Royal Naval Biography/Martin, Thomas Byam
SIR THOMAS BYAM MARTIN,
Vice-Admiral of the White; Comptroller of his Majesty’s Navy; Knight Commander of the most honourable Military Order of the Bath; Knight of the Swedish Order of the Sword; a Director of Greenwich Hospital; a Commissioner of the Board of Longitude; and Member of Parliament for Plymouth.
This officer is the third son of the late Sir Henry Martin, Bart. Comptroller of the Navy, M.P. for Southampton, by Eliza Anne, daughter of Harding Parker, of Hilbrook, co. Cork, Esq. and widow of Hayward Gillman, Esq. At the commencement of the war with France in 1793, he was appointed to the command of the Tisiphone sloop, and accompanied the fleet under Lord Hood to the Mediterranean, on which station he was promoted into the Modeste, a French frigate that had been seized at Genoa by Rear-Admiral Gell, for a breach of the neutrality of that port. His post commission bears date Nov. 5, 1793. He subsequently served at the reduction of Bastia, in the island of Corsica; and in 1795 we find him commanding the Santa Margarita, of 40 guns and 237 men, on the Irish station, where, in company with the Cerberus frigate, he captured le Jean Bart, a French, corvette of 18 guns.
At day-break on the morning of the 8th June, 1796, the Santa Margarita, being to the westward of Scilly, fell in with two frigates and a corvette, to which chace was immediately given. At 1 P.M. the strangers commenced, with their stern-chasers, a quick and well directed fire; which, from its destructive effects on the sails and rigging, greatly retarded the progress of their pursuers. At 4 o’clock the sternmost ship, finding it impossible to escape, bore round up and endeavoured to rake the Santa Margarita, which design, however, was baffled by a most skilful manoeuvre of the British commander, who not only evaded the intended salute, but placed his ship with great gallantry close alongside of his opponent, and in less than 20 minutes compelled him to strike. The prize proved to be the Tamise, of 42 guns and 306 men, 32 of whom were killed and 19 wounded, several of them mortally. The Santa Margarita had only 2 men killed and 3 wounded. The other French frigate was taken after an arduous chace and gallant action, by the Unicorn. The corvette effected her escape.
Towards the latter end of October in the same year, Captain Martin captured the French privateers, le Buonaparte of 16 guns and 137 men, and le Vengeur of 18 guns and 110 men. Early in 1797, he was appointed to the Tamar frigate, stationed in the West Indies, where he cruized with considerable success, intercepting in a few months no less than nine privateers, carrying in the whole 58 guns, and 519 men. Our officer returned to England in the Dictator, 64; and soon after his arrival obtained the command of the Fisgard, of 46 guns and 281 men, in which ship, on the morning of the 20th Oct. 1798, being off Brest, he fell in with an enemy’s ship, and after an hour’s running fight, brought her to close action, which lasted for 25 minutes, when the Fisgard became perfectly ungovernable, the whole of her running rigging being cut to pieces. The enemy taking advantage of her crippled situation, endeavoured to make off; but by the active exertions of the Fisgard’s officers and crew, in replacing the damages, she was soon enabled to close with her opponent, and renewed the battle with great spirit and resolution, which terminated in an hour and 50 minutes, by the surrender of l’Immortalité, a fine new frigate, mounting 42 guns, 24-pounders on the main-deck, and long nines, with 42-pounder carronades on the quarter-deck and forecastle. She was one of the squadron that composed the expedition to Ireland, and had on board 580 men, including troops, of which number her brave Commander, his First Lieutenant, General Menage a passenger, 7 other officers, and 44 men were killed, and 61 wounded. The Fisgard, whose crew was new and inexperienced, had 10 men slain and 26 wounded.
Subsequent to this event, Captain Martin was placed under the orders of Sir John B. Warren, and employed in various services on the coast of France, among which the following are the most important: On the morning of June 23, 1800, an attack was made by the boats of the squadron, under the immediate directions of Captain Martin, on some armed and other vessels in Quimper river. Two parties of marines were landed, one on each bank of the river, in order to protect the boats in the execution of this service, which were going on with expedition to the attack; but it was then found that the enemy had removed to an inaccessible height up the river. The British then immediately landed, and stormed and blew up three batteries, on which were mounted seven 24-pounders, together with their magazines.
On the 1st of the following month, the Commodore having been informed that a ship of war and a number of merchant vessels were lying within the island of Noirmoutier, destined for Brest, resolved to attempt their destruction. Captain Martin was appointed to head and direct this enterprise; and the boats to be employed were ordered to assemble on board the Fisgard. As the enemy never conceived themselves free from danger, while there was a bare possibility of the British seamen getting at them, they had used every means in their power to defend and protect these vessels; they were lying within the sands in Bourneuf Bay, moored in a strong position, under the protection of six heavy batteries, besides flanking guns on every projecting point. The boats destined for the attack were formed into three divisions, and the whole plan was arranged with great judgment and skill by Captain Martin; he was fully aware of the difficulties he had to encounter, and the opposition which he should probably meet with, and he had taken his measures accordingly. After having given proper directions to Lieutenant Burke, to whom was entrusted the immediate management and command of the enterprise, the boats were sent from the Fisgard, soon after it became dark. By midnight, they reached their destination; immediately boarded, and after experiencing a very formidable resistance, succeeded in obtaining possession of the ship of war, four armed vessels, and merchantmen; but, as they found it impracticable to bring them out, the whole were burnt. The most arduous and dangerous part of the business was still to be performed. It has been already stated, that the enemy’s vessels were lying within the island, and very near the sands; before the boats could get out into deep water, the tide fell, and they grounded; in less than ten minutes they were left completely dry. In this unfortunate and unexpected situation, they were exposed to a continued fire from the forts; and besides this, a body of 400 French soldiers drew up in their rear, and fired on them with great effect. In this critical state of their affairs, they resolved to make an attempt, so very singularly daring, that none but British seamen could have either executed or conceived it; they determined to make an attack on some other vessels of the enemy, for the purpose of securing one sufficiently large to carry off the whole party, as there was no chance of their succeeding in getting off all their own boats: they accordingly set out, and succeeded in gaining possession of a vessel suited for their purpose; but she lay on the opposite side of the bay, and before she could be of service to them, it was necessary to drag her upwards of two miles over the sands; this, too, with great intrepidity and exertion, they accomplished; but before she was afloat, they were up to their necks in the water. Having secured the vessel, they proceeded on board the Fisgard. In this affair 7 officers and 185 men were employed; of these 100 secured their retreat; and 4 officers and 88 men were made prisoners. Captain Martin continued to command the Fisgard during the remainder of the war; and in addition to the above services, either took, or assisted at the capture, of the following French and Spanish armed vessels:– La Venus of 32 guns and 200 men; Dragon corvette, 14 guns; la Gironde privateer, 16 guns, 141 men; l’Alerte, do. 14 guns, 84 men; El Vivo national vessel, 14 guns, 100 men; and three others mounting 18 guns.
On the renewal of hostilities, in 1803, our officer commissioned the Impetueux, 84, at Plymouth, and was employed in her off Brest, Ferrol, and Corunna, until the summer of 1807, when he joined the Prince of Wales, a second rate, from which ship he removed about the latter end of the same year into the Implacable, 74, and soon after proceeded to the Baltic, to which station a fleet had been sent under the orders of Sir James Saumarez, for the purpose of co-operating with the Swedes, who were at that time engaged in a war with Russia.
We are not aware of Captain Martin having participated in any affair requiring particular notice until the 26th Aug. 1808, on which day he greatly distinguished himself by the very gallant manner in which he attacked the Sewolod of 74 guns, whose fire he silenced in about 20 minutes, and was only prevented capturing her by the near approach of the whole Russian fleet, which bore up to her support. She afterwards grounded on a shoal at the entrance of the port of Rogerswick, and in that position was attacked by Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, in the Centaur, who compelled her to surrender after an obstinate defence, in which and in the action with the Implacable, she had no less than 303 men slain, wounded, and missing. The loss sustained by the British ships amounted to 9 killed and 53 wounded. For his bravery on this occasion, his Swedish Majesty conferred upon Captain Martin the insignia of a Knight of the Order of the Sword.
In the following year, the Implacable was stationed on the coast of Finland, where the boats of a small squadron under the orders of Captain Martin, performed several brilliant exploits in cutting out the enemy’s armed vessels and transports.
On the 31st July, 1810, a general promotion of Flag-Officers took place, on which occasion the subject of this memoir obtained the command of the Royal Sovereign yacht. He was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral, Aug. 1st, in the following year, and soon after returned to the Baltic, with his flag in the Aboukir of 74 guns.
During his continuance on that station, the Rear-Admiral, by the judicious disposition of the force under his command, contributed greatly to the defence of Riga, at that period besieged by the French army. After his return from thence he appears to have served for some time as second in command at Plymouth. He received the honor of Knighthood in the summer of 1814; was nominated a K.C.B. Jan. 2, 1815; succeeded Sir T. B. Thompson as Comptroller of the Navy in 1816; became a Vice-Admiral, Aug. 12, 1819; and was sworn in a burgess of Lymington, Aug. 22, 1821.
Residence.– 8, Somerset Place.
- Sir Henry Martin was a great-grandson of Colonel John Thomas, who commanded the Barbadoes regiment, and greatly distinguished himself at the capture of St. Christopher’s in 1690, from whom are descended the branches of various families of the nobility and gentry of this realm. Sir Henry was created a Baronet, June 21, 1791; died Aug. 1, 1794, and was succeeded by his eldest son Sir Henry William, the present Baronet.
- See p. 363.
- See p. 254.
- The Tamise had formerly been the British frigate Thames; during the 20 months she had been in the French navy, she had been a very active cruizer.
- See p. 388.
- See Sir Edward Thornbrough.
- Therése, 20 guns; a lugger of 12 guns; two schooners, each mounting 6 guns; and a cutter of the same force.
- The Sewolod was burnt by the captors.