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Royal Naval Biography/Mackay, Donald Hugh

[Post-Captain of 1806.]

Youngest son of the late Hon. George Mackay, of Skibo, N.B. Member of Parliament for Sutherlandshire, by Anne, grand-daughter of Kenneth Sutherland, third Lord Duffus, who was attainted in 1715; and sister of James, the present Baron Duffus, who was restored to that title by Act of Parliament, which received the Royal Assent, May 26, 1826[1].

In the course of our researches, we have frequently found a Mackay serving with distinction in the field; but the first of this family that ever joined the royal navy is the officer whose services we shall presently notice. His immediate ancestor, Sir Donald Mackay (created Lord Reay, June 20, 1628), was a highland chieftain, whose conduct as a warrior is highly spoken of in “Naylor’s History of the Seven Years’ War[2].” A General of the same name and family commanded the royal troops at the battle of Killicrankie, 1689; and was afterwards killed by the side of King William, at the battle of Steenkirk, in Flanders, July 24, 1692. Captain Mackay’s uncle died commander in-chief of the forces in Scotland, about May, 1789; and his eldest brother, now Lord Reay, commanded the “Loyal North Britons,” a corps entirely composed of Highland gentlemen, who enrolled themselves at the period of the threatened invasion, and were reviewed near London by his late Majesty, on which occasion they all appeared in their national costume.

Mr. Donald Hugh Mackay was born Dec. 31, 1780; and he entered the naval service in 1792, under the patronage of the late Admiral Robert Roddam, then commander-in-chief at Portsmouth.

After passing some time as a cadet at the Royal Naval Academy, Mr. Mackay joined the Daedalus of 32 guns, commanded by Captain (now Sir Thomas) Williams, with whom, and Sir Richard I. Strachan, he subsequently served as a Midshipman on board those active and successful frigates, the Unicorn, Melampus, and Diamond[3].

Mr. Mackay was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in 1798; and, as an armament was then preparing to sail against Ostend, Earl Spencer, to whom he had been strongly recommended by his late Captain, was pleased to appoint him to the Ariadne a 20-gun ship, in order that he might partake of that service[4]; but on his return from the Flemish coast, the Earl immediately removed him into an active frigate, the Melpomene, commanded by Sir Charles Hamilton, Bart, under whom he continued to serve until the summer of 1799, when he joined the Isis 50, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Mitchell, who was at that period selected to conduct the naval part of a formidable expedition destined against the Helder[5].

After witnessing the fall of that fortress and the surrender of the Texel squadron, Lieutenant Mackay accompanied his Admiral up the Zuyder Zee, where he commanded the tender to the flag-ship at the capture of four Dutch gun-vessels, forming part of the flotilla collected for the protection of Amsterdam. The particulars of this service will be given in the supplement to our memoir of Captain Patrick Campbell, C.B. On his return from Holland, Lieutenant Mackay joined the grand fleet, then under the command of Earl St. Vincent; and at the close of the French revolutionary war we find him again serving with Sir Andrew Mitchell, on board the Windsor Castle of 98 guns. His promotion to the rank of Commander took place in April 1802.

At the renewal of hostilities, 1803, Captain Mackay was appointed to the Prince William armed ship, on the North Sea station; and in the autumn of 1804, he appears to have been removed into the Scout sloop of war, fitting for the Mediterranean, where he continued until posted, Jan. 22, 1806.

Captain Mackay’s subsequent appointments were to the Druid frigate. Inflexible 64, Volage 26, Malacca 42, and Minden of 74 guns. In the former ship he was employed on the Irish station; in the Volage he conveyed Sir Evan Nepean, Bart, to his government at Bombay, and was afterwards actively employed under the orders of Sir Samuel Hood, in the Eastern Archipelago and China seas, where the duties which he had to perform were of a very arduous nature. The Malacca formed part of the squadron under Captain George Sayer, during the operations against the Sultan of Sambas, in 1813[6]; and the Minden was paid off at Portsmouth, on her return from India, in 1816; since which period Captain Mackay has not held any appointment.

Agent.– J. P. Muspratt, Esq.


(Suppl. Part I. p. 54.)

In Dec. 1804, four actions were brought against this officer, in the Court of King’s Bench, by some privileged merchant seamen, who claimed protection from impressment. The proceedings were interrupted by the counsel for the plaintiffs, who said the proceedings were not instituted for the sake of damages, but to teach naval officers that they must respect protections; and added, that he would be content with a shilling damages in each cause. Lord Ellenborough observed, that it was very handsomely done on the part of the plaintiffs, and he hoped it would have the desired effect. – Verdict for the plaintiffs accordingly.

Captain Mackay was appointed to the Revenge 78, in Nov. 1831; and put out of commission on the 3th Mar. 1834.

  1. Kenneth Lord Duffus, was a Captain in the Royal Navy at the period when the rebellion broke out in Scotland, under the influence and direction of the Earl of Mar, which unfortunate business was decided by the battle of Sheriff Muir, Nov. 13, 1715. Having engaged in that rebellion, his lordship was included in the act of attainder consequent thereupon. When informed thereof he was in Sweden, but he resolved immediately to return to England and surrender himself; which resolution he communicated to the English minister at Stockholm, who accordingly notified it to the Secretary of State. On his way to England, however, he was arrested by the British Resident at Hamburgh, who detained him close prisoner till the time limited by the act for the attainted persons to surrender had elapsed. He aftenvards entered the naval service of Russia, and died a flag-officer. It was this unfortunate nobleman who commanded the Advice of 46 guns, in an action which is thus described by Campbell:

    “On the 27th June, 1711, an English man-of-war, called the Advice, commanded by Kenneth, Lord Duffus, was attacked in Yarmouth roads, by several French privateers. His Lordship engaged them with great bravery, and did not give up his ship, which was a fourth rate, of 46 guns, till all his sails were torn to pieces, not a brace or bowling left, shrouds cut away, two-thirds of his men killed and wounded, and his lordship had five balls in his body. The eight privateers that took him, carried the ship with great triumph into Dunkirk, where they most inhumanly stripped both olficers and private men of their wearing apparel, and, but for the kindness of the inhabitants, had left them in a manner naked.” – See Campbell’s Lives of the British Admirals, vol. 4, p. 116, edit, of 1812.

  2. Sir Donald Mackay went over to Germany, 1625, at the head of 1500 chosen followers, armed with pikes and fully accoutred at his own expense. After assisting the King of Bohemia, he successively entered into the service of the monarchs of Denmark and Sweden, acquired great reputation, and enjoyed the confidence of the heroic Oustavus Adolphus, who was so much pleased with the bravery and good conduct of the highlanders that he always kept them near his royal person.

    Sir Donald was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia, Mar. 18, 1627, and advanced to the dignity of the Scotch peerage, as above stated. During the civil war his lordship, having joined the royal party, was taken prisoner at the surrender of Newcastle to the Scots army, and sent to the castle of Edinburgh, in order to be tried; but being relieved by the Marquis of Montrose, he retired to Denmark, and there spent the remainder of his days.

  3. See Vol. I. pp. 387 and 287.
  4. See id., note at p. 713 et seq.
  5. See id., note at p. 414 et seq.
  6. See Memoirs of Captain George Sayer, C.B., and Captain Samuel Leslie.