Royal Naval Biography/Phillimore, John
SIR JOHN PHILLIMORE, Knt.
A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1807.]
Son of the late Rev. ___ Phillimore, Rector of Orton, in Leicestershire (near Atherstone, co. Warwick); and brother to Dr. Phillimore, M.P., a Commissioner of the India Board, Regius Professor of Civil Law in the University of Oxford, and Chancellor of the Diocese of Oxford.
This officer commenced his naval career in 1795, and served the whole of his time as Midshipman, under the command of Captain (afterwards Sir George) Murray, in la Nymphe frigate, and the Colossus, Achille, and Edgar 74s.
The Colossus formed part of the fleet under Sir John Jervis, in the action off Cape St. Vincent, Feb. 14, 1797; and was wrecked on a ledge of rocks, in St. Mary’s harbour, Scilly, on her return from the Mediterranean and Lisbon, Dec. 7, 1798. The Achille was principally employed blockading Brest; and the Edgar led the van of Nelson’s division, off Copenhagen, April 2, 1801: her loss on that glorious day amounted to 31 killed, and 111 wounded.
The first Lieutenant of the Edgar having fallen in the battle, Mr. Phillimore was immediately appointed to fill the vacancy thereby occasioned; and he appears to have continued with Captain Murray, on the Baltic station, until the peace of Amiens; after which we find him serving as senior Lieutenant of the Gannet sloop of war. His promotion to the rank of Commander took place May 10, 1804.
In 1805, Captain Phillimore was appointed to the Cormorant sloop, on the North Sea station; and towards the close of 1806, he removed from her into the Bellette brig, of 18 guns, which vessel was employed under the orders of Commodore Owen, when that officer made an attack upon the Boulogne flotilla, in order to try the utility of Congreve’s rockets; an experiment already noticed at pp. 132–134 of our second volume.
Captain Phillimore subsequently convoyed two transports, laden with provisions and military stores, to Colberg, a town in Prussian Pomerania, then vigorously besieged by the French, and obstinately defended by the celebrated Blucher, who was thus enabled to hold out until a negociation for peace was entered into, at Tilsit.
Returning from Colberg to join Admiral Gambier’s fleet off Copenhagen, Captain Phillimore witnessed the defeat of the Danish troops at Kioge, Aug. 29, 1807; on which occasion upwards of 60 officers and 1500 men were taken prisoners by a British detachment under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley, whom he released from a considerable encumbrance by taking charge of, and embarking all the arms, ammunition, and stores found at that place, and also the arms, &c., thrown away by the enemy in their flight.
A day or two after this event, Captain Phillimore was sent to reconnoitre the harbour of Copenhagen; and whilst thus employed his brig got becalmed close in shore, which obliged him to let go an anchor with a spring on the cable. Perceiving his situation, the Danish governor immediately ordered sixteen gun-vessels to attack him, each of them mounting 2 long 24-pounders, and rowing 40 oars. This formidable flotilla approached pretty close to the Bellette; but three of them being sunk by her well-directed broadsides, the remainder retired to a greater distance, where they continued engaging her for a very considerable period. In the mean time, two boats from every ship in the fleet were despatched to tow the brig out of danger, and on their approach the enemy retreated.
Captam Phillimore’s gallant conduct on this occasion was so highly approved by Admiral Gambier, that, upon the surrender of Copenhagen, he selected the Bellette to carry home the officers charged with the naval and military despatches, in consequence of which her commander was promoted to post rank, Oct. 13, 1807; but he appears not to have been superseded until Feb. in the following year.
After landing Captain Collier and Lord Cathcart’s aide-de-camp, the Bellette returned to the Baltic, where she continued affording protection to the trade until Dec. 1807. At the latter period, Captain Phillimore was ordered to Gottenburgh, for the purpose of collecting the homeward bound merchantmen i and on his way thither he fell in with the only two ships of war then belonging to Denmark, – a two-decker and a frigate; from which he escaped by running his brig into 2½ and ¼ less 3 fathoms water, thereby rendering it impracticable for the enemy to come near him.
The Bellette conveyed Lord Hutchinson from Gottenburgh to England, in Feb. 1808; and the subject of this memoir remained on half-pay from that period until June 1809, when he was appointed to command the Marlborough 74, during the absence of Captain (now Sir Graham) Moore.
In the following month, Captain Phillimore accompanied the grand armament sent against Antwerp; and during the operations in the Scheldt, we find him employed on detached service, with several armed transports under his orders. He was superseded by Captain Moore about the month of Oct. following; appointed to the Diadem troop-ship in June, 1810; and removed to the Eurotas, a new 38-gun frigate, May 4, 1813.
The Eurotas appears to have been armed with 28 of Congreve’s experimental medium 24 pounders, 16 carronades, 2 long nines, and the usual boat gun; her established complement was, we believe, 320 officers, men, and boys. She sailed on her first cruise towards the latter end of Aug. 1813; and witnessed the capture of la Trave French frigate, Oct. 23, in the same year. On the 25th Feb.. 1814, Captain Phillimore was dangerously wounded in a severe action with la Clorinde, mounting 23 long l8-pounders, 14 carronades, 2 long eights (French), and 12 brass swivels, with a complement of 360 picked men, including officers. The conflict is thus described by Captain Phillimore, in a letter to Lord Keith, dated Mar. 1, 1814:
“On the 25th ult., being then in lat. 47° 40' N., and long. 9° 30' W., we perceived a sail upon the lee-beam, to which we gave chase. We soon discovered her to be an enemy’s frigate, and that she was endeavouring to out-manoeuvre us in bringing her to action; but having much the advantage in sailing (although the wind had unfortunately died away), we were enabled at about 5 o’clock to pass under her stern, hail her, and commence close action.
“When receiving her broadside and passing to her bow, our mizen-mast was shot away. I then ordered the helm to be put down to lay her aboard; but the wreck of our mizen-mast lying on our quarter, prevented this desirable object from being accomplished.
“The enemy just passed clear of us, and both officers and men of the Eurotas renewed the action with the most determined bravery and resolution, while the enemy returned our fire in a warm and gallant manner. We succeeded in raking her again, and then lay broadside to broadside. At 6-20, our main-mast fell by the board, the enemy’s mizen-mast falling at the same time; at 6-50, our fore-mast fell, and the enemy’s main-mast almost immediately afterwards. At 7-10, she slackened her fire; but having her fore-mast standing, she succeeded with her fore-sail in getting out of range. During the whole of the action we kept up a heavy and well-directed fire; nor do I know which most to admire, the seamen at the great guns, or the marines with their small-arms, they vying with each other who should most annoy the enemy.
“I was at this time so much exhausted by the loss of blood, from wounds I had received in the early part of the action, from a grape shot, that I found it impossible for me to remain any longer upon deck. I was therefore under the painful necessity of desiring Lieutenant Smith to take command of the quarter-deck, to clear the wreck of the fore-mast and main-mast, which then lay nearly fore and aft the deck, and to make sail after the enemy; but, at the same time, I had the satisfaction of reflecting that I had left the command in the hands of a most active and zealous officer.
“We kept sight of the enemy during the night, by means of boats’ sails and a jigger on the ensign-staff; and before 1 o’clock the next day, Lieutenant Smith reported to me, that, by the great exertions of every officer and man, jury-courses, top-sails, stay-sails, and spanker, were set in chase of the enemy, who had not even cleared away his wreck; and that we were coming up with him very fast, going at the rate of 61/2 knots: that the decks were perfectly clear; and that the officers and men were as eager to renew the action as they had been to commence it; but, to the great mortification of every one on board, we perceived two sail on the lee-bow, which proved to be the Dryad and Achates; and they having crossed the enemy (we only 4 or 5 miles distant), before we could get up to her, deprived us of the gratification of having her colours hauled down to us.
“The enemy’s frigate proved to be la Clorinde, Captain Dennis Legarde; mounting 44 guns, with 4 brass swivels in each top, and a complement of 360 picked men.
“It is with sincere regret I have to state that our loss is considerable, having 20 killed and 40 wounded; and I most sincerely lament the loss of 3 fine young midshipmen, 2 of whom had served the whole of their time with me, and who all promised to be ornaments to the service. Among the wounded, is Lieutenant Foord, R.M., who received a grape-shot in his thigh, while gallantly heading his party.
“I learn from Mons. Gerrard, one of the French officers, that they calculate their loss on board la Clorinde at 120 men. It is therefore unnecessary for me to particularize the exertions of every individual on board this ship, or the promptness with which every order was put into execution by so young a ship’s company: but I must beg leave to mention the able assistance which I received from Lieutenants Smith, Graves, Randolph, and Beckham; Mr. Beadnell, the Master; and Lieutenants Foord and Connell, R.M.; the very great skill and attention shewn by Mr. Thomas Cooke Jones, surgeon, in the discharge of his important duties; and the active services of Mr. John Bryan, purser, and the whole of the warrant officers, mates, and midshipmen; whom I beg leave most strongly to recommend to your lordship’s notice.”
We have been favored with the following additional particulars, by an officer who belonged to the Eurotas at that period:–
“At 5 P.M., we were immediately in the wake of la Clorinde, and not more than 100 yards distant from her. She had suffered us to approach thus close without firing a gun; both ships going about two points free. We now shortened sail to top-sails, top-gallant-sails, jib, and driver; the enemy following our example. The action commenced by Eurotas bearing up and pouring a broadside into Clorinde’s stern, which proved more destructive to her crew than to her masts or rigging; the French officers calculated that it killed and wounded 40 men. We then luffed up under the enemy’s lee, and received her broadside, by which about 30 of our people were also slain and wounded: la Clorinde’s fore-top-mast fell very soon after our mizen-mast. At 6-20, Eurotas having lost her main-mast, the enemy’s frigate began to shoot a-head; but when a little on our weather-bow she either fell off for want of after-sail, or put her helm up in order to cross our hawse. Observing this, the jib was immediately run up, and the boarders assembled on the forecastle, where 120 men were collected at the moment that la Clorinde’s broadside bore upon our stem; but to the astonishment of every body, she did not fire a gun: this was afterwards accounted for by her officers, who said that they made sure the Eurotas would succeed in laying them on board, and that they therefore had all their ship’s company ready to repel the expected assault. Unfortunately, la Clorinde shot clear of the Eurotas, the latter not having way enough through the water, and our boarders were consequently sent down to mann the larboard guns; another broadside was then thrown into the enemy’s stern, and her main-mast immediately fell: the head of her fore-mast had previously been shot away, but the fore-yard was left hanging, which enabled her to get out of range, although the sail was nearly cut to pieces. By 9 o’clock, our decks were completely cleared of the wreck; and in addition to the boats’ sails and jigger-mizen, we had a lower-studding-sail set on a temporary jury fore-mast; la Clorinde did not bend a new fore-sail until 12 P.M., at which time we were only a mile distant from her. By 8 o’clock next morning our jury-masts were all erected, viz., top-masts for lower-masts, and top-gallant-masts for top-masts; la Clorinde, however, had encreased her distance to about five miles.
“At 8-30 A.M., another frigate hove in sight, but did not answer the private signal, although it was kept flying for more than half an hour; this induced us to believe that she was also an enemy, and the officers having consulted together, it was thought best to discontinue the chase. We accordingly hove to until between 9 and 10 o’clock, when the stranger hoisted English colours and fired a gun at la Clorinde; upon which we bore up and made sail after them. During the preceding night we met an English merchant schooner, and directed her master to keep between us and the enemy in order to point out the position of la Clorinde; for the performance of which service he was handsomely rewarded by the Admiralty. When the Dryad hove in sight, the Eurotas was coming up with la Clorinde hand over hand.
“In this action we found Congreve’s experimental 24-pounders very light guns to work; but they were so lively that the allowance of powder was very soon obliged to be reduced one-third, and subsequently one-half: about an hour and a half from the commencement of the action, one of them made a jump and actually touched the beams of the forecastle-deck; in fact, it was so hot that we were obliged to discontinue using it.
“On our arrival at Plymouth, Captain Phillimore was obliged to go to the hospital, a canister-shot having passed through his left breast and arm, about three inches below the shoulder-joint: it was at first thought that the wound in the breast was the most dangerous, as the breath oozed out, but that was not the case; the arm-bone was completely disunited, and from the length of time Captain Phillimore kept the deck, together with his great exertions, the latter wound was so much irritated, that the surgeon could do nothing more than reduce the inflammation: had circumstances been more favorable at the time, it was his wish to have taken the arm out of the socket; but fortunately, Captain Phillimore’s life was saved by other means, and his limb is still useful to him.”
La Clorinde was one of the finest ships of her class in the French navy, and her crew had been long together. In Dec. 1809, she assisted at the capture of a British frigate, to the eastward of Antigua; and it was principally from her fire that the Galatea received so much damage, in the action off Madagascar, May 20, 1811. The Eurotas, on the contrary, had not been ten months in commission; and although her guns were of larger calibre than la Clorinde’s, those on the main-deck were by no means so effective: she was also greatly inferior to the enemy in physical strength, there being an unusually large proportion of boys among her crew. Lord Keith’s opinion of the manner in which she was manoeuvred and fought is thus expressed, in a letter addressed to Captain Phillimore, dated at Plymouth, Mar. 2, 1814:–
“I have had the honor to receive your letter of yesterday’s date, giving an account of the capture of la Clorinde French frigate, after a most severe conflict between her and the ship you command. I have not failed to represent to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that the action reflects the highest honor upon your own bravery and professional skill, and upon that of your officers and ship’s company. You will be pleased to acquaint them, that I most highly approve of the zeal and good conuct which they have shewn on this occasion; and while I regret exceedingly that you have been so severely wounded, I entertain a flattering hope that his Majesty’s service, and the country at large, will not long be deprived of your valuable services.
Captain Phillimore was nominated a C.B. June 4, 1815; appointed to the William and Mary yacht, April 13, 1820; and knighted by Earl Talbot, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, whilst in attendance upon the Viceroy. His next appointment was, Mar. 15, 1823, to the Thetis of 46 guns; in which frigate he sailed for Mexico, with the commissioners appointed to enquire into the political state of that country, Oct. 19, in the same year; and returned to Plymouth, bringing 400,000 dollars and 300 bales of cochineal, from the Havannah, Mar. 18, 1824.
In May following, intelligence having been received of the defeat and death of Sir Charles M‘Carthy, commanding H.M. troops on the western coast of Africa, Sir John Phillimore was despatched thither, with a detachment of the Royal African corps, and supplies for Cape Coast Castle, where he arrived at a very critical period; the Ashantees having just encamped close to the town, and an attack from them being hourly expected.
The enemy’s army being very numerous, and the allied force composed of various native tribes (some of them little better than an organized rabble), it became necessary that the navy should render the most effective co-operation, and that with all possible celerity. Accordingly, Sir John Phillimore anchored the Thetis to the westward, and the Swinger gun-brig to the eastward, within grape range of the beach, so as to command the approaches on each side of the castle, which was garrisoned by two watches of his ship’s company, and 16 volunteers from a merchant vessel, whilst the troops marched out to meet their savage enemy: the officers, seamen, and marines landed were all placed under the command of Mr. Andrew Drew, first Lieutenant of the Thetis. The boats of the frigate, gun-brig, and merchantmen, were also armed, each with a brass field-piece, put under the direction of Lieutenant William Cotesworth, and sent to act along the beach, or with the castle, as circumstances should require. The gunner and carpenter of the Thetis, with their respective crews, laid a platform and mounted guns on Phipps’s tower, which important post was entrusted to the charge of Mr. Roswell, master’s-mate, having under him a midshipman and 8 sailors. These and other harassing services called forth the exertions of every individual engaged in them, and they were performed with that zeal, discretion, and regard to good discipline, which render all our naval co-operations so effective, and which so properly, on such occasions, become the theme of commendation of all who witness them.
From July 4, the day of Sir John Phillimore’s arrival at Cape Coast, until the 11th of the same month, daily skirmishes took place between the Ashantees and the British outposts; on the latter day, the enemy made a general attack upon our position, about three quarters of a mile from the shore; the engagement lasted, without intermission, until dark, and terminated with their total defeat; their loss was computed at 2000 men, and their whole force appeared to be disorganized; they broke up the following day from their advanced positions, and commenced a disorderly retreat to Coomassie: the loss of the British and their allies was about 103 killed and 450 wounded.
Sir John Phillimore took his departure from Cape Coast on the 22d July, touched at Acra, Princes island, and St. Michaels; and returned to Spithead on the 29th Sept. We subsequently find him cruising to the westward of Scilly, with three experimental ships and one brig under his orders, for the purpose of ascertaining their sailing qualities, which trial he appears to have conducted with much perseverance and ability.
In 1825, and the following year, the Thetis was principally employed conveying various diplomatic personages to Naples, Constantinople, and South America; she returned from Rio Janeiro, Oct. 3, 1826; and was paid off at Plymouth in the course of the following month.
Agent.– Messrs. Cooke, Halford, and Son.
SIR JOHN PHILLIMORE, Knt. C.B.
Was appointed one of his Majesty’s naval aides-de-camp in Sept. 1831. He married, Feb. 17th, 1830, Katherine Harriet, daughter of Captain Raigersfeld, R.N.
- Vice-Admiral Sir George Murray, K.C.B, died at Chichester, Feb. 28, 1819.
- See Nav. Chron. Vol. I. p. 86.
- Colberg and Graudenz were the only Prussian fortresses that successfully resisted their besiegers. The attempt to reduce Colberg proved fatal to thousands of the enemy. If all the governors had been animated with the fidelity and persevering courage of Blucher, the issue of the war between Frederick and Napoleon might have been very different. It was at this siege that Colonel Schill, whose heroism, loyalty, and patriotism shone forth so conspicuously afterwards in the north of Germany, first attracted the attention and admiration of hit countrymen.
- The above ships were proceeding from Christiansand to Copenhagen.
- See Vol II., Part II. p. 635.
- See Vol. II., Part II., p. 664.
- Midshipman Thomas Robert Brigstocke (now a Commander) was also wounded, but not severely. The total number, according to the surgeon’s report, was 38 wounded.
- Robert Smith, Richard Wilcox Graves, Charles Grenville Randolph, and Zebedee Beckham.
- The jib halliards bad been previously shot away.
- See Captain Samuel Bartlett Deecker.
- See p. 33 of this volume.