Royal Naval Biography/Phillott, Charles George Rodney

[Post-Captain of 1818.]

Received his first commission in 1801; and was second lieutenant of the Amphion 32, Captain (now Sir Thomas M.) Hardy, when that frigate conveyed Lord Nelson from off Brest to the Mediterranean, on the renewal of hostilities with France, in 1803. He subsequently assisted at the capture of three Spanish frigates, and the destruction of a fourth, laden with treasure, from South America bound to Cadiz[1].

The Amphion formed part of the naval force employed in the invasion of Calabria, in July 1806; at which period she was commanded by the late Sir William Hoste. After the famous battle of Maida, she was sent by Sir W. Sidney Smith, with some Sicilian gunboats, and a detachment of the 78th regiment, under Lieutenant-colonel M‘Leod, to the coast near Catanzaro, in order to encourage and assist the royalists in that quarter. On the 30th of the same month, an attack was made upon Cotrone; and to the judicious manner in which Captain Hoste placed her and the flotilla under his command, may be attributed the surrender of that important fortress, with all its stores and magazines, and upwards of 600 French troops.

On the 12th May, 1808, the Amphion attacked a French frigate-built ship, lying under the protection of several very formidable batteries, in the bay of Rosas. This was the Baleine, of about 800 tons, constructed purposely for carrying stores, Bud mounting from 26 to 30 guns, with a crew of about 150 men.

At 10-10 A.M. the enemy hoisted French colours, and at 10-30, having a spring on her cable, commenced firing at the Amphion; as did also a battery of 16 long 24-pounders to the left of the town, another called Fort Bouton, and a low battery of 8 heavy guns at the starboard entrance of the bay. This fire Captain Hoste returned on different tacks, while working to windward. At 11 a.m., finding the fire of the British frigate, as she closed, getting too warm, the Baleine slipped and ran on shore.

At 11-30 a.m. Captain Hoste shortened sail, and anchored with two springs, in-shore of the spot on which the enemy had been riding. Having veered to a whole cable, he then commenced a smart fire, within point-blank shot, upon the ship, the fort, and the other batteries: this fire they all returned, and presently cut away the Amphion’s jib-stay. At about 30 minutes past noon, her starboard quarter hammocks and main-top-mast-stay-sail were set on fire by the enemy’s hot shot; and at 1 p.m. a small explosion took place in the marines’ arm-chest, but fortunately injured no one. At 1-30, the Baleine herself caught fire abaft, and a part of her men began leaping overboard and swimming to the rocks. Believing that the crew were abandoning her, Captain Hoste despatched his first lieutenant, Mr. William Bennett, in the jolly-boat to strike her colours; but no sooner had that officer arrived near the stern of the ship, than the enemy opened upon him a heavy fire of round, grape, and musketry. The Amphion instantly threw out a signal of recall, and the jolly-boat put back; Lieutenant Bennett, regardless of the shower of shot, standing up in the stern-sheets, and with his few men, giving the enemy three hearty cheers. At 2-20 p.m., finding that nothing further could be done, and the wind beginning to die away, the Amphion cut her cable and springs, and made sail out to sea. In this spirited little affair, she sustained no material damage, and had only one man killed, together with a few wounded. The loss on board, or the eventual fate, of the Baleine, we have no means of showing. It is a little singular, that Captain Hoste had been sent by Lord Collingwood to endeavour to capture the very same ship at her anchorage in Palma bay, Majorca; but, under an idea that she was a frigate of the largest class, he had been directed to take under his orders the Hind of 28 guns; in endeavouring to fall in with which ship he unexpectedly discovered the other.

On the 8th Feb. 1809, the boats of the Amphion and Redwing brig, under the command of Lieutenant Phillott, landed at the island of Melida, in the Adriatic, brought off three guns, and destroyed two large stores of oil and wine. The Amphion and her consort had previously taken possession of a French brig, mounting six guns, and an armed trabacolo, both employed in conveying troops from Zara to Ancona.

On the 23d April, in the same year. Lieutenant Phillott commanded a division of boats belonging to the squadron under Captain, (now Sir Jahleel) Brenton, and behaved in an “exemplary” manner at the capture of thirteen valuable merchantmen lying in the mole of Pesaro[2].

In October following, Lord Collingwood transmitted to the Admiralty a letter from Captain Hoste, “giving an account of a very gallant and well-conducted attack made on the enemy’s fort and vessels at Cortelazzo, between Venice and Trieste, by the seamen and marines of the Amphion, which so completely succeeded, that the fort was taken and blown up, and all the vessels that were in the port captured or destroyed. On many occasions,” observed his lordship, “I have had to represent the zeal, the bravery, and the nice concert of measures that are necessary to success, which have distinguished the services of Captain Hoste; and this late attack of the enemy is not inferior to those many instances which have before obtained for him praise and admiration. The manner in which he speaks of Lieutenant Phillott, who commanded the party, and of the other officers and men, is highly honorable to them; but the Amphion’s officers and men, following the example of their captain, could not well be otherwise than they are.” The annexed is a copy of Captain Hoste’s official letter:–

Amphion, off the coast of Friul, Aug. 28, 1809.

“Sir,– I beg leave to inform you of a most gallant and successful attack made by the boats of this ship and a detachment of seamen and marines on the enemy’s force at Cortelazzo, consisting of 6 gun-boats, and a convoy of merchant trabacolos, moored in a strong position under a battery of four 24-pounders, at the mouth of the Piavie, and in sight of the Italian squadron at Venice.

“I had reconnoitred them on the 24th inst., and found it impracticable, from the shallowness of the water, to get the ship in; but I conceived they might be cut out by the boats, provided I could carry the battery; and this opinion was confirmed by a fisherman I detained the same evening, who gave me a very correct account of their force and situation. To prevent any suspicion of my design, I kept out of sight of the land till the evening of the 26th, when I crowded all possible sail, and we anchored off the entrance of the Piavie, at one on the morning of the 27th. At three, a detachment of seamen and marines, commanded by Mr. Phillott, first lieutenant, assisted by Lieutenant (George Matthew) Jones, in all 70 men, were landed about a mile below the battery to the southward, and advanced immediately to storm it, leaving Mr. (William) Slaughter, third lieutenant, with the command of the boats, to push for the river the instant the fort was carried: at a quarter past three the alarm was given; the attack was made at the same moment, and the assault so vigorous, that in ten minutes the fort was completely in our possession, and the concerted signal made. The guns were instantly turned on the gun-boats, the fire on which, and musketry from the marines, whom Lieutenant (Thomas) Moore, of that corps, had placed in a most excellent situation, compelled them to instant surrender, and our boats took possession of the gun-boats and vessels, as per enclosed list ; two of the former are of the largest dimensions.

“The battery was a complete work, with a ditch, and chevaux de frise round it, and our men entered it first by scaling ladders: the commandant made his escape with some of his men; two were found dead, and one wounded; the rest, 16, were made prisoners. Having spiked the guns, and totally destroyed the battery and barrack, the whole detachment was re-embarked by 1 p.m.

“I have now. Sir, the additional pleasure of saying, that this service was performed without the loss of a man on our part. One marine alone was wounded by an explosion of powder after we had possession; but he is doing well.

“The gallantry and good conduct of the commanding lieutenant, Mr. Phillott, in the execution of this attack, speaks for itself; I have only to say, he had the entire conducting of It, and on this, as on many other occasions, he fully justified the confidence I placed in him. He speaks in the warmest terms of Lieutenants Jones and Moore, and the petty officers and men under his orders. The prompt manner in which Lieutenant Jones turned the guns of the battery on the enemy’s vessels, and the judicious disposition of the marines by Lieutenant Moore, is highly praiseworthy. In the variety of boat-service we have had, these officers have particularly distinguished themselves, and some months back were both severely wounded. the silence and regularity of the seamen and marines in their advance to the fort, and their bravery in the attack, are equally deserving of praise, and truly characteristic of British seamen. Enclosed is a list of the officers and midshipmen employed on shore and in the boats[3].

“The surrender of the gun-boats was so quick that our boats had not time to join in Hie attack on them, but were most actively employed afterwards in getting the prizes out, under the direction of Lieutenant Slaughter. The above vessels were stationed at Cortelazzo, for the express purpose of protecting the trade between Venice and Trieste, and were commanded by a commandant de division, Mons. Villeneuve, who is made prisoner. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)W. Hoste.”

To Captain Hargood, H.M.S. Northumberland,
Senior Officer in the Adriatic.

The prizes thus taken consisted of la Surveillante and la Vedette, each mounting one long 26-pounder in the bow, one long 12 a-stern, and four swivels on the gunwale, with a complement of 36 men; four other gun-vessels, each mounting one long 24-pounder; and two trabacolos, laden with rice, cheese, &c. Five trabacolos, laden with wood and charcoal, were likewise burnt in the river.

For his distinguished conduct on this occasion. Lieutenant Phillott was rewarded with a commander’s commission, dated back to the day of the action. On the 25th Oct. 1810, he received an appointment to the Primrose of 18 guns, in which brig, after accompanying Sir Joseph Yorke, with a large body of troops to Lisbon[4], he was employed on the North Sea station upwards of two years. We subsequently find him escorting the outward bound trade to Quebec, convoying some vessels from England to Passages, and cruising for a whole winter between that port and St. Andero, under the orders of Sir George Collier.

On the 12th Mar. 1814, being then in lat. 43° 16' N. long. 10° 56' W., he discovered and made sail after a strange brig on his lee bow, running nearly before the wind. Observing that she altered her course to avoid him, that she frequently yawed about as the Primrose approached (with a large red ensign at the peak), and that she had neither lower studding-sail nor royals set, he supposed her to be an English vessel in the hands of a prize crew. Unfortunately her real character was not discovered, nor even suspected, until after much mischief had been done. It may here be as well to state, that the stranger was a King’s packet, named the Duke of Marlborough, commanded by Captain John Bull, and employed in conveying a mail from Falmouth to Lisbon.

On observing the Primrose bear up and make sail. Captain Bull suspected her to be an American cruiser, and made the private signal, in order to ascertain whether she was an enemy or not: the end-on position of the two brigs, however, together with their distance from each other, and the circumstance of his flags being only half the established size, prevented the possibility of making it out.

At 7-55 p.m., it being then too dark for flags of any size to be distinguished, the packet, after a bungling and ineffectual attempt to make the private night signal, opened her stern-chasers (long brass nines), shot away most of the supposed American’s head-gear, including jib and flying jib-stays, and continued firing them with considerable precision for about 20 minutes. The Primrose then ranged up on her larboard quarter, and hailed three times, but was only answered by as many single guns, followed by a whole broadside. Upon this. Captain Phillott gave her a gun or two, and endeavoured to lay her on board; but, his head-braces being shot away, he failed in the attempt, and some little time elapsed before he could again overtake her. The Primrose then commenced firing in earnest; the packet was of course soon silenced, and upon her being once more hailed, the painful truth came out. Her damages proved to be of a very serious nature; two 32-pound shot had passed through just below the water’s edge; she had between three and four feet water in her hold, and the leak was fast increasing; her masts were much injured; and her standing and running rigging nearly all cut away: her loss consisted of two passengers killed, and ten or eleven other persons wounded. The Primrose had one man slain; her master (Mr. Andrew Leach), one petty-officer, and twelve men wounded: but, with the exception of a shot in the main-mast, and her sails being much cut by those fired at her during the chase, she sustained no other damage than what has been stated above.

In consequence of this unfortunate rencontre. Captain Phillott felt it necessary to apply for a court-martial on himself; but before his letter reached the Admiralty, an order had been issued to that effect, the report of a court of inquiry held at Lisbon, by order of Vice-admiral George Martin, having been previously received. The sentence was that he should be admonished for not making the private night signal. The above information has been collected from the minutes of the court-martial, held at Plymouth, on his return from Portugal.

The Primrose subsequently formed part of a squadron under Rear-Admiral Malcolm, employed in escorting a body of British troops from the river Garonne to Bermuda. On the 25th Aug. 1814, being then off the Savannah river, watching his Majesty’s late 18-gun brig Epervier, which had been commissioned and re-equipped by the Americans, Captain Phillott chased on shore and destroyed the privateer schooner Pike, mounting twelve 12-pounder carronades and one long nine, and having on board 85 men, of whom 47 were taken prisoners.

In Feb. 1815, Captain Phillott commanded a division of armed boats, sent up St. Mary’s river with a view to surprise an American detachment. The force employed on this occasion consisted of 186 officers, seamen, and marines, belonging to the squadron under Sir George Cockburn, then on the coast of Georgia. The boats had proceeded a considerable distance up the river, when they were unexpectedly attacked from the Spanish side: the enemy’s fire was silenced in less than half an hour; but a consideration of the narrowness of the river, it not being more than from thirty to forty yards wide for about fifty miles below, with a number of commanding heights and houses in his rear, obliged Captain Phillott to determine on returning; which was executed with the greatest coolness and order, though exposed to the enemy’s fire on both sides of the river, for more than ten hours, by which three men were killed and fifteen wounded, including amongst the latter, Captain Phillott (in two places, by a rifle-ball and buck-shot); Captain David Ewen Bartholomew, of the Erebus rocket-ship; Lieutenant Frazer, of the royal marines; and Messrs. James Everingham and Jonathan Haworth Peel, midshipmen of the Albion.

The Primrose was paid off at Woolwich, in Aug. 1815. A short time previous thereto, Captain Phillott was upset in his 4-oared gig, between Spithead and St. Helen’s, while hastening on board in order to take advantage of a fair wind up Channel, his brig being then under weigh, between the latter anchorage and the Owers.

This accident happened about an hour before sun set, owing to one of the boat’s crew being unable to raise his oar out of the water, and was attended with the loss of two lives. The tide was then running strong to the eastward, the wind blowing rather fresh, and the gig so far distant from any ship, vessel, or other boat, that, although she was under sail, no human being witnessed the disaster. Providentially, however. Captain Phillott and the three surviving men managed to get hold of her, and the mast having unclamped itself, they succeeded in righting her; but whenever any one attempted to get in she immediately turned over again. Having no other alternative, they were obliged to divide themselves and hang on by the opposite gunwales, each person using one hand as a paddle, in order to keep her head towards a gun-brig between them and the Primrose, which vessel approached so near that they could distinctly hear every order given; yet, notwithstanding their loud shouts for assistance, they had the bitter mortification of seeing her heave about, and stand away in another direction, without noticing them. When thoroughly exhausted, and entirely deprived of hope, they were at length picked up by a fishing boat, after full two hours immersion!!

The Primrose was one of the first sloops ordered to be commissioned on the peace establishment, and Captain Phillott was re-appointed to her on the 26th Aug. 1815. He subsequently served on the Jamaica station for a period of three years.

Agent.– J. Dufaur, Esq.

  1. See Vol. I Part II. pp. 536 and 833.
  2. See Supplement, Part III. p. 350 et seq.
  3. The officers’ names appear in the above letter. The petty officers employed were Messrs. John Windham Dalling, master’s-mate; Thomas Boardman, Joseph Gape, Charles Henry Ross, George Castle, Charles Kempthorn, William Lee Rees, Charles Bruce, Thomas Edward Hoste, Francis George Farewell, Robert Spearman, midshipmen; and Jonathan Angus, surgeon’s-assistant.
  4. See Vol. I. Part II. p. 439.