Royal Naval Biography/Harris, George
GEORGE HARRIS, Esq.
A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1807.]
Son of the late Mr. Thomas Harris, more than half a century, chief proprietor and manager of Covent Garden Theatre.
This officer was made a Lieutenant, May 7, 1805; a Commander, Sept. 25, 1806; and a Post-Captain, Dec. 21, 1807; from which latter period, until the conclusion of the war, he was very actively employed in the Sir Francis Drake, and Belle Poule frigates, on the East-India and Channel stations. The following is an extract from Brenton’s Naval History, Vol. IV. p. 491:
“In August 1810, Captain George Harris, of the Sir Francis Drake, captured off Java a Batavian ship of 8 guns, a schooner of 6 guns, a privateer, two gun-boats, with 4 guns each; and, in addition to these, between the 9th of August and the 8th of September, seven Batavian gun-boats, five piratical proas, and thirty-five Dutch trading vessels.”
Towards the close of the same year, Captain Harris was stationed in the Straits of Sunda, under the orders of Commodore Byng, (now Viscount Torrington), for the purpose of affording protection to the outward bound China fleet. Whilst thus employed, he fell in with eight Malay proas, and sent a party to examine them, it being his intention to destroy all armed vessels of that description, but to let those engaged only in peaceable commerce pass unmolested. The Malays made not the least opposition or even objection to the visit, but on the contrary invited four seamen, who had boarded one of the proas, to go down into the cabin, where they instantly massacred them, cut them in pieces, and hung their bleeding remains among the rigging. This act of savage ferocity was overtaken with the most speedy, condign, and complete punishment; for Captain Harris, under the emotions excited by so treacherous and horrid a murder, stood nearer to the shore, and fired on the pirates till not a vestige of them remained visible; the whole of those barbarous wretches, about 400 in number, were either killed or wounded. During the same cruise, the boats of the Belliqueux and Sir Francis Drake destroyed a French ketch and two gun-vessels, under a heavy fire from the batteries of Bantam, with the loss of only one man belonging to the frigate. This service was conducted in a most judicious and highly spirited manner by Captain Byng’s first Lieutenant, the late Captain Joseph Prior, who died at St. Hillier’s, Jersey, Sept. 13, 1818; and that officer was ably supported by acting Lieutenants James Bradley, ___ Dawson, and Edward Brown Addis; and Mr. Pierre, a passed Midshipman belonging to the Belliqueux. The subsequent capture and destruction of a French flotilla, by the Sir Francis Drake and her boats, is thus described by Captain Harris, in a letter to Commodore Broughton, the then senior officer in India, dated off Rembang, May 23, 1811:
“Sir,– In lat. 6° 35' S. and long. 111° 32' E. Rembang bearing S.W., 13 miles, being on my passage, to put in force your order of the 1st April, and having been necessitated to anchor during the night of the 22nd inst. from contrary winds and a strong current setting to the westward, I had the satisfaction, at day-light, to observe a flotilla of the enemy’s gun-vessels, consisting of nine feluccas and five proas, at anchor, close in shore, about three miles from us. They weighed and stood for Rembang, but were so closely chased, that, by seven o’clock, three or four well-directed broadsides brought five of the feluccas under our guns to an anchor, which were instantly taken possession of. The others, finding themselves cut off from their port, furled sails, and pulled up in the wind’s-eye of us, direct for the shore, out of reach of our guns. Shoaling our water considerably, made me despatch Lieutenants Bradley and Addis; Lieutenant George Roch, R.M.; and Messrs. George Groves, John Horton, and Matthew Phibbs, Midshipmen; with Lieutenant Knowles, Mr. Gillman, and 12 privates of H.M.’s 14th regiment, in four six-oared cutters and a gig, to board them, the frigate keeping under way, working up to windward, ready to cover the boats.
“It is with peculiar pleasure I have to state, that the undaunted and gallant conduct of this small party of officers and men, made prizes of all the rest by eight o’clock, without the loss of a man, notwithstanding a sharp fire of grape from several pieces of ordnance, with continual musketry, which commenced the moment tae boats got within grape-shot distance, and did not cease until our seamen laid their oars in to board; when the crew of each vessel either jumped overboard, or went away in their boats. I am sorry to state the loss of the enemy must have been great, as their boats being small, and overloaded with men, arms, and ammunition, many were capsized, and most of the men in them, as well as those that jumped overboard, drowned; the scene I understand was truly piteous, as the officers commanding our boats were prevented from affording that relief which humanity would have dictated, from having to launch two of the feluccas off the beach, in the face of a brisk fire of small arms, from the men who had escaped and fled into the jungle.
“Being an eye-witness of the conduct of this brave detachment, from the quarter-deck of the Sir Francis Drake, I beg leave to represent it in The enclosed is a list of the vessels, their terms of the highest praise force, &c.
From this period Captain Harris appears to have been actively employed on the coast of Java, until the final reduction of that valuable colony. On the 12th Aug. 1811, he was detached from Batavia to take possession of the French fortress at Samanap, “in which he was eminently successful,” as will be seen by his official report to Rear-Admiral Stopford, dated the 1st of Sept.
“Sir,– On the night of the 29th August, the boats of H.M. ships Sir Francis Drake and Phaeton, left the anchorage under the isle of Pondock, in two divisions, the one led hy Captain Fleetwood B. R. Pellew, the other by myself. I previously despatched the Dasher, Captain Benedictus Marwood Kelly, round the south end of Pulo ’I Lanjong, to gain an anchorage, as near the fort of Samanap as possible; by day-light, on the 30th, the boats sailed through the channel, formed by the east end of Madura and ’I Lanjong, and at half-past twelve (midnight) effected a landing, without discovery, at a pier-head about three miles from the fort. The landing, although difficult, from its being rocky, and low water, which prevented the boats from coming near the pier, was soon accomplished, and, at half-past one (A.M. on the 31st), two columns, composed of 60 bayonets and 20 pikemen, each flanked by a 12, 4, and 2-pounder field-piece, having the Hussar’s marines in reserve, began their march, in the utmost order, towards the fort. Silence was so rigidly observed, during our progress, that, notwithstanding the governor had intimation of the Dasher having weighed and stood in for the harbour, and that boats were seen approaching the tower, the fort did not discover our approach until we were through the outer gate, which was open. The gallantry of the rush at the inner gate prevented them from securing it, and only allowed time for two or three guns on the south-west bastion to be fired: the storm was as sudden as it was resolute; and we became masters of the fort by half-past three o’clock, after a feeble struggle of ten minutes, by 300 or 400 Madura pikemen, who, with their chiefs were made prisoners on the ramparts.
“On the appearance of day-light, observing the French colours flying on a flag-staff at the east end of the town, and perceiving the natives begin to assemble in numbers, I sent Captain Pellew with a column of 100 bayonets and one field-piece, with a flag of trace, requesting the governor would surrender in ten minutes, and promising that private property should be respected. To my utter astonishment I received a most insulting answer, requiring me, in three hours, to evacuate the fort, or he, the governor, would storm it; and at the same time Captain Pellew sent Mr. (John William) Oldmixon, an intelligent young officer, to inform me their force appeared about 2,000 strong, protected by 4 field-pieces in their front, on a bridge possessing every advantage of situation, the column having to advance along an even and strait road for a quarter of a mile before they could force the bridge. I did not hesitate, but sent to my companion in arms, and assistant in advice. Captain Pellew, to advance when the first gun was fired from a column I should lead out of the fort, and that I should take a route that would turn the enemy’s left wing. This had the desired effect; for, on their seeing my party advance, they drew off two field-pieces, and broke their line to oppose us.
“I led 70 small-arm, and 20 pike-men, belonging to the Sir Francis Drake and Dasher, supported by a 4-pounder field-piece, into action, leaving a reserve of 40 or 50 men in the fort: both columns gave their vollies nearly at the same moment, and for five minutes a sharp fire was given and returned as we advanced; but on our near approach the enemy gave way, and a most animated and spirited charge made their flight and defeat complete, and we were left masters of the field, colours, and gunsThe governor and other Dutch inhabitants were made prisoners; and I accepted of a flag of truce from the Rajah of Samanap, who was present, under conditions that the inhabitants of his district should not arm themselves against us again.
“I have now the gratification of mentioning my approbation of the conduct of every officer and man under my immediate command, in both contests; and have great pleasure in adding, that Captain Pellew expresses himself much satisfied with those under his command in storming the town. I do not wish to particularise any, for all did their duty in a gallant manner. One instance I cannot omit noticing, the conduct of Lieutenant Roch, R.M., belonging to the Sir Francis Drake, ao was speared twice by two natives, when resolutely endeavouring to wrest the colours out of the hands of a French officer, who was killed in the fray.
“In justice also, I gladly acknowledge the assistance and advice I have received from Captain Pellew, who aided every point of service with his well known zeal, ability, and bravery; Captain Kelly merits my warmest thanks, for the punctuality in obeying, and the judgment in putting my orders into execution; and I gratefully acknowledge the cordial and ready assistance and advice of Captain (James Coutts) Crawford. Lieutenant Cunningham, of the Sir Francis Drake, with the officers and men stationed at the launches, &c. obtained my praise, and deserve every recommendation for the arrangement of the boats in case of defeat. I have now to regret the necessity of subjoining an account of the killed and wounded of the four ships, in which, when I consider the strength of the fort, and the numbers opposed to us, in storming the town, I deem ourselves particularly fortunate. The fort is a regular fortification, mounting 16 six-pounders. The governor acknowledges to have had in the field 300 muskets, 60 artillerymen, and from 1500 to 2000 men armed with long pikes, a pistol and a crees each. The enemy suffered considerably; the field was covered with their dead. I have not been able to ascertain their numbers, either in the fort or town, bnt I understand the commander-in-Chief of the natives (second in rank to the Rajah of Samanap) and his two sons were slain.”
“In the hurry and confusion of writing the above,” Captain Harris forgot to mention a battery of 12 nine-pounders, that protected the mouth of the river, which was destroyed by a party under the command of Lieutenant Roch, R.M., in the face of the enemy, whilst Captain Pellew was negociating with the Governor.
The success of the British at Samanap was followed up by what Rear-Admiral Stopford describes as a “master-stroke of policy” on the part of Captain Harris, viz. the drawing the Sultan of Madura from the French alliance, and attaching him to the British interests, which “essentially contributed to the final reduction of Java.”
On the 13th Sept. Captain Harris, with the assistance of the Maduries, captured 10 battering cannon, long 24-pounders, that were going to the enemy at Sourabaya, off which place he joined his commander-in-chief on the 18th; and as there was no field-officer of the army then with Rear-Admiral Stopford, he received directions to take command of the troops destined against Gressie. On the 10th that post was occupied by Captain Harris, after putting several parties of the enemy to flight; and on the 22nd, articles of capitulation were agreed upon between him and the commandant of Sourabaya: but when these terms were on the point of being signed, intelligence was received from Lieutenant-General Sir Samuel Auchmuty, of the capitulation for the surrender of Java and its dependencies having been concluded four days previous, in consequence of which Sourabaya was taken possession of under the conditions at that time agreed to.
We now lose sight of Captain Harris until April 3, 1813, on which day, in the Belle Poule, he captured the Grand Napoleon, American schooner, of 4 guns and 32 men, with a valuable cargo, from New York, bound to Bourdeaux; this vessel was copper-fastened, pierced for 22 guns, and measured no less than 305 tons. On the 11th of the following month. Captain Harris also took the Revenge letter of marque, from Charlestown bound to the same French port, pierced for 16 guns, having on board 4 long nine-pounders and 32 men. His share of the proceedings in the Gironde river will be noticed under the head of Captain John Coode, C.B.
Captain Harris’s last appointment was, Mar. 22, 1823, to the Hussar of 46 guns, the proceedings of a court-martial by which he was tried on a charge of delaying the public service, whilst under orders to convey his Majesty’s Ambassador to Lisbon, are detailed in the “Hampshire Telegraph,” Dec. 1,and 8, 1823, from which journal we make the following extracts:–
“The charges have not been proved against Captain George Harris, and are without any foundation; the communications from the Foreign Office to the Admiralty, originating in the letters of Sir Edward Thornton, to the Under Secretary of State, mentioning therein that the Hussar was not ready for sea, are totally without foundation, as that ship appears to have been in perfect readiness to have put in execution the orders from the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, from the moment of her anchoring in Plymouth Sound, on ihe 9th August, and to have been solely and entirely delayed by the non-embarkation of Sir E. Thornton; and that no blame whatever, in the slightest degree, is imputable to Captain George Harris, who, on the contrary, appears to have acted throughout with his accustomed zeal and promptitude: nor has the conduct of Captain Harris been in any way “contrary to the discipline of the royal navy, highly prejudicial to the public interest, or to his Majesty’s service:’ and the Court doth, therefore, adjudge the said Captain George Harris to be most honorably acquitted, &c.
“Upon this sentence being read by the Judge Advocate, the President, Sir James Hawkins Whitshed rose, and addressed Captain Harris to the following effect:– ‘Captain Harris, it now becomes a pleasing part of my duty to restore to you your sword, which, as the sentence read will have assured you, is untarnished and unsullied. It has often been so wielded by you, in defence of your King and Country, and I feel confident satisfaction that it will ever be so worn as to promote your own honor, and the credit and best interests of your country.’”
Captain Harris married, Nov. 29, 1821, Anna Maria, eldest daughter of John Woodcock, of Fern Acres, Buckinghamshire, Esq.
Agent.– Messrs. Stilwell.
- Eight feluccas, of 87 tons each, burnt. These vessels were quite new, and remarkably well built, but the nature of Captain Harris’s orders would not allow him to preserve them. They were 87 feet long, 17 feet broad, and fitted with carriages, &c. for 7-inch howitzers and 24-pounder carronades. Each of them was calculated to row 60 oars, but neither had a single piece of ordnance, nor more than 24 men on board, when first discovered by the British. The ninth felucca being armed with an howitzer and a carronade, was manned as a tender to the Sir Francis Drake. One proa of 60 tons, mounting two 9-pounders and one swivel, was given up to the prisoners, 87 in number. Four other proas, of the same size and forces and two small merchant vessels in ballast, were burnt. Total 16 sail.
- See Vol. II. Part II. p. 672.
- Total, 3 killed, 28 wounded.
- The official letters written on this occasion will be found in the Naval Chronicle, Vol. XXVII, p. 82 and 83.