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Royal Naval Biography/Nugent, Charles Edmund

Admiral of the Red.

Sir Gilbert De Nugent, with his brethren and relations, accompanied Hugh de Lacie in the expedition to Ireland, in the reign of Henry II, when that kingdom became first subject to the English crown. On this occasion Sir Hugh gave his sister, Rosa, to Sir Gilbert in marriage, with the Barony of Delvin, in the county of Meath, to him and his heirs; from whom descended Richard, tenth Lord Delvin, and first Earl of Westmeath[1], the immediate ancestor of the subject of this memoir.

Mr. Charles Edmund Nugent was born about the year 1760; and entered the naval service at an early age in the Scorpion sloop, commanded by Captain G. K. Elphinstone, now Viscount Keith, in which vessel he remained till the year 1774.

Towards the latter end of 1775[errata 1], he was appointed third Lieutenant of the Bristol, of 50 guns, bearing the broad pendant of Sir Peter Parker, who sailed from Portsmouth, on the 26th Dec., with a squadron of ships of war, and a fleet of transports, having on board a large body of troops, under the command of Earl Cornwallis, destined for an attack on Charlestown, in South America.

Early in May 1776[errata 2] Sir Peter arrived off Cape Fear, where he was joined by General Clinton, and a reinforcement of military. It was the beginning of June before the fleet crossed the bar, having been delayed a considerable time in bringing the heavy ships to an easy draught of water; it was then found necessary, before they could advance higher up, to possess themselves of Sullivan’s Island, which lay about six miles below the town, and was strongly fortified. The Americans had long exerted their utmost ability and ingenuity to put this place in a formidable state of defence; they had expended considerable sums of money in the erection of fortifications; and it was garrisoned by 300 men. On the morning of the 28th June, the General and Commodore having finally settled their plan, the Thunder-bomb took her station, covered by an armed ship, and began to throw shells into the fort; at the same time the Bristol, Experiment, Active,[errata 3] and Solebay, brought up and opened a most furious cannonade. The Sphynx, Syren, and Actaeon, owing to the unskilfulness of their pilots in coming up to their stations, ran upon some shoals and stuck fast; the two first were with much difficulty hauled off, but not until it was too late for them to be of any service. It being found impossible to save the Actaeon, she was ordered to be scuttled and burnt.

The springs of the Bristol’s cables being cut by the shot, she lay for some time exposed to a dreadful raking fire. Captain Morris, her commander[2], was severely wounded in several places, notwithstanding which he refused to quit the deck, until a shot took off his arm, when he was obliged to be carried below, and soon after expired. The firmness with which the enemy stood to their guns, added to their constant and deliberate fire, made great havock on board the ships. The Bristol’s quarter-deck was once entirely cleared, excepting the Commodore, who, together with all under his command, displayed the most intrepid courage and resolution. Unfortunately, the army under General Clinton all this time remained inactive, not having been able to cross that part of the river which the guides had represented as fordable. Upon the approach of night, Sir Peter Parker finding all hopes of success at an end, called off his shattered ships before the ebb tide was too far spent, and retired out of reach of the enemy’s shot. In this dreadful cannonade, which continued above ten hours, the Bristol had 111 men killed and wounded.

The high opinion which Commodore Parker entertained of Lieutenant Nugent’s exertions during the attack upon Sullivan’s Island, is handsomely expressed in his official despatches on that occasion, from which we make the following extract; “Lieutenants Caulfield, Molloy, and Nugent, were the Lieutenants of the Bristol in the action; they behaved so remarkably well, that it is impossible tosay to whom the preference is due.”

After this failure, the fleet repassed the bar, and proceeded to New York, in the reduction of which town[3] Lieutenant Nugent was again actively engaged. On the llth Dec., in the same year, Sir Peter Parker and General Clinton were sent to reduce Rhode Island. On the approach of the squadron, the Americans abandoned their strong posts, and the island was taken possession of without the loss of a man. This was the last service of importance in which our officer was engaged during his stay on the American station. In the spring of 1778, he was made a Commander, and on the 2nd May 1779, promoted to the rank of Post Captain in the Pomona, of 28 guns, stationed at Jamaica, under the orders of Sir Peter Parker, who had by this time attained the rank of Vice-Admiral.

In the autumn of 1779 the bay men on the Musquito shore, and in the bay of Honduras, being in great danger of an attack from the Spaniards, who had landed at St. George’s Quay, the inhabitants of which they plundered and treated with great cruelty, Sir Peter despatched the Porcupine sloop to co-operate with a detachment of troops sent from Jamaica for their protection. About the same time the Hon. Captain Luttrell was detached with the Charon, of 44 guns, the Pomona and Lowestoffe frigates, and Racehorse schooner, for the purpose of intercepting some register ships, in the bay of Dulce. They took shelter, however, under the strong fortress of St Fernando de Omoa. It fortunately happened that Captain Luttrell fell in with the Porcupine, and the troops that had accompanied her, returning; they having performed the service on which they had been sent, and entirely driven the Spaniards from that part of the coast. It was now agreed between the naval and military Commanders, to unite their forces, and to proceed immediately to the attack of Fort Omoa. On the 15th Oct. they arrived before the place, and landed the troops, marines, &c., which together did not exceed 600 men. As any thing like a regular siege would have proved destructive to the enterprise, from the strength of the fort, and from the assailants not having any heavy artillery, it was determined to carry the place by a coup de main. Every requisite measure was promptly prepared for this bold attempt; and, on the night of the 19th, a general attack took place by signal on the sea and land side. The fort having been carried by storm with very little resistance, the shipping in the harbour were immediately taken possession of, and proved to be of great value, their cargoes being estimated at three millions of dollars. Two hundred and fifty quintals of quicksilver were also found in the fort.

Previous to the capture of this important place, which is the key to the bay of Honduras, and where the Spaniards send their register ships and treasure from Guatimala in time of war, Captain Nugent was despatched by Commodore Luttrell to procure pilots at St. George’s Quay, with orders to leave the Pomona at anchor, at Quay Boquel, and to proceed in the Racehorse schooner. On anchoring as directed, he perceived a brig of 14 guns at anchor, with English colours flying. He immediately put off in his boat, to proceed to the Quay; but it being now dark, he was soon surrounded by a number of Spanish launches, and a schooner of 8 guns, that had been concealed under the lee of the brig, which it now appeared had been taken and was aground. Having secured Captain Nugent and his men, the enemy proceeded to board the Racehorse; which vessel, however, having been alarmed at their firing at the boat, gave them so warm a reception, that four of the launches were sunk, and the remainder, with the schooner, obliged to sheer off with great slaughter. The Racehorse then returned to Quay Boquel, to alarm the Pomona. In the mean time Captain Nugent was stripped to his shirt, and subjected to every indignity; he was taken on shore, where there was a platform, with a guard before it; and it subsequently appeared, that the Governor of Bacular, a town of the province of Yucatan, who headed the expedition against the logwood cutters, had given orders to execute all who made resistance. From this fate Captain Nugent with difficulty escaped, by explaining, that he was the Commander of a British frigate. Himself and boat’s crew were then conducted to prison. In the morning, soon after sun-rise, he was told by one of the towns-people, that the Spaniards were retiring in great consternation; and on breaking from his confinement, found a number of the inhabitants collected together, many of them armed, and the enemy making the best of their way from the island. In such haste were they to get off, that they suffered several of their men to be taken prisoners, although one or two of their boats were just putting off from the shore, and the Pomona, which was coming from Quay Boquel, was at least three leagues off.

Captain Nugent then launched his boat and retook the brig which he fitted out previous to his departure for the rendezvous appointed by Commodore Luttrell, and put 11 men in her, with arms and ammunition for several more, that she might be completed in her crew by the inhabitants of the town, for whose protection she was left, in case of the return of the Spaniards. By this means most of the negroes from the settlements up the rivers Belez, Sherboon, &c., and as much of the property of the inhabitants as could be collected together, were embarked in the different craft in the settlement, and conveyed to the Island of Rattan, where they settled during the continuance of the war. Three hundred of these bay-men were assembled at that island, and served at the capture of Omoa, where they rendered essential service. Captain Nugent remained on the Jamaica station until the summer of 1782, when he returned to England with Sir Peter Parker. In the following year he was chosen representative in Parliament for the town of Buckingham. When the war commenced against the French Republic[4], he was appointed to the Veteran of 64 guns; and towards the latter end of the same year, accompanied the expedition sent against the French West India islands[5]. Immediately after the surrender of Guadaloupe, where Captain Nugent particularly distinguished himself in the command of a naval battalion landed to co-operate with the army, he was sent home with the despatches relative to the conquests that had been effected by the British arms. In the letter from Sir John Jervis, he is thus mentioned:– “Captain Nugent, who carries this despatch, will recite many parts of the detail, which, in the various operations I had to concert, have escaped my memory. He served with the naval battalions at Martinique, St. Lucia, and Guadaloupe, and was present at many of the most important strokes.” Captain Nugent also received the thanks of the military Commander-in-Chief, Sir Charles Grey, in public orders.

From the spring of 1795, until his promotion to the rank of Rear-Admiral, which took place Feb. 20, 1797, our officer commanded the Caesar, of 80 guns, and was employed principally in the Channel Fleet. On the 1st Jan. 1801, he became a Viee-Admiral; and in the summer of 1805, when the late gallant Cornwallis assumed the chief command off Brest, he was selected by that officer to serve as his first Captain.

At the public funeral of the hero of Trafalgar, Vice-Admiral Nugent assisted in the procession. He was advanced to the rank of full Admiral, April 28, 1808. His only child married, in 1822, G. Bankes, Esq. M.P.

Residence.– Southampton.

  1. The present representative of this family was created a Marquis in January, 1822.
  2. Father of the present Vice-Admiral Sir James Nicoll Morris.
  3. See Retired Captain Sir Andrew S. Hamond.
  4. See Note at p. 18.
  5. See p. 19.

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