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Royal Naval Biography/Nourse, Joseph


JOSEPH NOURSE, Esq.
A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1804.]

This officer was made a Lieutenant Dec. 10, 1799, and served as such on board the Courageux, of 74 guns, commanded by the late Vice-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, K.B. by whom he was successively advanced to the rank of Commander and Post-Captain.

On the 29th Aug. 1800, Lieutenant Nourse volunteered to assist in cutting out an enemy’s ship from under the batteries in Vigo bay, which service was gallantly performed by the boats of a squadron under Sir John Borlase Warren, The enemy made a most desperate resistance, her commander having secured the hatchways to prevent his people from retreating, and cheered the British as they advanced to the attack, She proved to be la Guêpe, French privateer, of 300 tons, mounting 18 nine-pounders, with a complement of 161 men; 25 of whom were killed, and 40 wounded. The boats, (20 in number) had only 4 men killed, 1 drowned, and 20 wounded. Among the latter were Lieutenants Henry Burke (the senior officer) severely, John Henry Holmes, and Joseph Nourse, slightly[1].

At the latter end of 1802, when Sir Samuel Hood resided at Trinidad as one of his Majesty’s joint Commissioners for that island, Lieutenant Nourse commanded the Advice, a small vessel employed as a tender to the colony; and when his friend succeeded to the chief command on the Leeward Islands’ station, vacant by the death of Rear-Admiral Totty, he accompanied him into the Blenheim 74, from which ship Sir Samuel’s broad pendant was afterwards removed into the Centaur of similar force.

After assisting at the reduction of St. Lucia and Tobago, in 1803, Lieutenant Nourse was promoted to the rank of Commander in the Cyane sloop of war. On the 2d Jan. 1804, he re-captured an English coast of Guinea trader; and in the course of six weeks from that period, we find him capturing three French privateers, carrying in the whole 30 guns and 236 men. His post-commission bears date April 30. 1804.

In our memoir of Captain Frederick L. Maitland we have noticed the capture of le Braave, a French privateer on the Irish station, Mar. 16, 1804. This vessel was purchased by the merchants of Barbadoes, presented by them to Government, commissioned as a post-ship, and placed under the command of Captain Nourse, who on the fourth day of his first cruise, Oct. 17, 1804, after a chase of 13 hours, and an exchange of bow and stern-chasers, captured the Napoleon, French privateer, of 18 guns and 150 men. A few days afterwards l’Heureux, of 10 six-pounders and 80 men shared a similar fate; and on the 8th April, 1805, la Desirée, of 14 guns and 71 men, was added to his list of prizes. This latter vessel, a fine schooner, after being decoyed within musket-shot, had the temerity to return his fire, by which she suffered a loss of 7 men killed and wounded.

Captain Nourse subsequently commanded the Frederickstein, Volontaire, and Severn frigates, on the Mediterranean and North American stations. The following account of a novel proceeding, extracted from the Naval Chronicle, may not prove unacceptable to those who have never before heard it related:

“On the 30th Aug. 1811, a Court-Martial assembled on board H.M. ship Hibernia at sea (off Toulon) – President, Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Goodwin Keats, K.B. The Court proceeded to the trial of Mr. John M‘Arthur, Purser of H.M. ship Volontaire, on charges preferred against him by Lieutenant Shaw, first of the said ship, namely disobedience of orders; disrespect to him; and mutinous expressions at the gun-room table. Captain the Hon. George Granville Waldegrave, prosecutor. The Court having been duly sworn, the prisoner read a paper, purporting, that he had been put into arrest at the time when the offence was said to have been committed, and continued in arrest for the space of fourteen days; that, wishing to avoid a court-martial, he proposed making an apology; which was acceded to, and he accordingly did make an apology on the quarter-deck of the same ship, in the presence of Captain Nourse (who then commanded the Volontaire) and all the officers who were present at the time the alleged offence was committed: that in consequence of the said apology, he was released from his arrest, and continued in the full execution of his duty; that he dined at the Captain’s table in turn, according to the usage of the ship; and that he humbly conceived the humane intentions of the law would be frustrated, if he were, under such circumstances, amenable to a court-martial; and, therefore, begged to submit these considerations to the honorable court. The Court was cleared for deliberation; and, on the opening, Captain Nourse was called and sworn; he fully corroborated the foregoing statement. The Court, therefore, without going further into the business, adjudged the prisoner to be acquitted.”

Captain Nourse was appointed to the Severn about July 1813, and in Nov. following he sailed from England with a fleet of transports and merchantmen under his protection, bound to Bermuda. We next find him employed under the orders of Rear -Admiral Cockburn during the expeditions against Washington and Baltimore, in Aug. and Sept. 1814[2]. His conduct on those occasions is thus mentioned in that officer’s despatches relative to the latter enterprise:

“Captain Nourse, of the Severn, was good enough to receive my flag for this service; he rendered me great assistance in getting the ships to the different stations within the river (Patapsco); and when the storming of the fortified hill was contemplated, he hastened to my assistance with a reinforcement of seamen and marines. I should consider myself wanting in candour and justice, did I not particularly point out, Sir, to you, the high opinion I entertain of the enterprise and ability of this valuable officer, not only for his conduct on this occasion, but on the very many others on which I have employed him since with me in the Chesapeake.”

Captain Nourse subsequently proceeded to the coast of Georgia, and assisted at the capture of St. Mary’s a town near Point Petre, Jan. 13, 1815[3]. Among the captures made by him on the American station were two privateer schooners, and a letter of marque, carrying in the whole 22 guns and 241 men.

The Severn being paid off on her return to England, Captain Nourse remained on half-pay from that period till Nov. 1, 1821, when he was appointed Commodore and Commander-in-chief on the Cape station, where he fell a sacrifice to the climate of Eastern Africa, having caught the fever of that country whilst prosecuting various interesting services which it does not fall within our province to record. He died on board the Andromache frigate, when returning from the island of Mombass to Mauritius, Sept. 4, 1824, having previously run down the western coast of Madagascar, visited the extensive bay of Bembatooka, passed the Comoros, and touched at the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, belonging to the Imaun of Muscat.



  1. La Guêpe was afterwards the British sloop of war Wasp. See p. 592 et seq.
  2. See Vol. I. pp. 524–527.
  3. See p. 734, and note * at p. 738 of this volume.