Royal Naval Biography/Grace, Percy

[Post-Captain of 1825.]

The antiquity of the family of Grace is of the very highest order. Descended from the ancient lords of Tuscany, it passed through Otho or Othoere, a powerful nobleman, contemporary with our Alfred, from Florence into Normandy, and thence into England; where, in the sixteenth year of Edward the Confessor, he is styled a baron, and was the father of Walter-Fitz-Other, who, at the general survey of the kingdom in 1078, was castellan of Windsor, and appointed by the Conqueror to be warden of the forests of Berkshire, – an office in those days of no small power and correspondent responsibility. The high honors and brilliant achievements of his descendants are reflected on the founder; and Other must always be illustrious, as the common ancestor of the noble houses of Windsor earl of Plymouth, Carew earl of Totness, and Carew baronet; Grace baron of Courtstown, and Grace baronet; Fitz-Maurice marquis of Landsdown and earl of Kerry; Gerard earl of Macclesfield, and Gerard baronet; Fitz-Gerald duke of Leinster, earl of Desmond, and Fitz-Gerald baronet; Mackenzie earl of Seaforth and Cromartie, and Fitz-Gibbon earl of Clare.

Upon the conquest of South Wales by the Anglo-Norman noble, Gerald Fitz-Walter de Windsor (third son of Walter-Fitz-Other) acquired extensive possessions there; which some younger branches of his descendants quitted, to run a still more splendid race in Ireland. One of these was Raymond Fitz-William de Carew, surnamed le Gros (a grandson of Gerald Fitz-Walter de Windsor), whose services were so conspicuously evident in securing the success of the invasion, that as they exacted from Strongbow, earl of Pembroke, so they certainly deserved, the hand of Basilia de Clare, sister to that aspiring chieftain, at this time become a prince by his own alliance with Eva, daughter and heiress of the king of Leinster.

Raymond Le Gros’s marriage with this illustrious lady was no barren honor. With her he received that great district in Kilkenny, denominated from him the “Cantred of Grace’s country,” for his agnomen of Gros, given to him on account of his prowess, gradually became, first Gras, and then, by English pronunciation, Grace. With this possession was coupled the honor of constable and standard-bearer of Leinster, together with the lands of Fethard, Odrone, and Glascarrig. He was also Lord of Lereton, and Dermod Mac Carthy, king of Desmond, whom he restored to his throne, conferred upon him a noble territorial reward in the county of Kerry, which he settled upon Maurice, his second son, the founder of the Fitz-Maurice family. The evidence of national, official, and domestic records has already stood the test of a patient and uncompromising criticism; and the descent, from Raymond le Gros, to the late Michael Grace, of Gracefield, in the Queen’s county, John Grace, of Mantua House, co. Roscommon, and Richard Grace, of Boley, M.P., has been manifested in a clear and regular series.

The estate forfeited by baron John Grace, of Courtstown, under William III., amounted to 32,870 acres of valuable land, of which about 8,000 acres, and the castle of Courtstown, lay within Tullaroan, or Grace’s parish. At this period, some of the Graces, having followed the fortunes of the abdicated monarch, James, settled in France, and became founders of the family of De Grasse, a member of which commanded the fleet that was opposed to the British, under Sir George B. Rodney, on the glorious 12th of April, 1782. During the terrible civil wars of 1641, the resistance of Gerald Grace, of Ballylinch and Carney castles, to the protectoral government, was followed by his line being dispossessed of a landed inheritance, exceeding 17,000 acres, in the counties of Kilkenny and Tipperary, and the King’s County. The loyalty of the family to the unfortunate house of Stuart, as it had been unimpeachable upon both these memorable occasions, was in each instance attended with most disastrous consequences to its prosperity. The swarm of adventurers led into Ireland by Cromwell were fortified in their acquisitions by the Act of Settlement; and the grantees of William III. have never been disturbed in their possessions. Thus, after a period of nearly five centuries and a half, during which the house of Butler alone (represented by the Marquis of Ormonde,) was paramount to that of Grace, the existence of the latter, as a Kilkenny family, may be said to terminate, as the small estate of Holdenstown is the only property they at present possess there. The representative of the Ballylinch branch was led by circumstances to become seated at Gracefield, in the Queen’s County; and his descendant is now, by the extinction of the direct line of Courtstown, the head of this family.

Most of the foregoing genealogical particulars are extracted from “Memoirs op the Grace Family,” (printed for private distribution) by Sheffield Grace, Esq., L.L.D,, F.S.A., Member of the Hon. Society of Lincoln’s Inn, and brother to the subject of the following memoir.

Mr. Percy Grace is the third and youngest son of the late Richard Grace, of Boley, Esq., M.P.[1], {who, as a barrister-at-law, undertook the very important, confidential, and complicated trust, of singly managing, and extricating from litigation, the great Chandos estates in Ireland, vested in the late Duchess, to whom he was nearly allied), by his third cousin, Jane, youngest daughter of the Hon. John Evans, and granddaughter of the first Lord Carbery[2].

He entered the royal navy at an unusually early age; and being placed under the care of Captain (afterwards Sir Thomas Francis) Fremantle, was a youngster on board the Ganges 74, commanded by that officer, at the sanguinary battle of Copenhagen, April 2d, 1801[3].

After serving for nearly four years, in different ships, on the Baltic, North Sea, Channel, West India, Halifax, and Irish stations, Mr. Grace joined the Greyhound frigate Captain Charles Elphinstone, then employed off Cherbourgh, but subsequently ordered to the East Indies. Soon after his arrival there, in Dec. 1805, he was entrusted with the charge of a large recaptured ship, and sent in her to Calcutta. On his return from thence to Pulo-Penang, he was received on board the Blenheim 74, bearing the flag of Sir Thomas Troubridge, to wait for an opportunity of rejoining the Greyhound, which did not present itself until after the former ship, by striking on the southern extremity of the north sand at the entrance of the Straits of Malacca, had sustained the serious damage which led to her supposed ingulphment, near the island of Rodrigues, in Feb. 1807[4].

In the beginning of July, 1806, Mr. Grace (then again on board the Greyhound) assisted at the destruction of a Dutch armed brig, under the fort of Manado; and at the capture of another vessel of the same description, at the island of Tidore. On the 26th of the same month, he bore a part in an action with a Dutch squadron, which ended in the capture of the Pallas frigate and two East Indiamen, the latter armed for the purpose of war, and richly laden with the produce of the Moluccas: – on this occasion, he was officially recommended by Captain Elphinstone, as a “young officer deserving of promotion”[5].

Sir Thomas Troubridge had previously allowed Mr. Grace to choose, whether he would remain in his flag-ship, or go back to the Greyhound for another cruise; promising, in either case^ to take an early opportunity of promoting him. This promise he renewed just before his departure from India for the Cape of Good Hope, telling him, at the same time, that he might as well remain in the frigate a little longer, under the command of his son. Captain (now Sir Edward T.) Troubridge. By this arrangement, Mr. Grace providentially escaped the melancholy fate of all on board the Blenheim and her consort.

The Greyhound’s anxious cruise in search of those ships has been noticed in our memoir of Sir E. T. Troubridge, with whom Mr. Grace continued, as master’s-mate and acting lieutenant, until that officer was superseded by Captain the Hon. William Pakenham, who afterwards perished in the Saldanha frigate, at the entrance of Loughswilly[6]. Mr. Grace’s appointment as acting lieutenant was given to him by Sir Edward Pellew, (now Viscount Exmouth) June 19th, 1807.

We next find the Greyhound employed on the coast of Luconia, where she was wrecked, Oct. 11th, 1808. Returning to Prince of Wales’s Island, on parole, in the Hon. Company’s cruiser Discovery, after suffering three months’ captivity at Manilla, Captain Pakenham, with part of his officers and crew, were again detained, by two French frigates[7], near the Straits of Sincapore, and taken to Batavia. From thence, the captain was soon permitted to depart ; but the officers and men, then under Lieutenant Grace, were kept for some time at Weltervreeden, a military post near that city; and afterwards suddenly marched to the fortress of Meester Cornelius, situated in a damp and unwholesome spot, where they were all closely confined for a period of nearly eight months; to answer for the acts of a person over whom they could have no controul. Their prison, we are informed, was a long barrack-room, covered with red tiles, having no cieling, nor any division whatever; – during the day it was intensely hot, and the tiles retained their heat long after the sun had set; the windows were strongly barred, with shutters outside, opened and closed at the pleasure of the guard, who frequently secured them for the night long before the sun went down. Water for the use of the prisoners was brought in by Malays; but they were obliged to cook their own provisions, and that at the same end of the room where another tub was placed in a corner, before which it was necessary to keep a blanket suspended for the sake of decency. A river running close to the walls of the prison, made their desire for bathing, whether early or late, the greater; but even this indulgence was withheld after the first month, nor would it ever have been granted with the knowledge of Marshal Daendels, then governor-general of Java. During their mutual confinement at Manilla and Batavia, Mr. Grace was the inseparable companion of Captain Pakenham, who ever afterwards spoke of him in the strongest terms of warm friendship and sincere regard.

On the 22d of Sept. 1809, the surviving officers and men of the Greyhound were at length released from their horrible prison, and allowed to depart from Java (without any condltions being imposed upon them) in la Piedmontaise frigate, Captain Charles Foote, by whom Mr. Grace was directed to do duty as lieutenant. His appointment to the Greyhound had been confirmed at home on the 28th February preceding. The following is an extract of a journal kept on board la Piedmontaise:–

“Sept. 30th, 1809. – P.M., at 2-40, boarded a Chinese junk, bound to Malacca, and were informed that the proas in shore, under Mount Muir, were pirates, and twenty in number. At 5, came-to with the stream-anchor, in 7¼ fathoms. Sent two boats to reconnoitre, under the command of Lieutenants Grace and Turner. At sunset, observed the boats tire at the proas, and shortly after hoard the two sternmost. Fired signal guns for the boats to return. At 6-30, weighed and made sail in shore. At 8, the boats returned, with the loss of two men killed; Lieutenant Grace, Lieutenant Fanner, R.M., Messrs. West and Foster, midshipmen, Mr. Hyde, gunner, and fifteen men wounded, chiefly with spears and creases. Found that the boats had gained possession of the two proas, and were conducting them to the ship, for examination, in the quietest manner; but as soon as it became dark, the Malays rose upon our people, and by superior numbers obliged them to retreat.”

On this occasion. Lieutenant Grace received a barbed spear in the thigh, near the groin, from whence the wound extended to the hip joint: the weapon could not be extracted for several days, owing to excessive haemorrhage, and only then with exceeding difficulty. He subsequently proceeded to Pulo-Fenang and Madras, at each of which places he remained a considerable time, waiting in vain for an opportunity of returning to England on board a man-of-war. He was consequently obliged to return home at his own expence; but, although strongly recommended by Captain Foote for his conduct in the affair with the Malay pirates, and even now occasionally suffering much from the effects of the very dangerous wound he then received, no pension, gratuity, nor reimbursement has ever yet been granted him. He arrived at Portsmouth in the Sarah Christiana Indiaman, in Dec. 1810.

Lieutenant Grace’s next appointment was. Mar. 16th, 1811, to the Semiramis frigate. Captain Charles Richardson. In the night of Aug. 24th following, he commanded one of that ship’s boats at the capture of four French merchant vessels, anchored several miles up the Gironde river; and, on the following morning, assisted at the destruction of le Pluvier national brig, mounting 16 guns, with a complement of 136 men, lying under the battery of Royan, and fully prepared for action. His gallant behaviour on this occasion procured him, for the third time, publicly expressed official commendation, as will be seen by the following extract of Captain Richardson’s report to Captain William Ferris, of the Diana frigate, whose official letter has been given at full length in p. 908 et seq, of Vol. II. Part II.

“My officers and ship’s company behaved entirely to my satisfaction, and I feel much indebted to my first lieutenant (Thomas) Gardner, second Lieutenant Grace, and Mr. (Henry) Reneau, master’s-mate, commanding the boats, for the handsome manner in which they ran alongside of the enemy. Lieutenant (Ingram P.) Taylor, of the marines, and Mr. (Richard) Brickwood, purser, being the only officers on board, were of the greatest use, the former commanding the main deck, the latter the quarter-deck guns.”

Towards the close of 1811, Lieutenant Grace left the Semiramis, in order to become first of the Saldanha; but owing to the melancholy disaster which then befel his excellent and valued friend, Captain Pakenham, he was without a ship from that period until Aug. 1812, when we find him appointed to the San Domingo 74, fitting out for the flag of Sir John Borlase Warren, and about to be employed on the North American station[8]. His commission as commander bears date June 15th, 1814.

On Monday the 30th of October, 1820, the venerable mansion of the Marquis (now Duke) of Buckingham, at Wotton, occupied by his son and daughter, the Earl and Countess Temple, was wholly destroyed by fire. “The flames,” says an eye witness, “burst forth about one o’clock from a room appropriated to papers, directly above the nursery, and in less than two hours the entire of the interior was consumed, leaving nothing but the bare walls remaining. Captain Percy Grace, R.N, (brother to Sir William Grace, Bart.), and Captain William Clarke Jervoise. R.N., happening to be there on a visits and sitting up later than the rest of the family, were the first who discovered the fire; on which they instantly awoke his lordship, and induced him and his amiable consort to leave the house without a moment’s delay. They then proceeded to the nursery, and had Lady Anna Eliza Mary Grenville, the then only child of Earl and Countess Temple, conveyed to the parsonage; but before the young lady had even left the house, a great burning beam, extending across the nursery-ceiling, fell in, and crushed the cradle from which she had just been removed. Fortunately no lives were lost; but the rapid progress of the devouring element was such as to render the preservation of property hopeless and impracticable. A more rapid or merciless conflagration can scarcely be imagined. From the first discovery of the fire, by Captains Grace and Jervoise, to the total destruction of the house, an interval of two hours did not elapse.”

On the 17th of Jan. 1822, Captain Grace was appointed to the Cyrené 20, fitting out at Plymouth, for the African station, where he captured the Dutch schooner Aurora, of 144 tons, 4 guns, and 26 men; and detained l’Hypolite schooner (under French colours), of 95 tons, 2 guns, and 19 men. Both of these vessels were equipped in the most complete manner for slaving, and each had a cargo ready for embarkation at the factories on the Gallinas river; from whence 180 slaves were subsequently brought off, and sent to Sierra Leone, but not until after the boats of the Cyrené had had a sharp brush with the native dealers and their European instigators, the particulars of which are thus detailed by Captain Grace in his official report to the late Commodore Sir Robert Mends, dated Oct. 26th, 1822:–

“Both of these schooners were well armed with muskets, pistols, cutlasses, &c. They had been upwards of two months on this coast, and were perfectly ready for receiving slaves on board. This, with other information that I received, determined me to send to King Siacca, and request the liberation of those slaves who were purchased with part of the cargoes of the captured vessels. I accordingly anchored, late last night, off the mouth of the Gallinas river, and at day-break this morning, the boats of the Cyrené, under the command of Lieutenant (George William Conway) Courtenay, and fully prepared for any event, passed the bar through a tremendous surf, where they were immediately received with a heavy but ill-directed fire of musketry from the jungle on both sides, not a hundred yards distant, which was continued as they passed up the river, till they opened the Lower Factory Island, when they were met with a severe raking fire from two long 18-pounders, one 8-inch howitzer, and some hundred men with small arms. Nothing, however, could check the ardour and spirit of the officers and crews, who gallantly pushed on up a narrow river, against a strong ebb tide and a most intricate navigation (having grounded seven times, while under a heavy fire of grape and musketry), till they landed on the island, took possession of the guns, turned them against the covers on both sides of the river, and, for a short time, cleared them of their troublesome neighbours. Their attention was now turned to the houses on this and a neighbouring island, where there also was a spacious slave factory, from all of which an annoying and incessant fire was directed: these were soon entered, and such of their opponents as were found in them were put to death, and the factories and houses burnt to the ground, excepting those occupied by Kroo men, which were spared, in consequence of their staying by them, and not joining in this wanton attack. As the boats landed on the islands, they had the mortification to see those unfortunate beings whom they hoped to liberate, through the influence of the King, hurried from the factories, thrown into war-canoes, and carried out of sight higher up the river. This, in addition to the attack that was made upon them, which precluded all hope of negociating with the King at that moment, and the natives coming down with musketry in increased numbers, our ammunition getting short, and the islands not affording even shelter from the fire of small arms that was poured in on them from all sides, induced Mr. Courtenay most judiciously to determine on returning and passing the bar while the water was high, which, after spiking the guns and destroying them and the factories as far as was practicable, he effected with as much coolness, judgment, and skill, as he displayed on entering; and I am happy to say, that although the natives assembled to the number of many additional hundreds, armed with muskets, lining the bushes on both banks of the river down to the very bar, and keeping up to the last a sharp fire, yet all was effected with the loss of one man mortally and three slightly wounded. While I deeply lament the loss of any individual from among my small ship’s company, I must at the same time express equal astonishment and satisfaction at its not being greater, considering the numbers that were opposed to us, and the fire which was kept up, and can only attribute it to the bad direction of the latter, and the activity and good conduct which was displayed by all on this occasion.

“The loss on the part of our opponents was severe; four Europeans and several natives were killed on the islands and banks of the river, besides many who were wounded. I now. Sir, with pleasure, perform the most pleasing part of my duty, in laying before you the conduct of the officers and men employed on this occasion; but where all behaved equally well, it is difficult to find language to point out each individual’s merit, and it would perhaps appear invidious to discriminate. It is, however, but justice to Lieutenant Courtenay to state, that his conduct evinced how well he merited the confidence I placed in him, as the presence of mind and judgment he exhibited, could only be equalled by the decision and intrepidity he displayed in the execution of that line of conduct he thought it right to pursue; in every act of which he was most ably seconded by Lieutenant George Pigot, Mr. William Lawrence Hunter, second master, and Messrs. Henry Winsor and Malcolm M‘Neale, midshipmen, both of whom, I beg to add, have served their time.

Mr. James Boyle, the surgeon, did on this, as he has on all occasions where there was any service to be performed, volunteer his services; and although in a professional point of view they were eminently useful, yet he did not confine them alone to the wounded, but by his zeal, activity, and gallantry, contributed much towards repulsing the numbers who were opposed to us, and conducted himself throughout in such a manner us to receive Mr. Courtenay’s warmest commendation.

I fear, Sir, that my account of this small affair may appear to you prolix and unnecessary; but I feel that I could not in fewer words do justice to the conduct of the officers and men employed on this occasion, nor otherwise justify the measures they were forced to pursue in self defence, towards the natives of a country whose king has always professed friendship for the British Government, than by stating every circumstance which took place, arising out of this wanton act of aggression on their part: at the same time, I must state for your further information, and that of the British Government, that those acts originated through the influence which is exercised here over the natives, by several Europeans and Americans, to the number of eight or ten, who have hitherto carried on the slave trade perfectly unmolested, and to an extent hardly credible, and who, I have since been informed, erected the battery with a determination of resisting to the utmost, any force that might be sent to put a stop to their inhuman traffic. On this occasion, however, they were ably assisted by Mr. Benjamin Liebray, master of the Aurora, but formerly commanding a French national corvette; and Mr. Louis Gallon, master of l’Hypolite, who with that part of their crews who were on shore, made so considerable an addition to the European force, as to countenance and encourage the acts of the natives. Although all that has taken place was unforeseen on our part, and brought on by the attack of those Europeans and the natives, yet I trust that the measures which were afterwards pursued, are such as will meet your approbation; as we have succeeded, for a time, in disturbing a nest of wretches who lived by this most detestable traffic, and who have for a long period been existing within little more than a hundred miles of a government formed solely for the purpose of its extermination. I have now only to add, that four days before my arrival, a Spanish schooner sailed from this, with three hundred slaves on board, and within the last month three other vessels had departed with full cargoes. I have the honor to remain. Sir, &c.

(Signed)Percy Grace, Commander.”

In December following, the Cyrené detained another French schooner, la Caroline, of 78 tons, 2 guns, and 20 men, employed in the same clandestine trade; which vessel, however, as well as l’Hypolite, was afterwards liberated by the court of mixed commissioners at Sierra Leone, although five slaves were found on board of her, secreted in places where it was hardly possible to suppose that any human being could exist.

Captain Grace next obtained the release of 80 men, women, and children, purchased with la Caroline’s cargo at the Grand Bassa, many of the latter not more than two years of age; and he afterwards examined every spot between that and the river Lagos, where slaving was likely to be carried on: we subsequently find him proceeding to Ascension, with a cargo of provisions for the garrison of that island.

In May, June, and July, 1823, the Cyrené was employed in conveying Sir Charles McCarthy and suite from the Gold Coast to Bathurst, a new settlement on St. Mary’s island, in the river Gambia, and from thence to Sierra Leone, where, during her absence, the chief justice of the colony, two members of council, one clergyman, three missionaries, two merchants, and about 130 other Europeans, with many people of colour, were swept off by a malignant fever within the short period of one month. So great was the consequent panic, that few of the survivors visited each other; they no longer attended the dead to their graves; and most of those who had the means of conveyance, or were so far their own masters as to be able to leave the settlement, shut up their houses and departed, some to the West Indies, and others to any little factories which they possessed along the coast. The Cyrené likewise suffered severely at this time, although she had passed through the preceding rains without the loss of a man. On the 18th of June, Captain Grace, then the senior commander on the African station, reported to Sir Robert Mends, the deaths of 13 petty officers and seamen; the second lieutenant and surgeon had previously invalided, and several men were obliged to be sent home, as the only chance of saving them for future service. At this period of wretchedness and anxiety, Captain Grace was unremitting in his attention to the sick of the Cyrené, and alleviated by every means in his power the misery of their situation; nor did motives of a personal nature ever hinder him from performing what he considered as a part of his duty – that of attending to the last moments of those who fell victims to the climate. On the 4th Dec. following. Captain Grace, then just arrived at Cape Coast from a long cruise among the Cape Verd Islands and towards the shoals of Rio Grande, received intelligence of the demise of Sir Robert Mends, and an order from the Admiralty for the Cyrené’s immediate return to England; the latter transmitted to him by Captain John Filmore, of the Bann sloop, who had appointed himself to the Owen Glendower frigate, and assumed the chief command on the station, although he did not arrive within the limits thereof previous to the commodore’s death, and then only as a passenger on board the Swinger gun-brig.

Feeling that a dispute between the two senior officers of H.M. squadron, particularly at a period when Cape Coast Castle and settlement were threatened with a formidable attack by the King of Ashantee, could not be otherwise than most prejudicial to the public service. Captain Grace refrained from entering into any discussion with Captain Filmore, and forthwith returned to England, where he arrived on the 7th Feb. 1824; after encountering the most violent hurricane, near the Azores, that either himself or any person on board the Cyrené ever witnessed: during this storm, his ship was so near foundering that he was obliged, among other measures for her preservation, to throw overboard eleven guns.

On the Cyrené being taken into dock, it was found that she required extensive repairs; which were no sooner completed than Captain Grace received orders to join the squadron on the Mediterranean station, where he arrived just in time to form part of the force under Vice-Admiral Sir Harry Neale, in line-of-battle before Algiers; a demonstration which led to an amicable termination of the dispute then existing between Great Britain and the Dey.

Captain Grace subsequently visited Tunis, and proceeded from thence to the Piraeus of Athens, where he became senior officer of the squadron employed in the Levant, for the protection of British commerce; which responsible charge he held from Nov. 6th, 1824, until relieved in the following year by Captain G. W. Hamilton. During this period, he visited many of the Cyclades, and the ports of Smyrna, Marmorice, and Alexandria. He obtained his present rank, Feb. 1st, 1825; and paid off the Cyrené, at Deptford, on the 20th of August following.

This officer’s eldest brother succeeded to the baronetcy, of which we have spoken in page 201, on the demise of his kinsman. Sir Richard Gamon, M.P., April 8th, 1818.

Agents.– Messrs. Evans and Eyton.

  1. Grandson of the above mentioned Michael Grace, of Gracefield.
  2. Michael Grace, of Gracefield, inherited, as co-heir at law, the undevised estates of the Sheffield family, in the counties of Sussex, Middlesex, and York. (Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage, 3d edit. p. 329.) The Duchess of Chandos was sister to Richard Grace Gamon, of Minchenden, co. Middlesex, Esq., M.P. for Winchester more than thirty years, who was created a Baronet in April, 1795, with remainder to his cousin and nearest male relative, Richard Grace of Boley, M.P
  3. See Vol. I. Part I. p. 365, et seq.
  4. See Suppl. Part III. p. 315.
  5. See Suppl. Part I. p. 281.
  6. See Nav. Chron. V. 27, pp. 42 and 88.
  7. See Suppl. Part IV. p. 115.
  8. See Suppl. Part I. p. 380, et seq.