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Royal Naval Biography/M‘Leod, Donald

A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath; and a Captain of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich.
[Post-Captain of 1806.]

The manner in which this officer was principally employed as a Commander, will be seen by the following official letter, from Sir James Saumarez, K.B. to the Secretary of the Admiralty, dated on board the Cerberus frigate, off Granville, Sept. 15, 1803:

“Sir,– I beg you will please to inform my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that, having been joined by the Terror bomb on the 8th, and the Sulphur on the 12th instant, I embarked on board H.M.S. Cerberus, and sailed from Guernsey roads the following morning, with the Charwell (sloop) and Carteret cutter in company[1].

“It blowing a strong breeze from the eastward, it was not until Tuesday evening I was enabled to get off Granville; when, having had an opportunity to reconnoitre the enemy’s gun-vessels and other craft within the pier, and the different batteries by which they were protected, I anchored in the Cerberus as near shore as the tide would admit, having only 16 feet at low water: at 11, the Terror came up, but having also grounded, it was not until 2 o’clock that Captain (George Nicholas) Hardinge was enabled to place his ship in the position assigned to her, which he did in a most judicious manner, and opened a brisk fire from his two mortars, which was returned from the gun and mortar-batteries on the heights near the town, and also from some guns on the pier, and the gun-vessels placed at the entrance.

“From the number of well-directed shells thrown from the Terror into the pier, and parts of the town, I am persuaded they must have done very considerable damage. The fire was kept up till after 5 o’clock, when I thought it advisable to recall the Terror, and anchored with this ship and the Charwell a short distance further from the town.

“The Sulphur bomb, whose bad sailing prevented her from beating up, joined shortly after, and also anchored. The loss on this occasion was 2 men wounded by splinters on board the Terror. A few shells were thrown in the evening, but the tide prevented the ships getting sufficiently near to be attended with much effect.

“This morning the squadron were under sail before dawn of day, and all circumstances concurred to enable them to take their respective stations with the utmost precision; the two bombs opened a brisk and well-directed fire soon after 5 o’clock, which was unremittingly kept up until 10-30, when the falling tide rendered it necessary to withdraw from the attack. Twenty-two gun-vessels, that had hauled out of the pier, drew up in a regular line, and kept up a heavy fire, jointly with the batteries around the port, without doing much execution.

“The Cerberus, after getting under sail, grounded on one of the sandbanks, and remained above three hours before she floated: nine of the gun-boats, perceiving her situation, endeavoured to annoy her, and kept up a heavy fire upon her for some time, but were silenced by the Charwell and Kite[2], and also by the fire from the Sulphur and Terror bombs, and by the carronade launch of the Cerberus, under the orders of Lieutenant Mansell, assisted by the Eling (schooner) and Carteret, which obliged them to take shelter in their port.

“In the performance of this intricate service I cannot too highly applaud the zeal and persevering exertions of all the officers and men under my orders; and I should not do justice to the merits of Captain (William) Selby, was I not to acknowledge the able assistance I have received from him since I have had the honor of being in his ship. The steadiness and good conduct of all the officers and men in the Cerberus, during the time the ship was aground, also do them infinite credit.

“The various services on which Captain M‘Leod of the Sulphur, and Captain Hardinge of the Terror, have been employed this war, are already sufficiently known[3]; but I will venture to assert that in no instance can they have displayed greater zeal and gallantry than on the present occasion: and great praise is also due to Lieutenants Macartney and Smith, and the parties of artillery embarked on board the bomb-vessels. It is not possible to ascertain the damages the enemy have sustained on this occasion, but as, during the bombardment, very few, if any, of the shells missed taking effect, they must have been very considerable. I am, &c.

(Signed)James Saumarez.”

The subject of this memoir appears to have been the senior Commander employed by Lord Keith during the “catamaran” expedition, against the Boulogne flotilla; and although the attempt then made to destroy the enemy’s vessels ended in complete disappointment, and became an object of great ridicule, it afforded him an opportunity of displaying considerable intrepidity, as will be seen by his lordship’s official letter to the Secretary of the Admiralty, from which we make the following extract:

“The conduct of the officers and men who have been employed on this occasion, deserves my highest commendation; I cannot more forcibly impress their merits upon their Lordships’ attention, than by remarking, that the service was undertaken, not only in the face of, but immediately under the whole line of the enemy’s land batteries, and their field-artillery and musketry upon the coast, but also under that of upwards of 160 armed vessels, ranged round the inner side of the bay; and that the officers und men who could so deliberately and resolutely advance into the midst of the flotilla, under such circumstances, must be considered worthy of being entrusted with the performance of uny service, however difficult or dangerous it may appear to be, and consequently to be highly deserving of their Lordships’ protection.”

The officers to whom the charge of the principal explosion vessels was confided by Lord Keith, were Commanders Donald M‘Leod (of the Sulphur), Samuel Jackson (Autumn), – Edwards (Fury), Valentine Collard (Railleur), and Thomas Searle (Helder); Lieutenants Hew Steuart (of the Monarch), – Lowry (Leopard), Charles Payne (Immortalité), and – Templer (Sulphur); the only midshipman thus employed was Mr. David Ewen Bartholomew, of the Inflexible. Captains Robert Winthrop and Edward W. C. R. Owen, of the Ardent and Immortalité, most zealously and usefully superintended the operations from the southward; and the Hon. Henry Blackwood (Euryalus), from the northward[4].

Captain M‘Leod was subsequently appointed to the Cygnet sloop of war. During the Copenhagen expedition, 1807, he commanded the Superb 74., bearing the broad pendant of Commodore Keats; and he afterwards successively served as flag-captain to the same distinguished officer, to Rear-Admiral William Albany Otway, and to Vice-Admiral John Holloway; the latter commander-in-chief at Newfoundland. His post commission bears date Jan. 22, 1806.

In the summer of 1810, we find Captain M‘Leod regulating the impress service at Liverpool, where he continued until the peace with France, in 1814. On the return of Napoleon Buonaparte from Elba, he assumed the command of Rear-Admiral W. H. Scott’s flag ship, on the Downs station; in Dec. following he was nominated a C.B.; and in the year 1819, he became superintending Captain of the ships in ordinary at Chatham, where he remained the usual period of three years. We are not acquainted with the exact date of his appointment to the Royal Hospital at Greenwich, but we believe that it took place on the demise of Captain Samuel Arden.

Agents.– Messrs. Maude.

  1. Captain M‘Leod was appointed to the Sulphur at the renewal of hostilities, in May 1803.
  2. The above sloops were commanded by Captains Philip Dumaresq and Philip Pipon.
  3. We have not found Captain M‘Leod’s name in any of the gazettes previous to this period.
  4. In addition to the officers mentioned by Lord Keith, and whose names we have given above, the following gentlemen volunteered to conduct catamarans, and consequently shared the dangers of the night of Oct. 2, 1804; Lieutenants Elliston and Pearce (Leopard), Orchard and Bridges (Veteran), Parker and Mainwaring (Leda), Tucker, Williams, and Sibthorp (Euryalus), Campbell and Williams (Adamant); Mr. Bowen, Master’s Mate of the Ardent; and Messrs. Rooke, Lloyd, and Crawford, Midshipmen of the Veteran and Leda. For a description of the ‘catamarans’ and an account of the manner in which they were employed, we must refer our rcaders to the Naval Chronicle, Vol. XII pp. 313–315.