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Royal Naval Biography/M‘Kinley, George

A Captain of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich, and Superintending Captain of the Royal Naval Asylum.
[Post-Captain of 1801.]

This officer was born at Plymouth Dock (now Devonport), and left an orphan at a very early age[1]. He entered the naval service under the patronage of the late Admirals Barrington and J. Leveson Gower, with the former of whom he proceeded to the West Indies as a Midshipman, on board the Prince of Wales, a third rate, in 1778. He subsequently joined the Ceres sloop of war, commanded by Captain James Richard Dacres, and in that vessel was captured, by the Iphigenie French frigate, off St. Lucia.

After his liberation, Mr. M‘Kinley served under Captain James Brine, successively in the Surprise sloop of war[2], Alcmene frigate, and Belliqueux, of 64 guns, till December 1781, when he was removed into the flag ship of the late Lord Hood, who made him a Lieutenant on the 14th of the following month.

The Stormont sloop, to which vessel Mr. M‘Kinley was appointed on his promotion, being captured at Demerara before he could join her, he returned to the Barfleur, and did duty as a Lieutenant on board that ship in the battles between Rodney and De Grasse, April 9 and 12, 1782. On the 19th of the same month he was removed into the Champion, 24, commanded by Captain Alexander Hood, with whom he returned to England in l’Amiable frigate, about July 1783.

During the ensuing long peace, Lieutenant M‘Kinley was appointed in succession to the Thorn sloop of war. Captain Lechmere; Edgar 74, Captain (afterwards Lord) Duncan; Trimmer brig of 16 guns, Captain Charles Tyler; Illustrious 74, and Formidable of 98 guns, bearing the flag of his patron Admiral Gower; and Alcide 74, Captain Robert Linzee.

At the commencement of the French revolutionary war in 1793, the Alcide was ordered to the Mediterranean station, where Captain Linzee hoisted a broad pendant, on being appointed to the command of a squadron sent from Toulon to co-operate with the Corsican patriots under General Paoli. An account of his proceedings will be found in our memoirs of Admiral Wolseley and Captain Hugh Downman.

On the 11th April, 1794, Commodore Linzee was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral; and when, in consequence of his promotion, he hoisted his flag in the Windsor Castle of 98 guns, Lieutenant M‘Kinley accompanied him into that ship, where they continued till November following[3].

In April 1795, the subject of this memoir was appointed to the command of the Liberty, a 14-gun brig, stationed at Guernsey and Jersey. On the 17th Mar. 1796, he distinguished himself by his conduct in the harbour of Herqui, near Cape Frehel, as appears by the following letter from Sir W. Sidney Smith to the Secretary of the Admiralty:

Diamond, March 18, 1796.

“Sir,– Having received information that the armed vessels detached by the Prince of Bouillon had chased a convoy, consisting of a corvette, three luggers, four brigs, and two sloops, into Herqui, I proceeded off that port to reconnoitre their position, and sound the channel, which I found very narrow and intricate. I succeeded, however, in gaining a knowledge of these points, sufficient to determine roe to attack them in the Diamond without loss of time, and without waiting for the junction of any part of the squadron, lest the enemy should fortify themselves still farther on our appearance. Lieutenant M‘Kinley, of the Liberty brig, and Lieutenant Gossett, of the Aristocrat lugger, joined me off the Cape; and though not under my orders, very handsomely offered their services, which I accepted, as small vessels were essentially necessary in such an operation. The permanent fortifications for the defence of the bay are two batteries on a high rocky promontory. We observed the enemy to be busily employed in mounting a detached gun on a very commanding point of the entrance. At one o’clock yesterday afternoon this gun opened upon us as we passed; the Diamond’s fire, however, silenced it in eleven minutes. The others opened on us as we came round the point; and their commanding situation giving them a decided advantage over a ship in our position, I judged it necessary to adopt another mode of attack, and accordingly detached the marines and boarders to land behind the point, and take the batteries in the rear. As the boats approached the beach, they met with a warm reception, and a temporary check, from a body of troops drawn up to oppose their landing. Their situation was critical: the ship being exposed to a most galling fire, and in intricate pilotage, with a considerable portion of her men thus detached, I pointed out to Lieutenant Pine the apparent practicability of climbing the precipice in front of the batteries, which he readily perceived, and with an alacrity and bravery, of which I have had many proofs in the course of our service together, he undertook and executed this hazardous service; landed immediately under the guns, and rendered himself master of them before the column of troops could regain the heights. The fire from the ship was directed to cover our men in this operation: it checked the enemy in their advancement; and the re-embarkation was effected as soon as the gun& were spiked, without the loss of a man, though we have to regret Lieutenant Carter, of the marines, being dangerously wounded on this occasion. The enemy’s guns, three 24-prs. being silenced, and rendered useless for the time, we proceeded to attack the corvette and the other armed vessels, which had by this time opened their fire on us, to cover the operation of hauling themselves on shore. The Diamond had anchored as close to the corvette as her draught of water would allow. The Liberty was able to approach near; and on this occasion I cannot omit to mention the very gallant and judicious manner in which Lieutenant M‘Kinley brought his vessel into action, profiting by her light draught of water to follow the corvette close. The enemy’s fire soon slackened; and the crew being observed to be making for the shore, on the English colours being hoisted on the hill, I made the signal for the boats to board, directing Lieutenant Gossett, in the lugger, to cover them. This service was executed by the party from the shore, under the direction of Lieutenant Pine, in a manner that does them infinite credit, and him every honor as a brave man, and an able officer. The enemy’s troops occupied the high projecting rocks all round the vessels, whence they kept up an incessant fire of musketry; and the utmost that could be effected at the moment was to set fire to the corvette, (l’Etourdie of 16 guns, 12-pounders on the main-deck,) and one of the merchant brigs, since, as the tide fell, the enemy pressed down on the sands close to the vessels; Lieutenant Pine therefore returned on board, having received a severe contusion on the breast from a musket-ball. As the tide rose again it became practicable to make a second attempt to burn the remaining vessels. Lieutenant Pearson was accordingly detached for that purpose with the boats; and I am happy to add, bis gallant exertions succeeded to the utmost of my hopes, notwithstanding the renewed and heavy fire of musketry from the shore. This fire was returned with great spirit and evident good effect; and I was much pleased with the conduct of Lieutenant Gossett, in the hired lugger, and Mr. Knight, hi the Diamond’s launch, who covered the approach and retreat of the boats. The vessels were all burnt, except an armed lugger, which kept up her fire to the last. The wind aud tide suiting at 10 P.M. to come out of the harbour again, we weighed aud repaesed the point of Herqui, from which we received a few shot, the enemy having found means to restore one of the guns to activity. Our loss is trifling[4], considering the nature of the enterprise, and the length of time we were exposed to the enemy’s fire. Theirs, I am persuaded, must have been very great, from the numbers within range of our shot and shells. The conduct of every officer and man under my command meets with my warmest approbation. It would be superfluous to particularize any others than those I have named Suffice it to say, the characteristic bravery and activity of British seamen never were more conspicuous. Lieutenant Pine will have the honor to present their Lordships with the colours which he struck on the battery; and I beg leave to recommend him particularly, as a most meritorious officer.”

In May 1798, Lieutenant M‘Kinley was promoted to the rank of Commander, and appointed to the Otter fire-ship. In the ensuing year he assisted at the capture of Rear-Admiral Storey’s squadron in the Texel; and served on shore at Enkuysen with a detachment of marines, until the evacuation of the Helder, and the removal of the British naval force from the Zuyder Zee[5].

The Otter formed part of the light squadron attached to Lord Nelson’s division, in the sanguinary battle off Copenhagen, April 2, 1801[6]; immediately after which Captain M‘Kinley was appointed, pro tempore, to the Bellona 74, her commander, Sir T. Boulden Thompson, having lost a leg on that occasion.

After refitting the Bellona, Captain M‘Kinley was superseded by Captain Thomas Bertie of the Ardent 64, and ordered to conduct the latter ship to England. In October following he received a commission for the Pelican sloop of war; and on the 20th of that month sailed for the West Indies, with despatches relative to the treaty of Amiens. Immediately on his arrival at Jamaica he assumed the command of the Abergavenny 54; and in July 1802, we find him removing into the Ganges of 74 guns, in which ship he returned home, June 21, 1803[7].

His next appointment was to the Roebuck 44, fitting for the Leith station, where he met with a very serious accident, a full powder horn having exploded close to his face, whilst superintending the exercise of his newly raised men, and deprived him of sight for several weeks.

The Roebuck continued as a guard-ship at Leith from the summer of 1803 till June 1805, when she received the flag of Rear-Admiral Billy Douglas in Yarmouth Roads. At the commencement of 1806, Captain M‘Kinley removed into the Quebec, a 32-gun frigate, employed cruising off the coast of Holland. In June following he was appointed to the Lively 38; and shortly after we find him senior officer on the Lisbon station, where he rendered an essential service by bringing away the British factory, and all the English merchant vessels lying in the Tagus, at a time when General Junot was rapidly approaching with a powerful French army to take possession of the Portuguese capital. For his conduct on that station he was presented with a piece of plate, accompanied by the following gratifying letter:

“Sir, We the undersigned British merchants, formerly residing in Lisbon, beg leave to present you with a piece of plate, for your unwearied exertions in protecting our trade during the time you were on that station, and for jour uncommon attention to a rich fleet of merchantmen, during a protracted and boisterous passage, being the last which sailed from thence, previous to the shutting the ports of Portugal against the shipping of Great Britain[8]. We flatter ourselves, Sir, that you will receive this trifling mark of our esteem, which we offer as a tribute to your public conduct and private merit. We have the honor to be, Sir, your most faithful humble servants,

(Signed) W. Oxenford, T. Coppendale, J. C. Duff, G. Roach, J. M. Buckeley, R. Seally, R. Lucas, J. March, J. Edwards, T. F. Dyon, E. Mayne, J. Leigh, W. Marsh, W. Oxenford.”

In January 1808, the Lively conveyed Rear-Admiral W. A. Otway to the squadron employed in the blockade of Lisbon; and then went on a cruise off the Western Islands. After the convention of Cintra[9], Captain M‘Kinley was sent into the Tagus, with orders to take charge of the naval arsenal, where he continued until it was delivered up to the Portuguese authorities. He subsequently cruised off Oporto, and received the thanks of the merchants there for his exertions in clearing the Douro of all the British shipping previous to the French entering that city. In March 1809, his assistance being solicited by the inhabitants of Galicia, he proceeded to the coast of that province, and took an active part in the operations which led to the capture of Vigo and Santiago[10].

In July following, Captain M‘Kinley convoyed a fleet from Lisbon to England; and on the 18th Sept. in the same year he assisted at the capture of l’Aurore French lugger privateer, of 16 guns and 69 men.

After lying for some time in the Downs as flag-ship to the late Sir George Campbell, the Lively refitted at Portsmouth; and in April 1810, conveyed Sir Charles Cotton to Cadiz[11]. On her return from thence she was ordered to escort the outward bound trade to Portugal and the Mediterranean. After executing that service she was unfortunately wrecked on a reef of rocks near Point Coura, in the Island of Malta.

This accident took place at two A.M. Aug. 10; and on the 27th Nov. following, Captain M‘Kinley was tried by a court-martial, and fully acquitted of all blame on the occasion. His unremitting endeavours to get the Lively afloat during a period of eight weeks, were also duly noticed by the Court; but one of his Lieutenants, the Hon. A. F. Berkeley, was censured for not acquainting him when the ship was discovered to be in danger; and Mr. Richards, the Master, dismissed from that station, and sentenced to serve for two years in an inferior capacity, for having brought the frigate to, with her head in-shore[12].

Captain M‘Kinley’s next appointment was, in April 1811, to the San Josef, a first rate, bearing the flag of Sir Charles Cotton, with whom he served on the Mediterranean station and in the Channel fleet, till the death of that worthy officer, Feb. 23, 1812[13].

In May 1812, Captain M‘Kinley was appointed to the Bellona 74, forming part of the North Sea fleet, under the orders of Admiral William Young. After cruising for some time off the Scheldt, he was ordered to St. Helena, from whence he returned in May, 1813. During the remainder of the war we find him employed in the blockade of Cherbourg, and on other services pertaining to the Channel fleet. He subsequently commanded the Namur and Bulwark third rates, bearing the flag of Sir Charles Rowley, commander-in-chief in the river Medway. He was appointed a Captain of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich in Nov. 1817; and selected to superintend the Naval Asylum at the period of its incorporation with the former establishment (April 1821).

Captain M‘Kinley married the youngest daughter of ___ Hollis, Esq. of Gosport, in Hampshire, and sister of Captain A. P. Hollis, R.N. His two brothers, Samuel and John, like himself, entered early into the naval service of their country. The former commanded the Comet galley, and died on the American station in 1780; the latter was a Lieutenant with the present Admiral Sir Charles M. Pole, at the capture of the Santa Catalina Spanish frigate[14], and died off St. Domingo in 1782.

  1. Captain M‘Kinley’s father was a Lieutenant R.N.
  2. The Surprise was formerly the American privateer Bunker’s Hill, of 13 guns. Being taken by the British about the same time that the Ceres fell into the hands of the enemy, she was commissioned in her room, by Admiral Barrington’s first Lieutenant, Mr. James Brine, who died a flag officer in 1814.
  3. See p. 91.
  4. Two seamen killed, 2 officers, and 5 men wounded.
  5. For an account of the expedition to Holland see Vol. I. note at p. 414 et seq.
  6. See id. note * at p. 365, et seq.
  7. Captain M‘Kinley’s post commission bears date Oct. 20, 1801.
  8. See Vol. I. p. 319.
  9. See Vol. I. note at p. 432.
  10. See Captain James Coutts Crawford, and Naval Chronicle, v. 22, pp. 79, 80, and 83.
  11. See Vol. I. p. 240.
  12. Rear-Admiral Boyles was a passenger on board the Lively at the time of the above disaster.
  13. Nothing could well furnish a stronger testimony of the sincere and cordial respect generally entertained for the character of Sir Charles Cotton, than the subjoined affectionate address of condolence presented to his amiable relict, from the officers of the San Josef:

    “The officers of H.M.S. San Josef, deeply lamenting the loss of their very highly esteemed commander and patron, beg leave to offer their most sincere sentiments of condolence to Lady Cotton, on an occasion so truly mournful and afflicting. After a long and uniform experience of every indulgent favour, and the most humane and generous attention to their several comforts and washes, they cannot but conceive it a duty peculiarly incumbent on them, at this melancholy crisis, to entreat that Lady Cotton would condescend to accept this tribute of unfeigned respect and affectionate regard for the memory of their late exemplary and honorable Admiral, the faithful friend of his Sovereign, and warm supporter of the first rights and most essential interests of his Country.”

  14. See Vol. I. p. 88.