Royal Naval Biography/Hill, Henry

[Post-Captain of 1800.]

This officer is a son of the late Colonel Hill, of St. Boniface, in the Isle of Wight, who served during the German war as aid-de-camp to Count de Lipp.

He entered the naval service in 1787, as a Midshipman on board the Vestal of 28 guns, commanded by Sir Richard John Strachan, with whom he removed into the Phoenix frigate, on the East India station; where he was engaged in a variety of service, particularly that of transporting the battering train, &c., belonging to the Malabar army, up the Ballypatam river, to the foot of the Ghauts; and in the action with la Resolu French frigate, Nov. 19, 1791[1]. On one occasion, whilst employed in a boat at the mouth of the above river, he was upset in a heavy surf, but preserved himself by superior swimming: his companion, a Mr. Robinson, and most of the boat’s crew, unfortunately perished.

The Phoenix returned to England in 1793; and Mr. Hill was soon after removed into the Boyne, a second rate, bearing the flag of Sir John Jervis, under whose auspices he first went to sea, and by whom he was almost immediately promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, in the Zebra sloop of war, commanded by Captain Robert Faulknor, and forming part of the fleet sent to reduce the French West India colonies. The services of the Zebra during the campaign of 1794, were very conspicuous, and are too well known to require repetition. It is therefore unnecessary to say more, than that Lieutenant Hill was on all occasions the constant associate of his gallant commander, both on shore and afloat[2].

The Rev. Cooper Willyams, from whose work we have already made one or two extracts, thus relates a melancholy accident, which occurred in one of the land batteries, during the siege of Fort Louis:

“Captain Faulknor of the Zebra, who commanded in the battery, being provoked by the interference of an artillery officer, and one of the seamen not obeying him with alacrity, was provoked to strike him with his sword; which unfortunately wounded him mortally, and he died in a few minutes. Captain Faulknor was acquitted by the court-martial that was instantly summoned to investigate the matter; and the circumstance of its happening in the heat of action, when the least disobedience of orders involves the most fatal consequences, as well as that it appeared there was no premeditated intention of killing the unfortunate man, but was a blow given from the impulse of momentary passion, the sentence was confirmed and approved.”

On this sad occasion, Lieutenant Hill, then at Point Negro camp, received the following letter from Captain Faulknor. We insert it for the purpose of shewing how much that officer lamented the rash act which he had committed:

Zebra, March 14, 1794.

“Sir,– My unfortunate rashness and impetuosity in giving a wound to a poor seaman, on service with me at the new battery, has occasioned a court-martial to he held on my conduct to-morrow at 8 o’clock; and whatever the result may be, and one sentence only I can apprehend, believe me I shall care infinitely less for my own fate, than that of being accessary to the death of any human being, not the natural enemy of myself or of my country. The insolent contempt and provocation from the unfortunate man was great, and such as would have condemned him to death, had I brought him to trial; but the hasty and sudden punishment I unhappily inflicted on the spot, will be a source of lasting affliction to my mind. Mr. Fahie[3] and Mr. White will accompany me to the court-martial; and have done themselves honor by their sympathy and feeling. May I venture to ask your attendance with them; and to hope whatever difference may have arisen between us on service before, may at a period like the present be buried in oblivion. My heart is incapable of malice or ill-will; and a temper hasty and ungovernable, previous to this unfortunate moment, has been the only unhappiness of my life! I propose sending for twelve, if not all the people under your command on shore; as I can hardly doubt but they will give their testimony of my character as a man and an officer of humanity; it appears to me, on an occasion of this nature, to be the best jury I can summon. Brigadier Rogers, I have no doubt, on your application, will give permission for yourself and them to embark. I remain, Dear Sir, with every sentiment of regard,

“Your most faithful Servant,
(Signed)Robert Faulknor.”

That this appeal to Lieutenant Hill’s feelings, whatever might have been the nature of any previous misunderstanding between his commander and himself, was not made in vain, appears by the following communication:

“Dear Sir, I am sensibly obliged by your note, and the sympathy contained in it. It would be a satisfaction to me to have the whole of the people on shore with you, officers and all, to attend me at the court-martial. If that be impossible, I must beg you will send any twelve who are willing to come on the occasion, &c. &c.

(Signed)Robert Faulknor.”

After the reduction of Martinique, St. Lucia, &c., the Zebra was sent to the coast of America in company with a squadron of frigates, under the orders of Commodore Josias Rogers but returned from thence to the West Indies at the latter end of the same year, and subsequently cruised with considerable success against the enemy’s privateers, several of which she captured and destroyed[4].

In March 1795, the French having disembarked on the island of St. Vincent, excited the Caribs to revolt, and massacre many of the white inhabitants; by which means nearly the whole colony fell into the possession of the insurgents. Upon receiving intelligence to this effect, Captain Skynner lost no time in leaving his cruising ground and proceeding to Kingston Bay, where Lieutenant Hill was landed on the 12th, with a party of seamen and a 6-pounder, to co-operate with the British land forces then on the island. Aft this moment the enemy were in possession of Dorchester hill, a commanding eminence immediately above the town of Kingston, which they were preparing to cannonade. The post taken by Lieutenant Hill becoming untenable, he suggested to the Governor and Captain Skynner the necessity of driving the enemy from their position. His plan being adopted, as many seamen as could be collected from the vessels in the bay were landed on the evening of the 14th; and Captain Skynner having assumed the command of the whole, arrangements were forthwith made for carrying it into effect. At midnight this gallant little band moved on to the attack, preceded by Lieutenant Hill, and with such regularity that their approach was not discovered until they were within a few yards of. the enemy’s post. A brisk fire of musketry now did much execution among them; but the tars, who under Faulknor had stormed Fort Royal, were not to be daunted: rushing forward with impetuosity, they drove the Caribs from all points, and entirely off the hill, with the loss of Chatowee, their chief, who fought with great personal bravery and determination. In this brilliant affair, Lieutenant Hill received a very severe wound in the right shoulder, which obliged him to retire to his ship immediately after the occupation of Dorchester hill, and subsequently to return home. Previous to his departure from St. Vincent’s, he received the thanks of the Governor and House of Assembly, together with the most marked attention, and expressions of gratitude from all classes of the inhabitants. Soon after his arrival in England, he received the following letter from Drewry Ottley, Esq., second in Council of the above island:

“Dear Sir. It is with great; pleasure that I hear of your safe arrival at the Isle of Wight, where I make no doubt but that by the attention of your friends, the skill of your surgeons, and your own good constitution and high spirits, you will be soon restored to health, and enabled once more to engage in the service of your country. I made a point as soon as I arrived in London, to write to Lord Spencer about you, and to explain to him the obligations which our colony felt for your gallant and spirited behaviour. I shewed him also a copy of our vote of thanks. He expressed himself much pleased with what you had done, and promised to take an early opportunity of rewarding your services. I am, dear Sir,

“Your faithful and obedient Servant,
(Signed)“Drewry Ottley.”

Lieutenant Hill was advanced to the rank of Commander, July 24, 1795; and in Feb. 1797, had the honor of being coupled with Captain Skynner, in a letter of thanks from the Agents for the colony of St. Vincent. His sufferings in consequence of his wound were long and severe; nor do we find him again in employ till the spring of 1798, when he was appointed to the Sea Fencibles in the Isle of Wight. He afterwards commanded the Gorgon, a 44-gun ship, armed en flute, on the Mediterranean station; and Megaera fire-vessel, attached to the Channel fleet. His post commission bears date Jan. 1, 1801.

Captain Hill’s subsequent appointments were, in succession, to the Princess Royal of 98 guns; Ruby 64; Camilla 24; Orpheus 32; Agincourt 64; and Naiad, a 38-gun frigate.

In April 1805, Captain Hill worked the Orpheus out of the Tagus during a gale of wind, to the astonishment of the most experienced pilots, and succeeded in conveying and forwarding intelligence of the French and Spanish fleets having formed a junction at Cadiz, to our squadrons off Ferrol, Brest, and Ireland. Previous to, and after that event, he was principally employed affording protection to the trade.

In March, 1810, eight petty officers and seamen belonging to the Naiad, were tried by a court-martial at Plymouth, on charges of which the following is the substance, viz:

“First, for making, or attempting to make, a mutinous assembly, for thff purpose of inducing the ship’s company to desire to be drafted; second, for knowing of such assemblies without acquainting their captain; third, for having endeavoured to excite the ship’s company to mutiny; and lastly, for having written, or caused to be written, an anonymous letter to the Secretary of the Admiralty, wherein they stated their full determination not to go to sea under the command of Captain Hill.”

The charges being all proved, with the exception of the last, three of the prisoners were sentenced to death, and the remainder to be flogged round the fleet. The condemned men were afterwards reprieved, and we believe the greater part, if not the whole of the others, were pardoned. In the following year, Captain Hill left the Naiad, having arrived at that standing on the list which precluded his continuing any longer in the command of a frigate. He has not since been afloat.

Our officer married, first, Anne, a daughter of the late Rev. James Worsley, of Gatcombe, in the Isle of Wight; and secondly, Caroline, a daughter of the late Joseph Bettesworth, of Ryde, in the same island, Esq. By these marriages, he has six sons and four daughters. His brother, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Fitzmaurice Hill, commanded the 10th regiment of foot, and died in 1811. Another brother, the Rev. Jutley Hill, is Rector of Tingewick, Bucks, and of Bonchurch and Shanklin, in the Isle of Wight.

Agents.– Messrs. Cooke, Halford, and Son.

  1. See Vol. I. pp. 284 and 285. N.B. Since the publication of our first volume, we have received the following remarks on the action between the Phoenix and Resolu, from an old and intelligent Post-Captain: “A correspondence had been carried on for some time between Commodore Cornwallis and the French Captain, respecting the right of searching merchant vessels; and the latter, in order to try whether the threats of the English Commodore would be put in force, got under way from Mahé roads with two merchant ships under his convoy, and passed close to the British squadron of three frigates in Tellicherry roads. The Phoenix and Perseverance were both ordered by signal to ‘examine the strange sails passing near,’ and both in consequence weighed and went in chase; both got up with the French together, and both were concerned in the action with la Resolu, a 12-pounder frigate, though she only fired at the Phoenix.” – It will be remembered by our readers, that the Hon. East India Company was at this time engaged in a war with Tippoo Saib, which ended only with his life, and the destruction of Seringapatam, the capital of his dominions; and as the French and Dutch were known to be favorable to that chieftain, and suspected of supplying him with warlike stores, it became the duty of our naval commanders to watch them very narrowly.
  2. See Vol. I. note at p. 859.
  3. Mr. Fahie (now a Rear-Admiral), was at that time first Lieutenant of the Zebra.
  4. Captain Faulknor having previously been posted, the Zebra was now commanded by Captain Skynner.