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Royal Naval Biography/Kennedy, Thomas Fortescue

[Post-Captain of 1813.]

Is a son of the late Dr. Kennedy, Physician to our present monarch, when Prince of Wales, and an Inspector-General of army hospitals, by the third daughter of the late Thomas Chamberlaine, of Wardington, co. Oxford, Esq.[1]

This officer was born in 1776; and placed upon the books of the Colossus 74, Captain Hugh C. Christian, Aug. 12, 1789. He entered the navy under the patronage of the late Lord Hood, and first went to sea in the Pomona frigate. Captain Henry Savage, with whom he sailed for Africa, and the West Indies, in Sept. 1789. On his return to England, in May, 1790, he joined the Colossus; and subsequently, the Crescent frigate, Captain William Young; Alcide 74, Captain Sir Andrew Snape Douglas; and Bonetta sloop, Captain William Elliot; under whose successor, the present Sir Graham Moore, he continued to serve until the commencement of the French revolutionarv war. The Bonetta was successively employed on the coasts of Ireland, Scotland, and England, at Newfoundland, and in the river Scheldt. We next find him in the Terrible 74, Captain Skeffington Lutwidge, one of Lord Hood’s fleet, at the occupation of Toulon. During the siege of that place by the republican forces, he was occasionally employed in the batteries on shore; and he obtained great praise from Sir Hyde Parker, the captain of the fleet, for his exertions in embarking and bringing off more than 60 unfortunate emigrants, chiefly females, at the very moment when their blood-thirsty countrymen were rushing into the town.

After the evacuation of Toulon, Mr. Kennedy was received on board the Victory, Lord Hood’s flag-ship, for a passage to Gibraltar; from whence he returned home, master’s-mate of la Sybille frigate. Captain Edward Cooke, towards the end of 1794.

La Sybille was paid off soon after her arrival; and while she was repairing, Mr, Kennedy served as midshipman undei Lord Garlics, now Earl of Galloway, in the Lively 30. On her being re-commissioned by Captain Cooke he again joined that officer, through whose recommendation he was appointed one of her lieutenants, by commission dated July 6, 1796.

After cruising for a considerable time on the coasts of France, Portugal, and Spain, la Sybille was ordered to convoy the Scotch brigade from Gibraltar to the Cape of Good Hope. In 1797, we find her escorting a fleet to China, on which occasion she was accompanied by the Fox frigate, and Trident 64, both commanded by officers junior to Captain Cooke. Her subsequent proceedings have been fully described at pp. 584–588 of Vol. I. Part II. It is therefore sufficient to state, that Lieutenant Kennedy, with 10 men, boarded and took possession of one of the the Spanish gun-vessels mentioned at p. 585; and that he commanded her until she was broke up after the attack upon Sombangen, in the island of Majindinao. On the 10th Jan. 1708, when one of the other prizes broke adrift from the Fox and foundered, his little craft was towed under water by la Sybille, and only saved through great promptitude in cutting the hawser.

Being obliged to leave la Sybille, in consequence of ill health, Lieutenant Kennedy returned to England from Canton, a passenger on board the Hon. Company’s ship Warley, in Oct. 1708. His next appointment was, Nov. following, to the Triumph 74, in which he served under Captains William Essington, Thomas Seccombe, Eliab Harvey, and Sir Robert Barlow, on the Channel and Mediterranean stations, until the autumn of 1802.

In Oct. 1803; the subject of this memoir commanded a tender, employed in conveying impressed men from Dublin to Plymouth; and while absent on that service he was applied for by Captain Harvey, to be his first lieutenant, in the Temeraire 98. The very conspicuous part borne by that ship at the glorious battle of Trafalgar, is thus minutely described by Mr. James:–

“After the Temeraire had, instead of leading the column as at first proposed, been directed to take her station astern of the Victory, the dismantled state of the latter, from the enemy’s shot, rendered it very difficult for the former to avoid going a-head of her leader; and to keep astern she was obliged, besides cutting away her studding-sails, occasionally to yaw or make a traverse in her course. Hence the Temeraire shared with the Victory, although by no means to so great an extent, the damage and loss sustained by the head of the weather column from the enemy’s heavy and incessant raking fire. Shortly after the Victory had poured her larboard broadside into the Bucentaure’s stern, the Temeraire opened her fire at the Neptune and Redoubtable. When the Victory put her helm a-port to steer towards the Redoubtable, the Temeraire, to keep clear of her leader, was compelled to do the same; receiving as she passed the Redoubtable a fire that carried away the head of her mizen-top-mast. When the Victory again brought her head to the northward, the Temeraire stood slowly on a short distance to the S.E.; and then hauled up to pass through the enemy’s line. Meanwhile the Victory had dropped alongside the Redoubtable, and the two ships were paying off to the eastward.

“Scarcely had she begun to haul up, so as to avoid being raked by the Neptune, (French 80) ere the Temeraire discovered, through the smoke, the Redoubtable, (74) driving towards and almost on board of her. Even had the breeze, now barely sufficient to fill the sails, permitted the Temeraire to manoeuvre to clear herself from the Redoubtable, the Neptune, who, to avoid getting foul of the Redoubtable and Victory, had wore and come to again, with her larboard broadside bearing upon the starboard bow of the Temeraire, opened so heavy a raking fire, that in a few minutes the latter’s fore-yard and main-top-mast were shot away, and her fore-mast and bowsprit, particularly the latter, greatly damaged. In this unmanageable state, the Temeraire could do no more than continue to cannonade the Redoubtable with her larboard guns. This she did until the latter having closed her lower-deck ports, fell onboard, her bowsprit passing over the British ship’s gangway, a little before the main-rigging, where, in order to have the benefit of bestowing a raking fire, the crew of the Temeraire immediately lashed it. The effect of this raking fire was terrible upon the crew of the Redoubtable, the whole of whom were then assembled upon the forecastle, gangway, and quarter deck. Nearly 200 were placed hors de combat.

“Less considerate than either of her antagonists about fire, although in equal if not greater danger from its effects, the Redoubtable continued throwing hand-grenades from her tops and yard-arms, some of which set fire to her own larboard fore-chains and starboard fore-shrouds. The fire from the shrouds presently communicated to the foresail of the Temeraire, but, by the active exertions of the forecastle men, the flames on board both ships were presently extinguished. The Victory’s crew, after having put out a fire that had spread itself among some ropes and canvas on the booms, also lent their assistance in extinguishing the flames on board the Redoubtable, by throwing buckets of water from their gangway upon her chains and fore-castle. * * * * * * After quitting the Belleisle, the Fougueux, (74) stood slowly across the wide space between the Santa Anna, (Spanish first rate) and Redoubtable, steering a course directly for the starboard beam of the Temeraire, then with her head nearly east. The object of the Fougueux was probably to pass to windward of the Temeraire and rake her or, it might have been (and the French crew were actually assembled on the forecastle in apparent readiness) to board the British 3-decker, the latter’s appearance indicating that she was much disabled, and her colours being at this time down, owing to the fall of her gaff. Indeed, as the number of men with which the Temeraire had begun the action was only about 660, and as of the number at this time fit for duty, not perhaps exceeding 550, nearly the whole were below, whither they had been sent by Captain Harvey, that they might not be injured by the hand-grenades constantly thrown from the Redoubtable’s tops, the Fougueux, with her 700, or, allowing for a slight loss, 680 men, might have made a serious impression upon the Temeraire’s decks.

“While Captain Harvey devoted his attention to the Redoubtable on the larboard side, the first lieutenant, Thomas Fortescue Kennedy, assembled a portion of the crew on the opposite side, to receive the Fougueux. Not having yet discharged her starboard broadside, the Temeraire was in perfect readiness there, but delayed firing uniil the Fougueux arrived so close that she could not well escape. At length the latter got within 100 yards; instantly the Temeraire’s broadside opened, and a terrible crash was heard on hoard the Fougueux. Crippled and confused, the French ship ran foul of the Temeraire, and was immediately lashed by her fore-rigging, to the latter’s spare anchor. Lieutenant Kennedy, accompanied by Mr. James Arscott, master’s mate; Mr. Robert Folgate, midshipman; 20 seamen and 6 marines, then boarded the Fougueux in her larboard main rigging. On the French ship’s quarter-deck lay Captain Beaudoin, mortally wounded; the second captain and other officers were encouraging the men to repel the boarders. In the onset, however, the second captain became severely wounded; whereupon the crew suffered themselves to be driven off the quarter-deck by the British, few as they were; and, in 10 minutes from the time of her being boarded by Lieutenant Kennedy and his 28 followers, the Fougueux was completely in the possession of the Temeraire.

“This occurrence took place at about 2-10 p.m.; within five minutes afterwards the Victory, by booms and the slight assistance which her helm and sails could afford, disengaged herself from the Redoubtable; and, while she gradually got her head to the northward, the three fast-locked ships from which she had just parted, the Redoubtable, Temeraire, and Fougueux, swang with their heads to the southward.

“Scarcely had the Victory broke away from the group, ere the main and mizen-masts of the Redoubtable came down. The main-mast, falling on board the Temeraire, carried away the stump of her mizen-top-mast, broke down the poop-rail, and with its wreck encumbered the whole after part of the ship. This accident put an entire stop to the Redoubtable’s hitherto formidable musketry, and her only remaining antagonist prepared to take possession. The main-mast of the Redoubtable, as it lay upon the Temeraire’s poop, forming a bridge of easy descent, this was soon accomplished. At about 2-20, a portion of the British crew, headed by Lieutenant John Wallace, second of the Temeraire, stepped on board, and took quiet possession of the gallantly fought Redoubtable. About the time that this happened, having got her head well to the southward, the Temeraire was enabled to fire a few of her foremost guns, on the larboard side, clear of the Redoubtable’s bows, at the French Neptune; whereupon the latter, who also observed the Leviathan approaching, ceased her annoyance and bore away.[2]

In addition to the damages mentioned in the foregoing extract, the Temeraire had her fore and main-top-sail-yards, her starboard cat-head and bumpkin, and the head of her rudder shot away; the whole of her quarter-galleries, on both sides, were knocked off by the two French ships that had run foul of her; eight feet of the starboard side of her lower-deck, abreast of the main-mast, was stove in; her main-mast was badly wounded, and all her rigging cut to pieces. Of her officers and crew 47 were slain, and 76 wounded; 43 more perished on board her prizes, the Redoubtable and Fougueux, in the gale that succeeded the battle.

After refitting at Gibraltar, the Temeraire returned to England, accompanied by the Royal Sovereign, Tonnant, Colossus, and Leviathan. Her first lieutenant was made commander, December 24, 1805, but not again called into service until August, 1808, when he received an appointment to the Cordelia brig, of 10 guns and 75 men.

In 1809, Captain Kennedy was attached to the Walcheren expedition, and very actively employed in the East Scheldt, under the orders of Sir Richard G. Keats. He subsequently assisted at the capture of two French privateers, and retook several merchantmen, on the Downs station. In 1813, we find him commanding a squadron of sloops and gun-brigs, off Dunkirk; where he continued until the enemy’s frigates in that port were dismantled. His post commission bears date December 4, 1813.

Captain Kennedy married, in 1806, the second daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Adlam, by whom he has had several children. His only surviving brother, Sir Robert Hugh Kennedy, Knt. is a commissary-general to the forces; and was at the head of that department, under the Duke of Wellington, during the whole of the Peninsular war. Another of his brothers was a captain in the 19th regiment of foot, and died at Ceylon in 1801.

  1. Dr. Kennedy died in April, 1796, after a long illness occasioned by excessive fatigue, in the performance of his duty on the continent, under the Duke of York. He was descended from an ancient family of that name in the north of Ireland.
  2. See p. 180.