Royal Naval Biography/Mounsey, William
WILLIAM MOUNSEY, Esq.
A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1809.]
Fifth son of the late George Mounsey, of Carlisle, co. Cumberland, Esq.; and grandson of the late Rev. Robert Mounsey, Vicar of Ravenstonedale, in Westmoreland.
This distinguished officer commenced his naval career Feb. 23, 1780, at the age of thirteen years, as a midshipman on board the Royal Oak 74, Captain Sir Digby Dent, which ship formed part of a squadron sent out, in May following, to reinforce Vice-Admiral Arbuthnot, on the North American station; it being known that M. de Ternay and the Count de Rochambeau had recently sailed from Brest with a formidable naval and military force, bound to Rhode Island. In the course of his first voyage across the Atlantic, Mr. Mounsey witnessed the capture of a valuable French East Indiaman.
The Royal Oak and her consorts arrived off Sandy Hook on the 13th July, only two days after the French commanders had reached the anchorage to which they were destined, and where they secured themselves so completely as to put it out of the power of the British to make an attack with any other prospect than that of discomfiture.
From the Royal Oak, Mr. Mounsey removed with Sir Digby Dent to the Raisonable 64; the commander-in-chief having selected the former ship to bear his flag.
Returning home with despatches, the Raisonable encountered the tail of a hurricane, and was so much shattered that it became necessary to frap her sides together: she was consequently paid off immediately after her arrival.
We next find Mr. Mounsey serving under Sir Digby Dent in the Repulse, a new 64, forming part of the squadron detached from Vice-Admiral Darby’s fleet to cover the landing of provisions and stores at Gibraltar, in April 1781. While on that service she was frequently engaged with the Spanish flotilla, and previous to her departure from the bay the greater part of the besieged town was totally destroyed by the enemy’s land batteries.
Towards the close of the same year, Mr. Mounsey followed Sir Digby Dent into the Cumberland 74, which ship was shortly afterwards placed under the command of Captain William Allen, to whom he was strongly recommended by his early and constant patron, whose ill health had obliged him to retire from active service.
On the 6th Feb. 1782, the Cumberland sailed for India, in company with a squadron under Commodore Sir Richard Bickerton (to whose favorable notice Mr. Mounsey was likewise recommended) , and she appears to have sustained a loss of 2 men killed and 11 wounded in the last battle between Sir Edward Hughes and M. de Suffrein, fought off Cuddalore, June 20, 1783.
Mr. Mounsey returned to England in May, 1784; and served the remainder of his time as midshipman on board the Orestes sloop. Captain Manley Dixon. After passing the usual examination, he successively joined the Arethusa frigate, Captain John Stanhope; Victory of 100 guns, bearing the flag of Lord Hood during the Spanish and Russian armaments; Duke 98, flag-ship of the same noble veteran in 1792; and Juno frigate, Captain Samuel Hood.
At the commencement of the French revolutionary war, Mr. Mounsey was again received on board the Victory, in which ship Lord Hood was then about to sail for the Mediterranean. His promotion to the rank of Lieutenant took place May 22, 1793, on which occasion he was appointed by his Lordship to the Ardent 64, Captain Robert Manners Sutton.
Mr. Mounsey was now about to enter into a series of very active and hazardous services. On the arrival of the fleet under Lord Hood at Gibraltar, he received an appointment to the Lowestoffe frigate, Captain William Wolseley, under whose command he assisted at the occupation of Toulon ; the attack upon Fornelli, in Corsica; and the reduction of St. Fiorenzo, Bastia, and Calvi. During the blockade of Bastia, he volunteered his services to cut out a vessel from under a battery on the island of Capraja, and the protection of numerous troops, who, together with her crew, kept up a continual fire as the Lowestoffe’s boats advanced. This vessel was laden with powder, and her capture greatly accelerated the fall of Bastia.
Lieutenant Mounsey returned home in the Imperieuse frigate, and was afterwards appointed in succession to the Trident 64, Impregnable 98, Duke of similar force, Defiance 74, and Clyde 38; the latter ship commanded by that excellent officer. Captain (now Commissioner) Cunningham, with whom he continued until his promotion, April 29, 1802.
On the 6th July, 1801, the boats of the Clyde and her consorts, under the directions of Lieutenant Mounsey, set fire to, and totally destroyed the wreck of the Jason frigate; a service most gallantly executed, under a heavy fire from two French batteries, and in the presence of two large frigates, a corvette, and eight gun-vessels, then lying at St. Maloes. From May 17, 1802, until the autumn of 1808, Captain Mounsey commanded the Rosario sloop; and was successively employed protecting the revenue, carrying despatches to the Mediterranean, cruising on the Irish, Boulogne, and Havre stations, reconnoitring the enemy’s ports in the north of Spain, assisting at the capture of the Danish West India islands, and escorting a fleet of merchantmen from the Leeward Islands to England. During the above period he captured two Dutch ships from Surinam and Berbice, laden with colonial produce, and ten other of the enemies’ merchant vessels: he also assisted at the capture of l’Atalante, French ship privateer, of 22 guns and 120 men.
Captain Mounsey’s next appointment was, April 18, 1800, to the Bonne Citoyenne, a flush-decked ship, mounting 18 thirty-two-pounder carronades and 2 long nines, with a complement of 120 officers, men and boys. In that sloop he first proceeded to Lisbon, with despatches for Karl St. Vincent; and subsequently sailed from England in company with the trade bound to Quebec. On his way thither he fell in with, pursued, and after a sanguinary battle of nearly seven hours, captured la Furieuse French frigate, armed en flute; an event which added fresh lustre to his Majesty’s arms, and fully entitled him to the marks of royal and official favor which he afterwards received. The following is a copy of his public letter to Sir John B. Warren, Bart, dated at Halifax, Aug. 1, 1809, reporting that brilliant occurrence:
“Sir,– I have the honor to acquaint you, for the information of my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that, having sailed from Spithead, on the 18th June, in company with H.M.S. Inflexible and the Quebec trade, on the 2d July, in lat. 44° N. long. 27° W., I had the misfortune to lose sight of the convoy when reconnoitring a strange suspicious sail astern, and by traversing between the parallels of 43° and 44° N., edging to the westward in proportion to the distance I supposed they would sail with such winds. In order to regain the fleet, I had the good fortune on the 5th, at 3 P.M., in lat. 43° 41' N., and long. 34° W., to fall in with a French frigate in the act of taking possession of a large English merchant ship, which they relinquished on our approach, steering to the northward under a press of sail. Finding they did not answer the private signal, I immediately bore up in pursuit, and, after a chase of 18 hours, at 9-25 A.M. on the 6th, had the satisfaction to lay H.M. sloop alongside within pistol-shot of the enemy, who had brought to, to engage us.
“A brisk cannonade with round and grape immediately commenced, and the combat continued with unabated fury, gradually closing until 4-16 P.M., when our powder being nearly expended I determined to carry her by boarding with all hands; and at the instant of laying her aboard for that purpose, they called out they had surrendered, and struck their colours to H.M. sloop. Thus ended a conflict obstinately maintained for six hours and fifty minutes, during which the enemy fired away more than 70 broadsides, whilst H.M. sloop, not less sparing, discharged 129 destructive broadsides, alternately from the starboard and larboard sides, as circumstances would permit me to change her position with advantage, so as to avoid the necessity of slackening our fire from the guns being over-heated; three of which were dismounted and rendered useless early in the action.
“She proved to be la Furieuse, a French frigate of the largest class, that escaped from the Saintes on the 1st April, pierced for 48 guns, but having only 12 forty-two-pounder carronades and 2 long twenty-four pounders on the main deck, with 6 of smaller calibre,” (James says 8-pounders); “40 soldiers at small arms, her full proportion of officers, and a complement of 200 men, besides the Colonel, 2 Lieutenants, and a detachment of the 66th regiment of the line; partly loaded with sugar and coffee; last from Basse Terre, bound to France; she is seven years old, and sails very fast.
“After a hard contested action, a most arduous duty still remained to be performed. On taking possession, we found the frigate in a most perilous state, with 14 shot-holes between wind and water, and 5 feet water in her hold. Her top-masts, and all her yards (except the cross-jack and sprit-sail) shot away, and her lower-masts so badly wounded as to render it almost impossible to prevent them from falling; with more than 70 men killed and wounded: whilst H.M. sloop was reduced to a mere wreck, having all her lower-masts badly wounded in several places, the top-masts shot away, and nearly all the standing, and every part of the running rigging, sails, boats, &c. cut to pieces. After securing the prisoners, the weather being very favourable during the night, by the exertions of Mr. (Williams) Sandom, second Lieutenant, and Mr. Atwater, the carpenter, several of the most dangerous shot-holes were stopped, so as to enable them to keep the ship free: but all their efforts to save her masts proved ineffectual, as the main and mizen went overboard the next aay, leaving the bare fore-mast standing, wounded in three places.
“The indefatigable exertions of every officer and man in the Bonne Citoyenne, in fishing and securing her masts, so as to be able to take the frigate in tow, and surmounting every other difficulty, merits my warmest praise and admiration; and I feel highly gratified in reporting to their lordships, that nothing could exceed the animated zeal and unwearied intrepidity of the officers, seamen, and royal marines, whom I have the honor to command, in a contest with an enemy apparently of so great a superiority of force; and I beg particularly to mention the able assistance that I received from Mr. (Joseph) Symes, the first Lieutenant, Mr. Sandom, and Mr. (Nathaniel) Williamson, the master, which contributed greatly to the success of the action; Mr. (John N. C.) Scott, the purser, Mr. John Black, and Mr. M‘Auley, passengers, in the handsomest manner, volunteered their services, assisted at the guns, and wherever they could make themselves most useful; and Mr. Stewart, the surgeon, deserves much praise for his humanity and great attention to our own as well as the wounded prisoners; indeed the patience with which all hands have borne the extreme fatigue and privation of being constantly on deck for 25 days and nights, does them infinite credit, and urges me to so long a detail.
“Thus circumstanced, I was induced to make the best of my way to this port, where I arrived with the prize on the 1st instant. The Bonne Citoyenne requiring three lower-masts, top-masts, &c. to enable her to proceed in the execution of their lordships’ orders. I have the honor herewith to enclose a list of the killed and wounded, and I am happy to say our loss has been inconceivably small, which I can attribute only to the lowness of the Bonne Citoyenne’s hull, and being so close under the enemy’s guns.
“Admiralty, Sept. 20, 1809.
“Sir,– I did not fail this day, to lay before his Majesty the particulars of your conduct in the attack and capture of the Furieuse, French frigate, on the 6th July. The enterprising gallantry with which you approached and attacked a ship bearing such an appearance of a commanding superiority of force, and the skill, courage, and perseverance manifested by you, and by the officers, seamen, and uiarines under your command, during an action of such long continuance, and so warmly contested, have received his Majesty’s fullest approbation; and his Majesty has been graciously pleased to bestow on you a medal, as an honorable memorial of your very gallant and distinguished conduct on that occasion. It has given me the greatest satisfaction to sign a commission promoting you to the rank of Post-Captain, and appointing you to the command of the fine frigate, which you have so nobly added to the naval force of the country; I have also great pleasure in notifying to you the promotion of Lieutenant Symes, to the rank of Commander, and I have to request that you will transmit to me the names of the warrant officers of the Bonne Citoyenne, with a view to their promotion in their several ranks; together with the name of the mate, or midshipman, whom you shall recommend for the rank of Lieutenant, and the names of any very meritorious petty officers severally under the boatswain, gunner, and carpenter, who may be deserving of promotion, and qualified to receive it. I trust that this general promotion, through every rank serving in the Bonne Citoyenne, may be a satisfactory testimony of my estimation of the action which has been achieved; and may operate as an incentive to others, to emulate an example so worthy of imitation and applause. I have the honor to be, with the highest esteem, &c.
“To Captain Mounsey.”
The Furieuse requiring a thorough repair, in consequence of her shattered state, was not got ready for commissioning before Nov. 1811; at which period Captain Mounsey received orders to take charge of the outward-bound Lisbon and Mediterranean trade. During the remainder of the war with France, he was very actively employed under the command of Sir Edward Pellew, by whom he was, at first, attached to the inshore squadron off Toulon; secondly, sent on a cruise off Corsica, where his boats captured a French tartan loaded with wheat; and, thirdly, placed under the orders of the senior officer on the coasts of Naples and Sicily. In Nov. 1812, and Jan. 1813, he captured the French privateers Nebrophonus and Argus, each mounting 4 guns; the former carrying 54, and the latter 85 men. His gallant and officer-like conduct at the capture of Ponza, Feb. 26, 1813, was highly spoken of by Captain Charles Napier, a copy of whose official letter, reporting the manner in which that island was obtained possession of, will be found at p. 5 et seq.
On the 7th of May following, the boats of the Furieuse, commanded by Lieutenants Walter Croker and Williams Sandom, cut out, from under the tower and batteries of Orbitello, a xebec mounting 2 six-pounders; in the performance of which service, Mr. Webb midshipman, and three seamen were wounded, the former dangerously and the others severely.
The result of an attack made upon a French convoy about six miles to the eastward of Civita Vecchia is thus described by Captain Mounsey:
“H.M.S. Furieuse, at sea, Oct. 8, 1813.
“On the 4th inst., running along the coast to the island of Ponza, at 1 P.M., I observed a convoy of nineteen vessels in the harbour of Marinelo, protected by two gun-boats, a fort of two long 24-pounders, and a strong fortified castle and tower; and it appearing practicable to cut them out, as the wind was fair for that purpose. Lieutenants Croker and (William) Lester, with Lieutenants (James) Whylock and (William) Davies, R.M., gallantly volunteered to storm the fort on the land side, with the whole of the marines and boats’ crews, whilst the ship anchored before it, which service was promptly performed; and after a few broadsides, I had the satisfaction of seeing the battery carried, and guns spiked, by our gallant party on shore. The enemy retreated, and took the strong positions of the castle and tower overlooking the harbour, where they kept up a constant fire of musketry through loop-holes, without the possibility of being dislodged; although I weighed and moved in, so that the whole fire of the ship was directed against them. Nothing could damp the ardour of the party on shore, who, together with Lieutenant Lester in the boats, lost not a moment in boarding and cutting the cables of 16 vessels, under a most galling fire,two of which were sunk in the entrance of the harbour, and fourteen got out. I have to regret the loss of 12 brave men killed and wounded; which is less than might have been expected, as more than 500 troops arrived from Civita Vecchia, but were checked in their advance, and forced to take a circuitous route, by a well-directed fire from the ship, which allowed sufficient time for all our men to embark * * * * * . The whole of this service was most successfully accomplished in three hours, and fourteen vessels deeply laden (with salt, tobacco, marble, and sundries), got off, which I was obliged to take in tow, as their sails had all been unbent, and taken on shore, to prevent our getting them out.”
The Furieuse formed part of the squadron under Sir Josias Rowley, at the capture of Via Reggio and the unsuccessful attempt upon Leghorn, in Dec. 1813. She also assisted at the occupation of Santa Maria and the other forts, &c. in the Gulpli of Spezzia; likewise at the reduction of Genoa and its dependencies, in March and April, 1814.
After the cessation of hostilities between Great Britain and France, Captain Mounsey proceeded from Gibraltar to Bermuda, in company with a squadron under the orders of Captain Andrew King. We next find him conveying the 62d regiment to Halifax; and he was subsequently employed in an expedition up the Penobscot river, where he remained until the peace with America, in command of a small naval force left behind by Rear-Admiral Griffith, to assist the troops under Major-General Gosselin in fortifying and defending the peninsula of Castine. The Furieuse was paid off shortly after the final overthrow of Napoleon Buonaparte, since which Captain Mounsey’s services have not been called for.
This gallant officer was nominated a C.B. in June, 1815; and as a further testimony of the royal approbation of his zeal and energy (on the 6th July, 1809), some honorable distinctions allusive to the capture of the Furieuse, to be borne in his armorial ensigns, have more recently been granted and assigned to him by the Kings of Arms, under the authority of the Earl Marshal.
Agent.– Joseph Dufaur, Esq.
- George Mounsey, Esq. had fourteen children, twelve of whom were still living in Dec. 1827.
- See Vol. I, Part I. p. 4, and note ‡ at p. 33.
- See Vol. I, Part I, note at p. 425.
- Weazle sloop, two gun-brigs, and two luggers.
- See Vol. II, Part I. p. 80.
- See Vol. I, Part I, last par. at p. 263.
- Bonne Citoyenne, 1 killed, 6 wounded. – Furieuse, 35 killed, 37 wounded.
- A public letter from the Secretary of the Admiralty, dated three days after the above, informed Captain Mounsey that he was to take post-rank from the day of the action, and directed him “to signify to Lieutenant Symes, that it was the intention of their Lordships, as a reward for his gallant services, to promote him to the rank of Commander, the moment he should have completed his two years’ servitude as a Lieutenant,” which latter rank he did not obtain before March 13, 1808.
- See Commander Rowland Mainwaring.
- The vessels sunk were the two gun-boats, each mounting a long brass 24-pounder and 4 swivels. One of the merchantmen was pierced for 12 guns, and had two long sixes mounted.
- See Vol. II. Part I. pp. 424–428.
- See Id. pp. 428–430.
- See Vol. I. Part. ; and . p. 558Vol. II. Part. II. p. 729 et seq.