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Royal Naval Biography/Holt, William


Commenced his professional career under the auspices of the late Admiral Sir Charles Cotton. He entered the royal navy in 1803, and served his time as midshipman under Sir George Ralph Collier, the Hon. George C. Berkeley, Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, and Captain Thomas Dench. Whilst serving with Sir George Collier, in the Minerva frigate, on the coast of Galicia, he was frequently in action with the enemy’s gun-boats and batteries, as will be seen by the following official letter addressed by that officer to the late Sir Eliab Harvey, Oct 3d, 1806:

“Sir,– To prove in some degree, the general correctness of the information which I communicated to you in my letter of yesterday, I proceeded last night in the cutter, with Lieutenant Menzies, of the marines, followed by the barge, in charge of Lieutenant James, with Mr. Holt, midshipman, and a select party of marines, to reconnoitre the Bay of Rocks, in the hope of falling in with some of the six gun-boats near Carril. After a row of seven hours, we had the good luck to be hailed by one, at anchor within pistol-shot of the shore, attended by a launch with a brass four-pounder; she was immediately boarded on the quarter, and carried, as well as her attendant, without the loss of a single man. She was commanded by Lieutenant Don Jesse Lopez, mounts a long 24-pounder in the bow, and two short brass fours; had a complement of thirty men, with some soldiers of the regiment Leon on board.

“In justice to Lieutenant James I must observe, my only motive for making one in this affair proceeded from the knowledge I conceived myself possessed of respecting that bay, but it afforded me an opportunity of witnessing his zeal and activity; Lieutenant Menzies, Mr. Holt, the marines, and boats’ crews, I have so frequently spoken of, that nothing remains for me to add, but the conviction how highly they merit every former praise. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)G. R. Collier.”

Some other services previously performed by the boats of the Minerva, are noticed in Suppl. Part III. p. 216, et seq. In 1807, Mr. Holt, then belonging to the Surveillante frigate. Captain Collier, was present at the siege of Copenhagen, and frequently commanded a rocket boat during the bombardment of that city.

On the 7th Nov. 1310, after acting for some time in the Nautilus sloop. Captain Dench, and San Josef 112, flag-ship of Sir Charles Cotton, Mr. Holt was appointed by his patron first lieutenant of the Blossom sloop. Captain William Stewart, on the Mediterranean station. Between this period and Oct. 1811, when he exchanged for a short time into the Royal George, first rate, at Port Mahon, he assisted in capturing upwards of twenty French and American merchant vessels (the latter taken for attempted breach of blockade,) in the neighbourhood of Marseilles. He was also repeatedly engaged with the enemy’s batteries and naval force in the same vicinity. In the beginning of Sept. 181 1, we find him employed on shore at the reduction of a French fort on the smaller Medis Island, mounting one mortar, two long 18-pounders, and two sixes, which service was performed in the presence of a formidable force assembled on Cape Begu, coast of Catalonia. On the 23d Feb. 1812, the Blossom captured a remarkably fine schooner privateer, le Jean Bart, of 147 tons, 7 guns, and 106 men. On the 29th April following, her boats, under the command of Lieutenant Holt, in conjunction with those of the Undaunted and Volontaire frigates, attacked twenty-six vessels near the mouth of the Rhone, brought out seven, burnt twelve, including a national schooner of 4 guns and 74 men, and left two stranded on the beach Lieutenant Holt next joined the Undaunted frigate, Captain (now Sir Thomas) Ussher; and was serving on board the San Josef, bearing the flag of Sir Richard King, at the capture of Genoa, in April 1814. On the renewal of the war with France, in 1815, he received an appointment to the Ferret sloop. Commander James Stirling (b), and distinguished himself in cutting out some vessels from the harbour of Courgiou. In the following year, the Ferret, on her return from St. Helena, with only eight 12-pounder carronades mounted, was attacked near the line by the American-built brigantine Dolores, having on board nearly 300 slaves, armed with one long 32-pounder on a pivot, four long 9-pounders, and two 12-pounder carronades, which vessel she compelled to surrender after a sharp action. Lieutenant Holt’s services in the Ferret are thus acknowledged in a letter which he subsequently received from Commander Stirling:

“My dear Sir,– In reply to your letter I need not say how willingly I would bear testimony to your character as an officer whenever I may be called upon to do so, or whenever it may be useful to you in obtaining advancement in your profession, feeling as I do a high sense of the zeal and ability that so uniformly marked your conduct when serving with me.

“As first lieutenant of H.M. sloop Ferret, under my command, in the attack of the harbour of Courgiou, your exertions called forth my warmest approbation, particularly the promptness with which you took possession of the French man-of-war brig, and brought her to an anchor when she attempted to run for the rocks[1].

“When engaged with the brigantine Dolores, the mention I made of your name in my despatch was in the highest terms, which you so justly merited; and, after a series of services with you in four of H.M. ships, I can safely say that a more zealous officer I never had the good fortune to meet with. Believe me, my dear Sir, yours most sincerely,

(Signed)James Stirling, Commander R.N.”

Lieutenant Holt’s next appointment was, in Mar. 1823, to be first of the Hussar frigate. Captain George Harris, fitting out for the West India station, where he was serving when promoted to the rank of commander, Aug. 20th, 1824, for his gallant and persevering conduct in exterminating a horde of pirates at the south side of Cuba, on which occasion he appears to have been severely wounded. This service is alluded to in the following letter from Captain Harris, dated June 3d, 1827:–

“My dear Sir,– It affords me gratification in complying with your request, to state my opinion of your character as an officer, for I can with truth affirm that I never had a lieutenant under my command that gave me more entire satisfaction; and I once again repeat the language I made use of in a letter to my Lord Melville, on your leaving H.M. ship Hussar (having been promoted to the rank of commander), entreating him to appoint you to some sloop, undertaking that your professional knowledge, zeal, and determination in carrying any service into execution, would ever merit his lordship’s patronage.

“I have also much pleasure in bringing into notice your services when in command of the Hussar’s boats, sent against a nest of pirates who had taken possession of the Isle of Pines: the privation and fatigue of sixty-seven days’ absence from the ship, in open boats, in a most unhealthy climate, I fully particularized in a detailed letter to Sir Lawrence W. Halsted, dated May 17th, 1824, by which it will be perceived that complete success attended the exertions of yourself and comrades. Trusting that this candid and by no means over-rated statement will be conducive to the furtherance of your wishes, I am, my dear Sir, yours truly,

(Signed)George Harris.”

To Commander William Holt.

The subject of this sketch has recently been appointed to the Scout sloop, on the Mediterranean station.