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Royal Naval Biography/Roberts, Samuel

A Companion of the Moat Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1815.]

This officer is a native of Waterford, in Ireland. He entered the naval service at an early age, and was a midshipman of the Anson frigate, Captain Philip Charles Durham, in Sir John B. Warren’s action with Mons. Bompart, and at the capture of la Loire, Oct. 12 and 18, 1798[1].

Mr. Roberts subsequently joined la Volage 24, Captain the Hon. Philip Wodehouse, under whose command he proceeded to the Jamaica station, where he assisted in cutting out many of the enemy’s vessels; but at length had the misfortune to be severely wounded and taken prisoner. We next find him serving on board Sir John T. Duckworth’s flag-ship, the Leviathan 74, during the peace of Amiens. Immediately after the renewal of hostilities, he was placed by that officer under Captain Edmund Boger, of the Echo sloop of war. In 1804, he assisted at the capture of a French transport, full of troops; and a privateer, mounting 16 guns, with a complement of 50 men[2]. Five well-armed vessels, having on board 250 soldiers, were also captured by a single boat under his command, containing no more than 13 men, with cutlasses, muskets, and pistols. On another occasion, having been accidentally left ashore at Jamaica, and observing a privateer take possession of the Dorothy Foster, a valuable West India trader, he immediately embarked with some volunteer seamen in another merchant vessel, pursued the enemy, and, after an obstinate conflict, compelled him to surrender his prey. For this exploit he was rewarded with an order to act as lieutenant of the Echo.

Captain Boger subsequently gave Mr. Roberts the command of a tender, mounting one 12-pounder carronade and two 2-pounders, with a crew consisting of 21 men ; directing him to look out for and endeavour to detain some Spaniards about to sail from the Havannah for Europe. He shortly afterwards fell in with two vessels, one of 12 guns and 60 men, the other carrying 8 guns and 40 men; their superiority in force was not greater than what they possessed in sailing; determined, however, to defend his little craft until the last extremity, he fought them for half-an-hour, and did not yield until she began to sink, taking with her to the bottom the whole of the killed and wounded. For several months from that period, Mr. Roberts was imprisoned in a damp dungeon, treated in the harshest manner, and kept destitute of the most common necessaries of life. On recovering his liberty, he was again received by his friend. Sir John T. Duckworth, with whom he returned to England, in a very deplorable state of health, as passenger on board the Acasta frigate[3]. We have already stated, that he was a volunteer under Lieutenant (now Sir Nisbet Josiah) Willoughby, when that heroic officer conceived the idea of cutting out a Spanish corvette from the harbour of St. Martha[4], His first commission bears date May 22, 1806.

We next find Mr. Roberts serving as lieutenant of the Unicorn frigate, Captain Lucius Hardyman; and commanding a detachment of 50 seamen, at the capture of Monte Video[5], on which occasion he rendered important aid to the right column of the assailants, by scaling the walls of the town, near the north gate, and helping to force it open from within.

After his return from South America, Mr. Roberts became senior lieutenant of the Unicorn, in which capacity he assisted at the destruction of la Ville de Varsovie, French 80, and her consorts, in Aix roads, April 12, 1809[6]. He subsequently removed, with Captain Hardyman, to the Armide 38, and commanded her boats at the capture and destruction of 15 of the enemy’s coasting vessels, near Rochelle, in Jan. and Feb. 1810[7].

Early on the morning of May 4 following, the boats of the Armide, assisted by those of the Cadmus sloop, and Monkey and Daring gun-brigs, the whole under the directions of Lieutenant Roberts, made (in attack upon a convoy at the Isle of Rhé, defended by batteries on shore, two armed luggers, and several pinnaces. Although the enemy were well prepared to receive them, our brave fellows boarded and took possession of 17 sail; but the wind unfortunately veered round from the northward to E.S.E. and blowing fresh into the anchorage, with a flood-tide, rendered abortive every attempt to bring them out; 13 were consequently burnt, and the others left on shore. In the performance of this dashing service, the British had 3 killed and 3 severely wounded; all belonging to the Armide. One of the slain was Lieutenant P. S. Townley, a gallant and very promising young officer.

Early in 1812, Mr. Roberts was applied for by the late Admiral Sir William Young, under whom he served as first lieutenant of the Impregnable 98, on the North Sea station, until his promotion to the rank of commander, Dec. 6, 1813; at which period he had not seen a relation for 17 years.

On the 19th Feb, 1814, Captain Roberts was appointed to the Meteor bomb; and in that vessel he accompanied a detachment of British troops, under Major-General Ross, from the Garonne to North America, where he again distinguished himself on many occasions, particularly during the expeditions against Alexandria[8], Baltimore, and New Orleans[9]. He was nominated a C.B. June 4, 1815; advanced to post rank on the 13th of the same month; appointed to the Tay 26, in Jan. 1816; wrecked the gulf of Mexico, Nov. 11 following; and fully acquitted of all blame for the loss of that ship, by a court-martial held at Jamaica, in March, 1817.

Some time after his return to England, Captain Roberts was entertained at the Commercial Hotel, Waterford, by a numerous and most respectable assemblage of his fellow citizens, who were desirous to manifest their sense of his merit, and of the services which he had rendered to his country, by a public testimony of approbation. In the course of the convivial day, it was stated by the chairman, Thomas King, Esq. that their respected guest had fought the enemies of Great Britain, on fifty-three occasions[10].

This officer’s last appointment was, Jan. 31, 1823, to the Egeria 24; in which ship he brought home Mr. Morier, late British Commissioner in Mexico, and a quantity of cochineal and specie, from Vera Cruz and the Havannah, July 13, 1825.

Agents.– Messrs. Maude & Co.


[Post-Captain of 1815.]

Great-nephew to Thomas Santell, Esq. who lost his life while serving under the late Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, as first lieutenant, during the American revolutionary war.

We have stated in p. 29 of Suppl. Part IV., that this officer (whose whole life has been enthusiastically devoted to his profession, and whose achievements have obtained for him all his commissions) commanded a detachment of fifty seamen, at the capture of Monte Video; and that he rendered important aid to the right column of assailants, “by sealing the walls of the town, near the north gate, and helping to force it open from within.” It is true, that Lieutenant Roberts landed with the army under Sir Samuel Achmuty; that he performed the duty of an officer of artillery, until some time after the capture of Monte Video; and that he shared also in the different actions and severe duties that took place previous to the storming of the town. It is likewise true, that fifty or sixty seamen were landed to be under his orders; – one-half of them serving under his immediate command, the rest attached to a corps of pikemen, who carried scaling-ladders on the morning of the assault: but to Mr. Henry Smith, a midshipman of the Unicorn, the credit is due for having scaled the wall, and opened the gate from within, so as to admit the right column of the assailants; on which occasion that gentleman received a severe wound. Since the publication of Suppl. Part IV., in 1880, the following instances of cool bravery, on the part of Captain Samuel Roberts, have come to our knowledge.

After her return from South America, and previous to the destruction of the French ships in the road of l’Isle d’Aix, the Unicorn, of which frigate he was then first lieutenant, lay for a considerable time in Basque Roads, and her boats gave such constant annoyance to the coasting trade of the enemy, that mortar-batteries were commenced, for the purpose of driving the inshore squadron, under Captain Hardyman, from its position. Observing these preparations. Lieutenant Roberts volunteered to check the progress of the French engineers, although they were protected in their avocation by a number of troops on shore, and four gun-vessels in their front. A signal was consequently made to the squadron, directing boats from every ship to be sent to the point attack; but, by some unaccountable mistake, all took an opposite course to those of the Unicorn, and proceeded towards a chasse-marée, lying aground under Oleron light-house. Undismayed by this circumstance. Lieutenant Roberts pushed on to the attack; but had the mortification to find, that five more gun-boats had been sent from the French fleet, and that they were drawn up with the others, in a line abreast, ready to receive him. This was a most, trying moment; for, to have attempted, with only four boats, the capture of so vastly superior a force, by boarding, would have been considered an act of unpardonable temerity: on the contrary, had be precipitately retreated, it would not. have been relished by the gallant fellows under his command:– he therefore determined to form a line abreast and within pistol-shot of the flotilla; anxiously hoping, that other boats would speedily arrive to his support. In this state of suspense he remained for about a quarter of an hour; but without receiving the smallest reinforcement. The launch, armed with a carronade, and her consorts, with musketry, then opened upon the enemy, who returned their fire with twenty-fold interest, each French vessel having a long gun in the bow, swivels on the gunwales, and her deck filled with soldiers. The necessity of giving up so unequal a contest soon became apparent; but still sauve qui peut was by no means the order of the day: – instead of an inglorious flight, a steady retreat was commenced, in the true Cornwallis style: the launch, towed by the other boats, kept up an incessant fire; and so completely were the enemy daunted by the coolness and determined spirit evinced by Lieutenant Roberts and his gallant party, that, though they could have closed whenever they pleased, they kept at a respectful distance from their opponents until the latter were not more than a mile from the Unicorn, when they gave three cheers and departed. In this rencontre, Lieutenant Hamilton, a fine spirited officer, had his head severed from his body by a cannon shot; a similar fate attended one of the barge’s crew; and several other men were wounded.

On the afternoon of the 12th April, 1809, the Unicorn followed Lord Cochrane into the road of Isle d’Aix, and there assisted in subduing la Ville de Varsovie, of 80 guns, and l’Aquilon 74. At intervals, as the smoke cleared away. Captain Hardyman observed some of the crew of the former French ship endeavouring to strike her colours, which were evidently entangled at the mizen-peak: the Unicorn’s fire ceased; but the other frigates still kept up a tremendous raking cannonade. Lieutenant Roberts, with instantaneous promptness, took advantage of his captain’s suggestion, pushed off in the gig, boarded la Ville de Varsovie through the lower-deck port abaft the gangway, and, with the coxswain, John Newton, made his way through her crew, at quarters, to the poop. – Finding there an English union-jack amongst a confused heap of flags, dead bodies, and lumber, the coxswain proceeded with it flying in his hand, to the mizen-top-mast head, – a token of submission, and a hint to the British frigates to turn their fire to a more deserving object. The captain of la Ville de Varsovie, and the whole of his officers, then delivered their swords to Lieutenant Roberts, whose mortification must have been very great when he received directions to give them up to the first lieutenant of the Valiant 74, the captain of which ship had by that time taken upon himself the command of the advanced squadron: nor was this the only mortification he had to endure; for he found afterwards that those swords were distributed amongst officers in the squadron, without regard to his prior claim even for one of them. It must be admitted that he earned so trifling a memento, if not more.

Few persons have served more constantly, and very few have experienced in greater abundance the hard rubs incident to a sea life, than the subject of these Addenda. – The certainty of death, if in our Country’s cause, carries with it a consolation,, and it is met with fortitude: but the dark sanguinary blow of the assassin brings no alleviation; and such was the character of an attempt made upon the life of Lieutenant Roberts, when belonging to the Courageux 74, in 1811. He had been sent on board the United States’ frigate Essex, lying at the entrance of Hamoaze, to claim a deserter; the man in question, a black, not being able to produce an American protection, was unhesitatingly given up, and directed to return with his officer; but this he refused to do, swearing at the same time most vehemently. As he followed Lieutenant Roberts out of the captain’s cabin, he made use of some incoherent expression, seized an axe from among some carpenter’s tools, and made a blow at him: providentially, an American officer, on the opposite side of the half-deck, observed the fellow lay hold of the axe, and with a loud voice called out “Run, Sir, run for your life, run!” The lieutenant’s attention had luckily been drawn to the side of the deck where the officer was, and observing his gestures, indicative of a mind between hope and fear, he sprang forward, ran until he reached the fore-bitts, and then, turning round, found that the black had pursued him as far as the gun before the main-mast, on the breech of which the blood-thirsty wretch very deliberately laid his left hand, and cut it off about the wrist. This man was allowed to proceed to America in the Essex, the commander-in-chief at Plymouth considering that he had punished himself sufficiently. We have never heard of a more wanton attack on the life of an officer, who was but obeying the orders of his superior; nor ever heard of a more astonishing escape.

Captain Roberts’s brother, Thomas, is a commander, R.N. His services will be noticed at the commencement of our next volume.