Royal Naval Biography/Hughes, William James


We first find this officer’s name mentioned in an official letter written by the commander of the Scourge sloop, dated off the Texel, Jan. 11th, 1804, and addressed to Rear-Admiral (now Sir Edward) Thornbrough; of which the following is an extract:–

“Sir,– I have the honor of informing you, that in execution of your orders, on my arrival off the Vlie Land, I spoke the Prussian from Amsterdam, who informed me, that a large ship, with prize colours flying, was lying in the Vlie Roads, waiting for a wind to proceed up the passage; and that he understood from the pilots she was an English ship, laden with naval stores. Considering, that to deprive the enemy of a ship of that description was of material consequence, I determined on attempting to cut her out; for which purpose, after dark, H.M. sloop was anchored in the Stadt Mille Passage, in 4½ fathoms water, and within musket-shot of the shore, ready to co-operate with the boats, which were detached about midnight, under the direction of Lieutenant William James Hughes, the senior officer; and with such good order was the attack conducted by him, that the ship was boarded and brought out, although lying immediately under the batteries, and mounting herself eight guns, without the smallest loss; she proves to be from Memel, laden with timber, 400 tons burthen, taken by l’Union Dutch brig privateer, on the coast of Norway.

(Signed)W. Wooldridge.”

On the 14th Aug. 1806, Lieutenant Hughes, then commanding the Phosphorus fire-brig, was severely wounded in the left hand, under the highly creditable circumstances slated in his official letter to Vice-Admiral Holloway, of which we shall here give the copy:–

“Sir,– I have the honor to acquaint you, for the information of the commander-in-chief, that in pursuance of orders from the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, proceeding to join the Channel fleet, I yesterday morning at day-break, the Isle of Wight bearing north, eight leagues, perceived a large lugger pierced for sixteen ports, but mounting, apparently, only twelve guns, and full of men, in chase of us. At 5-10 a.m., after hailing him, and receiving an order to strike, or he would sink us – commenced engaging him. At 6-20, the enemy laid us alongside, with three cheers, and from his superiority of men, there being, as near as we could judge, from seventy to eighty of them, attempted to carry us by boarding; but such was the brave and determined resistance of the few men I had under my command, that after lying five and forty minutes alongside of us, and after an action of one hour and ten minutes, he made sail, and sheered off. The moment we could get the brig wore, we made all sail in chase of him; but finding it impossible to come up with him, and having the sails and rigging much cut, with a number of men wounded, and no surgeon or assistant on board, I bore up and made all sail for the Downs, which I hope will meet the approbation of the commander-in-chief and yourself.

“The superior force with which we were engaged, will, I trust, speak sufficiently of itself for the bravery of the few men in His Majesty’s brig, consisting in all, officers included, but of twenty-four, with four twelve-pound carronades, one of which was rendered useless a short time after the action commenced, by the breeching and gooseneck breaking.

“I cannot pass over the great assistance I received from Mr. Thomas Hester, acting second master, without mentioning it in this public manner. I am sorry to say he is in the list of wounded, but not dangerously.

“Enclosed I have the honor to transmit a list of the wounded[1], which, though great, cannot come near that of the enemy, numbers of whom were seen to fall in every direction. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)W. J. Hughes, Lieut, and Com.”

This gallant officer was promoted to the rank of commander on the 25th of the ensuing month; appointed agent for prisoners and transports, at Jamaica, in July 1807; and granted a pension for his wounds (since increased to £150 per annum), May 15th, 1809. He also, we believe, received a very handsome sword from the Patriotic Fund.

  1. Eight (including himself and Mr. Hester), the whole of whom, except one man, very severely.