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Royal Naval Biography/Kent, Henry


Youngest son of the late John Kent, Esq., many years a purser in the navy, and steward of the royal naval hospital at Plymouth[1].

This officer was born at Glasgow, and first went to sea as midshipman on board the Goliah 74, in which ship he served under Captains Charles Brisbane and Robert Barton, principally employed off Rochefort and Ferrol, from the early part of 1803 until Feb. 1806. Whilst on the latter station he assisted at the capture of two French corvettes, having on board part of the crew of H.M. late ship Blanche, taken by the enemy in July 1805[2].

Mr. Henry Kent next joined the Revolutionnaire frigate. Captain Charles Fielding; and, in May 1807, the Hussar 38, Captain Robert Lloyd, which latter ship was present at the bombardment of Copenhagen, and afterwards sent to the West Indies, where she captured four letters of marque, from Guadaloupe bound to Bourdeaux. In June 1809, he was appointed acting lieutenant of the Horatio frigate. Captain (now Sir George) Scott; and in Aug. 1810, we find him, removed to the Fantome sloop. Captain John Lawrence, under whom he served on the North Sea station, and on the coasts of Spain and North America, until Jan. 1814. On quitting that vessel, he received the following handsome testimonial of conduct:–

“These are to certify my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that Lieutenant Henry Kent served on board H.M. sloop Fantome, under my command, from the 4th Aug. 1810, to the 21st Jan. 1814, during which period he distinguished himself as a brave and meritorious officer, particularly in the different attacks made on the enemy’s works in Chesapeake Bay, and further that he volunteered from the said sloop to serve on the Lakes of Canada, with a zeal highly creditable to himself and worthy of imitation, being in the severity of the winter, and having a distance of nearly one thousand miles to march over an uninhabited country, covered with snow and woods: these circumstances will, I respectfully hope, entitle him to their Lordships’ favourable consideration.

(Signed)John Lawrence.”

At the same time Captain Lawrence wrote to Commodore Sir James Lucas Yeo, commanding on the lakes, as follows:–

“Sir,– Although I have not the honor to be personally known to you, yet the interest I take in behalf of Lieutenant Kent, detached from H.M. sloop under my command, will I trust ensure me your pardon in stating that, as he has served nearly three years and a half with me, I know his value. He is an active, zealous, and clever officer, and whom I beg strongly to recommend to your protection. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)John Lawrence.”

Up to this period, our naval force on the Canadian Lakes consisted of corvettes, brigs, and schooners; but the Americans, with their natural promptitude in military affairs, having begun to construct two frigates at Sackett’s harbour. Sir James L. Yeo lost no time in laying the keels of two frigates, and every exertion was made to complete them by the breaking up of the ice. Volunteers from the ships on the coast were called for to man them; and such an appeal to British sailors was not in vain, as will be seen by Lieutenant Kent’s account of his march from St John’s, New Brunswick, to Kingston, on Lake Ontario, dated at the latter place, June 20th, 1814:–

“We left Halifax in the Fantome, on the 22d January last, cheered by a large concourse of the inhabitants, and arrived at St. John’s on the 26th, making a passage of four days, the weather extremely bad: the brig appeared a complete mass of ice, it freezing as fast as the sea broke over us. The inhabitants of St. John’s came forward in the most handsome manner in a subscription to forward us in sleighs to Frederickston, the seat of government, a distance of eighty miles. The volunteer seamen from the Fantome, Manly, and Thistle were divided into three divisions, each of seventy men, the first under Captain Collier, of the Manly, the second under Lieutenant Russel, and the third under myself. On the 29th of January, the first division proceeded about nine in the morning, and in the afternoon the second followed; the next morning I disembarked, the rigging of all the ships being manned, and the crews cheering us. On landing, we were received by the band of the 8th regiment, and a large concourse of people, who escorted us to the sleighs, when we set off at full speed. In eight hours we went fifty miles, and then halted for the night, at a small house on the banks of the river; started again in the morning, reached Frederickston in the afternoon, and found the other divisions halted there. The seamen were lodged in a barrack, which was walled in, but they soon scaled the walls and got scattered about the town. Having their pockets well lined with prize-money, they were anxious to lighten them, thinking this was the last opportunity they would have of enjoying themselves[3]. After collecting them again, they were formed into two divisions, the first under Captain Collier’s command, the second under mine, as being the senior lieutenant. From Frederickston we continued on the ice of the river St. John, except in places where, from shoals, it was thrown up in heaps. The country, after leaving Fredcrickston, is but thinly inhabited; a settlement you may see occasionally, but never more than three houses together. I kept always in the wake of the first division, halting where they had the day before. On the third evening, at the house where I halted, I found the master of the Thistle a corpse, having died with intense cold. On the 7th of February I reached Presque Isle, where there is a barrack and depôt for provisions, but no houses near it: this place is eighty-two miles from Frederickston. Discharged the sleighs, and began making preparations for our march, being furnished with a pair of snow-shoes and two pair of moccasans each person; a toboggin, or hand-sleigh, between every four men, and a camp kettle for every twelve, with axes and tinder-box.

“At day-break on the 8th of February, we commenced lashing our provisions on the toboggins, and at eight o’clock commenced our march. We proceeded daily from fifteen to twenty-two miles, and though that appears but a little distance, yet, with the snow up to our knees, it was as much as any man could do. The first night we reached two small Indian wigwams, the next the same accommodation, and the third slept in the woods. On the fourth reached the Great Falls, and next day a small French settlement on Grande Riviere. The march from it to Mudawaska, another French settlement, was beyond any thing you can conceive; it blew a gale of wind from the northward, and the drift of snow was so great it was almost impossible to discern a man a hundred yards distant: before I got half-way, the men lay down, saying they could not possibly go further. I endeavoured, by every persuasion, to cheer them, and succeeded in getting about one-half to accompany me. We reached it about nine o’clock at night, almost fainting, a distance of twenty-one miles. The following morning, got the men all collected, but out of 110 only ten able to proceed on the march; I was therefore obliged to halt for a day to recruit them. The next morning, renewed our march, leaving a midshipman and twelve men behind, chiefly frostbitten. The three following nights, slept in the woods, after going each day about fifteen miles on the river Madawaska, where, finding the ice in many places broken through, I made the men take the banks of the river. On the 18th of February, crossed the Lake Tamasquata: it was here we were apprehensive of being cut off by the enemy, being in the territory of the United States; however, we did not fall in with them. On the 19th, commenced our march across the Grande Portage, or neck of land between the above lake and the river St. Lawrence; this was dreadfully fatiguing, continually marching up and down hill, and the snow upwards of five feet deep; got half way through this night, and again slept in the woods. On the 20th, ascending a high hill, the St. Lawrence opened to our view, when a general exclamation of joy was followed by three cheers at the enlivening sight of our native element. In the afternoon, reached Riviere De Cape, a French village about three miles distant. The next day, procured carioles for all the men to Kamaraska, a fishing village, 478 miles from Kingston, which space we were obliged to traverse the whole way on foot. On the 24th, reached St. Rocques; on the 25th, la Forte; 26th, St. Thomas; 27th, Berthier; and 28th, Point Levy, opposite Quebec. On the following morning, launched canoes through the broken ice, and crossed over to the city. In attempting to launch one, I fell through up to my neck, and was two hours before I could get my clothes shifted. Took shelter on board the AEolus frigate and Indian sloop, frozen up in Wolfe’s Cove, and, after a comfortable meal, allowed all hands a cruise on shore for twenty-four hours.

“The first day of our march from Quebec, we stopped for the night at St. Augustine; on the 3d, at Cape Sante; 4th, at Grondines; 5th, at Baptisca; 6th, three miles beyond Trois Rivieres; 7th, at Machiche; 8th, at Masquinonge; 9th, at Berthier; 10th, at La Valtre; and 11th, at Reperrigue. Next morning we marched through Montreal to La Chiene. On passing the monument erected to the memory of Nelson, halted, and gave three cheers, which much pleased the inhabitants. We were eleven days performing the journey from Montreal to Kingston, a distance of 190 miles: the places where we stopped I have not noted, as we seldom found a village, but mostly scattered houses, inhabited by people of all nations. We passed several tremendous rapids; the Long Sou in particular, which was most awfully grand to look at. We likewise passed Chrystler’s Farm, where Colonel Morrison, with a mere handful of men, defeated General Wilkinson’s army. On the 22d of March we reached Kingston, were lodged in a block-house, and allowed four days to recruit. The officers and seamen of the squadron were drawn out to receive us with three cheers. In a few days I joined the Princess Charlotte 42, Captain (now Sir William Howe) Mulcaster, as first lieutenant.”

On the second day of his march from Presque Isle, Lieutenant Kent had a severe fall on the ice, by which he broke the bone of the fore finger of his right hand, between the knuckle and the wrist, so that for five weeks he had his hand in splints; nor did the bone unite until after his arrival at Kingston. At the subsequent attack of Oswego, the official account of which is given in Suppl. Part. II. p. 215, et seq., he commanded the Princess Charlotte in the absence of her gallant captain, who was dangerously wounded while in the act of storming the Yankee fort, at the head of 200 seamen. The following testimonial will shew how high he stood in the estimation of that distinguished officer:–

“These are to certify my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that Lieutenant Henry Kent, when serving on the Lakes of Canada, was appointed by Commodore Sir James L. Yeo senior lieutenant of H.M. ship Princess Charlotte, under my command, then on the stocks, and his exertions in aid of completing the building of that ship – in preparing her rigging and stores – in launching and fitting her for service – were of the most officerlike, active, unremitting, and strenuous nature; and mainly contributed to enable the ship to join the expedition to Oswego, in May 1814; and I further certify, that his conduct in the attack of Oswego was that of a most zealous, brave, and intelligent officer; and I consider his devotion to the service of that nature that their Lordships may place entire confidence in him.

(Signed)Wm. Howe Mulcaster.”

After landing the troops and wounded men of the squadron at Kingston, the Princess Charlotte and her consorts made several diversions along the enemy’s shore, but nothing decisive took place on Lake Ontario during the remainder of the campaign. At the close of the war, Lieutenant Kent commanded a division of flotilla; and in the spring of 1815, he was sent to Chippewa, above the falls of Niagara, with 120 artificers and 30 marines, to assist in constructing two large schooners, the “Tecumseh” and “Newash,” for the protection of our settlements on Lake Erie. These vessels were laid down in the beginning of May, and launched on the 7th August; at which period Commodore Sir Edward W. C. R. Owen, paid the building party a visit, expressed himself much pleased with their exertions, and offered Lieutenant Kent a lucrative civil appointment; on declining which he was placed in command of the Tecumseh, mounting two long 24-pounders on pivots, and four carronades of the same calibre, with a complement of fifty men. After making two or three trips from one garrison to the other on Lake Erie, he passed a dreary winter in Grand River, both shores of which being dismal swamps, and his nearest neighbours the Six Nations, who settled in Canada during the revolutionary war. In the spring of 1816, he had much difficulty in getting the Tecumseh over the bar, there being but five feet two inches water thereon, and her light draught seven and a half; this task, however, was accomplished after six days’ hard labour, by heaving the vessel over on her bilge, with empty puncheons under her. During the summer of that year she was employed in carrying troops and supplies to the different garrisons. In Nov. we find her rated a sloop of war, and Lieutenant Kent appointed to the command of her sister vessel, the Newash, then in Mohawk bay. From thence he proceeded, with the Tecumseh under his orders, to the Deep Hole, Turkey Point, in which isolated situation both schooners remained at anchor upwards of four months.

In April 1817, Lieutenant Kent pushed through the ice to Amherstburg and Fort Erie, where he took under his orders two other schooners, and embarked several companies of the 70th regiment, destined to Drummond’s Island, Lake Huron, where they were landed in June following. He then proceeded through the Straits of Nancy to Nattawasanga and Penetenguishene, at which latter place he arrived on the 22d of that month. Three days afterwards despatches arrived over land, by which he found himself appointed superintendant of the naval dépôt then about to be established there, and also a magistrate for the district. The former was thus announced to him by Commodore Sir Robert Hall: –

Kingston, Lake Ontario, 3d June, 1817.

“Sir,– Being fully aware of your zeal and ability, I have selected you for the superintendence of the naval establishment at Penetenguishene, on Lake Huron, and I inclose you your appointment.

(Signed)Robert Hall.”

Penetenguishene harbour, one of the finest in the world, is situated in the midst of an impenetrable forest, upwards of 100 miles from any habitation. At this place, with twenty artificers, thirty seamen, and a few soldiers at his disposal, Lieutenant Kent commenced the new settlement by constructing suitable buildings for officers and men, in the mean time messing and sleeping under canvas. He afterwards erected storehouses and workshops, made a careening wharf, and continued busily employed until attacked with fever and ague in the beginning of 1819. During his illness, which lasted eight months, he was reduced to a mere skeleton. In consequence thereof he removed to the naval establishment on Lake Champlain, and remained there from Sept. 1819, until the fall of 1822, when he returned home with his officers and men, after an absence of ten years. His promotion to the rank of commander took place Dec. 26th, 1822, since which he has every year applied for employment, but without success.

This officer married, Aug. 24th, 1824, his first cousin, Eliza, relict of the late James Charles Grant, Esq. of Burton Crescent, London, and eldest daughter of Captain William Kent, who died in the command of the Union 98, on the Mediterranean station, in 1812. His two eldest brothers are commanders in the royal navy.


(P. 117.)

This officer was appointed a stipendiary magistrate at Jamaica in Nov. 1834. He has three children – viz. Henry, Mary Carlisle, and Hunter.

  1. See Vol. IV. Part I. p. 354.
  2. See. II. Part I. p. 309.
  3. Many of the petty officers had upwards of 300l. in their possession when they left Halifax.