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Royal Naval Biography/Henderson, Robert


ROBERT HENDERSON, Esq.
[Post-Captain of 1806.]

Second son of a deceased military officer, was born in 1778, commenced his naval career soon after the commencement of the French revolutionary war, served the whole of his time as a Midshipman on board the Southampton frigate, and was made a Lieutenant into the Osprey sloop, May 29, 1799.

Soon after his first promotion, Mr. Henderson proceeded to the Leeward Islands, on which station we find him serving as senior Lieutenant of the same vessel, at the renewal of hostilities in 1803.

The Osprey formed part of Commodore Hood’s squadron at the reduction of St. Lucia, June 22, 1803[1]; and Lieutenant Henderson subsequently performed a dashing exploit, the nature of which will be seen by the following copy of his commander’s official letter, dated Oct. 31 in the same year:

“Sir,– I beg leave to acquaint you, that on the 26th instant I discovered a suspicious sail under the land of Trinidad, and immediately chased; but on arriving within about four miles of her it fell calm, and as I was now convinced she was an enemy’s privateer, from the number of sweeps she was rowing, and having no chance of coming up with her in the Osprey, I sent three boats to attack her, under the command of Lieutenant Robert Henderson: the cutter in which he was, rowing much faster than the other boats, he, without waiting to be joined by them, in the most brave and determined manner, and under a heavy fire from the enemy’s guns and musketry, boarded and captured the French privateer la Resource, mounting 4 four-pounders, and having on board 43 men, 2 of whom were killed and 12 wounded.

“Lieutenant Henderson and 3 seamen are slightly wounded, and one man dangerously: the cutter had only 17 men in her, who all behaved with the utmost bravery. I have further to inform you, that having put Lieutenant (Francis Augustus) Collier, and 16 men, on board the brig, he the next day chased and captured la Mimi French schooner privateer, of 1 gun and 21 men. I am, &c.

(Signed)Geo. Younghusband[2].”

To Commodore Hood, &c. &c. &c.

This letter appeared in the London Gazette of Jan. 3, 1804; and on the 31st of that month, the Committee of the Patriotic Fund at Lloyd’s resolved, “that a sword of 50l. value, with a suitable inscription, should be presented to Lieutenant Henderson;” whose “brave and handsome conduct” was also duly appreciated by Commodore Hood, under whom he served, as a Lieutenant of the Centaur 74, bearing the broad pendant of that officer, during the expedition against Surinam, in the month of April following[3]:

In the course of the operations carried on for the reduction of that colony, Lieutenant Henderson was attached to the division of troops commanded by Brigadier-General Green; and at the assault of fort Frederici he appears to have been severely wounded by the explosion of a magazine, to which the enemy had set fire in hopes of checking the progress of their assailants.

Immediately after the conquest of Dutch Guiana was completed. Commodore Hood promoted the subject of this memoir to the command of the Guachapin brig; and his commission, we believe, was confirmed at home on the 21st June in the same year. He subsequently commanded the Alligator troop ship and Pheasant sloop of war, both employed on the West-India station, from whence he returned to England in the summer of 1806. The following anecdote of Captain Henderson is not unworthy of mention:–

Whilst the Pheasant was once at anchor in Carlisle bay, Barbadoes, her commander and several other naval officers were invited to dine with a large party at the hospitable house of a gentleman named Maxwell, residing in Bridgetown. After dinner, an unexpected visitor arrived, a person of the name of Blair, well known in the West Indies at that period, being a notorious duellist, and dead shot. This man, taking his seat at table, immediately gave the news from Guadaloupe, from whence he had just come up in a neutral vessel: among other things, he told the company that there was a large ship privateer fitting out there, to carry 20 guns and 200 men, which would drive any British sloop of war off the station, or carry her into Basseterre in triumph. The party neither could, nor would, assent to the truth of this last assertion; but as he maintained it in a manner very offensive to the feelings of the naval gentlemen, who had hitherto been silent, Captain Henderson at last thought himself called on to notice it, and briefly told this well-known hero of the trigger, that if he repeated his assertion, he would throw him out of the window; on which Blair quitted the company, and in a few minutes sent a challenge to the Captain, who accepted it, intimating at the same time that, as he was the person challenged, he should choose his own ground, and that he meant to fight Blair across a handkerchief, each holding an end, and the antagonists foot to foot. At the appointed hour next morning. Captain Henderson and his second went to the ground, where Blair’s friend soon after joined them, alone, and said he was desired by Blair to make an apology for the latter’s non-appearance, as urgent business compelled him to leave the island, and he regretted having hurt the feelings of the naval part of the company. Thus ended Captain Henderson’s very singular affair of honor, which he fortunately managed in such a way as to incur no risk of either life or reputation: by conduct less firm and spirited he would most probably have lost the former; for Blair, both before and afterwards, was but too successful in destroying men of worth and respectability. The last who fell by his hand was an officer of high rank, at Demerara.

Having been posted by the Admiralty previous to his departure from the West Indies, Captain Henderson was superseded immediately after the Pheasant’s arrival in England; and he does not appear to have held any other command until the summer of 1808, when he was appointed, pro tempore, to the Agincourt 64. His subsequent appointments, during the war, were to the Champion 24, employed in the Baltic; Dublin 74, in a course of equipment; and Tigris frigate, fitting for the Irish station.

Agent.– Sir Francis M. Ommanney.