Royal Naval Biography/Roberts, John Charles Gawen

[Post-Captain of 1815.]

Is a son of William Roberts, Esq., late a captain in the 2d or Queen’s regiment of dragoon guards, by Sarah Gawen, of Salisbury, whose family, for many generations, possessed considerable estates in Wiltshire. His paternal ancestors were related to the former Earls of Radnor, and long settled in Yorkshire, from whence his grandfather emigrated to Poland, where he formed a noble alliance, and had several children[1].

Mr. John C.G. Roberts was born at Salisbury, co. Wilts, Aug. 25, 1787; and brought into the royal navy at a very early age, by his maternal uncle, Lieutenant Jeffery Gawen; but under the patronage of that inestimable and much lamented nobleman, the late Earl of Pembroke, K.G.[2]

After serving the necessary time as midshipman, on board the Dreadnought 98, Captain James Vashon, and Naiad frigate, successively commanded by Captains James Wallis and Thomas Dundas, he passed his examination In 1805, and was immediately appointed a sub-lieutenant. On the 12th Oct. in the same year, a commission was signed by the Admiralty, appointing him to the Pompée 74, Captain Richard Dacres, in which ship he was present during the whole of the arduous and important services she performed whilst bearing the flag of Sir W. Sidney Smith, on the Mediterranean station. The defence of Gaeta; the reduction of Capri, on which occasion he commanded a division of the storming party ; the attack of fort Licosa, in which affair the Pompée sustained a loss of 42 killed and wounded ; the disarming of the coasts of Naples and Calabria, from the gulf of Salerno to Scylla; the destruction of a Turkish Squadron, during the memorable expedition against Constantinople, &c. &c. have already been mentioned in our first and succeeding volumes. We have likewise stated that the Pompée bore the flag of Vice -Admiral Stanhope, in the grand armament sent against Copenhagen; and we should here add, that her boats, under Lieutenant Roberts and his brother officers, were constantly employed in repelling the attacks made by the Danish flotilla on the left wing of the British army.

Lieutenant Roberts subsequently joined the Foudroyant 80, Sir W. Sidney Smith’s flag-ship, on the South American station, from whence he returned to England with that distinguished officer, in the Diana frigate, Aug. 7, 1809. His next appointment was to the Shearwater brig. Captain Edward Reynolds Sibly; and he appears to have been first lieutenant of that vessel, when she effected her escape from a division of the Toulon fleet, July 20, 1810[3]. He was shortly afterwards removed, at the particular request of Sir Samuel Hood, into the Hibernia 120; and on that lamented officer’s departure from the Mediterranean, in consequence of his nomination to the chief command in India, we find him joining the Centaur 74, Captain J. C. White; of which ship he was senior lieutenant during her active co-operation with the Spanish patriots, on the coasts of Valencia and Catalonia.

After the fall of Tarragona, to the storming of which place he was an eye-witness[4], Lieutenant Roberts joined the flotilla employed in the defence of Cadiz, where he remained until his promotion to the command of the Merope brig, July 23, 1812. He then returned to the east coast of Spain, and continued there, under the orders of Rear-Admiral Hallowell, until the peace with France, in 1814. The important services performed by the squadron of which he formed a part were thus officially acknowledged.

H.M.S. Malta, off Balaguer, 19th June, 1813.

“Sir,– The ardour with which the captains, officers, and men of all descriptions of the squadron under my command, engaged in co-operation with the army upon the coast of Catalonia, and the indefatigable zeal and cheerfulness with which they performed the laborious duties that fell to their province, have been so conspicuous, as to entitle them to the highest praise on my part.

“That greater advantages to the public cause did not result is to be lamented, but ought not, and will not, I trust, discourage in the smallest degree further exertions. It is yet early in the campaign, and further operations are projected, wherein the same unwearied perseverance, the same alacrity, and cordial co-operation with the army, will have happier effects, I hope, and be crowned with complete success.

“I therefore request that you will express to the officers and company of H.M. sloop under your command, my grateful sense of their recent exertions, and my confidence in the continuance of them, whenever the opportunity shall be given.

“Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Pellew, the commander-in-chief, having, moreover, consigned to me the pleasing task of communicating his public thanks for the promptness and fidelity with which my orders have been uniformly executed, by all ranks in the squadron, I have great satisfaction in signifying his sincere acknowledgments of the meritorious conduct of yourself, your officers, and ship’s company, on the present service (of which he has received abundant testimony); and I am to request that you will make this known to them accordingly. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)Ben. Hallowell.”

To Captain Roberts, H.M. Sloop Merope.

H.M. Ship Invincible, Saloa Bay, 21st June, 1813.

general memorandum.

“Captain Adam has it in command from Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Pellew, Bart., commander-in-chief of H.M. ships in the Mediterranean, to express to the captains, officers, and men of the detachment serving upon the coast of Catalonia, his sincere thanks and approbation of their conduct during the recent service at Tarragona, and the Coll de Balaguer, in co-operation with the army. Their zealous exertions were most conspicuous. Captain Adam is happy to have an opportunity of expressing his most grateful thanks for their exertions; and requests the captains and commanders will make known to their officers and men, the high approbation of the commander-in-chief.

(Signed)Charles Adam.”

To the respective Captains and Commanders
on the Coast of Catalonia.

H.M. Ship Malta, at Sea, 27th April, 1814.

general memorandum.

“Rear-Admiral Hallowell has great pleasure in transmitting to the captains, officers, seamen, and royal marines of the squadron lately employed under his directions, an extract from the general orders issued by Lieutenant-General Clinton, commander of the forces, on the breaking up of the army from the blockade of Barcelona, a copy of which was enclosed to him by the Lieutenant-General. The Rear-Admiral begs leave to express in the strongest terms, the high sense he entertains of the merits of the different officers and men serving under him, and he requests they will accept his unfeigned thanks and acknowledgments for the cordial and zealous support they have afforded him, in the execution of the various duties they have had to perform, during the whole time of their employment en the coast of Catalonia.

(Signed)Ben. Hallowell.”

To the respective Captains and Commanders
of H.M. Ships and vessels.


Head Quarters, Molins del Rey, April 14th, 1814.

“In like manner the Lieutenant-General is particularly desirous of taking this opportunity of publicly expressing the high sense he has of the great advantages deHved to the public service from the hearty cooperation there has been on the part of Rear-Admiral Hallowell, and the squadron under his command, upon which the operations, and almost the very existence of this army have materially depended. It is impossible to say too much of the energy, the activity, Or the judicious management, evinced by the Rear-Admiral on all occasions; while animated by his example, every individual under his command, whether of the men of war, or of the transport ships, have seemed to vie with each other in forwarding the public service to the utmost, and in endeavouring by every obliging considerate attention, to convenience the situation of individual officers and men, whenever the circumstances of the moment have put it in their power to afford their disinterested and truly hospitable assistance.

(Signed)Thos. Molloy, Assistant-Adjutant-General.”

In April, 1814, Captain Roberts was removed to the Pylades, ship-sloop, and sent direct from the Mediterranean to North America. In Sept. following, while cruising off the entrance of the bay of Fundy, he recaptured, with his boats, after some considerable resistance, a fine teak-built ship called the Betsy, of 600 tons, with a cargo of spices, which had been taken on the coast of Sumatra, by an American privateer: in this affair Captain Roberts and 2 of his men were wounded.

The Pylades subsequently joined company with Rear-Admiral Hotham, off New London; and Captain Roberts was entrusted by that officer with the blockade of Newport, Rhode Island, on which coast he captured and destroyed many of the enemy’s vessels. After the conclusion of hostilities between Great Britain and the United States, he was sent with despatches to Cumberland Island, and ordered from thence to the West Indies. His post commission bears date June 13, 1815.

Since the general peace, Captain Roberts was under the painful necessity of quitting England, and seeking an asylum abroad, in consequence of a very heavy pecuniary demand having been made on him by the proprietors of a Spanish vessel that he seized, under very peculiar circumstances, in 1812; and but for the kind consideration of the Board of Admiralty, in unison with the strenuous and unremitting exertions of his early and constant friend, the Earl of Pembroke (who died in 1827), he must ever have remained an exile from his native country.

This officer married. May 31, 1817, Charlotte, eldest daughter of the late Lord Chief Justice Dallas, and niece to Sir George Dallas, Bart. He has issue two sons and one daughter. His only brother, William Gilbert Roberts, Esq. is a Commander, R.N.

  1. The eldest son, as well as this officer’s father, entered the British service, and held a commission in the royal horse-guards. The former earldom of Radnor became extinct in 1757.
  2. Lieutenant Gawen has recently retired with the rank of commander. Particular mention is made of the great antiquity of his family in Sir Richard Colt Hoare’s “Ancient Wiltshire.
  3. See Suppl. III. p. 240.
  4. See Vol. II. Part I. p. 225 et seq.