Royal Naval Biography/Otway, Robert Waller
ROBERT WALLER OTWAY, Esq
Rear-Admiral of the White.
This officer is descended from an old and respectable family long seated at Ingmire Hall, on the borders of Westmoreland; a junior branch of which was attached to Cromwell’s army during the civil wars, and accompanied him to Ireland, where they acquired by the sword a considerable property, which is still in the possession of their progeny.
His father, an old dragoon officer, wished him to enter the army in preference to the navy, and as an inducement thereto, offered to purchase him a cornetcy, although then only in his thirteenth year; but his predilection for the sea was so great, that his parents consented to his embarking on board the Elizabeth, of 74 guns, commanded by the late Sir R. Kingsmill, Bart.
From this period, (1784) we find him continually serving as a Midshipman on the Mediterranean station, in the West Indies, and on the coast of Guinea, until 1793, when he was promoted through the interest of Admiral Affleck (with whom he had served for three years at Jamaica) to the rank of Lieutenant, in the Falcon brig. His next appointment appears to have been to the Impregnable, of 98 guns, which ship bore the flag of Rear-Admiral Caldwell, was much crippled, and sustained a loss of 7 men killed and 24 wounded, in the glorious battle of June 1, 1794.
On this memorable occasion Mr. Otway, though a junior Lieutenant, distinguished himself by going aloft, accompanied by the present Captain Charles Dashwood, and lashing the fore-top-sail yard, which had been shot in the slings, to the cap; whereby the ship was enabled to wear in pursuit of the enemy. The Rear-Admiral was so well pleased with him for performing this essential service, without which the top-sail could not have been again set, that he returned him his thanks publicly on the quarter-deck; and on the first Lieutenant being promoted, offered to appoint him his successor. This proposal, however, Mr. Otway with singular modesty declined, saying, in the presence of the Secretary, “that he was on the happiest terms possible with his mess-mates, and that being placed so suddenly over the heads of several old officers might probably create jealousies, and prove detrimental to the service.” The Rear-Admiral immediately acknowledged the justness of Mr. Otway’s observation, but declared that in the event of his flag being shifted into another ship, he should be his first Lieutenant. This actually happened a few weeks after, when, being ordered to the West Indies with four sail of the line in pursuit of a French squadron, Rear-Admiral Caldwell removed into the Majestic, 74, accompanied only by his Captain, Secretary, and Lieutenant Otway.
Soon after their arrival at Martinique, the subject of this memoir was advanced to the rank of Commander, in the Thorn sloop of war; and in the month of April 1795, he had the good fortune to capture la Belle Creole, a large schooner, sent by the notorious and infamous Victor Hugues, from Guadaloupe, with a banditti, to assist in carrying into effect a plan that had been concerted between himself and the disaffected inhabitants of St. Pierre, for burning that town, and the massacre of all those who were inimical to them. The papers found on board the prize proved the existence of this diabolical conspiracy, the detection of which was considered of such great importance that the French royalists of Martinique presented our officer with a gold-hilted sword, value 200 guineas, for the service he had thus rendered that colony.
On the 25th of the following month, Captain Otway fell in with, and after a spirited night action of 35 minutes, during which the enemy made two attempts to board the Thorn, captured le Courier National, a French corvette, of 18 guns and 119 men, of whom 7 were killed and 20 wounded. The Thorn was sickly at the time, and had only 80 hands, including officers and boys, on board; of these, her commander and 5 others were wounded, but not a man was as slain.
During the Carib war in the island of St. Vincent, we find Captain Otway actively employed in co-operation with the army, particularly in an attack made upon Owia, which was surprised and taken by the Thorn, and a party of soldiers belonging to the 60th regiment. He afterwards landed his crew, and in conjunction with a detachment of troops, stormed the strong post of Chateau Bellair, the loss of which obliged the enemy to retire into the interior of the island. Captain Otway on this occasion received a slight wound, and had 25 of his crew killed and wounded. For these and other services, he received the unanimous thanks of the House of Assembly; and on the 30th Oct. 1795, was promoted to the rank of Post-Captain, in the Mermaid of 32 guns, which ship he joined at Grenada in the course of the following month.
The island of Grenada, like those of St. Lucia and St. Vincent, was at that period in a state of insurrection. The slaves had all revolted and joined the French part of the inhabitants, whilst the flames of rebellion were fanned by the machinations of the blood-thirsty Victor Hugues, whose forces carried death and destruction throughout that unhappy colony. In this state of affairs, Captain Otway, by his active and zealous exertions, contributed most powerfully to the cause of suffering humanity.
It would greatly exceed our limits were we to particularize every action in which he was engaged with the enemy on shore, and with the batteries thrown up by the brigands; but we cannot refrain from noticing his gallant and firm conduct on two remarkable occasions. Being off Labaye, in Grenada, in company with the Favorite sloop of war, commanded by the present Sir James Athol Wood, and observing that some English troops were pent up in a block-house, from whence their communication with the shipping was entirely cut off by the enemy, who had erected a battery in a position that enabled them to scour the beach, and thereby prevent supplies being sent to the garrison; Captain Otway instantly landed with a party of seamen and the marines of both vessels, under the cover of whose fire he stormed the battery and levelled it with the ground. Soon after this affair, several thousand troops recently arrived from England were disembarked in the vicinity of Labaye, under the superintendance of Captain Wood, and were very shortly in action with the rear of the enemy’s army. At this critical moment two French vessels, under English colours, arrived at Labaye, with a considerable reinforcement of troops from St. Lucia. The General commanding the British forces in Grenada immediately decided upon re-embarking, and communicated his intentions to Captain Otway; who, however, seeing that the carrying of such a measure into effect would be attended with the total loss of the island, refused to comply, saying “that he had landed the troops there at a great risk, by the General’s desire, and that they must now fight it out, as he would not embark a man.” Having thus taken upon himself a most awful responsibility, he galloped up to a height on which were posted some field-pieces under the command of an artillery officer, ordered their fire to be opened on the enemy’s vessels, and by that means compelled them to cut their cables and stand out to sea with the soldiers still on board. They were pursued with great promptitude by Captain Wood, but escaped in consequence of the Favorite unfortunately losing her fore-top-mast. A general attack was now made by the British troops, led on by Brigadier-General Campbell, who charged the enemy on Pilot Hill, and gained a most decisive victory. In this brilliant affair the Buffs and 8th regiment particularly distinguished themselves, as did also the St. George’s Island cavalry. The loss sustained by the brigands was immense; and that of the British likewise very severe, no quarter being given on either side.
Leaving the reader to comment on the conduct of Captain Otway, we shall return with the latter to the little Mermaid; in which ship, on his return from Grenada to Guadaloupe, Aug. 8, 1796, he fought a most gallant action close under the batteries at Basse-terre, with la Vengeance, a French frigate of the largest class; and notwithstanding her vast superiority, compelled her to return to that anchorage from which she had been sent with orders either to take or sink the Mermaid. The enemy, on this occasion, acknowleged a loss of 12 men killed and 26 wounded; and so exasperated was Victor Hugues at the result of the combat, that he not only broke the French Captain’s sword, for what he termed his cowardly conduct, but with his characteristic cruelty, deprived some English officers and men who were confined in Basse-terre prison, of water for the space of 24 hours, as a punishment for their venturing to cheer when they saw la Vengeance towed into port by the boats which had gone out to her rescue. The Mermaid had not a man hurt; and although much cut up in her sails and rigging, came out of action with all her spars, the fore-top-gallautmast excepted, in perfect order. La Vengeance likewise suffered considerably in her sails and rigging, and was also much damaged in her hull.
In the month of April, 1797, the Mermaid, in company with the Hermione and Quebec frigates, had a smart affair with the forts at Jean Rabel, St. Domingo, and succeeded in cutting out twelve sail of merchantmen. Captain Otway soon after exchanged into the Ceres, of 32 guns, the boats of which ship captured la Mutine French privateer, of 18 guns and 90 men, lying at anchor in a creek at Porto Rico, and drove on shore and burnt another vessel of the same name and force. The party which hoarded the latter was headed by Captain Otway, whose coxswain received a musket-ball when by his side, and in the act of jumping on board.
Early in 1798, we find our officer cruizing in the Gulf of Mexico, under the orders of Sir Hyde Parker, by whom the Ceres and Trent were sent in chase of a guarda costa near the Havannah. Unfortunately they both ran aground, of which the Spaniard took advantage and placed himself in a position to annoy the Trent very much; which being perceived by Captain Otway, he threw himself into one of the boats sent from the squadron to their assistance, and followed by five others, attacked, carried, and burnt the enemy’s vessel, which mounted six long 24-pounders and four smaller guns, and bore the broad pendant of a Commodore of flotilla. On this occasion Captain Otway had another narrow escape; Lieutenant Thomas Walker of the Thames, a most gallant officer, since drowned, being badly wounded when about to board the enemy, and close to his enterprising leader.
The Ceres was almost immediately got afloat, and afterwards assisted in extricating the Trent from her very dangerous situation. The commander of the latter dying soon after, she was given to Captain Otway as a reward for his very great exertions in saving so fine a ship. The following account of two dashing exploits, will exhibit a fair specimen of the services performed by him during the ensuing two years.
At the commencement of 1799, the Trent appeared off St. Juan, the capital of Porto Rico, which induced the Spanish governor to send orders overland for a schooner, then lying in a small harbour on the south side, to re-land her cargo, and to be dismantled. Soon after these directions had been given, the Trent accidentally came to that side of the island, and discovered the schooner moored close to a battery of six 24-pounders. Captain Otway got hold of a negro on the coast, to whom he gave 100 dollars for shewing him a landing place at some distance from the battery. The same night he landed a party of seamen and marines, and marching into the rear of the enemy, took them by surprise at a moment when they were watching the movements of the Trent, with their guns loaded and primed. The battery was immediately destroyed; the sails, rudder, and cargo of the schooner brought down from a house half a mile in the interior, reshipped, and the prize sent off for Jamaica by day-light the next morning. This service was performed with the loss of only one man killed on the part of the British. About 20 of the enemy were put to the sword in the battery.
A few weeks after this affair, as Captain Otway was again reconnoitring on the south side of Porto Rico, accompanied by the Sparrow cutter, he discovered l’Alexandre and le Revenge, two French privateers, each mounting 18 guns, a Spanish brig of 10 guns, and some coasting vessels, at anchor under a small battery within the Dead Man’s Chest. The enemy’s guns on shore were soon silenced by the Trent, and her boats sent under cover of the Sparrow to attack the vessels. On their approach each of the privateers hoisted the bloody (red) flag, as an indication that no quarter would be given, notwithstanding which they resolutely pushed on, and after a smart action carried the whole without losing a man, whilst the enemy had no less than 50 killed and wounded.
Captain Otway continued to command the Trent on the Jamaica station till Sept. 1800, when he sailed for England with the flag of Sir Hyde Parker. During the six years that he had served in the West Indies, he is supposed to have captured and destroyed about two hundred of the enemy’s privateers and merchantmen, mounting on the whole 1000 guns. Nothing can mark the character of this officer more strongly than the following anecdote, of the authenticity of which we are well assured:– A party of seamen belonging to the Trent were on shore at Portsmouth returning stores, when the Master-Attendant of the Dock-yard asked them how they liked their Captain; one of them replied, “he was a man who would never deceive his crew, for if any of them deserved a couple of dozen, and he promised it, they were sure to get it; but that he did not make them polish shot or stanchions, and that he made the officers do their duty as well as the men.”
Another of them observed, that “the Captain always slept with ‘one eye open,’ and looked out for them all.” It is but an act of justice to say, that the Trent, whilst on the Jamaica station, was considered as a most perfect frigate in her appearance and discipline, and is spoken of even to this day at Port Royal.
From the Trent, Captain Otway was appointed to the Royal George, a first-rate, bearing the flag of his friend Sir Hyde Parker, Avith whom he afterwards removed into the London, of 98 guns, and sailed for the Baltic. During the battle off Copenhagen, April 2, 1802, he was sent in an open boat with orders to Lord Nelson, and remained with that hero until the engagement had ceased. He arrived at the Admiralty with the official despatches relative to that glorious event, on the 15th of the same month; but soon after rejoined the London in the Baltic, where he continued until the final dissolution of the Northern Confederacy.
Captain Otway subsequently commanded the Edgar, of 74 guns, in which ship, after serving for some time with the Channel fleet, he was sent with several others to the West Indies, from whence he returned to England after the signing of the definitive treaty of peace between England and the French republic. The Edgar was paid off at Chatham in July 1802. It is here worthy of remark, that the ensuing Christmas night was the first he had slept on shore since 1784, a period of 18 years.
On the renewal of the war, in 1803, our officer was appointed to the Culloden, 74; but ill-health, and a severe domestic calamity, prevented him joining her. His next appointment was to the Montagu, another third-rate, in which we find him employed in the blockade of the enemy’s ports from Brest to the Dardanelles. In 1805, when the gallant and veteran Cornwallis made a dash at the enemy’s fleet close in with Brest harbour, Captain Otway was one of his supporters, and on that occasion poured a well-directed fire into l’Alexandre, a French 80-gun ship, killing and wounding many of her men. The Montagu had her gaff disabled, and sustained some damage in her sails and rigging, but had not a man hurt.
Captain Otway was subsequently detached to the West Indies, under the orders of Sir R. J. Strachan, in pursuit of a French squadron; and whilst on that service encountered a most tremendous hurricane. In 1807, he went to the Mediterranean, and during the winter of that year assisted at the evacuation of Scylla, a fortified rock in the Faro of Messina, the garrison of which was embarked under a smart fire from the enemy on the Calabrian shore. He was afterwards entrusted with the command of a squadron employed in co-operation with the Spanish patriots on the coast of Catalonia, and received the thanks of the junta of Gerona for the assistance afforded by him during the siege of that city, and for taking possession of the fortress of Rosas, by which the French were compelled to retire from Castalon, a town of some importance, situated five miles from the coast.
Soon after this latter event, Captain Otway was appointed to the Malta, of 80 guns, off Toulon, which ship he paid off at Plymouth in Dec. 1808. About the month of May following, he obtained the command of the Ajax, a new 74; and towards the latter end of the same year, escorted a large fleet of merchantmen to the Mediterranean. During the greater part of the winter, he cruized with a squadron under his orders off the island of Sardinia, and made several captures.
On the 20th July, 1810, the Ajax, in company with the Warspite and Conqueror, 74’s, Euryalus frigate, and Sheerwater brig, forming the in-shore squadron off Toulon, had an affair with a French three-decker, five other line-of-battle ships, and four frigates, which reflects the highest credit on all concerned. The enemy came out of port for the purpose of liberating a frigate in Bandol; and owing to the situation of the Euryalus and Sheerwater, had nearly cut them off, when Captain Blackwood, the senior officer, brought to in order of battle, with the Warrior, Ajax, and Conqueror, engaged the headmost ships of the French line, and notwithstanding their great numerical superiority, compelled the whole to tack and stand back to their port, followed for some time by the British squadron, whose commander, in his public letter to Sir Charles Cotton, made the most flattering report of Captain Otway’s spirited and judicious conduct on the occasion.
On the 13th Dec. following, the Ajax assisted at the destruction of a French convoy, lying in the Mole at Palamos, on the coast of Catalonia; the particulars of which affair, in which she had about 70 men killed, wounded, and missing, will be given under the head of Captain Francis William Fane, in our next volume.
On the 31st March, 1811, Captain Otway being off Elba, in company with the Unite frigate, fell in with a squadron of French frigates; and after a most arduous chace captured la Dromedaire, a new ship of 800 tons, but mounting only 20 guns, with a complement of 150 men, having on board a cargo consisting of 15,000 shot and shells of different sizes, and 90 tons of gunpowder, intended as a present from Buonaparte to the Bey of Tunis. Her companions, the Emily and Adrian, of 40 guns each, were enabled from their proximity to the shore to effect their escape into Porto Ferrajo.
Captain Otway’s health had now become so much impaired through the fatigues of long and indefatigable service, as to compel him to retire for a time from the active duties of his profession. He accordingly obtained permission to exchange into the Cumberland, of 74 guns, the command of which ship he resigned on his arrival in England at the latter end of 1811. From that period he remained on shore until May 1813, when he was again appointed to the Ajax, and in her joined the Channel fleet. During the ensuing winter, we find him employed covering the siege of St. Sebastian, and making several captures, among which was l’Alcyon, a French corvette of 16 guns and 120 men, taken after a long chase off Scilly, March 17, 1814.
In the month of June following, our officer was sent from Bordeaux to Quebec with a squadron, having under its escort a body of 5000 troops destined to reinforce our army in Canada. Previous to his return to England, he visited Lake Champlain, and assisted in equipping the flotilla there. His advancement to the rank of Rear-Admiral took place June 4, 1814, but we presume that event was not known to him until his arrival in the St. Lawrence. He succeeded Sir William Johnstone Hope as Commander-in-Chief on the coast of Scotland, in 1818, and remained on that station during the customary period of three years.
A short time before he hauled down his flag, Rear-Admiral Otway was presented with the freedom of the city of Edinburgh; and entertained at a public dinner given him by the noblemen and gentlemen of the club in St. Andrew’s Square, as a testimony of their respect for his public and private character.
Our officer married, on his return from the Baltic in Aug. 1801, a daughter of the present Admiral Holloway, and by that lady has a numerous family.
Country-seat.– Westwood, near Southampton.
SIR ROBERT WALLER OTWAY, Bart K.C.B.
Vice-Admiral of the White, and one of the Grooms of His Majesty’s Bedchamber in Ordinary.
(Vol. I. Part II. p. 691.)
The property acquired by one of this officer’s ancestors, in Ireland, during the civil wars, is known by the name of Castle Otway. His father was Cooke Otway, Esq. an officer of dragoons; and his mother, a daughter of Sir Robert Waller, Bart, of Lisbrian, one of the commissioners of the Irish revenue, and M.P. for Dundalk (who died in Aug. 1780), was niece to Robert, first Viscount Jocelyn, a lawyer of great eminence, who filled the offices of solicitor and attorney-general in the reigns of George I. and II., and was nominated Lord High Chancellor of Ireland on the 7th Sept. 1739.
During the action between the Thorn and le Courier National, May 25th, 1795, a shot from the enemy broke Captain Otway’s sword in two, whilst he was holding it across his legs, without doing him any injury.
Captain Otway’s services during the Carib war in the island of St. Vincent, having attracted the attention of Sir John Laforey, who had succeeded Vice-Admiral Caldwell in the chief command on the Leeward Islands station, he promoted him to post rank in la Matilde 24, but in consequence of a change at the Admiralty, and his commission as commander not having been confirmed, he was ordered by the new Board to resume his former situation as lieutenant of the Majestic. However, upon a representation of the circumstance by Sir John Laforey, Earl Spencer immediately posted him into the Mermaid dated Oct. 30th, 1795. The following John’s letter, addressed to Evan Nepean, Esq.:–
“Upon this occasion, I cannot dispense with doing justice to Captains Vaughan and Otway, by a representation to their lordships of their merits. Upon my arrival at Martinique, the former, who commanded la Matilde, and the latter the Thorn sloop, were recommended to my notice in very strong terms by both the commanders-in-chief, for their great activity, diligence, and exertions in their line of duty. Captain Vaughan had been remarkably active in several instances; Captain Otway has particular and signal services to speak for him; for one, I will beg leave to refer to Vice-Admiral Caldwell’s letter to you. Sir, dated at Spithead, the 29th July, 1795, which I have seen published, giving an account of his having captured a French ship of war, le Courier National, of eighteen 9 and 6-pounders and 119 men, by boarding her. He has had a present of a gold-hilted sword made him by the legislature of this island, for his activity and vigilance in the protection of it, when stationed here. The highest encomiums of him have been transmitted to me from the legislature of St. Vincent during their distresses, where I had sent him for their protection; and he has obtained my approbation of his gallant and spirited conduct there in more instances than one, particularly when there was a necessity for forcing a strong post the enemy possessed, and the land force was not sufficient; he landed with his men, and led the way to the attack, when the opposition was so great that the private men of the troops could not be induced by their officers to advance. I knew nothing of either of these gentlemen when I came here, but on account of their merit, I removed Captain Vaughan to the Alarm, a larger frigate, and gave post rank to Captain Otway in la Matilde.”
The late Admiral George Bowen, who was captain of the Carnatic 74, and witnessed Captain Otway’s conduct in destroying a Spanish guarda-costa, and saving the Trent and Ceres frigates from being wrecked in the Gulf of Mexico, subsequently wrote to him as follows:–
“Those ships (without any flattery or compliment) would never have got off the shoal had it not been for your prompt and personal courage and seamanship. I sent you all my boats, and took the liberty of suggesting to you, by one of the lieutenants I sent, that as long as the Spanish gun-boats’ heavy stern-chasers bore on the direction where the boats were towing out the anchors and cables, it would be impossible to save either of the frigates; and also, that I observed from the mast-head, in the offing, that large detachments of cavalry were coming in all directions to protect the gun-vessel on shore. Upon your being informed of these circumstances, you took your own and the Carnatic’s boats, gallantly rowed up to the gun-vessel, boarded and set her on fire; then got off your own frigate, by being able to lay out an anchor, and then heaved off Bagot’s fine new frigate, which, upon his death shortly after, you had given to you as a reward for being the sole cause of saving both ships.”
On the 7th April, 1799, eight days after the capture of l’Alexandre and le Revenge, French privateers, a Spanish armed brig, and some coasters, oh the south side of Porto Rico, the boats of the Trent cut out two Spanish armed vessels from Aguada Bay, at the N.W. end of the same island.
The following is an extract of a letter written by Captain (now Sir Thomas) Ussher, in Nov. 1826:–
“I am most anxious to add my testimony to that of others in stating the meritorious and gallant services of my friend Sir Robert Otway, when I was lieutenant of the Trent. In a national point of view it is right to do so, for it is right that services and activity like his should be recorded as examples to the service. He is, in my humble opinion, one of the best seamen in the service, certainly that I ever sailed under, and as undoubtedly the most active. It is also most true of him, that he had courage to execute whatever his head planned, however daring might be the attempt. There was also so much method in his manner of carrying on the service, that his ofBcers and men, though in a constant state of activity, had perhaps as much leisure as any other ship’s company, and no one was more attentive to the comforts of both officers and men. I may also mention that the Trent was considered the most perfect man-of-war in the West Indies, and always ready to go into action in five minutes: there was no unnecessary display on board of polished bolts or nail-heads; but every rope and spar was in its place, and the decks constantly kept clear. When at sea, and after the men had been exercised at quarters, the captain visited every gun, and saw that it was ready and in order; after which inspection not a rope-yarn or chip was to be seen at or near any of the guns. With respect to nerve or presence of mind in real danger, no man possessed more; as an extraordinary instance of which I may state the following:
“When cruising off the coast of South America, I was ordered by Captain Otway (it being my watch on deck) to reconnoitre Laguria, and to stand well in for that purpose. As I knew what “stadn well in” meant, I stood within gun-shot of the town; but the wind dying suddenly away, I went down and acquainted the captain of the circumstance, who, coming upon deck, and perceiving our critical situation, and that we should be exposed to a heavy fire from the batteries, it instantly occurred to him, that, having some Spanish prisoners on board, it would be a good opportunity to exchange them; and he instantly hoisted a flag of truce for that purpose. But at that moment a boat was observed coming from the shore; and on arriving alongside, Captain Otway was acquainted that an aide-de-camp of the governor and several people of distinction were in her, and that they had come to demand the surrender of the ship, considering her to be so near the batteries as to render useless any attempt to get away. He civilly invited them on board the Trent, and then sent a boat off to the governor, to say that if a shot was fired at the Trent, he would hang every Spaniard at the yard-arms, and blow the town about his ears. To make it appear that he was in earnest, he instantly began reeving yard-ropes and clearing for action, which so intimidated the governor, that he quietly replied, he would give him twenty-four hours to get from under the batteries. Thus by his promptitude, energy, and readiness, did we escape a Spanish prison.
“When we were cruising off the coast of Porto Rico, looking out for vessels expected along shore, Lieutenant Wiley, of the Sparrow cutter, came on board for orders, and to know how near the shore he was to keep; when Captain Otway told him he expected the Sparrow would always be at night on the wash of the surf. In this respect he always set a noble example himself; and it was a matter of perfect indifference to him whether it was a lee or weather shore; wherever the enemy was expected there was the Trent, with leads-man in the chains and anchors ready. With regard to sending boats on service, if the duty to be performed was considered dangerous, he generally went himself (as a volunteer unless the situation of the ship required him to remain on board; and he several times did me the honor to come in the boat, advising, but not commanding.”
When the fleet under Sir Hyde Parker, destined to act against the Northern Confederacy, arrived in the Cattegat, a consultation took place between the flag-officers and senior captains, as to the best means of carrying into effect the object of the expedition; and it was at first decided that it should be by the Belt.
“Captain Otway was not present at the consultation; but after it had broken up, and Nelson and the other superior officers had gone on board their respective ships, the signal was made for the fleet to make sail, and the Edgar (74) was actually leading through the Belt, when Captain Otway came to a knowledge of the measure which had been decided on. Though he was still a young post-captain, his comprehensive mind instantly told him, that if such measures were persevered in, the whole object, of the expedition would be defeated; that, the going round to Copenhagen by the tedious passage of the Belt, would be attended with difficulties which could never be surmounted by even the energies of British seamen, an the whole of the guns and heavy stores belonging to the line-of-battle ships must have been taken out, to enable them to pass the ‘Grounds.’ His situation was extremely delicate; the plan had been decided on by all the sages of the fleet; but with such a conviction on his mind, Captain Otway determined on laying his opinion before the commander-in-chief. Fortunately his intimacy with Sir Hyde Parker greatly facilitated this desirable object; and it was equally fortunate that Sir Hyde was not a man to persevere in an error when pointed out. The interview almost instantly took place, and the admiral as soon became convinced that he was not taking the shortest route to victory, which was speedily acknowledged by the captain of the fleet, the late Sir William Domett. The fleet was again brought to, and Captain Otway was sent to apprise Lord Nelson of the reason. On explaining to his Lordship the alteration that had been made in the route, he exclaimed, ‘I don’t care a d__n by which passage we go, so that we fight them.’ He determined to return with Captain Otway to the commander-in-chief, and, in consequence of the wind blowing fresh, was hoisted out in one of the boats; and on his arrival on board the London, every thing was finally arranged agreeably to the plan suggested by Captain Otway.”
The particulars relating to the attack on the Danish fleet before Copenhagen, we have detailed in our memoir of Sir Thomas Foley.
Owing to the London not forming part of the division ordered to engage the enemy, there appeared at the commencement of the battle but little probability of Captain Otway taking any share in it: yet he became one of the principal actors; and we will venture to say, that his services on that occasion were equal to those of any other officer employed, Lord Nelson’s alone excepted. The early part of the action was viewed by him at a distance: it was an anxious period, and must have been mortifying to all those who, like himself, possessed an ardent desire to signalize themselves in such a contest. When Sir Hyde saw the critical situation of the squadron under Nelson, it became a question between him and the captain of the fleet whether he should make the signal to leave off action; but as that measure was strongly opposed by Captain Otway, it was determined that the captain of the fleet should proceed to Lord Nelson to ascertain the situation of affairs: he went below to adjust some part of his dress; but whilst he was so doing, Captain Otway solicited and obtained leave from Sir Hyde Parker to execute the intended mission. At this moment a boat was passing the London; she was instantly hailed, and Captain Otway pushed off in her, with that promptness and alacrity which are congenial with his whole conduct and character. The boat had on board a large hawser; but Captain Otway would not wait to have it discharged; and in that dangerous vehicle passed through the enemy’s fire to the Elephant. Had a shot struck her, she must have sunk like a stone; but Captain Otway fortunately reached his destination in safety. Before he got on board, the signal to leave off action was made: it was, however, disregarded by Nelson; and as Captain Otway had verbal authority from Sir Hyde Parker that the battle should continue if he saw there was a probability of success, the action was continued till the enemy submitted; and Captain Otway had thus the opportunity of being present at that most interesting and important event. His exertions, however, did not terminate with the fight. On the 2d April he displayed his activity and courage; and on the 3d he became equally celebrated for judgment and presence of mind. But before we narrate his conduct on that occasion, we shall insert the particulars of the circumstance alluded to, from Clarke and M‘Arthur’s Life of Nelson. They say, ‘Finding that one of the line-of-battle ships, the Zealand, which had struck the last, and was under the protection of the Trekroner, had refused to acknowledge herself to be a captured ship, and made some quibble about the colours and not the pendant having been hauled down, his Lordship ordered one of our brigs to approach her, and proceeded in his gig to one of the enemy’s ships which were within that battery, in order to communicate with the commodore, whose flag was still flying on board the Elephanten. When he got alongside, he found it to be his old acquaintance Muller, whom he had known in the West Indies He invited himself on board, and acted with so much ability and politeness towards his friend and the officers assembled, that he not only explained and gained the point in dispute about the Zealand, but left the ship as much admired by his enemies, as he had long been by those who were his intimate friends in his own fleet.’ This account is followed by Mr. Southey, who, in addition, says, that ‘it was a brig and three long-boats that Nelson ordered upon this service; and that when he had gained the point with the commodore, through his own dexterity and urbanity, the men from the boats lashed a cable round the Zealand’s bowsprit, and the gun-vessel towed her away.’ Now whatever merit belonged to this enterprise (and certainly it was merit of the very highest order), it is due to Captain Otway, and to him alone. It was performed by him and a single boat’s crew; and we will venture to affirm, that it stands unparalleled in naval history. In the first place, ve have to observe, that it was the Holstein, and not the Zealand, which was the object in dispute: two officers had been sent to demand and get possession of her, but had failed. Lord Nelson then wrote a note to Sir Hyde Parker, stating that the Holstein had struck her colours in the action, but that when she was some hours after attempted to be taken possession of, the Danish captain refused to surrender, under the subterfuge that his pendant was still flying; and actually fired musketry (it being nearly dark) at the boats that were ordered to take possession of her. His Lordship then proposed that she should be peremptorily demanded: and concluded by saying, ‘You had better send Otway on this delicate affair.’
“Such a mark of his Lordship’s opinion of Captain Otway’s judgment and abilities could not fail of being highly gratifying to his feelings to be chosen to perform an important duty is at all times flattering; but to be selected to perform that which others with equal means had been unable to achieve, is the highest gratification that an heroic spirit can desire. Having obtained Sir Hyde Parker’s permission to adopt and follow his own plan for the capture or recovery of the Holstein, Captain Otway instantly went on board the Eling schooner hoisted a flag of truce, and anchored off the bow of the enemy’s ship, which was at anchor within pistol-shot of one of the Crown batteries. Her pendant was still flying, though her colours were down, and she was preparing to warp into the arsenal. Seeing there was not a moment to be lost, Captain Otway immediately pushed alongside of her in the Eling’s boat having ordered the coxswain (a bold and determined character) to take the opportunity, while he was claiming the ship from the surviving officers, to proceed, unperceived if possible, through the main-chains, into the main-top, haul down the pendant, and convey it into the boat. Strange as this may appear, it was accomplished to the very letter; the attention of the whole crew being directed towards Captain Otway, who was standing on the quarter-deck demanding possession of the ship, which they still refused to give up, but referred him to their commodore, who was on board a two-decker close by in the arsenal; making use of their former plea, that the pendant (though it was then in the Eling’s boat) was still flying. Thus far successful in his object, and his situation being such as, in the event of a discovery, would not have been a very pleasant one. Captain Otway gladly embraced the offer of a reference to the commodore. He accordingly proceeded to his ship in one of the Danish boats and accompanied by a Danish officer, having ordered the Eling’s boat, containing the pendant, to return to the schooner. Finding on his arrival that the commodore spoke English very fluently, Captain Otway immediately entered on the object of his visit, and demanded that the ship should be given up. He was met with the old objection, that her colours had been shot away in the action, and that she had not surrendered; as a proof of which he said her pendant still remained flying. But this argument had been effectually removed, and Captain Otway replied, ‘I believe. Sir, you are even mistaken on that point.’ With the utmost confidence the commodore requested him to walk to the stern-gallery, saying, ‘I will soon convince you that it is you who are mistaken, and not I.’ On seeing that the pennant was actually down, he expressed the utmost astonishment, but was constrained to acknowledge that she was a lawful prize, and sent an order by the Danish officer who had accompanied Captain Otway for her delivery! Captain Otway then hailed the Eling, and desired her commander to take possession of the Holstein, to cut her cable (the wind being off the land), and to make the signal for immediate assistance. The Harpy gun-brig instantly slipped her cable, and towed the prize out to the British fleet. During this transaction. Lord Nelson, who was rowing round the prizes, learned that Captain Otway was on board the Danish commodore, and seized the opportunity of following him, in order, as he said, to look round him, in the event of a renewal of hostilities. The arrival of a flag of truce was reported to the commodore, whilst himself and Captain Otway were taking some refreshment (the latter not having had any since the preceding day), and Captain Otway was informed that the officer in the boat wished to speak to him. On going upon deck he was equally pleased and surprised to find that the officer was Lord Nelson; he was immediately invited on board, when the chiefs recognized each other, having both commanded frigates in the West Indies at the same time. An interesting conversation immediately ensued, and the parties afterwards separated, mutually pleased and satisfied. Such are the particulars of Captain Otway’s conduct on that memorable occasion, and will for ever stamp his name as an active, brave, and judicious officer.”
The following are extracts of letters from the late Admiral the Hon. Sir William Cornwallis, respecting the attack made on the Brest fleet, Aug. 22d, 1805:–
“Dear Holloway, – It was a pleasing struggle the other day between Otway and Strachan; you will believe I was not in a hurry to put an end to such honorable zeal, happy, if we could have done any thing, to have had two such men at hand.”
“Dear Otway, – I remember with much pleasure your services when under my command, and most particularly your anxious zeal and struggle for the point of honor with Sir Richard Strachan, which I very much admired, at the time the enemy had ventured out of the harbour, but continued under their batteries near Brest. I can, I am sure, with the greatest truth say, that there is no officer whose services I shouUl have preferred, either as a captain or an admiral.”
At a subsequent period, Earl St. Vincent wrote to this officer as follows:–
“Dear Sir,– I have great pride and pleasure in bearing testimony to the correctness of your conduct in the Channel fleet, in the Montagu and Royal George; and I perfectly well remember the remark I made upon the good condition of the masts, yards, and furniture of the first named ship, when she rejoined after an uncommonly long cruise in the Bay, at a period when I had cause to complain of the number of masts and yards crippled through neglect and unskilful management; and I can with confidence declare, that when you arrived with the account of the impression made upon the floating and other batteries at Copenhagen, the King would have been advised to confer some mark of distinction on you, had not the ill state of his Majesty’s health prevented it, I do farther declare, that, in my judgment, there is not an officer in his Majesty’s navy of greater zeal and promise than Rear-Admiral Otway; and I foretel, that, if justice is done him, he will rival all the heroes of the last two wars.
In Feb. 1815, Rear-Admiral Otway received an address from Sir William John Struth, Knt., and six other gentlemen, then resident in London, who were members of the council at St. Vincent during the Carib war in 1795–6:–
“We,” say they, “who have witnessed your conduct both on land and sea, can testify to it in repeated acts of personal bravery. We could state various instances in which we consider your claim to particular and distinguished notice as an officer as indisputable. We should not hesitate to recapitulate the instances alluded to, and we only omit to mention them in delicacy to your own feelings; but should it ever be necessary, we pledge ourselves to the proofs of your well-earned title to every dignity that valor can deserve or honor bestow on the defenders of the country. Were the whole of the surviving inhabitants of that disastrous period here with us, we are confident there would not be a dissenting voice to the sentiments we express, and the attachment we profess towards you; on the contrary, we are persuaded there would be but one unanimous suffrage to your unqualified deserts.”
On the 20th April, 1815, the Earl of Egremont, when addressing the House of Lords on the subject of a recent court martial, described Rear-Admiral Otway (the president) as “an officer honorable in his profession, and beloved in society; of whom it is impossible for any man who knows him to speak but in the highest terms of esteem, affection, and respect.”
In the beginning of 1826, Rear-Admiral Otway was offered the chief command in the East Indies, which he declined, but shortly afterwards accepted the appointment of commander-in-chief on the South American station. On this occasion he received a letter from his present Majesty, dated Bushy Park, Feb. 19th, of which the following is an extract:–
“The appointment to the command in South America is, I trust, acceptable to you. Under the very extraordinary situation of those countries off which you will have to cruise, the command cannot fail being interesting; and I rejoice that so cool and valuable an officer as yourself has been selected for this singular and especial purpose. The Duchess unites with me in every kind wish towards Mrs., but I trust shortly Lady, Otway, to whom I beg to be particularly remembered.
This excellent officer was nominated a Knight Commander of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath in June 1826; advanced to the rank of Vice-Admiral on the 22d July, 1830; appointed one of the Grooms of his Majesty’s Bedchamber in Ordinary, Dec. 23d, 1830; and created a Baronet of the United Kingdom in Sept. 1831.
- See note † at p. 568.
- The Pontsborn, East Indiaman, was lost that night in consequence of being detained after landing the soldiers embarked in her.
- The Trent was one of the first frigates ever built of fir; she sailed remarkably well; was rated at 36 guns; and carried long 18-pounders on her main-deck.
- See note *, at p. 365.
- It is rather a singular coincidence, that the Phaeton frigate was the first ship that Rear-Admiral Otway went to sea in, and the first that received his flag when going to assume the command at Leith, sailing each time from Spithead. She was built about 1780, and is now in active service.
- See Vol. I. Part II. p. 693.
- See id. ib.
- See Vol. I. Part II. p. 696.
- See Vol. I. Part II. p. 697.
- See Supp. Part I. p. 324, et seq.
- See Vol. I. Part II. p. 698.
- Ralfe’s Naval Biography, vol. 4. p. 11, et seq.
- See Vol. I. Part I. note at pp. 365–371.
- Ralfe, Vol. IV. p. 12, et seq.
- See Vol. I. Part II. p. 698, and Suppl. Part IV. p. 411, et seq.
- Lady Otway’s father, the late Admiral John Holloway.