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Royal Naval Biography/Price, David

[Post-Captain of 1815.]

Is descended from the Prices, of Bulch Trebanne, co. Carmarthen, a property long in their possession; and, maternally, from the Powells, of Abersenny, in Brecknockshire.

He entered the royal navy, at the early age of eleven years, as midshipman on board the Ardent 64, Captain Thomas Bertie, which ship formed part of Lord Nelson’s division at the battle off Copenhagen, April 2, 1801[1] on that occasion suffered very severely in her hull, masts, sails, and rigging, besides sustaining a loss of 93 men killed and wounded, exclusive of about 40 others who received slight hurts and contusions. This sanguinary conflict took place in the second month of his professional career.

The Ardent was paid off in the spring of 1802; and Mr. Price soon afterwards joined the Blenheim 74, then stationed as a guard-ship at Portsmouth, but subsequently bearing the broad pendant of the late Sir Samuel Hood; under whom he also served in the Centaur 74, on the Leeward Islands’ station. Previous to that officer’s departure from the West Indies, Mr. Price was lent, for short periods, to the Osprey and St. Lucia, sloops of war. He afterwards nerved with Captain Murray Maxwell, in the Centaur, Galatea, and Hyaena, which latter frigate escorted home a fleet of merchantmen, in Nov. 1805. On his arrival in England, he again joined the Centaur, and was signal midshipman of that ship at the capture of four large French frigates, full of troops, after a smart action, Sept. 25, 1806[2].

Towards the end of 1806, Sir Samuel Hood received orders to join a secret expedition at the Cape Verd Islands, but which sailed from thence previous to his arrival. He subsequently cruised, with a squadron under his orders, between Madeira and the Canaries. In the summer of 1807, he was appointed to a command in the grand armament destined to act against the Danish capital, off which he first hoisted his flag, as Rear-Admiral, on the 18th Oct. following.

During the bombardment of Copenhagen, Mr. Price was principally employed in the Centaur’s guard-boats, preventing the arrival of supplies for the besieged, from the Baltic side: after the submission of the Danes, he assisted in equipping, and bringing to England, the Norge 74. At the close of the same year, he witnessed the occupation of Madeira, by a naval and military force under Sir Samuel Hood and Major-General Beresford. The destruction of a Russian 74, by the Centaur and Implacable, at the entrance of Rogerswick harbour, Aug. 26, 1808, has been fully described at p. 649 et seq. of Vol. II. Part. II.

Some time previous to the latter event, Mr. Price and another midshipman[3] were sent in one of the Centaur’s cutters, commanded by Lieutenant James Shea, to cut off a Danish despatch boat, then endeavouring to pass the isle of Moen, on her way from Copenhagen to Bornholm. Finding it impossible to escape by sea, the enemy pushed on shore under a high cliff, where a body of troops was posted, with several pieces of cannon. As the cutter approached, the Danes opened a heavy fire; and, just as she touched the beach, Lieutenant Shea fell mortally wounded. The object of pursuit, however, was gallantly secured and towed off by the two midshipmen, one of whom, Mr. Price, was struck in the hand by a spent musket-ball, after cutting the rope which secured her to the shore.

The Centaur’s return home, for the winter season, afforded Mr. Price an opportunity of passing his examination; and in April, 1809, Sir Samuel Hood appointed him acting lieutenant of the same ship in which he had first embarked as a midshipman.

The Ardent was then at Gottenburg, commanded by Captain Robert Honyman, and about to be stationed in the Great Belt, for the protection of our Baltic trade. While thus employed, her boats were frequently detached, and often engaged with the enemy’s flotilla. On one occasion, Mr. Price was sent with a small party to procure wood and water at the island of Ronsoe, but unfortunately, 300 Danes had arrived there the night before, and by concealing themselves until after he landed, they were enabled to surround him, and effectually cut off his retreat. Resistance against such superior numbers would have been quite useless, and he therefore had no other alternative but to surrender: several of his men, who had been left as boat-keepers, were either killed or wounded while endeavouring to escape.

From Ronsoe, Mr. Price was removed to Odensee, in the Isle of Fuen; but his captivity was not of long duration, for in the course of the same season we again find him on board the Ardent, his appointment to which ship was confirmed by the Admiralty, Sept. 28, 1809. Scarcely had he rejoined her, when she got aground on Anholt-reef, through the ignorance of her pilot, and narrowly escaped destruction.

Very soon after this disaster. Lieutenant Price captured a Danish vessel, in which he had the misfortune to be cast away on the coast of Norway, and was consequently taken prisoner. When exchanged, he once more returned to his old ship; and occasionally commanded her tender, on detached service, in the summer of 1810.

Lieutenant Price’s next appointment was, about Feb. 1811, to the Hawke brig, of 16 guns, Captain Henry Bourchier, whose high opinion of his merits will be seen by the handsome mention he makes of him in an official letter to Admiral Sir Roger Curtis, dated Aug. 19, 1811; a copy of which is given at p. 435 et seq. of Suppl. Part II.

Two days before the gallant action there described, Lieutenant Price, with the Hawke’s jolly-boat alone, had cut out a French vessel, near Cape Barfleur, under a galling fire from the shore. He subsequently received the following reply to a letter which he had addressed to Sir Samuel Hood, on hearing of his appointment to the chief command in India:

“My dear Sir,– I thank you for your congratulations, and am glad to hear of your welfare and success. A small ship is best, when an officer has zeal and exertion: so long as you continue to deserve my attention (which I have little doubt of), if fortune does not favor you, and it is in my power to serve you hereafter, I shall never neglect, nor forget that you are in the service under my protection. Believe me very faithfully yours,

(Signed)Saml. Hood.

This friendly epistle was followed by an offer from the writer to get his protegé removed into a frigate on the East India station; but as Sir Samuel had several very old followers then looking up to him for promotion. Lieutenant Price preferred remaining in the Hawke, which vessel continued to be actively employed on the Cherbourg station, under the command of Captain George Wyndham, by whom he is highly spoken of in an official letter, reporting the capture of a schooner in the river Isere, by a small gig under his directions, exposed to a smart fire of musketry from the shore. It would greatly exceed our limits were we to make particular mention of every boat affair in which he was engaged at that period; but there is one that we cannot pass over in silence, particularly as it remains unnoticed by either of our contemporaries.

On the 2lst Oct. 1811, Lieutenant Price reconnoitred Barfleur, and discovered a lugger and several brigs lying there, in a situation to be easily carried by the boats of a frigate and sloop. This being reported to Captain Stephen Thomas Digby, of the Theban 36, that officer immediately detached his barge, &c. under Lieutenant John Maples, “to be guided by the further directions of Captain Wyndham.” The result of the attack is thus stated in an official letter from Captain Digby to Sir Home Popham:–

The barge unfortunately separated. One of the brigs was most gallantly carried by Lieutenant Price, and Mr. Smith, master of the Hawke, in two of her boats, but from ours not arriving in time for their support, and the brig being chained, they were obliged to abandon their prize, with, I am sorry to say, the loss of 2 men killed and 5 wounded. Among the latter is Lieutenant Price severely.”

We are informed, that the Theban’s barge went to examine a strange object, which proved to be a buoy; and that Lieutenant Price, on being hailed by a French guard-boat, dashed forward and boarded the nearest brig, under a heavy fire, by which 2 of his companions were slain and 3 wounded. After gaining her deck, and cutting down two Frenchmen, he was himself felled by the butt-end of a musket, the wielder of which jumped upon his body, and would quickly have despatched him but for the timely aid of his only follower, who was then unhurt, but soon afterwards severely wounded. When relieved from his critical situation by that gallant tar, he commenced an attack upon the French captain, who, however, parried the blow intended for him, and succeeded in disarming his assailant: at the same moment. Lieutenant Price was bayoneted by another foe.

During this very unequal combat on the brig’s deck, Mr. Smith, in the Hawke’s cutter, made an attempt to board her also, but failed in consequence of the side, on which he was, being defended by several resolute fellows within a strong netting. Pulling back towards the harbour’s mouth, he discovered the Hawke’s gig likewise retreating, and anxiously questioned the people in her respecting his gallant messmate: on their saying that they believed the Lieutenant was killed, he instantly resolved to renew the attack, declaring that he would bring him away, “whether dead or alive.”

In the mean time, Mr. Price had discovered that the gig was gone, and determined to swim after her, rather than be taken prisoner; rightly imagining, that as only one man had come to his support, the remainder of the crew were either killed or too badly wounded to assist him; and therefore hoping that he should be able to overtake and hang by her until she met with some other boat. When picked up by the cutter, his strength was almost gone.

On the Hawke’s arrival at Portsmouth, Lieutenant Price was sent to Haslar hospital, her surgeon believing that his hip-bone had been splintered; and three months elapsed before the real cause of his protracted sufferings was discovered. The fact is, that the Frenchman’s bayonet had been thrust with great violence against the upper part of the thigh-bone; and that it broke when he made a spring to extricate himself, leaving a piece, four inches and a half in length, behind: this was extracted by Mr. Charles Dods, one of the surgeons of the above establishment, and it is supposed that, as the flat part lay close to the bone, the probe had always passed along one of the grooves.

Lieutenant Price’s subsequent appointments were, to the Mulgrave 74 Captain Thomas James Maling; and San Josef, a first rate, fitting for the flag of Rear-Admiral Foote, previous to that officer becoming the second in command at Portsmouth[4]. He also served in the latter ship under Sir Richard King, by whom he was selected to do the duty of first lieutenant, although then only the third according to seniority.

The last brush in which Lieutenant Price was engaged with the French took place off Toulon, Nov. 5, 1813; on which occasion the San Josef had two fine young officers and two men wounded, whilst exchanging broadsides with the Wagram, of 130 guns. Each of the former[5] lost a leg by one unlucky shot.

The subject of this memoir was promoted to the command of the Volcano bomb, on the Mediterranean station, Dec. 6, 1813; and sent from thence to North America, in the summer of 1814. He appears to have joined the fleet under Sir Alexander Cochrane in time to assist at the bombardment of fort M‘Henry, protecting the entrance to Baltimore harbour; and we afterwards find him actively employed in the Potowmac river, under Rear-Admiral Pulteney Malcolm, who frequently allowed him to land, for the purpose of annoying the enemy, and contributing to the wants of the British squadron.

On the 31st Oct. 1814, being then in the windward passage, with a transport under convoy, bound to Jamaica, Captain Price fell in with the Saucy Jack, American schooner privateer, mounting 7 guns, with a complement of 160 men. This vessel he succeeded in decoying under his guns, but owing to her great superiority in sailing, she was enabled to effect her escape, after receiving two broadsides from the Volcano, as well as a warm salute of musketry from the troops on board the transport. In this affair. Lieutenant J. P. Furzer, R.M.A. and two of the bomb’s crew were killed; the enemy, according to their own report, had 7 slain and 14 wounded.

At the commencement of the operations against New Orleans, Captain Price was employed in surprising an American piquet, posted at the entrance of the Bayou Catalan.[6] He was subsequently wounded by a rifle-ball, on which occasion Rear-Admiral Malcolm wrote to Sir Alexander Cochrane as follows:

Head of the Bayou Catalan 24 Dec. 1814.

“Sir,– I have the honor to inform you, that last evening, the enemy in great force attacked General Keane’s little army, and were repulsed. When the attack commenced, I directed Captain Price, of the Volcano, to inform the General that the troops just landed were hastening to his support, and that I had ordered the seamen to carry up a supply of ammunition. Whilst executing this service, he fell in with a party of the enemy, who fired at and shot him through the thigh. In this state, he not only made his escape, but secured an American soldier: I trust his wound is not dangerous, as he is a gallant young man and an excellent officer.”

Although wounded in the manner described. Captain Price did not wish to be considered a non-combatant, and therefore no mention was made of him in the list of casualties transmitted home on that occasion: the fact of his having so suffered, however, was made known to the Admiralty, in a letter from Sir Alexander Cochrane, dated Jan. 29, 1815.

The Volcano formed part of the naval detachment sent up the Mississipi, to bombard fort St. Philip, and create a diversion in that quarter; on which service Captain Price remained, with his mortars almost constantly in play, until the retreat of the British army. He then proceeded to Mobile bay, and there again distinguished himself by his zeal and activity, in the command of a division of boats, during the siege of fort Bowyer. On the intelligence of peace arriving from England, he was sent with a flag of truce to announce the same to the American general; and he was finally directed to remain in that neighbourhood until the fort was restored to the proper authorities, according to the first article in the treaty of Ghent. He took his departure from thence, April 5, 1815; arrived at Portsmouth, May 31; and was advanced to post rank on the 13th of the following month.

Agent.– C. Clementson, Esq.

  1. See Vol. I. p. 384.
  2. See Vol. I. Part. II. p. 570 et seq., and Suppl. Part II. p. 417.
  3. The present Captain Walcott.
  4. See Suppl. Part II. p. 437, et seq.
  5. Lieutenant William Clarke, R.M. and Mr. William Cuppage, signal-midshipman.
  6. See Suppl. Part III. p. 259.