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Royal Naval Biography/Hamilton, Charles

Baronet; Vice-Admiral of the White; Commander-in-Chief at Newfoundland, and Governor of that Colony.

The house of Hamilton is justly celebrated in the annals of these realms, for the antiquity of its lineage, its splendid actions, extensive alliances, and signal services to King, Church, and State, in the various periods which have elapsed from its origin to the present day.

Sir Charles Hamilton is lineally descended from the Earl of Mellent, in Normandy, whose nephew and heir Robert de Bellamont commanded the right wing of the invading army at the battle of Hastings; was rewarded by the conqueror with the Earldom of Leicester and an extensive donation of manors and domains in that county; and married Elizabeth, daughter of Hugh, the great Duke of Vermandois, son of Henry the first King of France.

The appellation of de Hambledon, taken from a place so called in Leicestershire, was first adopted by Sir William, brother to the fourth Earl of Leicester and Mellent. In the reign o Edward II. noted for favoritism, this Sir William had the misfortune to be insulted by John Spencer, one of the court parasites, whom he slew for refusing to fight him; and being in consequence advised to abscond, he fled into Scotland, where he was kindly received by Robert Bruce, King of that country, who conferred upon him the lands of Kedsow, and several others in co. Lanark, which property was afterwards created into a barony and named Hamilton[1].

From this personage descended James second Lord Hamilton, who in 1474, espoused the eldest daughter of James II. of Scotland, and by her had issue one son and a daughter; the former of whom was sent into England by James IV., to negociate the marriage between that monarch and the eldest daughter of Hen. VII. for the performance of which service the King gave him the county or island of Arran, and created him Earl thereof in 1503. The latter married Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox, and by him was grandmother of Henry Lord Darnley, father of James VI. of Scotland and I. of England.

James, fourth Lord Hamilton and second Earl of Arran, succeeded his father in 1530, and about the year 1542 was chosen protector to Queen Mary, and Regent of the kingdom during her minority; and in failure of issue on the part of that princess, her successor to the throne of Scotland. The dukedom of Chatelherault, in Poitou was conferred upon him in 1549, by Hen. VII. of France. From this nobleman’s third son Claud, is descended the present Marquis of Abercorn, who is the chief representative in the male line of the illustrious house of Hamilton, and to whom the officer of whose services we are about to present a brief sketch, is the nearest of kin now living[2]. The subject of this memoir is the eldest son of the late Sir John Hamilton, Bart.[3], by Cassandra, third daughter of Edmund Chamberlayne, of Maugersbury, co. Gloucester, Esq.; and brother of Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Hamilton, Bart. He was born Aug. 25, 1767; entered the naval service on board the Hector, of 74 guns, commanded by his father in Sept. 1776; and thence removed to the Royal Academy at Portsmouth, in Aug. 1777, where he continued about two years. His first promotion as a Lieutenant was into the Tobago sloop, on the Jamaica station; and towards the latter end of 1789, he was advanced from that rank in the Jupiter, of 50 guns, to the command of the Scorpion, at Antigua. His post commission bears date Nov. 22, 1790; some time previous to which he had been elected M.P. for the borough of St. Germains, co. Cornwall. He subsequently represented Honiton, in Devonshire, and Dungannon, co. Tyrone; the latter we believe in two parliaments.

At the breaking out of the war with France in 1793, Sir Charles Hamilton was appointed to the Dido of 28 guns, and cruised during the ensuing summer off the coast of Norway, where he ran on shore when in chace of a French privateer, which he afterwards captured, and was in consequence thereof obliged to dock his ship at Copenhagen. From the North Sea he proceeded to the Mediterranean under the orders of Lord Hood, whose despatches relative to the reduction of Corsica bear ample testimony to his meritorious conduct and steady perseverance in maintaining the station assigned him off Calvi, under manifest difficulties. During the operations carried on in that quarter, we find the Dido and Aimable, with a party of 300 Corsicans, the whole commanded by Sir Charles, acting against the out: post of Girilotte, a fort similar in construction to that of Mortella[4], but on a larger scale; which surrendered after a siege often days.

In July 1794, our officer was removed into the St. Fiorenzo, of 36 guns, where he remained but a short time, and then joined the Romney, 50, in which ship he returned to England, and soon after his arrival commissioned the Melpomene, a frigate of the largest class.

Sir Charles Hamilton retained the command of the Melpomene for seven years and five months, during which long period he was constantly employed on various active services, and captured nearly fifty of the enemy’s vessels of different descriptions. In the autumn of 1799, he accompanied Vice-Admiral Mitchell, to whom he was next in seniority, on an expedition against the Helder, and on that occasion had confided to his care a division of transports, consisting of about eighty sail, which he conducted, under very trying circumstances, in safety to the place of debarkation; and after the troops had been landed proceeded with the Vice-Admiral to the Vlieter, where the Dutch squadron, commanded by Rear-Admiral Storey, surrendered to the British arms. Subsequent to this event, Sir Charles was employed in the Zuyder Zee, blockading Amsterdam for the space of seven weeks, the whole of his officers and crew, on account of the insufficiency of water for so large a ship as the Melpomene, having been removed into schuyts and boats for that purpose. He returned to England on a convention being entered into between H.R.H. the Duke of York and the French General Brune, for the evacuation of Holland by the allied forces; and soon after had the satisfaction of receiving the thanks of Parliament, in common with the other officers employed on the expedition[5].

In Feb. 1800, Sir Charles Hamilton was appointed to the chief command on the coast of Africa, where three French frigates had been committing great depredations. He accordingly proceeded thither in the Melpomene, accompanied by the Magnanime of 48 guns, and having under his protection the trade bound to that quarter. On his arrival at St Jago, he received information that the enemy’s squadron having been fired at from the forts of that place, had repaired to Goree, where it was then at anchor. This intelligence, with the force and situation of the French frigates, induced Sir Charles to take the Ruby, 64, then watering at Porto Praya, under his orders; and with this additional force he immediately went in quest of them.

In the afternoon of the 4th April, the British ships anchored in misty weather very near the town; but not rinding the enemy’s frigates there, and our officer conceiving the appearance of the convoy sufficient to alarm the garrison, he despatched his first Lieutenant, Tidy, with a verbal message, summoning the island to surrender, and threatening in the event of a refusal to storm the place. This message, together with the deception practised of dressing the crews of the merchant vessels in red shirts, had the desired effect; at midnight Lieutenant Tidy made the signal agreed on, that Sir Charles’s terms were complied with; the marines of the squadron were instantly landed, and the island taken possession of without damage to the ships, or any other loss than 1 officer wounded before the flag of truce was observed from the forts. The mortification of the garrison, on the following, morning, when they discovered the stratagem of which they had been the dupes, may be more readily conceived than described. Some time after this event, the Melpomene captured l’Auguste, French letter of marque, of 10 guns and 50 men, from Bourdeaux bound to Guadaloupe.

On his second voyage to the African station, our officer summoned Senegal by a flag of truce; but the governor, Blanchard, instead of acceding thereto, detained the Lieutenant who had been sent with the message, and his boat’s crew, as prisoners of war. A few nights after[6] the weather being moderate and the surf low, Sir Charles conceived it possible, if he could surprise a brig corvette and an armed schooner, anchored within the bar, to possess himself of the battery commanding the entrance, and by means of the enemy’s own vessels, as he had none under his command fit for the purpose, finally to have reduced Senegal; ho therefore detached Lieutenant Thomas Dick, with 55 volunteers from the Melpomene, 5 from a transport, and 36, commanded by Lieutenant Christie, from the African corps, who left the ship at 9 P.M., in five boats, and were fortunate enough to pass the heavy surf on the bar with the flood-tide, without accident, and unobserved by the battery at the point 3 but on their approaching within hail of the brig, the alarm was given, and the two bow-guns discharged, by which Lieutenant Palmer and 7 seamen were killed, and two of the best boats sunk. Notwithstanding this unfortunate accident, the vessel was carried, after an obstinate defence of twenty minutes, but which gave the schooner time to cut her cable, and saved the town from being stormed. Lieutenant Dick, finding that the loss of the two boats, and many of his best men, added to a constant fire from the schooner and two batteries, must have rendered any farther attempt abortive, judged it right to make every attempt to get the prize over the bar; but the ebb-tide having made, and being totally unacquainted with the navigation of the river, she got aground; and feeling it impossible ever to get her off, he considered it absolutely necessary to retreat, which he did after setting fire to, and rendering her unfit for further service. The retreat was conducted with the greatest order, and the whole of the prisoners and wounded brought off, notwithstanding a tremendous surf upon the bar, and under a heavy fire of grape and musketry from the batteries. At day-light the next morning Sir Charles Hamilton had the satisfaction to perceive the brig had sunk up to her gunwales in a quicksand. She was called the Senegal, had been fitted out there at the expense of the French republic, and mounted 18 12-pounders. When attacked she had nearly 60 men on board, some of whom escaped in a boat; the rest were killed in boarding, excepting 18, who were taken prisoners. The loss sustained by the British in this spirited affair amounted to 11, including Lieutenant Palmer, a marine officer, and a Midshipman, slain j Lieutenant Christie and 17 others wounded.

In the course of the same year Sir Charles Hamilton proceeded to the West Indies, where he continued till July 1802; during part of which time he acted as Commissioner of the naval yard at Antigua, lii November, 1803, he obtained the command of the Illustrious, a 74 gun-ship, attached to the Channel fleet. He subsequently Commanded in succession the Sea Fencibles at Harwich; the Temeraire, a second rate; and the Tonnant of 80 guns. In 1809 he was nominated to a Colonelcy of Royal Marines; and on the 1st Aug. 1810, advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral, and appointed Commander-in -Chief in the river Thames, on which occasion he hoisted his flag in the Thisbe frigate, where it continued until towards the conclusion of the war. His commission as Vice-Admiral bears date June 4, 1814.

In the spring of 1818 our officer succeeded the late Vice-Admiral Pickmore, as Governor of Newfoundland and Commander-in-Chief on that station; from whence he returned to England on leave of absence Nov. 1, 1822. Previous to his departure from St. John’s he received an address from all the principal inhabitants, and also from the Benevolent Irish Society, of which institution he is the patron, expressive of the grateful sense entertained by its members of the “general attention he had at all times paid to the petitions of the poor, and the prompt and effectual measures adopted by him for their relief; in which he was most powerfully assisted by his amiable and accomplished lady, who was ever the kind and constant friend of the widow and the orphan.”

Sir Charles Hainilton married, April 19, 1803, Henrietta Martha, only daughter of the late George Drummond, of Stanmore, co. Middlesex, Esq. and Banker of Charing Cross.

Country seat.– Issing, near Midhurst, Sussex.

Town residence.– 27, Curzon Street.


SIR CHARLES HAMILTON, (p. 419.) The marine officer who lost his life in the action between the Melpomene’s boats and the Senegal, was Mr. Vivion, a most promising young officer, son of the gentleman who has for some time past headed the list of Pursers, R.N.

  1. It is said that when Sir William de Hatnbledon fled from England, he was closely pursued into a wood, where he and his servant changed coats with two wood-cutters, and took a frame saw, with which they were cutting through an oak tree when his enemies passed by; and that seeing his inan take notice of them, he spoke hastily to him THROUGH; which word became the motto of his family; and the saw cutting through the oak is the crest.
  2. Lord Claud Hamilton’s grand nephew James, third Marquis of Abercorn, was created Duke of Hamilton in 1643, and succeeded in the title by his brother William; who also dying without male issue, the estates and honours devolved to the Lady Anne Hamilton, eldest daughter of the first Duke, who carried them to the house of Douglas, by her marriage in 1661 with William Douglas, Earl of Selkirk, who became Duke of Hamilton in right of his wife, and assumed the name and arms of Hamilton, discontinuing those of Douglas; from him descends the present Duke of Brandon and Hamilton.
  3. Sir John Hamilton received the thanks of Parliament, and was raised to the dignity of a Baronet, July 6, 1776, for his very judicious and gallant conduct during the siege of Quebec in the preceding year, at which period he commanded the Lizard frigate; and having landed his guns and other necessaries, formed a battalion of seamen, and materially assisted in the preservation of that important place.
  4. See p. 250.
  5. Early in the summer of 1799, an expedition was planned by the British government; the object of which remained for some time a profound secret. Large bodies of troops were collected, and ordered to rendezvous at Southampton, under the command of Sir Ralph Abercromby; this army was afterwards considerably augmented, and directed to assemble at Yarmouth, Ramsgate, and Margate, the whole amounting to about 27,000 men, commanded by the Duke of York. A large fleet of ships of war, with a sufficient number of transports, were collected at those ports for the purpose of receiving the troops, and an embargo was laid on all shipping throughout the kingdom. Such formidable preparations made in this quarter, soon discovered that Holland was the place of destination of this armament, which was rendered still more powerful by the addition of a strong squadron, and upwards of 17,000 troops hired from Russia to assist in the enterprise.

    On the 12th Aug. the first division of troops, consisting of about 10,000 men, in about 200 transports, sailed for the enemy’s coast, escorted by a squadron of men of war, commanded by Vice-Admiral Mitchell. Contrary winds and very tempestuous weather prevented the fleet from reaching the point of debarkation until the 26th, on which day the whole of the vessels were anchored in safety; and on the following morning the troops were landed near the Helder, under cover of a warm and well-directed fire from the bombs, gun-brigs, and other small vessels. The enemy made but little opposition to the landing; but soon after a severe conflict ensued, which terminated in their complete discomfiture. This gave the British the entire possession of the whole neck of land between Kirk Down and the road leading to Alkmaar; on which General Daëndels finding himself cut off from the Helder, sent orders for the Governor to evacuate the fortress and join him. The next morning that important post, with all the shipping lying in the Nieuve Diep, and the naval magazine, were taken possession of by the British.

    The falling of the Helder opened the Texel to the fleet; Vice-Admiral Mitchell therefore, lost no time in making the necessary dispositions for attacking that of the enemy, which was lying at anchor in a line at the red buoy, near the Vlieter; for this purpose he got under sail, and as his ships were standing in, despatched Captain Rennie, of the Victor sloop, with the following summons to the Dutch commander:

    Isis, under sail in line of battle, Aug. 30, 1799.

    “Sir. I desire you will instantly hoist the flag of H.S.H. the Prince of Orange; if you do, you will immediately be considered as friends of the King of Great Britain, my most gracious Sovereign; otherwise take the consequence. Painful it will be to me for the loss of blood it may occasion; but the guilt will be on your own head.

    (Signed)Andrew Mitchell, Vice-Admiral, &c. &c.

    To Rear-Admiral Storey, or the Commander-in-Chief of the Dutch squadron.

    Captain Rennie, on his way, picked up a flag of truce with two Dutch officers, coming from their chief to Vice-Admiral Mitchell, whom he carried on board the Isis; after a few minutes conversation, at their earnest request, the British commander anchored in a line, a short distance from the enemy’s squadron; and sent the Dutchmen back to their Admiral, with positive orders not to alter the position of the ships, nor do any thing whatsoever to them, and in one hour to submit, or take the consequences. In less than the time prescribed, the same officers returned with a verbal message of submission, and bearing the following letter, containing Rear-Admiral Storey’s reasons for complying with the summons:

    On board the Washington, anchored under the Vlieter, Aug. 30, 1799.

    “Admiral, Neither your superiority, nor the threat that the spilling of human blood should be laid to my account, could prevent my showing you to the last moment what I could do for my Sovereign, whom I acknowledge to be no other than the Batavian people, and their representatives, when your Prince’s and the Orange flags have obtained their end. The traitors whom I commanded refused to fight; and nothing remains to me and my brave officers, but vain rage and the dreadful reflection of our present situation; I therefore deliver over to you the fleet which I commanded. From this moment it is your obligation to provide for the safety of my officers, and the few brave men who are on board the Batavian ships, as I declare myself and my officers prisoners of war, and I remain to be considered as such.

    (Signed)S. Storey.

    To Admiral Mitchell, commanding H.B.M.’s squadron in the Texel.”

    Possession was immediately taken of the enemy’s ships, and a British officer sent on board of each, for the purpose of maintaining peace and order among the crews, to whom Vice-Admiral Mitchell issued a manifesto, announcing their being taken possession of in favor of the Stadtholder; and a few days afterwards, the Dutch squadron was escorted to England by a detachment from the British fleet. Such of the prizes as appeared likely to be useful were subsequently purchased by government, and added to the navy.

    Without detracting, in the slightest degree from the merit of those engaged in their capture, it should be observed, that the quiet surrender of the enemy’s ships must be chiefly attributed to what the revolutionary government of that day chose to term, a spirit of mutiny among the crews. It is said that when the Dutch commander made the signal to prepare for battle, his men broke into open revolt and disobedience to their officers, whom they seized; at the same time taking possession of the magazines, unloading the guns, and throwing the shot and cartridges into the sea.

    The naval force thus taken from the Batavian republic, including those found in the Nieuve Diep, consisted of ten sail of the line, fourteen frigates, one sloop, a sheer-hulk, and three East India men, together with about five hundred doggers and schuyts.

    On the 21st September, Vice-Admiral Mitchell shifted his flag into the Babet, of 20 guns, and proceeded with a flotilla into the Zuyder Zee, where his appearance changed the politics, for a while, of several of the bordering towns and villages, which submitted, and hoisted the Orange flag. Such a loss as the Dutch had sustained by sea could scarcely be compensated by any success on land; but unfortunately for them, their forces were, for some time, obliged to retreat with the same rapidity that the English advanced. On the arrival, however, of the French General Brune, with a considerable body of troops, they were enabled to make a stand; and having possessed themselves of a strong position at Purmirind, which afforded them the means of acting on the rear of the invading army, a check was given to the successes of the allies. A negotiation shortly after ensued, in the course of which the republican commander contended for the restoration of the Batavian fleet, with the whole of the stores and men. This, however, was resisted by the Duke of York, who had landed at the Helder on the 13th September, and now threatened, in case of necessity, to cut dovn the sea-dykes; a measure which would have inundated the country, and destroyed its fertility. At length, by a convention signed Oct. 20, the evacuation of Holland by the allied armies, was agreed upon, and carried into execution by the 19th November. The retreat of the military force was followed by that of the flotilla from the Zuyder Zee, and Vice-Admiral Mitchell, with a great part of his fleet, returned to England. He was soon afterwards created a K.B. and received a sword valued at 100 guineas from the city of London. The conduct of the officers and men forming the naval part of this expedition, met with the highest approbation of government; and the late Viscount Melville in moving the thanks of the House of Commons, dwelt at some length on the difficulties that had arisen during the passage to Holland, and the masterly manner in which so large an armament had been conducted in safety to its destination.

    Thus ended the expedition to Holland; in which the British lost three ships of war by being wrecked on the coast, namely the Nassau, 64, armed en flute; Blanche and Lutine frigates; about 550 soldiers killed, 2694 wounded, and 1354 missing; the loss sustained by the Russians amounted to about 3200 slain, wounded, and taken prisoners.

  6. Jan. 3, 1801.