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Royal Naval Biography/Martin, George


SIR GEORGE MARTIN,
Admiral of the Blue; Knight Grand Cross of the most honourable Military Order of the Bath; Knight of the Neapolitan Order of St. Januarius[1]; and a Vice-President of the Naval Charitable Society.


We find no mention of this officer previous to the conclusion of the American war, when he commanded the Tobago sloop, on the Jamaica station. His promotion to the rank of Post-Captain took place March 17, 1783. From the period of the Spanish armament in 1790, to the commencement of hostilities against the French republic in 1793, he commanded the Porcupine, of 24 guns, on Channel service, and from that vessel removed to the Magicienne frigate, in which he proceeded to the West Indies, where he continued about two years.

Soon after his return to England Captain Martin was appointed to the Irresistible, of 74 guns, and was present in that ship at the defeat of the Spanish fleet off Cape St. Vincent, Feb. 14, 1797[2], on which occasion she sustained a loss of 5 men killed and 14 wounded.

On the 26th April, in the same year, the Irresistible, in company with the Emerald frigate, attacked two Spanish frigates which had anchored in Conil Bay, near Cape Trafalgar, and obliged them to surrender. They proved to be the Elena and Nimfa, of 36 guns and 320 men each. The former, after she had struck, cut her cable and ran ashore; Captain Martin, however, got her off, but so materially damaged that she could not be kept a-float, and was consequently destroyed. The enemy’s vessels were from the Havannah bound to Cadiz. They had about 50 men killed and wounded, the British only two.

Captain Martin’s next appointment was to the Northumberland, a 74 of the largest class, in which, after serving for some time off Brest, he again proceeded to the Mediterranean station, and on the 10th Feb. 1800, assisted at the capture of le Genereux, of 74 guns, by the squadron under the orders of Lord Nelson[3].

In the month of May following, Captain Martin succeeded to the command of the force employed in the blockade of Malta, which he conducted with the greatest perseverance and success until September 5, when the garrison of la Valette surrendered by capitulation. The following ships of war, &c. were found in the harbour; l’Athénien and le Dego, of 64 guns each; la Cartaginoise frigate; the two latter not in a state to proceed to sea; several gun-boats, and six merchant vessels[4].

We next find our officer accompanying the expedition sent against the French in Egypt, under the orders of Lord Keith and Sir Ralph Abercromby; and it appears by the official return of casualties at the landing of the army in Aboukir Bay[5], and during the subsequent operations, that the Northumberland sustained a full proportion. She returned to England, and was put out of commission in the autumn of 1802.

On the renewal of the war in 1803, Captain Martin obtained the command of the Colossus, 74; and subsequently the Barfleur, a second rate, in which latter ship he joined the Channel fleet under Admiral Cornwallis, and was present in the skirmish between Sir Robert Calder and Admiral Villeneuve, July 22, 1805[6]. The Barfleur on this occasion had 3 men killed, and 7 wounded.

At the general promotion, November 9, in the same year, Captain Martin was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral, and soon after hoisted his flag as second in command at Portsmouth during the absence of Sir Isaac Coffin on Admiralty leave. In 1807 we find him serving off Cadiz, and afterwards commanding the naval force employed in protecting Sicily from the hostile designs of the French, and cooperating with the Anglo-Sicilian army on the coast of Calabria. In the autumn of 1809, he proceeded down the Mediterranean, and joined the fleet under Lord Collingwood engaged in the blockade of Toulon.

The Commander-in-Chief having received intelligence that it was the enemy’s intention to relieve the garrison of Barcelona, took a station off Cape St. Sebastian, for the purpose of intercepting their fleet should they attempt to do so. On the night of the 22d October, he was joined by Captain Barrie, of the Pomone, who informed him that the day before several of the enemy’s squadron had put to sea from Toulon, that others were coming out when he left them, and that there was every appearance of the whole being on the move. On the following morning, one of the advanced frigates made the signal for a fleet to the eastward; and at ten o’clock, the Pomone gave information that the enemy had hauled to the wind, and the transports separated from the ships of war. Lord Collingwood thereupon ordered Rear-Admiral Martin to chase them with eight of the best sailing ships, two of which parted company in consequence of a shift of wind, during the ensuing night.

In the evening of the following day, the Rear-Admiral got sight of four sail, and pursued them till after dark; when the land near the entrance of the Rhone being directly to leeward, it became necessary to keep to the wind during the night. On the morning of the 25th, the same ships were again seen and chased between Cette and Frontignan, where they ran on shore. From the shoal water and intricacy of the navigation, it was impossible to get close enough to the two ships nearest Frontignan, to attack them; for in attempting to do so, part of Rear-Admiral Martin’s squadron was in less than six fathoms water. On the 26th, he sent the boats to sound; meaning, if possible, to buoy the channel (if any had been found) by which the enemy’s ships could be attacked; but at night he had the satisfaction to see them set on fire. They were the Robuste, of 84 guns, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Boudain, and the Leon, a 74. The ship of the line that ran on shore under the protection of the batteries at Cette, was the Borée, also of 74 guns[7]. The remainder of the French squadron escaped into Marseilles; but the transports having taken shelter in the bay of Rosas, were attacked and destroyed by a detachment from the fleet under Captain B. Hallowell of the Tigre. The destruction of this convoy proved a severe blow to the enemy, and gave renewed spirit to the exertions of the Spanish patriots.

Subsequent to the above event, the subject of this memoir returned to his station at Sicily, where he continued until the latter end of 1810, when he resigned his command and came to England. He was promoted to the rank of Vice-Admiral on the 31st July, in the same year; and during the latter part of the Peninsular war commanded the naval force employed at Lisbon. In the summer of 1814, when his present Majesty visited the fleet at Spithead, the Vice-Admiral received the honor of knighthood; and, on the 2d Jan. 1815, he was nominated a K.C.B. The Grand Cross of that Order, vacant by the death of Sir George Campbell, was conferred upon him, Feb. 20, 1821; and on the 21st July following he was made a full Admiral of the Blue.

Sir George Martin married, 1st, in April 1804, Miss Harriet Bentinck, a lady of considerable property, sister to Governor Bentinck, and the Rear-Admiral of that name; she died at Hampton Court, Oct. 15, 1806; 2dly, June 2, 1815, Miss Lock, daughter of the late ___ Lock, of Norbury Park, Esq.

Residence.– 8, Hertford-street, May-fair, London.



  1. In 1799, St. Januarius was convicted of Jacobinism; solemnly removed from his rank as patron saint of the Neapolitan kingdom; and St. Antonio as solemnly installed in his place. Quaere, At what period Was the former restored to favor?
  2. See p. 21 et seq.
  3. See Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Berry.
  4. The capture of the island of Malta will stand on the page of history as a most incontrovertible proof of the consequence of the British Navy, as well as of the unremitting assiduity of its commanders. Unassailable with any prospect of success, on account of its natural and artificial strength, the fortifications of Valette, which had bid defiance to the assaults of the most powerful armaments, scowled defiance on the usual methods of siege. To have proceeded according to the accustomed mode of attack, would have caused only the needless sacrifice of the lives of thousands, without materially advancing or furthering the wishes of the assailants. A more sure, but infinitely more tedious method, was prudently resolved ou; and a determinate perseverance effected that purpose which the utmost effort of human gallantry might probably have been unable to attain. When the labour, the difficulty, and the manifold impediments which naturally oppose the blockade of a port in a far distant quarter of the world, in defiance of an enemy, assiduous, enterprizing, brave, and anxious in the extreme to render the project abortive, are considered, the success which attended it cannot fail to reflect the highest honour on those who undertook the arduous task.
  5. See p. 259.
  6. See Vice-Admiral Charles Stirling.
  7. The name of the frigate is not known.