Royal Naval Biography/Littlehales, Bendall Robert

[Post-Captain of 1800.]

This officer is the second son of the late Baker John Littlehales, of Moulsey House, Surrey, Esq., a Barrister at Law, by Maria, daughter and sole heiress of Bendall Martyn, Esq. His elder brother, Edward, formerly a Lieutenant -Colonel in the army, was created a Baronet of Great Britain, as a reward for various important services in Ireland, Sept. 2, 1802; and obtained the Royal permission to assume the surname of Baker only, Jan. 6, 1817.

He entered the naval service at an early age, as a Midshipman, on board the Vigilant 64, under the protection and command of Captain (afterwards Sir Robert) Kingsmill; and at a period (early in 1778) when the insidious conduct of France caused this country, already engaged in a war with her American colonies, to make preparations for a long, severe, and bloody contest with her ancient European rivals.

The Vigilant had 2 men killed and 3 wounded in the action between Keppel and d’Orvilliers[1]. At the conclusion of the same year, she was ordered to the West Indies[2], where Mr. Littlehales removed into the Royal Oak 74; which ship formed part of Vice-Admiral Byron’s fleet, and sustained a loss of 4 men slain and 12 wounded, in the battle off Grenada, July 6, 1779[3]. From that date he was almost constantly employed in different ships and on various stations, till his promotion to the rank of Lieutenant, in Sept. 1790; soon after which he joined his friend Captain Kingsmill in the Duke of 90 guns[4].

In 1793 Mr. Littlehales was appointed first Lieutenant of the Rose frigate, at the particular request of her gallant commander, the late Captain Edward Riou[5], with whom he proceeded to the West Indies, in company with the expedition under Sir John Jervis and Sir Charles Grey. On that station he saw and assisted at much service both on shore and afloat, particularly at the siege of Martinique; during which he served in one of the batteries on Point Carriere, and assisted at the storming of Fort Louis, against which they had been erected[6].

Soon after this dashing exploit, Lieutenant Littlehales removed with Captain Riou into the Beaulieu of 40 guns; which ship having lost 7 officers and a proportionate number of men by the yellow fever in less than three months, was sent to Halifax in order to get rid of that dreadful malady. After heaving down and refitting there, she cruised for some time with considerable success on the coast of Virginia; and then returned to the Leeward Islands, where Lieutenant Littlehales again distinguished himself by volunteering to board and destroy a French store-ship, lying aground under the protection of a land battery: the circumstance is thus alluded to in a letter from the late Captain Westcott, of the Majestic 74, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Caldwell, (then commander-in-chief pro tempore at the Caribbees) to Captain Riou’s sister:

“Your brother sent me the enclosed letter to wait for the first packet’ since which we have been cruising off Point à Pitre, Guadaloupe; and the day after our arrival there, I had the pleasure to see the Beaulieu anchor against a battery at St. François, and a large French ordnance store-ship of 18 guns, that had run there a few hours before for protection. Your brother with the guns cleared the way, and Littlehales boarded the ship with a hawser from the Beaulieu, and tried to heave her off; but finding her aground and iramoveable, he took out the prisoners and set her on fire. He went on this service himself, being about two leagues to windward of the squadron, and performed it in a way that was the admiration of all those who could only look on. * * * *

(Signed)G. B. Westcott.”

For this service, performed immediately under the eye of the commander-in-chief, Mr. Littlehales was removed into the Majestic on promotion; but unfortunately no vacancy occurred previous to Vice-Admiral Caldwell being superseded by Sir John Laforey. He therefore returned to England with the former officer as his flag Lieutenant, in the Blanche frigate, and arrived at Spithead July 29, 1795.

Shortly after his return, the subject of this memoir was appointed first Lieutenant of the Amazon frigate, at the particular request of Captain (afterwards Rear-Admiral) R. C. Reynolds, with whom he was most actively and successfully employed cruising with the squadrons under Sir W. Sidney Smith and Sir Edward Pellew, till Jan. 14, 1797; on which day the Amazon was wrecked in Hodierne bay, after a gallant action with les Droits de l’Homme, a French 80-gun ship[7]. As Captain Reynolds’s official letter on this occasion was never published in the London Gazette, we here present our readers with a copy thereof:

Quimper, Jan. 20, 1797.

“Sir.– It is with inexpressible concern that I have to acquaint you, for the information of their Lordships, of the fate of his Majesty’s ship Amazon, wrecked on the French coast in Hodierne bay, on the 14th instant. Their Lordships are already acquainted, by Sir E. Pellew, of our shattered condition towards the end of our united action with les Droits de l’Homme, a French man-of-war, commanded by Capt. (ci-devant Baron) Le Cross. The various situations and changes incident to so long an action, I forbear to mention; Sir E. Pellew having unquestionably done it in a better manner than I am able. The Amazon began to engage about seven o’clock in the evening on the 13th, an hour after Sir Edward had gallantly commenced the action, and continued a running fight until live the next morning, which brought us forty leagues from where we began the chase, near the French coast; and the wind blowing strong directly upon the shore, in the eagerness of pursuit, and during the heat of battle, we were unable accurately to calculate the distance we had run; and our masts, yards, and rigging, being miserably shattered, it was not possible for us to work off shore. Our mizen-top-mast, gaff, spanker-boom, and main-top-sailyard, were entirely shot away; the main and fore-masts, the fore and mainyards, wounded in several places by large shot, some of which we judged to be 36-pounders; our shrouds, stays, and back-stays, many of them shot away, besides those we had knotted and stoppered in the action; and our cordage all expended in reeving running-rigging. In this condition, Sir, and with three feet water in our hold, we struck the ground a little after five in the morning, and not more than ten minutes after we bad ceased firing. Les Droits de l’Homme met with a similar fate a little distance from us, and almost at the same moment. From half past five to nine o’clock, we were employed in making rafts to save the men; and it gives me unspeakable comfort, that not a man was lost after the ship struck the shore, except six that stole away the cutter from the stern, and were drowned. Myself and officers quitted not the ship till with great care and pains we got the wounded and every man out of her. We ware received on shore by a party of soldiers, who conducted us to the little town of Hodierne, about a league from the ship. Thence they marched us through Dournancy to Quimper, where we now remain, and are well treated. I am not able to express my satisfaction for the noble support I received from the officers in general, and petty officers, during the action: to particularise either, I hope, will not be considered as taking from the merits of the whole; but Mr. Littlehales, the first Lieutenant, being constantly on the quarter-deck with me throughout the whole of the action, it would be unjust and ungrateful in me not to acknowledge the ample assistance he afforded in every situation throughout the course of so long and trying a conflict; and if a man, who has unfortunately lost his ship, (though I hope not dishonorably,) may be permitted, I humbly beg leave to recommend Mr. Littlehales to their Lordships’ notice and patronage. I hope this will not be deemed to derogate from the merits of Lieutenants Nichols and Thomas, who were quartered on the main-deck, and who, during a great part of the action, fought half way up their legs in water, cheering and inspiring courage to all around them by their own animated and gallant example. Mangled as we were in our hull, as well as in our masts, yards, and rigging, thanks to Almighty God, we had but 3 men killed, and 15 badly wounded. I rest firmly assured that Sir E. Pellew has done ample justice to my conduct in his representation of the engagement to their Lordships; and I humbly hope no blemish will attach to my character, for a misfortune occasioned by an impatient ardour to signalise British valour opposed to superior force. I have the honor, to be, &c.

(Signed)R. C. Reynolds.”

A circumstance occurred in the course of the action with les Droits de l’Homme, which we notice for the purpose of shewing our non-military readers what effect even the wind of a shot is capable of producing. Lieutenant Littlehales was knocked down senseless when standing near Captain Reynolds, who lifted him from the deck, and ordered some of the men to take him below; by the time they had reached the foot of the quarter-deck ladder, however, he recovered his senses, and forthwith returned to his post; but his chest and the upper part of his arms were black and blue for several weeks afterwards.

After the ship struck the ground, Mr. Littlehales, as first Lieutenant, was too much occupied to think of his wardrobe and other private pi operty; and his servant being one of those who were drowned in the boat, he lost every article thereof. On the 29th Sept. in the same year, Captain Reynolds and his officers having previously been exchanged, a Court-Martial was assembled at Plymouth to enquire into the circumstances attending the loss of the Amazon, and to try her late commander, officers, &c. &c. for their conduct on that occasion. The Court declared as their unanimous opinion, that the Amazon was unavoidably lost in consequence of her being so far in shore at the close of a welldisputed action with les Droits de l’Homme, during which she had suffered materially in her masts and rigging; that too much praise could not be awarded to Captain Reynolds, his officers and crew, by whom, in conjunction with the Indefatigable, an enemy’s line-of-battle ship was destroyed; and that the loss of the Amazon was the result of a noble pursuit of an enemy of superior force on her own coast. Captain Reynolds, his officers, &c. &c. were therefore most honorably and fully acquitted of all blame, and with every sentiment of the Court’s highest approbation.

Lieutenant Littlehales was made a Commander immediately after the trial; and in Jan. 1798, appointed to the Penguin sloop of war on the Irish station, where he continued till advanced to post rank, May 15, 1800. Some time after this promotion, he was nominated acting Captain of the Centaur 74, at the request of her proper commander, the present Admiral Markham, then about to take a seat at the Board of Admiralty. During the remainder of the war, we find him cruising off Brest and Rochefort.

In the night of April 10, 1801, the Centaur was run foul of by the Mars 74, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Thornbrough, commander of the in-shore squadron off Brest. Two men were killed and 4 wounded by the falling of the mainmast. Captain Littlehales having rigged a jury-mast, bore up for Plymouth, where he arrived on the 14th. After repairing her damages, the Centaur rejoined the Channel Fleet; and at the latter end of the same year she formed part of the squadron assembled in Bantry bay, where a mutiny broke out on board some of the ships, in consequence of their being ordered to the West Indies to watch the motions of an armament which had sailed from Brest for St. Domingo; and to be in readiness to check the French commanders, should they betray any sinister intentions against the valuable colonies belonging to Great Britain in that quarter[8].

The treaty of Amiens having been ratified by the British and French governments, Captain Markham continued at the Admiralty, the subject of this memoir was confirmed in the command of the Centaur, and that ship selected by the late Vice-Admiral Dacres to bear his flag at Plymouth; where she remained till Nov. 18, 1802, on which day Captain Littlehales sailed with sealed orders for Barbadoes, from whence she conveyed Lieutenant-General Grinfield, the military commander-in-chief, to the different islands, on a tour of inspection.

In 1803, after a short cessation, war was again declared, and Sir Samuel Hood, who had hoisted his broad pendant on board the Centaur as Commodore at the Leeward Islands, lost not a moment in proceeding to the attack of St. Lucia; and in thirty-six hours after his departure from Carlisle bay, that island was obliged to surrender to the British arms[9]. The naval force employed on this occasion, consisted of two 74’s and six smaller vessels.

Captain Littlehales’ “assiduity and attention,” during this short but successful expedition, were duly acknowledged by Sir Samuel Hood, with whose despatches, announcing the conquest of St. Lucia, he returned to England in the Morne Fortunée, a brig purchased for the purpose. Ill health, occasioned by his long services in the West Indies, preventing him from accepting the command of an active ship, he has not since been afloat. For two years previous to the dissolution of the Sea Fencibles, he commanded the Liverpool district; and during the last four or five years of the war superintended the payment of ships afloat at Plymouth.

Our officer married, Aug. 22, 1803, Mary Anna, daughter of Thomas Cleather, Esq. of Plymouth, and by that lady has four sons and one daughter now living. The second son is at present a Midshipman in the Revenge 78, under the auspices of Vice-Admiral Sir Harry Neale.

Agent.– ___

[Post-Captain of 1800.]

This officer, after nearly twenty-six years most active service afloat, two more in command of the Liverpool district of sea-fencibles, and above four as pay-captain (or assistant commissioner) at Plymouth, was, at the end of the late war, placed on half-pay, and for want of interest could never afterwards obtain employment. It will be seen by reference to Vol. II. Part I. pp. 283–289, that he bore a part in two general actions during the American revolutionary war; that he personally assisted at the assault and capture of Fort Louis, during the siege of Martinique, in 1794; that he subsequently boarded and destroyed a French ordnance storeship, mounting eighteen guns, under a battery at St. François, in the island of Guadaloupe; that he highly distinguished himself as first lieutenant of the Amazon frigate, and received some severe contusions in action with the French 80-gun ship les Droits de l’Homme, on the night of Jan. 13th, 1797; that he was immediately afterwards wrecked and taken prisoner, with the loss of his wardrobe and other private property; that he commanded the Centaur 74, for a period of about two years and four months, during which he served with the inshore squadron off Brest, and was handsomely spoken of by Commodore Sir Samuel Hood, for his assiduity and attention, at the reduction of St. Lucia; also that ill-health was the sole cause of his not continuing in active service. We should have added, that he applied for the command of another ship, in the late war, as soon as he became convalescent; that he accepted the office of commissioner afloat at Plymouth, on being assured, though not officially, from what he considered the best authority, that, like his predecessors, he would be as certain of obtaining his flag as if he were serving at sea; that, when a war with Spain, on account of Portugal, was anticipated, he immediately volunteered his services; and that, on the promulgation of the Order in Council of June 30th, 1827 (prohibiting in future the promotion of captains who shall not “have commanded one or more rated ship or ships four complete years during war, or six complete years during peace, or five complete years of war and peace ccmbined”), he most earnestly solicited, both verbally and by letter, any appointment which would give him a chance of qualifying himself for advancement as a flag officer, agreeably to that regulation. All his efforts, however, proved unavailing, and he had the bitter mortification to be placed on the list of retired rear-admirals, July 22d, 1830.

This officer’s second son, Edward Littlehales, served as midshipman under the flag of Sir Harry Neale, Bart. &c. in the Revenge 78, on the Mediterranean station; obtained a lieutenant’s commission, appointing him to the Success 28, Captain James Stirling, employed in the East Indies, Mar. 11th, 1828; and continued in that ship, under the command of Captain William Clarke Jervoise, until paid off at Portsmouth, Dec. 16th, 1831. By reference to p. 447 of Vol. III. Part II. the reader will perceive that this young officer’s exemplary conduct at the time when the Success was all but lost on a reef, whilst making for Cockburn Sound, in Western Australia, drew forth the expression of his persevering captain’s warmest approbation; and we have to add, that the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty highly approving thereof, were pleased to allow him to succeed the present Commander Edmund Yonge as first lieutenant, and to remain in that capacity until put out of commission.

  1. See Vol. I. note † at 195, et seq.
  2. Captain Kingsmill having resigned his command, was superseded by the late Sir Digby Deut, who died in 1817.
  3. See p. 50 et seq., of the present volume.
  4. In 1784, Mr. Littlehales, then belonging to the Salisbury of 50 guns, stationed at Newfoundland, was placed under a Lieutenant in the Laurens, a brig of between 70 and 80 tons, with a crew of only 12 men, employed, we believe, as a tender to the flag-ship. Whilst lying to, during a heavy gale of wind, on her return from the coast of Labrador to St. John’s, a tremendous sea struck and laid this little vessel on her beam ends, thereby obliging our officer and his companions to get on her weather broadside, where they continued for some time in the most imminent peril, expecting every moment either to be washed off or go to the bottom with their brig. Fortunately, however, they succeeded in cutting away the laniards of her lower rigging, and the masts going soon after, she righted sufficiently to allow them to replace the ballast which had shifted. After enduring very great privations, in consequence of their slender stock of provisions, and being driven by the fury of the storm above 100 leagues from the land, they were at length, by a fortunate shift of wind, and the aid of some sails belonging to their only boat, the loss of which and every other buoyant article, had left them no other alternative but to share their vessel’s fate, enabled to regain the island, and with the assistance of boats from the shore, to reach the bay of Bulls in safety.
  5. The same officer who commanded and saved the Guardian in 1789. He fell in the battle of Copenhagen, April 2, 1801. He was a most clearheaded, skilful, and brave officer.
  6. See Vol. I. note at p. 859.
  7. See Vol. I, p. 217, et seq.
  8. See Vol. I, p. 670.
  9. See Vol. 1, p. 481.