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Royal Naval Biography/Richards, John

A Knight of the Ottoman Order of the Crescent.
[Post-Captain of 1809.]

Entered the navy in Oct. 1775, under the patronage of Captain (afterwards Sir Charles) Thompson; and was a midshipman on board the Alcide 74, commanded by that gallant officer, in the different actions with the Count de Grasse, off Martinique, the Chesapeake, and St. Kitt’s; in 1781, and Jan. 1782[1]. He also assisted at the defeat and capture of the same celebrated French Admiral, on the memorable 12th April, 1782[2].

The Alcide returned to England in June, 1783; and on the 15th of the following month Mr. Richards joined the Triumph 74, commanded by Captain Philip Affleck, and stationed as a guard-ship at Portsmouth, where he remained under that officer and his successor, Captain Jonathan Faulknor, until Feb. 28, 1786. During the Spanish armament we find him again serving with Captain Thompson, in the Elephant 74,. His commission as a Lieutenant bears date Nov. 15, 1790. On the 2d April, 1791, Lieutenant Richards was appointed to the Barfleur 98, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Faulknor; and after the breaking up of the fleet which had been equipped in consequence of the dispute with Russia, he appears to have successively joined the Falcon sloop, and Assurance 44; commanded by Captains James Bissett and V. C. Berkeley.

Under these officers, Lieutenant Richards was principally employed at the Leeward Islands, from whence he returned home first of the Asia 64, Captain John Brown, in the summer of 1794. During the previous operations against Martinique he served on shore, in the seamen’s battery, with 100 of her crew under his command. The hardships which he suffered, in common with the other officers of the naval detachment, have been noticed in our memoir of Sir Charles Ogle – vol. 1, part I, note at p. 711. His subsequent appointments were to the Fury sloop, employed on Channel service; and, May 15, 1795, to the Alfred 74, fitting for a foreign station.

The Alfred formed part of the fleet that sailed from St. Helen’s, under Rear-Admiral Christian, in Nov. 1795; and she was twice obliged to put back through stress of weather[3]; the latter time dismasted. After refitting at Plymouth we find her placed under the orders of Vice-Admiral Cornwallis, with whom she finally took her departure for the West Indies, Feb. 29, 1796.

Early in the following month, the Alfred captured la Favorite French national ship, of 22 guns; and retook two of the convoy, which had been dispersed by a heavy gale in the latitude of Cape Finisterre[4].

On her arrival at Barbadoes, the Alfred joined the expedition then about to sail against St. Lucia: and after assisting at the reduction of that island[5], she proceeded to Jamaica, capturing, on her way thither, la Renommée French frigate, of 44 guns and 320 men. The high opinion then entertained of Lieutenant Richards by his Captain, is thus expressed in a letter from the latter to Commodore Duckworth, dated Port Royal, July 19, 1796:

“Sir,– Having, as senior officer at this port, given an order for the purchase of la Renommée frigate, prize to H.M. ship under my command, I have thought proper to appoint my first Lieutenant, Mr. John Richards, as acting Captain in her for the present: and I cannot, in justice to that gentleman, omit recommending him to your notice, as I have always found him a worthy, attentive, good officer. His conduct while on board the corvette la Favorite, captured by the Alfred on the 5th March last, was such as to enable Captain Bowen, of H.M.S. Canada, whom he fell in with on his passage to Barbadoes, to recommend him to the attention of the Admiralty. I have likewise strenuously recommended him to their Lordships on this secondary business; and have to hope, as la Renommée constitutes an appointment for a Post-Captain, that you will have the goodness to appoint Lieutenant Richards to the vacant rank of Commander. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)Thomas Drury.”

In his letter to the Admiralty, reporting the capture of la Renommée, Captain Drury says:

“In justice to the officers and company of H.M. ship under my command, particularly my first Lieutenant, Mr. John Richards, I cannot help expressing my entire approbation of their steady behaviour, which I am confident would have been very conspicuous had she been a ship of equal force.”

Notwithstanding the above strong recommendation, Lieutenant Richards was ordered by Commodore Duckworth to resume his former station on board the Alfred, in which ship he continued, under the command of Captain Drury, and that officer’s successor, the late Rear-Admiral Totty, until Aug. 27, 1798, acting as Captain of her during the absence of the former officer, in June, 1796; assisting at the reduction of Trinidad, in Feb. 1797; and again commauding her, whilst the latter officer was employed on shore at Porto Rico, in the month of April following[6].

On the 16th Feb. 1798, Lieutenant Richards volunteered to head the Alfred’s boats in an attack upon a French corvette, which vessel had been sent to reconnoitre the Saintes, and when chased from thence succeeded in getting within range of the batteries at Basseterre, Guadaloupe, leaving the British ship becalmed some distance in the offing. His offer being accepted by Captain Totty, and observing that the greater part of the enemy’s crew were employed towing, Lieutenant Richards instantly shoved off in a fast-rowing gig, dashed alongside, and boarded her without waiting for any support. Fortunately, perhaps, for him, the Frenchmen who remained on board were so surprised at his audacity, and intimidated by the approach of the other boats, that they ran below, and were secured under hatches, without making any resistance. The prize proved to be le Scipio, of 20 guns!

We next find Lieutenant Richards joining the Queen Charlotte, a first rate, bearing the flag of his early patron. Sir Charles Thompson; after whose demise (Mar. 17, 1799), he proceeded with Rear-Admiral Whitshed to the Mediterranean station, and was there promoted into la Courageuse sloop, stationed as a receiving ship at Port Mahon. This appointment was confirmed by the Admiralty, Dec. 26, 1799.

On the 20th June, 1800, Captain Richards received an order to act as captain of the Culloden 74, which ship he brought home in a very leaky condition. His next appointment was to la Victorieuse of 12 guns, and in that vessel he went back to the Mediterranean with despatches for the commander-in-Chief, whom he rejoined in Marmorice bay, Jan. 7, 1801.

During the Egyptian campaign, la Victorieuse was principally employed blockading Alexandria, off which port she captured several vessels laden with supplies for the French army. Captain Richards likewise assisted at the reduction of Marabout castle, situated about seven or eight miles from that place, and protecting one of the entrances to the western harbour. For his gallantry on this occasion, he was presented with a gold snuff box and shawl by the Capitan Pacha; and several other articles of value by different Turkish commanders.

About the same period, the Peterel sloop and la Victorieuse drove a French transport brig on shore, and sent their boats to save the enemy from being murdered by the Arabs. A gale of wind suddenly came on, and the land being dead to leeward, only one boat, a gig, belonging to Captain Richards, could pull off; the remainder were stove, and their crews consequently exposed to very great danger. At this trying moment the commander of la Victorieuse ordered two spare top masts to be battened together, and boats’ masts stepped in the fid-holes; by which means the raft, having one man on it, was sailed on shore, and every person, both English and French, rescued from destruction.

On the 21st Aug. 1801, the western bogaze having been discovered and accurately surveyed[7], la Victorieuse entered the port of Alexandria in company with three other British and the same number of Ottoman sloops, for the purpose of supporting the left flank of the troops under Major-General Coote, in an attack upon the French posts. On this occasion the combined squadron was led by Captain Richards, under the immediate orders of Captain the Hon. Alexander Cochrane, then on board la Victorieuse.

At the conclusion of the campaign, Captain Richards was presented with the Turkish gold medal, in common with his brother officers. He afterwards visited Cyprus, Smyrna, and Constantinople, where he was invested with a pelisse by order of the Grand Seignor. We subsequently find him proceeding to Athens, Zante, Malta, Palermo, Cagliara, Marseilles, Barcelona, Lisbon, Ceuta, and Tangiers.

In Nov. 1802, la Victorieuse made a second trip to the Bosphorus, for the purpose of landing Mirza Aboo Talib Khan, a distinguished Persian traveller, who had long been resident in London, Shortly after his arrival in that strait, Captain Richards received a letter from the British Ambassador at Constantinople, a copy of which we shall lay before our readers, for the purpose of shewing that the “Elgin Marbles” &c. were not so cheaply procured by the noble collector as many persons are disposed to believe:

Constantinople, Oct. 25, 1802.

“Sir,– As I understand that Major Brace left you at the Dardanelles, I beg leave to address the bearer to you, in case he should he so fortunate as to meet you. I send him to Cerigo, where I am assured that a brig belonging to me foundered about a month ago. I have no direct intelligence, either of the accident, or of the means or hopes of recovering the vessel, or the cargo. A merchant-captain, who travelled with Major Brace to Constantinople, declares he was on the island at the time; and that Mr. Hamilton, an English gentleman, attached to my embassy (who was on board), had engaged two large merchantmen to raise the brig, which, he adds, they expected to be able to accomplish. This merchant-captain further says, he heard you intended not proceeding to Constantinople, in case the northerly wind should continue. This probability makes me venture to say, that if it does suit your plans to call at Cerigo, and examine, direct, or even assist in recovering my brig (the same for which you obligingly took an interest last year), you will confer the highest favor upon me. The vessel, in itself, is of consequence, as she is not insured; but her cargo is infinitely more so. She had on board a number of cases of acquisitions, which I had collected with immense trouble, and expense, at Athens, and which are, in their way, invaluable. I venture to say, that, altho’ the ship and cargo are my property, and cannot therefore justify my asking your interference, publicly, yet the assistance I have experienced from Lord Keith and Sir Richard Bickerton, on the subject of these acquisitions, gives me confidence in saying, that, in as far as they, or the commanding officer under whose orders you may now be, are to judge, they will not pass an unfavorable opinion, on your making as much exertion, for the recovery of this vessel and cargo, as for any other merchantman: in saying this, I beg you to be assured, that I feel the decision on your part to rest solely with yourself, and that my obligation will of course be entirely to you. At all events, I am confident you will understand the anxiety I must have on this occasion, and that you will give the bearer any directions or aid which you may think useful for him. I have the honor to remun. Sir, with much respect, your faithful, humble servant,


In consequence of this communication, Captain Richards immediately proceeded to Port St. Nicolo, where he used every means in his power to recover the Ambassador’s valuable property; but was obliged to abandon the attempt after eleven days’ most strenuous exertions, the whole of his purchases having given way, and there being no possibility of replacing them.

Shortly after the renewal of hostilities (1803), Captain Richards was stationed between Capes Spartel and Trafalgar, where he fell in with and engaged two French armed vessels, but was unable to close with them in consequence of their sweeping over to the African coast, leaving la Victorieuse nearly becalmed in the offing. On the 22d of the same month (July) he sailed from Gibraltar, with Lord Nelson’s despatches for the Admiralty; and at the latter end of September following, he had the mortification to be put out of commission; although his sloop was then refitted, and had been ordered to prepare for the reception of the gentleman who was at that time appointed his Majesty’s representative at Washington. While on half-pay he received a letter from his Persian friend, of which the following is an exact translation:

Calcutta, 29 Oct. 1803.

“Dear Sir,– I have the pleasure to inform you that I arrived here a few months ago. I have since used my best endeavours to procure a white shawl for your friend, but have not been fortunate enough to find one to my wish. In the mean time I avail myself of the opportunity of a gentleman returning to England, to forward you a green shawl, the best I could get here, addressed to you in Berners Street. When I go up to my native city of Lucknow, I am certain of procuring a white one there of the finest quality, which I shall take care to send you by the first occasion. I have have had the pleasure of meeting with, and presenting your respects to Captain Thornhill and his daughter. In requesting you to accept of my most grateful acknowledgements for the uniform kindness and attention which I received on board your ship, I remain. Dear Sir, your most obedient faithful servant,

(Signed)Aboo Talib Khan.”

The writer of the above letter was well known in England, under the title of the “Persian Prince”. A narrative of his travels, written by himself, and translated by the Hon. East India Company’s Professor of Oriental Languages, was published by Longman and Co. in 1810. Speaking of his voyage in la Victorieuse, he says:

“As soon as I had an opportunity of showing to Captain Richards the letters of his Majesty’s Ministers to the English Consuls and Ambassadors at the different courts, and he was thereby convinced of my attachment to, and connexion with the British nation, he conducted himself to me with brotherly affection, and anticipated every wish of my heart. This voyage was therefore one of the pleasantest I had ever undertaken.”

Captain Richards’s next appointment was, July 1, 1804, to the Broderscarp sloop, stationed as a guard-ship in Whitstable bay, where he continued until Oct. 1805. Whilst commanding that vessel he detained and made prize of a neutral ship, with a valuable cargo of hemp and tallow, bound to a French port.

On the 18th Sept. 1806, Captain Richards commissioned the Forester, a new brig of the largest class, in which he was employed escorting the trade to and from the Baltic, and occasionally cruising on the coast of Holland, where he recaptured an English ship laden with timber, feathers, and wheat, and prevented many neutrals from entering the blockaded ports of the enemy. He also captured the Hiram, a celebrated smuggling cutter ; and burnt the wreck of H.M. late frigate Flora, in order to prevent the Dutch from obtaining any of her materials[8].

In June 1808, Captain Richards was entrusted with the command of a small squadron stationed off Goree; and in the following month he received orders to fit for foreign service.

The Forester sailed from Spithead, with 500,000 dollars on board for the use of the Spanish patriots, and seven sail of transports under her convoy; two, laden with ordnance stores, bound to Corunna; and the others with provisions for the West India garrisons.

After a stay of eight days at Corunna, Captain Richards proceeded to Barbadoes, and there joined Sir Alexander Cochrane, by whom he was successively employed in the blockade of Martinique and Guadaloupe.

On the 31st May, 1809 (about four months after the surrender of the former valuable colony), the boats of a small squadron, under the orders of Captain Richards, captured a French brig letter of marque, and a schooner, lying in Port du Molas, where they were protected by 4 long 8-pounders and 300 soldiers. This service was conducted by Lieutenant Robert Carr, of the Attentive gun-brig, who after securing his prizes, landed, spiked the enemy’s guns, and blew up their magazine.

A few days afterwards, the subject of this memoir removed to the Abercrombie 74, at Antigua, of which ship he continued to act as Captain until Aug. 31 following, when he left her in consequence of his having been promoted by the Admiralty, and appointed to the Cyclops 28 “for rank.” His post commission bears date June 2, 1809.

Captain Richards returned home, via Halifax, and was allowed the expenses of his passage from thence to England in a packet.

Agent.– J. Hinxman Esq.

  1. See Vol. II. Part I. p. 62; and the notes at pp. 63–66.
  2. See Vol. I. p. 36 et seq.
  3. See p. 296 et seq. of Suppl. Part I.
  4. Vice-Admiral Cornwallis returned to Spithead on the 14th Mar., in consequence of his flag-ship having sustained much damage by running foul of the Belisarius transport.
  5. See Vol. I, note † at p. 134.
  6. See Vol. I. note at p. 112 et seq.
  7. See Suppl., Part I, p. 479.
  8. The Flora 36, Captain Loftus Otway Bland, was wrecked Jan. 19, 1808; and in the same gale every vessel of the Heligoland squadron except the Forester, was likewise driven on shore.