, dated Sept. 14, 1808, promoting him to the command of the San Juan, formerly a Spanish 74, then lying at Gibraltar, without guns, and with only men enough for a single boat’s crew belonging to her. From that ship he was removed, to act as captain of the Atlas 74, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Purvis, whom he assisted in equipping the Spanish men-of-war at Cadiz, and removing them out of the reach of the French invading army.

In March 1809, Captain Gourly returned to Gibraltar, where he soon completed the crew of the San Juan, and in conformity to an order from Lord Collingwood, fitted out a small frigate for the Emperor of Morocco. He also undertook the superintendence of the dock-yard, the victualling office, and other naval establishments on the rock; restored twenty decaying gun-vessels to a serviceable state; and left nothing undone that could possibly be performed with the resources at his command. His indefatigable exertions were thus generally acknowledged by Lord Collingwood, a short time previous to the demise of that excellent officer;

“When you joined the San Juan, the was merely a sheer-hulk; now she is every thing that can be expected of her, and truly beneficial to the whole fleet.”

Captain Gourly was in bad health when Sir Charles Cotton arrived at Gibraltar, on his way to assume the chief command in the Mediterranean, as successor to the deceased admiral. In answer to his representations to that effect, he was told, that Sir Charles had heard much of his useful services; that he had then no officer near him fit to be entrusted with such a charge; and that he must consequently remain in the San Juan until one could be sent from the fleet off Toulon. Not long afterwards, a commodore’s broad pendant was displayed at the rock, as will be seen by reference to p. 462, of Suppl. Part II. Captain Gourly returned to England in Aug. 1810; and remained on half-pay until Feb. 1812. Some ten or twelve years have now elapsed since the author of this work received the following communication:

“Captain B____ begs to suggest, that the scientific remarks which follow, respecting the Gut of Gibraltar, are worthy of insertion, as they may excite observation from those who are at all inclined to doubt their accuracy.

“‘It has long been a prevailing opinion, amongst seamen, that there is, what they call, an underset of the ocean, beneath the surface of the sea, in the Straits of Gibraltar, which returns to the Atlantic the superabundant waters that are continually pouring into the Mediterranean through that narrow passage. Captain Gourly is of opinion, founded on his own experiments, that there is no return whatever of those waters, further than what the diurnal tides occasion; that the sea, 15 fathoms under the surface, is in a state of perpetual rest; that the rate of the superficial current is increased or lessened according to the degree of evaporation occasioned by the action of the sun and wind on the surface of the immense sea within those narrow Straits; that the Atlantic ocean supplies the constant exhalation; and that this occasions the perpetual influx. Ships’ (says Captain Gourly) ‘may work out of the Gut, with the wind westerly, in moderate weather, if they attend to the tides, keep the Spanish shore on board, anchor at low water, and weigh when it has ceased to flow.’”

In Feb. 1812, Captain Gourly was directed by the Admiralty to raise a quota of men, from those employed in the fisheries on the coast of Scotland, and in the Orkney and Shetland islands. He succeeded in securing the services of above 200 men and boys.

At later periods of the war. Captain Gourly assisted the magistracy of Aberdeenshire, in suppressing two very serious riots; and obtained the well-merited encomiums of the civil authorities for his energetic conduct on both occasions. His last appointment was, Sept. 16, 1814, to the Pelorus brig, of 18 guns, which vessel he paid off, in Sept. 1815.

On the 18th Dec. following. Captain Gourly had the misfortune to lose his only son, lieutenant John Charles Gourly, R.N. who lost his life in attempting to save a boy from perishing in Loch-End, near Edinburgh, then but partially frozen over. We can, from our personal knowledge of the defunct, state, that he was a truly estimable young man.

Captain Gourly obtained post rank, Jan. 1, 1817. One of his daughters married, in 1826, Mons. Rueile de Bonnechose, staff-officer in the French army, and second son of the Chevalier de Bonnechose, Secretaire Generale, Versailles[4].

Agent.– ___ Clementson, Esq.



  1. See Vol. I. Part. I. note § at p. 175 et seq.
  2. See Suppl. Part I. p. 270.
  3. 3 sailors killed; 3 officers, 2 midshipmen, and 11 other persons, wounded.
  4. Captain Gourly’s contributions to “Clarke’s Progress of Maritime Discovery,” are acknowledged in the introduction to that work.