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Royal Naval Biography/Ommanney, John Acworth


JOHN ACWORTH OMMANNEY, Esq
A Deputy Lieutenant of the county of Southampton; and a Justice of the Peace for Surrey.
[Post-Captain of 1800.]

This officer is the eldest son of the late Rear-Admiral Cornthwaite Ommanney[1]. He entered the naval service in 1783, and during the ensuing eleven years, served successively on board the Powerful 74; Rose frigate; Leander 50; Aquilon 28; Zebra sloop of war; and Lion of 64 guns; under the respective commands of Captains Fitzherbert, and Henry Harvey; Rear-Admiral Peyton; and Captains Robert Montagu, William Brown, and Sir Erasmus Gower. The latter gentleman, of whom we have already spoken in our first volume, at p. 783, may justly be considered as his principal naval patron.

In 1792, Sir Erasmus Gower, who had recommended himself to the notice of Earl Macartney, by his exploits in India during the American war, was selected by that nobleman to command the ship fitting for his conveyance to China. Sir Erasmus entertaining a great friendship for Mr. Ommanney, availed himself of so favourable an opportunity to promote his interests by applying for and obtaining permission to appoint him a supernumerary Lieutenant of the Lion. This accordingly took place on the arrival of the embassy at Madeira. Shortly after their departure from Funchal, Lieutenant Cox of that ship died, and Sir Erasmus appointed his protegé to succeed him. His commission was confirmed by the Admiralty in May 1793.

The Lion being paid off on her return to England about Sept. 1794, Mr. Ommanney readily accepted an offer made him by Captain (now Sir Robert) Barlow to become his first Lieutenant, in the Aquilon; and he continued to serve with that distinguished officer till May 1795, when he was appointed to the Queen Charlotte, a first rate; in which ship he assisted at the capture of three French 2-deckers off l’Orient, on the 23d of the following month[2].

Lieutenant Ommanney was promoted to the, rank of Commander in Dec. 1796; and happening to be on half pay when the mutiny broke out at the Nore, he lost no time in tendering his services towards its suppression. His offer being accepted, he held the command of a gun-vessel equipped to act against the refractory seamen, until the spirit of rebellion had subsided in that quarter; and was afterwards sent with two other Captains to Deal, in order, should such a measure be necessary, to take the command of some vessels lying in the Downs, whose crews still behaved in a disrespectful manner to their officers; but happily the sailors there soon followed the example of those at the Nore, and returned to their duty.

In Dec. 1797, Captain Ommanney was appointed to the Busy, a new brig of 18 guns, fitting at Chatham for the North Sea station, where he cruised with considerable activity. In Aug. 1799, being off Goree, in company with the Speedwell brig, he discovered a fleet of merchantmen running alongshore under the convoy of a Swedish frigate. While the Busy ran alongside the man of war and prepared for action, her consort searched one of the other vessels, and found that she was laden with spars of sufficient size to make top-masts for line-of-battle ships, and others with iron, &c. bound to Brest, l’Orient, and Cadiz. Upon receiving the report of Lieutenant Reddie, who commanded the Speedwell, Captain Ommanney wrote the following laconic letter on the Busy’s cap stern head, and immediately forwarded it to the Swedish Commodore:

H.B.M. Sloop Busy, at Sea, Aug. 8, 1799.”

Sir.– The officer who has boarded one of the ships under your convoy has reported to me that she is bound to an enemy’s port, and is laden with naval stores. I shall therefore insist upon searching the whole of the fleet, and shall detain all those vessels that have naval stores on board.
I remain, Sir, your humble servant,

(Signed)John A. Ommanney.”

“To the Captain of the Swedish frigate[3].”

This letter had no sooner been delivered, and the bearer thereof returned to the Busy, than she stood towards the fleet, and fired a shot athwart the bows of the nearest ship, to make her shorten sail; upon which the frigate hailed in token of submission, and sent an officer to Captain Ommanney, with a list of the convoy, and the Commodore’s instructions, which directed him not to suffer the vessels under his charge to be searched at sea; but in case of meeting with any British cruiser, to proceed with her to an English port, for the purpose of being examined. On his way to the Downs, Captain Ommanney fell in with a squadron under the orders of the present Vice-Admiral Lawford, who had been cruising off the Flemish banks for a period of six weeks, in order to intercept this very fleet.

Captain Ommanney being now relieved from his charge, returned to his station off Goree, and some time afterwards received a letter from the Secretary of the Admiralty, informing him that the Lords Commissioners “very highly approved of his conduct” on the above occasion. He then joined the expedition sent against the Helder[4]; and on the 16th Sept. following, captured le Dragon, a French lugger privateer of 16 guns. This vessel had for a length of time annoyed our trade in the North Sea; and when discovered by the Busy, was running along the Dutch coast on her return to Dunkirk from the coast of Norway. After a short chase she anchored in the midst of a very heavy surf, but by skill and good management was soon brought out. Ten of her crew being British subjects, endeavoured to land on the beach, but only two succeeded; the remainder perished.

In Jan. 1800, the Busy was ordered to the Leeward Islands, and Captain Ornmanney received a letter from Earl Spencer, who then presided at the Admiralty, recommending him to Lord Hugh Seymour, the Commander-in-Chief on that station, and expressing a wish that his Lordship might soon have an opportunity of promoting him. In the course of a few months, however, he became so much debilitated by sickness, as to render it absolutely necessary to give up his brig and return to England, where he arrived at the latter end of September.

As a compensation for his loss of health, Earl Spencer, who for kindness and liberality of conduct has never been excelled, immediately gave Captain Ommanney a temporary appointment to the Garland frigate at Plymouth, and a few days after sent him a post commission dated Oct. 16, 1800. During the last year of the war our officer commanded in succession the Hussar frigate, Robust 74, and Barfleur of 98 guns, on Channel service: the latter ship, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Collingwood, was paid off in May 1802. From June 1804 till March 1806, he served as Flag-Captain to his early friend Sir Erasmus Gower, on the Newfoundland station.

Captain Ommanney has been for several years an active magistrate for the counties of Southampton and Surrey. He married, in Oct. 1803, Frances, daughter of Richard Ayling, of Slidham, co. Sussex, Esq. and has issue four daughters.

Agent.– Sir Francis M. Ommanney, M.P.



  1. Rear-Admiral Ommanney had seven children, six of whom are now living, viz. John Acworth, the subject of this memoir; Sir Francis Molyneux, a Navy Agent, and M.P. for Barnstaple; Henry Manaton, a Post-Captain; Edward Symons, a Merchant at North Yarmouth; Cornthwaite, a Captain in the 24th Light Dragoons, now on half pay; and Ann Symons, who married, in 1815, Captain Pipon of the 7th Hussars. His other child, Montagu, was a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery, and died on service in the West Indies, in 1796. The Rear-Admiral died in 1801, sincerely lamented by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance.
  2. See note at p. 54; and Vol. I, p. 246. – N.B. Mr. Oramanney was sent at the close of the action to assist Lieutenant Alexander Wilson, now a superannuated Rear-Admiral, in conducting one of the prizes to an English port.
  3. She was commanded by Baron Oderstroom.
  4. See Vol. I, note at p. 414, et seq.