Royal Naval Biography/Hamley, William

Knight of the Imperial Order of Leopold of Austria.

This officer is the second son of the late William Hamley, of Bodmin, co. Cornwall, Esq. by Sarah, daughter of John Pomeroy, Esq.; and lineally descended from Osbertus, youngest grandson of Sir John Hamley, Knt. who, in the twelfth of Edw. III. was chosen high sheriff of Cornwall, and subsequently elected a member of parliament for the same county. His great ancestor, Espire Hamley, represented the borough of Bodmin in 1308.

Mr. William Hamley, junior, was born at Bodmin, in July, 1786; and appears to have entered the royal navy, in 1799, as midshipman on board the Pomone frigate, Captain R. Carthew Reynolds; under whom he also served in the Orion 74, previous to the peace of Amiens. We subsequently find him joining the Hercule 74, flag-ship on the Jamaica station, where he had the honor of acting as aid-de-camp to Sir John T. Duckworth, and his successor in the chief command, the late Vice-Admiral Dacres, (residing with them at the “Pen”) until promoted by the latter officer to the rank of lieutenant, in Jan. 1807.

During the remainder of the war, Mr. Hamley served under Captain the Hon. George Cadogan (now Lord Oakley), in the Crocodile, Pallas, and Havannah, frigates. The former ship conveyed Sir Arthur Wellesley to Portugal, in 1808; the Pallas was most actively employed during the Walcheren expedition; the nature of the services performed by the officers and crew of the Havannah are shown in official letters, of which the following are copies:

H.M.S. Havannah, at Sea, Sept. 7, 1812.

“Sir,– Some of the enemy’s coasting; vessels having taken shelter under a battery of three 12-pounders, on the S.W. side of the Penmarks, I yesterday morning sent my first lieutenant (William Hamley), with the boats of this ship, to spike the guns, and bring the vessels out or destroy them; which service he performed without the loss of a man, in a manner that does great credit to himself, as well as all the officers and men employed on the occasion. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)George Cadogan.”

To Rear-Admiral Sir Harry Neale, Bart.

The vessels taken on this occasion consisted of one schooner and five chasse-marées, principally laden with wine and brandy. On the 20th of the same month, Admiral Sir Charles Cotton, then commander-in-chief of the Channel fleet, informed Captain Cadogan that the Lords of the Admiralty highly approved of his judgment in directing the attack to be made, and of the zeal and good conduct displayed by Lieutenant Hamley, &c.

“H.M.S. Havannah, Adriatic, Jan. 10th, 1813.

“Sir,– In reporting the capture of the enemy’s gun-boat No. 8, of one long 24-pounder and 85 men, commanded by Mons. J. Floreus, enseigne de vaisseau, I must beg leave to cull your attention to the great skill aud gallantry with which this service was executed by the first lieutenant, (William Hamley), who, with only a division of this ship’s boats, at two o’clock in the afternoon of the 6th instant, attacked and carried the above vessel, far superior to them in force, prepared in every respect, and supported by musketry from the shore, where she was made fast; our boats not having any expectation of meeting any armed vessel, till upon opening the creek where she lay, they were fired upon, and desired by the troops on shore to surrender. I have to lament the loss of a very line young man, Mr. Edward Percival, master’s-mate, killed, and two seamen wounded. Three merchant vessels were also taken. I have the honour to be, &c.

(Signed)George Cadogan.”

To Captain C. Rowley, H.M.S. Eagle.

On the 7th of the following month, the boats and marines of the Havannah, under the command of Lieutenant Hamley, captured and destroyed four Franco-Venetian gun-vessels, twenty-one transports laden with ordnance stores, and a seven gun battery, on the coast of Manfredonia. This service was performed without the loss of a man; and is thus noticed by Captain Cadogan, in a letter addressed to the Admiralty:

“I have detailed to Charles Rowley, Esq., captain of H.M. ship Eagle, the circumstances of an affair, in which the boats of this ship, under the command of my first lieutenant (William Hamley), had, in my opinion particularly distinguished themselves.”

And, in continuation, Captain Cadogan says:

“It is not a month ago, that this officer, in a manner that commanded my admiration, captured an enemy’s gun-vessel and convoy, of far superior force, under the most disadvantageous circumstances on hid side; and when I add an achievement of a similar nature performed by him upon a battery on the coast of France, all within the space of eighteen months, their lordships will not, I trust, be surprised at my submitting his services to their consideration, in hopes that they may establish his claim to the reward every officer aspires to, – promotion. If any testimony of mine can strengthen his pretensions in their lordships’ minds, he is justly entitled thereto; his conduct during near six years’ servitude with me, as lieutenant, having fully entitled him to my entire approbation, as an able, spirited, and excellent officer.”

(Signed)Geo. Cadogan.”

H.M.S. Havannah, off Ortona, March 27th, 1813.

“Sir,– I have the honor to inform you, that, in executing your orders of the 10th instant, the boats of this ship have been twice successfully employed against the enemy’s trade; once on the morning of the 22d inst. in the capture of a large trabacolo of three 9-pounders and small arms, and the destruction by fire of a similar vessel, laden with oil, under the town of Vasto; and again yesterday morning, in the capture of five armed trabacolos, and five feluccas laden with salt, near the town of Fortore. In both instances, the vessels being hauled aground, completely dismantled, and under the protection of a strong body of military on the beach, besides the guns of the latter vessels, which had been landed, I ordered my boats to land wide of the spot, and force their position; this was immediately effected (under a strong opposition) by Lieutenant Hamley, first of this ship; and the marines, under Lieutenant William Hockley, were very judiciously posted, whilst the vessels were equipped and got afloat by the exertions of the officers and men, with a celerity that reflects the highest credit on their characters. At Vasto, the French officer who headed the troops was killed. At Fortore, the enemy left one man slain. I am happy to say, we have only two men very slightly wounded. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)Geo. Cadogan.”

To Rear-Admiral Fremantle.

H.M.S. Havannah, at sea, June 29th, 1813.

“Sir,– I have the honor to report the capture of an armed convoy of the enemy’s, consisting of ten sail (laden with oil) under the town of Vasto, on the morning of the 27th instant, by the boats of this ship, commanded by my first lieutenant, William Hamley.

“The enemy being apprised of our approach the preceding day, had assembled in force, and taken every possible precaution to prevent our getting their vessels off; but having landed to the right, and forced them from their guns, eight in number, we remained masters of the spot the whole day, until the vessels were rigged and got afloat. This little service has been performed with the spirit ever manifest in Lieutenant Hamley, my officers, and ship’s company generally; and with only three men slightly wounded, while the enemy acknowledged six killed and seven wounded. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)Geo. Cadogan.”

To Rear-Admiral Fremantle.

Oil this occasion, Lieutenant Hamley was most gallantly supported by the present Captain George Gosling.

On the morning of the 18th July, 1813, the Havannah, with the Partridge sloop in company, captured and destroyed two Neapolitan gun-boats, each mounting along l8-pounder; one pinnace, armed with a 6-pounder; and four trabacolos laden with salt, each mounting three guns; lying under a martello tower, on the N.W. coast of Manfredonia. For these and other services, in the Adriatic, Lieutenant Hamley was presented with an Austrian gold medal.

Since the publication of our memoir of Captain Cadogan’s services, we have been favoured with the following authentic account of the siege of Zara; by the reduction of which important fortress the allies obtained complete possession of Dalmatia.

“At the time Rear-Admiral Fremantle, with all his squadron, was attacking Trieste,[1] the Havannah and Weazle (sloop) were sent to blockade Zara, for the purpose of preventing supplies from being thrown into that fortress. On their arrival off Zara, however, they found that the place contained an abundance of provisions and stores of every description; and that, consequently, it would have been a work of some time to starve the enemy out. Captain Cadogan, therefore, determined upon attacking it.

“Zara is a regular and very strong fortification. It had no less than 110 pieces of brass cannon, 7 large mortars, and 11 howitzers mounted; twelve or thirteen gun-boats were moored under the walls, each carrying a long 24-pounder and one smaller gun; its garrison consisted of 2000 veteran troops, commanded by Baron Roisé, an experienced French general.

“Preparations were soon made for landing seventeen of the Havannah’s guns, viz., eight long 18-pounders, seven long 12’s, and two 32-pounder carronades; a sledge was constructed on board for the purpose of transporting them from the beach to the spot chosen for the batteries, which was within a short distance of the enemy’s works; three mud batteries were thrown up, and the guns, taken to them, with ammunition, shot, &c. The country was extremely bad for trap porting cannon, with such means as we possessed: we had to drag them across swamps, ditches, &c., a distance of three miles; and were obliged to perform this service by night, to avoid being discovered. Every thing being ready, the command of the batteries was given to Lieutenant Hamley, whose whole force consisted of only sixty men: the officers under his orders were. Lieutenant Michael Quin, of the Weazle; Lieutenant Hockley, p.m.; and Messrs. Stewart and Hamilton, master’s-mates of the Havannah.

“On the 23d November, 1813, the union-jack was hoisted on each battery, the mask thrown off, and our fire opened; which was quickly returned by the enemy. Our works were much cut up at first, and we were obliged to be constantly filling up the breaches with sand-bags; the gunboats proving very mischievous, one long 18-pounder and the carronades were directed on them, and in half an hour not one remained afloat; many of their crews, in attempting to get into the fortress, were killed by our fire. An incessant cannonade was kept up on both sides for thirteen days and nights, when at length, on the 6th December, the enemy sent out a flag of truce, and surrendered by capitulation. At this moment we had but one round of shot left.

“During the siege it ruined almost incessantly, and we were never once under shelter: frequently in the mornings the water was over the trucks of the guns. The only assistance we received was from two howitzers worked by Austrians.

“After taking possession of the fortress, we weighed all the gun-boats, and loaded a large ship, in the harbour, with different military stores, intending to take the whole to Trieste; but, when under weigh with our prizes, an order arrived to give them up to the Austrian general; and, although the value of the guns, stores, and vessels, was estimated at 300,000l. sterling, we have never yet received one farthing as compensation for our services.”

Captain Cadogan’s detailed account of the operations against Zara, addressed to Rear-Admiral Fremantle, was never published, owing to the great length of time that elapsed before it reached England. It contains the following passage:

“The batteries were commanded by Lieutenant Hamley, first of this ship, whose gallant conduct, and able direction of them, claim my warmest admiration, and add another to the three occasions I have already had to call your attention to his services, since I have had the honor to serve under your command.”

Previous to his quitting the Adriatic, Lieutenant Hamley received a very handsome letter from the Emperor of Austria. He returned home first lieutenant of the Milford 74, and, on his arrival in England, found himself promoted to the rank of commander, by commission dated June 15th, 1814. In the following year, he obtained the royal licence and authority “to accept and wear the insignia of the order of Leopold, with which the emperor had been pleased to honor him, as a testimony of the high sense which his Imperial Majesty entertained of the services rendered by him at the siege of Zara.”

In April, 1823, Commander Hamley was appointed to the Pelorus sloop, fitting out at Plymouth for the Irish station, where he continued upwards of three years. During this period he captured a greater number of smuggling vessels than any other cruiser.

On the 30th October, 1823, while on a cruise off Cape Clear, in the morning a gale commenced, with thick drizzling rain; and at night had increased to a perfect storm, with a very heavy sea running. Every thing was made snug, and the Pelorus hove-to under a storm-fore-staysail and trysail. At midnight, finding her behave remarkably well. Commander Hamley went below, and threw himself on his sofa, but had not been there many minutes before he heard a dreadful crash; and on gaining the deck, found that a large ship, scudding under her foresail, had run on board, but was then out of sight. The weather was so thick that this ship had not been seen until close to the Pelorus; and although every attempt was made by the officer of the watch and lookout men to apprize her of the situation of H.M. sloop, it was without effect; she struck her forward, carried away the cutwater and bowsprit, passed on, and in a moment was out of sight. Every one on board thought the bows were stove in, and that the Pelorus would immediately go down; but on sounding the well, it was found that she made no water. The foremast fell in board almost instantly afterwards, and the vessel was left a complete wreck, in as dreadful a night as any person ever witnessed. The bowsprit was hanging under the bows, by the bobstays, and thumping so hard that all were in momentary dread of its coming through the bottom. It was a case of such imminent peril, that Commander Hamley did not feel justified in ordering any one over the bows to attempt cutting the bowsprit away; but the captain of the forecastle, Thomas Wilson, nobly volunteered his services, and after having been lowered down and pulled up, as the vessel rose and dipped, for a quarter of an hour, during which he was repeatedly under water, the fine fellow at length succeeded in cutting it away. The wreck of the foremast was then cleared, and as soon as the gale moderated, a jury-mast and bowsprit were rigged, and sail made for Plymouth. It is rather a singular circumstance, that, although the foremast fell in board, and such a heavy sea was running, not a man was hurt. Had the strange ship struck the Pelorus but a few inches further aft, she must inevitably have gone to the bottom: the whole of the bolts that secured the cutwater to the stem were clean drawn.

The Pelorus was paid off, at Plymouth, in July, 1826. During the last two years that she remained in commission, Commander Hamley was the senior officer of his rank on the Irish station, where he seized, at various times, no less than sixty-two thousand weight of tobacco. All the others were promoted on paying off their sloops; but he has not yet been able to obtain another step. In 1827, he received a letter from Captain Cadogan, of which the following is a copy:–

“My dear Sir,– As I conceive a testimony of this nature may, perhaps, give strength to the claims you are about to lay before H.R.H. the Lord High Admiral, I trust I need not say, with how much readiness and pleasure I perform an office which might in any way contribute to the advancement of an officer, of whose character and services, while under my command, I shall ever entertain so high an opinion. I have read your memorial with attention, and can safely say, that that part of it which relates to your services, both in the Crocodile and the Havannah, are any thing but exaggerated; and that you are amply entitled to any reward the services therein alluded to may be deemed to merit. I can only add, that you are welcome to make any use you please of this letter, and that, had I been sooner apprised of your situation and views, I would not have hesitated to have humbly called H.R.Highness’s attention personally to your claims, in an audience with which I was honored but a few days since. With every wish for your welfare and success, I remain, my dear Sir, your’s always faithfully,

(Signed)George Cadogan.”

In the memorial alluded to by Captain Cadogan, we find the subject of this memoir informing the Lord High Admiral, that he commanded the boats of the Havannah in ten different attacks on the enemy’s batteries, gun-boats, and other armed vessels, in all of which he was successful; that on these several occasions, 100 pieces of cannon, and above 100 sail of vessels, were taken and destroyed; that by had been gazetted six different times for service, and also that he had been wounded in action with the enemy.

On the 10th of June, 1830, Commander Hamley was appointed to the Wolf 18, in which sloop he is now employed on the East India station.

This officer married Barbara, eldest daughter of Charles Ogilvy, of Lerwick, Shetland, Esq. by whom he has several children. His youngest brother, Wymond Hamley, is a lieutenant in the royal navy.


(Vol. IV. Part I. p. 261.)
[Captain of 1834.]

Returned home from the East India station in April 1834; paid off the Wolf, at Plymouth, May 10th; and was advanced to the rank of captain on the 20th Oct. following.