Royal Naval Biography/Hawkins, Edward
EDWARD HAWKINS, Esq.
[Post-Captain of 1806.]
Son of a naval officer; was born at Saltash, co. Cornwall, in 1765; made a Lieutenant in 1790; and advanced to the rank of Commander in 1798. At the commencement of the late war, we find him commanding the Helder frigate, stationed as a floating battery in the river Humber; and subsequently the Dispatch brig, of 18 guns, employed on Channel service. In Oct. 1804, Captain Hawkins destroyed three French gun-vessels, each mounting 1 brass 32-pounder and 1 long six. On the 27th Sept. 1806, two days after the date of his post commission, he assisted at the capture of le Presidente frigate, mounting 44 guns, with a complement of 330 men.
At this latter period, the Dispatch was under the orders of Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Louis, who, in his official letter, merely states that le Presidente struck to his squadron, after a chase of 17 hours. Mr. James, however, informs us, and we believe his statement to be correct, that Captain Hawkins maintained a running fight with the enemy, from 6-45 until about 7-45 P.M.; when the latter bore up and stood towards the British squadron, the nearest ship of which was about 3 miles astern of the Dispatch; and that the Rear-Admiral shortly afterwards fired a distant shot at le Presidente, who thereupon hauled down her colours, and was taken possession of by her tiny antagonist. We agree with Mr. James, that “it would have been but fair to have given the brig the credit which was due to her, that of having, when no ship was at hand to assist her, so boldly engaged a heavy French frigate.”
When superseded in the command of the Dispatch Captain Hawkins retired to Saltash, where he continued until Feb, 1807, when he was dragged from his home and tried by a court-martial “for cruelty and oppression, unbecoming the character of an officer exercised by him, or caused by him to be exercised towards and upon William Davie (a seaman belonging to the Dispatch), and for negligence and inattention to the state and condition of the said man, as a sick person under his command,” as set forth in two anonymous letters, written by Thomas Thompson, late Master of that sloop, and addressed to Earl Spencer, H.M. Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department.
As the minutes of this court-martial have long been before the public, it may appear superfluous for us to say more than that the charges were declared to be “scandalous and malicious,” and that Captain Hawkins was consequently acquitted; but we cannot refrain from placing on record the testimony borne to his general character and conduct by Admiral Sir Charles M. Pole, Bart., who addressed a letter to the Judge Advocate, of which the following is a copy:
“Chandos Street, Cavendish Square, Feb. 9, 1807.
“Sir,– Having understood that Captain Hawkins was to be tried by a court-martial, now assembling at Portsmouth, on charges of oppression and cruelty to those under his command, it was my intention (if the business of the borough of Plymouth had not intervened) to have offered myself as a most willing and anxious witness to his general character and conduct for near 20 years; to have declared on oath, if I had been permitted, that Captain Hawkins served with me from the year 1786, as Mate and Lieutenant, and scarcely ever out of my knowledge of his behaviour and conduct, until the day of his promotion, from the Royal George, in 1798. In the whole of that period, his character and conduct was that of a most humane, considerate, and benevolent officer, zealously attentive to the sick and suffering seamen; and I should have further declared on oath, if I had been allowed, thut he is almost the last man in the service, against whom such an accusation could have obtained credit with those who have known him best.
“I am not aware that I could have presumed to say more on this subject, even if I had attended the court-martial, as I know nothing of the present evidences; but it is a duty I owe to Captain Hawkins to declare, that his mind must be entirely changed, if be is not aa benevolent and kind to the sick as any officer in the British navy ever was. I have the honor to be, &c.
(Signed)“Ch. M. Pole.”
“Moses Greetham, Esq.”
Captain Hawkins afterwards held an appointment in the sea-fencible service, and we lastly find him commanding the prison-ships at Plymouth.
- See Nav. Hist. 2d edit., Vol. IV. p. 383., et seq.