Royal Naval Biography/James, Joseph
JOSEPH JAMES, Esq.
[Post-Captain of 1809.]
Son of an opulent and respectable tradesman in Somersetshire, who dying when he was very young, left him to the care of an elder brother, by whom he was sent over to Valogne, in Normandy, for the purpose of learning the French language; in which town he continued to reside until Louis XVI. issued an edict to seize all British ships in the ports of his kingdom, March 18, 1778.
This officer entered the naval service in May 1779, as a midshipman, on board the Stag 32, commanded by Captain Robert Palliser Cooper, and then employed on the Irish station; but subsequently attached to the Channel fleet, under the orders of Sir Charles Hardy. Whilst in that frigate, he assisted at the capture of many vessels, among which were the Anti-Briton French privateer, mounting 22 long sixes, with a complement of 130 men; and la Victoire cutter, of 16 guns and 91 men. The former marauder was commanded by the notorious Kelly, a native of Rush, near Dublin, but holding a Lieutenant’s commission in the French marine: 120 of his crew were also subjects of Great Britain. The capture of that atrocious traitor was a service of very great importance to the merchants, as he had taken no less than one hundred and seventy prizes, most of which were either destroyed, or ransomed for large sums; the payments being secured by the detention of sufficient hostages, until the bills drawn in his favour were honored.
Mr. James continued in the Stag until she was paid off, 1783; when he joined the Griffin cutter, Lieutenant James Cooke, under whom he served for a period of three years. During the Spanish armament we find him master’s-mate of the Melampus frigate, Captain (now Sir Charles) Morice Pole; and at the commencement of the French revolutionary war he appears to have obtained a similar rating on board the Royal William 80, bearing the flag of Sir Peter Parker, Bart., commander-in-chief at Portsmouth; from which ship he was made a Lieutenant into the Inspector sloop, Nov. 10, 1793.
In that vessel. Lieutenant James followed the expedition under Sir John Jervis and Sir Charles Grey to Martinique; from whence she was sent with a convoy to Jamaica, and thereby prevented taking any part in the operations against the French colonies, previous to the storming of fort Fleur d’Epée, April 12, 1794.
The surrender of Guadaloupe on the 22d of the same month; the departure of the squadron, for St. Christopher’s; the recapture of Grande Terre, by Victor Hugues; Sir Charles Grey’s second landing in Basse Terre; and the return of Sir John Jervis to his former anchorage, off Grozier; have been noticed in our memoir of Rear-Admiral John Maitland. the storming of fort St. Ann’s, about twelve or fourteen miles from the latter place; the bombardment of Point a Pitre and fort Fleur d’Epée, by the British land-batteries and gun-boats; an unsuccessful sortie made by the enemy, on the 26th of June; the establishment of our advanced post, on Morne Mascot; the repeated defeats of the French troops sent to recover that eminence; and the disastrous result of an attempt made by Brigadier-General Symes to gain possession of the heights near Point a Pitre, preparatory to the intended assault of fort Fleur d’Epée; will be found described at pp. 109–113 of Vol. II. Part I.
During these latter operations, Lieutenant James occasionally commanded a division of gun-boats; and on the unfortunate 2d July, he entered the harbour of Point à Pitre about two hours before day-light in order to support the detachment under Brigadier-General Symes. From that fatal period he was employed affording protection to the troops left in Basse Terre, until the evacuation of fort Matilda, the last post held by the British, Dec. 10th, 1794.
The Inspector being paid off about Aug. 1795, Lieutenant James was then appointed to the Alfred 74; in which ship he served under Captains Drury and Totty, until she also was put out of commission, on her return from the West Indies, in the autumn of 1798. Whilst in her, he assisted at the capture of la Favorite, French national ship mounting 22 guns; la Renommée frigate of 44 guns and 320 men; and le Scipio corvette, of 20 guns; also at the recapture of two British transports; and at the reduction of St. Lucia and Trinidad. He likewise bore apart in the unsuccessful attack upon Porto Rico; all which will be seen by reference to our memoir of Captain John Richards, at p. 11 et seq. of this volume.
Lieutenant James’s next appointment was (immediately after leaving the Alfred), to command the Attack gun-brig; and in that vessel we find him covering the debarkation of the British troops near the Helder, and witnessing the surrender of the Texel squadron. He was also employed under the orders of Lord Nelson, during the period that that officer was invested with the chief command between Beachey Head and Orfordness, in 1801. His promotion to the rank of Commander took place April 29, 1802.
In March 1804, Captain James was appointed to the Sea Fencible service in Ireland; but he had only joined that corps six weeks before he received an appointment to the Meteor bomb. The admirable manner in which that vessel was placed before Havre pier, July 23d and Aug. 1, 1804, was highly spoken of by his senior officer, copies of whose reports are give at pp. 1–3 of Suppl. Part 1.
In Oct. 1805, Captain James removed to the Kite brig, mounting 14 twenty-four pounder carronades, and 2 long sixes, with a complement of 93 officers, men, and boys. In her, he made several recaptures, while serving under the orders of Commodore Owen, on the Dungeness station; and on the 7th Feb. 1807, we find him intercepting le Chasseur French lugger privateer, of 16 guns and 60 men, 18 of whom were absent.
It will be seen by reference to p. 239 of Suppl. Part I., that the Kite formed part of the light squadron engaged with the Danish praams, gun-boats, floating-batteries, &c. before Copenhagen, Aug. 22, 1807, and that “the bravery and energy of her commander, officers, and crew, during so long and heavy a contest” was highly praised by Admiral Gambier. Unfortunately, however, she then belonged to the Leith station, and was immediately afterwards ordered to return thither. Captain James consequently lost his chance of promotion, as well as the share of prize-money to which he would otherwise have been entitled. We should here remark, that the Kite received greater damage than any of her consorts on the above occasion; but fortunately sustained no loss, although she was several times hulled, and in one instance by a red-hot shot, which lodged in a case of hats stowed very near the magazine.
The Kite subsequently assisted in rescuing the Marquis de la Romana and his patriotic army; on which occasion Captain James’s officially reported to have been “indefatigable in his exertions in the various duties assigned him.”
At 10 P.M., on the 3d Sept. 1808, a few days after Rear-Admiral Keats had sailed for Gottenburgh, with the Spanish troops under his protection, the Kite, then at anchor off Sproe island (Minx gun-brig in company), was attacked by the whole of the enemy’s flotilla, then in the Great Belt, consisting of 22 vessels, each mounting two long 24-pounders, and manned with from 65 to 70 sailors and soldiers ; making a total of 44 guns, and nearly 1500 well-armed men.
Expecting an attack, as it was then nearly calm. Captain James had prepared for such an event, by sheeting home the top-sails, and having every other sail loosed in readiness to be set at a moment’s warning. The cable was immediately cut; but, unfortunately, a gun-boat which he had in charge got under the Kite’s bows, and could not be removed for a considerable time, during which, many of the Danes approached within musket-shot, keeping up a very heavy fire. The Kite at length paid off; but when before the wind, and with top-gallant-sails set, the breeze was so very light that she had scarcely steerage way. The Minx likewise cut, but was unavoidably at too great a distance to render her consort much support, nor was there any possibility of their closing with each other.
At 11 o’clock, being then surrounded by the enemy, and in momentary expectation of their rowing alongside, Captain James had the satisfaction to see one gun-vessel sink, and several others collecting round the spot to pick up her crew. The contents of every gun that could be brought to bear were immediately discharged among them, and from that time the Danes contented themselves with a distant cannonade, until midnight, when they ceased firing altogether; leaving the Kite in a very shattered condition, nineteen round shot having passed through her hull, near the water-line, and her main-mast being supported by only two shrouds and a backstay. The loss she sustained, although severe, was not so great as might have been expected, from the nature of the conflict. Of 76 persons, the total number on board, at the commencement of the action, only two, including Mr. Thomas Thomas, the purser, were killed outright; and thirteen, including Captain James (slightly) wounded: – most of the latter, however, either died, or underwent amputation. During the whole affair the Minx was so little attended to by the Danes that only two shot struck her, neither of which injured any one on board.
Whilst refitting at Gottenburgh, the commander, officers, and crew of the Kite received the thanks of the Admiralty, conveyed to them through Sir Richard G. Keats, “for their bravery and great perseverance in saving his Majesty’s sloop;” and on his return to the Nore, after being frozen up in the Belt and Cattegat, for the greater part of the winter. Captain James obtained the following handsome testimonial from the respectable officer under whose orders he was serving at the time of the action:
“H.M.S. Dictator, Chatham, 13th Feb. 1809.
“My Dear Sir,– I am favoured with your letter of yesterday’s date, requesting that I would give you my opinion of the defence you made, on the night of the 3rd of Sept. last, when attacked off the island of Sproe, in the Great Belt, by a number of the enemy’s gun-boats – the Kite and Minx being then under my orders. In answer thereto, I have to acquaint you, that considering the superiority of the enemy’s force, the whole of which appears to have been directed against the Kite, with every advantage which they could look for, it being nearly calm, the flotilla fresh out of Nyborg, and yourself and consort at anchor, I have no hesitation in saying that the judgment and gallantry of yourself, officers, and crew, have not been exceeded in any of the glorious actions that have graced the annals of the British navy for so many years back. From the shattered state I found the Kite in, on the morning of the 4th Sept., I cannot help, even at this distant time, expressing my astonishment how she could be saved either from capture or sinking; consequently I avail myself of this opportunity of returning my most cordial thanks to you, your officers, and crew. I am, my dear Sir, your sincere friend,
“To Captain James, H.M. sloop Kite.”
Captain James shortly afterwards paid his respects to Lord Mulgrave, then at the head of naval affairs, who promised to give him the first post-ship that should become vacant on the Baltic station. He accordingly returned thither, and, on the 21st Aug. 1809, was promoted into the St. George 98, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Pickmore, in the Gulph of Finland; where he continued during the remainder of the season.
In Jan. 1810, we find the St. George refitting at Portsmouth, where she received the flag of Rear-Admiral Reynolds: by whose Captain, Daniel Oliver Guion, the subject of this memoir was superseded, in the month of May following. The lamentable fate of those officers has been adverted to at p. 63 of Suppl. Part I.
Captain James’s last appointment was, Aug. 10, 1814, to the Tanais of 46 guns, fitting for the Jamaica station. In May 1815, being then at Carthagena, on the Spanish Main, for the purpose of affording protection to British commerce, he visited the celebrated Bolivar, who had encamped before that city, being refused admittance into it by another chief Castilto, who had constituted himself governor, and against whom he had been carrying on a desultory warfare for six weeks previous to the arrival of the Tanais. Captain James was received by that patriotic warrior with every demonstration of friendship, and offered a carte blanche to settle the differences between him and his rival. The interference of a British officer could not fail to have some degree of influence with the contending parties; and as Bolivar had no cannon, except a few field-pieces, it was arranged that he should disband his troops and go to Jamaica, which island he particularly wished to visit. He was accordingly received on board the frigate, with several of his near relations; and the whole were soon afterwards conveyed to Port Royal in the Decouverte, a schooner under Captain James’s orders. The garrison of Carthagena were subsequently starved into a surrender; Castilto and many of his adherents were put to death, by order of the royalist general, Morillo; and Bolivar, had he been there, would doubtless have shared the same fate. The Tanais was paid off in May, 1816.
Captain James married, in 1803, Bridget Elizabeth, second daughter of Arthur Raymond, of Lyme, co. Dorset, Esq.
Agent.– Messrs. Maude and Co.
- See Vol. I, Part I. note at p. 235, et seq.
- Superannuated Rear-Admiral R. P. Cooper died at Portsmouth, Oct. 23, 1805.
- Kelly was originally a smuggler. During the latter part of his life he worked as a common porter on the quay at Bourdeaux.
- See Vol. I, Part II, note † at p. 711.
- See Id. note at p. 841.
- After Sir Charles Grey’s final departure from Guadaloupe, the republican troops remained quiet in Grande Terre until they received a considerable reinforcement from Europe; when they proceeded to Basse Terre, landed at Goyave and Lamentin, on the 27th Sept., and immediately marched to attack the camp at Berville, commanded by Brigadier-General Graham, who defended that position with the utmost gallantry and spirit, until the 6th of Oct., when, finding his provisions nearly exhausted, ami that he was cut off from all communication with the shipping, and without hopes of relief, he was obliged to surrender; his force being reduced to 125 rank and file fit for duty. By this unfortunate event the whole of Guadaloupe, except fort Matilda, fell into the hands of the enemy.
The siege of that fort commenced on the 11th Oct., and early in Dec. the enemy’s batteries were increased so as greatly to exceed the artillery of the garrison. Their fire on the 6th, dismounted all the guns upon the most commanding part of the fort; the curtain from thence to the next bastion near the town, and the facet and flanks of that bastion in many places threatened to fall into the ditch; the number of killed and wounded was proportional to the effect made upon the work, and the place became no longer tenable. At 10 P.M., (Dec. 10th), the remains of the garrison, amounting to 621 officers and men, were safely embarked, without even the knowledge of the French, who continued firing as usual until 2 or 3 A.M. on the 11th.
The services rendered by the navy, during this long and painful siege, were very handsomely acknowledged in the military despatches. See London Gazette, Feb. 14, 1795.
- See Vol. I, Part I, note at pp. 414–417.
- See Vol. I, Part I, p. 347.
- The Master of the Kite, and 9 men, were taken prisoners, while in a boat on detached service, three days before the action: her second Lieutenant and 6 men were absent in charge of prizes.
- The Dictator had gone to complete her wood and water at Romsoe, leaving the two brigs under Captain James, to afford protection to any British merchantmen passing through the Belt.