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Royal Naval Biography/Lyford, Henry James

[Post-Captain of 1813.]

A native of Winchester. He entered the navy as midshipman on board the Romulus 30, Captain Thomas Lenox Frederick, Mar. 26, 1790; joined the Hebe 38, Captain Alexander Hood, Dec. 30, 1701; and removed to the Lowestoffe 32, Captain William Wolseley, Nov. 22, 1702. In the latter frigate, he was present at the occupation of Toulon, by Lord Hood; at the attack upon Fornelli, in Corsica, Sept. 30, 1703; and at the siege of St. Fiorenzo, in Feb. 1704[1]. During the subsequent operations against Bastia, &c. he served on shore, under the orders of the immortal Nelson.

After the reduction of Corsica, Mr. Lyford returned home with Captain Wolseley, in the Imperieuse frigate; and we subsequently find him serving, for a short period, under Captain Bartholomew Samuel Rowley, in the Cumberland 74. On the 18th April, 1705, he joined the Romney 50, bearing the flag of Sir James Wallace, commander-in-chief at Newfoundland; from which ship he removed, with Captain (now Vice-Admiral) Sotheron, to the Latona frigate, July 22, 1707. His first commission bears date Mar. 10, 1799.

At this latter period, Mr. Lyford was appointed to the Blonde 32, armed en flûte, which ship formed part of the squadron employed in conveying Russian troops from Revel to the Helder, in the autumn of 1799[2].

Mr. Lyford’s next appointment was, Feb. 6, 1800, to be second lieutenant of the Elephant 74, Captain Thomas Foley; and in that ship he again had the honor of fighting under the immediate eye of Nelson, at the battle of Copenhagen, April 2, 1801[3].

In our memoir of Sir Thomas Foley, we have incorrectly stated, that the Elephant was put out of commission soon after her return from the Baltic. On the contrary, she formed part of a squadron of observation on the Jamaica station, during the peace of Amiens; and was employed in the blockade of St. Domingo, from the renewal of hostilities until the evacuation of Cape François[4]. On the 30th June, 1803, being then under the command of Captain George Dundas, she assisted at the capture of la Creole French frigate; and on the 25th of the following month, sustained some slight damage in her hull, bowsprit, sails, and rigging, while vainly endeavouring to prevent the escape of the 74 which was afterwards encountered by Captain John Maitland in the Boadicea[5].

Mr. Lyford, who had become first lieutenant of the Elephant previous to her coming home from the Baltic, was promoted to the command of the Mondovi brig, May 8, 1804; and appointed to the Proselyte 24, fitting as a mortar-vessel for the Baltic station, Feb. 26 1808.

On the 10th Oct. following, the Proselyte was stationed as a floating light off the island of Anholt, where she continued until destroyed by the ice, Jan. 5, 1809. The following is a copy of Captain Lyford’s official letter on that occasion:–

“Sir,– It is with extreme regret I have to inform you, for the information of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, of the loss of H.M. ship Proselyte, late under my command. She was surrounded with ice on the night of the 4th instant, and, at day-light next morning, I observed that the surface of the water was completely frozen, so as to render it utterly impossible to cut her out: at the same time I found that the whole body of ice was setting us fast towards the reef, without the least probability of our clearing it. At 2 P.M. the ship took the ground, and from the immense pressure of the ice, on the larboard side, she immediately fell over on the starboard beam. I expected every moment she would upset, and in this doubtful state we remained until 4-30, A.M. when we perceived that the ice was stationary. The wind now increased to a gale, the ship was bilged, the rudder gone, and the stern-post much shook. Being well convinced that it was utterly impossible to save H.M. ship, and that the lives of the people depended on our immediately quitting her, I summoned my officers, who were of the same opinion. At 8 A.M. we left the ship, and after a most severe and hazardous walk on the ice, for nearly 8 miles, we with the utmost difficulty reached the island, and I am happy to say, without the loss of a single man; but some are much frost bitten and others very severely injured by falls. I cannot conclude without expressing my approbation of the cool and steady conduct of my officers and ship’s company on this trying occasion. I have the honor to remain, &c.

(Signed)“H. Lyford.”

To Rear-Admiral Sir R. G. Keats, K.B.

Nothing could exceed the kindness and humanity with which Captain Lyford and his companions were received by the governor and inhabitants of Anholt. The former granted them permission to depart from thence, on terms alike honorable to both parties, whenever an opportunity might offer; the latter generously furnished them with all the means of subsistence in their power. The prospect of getting away, however, was very remote; and the supply of provisions so small, that it was found necessary to go upon an allowance of 8 ounces of rye bread, and one dried skate between every three men, per diem. Their whole stock of bread was soon expended; the poor Danes were almost as badly off as themselves. The frost continued with unabated severity, and nothing short of death by starvation appeared to be the ultimate destiny of all.

After remaining in this state of misery nearly six weeks, a favorable change of weather took place, and Mr. William Snuggs Gammon, senior lieutenant of the Proselyte (the first person who reached Anholt, on the 6th January), volunteered with 6 men, to proceed in a boat to Gottenburgh; an undertaking of the most hazardous nature, as the sea was still covered with floating ice; notwithstanding which, he persevered until he arrived within a few miles of the British shipping in that harbour; when finding it impossible to approach them any nearer in the boat, he set out on foot, taking with him only one man: and after experiencing much difficulty and danger, at length succeeded in getting on board the flag-ship.

No sooner was the distressed situation of the Proselyte’s officers and crew made known to the squadron at Gottenburgh, than Captain George Acklom, of the Ranger sloop, most handsomely offered to work his ship through the ice, and proceed to their relief, which he happily effected on the 22d Feb., bringing with him a letter from Sir R. G. Keats, to Captian Lyford, of which the following is a copy:–

“Dear Sir,– I have heard of your misfortune with the greater concern, as Mr. Gammon informs me you are indisposed, and suffer a dejection to prey on your spirits; but I hope the speedy appearance of the Ranger will not only dispel all gloom, but give you and your unfortunate crew every assistance and relief. If my opinion can in any state operate to place your mind at ease, I can with great truth assure you, that I am satisfied, that so far from the loss of the Proselyte operating unfavorably to you, I feel convinced the contrary will he the case. For I really consider much praise is due to you, for having so perseveringly kept on your station, in compliance with your orders; and it will afford me pleasure to hear, that you are early put into the command of a much better ship. I am, dear sir, your sincere and very obedient and humble servant.

(Signed)R. G. Keats.”

Captain Lyford left the island of Anholt on the 22d Feb. but not before he had had the satisfaction of seeing the Danish inhabitants placed in possession of all that their wants required. In July following, he was appointed to command a division of gun-boats attached to the Walcheren expedition[6]; and Aug. 18, 1812, to the Erebus of 18 guns, on the Baltic station, where he continued, under the orders of Sir.James Saumarez, until his advancement to post rank, Dec. 4, 1813.

This officer married Miss Binfield, the daughter of a deceased clergyman. His brother is a surgeon, in practice at Winchester.

Agents.– Messrs. Stilwell.

  1. See Vol. II. Part I. note † at p. 189 et seq. and Vol. I. Part I. p. 250.
  2. See Vol. I. Part. II. p. 415. N.B. The Blonde was commanded by Captain Daniel Dobrée, who obtained post rank April 29, 1802; and died at Ramsbury, co. Wilts, in 1811.
  3. See Vol. I. Part I. p. 365.
  4. See Vol. I. Part II. p. 815.
  5. See id. p. 843 et seq.
  6. See Suppl. Part I. p. 71, et seq.