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Royal Naval Biography/Hamilton, Gawen William

A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath; and Knight of the Imperial Russian Order of St. Anne.
[Post-Captain of 1811.]

Eldest son of Archibald Hamilton Rowan, of Killyleah Castle, county Down, Ireland, Esq.

This officer was born and educated in France. He appears to have held a command in the Donegal yeomanry, previous to his becoming a sailor.

Mr. Hamilton entered the navy in 1801, and had the advantage of serving the whole of his time as midshipman and lieutenant under that excellent officer Captain (now Sir Benjamin) Hallowell. He was consequently present at the capture of St. Lucia and Tobago, in 1803[1].

During the operations in Egypt, after the surrender of Alexandria[2], Mr. Hamilton received a severe wound in the heel, which is still open, and likely to continue so during the remainder of his life. He was made a lieutenant in Nov. 1807, and promoted to the rank of commander early in 1810.

Captain Hamilton’s first appointment was to the Onyx brig, in which vessel we find him very actively employed, under the orders of Sir Richard G. Keats, during the siege of Cadiz, from whence he returned home with despatches at the commencement of 1811. He subsequently returned thither, and superintended the flotilla, of which mention has been made at p. 323, until his advancement to post rank, Dec. 4, 1811. From that period he commanded the Termagant of 20 guns, and Rainbow 26, on the Mediterranean station, until the conclusion of the European war, in 1814.

The Termagant was first employed in opening a communication with the patriots of Grenada: her proceedings are described in an official letter from Captain Thomas Ussher to Commodore Penrose, a copy of which will be found at pp. 348-350, of Suppl. Part I. Between July 22 and Aug. 29, 1812, she captured three French privateers, and destroyed several batteries and martello towers on the coast of Valencia. The Rainbow drove an armed brigantine on shore under Cape Cavallo, in June, 1813; and her boats captured two vessels, one full of French pioneers, the other laden with wheat, in the Bay of Ajaccio, Sept. 11 following.

On the 13th Dec. in the same year. Captain Hamilton volunteered to land and co-operate with the Italian levy, under Lieutenant-Colonel Catanelli, in an attack upon Leghorn, the unsuccessful result of which is noticed in our memoir of Sir Josias Rowley[3]. Mis gallant conduct on that occasion, and the activity and zeal displayed by him during the more fortunate operations against Genoa and its dependencies, are duly acknowledged in the official letters respecting those services, copies of which are given at pp. 424-430, of Vol. II. Part I.

Captain Hamilton’s next appointment was to the Havannah 42, in which frigate he proceeded from the Mediterranean to North America. After the failure of the Baltimore expedition, he was left in the Chesapeake, under the orders of Captain Robert Barrie, with whom he went up the Rappahannock, in Nov. 1814[4]. The Havannah formed part of Napoleon Buonaparte’s escort to St. Helena, in 1815.

On the 25th July, 1820, Captain Hamilton was appointed to the Cambrian 48, in which ship he conveyed Lord Strangford and his family to the capital of the Turkish empire.

At the commencement of the revolution in Greece, Captain Hamilton was immediately selected by Vice-Admiral Sir Graham Moore to command the squadron which it was found necessary to station in the Archipelago, where, by his zealous interference and energetic measures, he rendered unspeakable service to the cause of suffering humanity, and justly entitled himself to the respect and gratitude of both the contending parties.

In Jan. 1824, Captain Hamilton was sent to Tunis to demand the ratification of certain treaties essential to the honor and interests of Great Britain. This mission was conducted with his usual promptitude and judgment, and finally crowned with success.

The Cambrian was subsequently ordered home, and put out of commission. The manner in which she was paid off reflects the highest credit on all belonging to her. Not a man left the ship till the payment was completed, when they all started in a body, enthusiastically cheering the captain and officers, and receiving their hearty cheers in return, the band playing “God save the King, Rule Britannia, and St. Patrick’s Day.” In the evening, the officers entertained Captain and Mrs. Hamilton with a parting dinner at the George Hotel, Portsmouth.

Owing to the able manner in which Captain Hamilton had acquitted himself during his late responsible and difficult command, he was again appointed to the Cambrian, July 9, 1824. The following is taken from the London Gazette:–

Admiralty Office, April 2, 1825.

“Vice-Admiral Sir Harry Neale has transmitted to this office a letter from Captain Hamilton, of the Cambrian, stating that two piratical vessels, carrying one gun and about thirty men each, were captured on the 31st or January last, in the Channel of Negropont, by the boats of his Majesty’s ships Cambrian and Seringapatam, under the orders of Lieutenant Marsham, first of the Cambrian.

“When these pirates were first discovered, they were in chase of an Ionian vessel, and there being reason to suspect (as was afterwards found to be the fact), that they had shortly before plundered another vessel under the same flag, Captain Hamilton sent Lieutenant Marsham in one of the Cambrian’s boats, with a Greek interpreter, to desire that they would come down to his Majesty’s ships for examination; but the pirates having refused to comply with this desire. Lieutenant Marsham was joined by the other boats of the Cambrian, and by those of the Seringapatam, sent by Captain Hamilton’s orders to his support.

“On the approach of the boats, the pirates commenced firing upon them from their guns, and with musketry, and persevered in so doing, notwithstanding the endeavour of Lieutenant Marsham to prevail upon them to desist; who, after exhausting, even under their fire, every means of persuasion, was obliged at last to attack them, and the pirate vessels were then, in the most gallant manner, boarded and carried, after a desperate resistance on the part of their crews, of whom few only could be taken prisoners, the greater number being killed or wounded.

“The officers and men of his Majesty’s ships, employed in the boats, acquitted themselves on this occasion with the utmost gallantry, and the whole of their conduct is noticed by Captain Hamilton in terms of high commendation.”

The loss sustained by the British consisted of 6 killed and 13 wounded: among the latter were Lieutenant William Worsfold and Mr. Horatio Nelson Atkinson, mate of the Seringapatam.

The Cambrian shortly afterwards struck upon a sunken and unknown rock, off the island of Skaitho, carried away the greater part of her false keel, and the whole of the gripe and forefoot, in consequence of which accident she was obliged to be hove down at Malta.

On the 27th July, 1826, Captain Hamilton’s boats, under the orders of Lieutenant Thomas Gregory, captured a piratical bombard, and burnt a mistico, at the island of Tino, on which occasion five of the Greeks were killed and several wounded. In Sept. following, another vessel was destroyed and a bombard taken, at the island of Andros, by a party of marines, under the command of Lieutenant Parker. About the same period the Cambrian and Rose sloop captured two other pirates; one laden with gunpowder, the other having on board 80,000 piastres, 30 bales of raw silk, 30 packages of saffron, a bag of pearls, and various other valuable articles of merchandize.

The Cambrian formed part of the squadron under Sir Edward Codrington at the battle of Navarin; but in consequence of her having previously been detached, she was prevented from taking any very great share in that extraordinary conflict: her loss consisted of only one man killed and another wounded[5]. The Emperor of Russia has since conferred upon Captain Hamilton the order of St. Anne, of the second class, with the medal set with diamonds; he is also decorated with the cross of the French Order of St. Louis.

On the 31st Jan. 1828, the Cambrian anchored within pistol-shot of the fort of Carabusa, in company with the Isis 50, bearing the broad pendant of Sir Thomas Staines, K.C.B. the Rattlesnake 28, Zebra 18, Cameleon 10, and two French corvettes. At this period there were 14 Greek vessels lying in that port, also an Austrian ship, and an Ionian merchantman, both of which the pirates had carried there. No satisfactory answer having been received to the commodore’s demand, that the marauding vessels and their crews should be given up to him, they were immediately fired upon and several of them totally destroyed, without the smallest opposition. When retiring from this scene of devastation, the Cambrian was struck on the quarter by the Isis, which threw her up in the wind, and caused her to pay off on the opposite tack to that on which it was necessary she should have done. This accident, in a narrow channel, proved fatal; for, from having no way through the water, she could not again be tacked, and in a few minutes she fell broadside to on a reef of rocks, at a moment when a considerable swell was setting into the harbour. A court-martial held at Malta to enquire into the occasion of her loss, determined that Captain Hamilton, his officers, and crew, were fully exonerated of all blame: in conveying the sentence of acquittal, the court expressed their commendation, in the highest terms, of the exertions and good conduct of every one on board at the time of the unfortunate accident, and the commander-in-chief subsequently assured the whole of the ship’s company, that the recommendations he had sent home to the Lord High Admiral were such that the circumstance of their having been in the Cambrian, would ever operate to their advantage. Captain Hamilton, on having his sword returned to him, was addressed by the president, in the following terms:–

“Captain Hamilton, it is with much and sincere pleasure, that I have to return you your sword, one that has always heen used with true credit, and to the good service of your country. I cannot at the same time refrain from expressing to you the regret which this court experiences at the melancholy wind-up of your long and arduous exertions in the Archipelago, performed so ably and with such advantage to the country; and I am sure that there is not an officer or man in the squadron who does not join in this feeling.”

After the court-martial Captain Hamilton was charged with despatches for the Lord High Admiral; but his health not allowing him to travel with the requisite celerity, he sent them forward from Genoa, under the care of his first lieutenant. He is at present on half-pay.

Captain Hamilton was nominated a C.B. June 4, 1815. He married, in 1817, Katharine, daughter of Lieutenant-General Cockburn, of Shunagaugh, Ireland. His brother, Mr. Frederick Hamilton Rowan, midshipman, R.N. was killed at Palamos, in 1810.