Royal Naval Biography/Harison, George


Entered the royal navy June 1st, 1781, as midshipman on board the Royal Oak 74, commanded by his friend. Captain H. P. Hardisoif, and employed on the North American station. He obtained his first commission in Nov 1793; served as senior lieutenant of the Santa Margaritta frigate, at the capture of la Tamise, a much larger French ship of war, in June 1796; and, for his conduct on that occasion, was immediately afterwards made a commander. The following is an extract of his captain’s official letter, addressed to Vice-Admiral Kingsmill.

Santa Margaritta, at sea, June 11th, 1796.

“Sir,– I have the honor to inform you, that on the 7th instant, being in company with H.M.S. Unicorn, 18 leagues west of Scilly, we discovered, at 2 a.m., three ships about a mile on our lee-beam; and, as the day opened, we perceived them to be frigates belonging to the French nation, which I communicated to Captain Williams, who immediately made sail to join me, and our signal to pass within hail, fur the purpose of giving him information of the enemies’ force. The statement of their superiority encouraged him in his eager pursuit, and he said that he would attack the largest ship, desiring me to engage the next in strength. This noble example inspired every person with confidence of success, and each ship steered for her opponent; but the enemy, determining to evade an action, steered away large under a press of sail, the smallest ship, at the same time, making off to windward. At 11-30, by our superior sailing, we arrived within gun-shot of the enemy; but as they appeared to close for the mutual support of each other, and the Unicorn being some distance astern, I judged it prudent to postpone our attack till she was sufficiently advanced to occupy the attention of the French commodore. At this time they commenced a fire from their stern-chase guns. At p.m., having approached them within three-quarters of a mile, we fired our bow-guns whenever a favorable opportunity presented itself, the enemy at the same time yawing to discharge their broadsides. At 2 o’clock, the Unicorn being on our weather beam, we made sail, keeping up a running fight till 4-15 p.m., when the sternmost ship, finding it impossible to escape, put her helm a-port, and endeavoured to rake us; but she was fortunately baffled in this effort, which afforded us an opportunity of placing ourselves abreast of her within pistol-shot, when a quick and well-directed fire compelled her to surrender in less than twenty minutes. She proved to be la Tamise[1], commanded by Mons. Fraden, mounting 36 guns, with a complement of 306 men.”

We should here observe, that la Tamise mounted six brass 36-pounder carronades, in addition to twenty-six long 12 and ten 6-pounders. Her loss consisted of 32 persons killed and 19 wounded. The Santa-Margaritta, although measuring 337 tons more than her opponent, mounted only the same number of long guns, 12 and 6-pounders, and four 32-pounder carronades, with a complement of 237 men, two of whom were slain and three wounded. The other French ships, the largest of which was captured by the Unicorn, after a pursuit of 210 miles, were la Tribune, of 44 guns and 337 men, and la Legere, an 18-gun corvette[2].

“It is with extreme pleasure,” continues the captain of the Santa-Margaritta, “that I seek the present opportunity of testifying my gratitude to the officers and ship’s company for their active zeal and steady unanimity at all times and in all situations, but more particularly in the capture of la Tamise, on which occasion their courage and exemplary conduct is worthy of the greatest praise. The readiness of Mr. Harison the first lieutenant, and his prompt execution of my orders, did essentially facilitate our success.”

(Signed)T. Byam Martin.”

The officer thus highly praised, and whose immediate promotion to the rank of commander we have already noticed, obtained the out-pension of Greenwich Hospital in Mar. 1807; and died at Edgcombe, near Launceston, co. Cornwall, Aug. 17th, 1831.

  1. Formerly the British 32-gun frigate Thames; see p. 252.
  2. See Vol. I. Part I. p. 388.