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Royal Naval Biography/Mackenzie, Adam


ADAM MACKENZIE, Esq
[Post-Captain of 1799.]

This officer was present, when a Midshipman, in most of the actions fought between the British and French fleets, from 1778 till the peace of 1783; particularly in those of Keppel, Byron, and Rodney. He was at the relief of Gibraltar by Earl Howe; obtained his first commission in 1790; and served as senior Lieutenant of the Southampton frigate, on the glorious 1st June, 1794. In 1797, we find him commanding the Pylades sloop of war, and employed by the Port-Admiral at Sheerness, to negociate with the mutineers at the Nore, and to assist in securing the dock-yard from any attempt they might make to obtain possession thereof.

From this period, the Pylades was stationed principally on the coast of Holland, where Captain Mackenzie greatly distinguished himself by his zeal and activity. On the 10th July, 1799, he directed a boat attack on some of the enemy’s vessels near the island of Ameiand, brought out three valuable merchantmen, and burnt a galliot, laden with ordnance stores. On the 11th of the following month, he was despatched by Captain Frank Sotheron (now a Vice-Admiral), under whose orders he had recently been placed, with the Espiègle of 14 guns, Captain James Boorder, and Courier hired cutter, Lieutenant Thomas Searle, to attack the Crash, formerly a British gun-brig, which lay moored between Schiermonikoog and the main land of Groningen. The Courier, working faster to windward than her consorts, was sent a-head to engage the Crash until their arrival; which Lieutenant Searle did in the most gallant manner, although the enemy’s force, when compared with that of his little vessel, was as five to one[1]. The wind blowing right down the channel, which was so narrow that the Pylades and Espiègle could not stand on each tack more than twice their length; and the soundings in many places not exceeding two and a quarter fathoms, delayed their approach considerably; they however persevered, and at length got within pistol-shot of the enemy, who was consequently compelled to surrender, but not until he had made a most gallant and determined resistance. The Pylades on this occasion had 1 man killed and 3 wounded. Her boats, in company with others belonging to Captain Sotheron’s squadron, had in the interim obliged a large armed schooner to run ashore on the main land, in order to avoid capture.

The Crash being of a light draught of water was immediately manned, and the command of her given to Lieutenant James Slade of the Latona frigate; Lieutenant Salusbury P. Humphreys, of the Juno, was at the same time appointed to the Undaunted, a schuyt which he had cut out from under the protection of the schooner on the main, and which Captain Mackenzie ordered to be armed with two 12-pr. carronades, for the purpose of acting against a battery of 6 guns on Schiermonikoog, and the Vengeance schooner, carrying two long 24-pounders, 4 guns of smaller calibre, and 70 men, lying with a large row-boat, and several merchant vessels, near that island.

On the 13th at three P.M., the Crash and Undaunted moved on to the attack, accompanied by the launches of the Latona and Pylades, each mounting a 12-pr. carronade, and several smaller boats armed with swivels and muskets, the whole under the orders of Lieutenant Slade. Unfortunately the Crash grounded too far from her destined station to afford efficient aid to Lieutenant Humphreys, who steered his vessel steadily towards the schooner, and succeeded in getting alongside of her just after she had been deserted by her crew. The tide, however, was so rapid, that he could not hold on, and the roundness of both vessels’ sides prevented him jumping on board. He therefore seized a rope, and leaping into the sea, attempted to reach the schooner for the purpose of attaching it to her; but soon found he had no chance against the tide, and was consequently obliged to be hauled back to the Undaunted. Fortunate for him was this failure; for scarcely had he obtained footing on his own deck, when an explosion took place on board the Vengeance, by which she was blown to atoms [2].

The remainder of this small flotilla had in the interim succeeded in driving the enemy from their battery on the island, the guns of which were soon turned upon the fugitives, and afterwards spiked by Lieutenant Cowan of the Pylades, whilst the rest of the detachment, assisted by the brave commander of the Undaunted and his crew, brought off two brass field pieces, the row-boat, and twelve schuyts. This service was performed without the loss of a man on our side; but the Dutch are said to have suffered considerably.

Captain Mackenzie subsequently assisted at the capture of the Dutch fleet under Rear-Admiral Storey[3]; and obtained post rank Sept 2, 1799. From this period he remained on half-pay till Oct. 1801, when he received an appointment to the Brilliant of 28 guns; in which ship he continued during the peace of Amiens. At the renewal of the war in 1803, he joined the Magicienne frigate; and during the ensuing winter, was employed blockading the enemy’s coast. We next find him escorting some vessels, having on board ten troops of horse and 1000 infantry, to the West Indies, where he had several skirmishes with the enemy’s batteries, and destroyed many vessels, no account of which was ever published.

The Magicienne formed part of the squadron under Sir John T. Duckworth, in the action off St. Domingo, Feb. 6, 1806[4]; and was subsequently ordered to convoy the trade from Jamaica to England. After passing through the Gulf of Florida, Captain Mackenzie encountered a tremendous hurricane, which proved fatal to twenty of the finest vessels under his charge, and obliged him to steer direct for Bermuda, to repair the damages done to his own ship.

In the following year, Captain Mackenzie commanded the Prince of Wales, a second rate, bearing the flag of Admiral Gambier, at the capture of the Danish navy. On his return from Copenhagen, where he had acted as Commissioner of the Arsenal during the equipment of the prizes[5], he was appointed to the President frigate, and soon after ordered to Brazil; from whence Sir W. Sidney Smith despatched him to negociate with the Viceroy of Buenos Ayres (Linieres) for the opening of the South American ports to English commerce. On his return from this service, he joined the flag of Rear-Admiral de Courcy, by whom he was stationed to attend upon and afford protection to the royal family at Rio Janeiro. Previous to his departure from thence, he received the insignia of the Portuguese order of the Tower and Sword. He afterwards commanded the Armada, a new 74, in the Channel and North Sea[6].

On the 13th May, 1820, our officer was appointed to the Creole of 42 guns. From her he removed about Jan. 1821, into the Superb 78, on the coast of South America. In the latter ship he rounded Cape Horn during the shortest days of winter, and by his appearance in the Pacific, saved British property to the amount of several millions sterling. He was re-appointed to the Superb, stationed as a guard-ship at Plymouth, June 27, 1822; and died in Nov. 1823.



  1. The Crash mounted 12 carronades, 32, 24, and 18-pounders.
  2. The Dutchmen are supposed to have left a slow match burning near a train of powder leading to the magazine, when they fled to the shore. Had the Undaunted’s crew succeeded in boarding the schooner, they would most likely have shared her fate, as only four or five minutes elapsed between the separation of the vessels and the explosion.
  3. See Vol. I. note at p. 414, et seq.
  4. See Vol. I. note at p. 262.
  5. Admiral Gambier in his letter to the Hon. W. W. Pole, dated Oct. 20, 1807, says: “I should not do justice to the diligent attention and arduous endeavours of Captain Mackenzie to fulfil the civil duties of the arsenal, which were committed to his management and superintendence, if I did not on this occasion express my warm approbation of his exertions; and I beg leave to recommend him to their Lordships’ favorable notice.”
  6. Whilst at Brazil, Captain Mackenzie was removed from his frigate to the Bedford 74; but he came home in the President.