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Royal Naval Biography/Maples, John Fordyce


JOHN FORDYCE MAPLES, Esq.
A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1813.]

Entered the navy, as a midshipman on board the Triumph 74, commanded by the late Admiral Philip Affleck, Oct. 5, 1782; and subsequently had the honor of serving with Prince William Henry (now Duke of Clarence) in the Hebe frigate, bearing the broad pendant of the Hon. J. Leveson Gower[1]. He afterwards joined the Blonde 32, Captain William Affleck; and removed from her to the Centurion 50, flag-ship of his early patron, on the Jamaica station, in 1791[2].

On the 16th April, 1793, Mr. Maples, then master’s-mate of the Penelope 32, Captain Bartholomew S. Rowley, assisted at the capture of le Goelan French corvette, and in Sept. following, he was present at the occupation of Jeremie, St. Domingo, by the naval and military forces under Commodore Ford and Lieutenant-Colonel Whitelocke; also at the capture of about 2000 tons of shipping laden with colonial produce, two neutral vessels with cargoes, and an armed schooner, in the bays near St. Louis. On the 25th Nov. l’Inconstante frigate, struck her tri-coloured flag to the Penelope and Iphigenia, after exchanging a few broadsides, and sustaining a loss of 6 men killed and 21, including her captain, wounded. In this affair, the former British ship had 1 man slain and 7 wounded.

At the commencement of 1794, the Penelope was employed in the blockade of Port-au-Prince; and soon afterwards in covering the debarkation of the troops under Lieutenant-Colonel Whitelocke, near Cape Tiberoon. She subsequently engaged the batteries of Aux Cayes, and brought out from thence several loaded merchantmen.

Mr. Maples next joined the Europa 50, bearing the broad pendant of Commodore Ford, at Cape Nichola Mole, where he appears to have been employed for several weeks, in a fort named after that officer, by whom he was appointed lieutenant of la Magicienne 32, a few days subsequent to the reduction of Port-au-Prince, which took place June 4, 1794[3]. La Magicienne’s loss by yellow fever, while co-operating with the army under Brigadier-General Whyte, in the vain attempt to complete the subjugation of the French posts in St. Domingo, amounted to about 70 officers and men.

In the spring of 1796, la Magicienne, then commanded by Captain William Henry Ricketts, was employed off Havre, under the orders of Sir W. Sidney Smith; and in the ensuing autumn, we find her returning to the Jamaica station, where she soon made many captures. Among them were le Cerf Volant corvette, having on board despatches for the French Directory, and delegates from the southern department of St. Domingo to the National Assembly; la Fortune privateer, of 8 guns and 74 men; le Poisson Volant, of 12 guns and 80 men; and two Spanish brigs, laden with cocoa. In Jan. and Feb. 1797, her boats, under the command of Lieutenant Maples, cut out two French privateers and a Spanish armed brig from different anchorages at the west end of Porto Rico; and on the 6th April following, in conjunction with those of the Regulus 44, they effected the destruction of eleven sail of merchantmen in the harbour of Cape Roxo, spiked 4 guns on shore, and brought out two vessels, without the loss of a man. At this period, Mr. Maples was first lieutenant of la Magicienne.

A “spirited and well-timed attack” subsequently made upon an armed sloop and some schooners, employed as transports, by which the whole of our western possessions in St. Domingo were prevented from falling into the hands of the enemy, is thus officially described by Captain Ricketts:–

La Magicienne, in Careasse bay, April 24, 1797.

“On Sunday the 23d instant, when doubling Cape Tiberoon, in company with the Regulus and Fortune, schooner, we discovered a 6-gun sloop and four schooners at anchor in this bay, which convinced me that the post of Irois was attacked. Soon after, the alarm gun was fired at the fort. As no time was to be lost in endeavouring to counteract the views of the enemy, we stood in and anchored; then commenced a heavy cannonade, and had the good fortune, in a short time, to drive them into the mountains. Their field-pieces, ammunition, provisions, and vessels laden with necessaries for carrying on the siege, fell into our hands.

“The good conduct of every officer and man belonging to our little squadron, manifested itself upon this occasion, as well as upon many others since I have had the honor to command it. I have to regret the loss of 4 men killed, and Mr. Morgan, master’s-mate, and 10 men wounded in la Magicienne’s boat, when endeavouring to tow out the sloop.”

That vessel was boarded and taken in tow, by Lieutenant Maples, under a tremendous fire of round shot, grape, and musketry. On the 28th Sept. following, he had 2 men badly wounded in an unsuccessful attack upon some small privateers at Porto Paix; and he also commanded the boats of la Magicienne at the capture of one, mounting 2 guns, near Cape Causedo, Dec. 22, in the same year. Five days afterwards, le Brutus of 9 guns, a merchant ship, three brigs, and a schooner, were taken in Guadilla bay, Porto Rico, by the squadron under Captain Ricketts. The frigate, on this latter occasion, had 5 men wounded.

La Magicienne and her consorts were next employed in dislodging a large body of brigands, who had established themselves in Platform bay, and began to fortify an eminence commanding the adjacent country. This service was performed in conjunction with 250 British troops, conveyed thither from Cape Nichola Mole, by whom the enemy were kept in check while the seamen embarked and brought off a 13-inch mortar, several heavy guns, and four row-boats, intended for privateering.

On the 19th Mar. 1798, Lieutenant Maples landed, with 100 men under his command, to do garrison duty at Irois. Returning on board from thence, he was slightly wounded by a musket ball in the right leg, and one of his party was killed close to him. In 1799, he had the direction of several boat enterprises, and succeeded in capturing many merchant vessels.

From la Magicienne, Lieutenant Maples was removed to the Queen 98, bearing the flag of Sir Hyde Parker, Bart, whose fortunes he followed during the remainder of the revolutionary war. At the battle of Copenhagen, April 2, 1801, he served as a volunteer with Nelson’s division; and, after that event, he appears to have acted as commander, in the Otter fire-vessel, for a period of three months. His subsequent appointments were to the Ganges 74, Prince George 98, Defence 74, Tigre 80, and Naiad 38. The former ship accompanied a squadron of observation to Jamaica at the close of 1801; the latter, commanded by Captain Thomas Dundas, was one of Nelson’s repeating frigates on the ever memorable 21st Oct. 1805.

We afterwards find Lieutenant Maples successively serving as first of the Mars and Atlas, third rates, on the North Sea, Baltic, and Cadiz stations. His promotion to the rank of commander took place Oct. 21, 1810; at which period he was appointed to the AEtna, bomb, employed in the defence of Isla de Leon. The harassing nature of that service will be seen by reference to the memoirs of Captains James Sanders, Sir Thomas Fellowes, William Shepheard, &c.

In 1813, Captain Maples commanded the Pelican brig, of 385 tons, mounting sixteen 32-pounder carronades and 2 long sixes, with an established complement of 120 officers, men and boys. The service for which he obtained post rank is thus described by him in an official letter to Vice-Admiral Thornbrough, commander-in-chief at Cork, dated off St. David’s Head, Aug. 18:–

“At four o’clock this morning I saw a vessel on fire, and a brig standing from her, which I soon discovered to be a cruiser; made all sail in chase, and at 5-30 came alongside of her; she having shortened sail and made herself clear for an obstinate resistance. After giving her three cheers, our action commenced, which was kept up with great spirit on both sides 43 minutes. We then lay her along-side, and were in the act of boarding, when she struck her colours. She proves to be the United States’ sloop Argus, of 360 tons, eighteen 24-pounders, and 2 long 12-pounders; had on board when she sailed from America, two months since, a complement of 149 men, but in the action 127; commanded by Lieutenant-Commandant William Henry Allen, who, I regret to say, was wounded early in the battle, and has since suffered amputation of his left thigh.

“No eulogium I could use would do sufficient justice to the merits of my gallant officers and crew, which consisted of 116; the cool courage they displayed, and the precision of their fire, could only be equalled by their zeal to distinguish themselves; but I must beg leave to call your attention to the conduct of my first lieutenant, Thomas Welsh, of Mr. William Glanville, acting master, Mr William Ingram, purser, who volunteered his services on deck, and Mr. Richard Scott, boatswain.

“Our loss, I am happy to say, is small. Mr. William Young, master’s-mate, slain in the moment of victory, while animating, by his courage and example, all around him, and one able seaman killed; five other men wounded, who are doing well: that of the enemy I have not yet been able to ascertain.”

The Argus had 13 killed and mortally wounded, including among the latter her commander and 2 midshipmen: her other wounded consisted of the first lieutenant, W. H. Watson, and 13 men. When afterwards surveyed, at Plymouth, she was found to measure only 316 tons.

In this action Captain Maples had a narrow escape: a spent canister-shot struck, with some degree of force, one of his waistcoat buttons, and then fell on the deck. He was promoted to post-rank Aug. 23, 1813, and nominated a C.B. in Oct, 1815; since which latter period he has not been employed.

This officer married, in 1814, the widow of Mr. John Carthew, attorney, of Woodbridge, Suffolk, brother to Rear-Admiral Carthew.

Agents.– Messrs. Chard.