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Royal Naval Biography/Palmer, Edmund

A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1807.]

Son of the late John Palmer, Esq. M.P., projector of the present mail-coach system, and Comptroller General of the Post-office.

This officer was made a Commander, May 8, 1804; and advanced to the rank of Post-Captain, Oct. 10, 1807. We first find him commanding the Wizard brig, at the reduction of Alexandria, in Mar. 1807[1]; and subsequently the Hebrus of 42 guns, on the Channel, and North American stations, in the Gironde river, and before Algiers. The following is a copy of his official letter to Sir Michael Seymour, Bart., reporting the capture of l’Etoile French frigate, after an arduous chase and a well fought action. Mar. 27, 1814:

“Sir,– When the Hannibal and H.M. ship under my command separated on the morning of the 26th, in chase of the two French frigates we had fallen in with” (off the Isle de Bas), “we continued in pursuit of the one you were pleased to detach us after, the whole day, with all our canvas spread. About midnight she reached the Race of Alderney, and the wind scanting, we began to gain upon her fast; by the time she had run the length of Point Jobourg, leading into the bay of la Hague, she was obliged to attempt rounding it almost within the wash of the breakers; and here, after an anxious chase of 15 hours, and running him upwards of 120 miles, we were fortunate enough, between one and two A.M., to bring the enemy to battle; we crossed his stern, our jib-boom passing over his taffrail, and shot in between him and the shore, in eight fathoms water; and it falling nearly calm about this time, the ships continued nearly in the same spot until the conclusion of the action. At its commencement we suffered severely in our rigging; the enemy firing high, he shot away our fore-topmast and fore-yard, crippled our main-mast and bowsprit, and cutaway almost every shroud, stay, and brace we had. Our fire from the first, and throughout, was directed at our opponent’s hull; and the ships being as close together as they could be without touching, he suffered most severely, every shot which struck passing through him. About four o’clock his mizzen-mast fell by the board, and his fire ceased; when, after an obstinate contest of two hours and a quarter, he hailed us, to say that he had struck his colours. The moment we could get possession, it became necessary to put the heads of both ships off shore, as well from the apprehension oi grounding, as to get them clear from a battery which had been firing at both of us during the whole action, those on shore not being able from the darkness to distinguish one from the other; fortunately the tide set us round the point, and we anchored soon afterwards in Vauville bay, in order to secure our masts as well as we were able.

“The prize proves to be l’Etoile French frigate, mounting 44 guns (28 eighteen-pounders on the main-deck, and the remainder carronades), with a complement of 320 men[2]; she was commanded by Mons. Henri Pierre Philibert, Capitaine de frigate, who was returning, together with la Sultane the other frigate[3], from a four months’ cruise to the westward. L’Etoile is a very fine ship, quite new, and sails well; she had 40 killed and upwards of 70 wounded; her remaining masts are shot through, and her hull is extremely shattered; she had four feet water in her hold at the time she surrendered. We are also a good deal cut up, several of our guns dismounted, and I have to regret the loss of some brave men, 13 killed, and 25 wounded, some of them, I fear, dangerously. Amongst the former was a most promising young gentleman, Mr. P. A. Crawley, who fell early in the action.

“I cannot. Sir, sufficiently express to you how much I have to admire in the conduct of every one whom I had the pleasure to command upon this occasion. I beg most earnestly to recommend Mr. Robert Milborne Jackson, the senior Lieutenant; as also to give my best testimony to the exertions of the junior Lieutenants (Messrs. George Addis and Horatio Bennet Cock), together with Lieutenants Griffiths and M‘Laughlin, of the marines. To Mr. M‘Gowan, the Master, I am much indebted, for the skill and care with which he conducted the steerage of the ship, during a period of much difficulty and peril. Mr. Maddocks, the Purser, very handsomely volunteered his attendance on deck, where he rendered good service. I cannot close this letter without observing, that I derived the greatest assistance from the professional ability of Captain William Sargent, R.N., who was serving on board with me as volunteer; and I notice with great pleasure the care and attention of Mr. Boyter, Surgeon, not only towards our own men, but to those of the enemy also, I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)Edmund Palmer.”

It is stated that Captain Palmer received an honorary medal from the Board of Admiralty, for his skilful and gallant conduct on the above occasion[4]. We subsequently find him serving under Rear-Admiral Cockburn, in the Patuxent river, where he witnessed the destruction of Commodore Barney’s flotilla, and assisted at the capture of a gun-boat and thirteen merchant schooners, together with a considerable quantity of tobacco[5]. The following is an extract from the Rear-Admiral’s official letter to Sir Alexander Cochrane, reporting the performance of that service.

“in congratulating you, Sir, which I do most sincerely, on the complete destruction of this flotilla of the enemy, which has lately occupied so much of our attention, I must beg to be permitted to assure you, that the cheerful and indefatigable exertions, on this occasion, of Captains Wainwright, Nourse, and Palmer, and of Captain Sullivan, the other commanders, officers, and men, in the boats you have placed under my orders, most justly entitle them to my warmest acknowledgments, and my earnest recommendation to your favorable notice.”

Captain Palmer was shortly afterwards ordered to join the army under Major-General Ross, and he appears to have been the only naval officer of his rank that bore a part in the battle of Bladensburgh, Aug. 24, 1814; on which day upwards of 8000 Americans were defeated by 1500 British. His conduct during the march to and from Washington is highly spoken of both by Rear-Admiral Cockburn and the military commander-in-chief[6].

In the summer of 1815, Captain Palmer was entrusted with the command of a small expedition sent to arm and organize the French royalists in the vicinity of Bourdeaux. His proceedings up to the 14th July are described in an official letter which will be found at p. 950 et seq, of our second volume. The passage omitted at p. 952, is worded as follows: “Captain Palmer, who was entrusted with the service, has throughout directed it; and the accident alone of my being the senior officer, induces me to give the account to your lordship.”

In a subsequent letter the senior officer acquaints Lord Keith, that the Pactolus and Hebrus had completely dismantled the forts of Verdun, Royan, de Lousac, and Miché; destroyed nearly 70 pieces of heavy artillery, and thereby secured their retreat in case of a reverse.

On the 16th July, every thing having been arranged for organising the people of the district in which they then were, the frigates ran up towards Castillon, where Captain Aylmer received a despatch from General Clausel, formally announcing to him the armistice that had taken place at Purls, and expressing a wish that he also would agree to a suspension of hostilities.

Captain Palmer had previously been sent to treat with Mons. Clausel; and from the tone of this communication, Captain Aylmer considered that it afforded him a good opportunity for continuing the negociation. He did so, and it ended in the General sending for Count de Lasteur, Baron de Montalembert, and Captain Palmer, who proceeded to Bourdeaux, and by their conciliatory conduct preserved the internal tranquillity of that city, until the troops devoted to Napoleon Buonaparte were finally disposed of; or more properly speaking, until they broke up, and returned to their homes. We must refer our readers to the Naval Chronicle, Vol. XXXIV. p. 172, for a copy of Captain Palmer’s letter, describing “the enthusiasm and joy” manifested by the inhabitants of Bourdeaux at this interesting period.

In the following year Captain Palmer accompanied Lord Exmouth to Algiers, where the Hebrus sustained a loss of 4 killed and 15 wounded. He was nominated a C.B. in June 1815[7].

The subject of this memoir married, Nov. 27, 1817, Henrietta, daughter of the late Captain William Henry Jervis, R.N. nephew to Earl St. Vincent[8].

Agents.– Messrs. Cooke, Halford and Son.

  1. Vol. I. Part II. p. 482.
  2. The Hebrus mounted 26 eighteens on the main-deck, and her established complement was 284 officers, men, and boys. We believe that l’Etoile’s carronades were only twenty-fours, whereas the British frigate’s were 32-pounders.
  3. La Sultane was taken by the Hannibal. See Vol. II. Part I. p. 296.
  4. See Naval Chronicle, Vol. XXXI, p. 498.
  5. See Vol. I, Part II, p. 525.
  6. See id., ib. et seq.
  7. See p. 237 of this volume.
  8. Manuscript footnote: Died at Brighton 19 Sept 1824, Obit. notice ‘U. S. Journal’ 1834 iii 429–431.