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Royal Naval Biography/Powney, John


JOHN POWNEY, Esq.
[Commander.]

Youngest son of the late Pennyston Portlock Powney, Esq., of Ives Place, Maidenhead, Berks, Lieutenant-Colonel of the Berkshire militia, Custos Rotulorum of that county, Ranger of the Little Park, Windsor, and many years representative in parliament of the borough of New Windsor; who died in 1794, universally regretted.

This officer entered the royal navy in 1800, at a very early age, and served, during the latter part of the French revolutionary war, as midshipman on board the Cambrian frigate, successively commanded by Captains the Hon. Arthur Kaye Legge and George H. Towry, on the Channel station. During the peace of Amiens, we find him serving under Captain (now Sir Edward W. C. R.) Owen and the present Rear-Admiral Vansittart, in the Nemesis and Magicienne frigates; the latter employed in conveying a number of disbanded Dutch troops from Lymington and Jersey to the Texel and Helvoetsluys. After the renewal of hostilities with France, he followed Captain Vansittart into the Fortunée 38, on the North Sea station; and subsequently joined the Phaeton 38, Captain (now the Right Hon. Sir George) Cockburn, with whom he sailed for North America and the East Indies, Sept. 25th, 1803.

The Phaeton, with one of the Hon.E.I. Company’s ships under her convoy, left Chesapeake Bay on the 28th Jan. 1804, and arrived in Madras Roads May 26th. She was next employed in the blockade of the Mauritius and Isle Bourbon, during which service Mr. Powney repeatedly distinguished himself in boat expeditions, particularly at the capture and destruction of a ship which had run ashore, for protection, under a fort situated on Point Cannonière. He returned home Jan. 7th, 1806, in the Howe 38, into which ship Captain Cockburn had exchanged, on the 5th June preceding, for the purpose of bringing to England, from Bengal, the Marquis Wellesley (late governor-general) and suite.

The Howe was paid off in Feb. 1806; between which period and Sept. following, Mr. Powney served under Commodore Owen and Captain J. W. Loring, in the Clyde and Niobe frigates. On the 13th of the latter month, he was made lieutenant into the Bergere sloop. Shortly after joining that vessel, which was successively commanded by Captains the Hon. Granville Proby, Thomas Whinyates, and James Boxer, he gave great offence to the papists of Malta, by an act of indiscretion committed during a religious procession, and in consequence of their complaint he was tried by a court-martial, and sentenced to be placed at the bottom of the list of lieutenants. May 8th, 1808. But for this unfortunate occurrence, he would now, in all probability, have been an old captain.

Mr. Powmey’s next appointment was to the Zenobia 18, Captain Alexander Richard Mackenzie, on the North Sea station, where he served for a considerable period. In that vessel he was present at the siege and capture of Flushing, and bore a part in all the subsequent operations of the Walcheren expedition. On the 19th May, 1813, he was appointed second lieutenant of the Endymion frigate, Captain Henry Hope, fitting out for the North American station, where he assisted at the capture of the Perry letter of marque, Dec. 3d, in the same year; the Meteor schooner, of three guns and thirty-one men, Feb. 7th, 1814; and the Mars privateer of 15 guns and 70 men. Mar. 7th, following. The Meteor was taken by the boats of the Endymion, off New York, and Lieutenant Powney’s conduct on that occasion obtained him honourable mention in the London Gazette.

The Endymion formed part of the squadrons under Rear-Admiral Griffith (afterwards Sir Edward G. Colpoys) and Captain (now Rear-Admiral) Sir Thomas M. Hardy, in an expedition to the Penobscot river, and at the capture of the islands in Passamaquoddy Bay[1]. In the course of these services, Lieutenant Powney suffered so much from fatigue and privations that he was unfortunately obliged to invalid, a short time previous to the capture of the United States’ ship President, Jan. 15th, 1815[2]. He returned home first of the Martin sloop, Captain (now Sir Humphrey F.) Senhouse. On the escape of Napoleon Buonaparte from Elba to France, in the spring of 1815, Lieutenant Powney was appointed to the Caledonia 120, destined to hoist the flag of Sir John Gore; but which ship was paid off immediately after the battle of Waterloo. In September following, he received an appointment to the Vengeur 74, Captain Thomas Alexander, stationed at Portsmouth; the tender of which ship, employed in the suppression of smuggling, he commanded for two years. In 1818, he was appointed to the command of the Camelion revenue cutter, in which vessel he cruised, with considerable success, against illicit traders, in the British Channel, for a period of three years, occasionally attending upon our late monarch in his aquatic excursions.

In 1822, at the particular request of that admirable seaman, Captain John Hayes, C.B., Lieutenant Powney was appointed to command the Arrow, a cutter of his construction, of about 160 tons, mounting ten guns, embracing stability under canvas with little ballast, great buoyancy, better stowage, and swifter sailing qualities, than any model ever before designed by known schools of naval architecture. In this vessel, the construction and management of which reflected equal credit on Captain Hayes and Lieutenant Powney, when competing with many other cutters of greater tonnage, the latter officer was employed, for nearly three years, in protecting the oyster fisheries about Jersey, during which period he succeeded in capturing many smugglers.

In 1825, Lieutenant Powney was appointed to the Royal George yacht, and he subsequently, while commanding her tender, the Calliope, conveyed the Mexican chargé d’affaires, Senor Rocafuerte, with a treaty of commerce, from England to New Spain, where he was presented by the government of that republic with a table service of plate. He brought home from thence a freight of considerable value, April 12th, 1827.

In the spring of the same year, the Calliope having been found unfit for further service, Lieutenant Powney was lent, with the crew of the Royal George, to the Royal Sovereign yacht. Captain Sir William Hoste, in which ship the late Queen of Wirtemburg (Princess Royal of England) returned to her native country, on a visit to her august relatives, after an absence of twenty years. He subsequently had the honor of accompanying his present Majesty, then Lord High Admiral, and his royal consort, on several marine excursions, at the termination of which he was presented by that illustrious personage with a commander’s commission, dated June 26th, 1827. His last appointment was, April 6th, 1831, to be inspecting commander of the coast guard at Aldborough, where he remained for the usual period of three years.

This officer, than whom we know no one more zealously devoted to his profession, married Elizabeth, daughter of the late Captain Carleton, H.M. 16th foot, and niece to the late Lord Carleton, Chief Justice of Ireland.