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Royal Naval Biography/O’Connor, Richard James Lawrence

[Post-Captain of 1810.]

Nephew to Admiral Sir Edmund Nagle, K.C.B.

This officer was made a Lieutenant in Dec. 1793; and promoted to the rank of Commander, about the latter end of April 1800. In Nov. 1804, he had the misfortune to lose the Hannibal armed ship, that vessel having parted her cables in the Downs, and drifted on shore near Sandown Castle, where she was totally wrecked.

In Oct. 1807, Captain O’Connor obtained the command of the Leveret; and on the 18th of the ensuing month he was tried by a court-martial for the loss of that sloop, near North Yarmouth.

“The Court having carefully and deliberately inquired into the conduct of Captain O’Connor, his officers, and ship’s company, were unanimously of opinion, that the loss of the Leveret, on the 10th Nov., proceeded solely from the zealous perseverance of her commander to assist and see the Waldemaar, a Danish 84, safe into port, the service on which he was previously ordered; and as it appeared that every exertion was made by Captain O’Connor, together with his officers and crew, to save the Leveret after she struck, the Court felt it their duty to severally and respectively acquit them.”

No sooner had this enquiry terminated, than Captain O’Connor was again tried, upon a charge exhibited against him by Rear-Admiral Wells, commander-in-chief at Sheerness, for “having been deficient in his duty on the evening of the 10th Nov. 1807, inasmuch as he did not afford, or cause to be afforded, any assistance to a frigate which he saw on her beam-ends on shore on the Long Sand.” The following will shew the result of this second investigation:

“Having heard the evidence produced in support of the charge, and what the prisoner had to offer in his defence, and having very maturely and deliberately weighed and considered the whole and every part thereof; the Court is of opinion, that the charge is not proved; and are further unanimously of opinion, that no possible blame whatever attaches to Captain O’Connor; and do therefore fully acquit him.”

We subsequently find Captain O’Connor commanding the Ned Elven brig, on the Baltic station, where he captured le General Rapp, French privateer, of 8 guns and 41 men, in Dec. 1808. His next appointment was to the Bonne Citoyenne corvette, in which vessel he continued actively employed until promoted to post-rank, Oct. 21, 1810.

In April, 1814, Captain O’Connor assumed the command of the Prince Regent, a 58 gun-ship, built at Kingston, on Lake Ontario, and bearing the broad pendant of Sir James L. Yeo, commodore of the naval force employed in defending the Canadian frontier. The following is a copy of that officer’s official letter to Mr. Croker, reporting the successful result of an expedition against Oswego, situated on the river of the same name, near its confluence with the above lake.

H.M.S. Prince Regent, May 9, 1814.

“Sir,– My letter of the 10th April last will have informed their lordships, that H.M. ships Prince Regent and Princess Charlotte were launched on the preceding day. I now have the satisfaction to acquaint you, for their Lordships’ information, that the squadron, by the unremitting exertions of the officers and men under my command, were ready on the 3d instant, when it was determined by Lieutenant-General Drummond and myself, that an attack should be made on the forts and town of Oswego, which, in point of position, is the most formidable I have seen in Upper Canada; and where the enemy had, by river navigation, collected from the interior several heavy guns and naval stores for the ships, and large depots of provisions for their army.

“At noon, on the 5th, we got off the port, and were on the point of landing, when a heavy gale from the N.W. obliged me to gain an offing. On the morning of the 6th, every thing being ready, 140 troops, 200 seamen armed with pikes, under Captain Mulcaster, and 400 marines, were put into the boats; the Montreal and Niagara took their stations abreast, and within a quarter of a mile of the fort, the Magnet opposite the town, and the Star and Charwell to cover the landing, which was effected under a most heavy fire of round, grape, and musketry, kept up with great spirit. Our men having to ascend a very steep and long hill, Were consequently exposed to a destructive fire; their gallantry overcoming every difficulty, they soon gained the summit of the hill, and throwing themselves into the fosse, mounted the ramparts on all sides, vying with each other who should be foremost. Lieutenant Laurie, my secretary, was the first who gained the ramparts; and Lieutenant Hewett climbed the flag-staff under a heavy fire, and in the most gallant style struck the American colours, which had been nailed to the mast.

“My gallant and much esteemed friend, Captain Mulcaster, led the seamen to the assault with his accustomed bravery; but I lament to say, he received a dangerous wound in the act of entering the fort, which I apprehend will, for a considerable time, deprive me of his valuable services: Mr. Scott, my first Lieutenant, who was next in command, nobly led them on, and soon gained the ramparts.

“Captain O’Connor, of the Prince Regent, to whom I entrusted the landing of the troops, displayed great ability and cool judgment, the boats being under a heavy fire from all points.

“Captain Popham, in the Montreal, anchored his ship in a most gallant style, sustaining the whole fire until we gained the shore. She was set on fire three times by red-hot shot, and much cut up in her masts, sails, and rigging. Captain Popham received a severe wound in his right hand, and he speaks in high terms of Mr. Richardson, the master, who, from a severe wound in the left arm, was obliged to undergo amputation at the shoulder joint.

“Captain Spilsbury of the Niagara, Captain Dobbs of the Charwell, Captain Anthony of the Star, and Captain Collier of the Magnet, behaved much to my satisfaction.

“The 2d battalion of royal marines excited the admiration of all; they were led by the gallant Colonel Malcolm, and suffered severely. Captain Holtaway, doing duty in the Princess Charlotte, gallantly fell at the head of his company.

“Having landed with the seamen and marines, I had great pleasure in witnessing not only the zeal and prompt attention of the officers to my orders, but also the intrepid bravery of the men, whose good and temperate conduct under circumstances of great temptation (being a whole night in the town, employed loading the captured vessels with ordnance, naval stores, and provisions), most justly claim my high approbation and acknowledgment; and I here beg leave to recommend to their Lordships’ notice the services of all; of my first Lieutenant, Mr Scott, and of my aid-de-camp, acting Lieutenant Yeo, to whom I beg leave to refer their Lordships for information; nor should the meritorious exertions of acting Lieutenant Griffin, severely wounded in the arm, or Mr. Brown, both of whom were attached to the storming party, be omitted.

“Tt is a great source of satisfaction to me to acquaint their Lordships, that I have on this, and all other occasions, received from Lieutenant General Drummond, that support and attention which never fail in securing perfect cordiality between the two services.

“I herewith transmit a list of the killed and wounded, and of the ordnance, naval stores, and provisions, captured and destroyed by the combined attack on the 6th instant. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)James Lucas Yeo.”

The total loss sustained by the squadron, and marine battalion, was 9 killed and 37 wounded: of the troops, 8 were slain, 29 wounded. The British carried away with them 7 long guns, 32 and 24-pounders, a quantity of ordnance-stores, 70 coils of large rope, 2400 barrels of bread, flour, pork, and salt, three schooners, and 60 prisoners. Three long 24-pounders, one 12, two sixes, a schooner, the barrack, bridge, and all other public buildings were destroyed. One of the captured schooners mounted three heavy guns, and was commanded by a Lieutenant in the United States’ navy. Besides the above, a quantity of cordage, various other naval stores, and three long 32-pounders, were sunk in the river by the Americans themselves. From this period we lose sight of Captain O’Connor.

Agents.– Messrs. Stilwell.