Royal Naval Biography/Oliver, James


Was made a lieutenant into the Alcmene 32, Captain William Brown, June 8th, 1797 ; and commanded one of the boats of that frigate in a successful attack upon the forts and shipping at Vivero, on the north coast of Spain, July 13th, 1799. The prizes taken on this occasion were la Felicidad, a ship of about 800 tons, pierced for 22 guns, with a cargo, of hemp, lower masts, and ship timber; and El Bisarro, brig, laden with timber and iron. On the 26th of the preceding month, he assisted at the capture of the French ship privateer Courageux, pierced for 32 guns, mounting 28, with a complement of 253 men[1],

In 1800, this officer was appointed to the Vlieter 44, stationed in the river Thames, where he continued until the peace of Amiens. In 1804, we find him first lieutenant of the Bacchante 20, Captain (now Sir Charles) Dashwood, by whom he is most handsomely spoken of in an official letter, addressed to the commander-in-chief at Jamaica, of which the following is a copy:–

Bacchante, New Providence, April 13th, 1805.

“Sir,– I have the honor to acquaint you, that on the 3d instant, H.M. ship under my command captured, off the Havannah, His Catholic Majesty’s schooner Elizabeth, of 10 guns and 47 men, charged with despatches from the governor of Pensacola, which were thrown overboard previous to her surrendering.

“Having received information that there were three French privateers in the harbour of Mariel, (a small convenient port, a little to the west> ward of the Havannah,) which had annoyed most considerably the trade of H.M. subjects, transiently passing through the Gulf, I determined, if possible, to rout this band of pirates; for, from their plundering and ill treating the crew of every vessel they met with, most particularly the Americans, they were nothing better. Lieutenants Oliver and Campbell having, in the most handsome manner, volunteered their services on this hazardous occasion, I despatched these excellent officers, accompanied by the Hon. Almericus De Courcy, midshipman, on the evening of the 5th instant, in two boats; and as it was absolutely necessary to gain possession of a round tower near forty feet high, on the top of which were planted three long 24-pounders, with loop-holes round its circumference for musketry, and manned with a captain and thirty soldiers, I gave directions to attack and carry the fort previous to their entering the harbour, so as to enable them to secure a safe retreat. Lieutenant Oliver, the senior officer, being in the headmost boat, finding himself discovered, and as not a moment was to be lost at such a critical period, most nobly advanced, without waiting for his friend, landed in the face, and in opposition to a most tremendous fire, without condescending to return the salutation, mounted the fort by a ladder, which he had previously provided, and fairly carried it by a coup-de-main with thirteen men (leaving Mr. De Courcy, with three others, to guard the boat), with an accident to only one brave man, George Allison, wounded. The enemy had two killed and three wounded.

“Lieutenant Oliver, leaving Serjeant Denslow of the marines, with six men, to guard the fort, and having been rejoined by Lieutenant Campbell, dashed on to attack the privateers; but, to his great mortification, found they had sailed the day previous on a cruise; he was, therefore, obliged to be contented with taking possession of two schooners, laden with sugar, which he most gallantly brought away from alongside a wharf, in spite of repeated discharges of musketry from the troops and militia, who poured down in numbers from the surrounding country.

“I should not have been thus particular in recounting a circumstance which was not attended with ultimate success, were it not to mark my admiration of the noble conduct of Lieutenant Oliver, in so gallantly attacking and carrying a fort which, with the men it contained, ought to have maintained itself against fifty times the number of the assailants: but nothing could withstand the prompt and manly steps taken by that officer and his gallant crew on this occasion: and as, in my humble judgment, the attempt was most daring and hazardous; and, had the privateers been there, I doubt not but success would have attended them; so I humbly solicit the honor of notice to this most gallant officer. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)C. Dashwood.”

To Rear-Admiral Dacres,
&c. &c. &c.

The credit of this truly gallant exploit has been given, by Mr. James, to the present Commander Thomas Oliver; and that author follows up his error by observing, that his nominee was promoted in the course of the same year, for his brave and meritorious conduct[2]. Lieutenant James Oliver was placed by Lord Mulgrave upon the Admiralty list for promotion, and presented with a sword by the Committee of the Patriotic Fund; but, in consequence of the Commander-in-chief at Jamaica placing his young nephew in a vacancy to which this gallant officer ought to have been appointed, and the retirement of his lordship from office, he did not obtain a commander’s commission until Dec. 4th, 1813; when, instead of being continued in active service, he had the mortification to be placed upon the half-pay list.

On the 14th May, 1805, the subject of this memoir assisted at the capture of a Spanish letter of marque, laden with coffee and bees’ wax, from the Havannah bound to Vera Cruz[3]. He subsequently followed Captain Dashwood into la Franchise 36, and was first lieutenant of that frigate at the siege of Copenhagen, in 1807[4]; also at the capture of Samana, in the island of St. Domingo, Nov. 11th, 1808[5].

In the following year. Lieutenant Oliver was successively appointed to the Polyphemus 64, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Bartholomew S. Rowley; and to the command of the Decouverte schooner, on the Jamaica station, in which vessel he suffered so serious an injury in his left eye, from arduous and active service, that he was under the necessity of returning to England in 1810. He next joined Sir Edward Pellew, on the Mediterranean station, and was by him appointed to the command of the Carlotta brig, in which vessel he had the misfortune to be wrecked upon the coast of Sicily, where he again lost the sight of his eye, through exertion and fatigue, in saving a quantity of specie. His last appointment was, in 1813, to be first of the Sultan 74, Captain John West, stationed off Toulon. His son, William Brown Oliver, is a lieutenant in the navy, seniority Aug. 25th, 1829.

  1. Erratum. – In Vol. I. Part II. p. 763, line 10, for 270 read 253; and in James’s Naval History, 2d edit. Vol. II. p. 494, for William Sandford Oliver, read James Oliver.
  2. See Nav. Hist. 2d edit. vol. iv. p. 187, et seq.
  3. See Vol. II. Part I. p. 457.
  4. See Vol. I. Part I. p. 79 et seq.
  5. See Vol. II. Part I. p. 458.