Royal Naval Biography/Lee, Richard


Vice-Admiral of the Blue; Knight Commander of the most honorable Military Order of the Bath; and of the Portuguese Order of the Tower and Sword.

This officer entered the naval service in 1777, as a Midshipman, on board the Speedwell sloop, commanded by the late gallant Captain John Harvey[1]. He afterwards served under the late Admiral Affleck[2], in the Triumph, of 74 guns, which ship formed part of Sir George B. Rodney’s fleet in the actions of May 15th and 19th, 1780[3]. On the latter day she appears to have been very warmly engaged, and sustained a loss of 4 men killed, and 14 wounded.

The Triumph subsequently accompanied the Commander-in-Chief to the relief of New York, and on the passage recaptured the Lion, an armed Jamaicaman, into which Mr. Lee was put as prize-master. On entering Sandy Hook, our young officer fell in with the Retaliation, a large American privateer, which he engaged and drove into Neversink, thereby preventing a number of merchant vessels, then off the lighthouse, from falling into her possession. He also gave the first information of the approach of the squadron; and by his exertions got pilots down from New York, in readiness to take charge of the ships immediately on their arrival.

Mr. Lee’s services in the Lion were so highly appreciated by Sir George B. Rodney, that he instantly promoted him to the rank of Lieutenant; whilst the merchants of New York voted him their thanks, and a handsome present. On his return, to England he joined the Recovery, and from that vessel removed with Lord Hervey into the Raisonable, of 64 guns, in which ship he was present at the relief of Gibraltar by Earl Howe; and in the partial action off Cape Spartel, Oct. 20, 1782[4]. Some time after this event, a dangerous conspiracy among the seamen was crushed by the noble conduct of Lord Hervey and his officers, for which they received the thanks of the Board of Admiralty.

In the ensuing peace, Lieutenant Lee served successively in the Swallow sloop, and Centurion, of 50 guns, the latter bearing the flag of his friend Rear-Admiral Affleck, on the Jamaica station; by whom he was advanced to the rank of Commander, in the Serpent sloop of war. During his continuance in the West Indies, the merchants of the Bahama Islands, to whom he had rendered some essential services, returned him their public thanks.

The Serpent returned to England in company with two other men of war, as convoy to a large fleet of merchantmen; and Captain Lee, on his arrival, had the gratification of receiving a piece of plate from the underwriters, &c. at Lloyd’s, as an acknowledgment of the attention he had paid to their interests[5]. He was afterwards employed in the defence of Nieuport, under the late Admiral Mc‘Bride[6]; and on his return from that service promoted to post rank, by commission dated June 7, 1794.

Our officer’s next appointment was to the Hind, of 28 guns, stationed in the Channel. From that vessel he removed into the Greyhound frigate, and again visited the West Indies. He subsequently commanded the Assistance, of 50 guns, and in her had the misfortune to be wrecked between Dunkirk and Gravelines, March 29, 1802; from which period we find no mention of him until the spring of 1805, when he obtained the command of the Courageux, a third rate; and on the 4th Nov. following, assisted at the capture of four French ships of the line, by the squadron under Sir Richard John Strachan[7]. The total loss sustained by the British on this occasion was small; a circumstance to be accounted for by the enemy firing high, and our vessels closing suddenly. The Courageux had only 1 man killed and 13 wounded.

For this important service, Captain Lee, with his brave associates, received the thanks of Parliament, and was honored with a gold medal, similar to that which was struck by order of his late Majesty, commemorative of Earl Howe’s victory[8]. A valuable sword was also awarded to him by the Committee of the Patriotic Fund[9]. He afterwards commanded the Monarch, another 74, employed off Rochefort, under the orders of the late Sir Samuel Hood.

On the 25th Sept. 1806, at one A.M., being on the look out several miles in advance of the squadron, Captain Lee discovered seven strange sail, of which he gave notice by signal to the Commodore, and immediately made sail in pursuit. At day-light they were perceived to be five large French frigates and two brigs, one of the former bearing a broad pendant. At five, the Monarch, from her previous position and good sailing, arrived nearly within gun-shot of the enemy, and continued nearing them until a quarter past ten, when she brought three of the frigates to close action, which continued without intermission for upwards of two hours, and terminated in the capture of l’Armide and la Minerve, each mounting 44 guns, French 18-pounders on their main-deck, and 30-pounder carronades on their quarter-decks and forecastles. The third frigate engaged by the Monarch (la Gloire, of 46 guns,) hauled off on the approach of Sir Samuel Hood, who lost his right arm immediately after getting into action. She afterwards surrendered to the Centaur and Mars, which latter ship had already pursued and captured l’Indefatigable, a ship of the same force as those taken by Captain Lee. The remainder of the enemy’s squadron, viz. la Tamise of 44 guns, la Sylphe and la Lynx brigs, each mounting 18 guns, escaped.

From the crippled state of the Monarch, her standing and running rigging being cut to pieces, and every boat except one rendered useless, her commander, after receiving the swords of the two French Captains who had submitted to him, found himself under the necessity of requesting the prisoners to be taken on board the other ships of the British squadron, which was accordingly done as soon as they could arrive up for that purpose.

The Monarch’s loss was proportionate to the share she had taken in the transactions of this day. It consisted of 1 Midshipman and 5 seamen killed; Lieutenant Anderson, the Boatswain, 1 Midshipman, and 25 men wounded[10]. The Centaur had 3 men killed, and 4, including Sir Samuel Hood, wounded. Of the other ships under that officer’s orders, the Mars alone succeeded in closing with the enemy; she had not a man hurt. The enemy made an obstinate resistance; but the result was, as may well be supposed, attended with much slaughter, each ship having on board about 650 men, including troops. The prizes were fine frigates, of large dimensions, and had sailed from Rochefort the evening before, full of stores, arms, ammunition, and provisions.

We next find Captain Lee employed in the blockade of the Tagus, on which service he continued until the departure of the royal family of Portugal from Lisbon, when the Monarch was detached under the orders of Commodore (now Sir Graham) Moore, to escort the illustrious fugitives and their attendants to South America[11]. Soon after the arrival of the fleet at Brazil, our officer was entrusted with the command of three ships of the line and two frigates, with which he proceeded to the Rio de la Plata, where he entered into a treaty with the Spanish authorities for a suspension of hostilities, till the official accounts of the late political changes in Europe could be received from the junta in the mother country.

In the summer of 1809, Captain Lee, who had returned to England with Commodore Moore, assisted at the occupation of the island of Walcheren, by the forces under Sir Richard J. Strachan and the Earl of Chatham, and from that period was stationed in the North Sea until 1812; when the Monarch being found unfit for further service, was put out of commission at Chatham[12]. Captain Lee was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral on the 12th Aug. in the same year; nominated a K.C.B. Jan. 2, 1815; and on the 31st May following, obtained the royal authority to accept and wear the insignia of a Knight Commander of the Order of the Tower and Sword of Portugal, which had been conferred upon him by the Prince Regent of that kingdom, in testimony of the high sense H.R.H. entertained of his great merit, and of the services rendered by him to the House of Braganza.

Sir Richard Lee’s commission as Vice-Admiral, bears date July 19,1821.

Residence.– Walmer, Kent.

  1. See Rear-Admiral John Harvey.
  2. Philip Affleck, Esq. Admiral of the White, and Vice-President of the Marine Society, died at Bath, Dec. 22, 1799. He was universally respected as an officer, a gentleman, and a christian.
  3. See note at p. 104, et seq.
  4. See pp. 17, 106.
  5. Captains Alms and Brown, who commanded the other convoying ships, received similar tokens of approbation from the same body.
  6. On the 31st Oct. 1793, Rear-Admiral M‘Bride, in conjunction with Generals Grey and Dundas, sent to the relief of Ostend and Nieuport, obliged the French to abandon their situation before those places, and retire to Dunkirk.
  7. See p. 289.
  8. See p. 75, et seq.
  9. The Patriotic Fund was established by the merchants, underwriters, and other subscribers to Lloyd’s Coffee House, July 20, 1803. From that period to March 1, 1820, the subscriptions amounted to 595,000l.; the greatest part of which has been paid away in annuities and donations. About 21,000l. appears to have been expended in swords, vases, and other honorary marks of distinction.
  10. Sir Samuel Hood, in his official account of the action, says, “I cannot add too much praise to Captain Lee, of the Monarch, for his gallant and officer like conduct; but I am sorry to find his loss has been rather severe, the swell of the sea preventing, at times, the opening of the lower-deck ports.”
  11. See pp. 321, 536.
  12. The Monarch was built at Deptford about 1765, and broke up in 1812.