Royal Naval Biography/Lawford, John

Vice-Admiral of the White.

At the period of the Spanish armament, in 1790, this officer commanded the Hound sloop, stationed in the Channel. During the two succeeding years we find him in the same vessel at Jamaica. He was made post, Dec. 1st, 1793, into the Convert of 36 guns, which vessel was lost on the Grand Caymanes, in the West Indies, on the 8th March, in the following year.

Captain Lawford’s next appointment was to the Agincourt, 64; from her he removed, about the spring of 1798, to the Romney of 50 guns. In the summer of the same year, being entrusted with the command of a small squadron, he fell in with a Swedish frigate having under her convoy a number of vessels, bound to different ports in the Mediterranean, laden with naval stores. Upon doubts which Captain Lawford entertained respecting the line of conduct he should pursue on so delicate an occasion, he immediately sent an express to the Admiralty, whilst with his squadron, he kept the convoy in view. On the return of his messenger with instructions for the detention of the merchant vessels, our officer desired Sir Charles Lindsay and Captain Raper to communicate them in the civilest terms to the Swedish Commodore; who shewed his instructions to repel force by force, if any attempt were made to board the vessels under his charge, and declared that he would protect them to the last. The crew of the Swedish frigate were immediately at quarters, matches, lighted, and every preparation made for an obstinate resistance. In the night, possession was taken of most of the vessels; the commander of the convoy making many movements, which were narrowly watched by the Romney, keeping close under his lee, lower-deck guns run out, and every man at his station. In the morning an armed boat sent by the Swedish frigate, took out by force the British officer who had been left on board one of the vessels; at the same time the Commodore sent an officer of his own to Captain Lawford, to complain that he had taken advantage of the night to get possession of his charge, which was unobserved by him, or he would assuredly have defended them to the last. Upon further conference, and representation of the impracticability of resistance to such a superior force, he at length agreed to go into Margate Roads, and returned the British officer who had been detained on board his frigate.

Some months after, judgment was passed in the High Court of Admiralty, that all the merchantmen, with their several cargoes, should be condemned (being laden with naval and military stores, bound to France); but that the private adventures of the masters should be restored. The prizes were calculated to be worth 600,000l. The judge. Sir W. Scott, now Lord Stowell, asserted upon this occasion:

1st, That the right of visiting and searching merchantmen upon the high seas, whatever be the ships, cargoes, or destination, is an incontestable right of the lawfully commissioned cruizers of a belligerent nation.

2nd, That the authority of the sovereign of the neutral country being interposed in any manner of mere force, cannot legally vary the rights of a lawfully commissioned belligerent cruizer; and

3rd, That the penalty for the contravention of this right is the confiscation of the property so with-held from visitation and search.

In the autumn of 1799, the Romney formed part of the expedition sent against the Helder, and was with Vice-Admiral Mitchell, at the surrender of the Dutch squadron commanded by Rear-Admiral Storey[1]. Captain Lawford subsequently removed into the Polyphemus of 64 guns, which ship was attached to Lord Nelson’s division at the attack upon the Danish line of defence before Copenhagen, April 2, 1801, and sustained a loss of 5 men killed, and 24 wounded[2].

On the 7th Dec. 1804, our officer being on a cruize off Cape St. Mary, fell in with and captured the Santa Gertruyda, a Spanish frigate of 36 guns, from Peru and Mexico, bound to Corunna, with a cargo consisting of cocoa, coffee, hides, platina, drugs, cochineal, cotton, and several rich private ventures, together with 1,215,000 dollars in specie[3]. This valuable prize parted company in a violent gale of wind on the 16th, and on Christmas day carried away her mainmast, and had her rudder choked. Fortunately she was fallen in with by the Harriet armed ship, which took her in tow, and after beating about the Channel for several days, brought her safe to Plymouth on the 10th Jan. 1805.

In the ensuing summer, Captain Lawford was appointed to the Audacious of 74 guns; and from her removed, towards the close of the year, into the Impetueux, another third rate, in which ship he continued on Channel service until the 1st Aug. 1811. He was then advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral. Our officer has never, we believe, hoisted his flag. His commission as Vice-Admiral bears date Aug. 12, 1819.

Residence.– Shoarne, near Rochester, Kent.

  1. See p. 414, et seq.
  2. See Sir T. Foley.
  3. The Lively frigate, Captain G. E. Hamond, was in sight at the time of the above capture.