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Royal Naval Biography/Leslie, Samuel

[Post-Captain of 1812.]

A son of the late Archdeacon Leslie, and a native of co. Antrim, Ireland, is descended from an old and noble Hungarian family, settled in North Britain in 1067: the branch to which he belongs is connected with almost all the Scotch nobility, and nearly related to “the great captain of the age,” Arthur Duke of Wellington.

Mr. Samuel Leslie entered the navy at a very early age, under the patronage of Captain (afterwards Sir Henry D’Esterre) Darby; and first embarked as a midshipman on board the Pomona frigate, in May, 1793. He subsequently served with the same officer in the Adamant 50, and Bellerophon 74, which latter ship, it will be remembered, bore a very conspicuous part at the glorious battle of the Nile, in Aug. 1798[1].

Some time after that memorable event, Mr. Leslie removed to the Foudroyant 80, bearing the flag of Lord Nelson, by whom he was appointed acting Lieutenant of the Success frigate, in Nov. 1799: this appointment, however, was not confirmed by the Admiralty until Oct. 1800; previous to which he had assisted at the capture of le Généreux, a French 74, proceeding to the relief of Malta[2].

Lieutenant Leslie was subsequently appointed to the Haerlem troop-ship, and Camilla of 20 guns. In 1806, he served as second of la Chiffonne frigate, Captain John Wainwright, on the Mediterranean station, where he was often employed in cutting out the enemy’s vessels; and on one occasion had 2 men killed and 3 wounded, in a boat under his immediate command.

La Chiffonne was next sent to the East Indies, on which station Lieutenant Leslie, then first of that ship, had several opportunities of distinguishing himself, as will be seen by the following copies of Captain Wainwright’s official and private letters to Rear-Admiral Drury, dated off Ras-al-Khyma, Nov. 14, 1809:–

“Sir,– I have the honor to acquaint your Excellency, that by the exertions of the troops and squadron, under the respective commands of Lieutenant-Colonel Smith and myself, Ras-al-Khyma, the principal town of the pirates who have so long infested the Persian Gulf, has been completely destroyed, together with all the vessels in the port, amounting to upwards of fifty (about thirty of them very large dows), and every species of naval stores.

“The ships arrived off the place in the afternoon of the 11th instant, but in consequence of the shallowness of the water, they were not able to approach the town within 4 miles, with the exception of the small cruisers and two of the transports; these anchored about 2 miles from it. On the same evening, the Minerva, an English ship, prize to the pirates, was burnt within twice her length of the shore.

“On the following day, the town was cannonaded for three hours by the small cruisers and gun-boats, with considerable effect; and a little before day-break on the 13th, a feint was made on the northern end of the place with two gun-boats, under the command of Lieutenant Leslie, and a detachment of native troops. The main attack commenced on the southern end, about half an hour afterwards, consistently with an arrangement made by the Lieutenant-Colonel. The troops were soon landed, and, gallantly executing the admirable plan of their commander, had possession of Rasal-Khyma by 10 o’clock, driving the enemy to the opposite shore; the gun-boats kept up a fire of grape on the sea-side as the soldiers advanced. Before 4 o’clock, all the enemy’s vessels were in flames, together with the naval store-houses in the town.

“I received the most effectual assistance from Captain Charles Gordon of the Caroline, who was with me at he landing, and from all the officers and men of his Majesty’s ships; also from the respective commanders of the Hon. Company’s cruisers attached to the armament, and their officers and men. The marines of the Chiffonne and Caroline were disembarked with the army.

“By the accompanying return, your Excellency will have pleasure in observing, that the loss of men on our side is trifling[3]: that of the enemy has been very severe. I have the satisfaction to say, that the most perfect cordiality subsists between the army and navy, such as promises to ensure complete success in all the subsequent operations.

“The troops began to embark at day-light this morning, and, notwithstanding the great want of boats, were all on board the transports before noon.”


“I take the liberty of observing to your Excellency, that nothing but the fear of exciting jealousy among so many officers as were employed at the attack of Ras-al-Khyma, prevented me from noticing in my public letter of this date, the high opinion I entertain of Lieutenant Samuel Leslie, first of this ship; and conscious that I should not do him justice were I not to explain this circumstance, I hope your Excellency will excuse my entering into detail respecting him. It was this officer who commanded the boats which destroyed the Minerva, where the greatest loss of men was sustained. He was most active in the cannonade on the 12th instant. He executed the feint with excellent judgment and gallantry on the following day. During the real attack by the troops he was very useful with the gun-boats of this ship. In the afternoon, he set fire to all the dows which were afloat in the harbour of Ras-al-Khyma, and he essentially assisted me in the re-embarkation of the troops. I have in three years and a half had ample experience of Lieutenant Leslie’s intelligence and courage; and as I know he was recommended for promotion, I trust your Excellency will excuse my writing so fully respecting an officer, who will, I pledge my character, do honor to his profession. I remain, with the highest respect, your Excellency’s obliged and faithful servant,

(Signed)Jno. Wainwright.”

Lieutenant Leslie had scarcely shoved off from the Minerva, after setting her on fire, before she blew up. Several small pieces of the wreck fell into his boat, without doing much mischief; but 2 lascars who were on shore under a tower, near which she lay, lost their lives by the explosion, and 2 other persons in the same situation were wounded. His active co-operation with the military was also duly acknowledged by their commander, the present Major-General Sir Lionel Smith, K.C.B. in a letter, of which the following is a copy:–

Head Quarters, la Chiffonne, 16 Nov., 1809.

“My dear Wainwright,– I do not feel that any recommendation of mine can take up much of your notice in favor of one of your own officers; but ! am most desirous to express my admiration and my gratitude for the activity and unwearied exertions of Lieutenant Leslie, whose zeal and coolness I never saw surpassed. It is out of my power to express my acknowledgments of the assistance the troops received from him in any other way than to you; and I hope you will do me the justice to say how much I am obliged to him, and how much I attribute our share of success to all your exertions; and if you could offer my sentiments to your commander-in-chief in any favorable manner towards Lieutenant Leslie, I should be truly gratified. Yours very truly,

(Signed)Lionel Smith, Lieut. Col. 65th regiment.”

The subsequent proceedings of the expedition are thus officially detailed by Captain Wainwright:–

“On the 17th Nov., the vessels in the piratical port of Linga, amounting to twenty, 9 of them large dows, were burnt without any loss on our side, the inhabitants having abandoned the town on the approach of the ships. The contemptible holds of the Towasmees, called Congo, Bunder, Mallam, and Heleram, were next reconnoitred, but no vessels were there.

“I then despatched the cruisers Ternate and Nautilus to the eastward of Kishma, to prevent the escape of the Luft pirates, while I entered the channel between that island and the main at the western end; but having got the ship I command aground in endeavouring to work through it, as I had no pilot acquainted with the navigation, and as I found the channel was too intricate to pass without buoying the shoals, which would have taken up too much time, I determined to proceed to Luft by the eastern channel, leaving the cruiser Vestal to guard the western end of Kishma. His Majesty’s ship Caroline had been previously detached to Burka road with the heavy transports.

“On the 24th, the Ternate and Nautilus joined; and having procured pilots at Kishern, I proceeded up the channel in H.M. ship under my command, with the ships and vessels named in the margin[4], and arrived off the town of Luft on the 26th at noon. Twenty-four hours having been expended in fruitless negociation with the chief Moola Hussum, the Ternate. Nautilus, and Fury were anchored off the town, and the troops, preceded by the gun-boats, approached to the attack, which commenced at two o’clock in the afternoon of the 27th.

“The enemy made no resistance until the troops came close to the very strong fort, and attempted to force the gate; he then commenced a fire, I am sorry to say, most destructive, as your Excellency will see by the accompanying return, added to that of Lieutenant-Colonel Smith to the government[5]. The piratical vessels, eleven in number, 3 of them very large dows, were in the mean time burnt by the seamen; and the gunboats and the cruiser Fury, which being of light draught of water, had been towed within musket-shot of the fort, kept up a ruinous fire, which very much shattered it by sun-set: the Sheik then consented to yield up the place on the following day to the English, on the part of the Imaun of Muscat, together with all the property in it belonging to his Highness’s subjects; this was accordingly carried into effect, the Sheik departing after Lieutenant-Colonel Smith and myself had guaranteed his personal safety.

“The fort having been delivered in trust for the Imaun to Sheik Dewish, the head of the Benismain, a tribe of Arabs who have always been firmly attached to his Highness, I sailed next morning in la Chiffonne, leaving the Mornington to bring on the cruisers and the transport to Burka, off which place I anchored this day[6].

“The loss of the enemy has been very great; he acknowledged to upwards of 50, independent of those who were killed in the towers adjacent to the fort, and driven over precipices to the eastward thereof.”

The subject of this memoir was made a Commander in Mar. 1811, and posted from the Wilhelmina into the Sir Francis Drake frigate, July 31, 1812. His subsequent appointments were to the Malacca 36, Volage 22, and Theban 36. On the 28th June, 1813, he most gallantly headed a party of seamen in an attack upon the defences of Sambas, a piratical state on the western coast of Borneo[7]: the following is a copy of his official report on that occasion:–

Sambas, June 29, 1813.

“It affords me much satisfaction to communicate the good conduct and indefatigable exertions of the party of seamen belonging to H.M.S. Hussar, which you did me the honor to place under my orders, to co-operate with the detachment of troops commanded by Colonel Watson, of H.M. 14th regiment, for the reduction of the batteries at Sambas.

“During a six hours’ march, in an almost impenetrable jungle, through which, for the greater part of the way, a path was cut by a division of the seamen (the remainder of the party having been appointed to carry the scaling ladders) that ardour so common to British sailors was eminently conspicuous; and in the assault made on five batteries successively, all of which were carried in half an hour, I cannot sufficiently commend their intrepid behaviour while exposed to a heavy fire in advancing with the troops, as well as their spirited exertions in cutting down the fences which surrounded the batteries.

“The very animated exertions of Lieutenant Henry Hoghton, of the Hussar, and Mr. William H. B. Proby, midshipman, during the whole of this service, entitle them to my warmest thanks and every possible praise.

(Signed)S. Leslie, Captain H.M.S. Volage.”

To Captain George Sayer, H.M.S. Leda.

We should here observe, that the ground immediately surrounding the first battery was thickly planted with bamboo spikes, which in some instances inflicted very severe wounds; but fortunately Captain Leslie escaped with only a slight one in each leg. The following is an extract of a public memorandum issued by Captain Sayer to the squadron under his command, July 2, 1813:–

“Captain Sayer regrets, that the scale of operations did not afford to his brother officers the occasion he is well aware each was ambitious of; yet he congratulates Captain Leslie, of the Volage, on the good fortune he so zealously availed himself of, with Lieutenant Henry Hoghton, Mr. Proby, midshipman, and the seamen of the Hussar, who were attached to the division under the command of Colonel Watson, of the 14th regiment, to whose brilliant exploits in the successful assault of all the enemy’s strongest works, on the 28th June, the service owes the highest obligations.”

Colonel Watson’s thanks were also conveyed, in public orders, to Captain Leslie and the officers and seamen under his command “for their zealous co-operation” with his division; and Sir Samuel Hood, commander-in-chief of the naval force on the East India station, expressed himself as follows, in a letter to Captain Sayer, dated Aug. 27, 1813:–

“The very able, judicious, and gallant manner in which the co-operation of the navy with the army against Sambas, under your orders, has been executed, claims my warmest encomiums: and I beg you will accept my public thanks thereon, and communicate to Captain Elliot, the other officers, and men, how sensibly I feel their exertions.

“To Captains Leslie and Norton, with the officers and men who had the good fortune to defeat the enemy and carry their works, with the gallant detachment of the navy, you will particularly express the high sense I feel for their services[8].”

Captain Leslie’s able and meritorious conduct, while employed under the Hon. Captain Elliot, in reinstating the Sultan of Palambang, is thus handsomely acknowledged by his distinguished commander-in-chief, in a letter addressed to the latter officer, dated at Trincomalee, Oct. 18, 1813:–

“Sir,– I have received your letter of the 3d Sept., detailing your services with those of H.M. ships Hussar and Volage under your orders, assisted by the troops commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Macgregor, on the expedition against Palambang. It is with peculiar satisfaction I notice the superior judgment displayed by you in the arrangement and management of this service, and the great and able exertions of Captain Leslie, the officers and men employed in the boats under his direction, whose expedition, successful efforts, and complete surprise, precluded any resistance in placing the Nagor Ordeen on the throne, as well as their further services. I beg you will communicate to Captain Leslie, and the officers and men employed, my entire approbation and thanks for their services. I have to express how sensible I am of the conduct of the whole of the officers and men under your command. I am particularly gratified with the cordial manner in which you were supported by Lieutenant-Colonel Macgregor, and the officers and men of the 59th regiment, and the artillery under his command. I cannot conclude this without offering you my sincerest obligations for your judicious and excellent guidance and direction of the expedition. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)Saml. Hood, Vice-Admiral.”

After his removal from the Volage to the Theban, Jan. 1, 1814, Captain Leslie hoisted the flag of Sir Samuel Hood, and proceeded with him to Calcutta. He was subsequently entrusted with the command of a squadron employed in the Java seas. The Theban was ordered home towards the close of 1815, and paid off at Plymouth, in April, 1816.

Captain Leslie married, Sept. 1817, Martha, only daughter of George Vaughan, Esq. descended from an old and respectable English family.

Agent.– Messrs. Stilwell.

  1. See Vol. I. p. 270.
  2. See Vol II. Part I. p. 26.
  3. 2 killed, 1 mortally, 5 severely, and 4 slightly wounded. N.B. This abstract of casualties applies to the squadron only.
  4. The Hon. Company’s cruisers Mornington, Ternate, Nautilus, and Fury; and the Mary transport.
  5. La Chiffonne had 2 killed, 6 dangerously, 3 severely, and 8 slightly wounded, – the total loss we have not been able to ascertain.
  6. Dec. 7, 1810.
  7. See Vol. II. Part I. p. 357 et seq.
  8. Lieutenant Henry Hoghton, who so gallantly seconded Captain Leslie. in the above attack, was severely wounded in the left thigh – the anterior and principal muscle of extension being divided. After rest, and appropriate surgical treatment, the wound healed and he attempted to go to his duty, when he was attacked with the bilious remittent fever so general among those employed on the service against Sambas, and which attacked all the wounded seamen as they successively returned to their duty, a fever dreadfully severe in its attack, highly exhausting in its nature, and usually followed by serious visceral disease. Lieutenant Hoghton recovered from the fever (as did all on board the Hussar, although the mortality was very great among the other ships and the troops), yet his life has subsequently been one of great and acute suffering, from internal disease, as well as from the lameness occasioned by his wound.

    This gentleman had previously served upwards of seven years, as midshipman and lieutenant on board the Modeste and Hussar, during which period he never relaxed from the most active and steady discharge of his duty, behaving on all occasions in a manner highly creditable to himself, and satisfactory to his captain, the Hon. George Elliot. He is at present senior lieutenant of the Victory first rate, commanded by that officer, and bearing the flag of the Hon. Sir Robert Stopford, K.C.B. &c. &c.

    Mr. William Henry Baptist Proby, the midshipman mentioned in Captain Leslie’s report, was immediately promoted by Sir Samuel Hood, and confirmed as a lieutenant by the Admiralty, Jan. 9, 1814. He has recently been appointed to the Southampton 50, fitting for the flag of Sir Edward W. C. R. Owen.