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Royal Naval Biography/Rowley, Charles


SIR CHARLES ROWLEY,


Rear-Admiral of the Red; Commander-in-Chief in the West Indies; Knight Commander of the most honorable Military Order of the Bath; and of the Austrian Order of Maria Theresa.

This officer, the fourth son of the late Vice-Admiral Sir Joshua Rowley, Bart., by Sarah, daughter of Bartholomew Burton, Esq., and a grandson of the late Sir William Rowley, K.B.[1], was made a Lieutenant in 1789, and obtained the rank of Post-Captain Aug. 1, 1795. In the following year he commanded the Cleopatra, of 32 guns, on the American station, where he captured the Aurore French corvette. His next appointment was to l’Unité, in which frigate he took la Brunette, of 10 guns, pierced for 16, and 80 men, near l’Isle de Dieu. He also assisted at the capture of the Indian, of 16 guns, and another privateer, name unknown, in the Channel.

In the spring of 1801, our officer succeeded the present Sir Richard G. Keats in the command of the Boadicea, another fine frigate, the boats of which, in company with those of the Fisgard and Diamond, captured and brought out the Spanish vessel of war, El Neptuna, pierced for 20 guns, and a gun-boat carrying a 32-pounder, from under the batteries at Corunna. We next find him commanding the Ruby, of 64 guns, stationed off the Texel, under the orders of Rear-Admiral Thornbrough, and subsequently employed on the coast of Spain. From that ship he removed into the Eagle, a third rate, in which he proceeded to the Mediterranean.

In May, 1806, the Eagle formed part of the squadron under Sir W. Sidney Smith, stationed off the coasts of Naples and Sicily; and on the 11th of that month took an active part in the reduction of the island of Capri, on which occasion he had 2 men killed, and 11, including her first Lieutenant, wounded.

On the 27th Nov., 1811, Captain Rowley captured la Corceyre French frigate, pierced for 40 guns, but only 28 mounted, with a complement of 170 seamen and 130 soldiers, laden with 300 tons of wheat, and a quantity of military and other stores, from Trieste, bound to Corfu. In her attempt to escape, this ship had 3 men killed and several wounded. Some time after, the marines of the Eagle, in conjunction with a detachment from the 35th regiment, stormed and destroyed the battery of Cape Ceste, in the Adriatic.

In Sept. 1812, the boats under the command of Lieutenant Augustus Cannon, being sent by Captain Rowley off the Po, to intercept the enemy’s coasting trade, captured two gunboats and fifteen vessels laden with oil. In the execution of this service, 2 men were killed and 3 wounded; amongst the latter was Lieutenant Cannon, who died of his wounds. In the following year the adventurous spirit of British seamen and marines, when acting on shore, was strikingly displayed in the capture of Fiume, in the Gulf of Venice. On the 2d July, a squadron under the command of Rear-Admiral Freemantle, anchored about four miles from that town, which was defended by four batteries, mounting fifteen heavy guns. On the 3d, in the morning, the Milford, Elizabeth, Eagle, and Bacchante weighed, with a light breeze from the S.W., for the purpose of attacking the sea-line of batteries, leaving a detachment of boats and marines with the Haughty gun-brig, to storm the battery at the mole-head, as soon as the guns were silenced; but the wind shifting to the S.E. with a current from the river, broke the ships off, and the Eagle could only fetch the second battery, opposite to which she anchored. The enemy could not stand the well-directed Rovigno. Captain Rowley conceiving the capture of them practicable, communicated his intentions to Captain Hoste, who led in, and a firing was commenced on the batteries. After some resistance they were abandoned, when the boats of each ship, with parties of royal marines, under the command of Captain Hoste, landed, and drove the enemy out of the town, took possession of the batteries, disabled the guns, and demolished the different works, without sustaining any other loss than one man wounded. The enemy scuttled the greater part of the vessels previous to the approach of the boats; but by the active exertions of the officers and men employed, the whole were completely destroyed or brought off, and the ships and other vessels burnt that were building on the stocks.

Captain Rowley subsequently distinguished himself in the most conspicuous manner at the reduction of Trieste by the squadron under Rear-Admiral Freemantle, acting in concert with 1500 Austrian troops, commanded by Count Nugent; and continued to serve in the Adriatic, until the fall of Ragusa made the allies masters of every place in Dalmatia, Croatia, Istria, and the Frioul, with all the islands in that sea.

On the 23d May, 1814, our officer received the royal permission to accept and wear the insignia of a Knight of the Imperial Military Order of Maria Theresa, conferred upon him by his Majesty the Emperor of Austria, in testimony of the high sense entertained by that sovereign of his distinguished gallantry and services, in co-operation with the Imperial troops, on the coast of the Adriatic. He was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral on the 4th of the following month; nominated a K.C.B. Jan. 2, 1815; and at the latter end of the same year hoisted his flag on board the Bulwark, as Commander-in-Chief in the river Medway, where he remained during the customary period of three years. In the autumn of 1820 he was appointed to the chief command at Jamaica, on which station he still continues, with his flag in the Sybille, of 44 guns.

Sir Charles Rowley married Elizabeth, youngest daughter of the late Admiral Sir Richard King, Bart. His eldest son married, Aug. 31, 1822, Frances, only daughter of John Evelyn, of Wotton, Surrey, Esq. His eldest daughter is the wife of Peter Longford Brooke, of Moore Hall, Cheshire, Esq.

addendum.


SIR CHARLES ROWLEY, K.C.B., K.M.T.
Vice-Admiral of the White. – One of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, and a Groom of his Majesty’s Bedchamber.
(Vol. I. Part II p. 672.)


This officer is the fourth son of the late Vice-Admiral Sir Joshua Rowley, Bart., by Sarah, daughter of Bartholomew Burton, Esq., Deputy-Governor of the Bank of England, and a grandson of the late Sir William Rowley, K.B., Admiral of the Fleet, Vice-Admiral of England, and a Lord of the Admiralty, who died on the 1st Jan. 1768.

The subject of this memoir was made a lieutenant in 1789; and appointed acting captain of the Hussar frigate in the summer of 1794. He subsequently commanded the Lynx sloop, and captured numerous French merchant vessels, on the North American station. In Mar. 1796, being then acting captain of the Cleopatra frigate, he captured l’Aurore, French privateer, of ten guns. He afterwards resumed the command of the Hussar, at Halifax, and continued in that ship until paid off, about the end of the same year. His advancement to post rank took place on the 1st Aug. 1795.

We next find Captain Rowley commanding l’Unité 36, and displaying great firmness during the general mutiny in 1797. He subsequently captured the French 18-gun corvette Decouverte, the brig-privateer Brunette, of ten guns and eighty men, and several other armed vessels, on the Channel station. Captain Rowley left l’Unité, in consequence of bursting a blood-vessel; but after the lapse of a few months, he was appointed to the Prince George 98, flag-ship of his brother-in-law, the late Admiral Sir Charles Cotton, Bart. In the spring of 1801, he was removed into the Boadicea frigate, and entrusted with the command of a light squadron, employed in Quiberon Bay, where he greatly molested the enemy. On the 20th Aug. following, his boats, in company with those of the Fisgard and Boadicea frigates, cut out from the harbour of Coruna, a new Spanish national ship. El Neptuna, pierced for twenty guns, a gun-boat mounting one long 32-pounder, and a merchant vessel.

In 1804, Captain Rowley commanded the Ruby 64, successively employed in the North Sea and off Cadiz, on which latter station, whilst under the orders of Sir John Orde, he destroyed two of the enemy’s privateers. Subsequently to his return from thence, we find him stationed off the Scheldt; and in Nov. 1805, appointed to the Eagle 74, destined to the Mediterranean, which ship he joined at Spithead. The Eagle formed part of the squadron under Sir W. Sidney Smith, employed in disarming the coasts of Naples and Calabria, in the summer of 1806. The following are extracts of that officer’s public letter, reporting the capture of the island of Capri:–

“Capri, from its situation, protecting the coasting communication southward, was a great object for the enemy to keep, and by so much one for me to wrest from him. I accordingly summoned the French commandant to surrender (May 11th, 1806), and, on his non-acquiescence, directed Captain Rowley to cover the landing of marines and boats’ crews, and caused an attack to be made under his orders. That brave officer placed his ship judiciously, nor did he open his fire till she was secured, and her distance marked by the effect of musketry on the quarter-deck, where the first lieutenant, James Crawley, was wounded, and a seaman killed. An hour’s firing from both decks of the Eagle, with that of two Neapolitan mortar-boats, drove the enemy from the vineyards within their walls; the marines were landed, and gallantly led by Captain Bunco; the seamen, in like manner, under Lieutenants Morrell and Redding, of the Eagle and Pompée, mounted the steps, for such was their road, headed by the officers, nearest to the narrow path, by which alone they could ascend. Lieutenant (W. F.) Carroll had thus an opportunity of particularly distinguishing himself. Captain Stanners, commanding the Athenienne’s marines, gallantly pressing forward, carried the heights, and the French commandant fell by his hand; this event being known, the enemy beat a parley, * * * the capitulation annexed was signed, and the garrison allowed to march out, and pass over to Naples, with every honor of war.”

The loss sustained by the Eagle on this occasion amounted to no more than two men killed, and her first lieutenant and ten men wounded. Captain Rowley was afterwards severely injured by a shell, while employed on shore in the defence of Gaieta, to which fortress, on hearing of the straitened circumstances of its garrison, he had hastened from the Bay of Naples. Previously to the surrender of Gaieta by the Neapolitan Governor, Captain Rowley brought off the guns which before his arrival had been landed from British men-of-war. He likewise superintended the embarkation of the troops of His Sicilian Majesty.

The Eagle was attached to the grand armament sent against Antwerp, in 1809; and we find part of her officers and crew employed in the defence of Fort Matagorda, near Cadiz, in April, 1810[2]. She captured the French frigate Corceyre, pierced for 40 guns, mounting 28, with a complement of 170 men, having on board 130 soldiers and three hundred tons of wheat, from Trieste bound to Corfu, Nov. 27th, 1811. At this period Captain Rowley was the senior officer in the Adriatic. On the 20th July 1812, the marines of the Eagle, and a military detachment under Captain Rutherford, of H.M. 35th regiment, stormed and destroyed the battery of Cape Ceste. On the 22d of the same month, her boats, commanded by Lieutenant Augustus Cannon, captured a FrancoVenetian gun-boat; and in Sept. following, that officer was mortally wounded while making a successful attack upon an enemy’s convoy, near the mouth of the River Po: two gunboats and fifteen armed merchant vessels, the latter laden with oil, were captured on this occasion.

In June, 1813, the boats of the Eagle, in conjunction with those of the Elizabeth 74, destroyed a two-gun battery at Omago, on the coast of Istria, and brought out four vessels laden with wine, which had been scuttled near that town. At the same time the marines of those ships obliged about 100 French soldiers to decamp. Captain Rowley’s gallant conduct at the capture of Fiume, July 3d, 1813, was highly conspicuous, as will be seen by the following copy of an official despatch, addressed to the commander-in-chief on the Mediterranean station:–

H.M.S. Milford, off Porto Ré, July 6th, 1813.

“Sir,– I have the honor to acquaint you, that on the 28th ult. I left Melada, and on the 30th, assembled the Elizabeth and Eagle, off Promontorio. On the 1st inst. the squadron entered the Quarnier Channel, and on the 2d, in the evening, anchored about four miles from Fiume, which was defended by four batteries, mounting fifteen heavy guns. On the 3d, in the morning, the ships named in the margin[3] weighed with a light breeze from the S.W. with the intention of attacking the sea line of batteries (for which the arrangement had been previously made and communicated), leaving a detachment of boats and marines with the Haughty, to storm the battery at the mole head, as soon as the guns were silenced: but the wind very light, shifting to the S.E., mth current from the river, broke the ships off, and the Eagle could only fetch the second battery, opposite to which she anchored. The enemy could not stand the well-directed fire of that ship. This being communicated by telegraph, I made the signal to storm, when Captain Rowley, leading in his gig the first detachment of marines, took possession of the fort, and hoisted the king’s colours, whilst Captain Hoste, with the marines of the Milford, took and spiked the guns of the first battery, which was under the fire of the Milford and Bacchante, and early evacuated. Captain Rowley, leaving a party of seamen to turn the guns of the second battery against the others, without losing time, boldly dashed on through the town, although annoyed by the enemy’s musketry from the windows of the houses, and a field-piece placed in the centre of the great street; but the marines, headed by Lieutenants Lloyd and Nepean, and the seamen of the boats, proceeded with such firmness, that the enemy retreated before them, drawing the field-piece until they came to the square, where they made a stand, taking post in a large house. At this time the boats with their carronades, under Captain Markland, opened against the gable end of it with such effect, that the enemy gave way at all points, and I was gratified at seeing them forsake the town in every direction. Captain Hoste, with his division, followed close to Captain Rowley, and on their junction, the two batteries, with the field-piece, stores, and shipping, were taken possession of, the governor and every officer and man of the garrison having run away. Considering the number of troops in the town, above three hundred and fifty, besides natives, our loss has been trifling; one marine of the Eagle killed; Lieutenant Lloyd, and five seamen and marines wounded. Nothing could exceed the spirit and disposition manifested by every captain, officer, seaman and marine, in the squadron.

“Although the town was stormed in every part, by the prudent management of Captains Rowley and Hoste, not an individual has been plundered, nor has any thing been taken away, except what was afloat, and in the government stores.

“I herewith send a return of the property and vessels captured, and have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)T. F. Fremantle, Rear-Admiral.”

To Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Pellew, Bart. &c.

A List of Vessels, Stores, &c. taken and destroyed at Fiume, on the 3d July, 1813.

“Ninety vessels, more than half of the smaller class were returned to the proprietors, thirteen sent to Lissa, laden with oil, grain, powder, and merchandise; the rest were destroyed. Fifty-nine iron guns (part only mounted), rendered totally useless. Eight brass 18-pounders and one field-piece, taken away, five hundred stand of small arms, two hundred barrels of gunpowder, rations of bread for 70,000 men, and two magazines, with stores, &c. burnt.

(Signed)T. F. Fremantle.”

On the 5th July 1813, the squadron under Rear-Admiral Fremantle moved from Fiume to Porto Ré, then abandoned by the enemy. A detachment of boats went up to Bocca Ré, where thirteen vessels were scuttled; one of them only could be recovered. The guns at this place, ten in number, were rendered useless, the carriages burnt, and the works blown up. At Porto Ré, the enemy had spiked the guns, and thrown their ammunition into the sea. Two days afterwards, the fortress of Farasina, mounting five 18-pounders, was attacked by the Eagle, and after some resistance, stormed and destroyed, under cover of her fire, by a party of seamen and marines; the former, headed by Lieutenants Richard Green and William Hotham, the latter by Lieutenant Samuel Lloyd.

Sailing along the coast of Istria, Aug. 2d, 1813, in company with the Bacchante frigate. Captain Rowley discovered a convoy of twenty-one sail at anchor in the harbour of Rovigno. Conceiving the capture of them feasible, he communicated his intentions to Captain Hoste, who led in, and a firing was commenced on the batteries. After some resistance they were abandoned; when the royal marines of each ship landed, drove the enemy out of the town, disabled the guns, and demolished the different works, without suffering any other accident than one private, belonging to the Eagle, wounded. The enemy scuttled the greater part of the vessels; but by the active exertions of the officers and men employed, the whole were either completely destroyed or brought off, and others, building or under repair, burnt.

The operations against Trieste, in which Captain Rowley bore a most conspicuous part, are thus detailed by Rear-Admiral Fremantle:

H.M.S. Milford, Oct. 31st, 1813.

“I arrived at Capo D’Istria on the 21st ultimo, and remained there, in constant correspondence with General Count Nugent, who was harassing the army of the Viceroy[4] on his retreat, until the morning of the 6th instant, when I sailed for Trieste. Count Nugent, who continued to follow the enemy, left some troops near Trieste, and the port was completely blockaded by sea. On the 10th, about noon, the enemy surprised us by opening a masked battery upon the Milford. The marines and two field-pieces were landed. On the 11th, Count Nugent returned from Gorizia, having obliged the Viceroy to pass the Isonzo. It was then determined to lay siege to the castle. By the 16th, in the morning, we had twelve guns in two batteries, which opened their fire and continued nearly the whole day; towards the evening the enemy was driven from the Windmill, which was taken possession of by the Austrian troops, and two howitzers advanced there. The firing was continued occasionally until noon on the 23d, by which time Captain Rowley had got a 32-pounder within two hundred yards of the Shanza, where there was a strong building with one gun, and loop holes in it, standing upon a hill, with a wall round it nearly fourteen feet high, an officer and sixty men.

“We had had some communication with the castle in the morning, and the truce was broke oiF at a very short notice by the enemy, who opened on all sides. The 32-pounder was fired upon the Shanza. The first shot the gun recoiled, and the ground giving way, it fell backward off the platform, which was six feet above the level. It was fine to see Captain Rowley and his people immediately get a triangle above the work, and the 32-pounder with its carriage, run up to its place again under a shower of grape and musketry, which occasioned a severe loss. Towards evening, the enemy in the Shanza held out the white flag, and surrendered to Captain Rowley. Having now possession of the Shanza, which commanded the castle and the Windmill hill, we set to work upon some advanced batteries within four hundred yards of the castle; but the weather was so wet, and the labour so great, that it was not until the morning of the 29th that they were complete, when the enemy acceded to our altered propositions for surrendering the castle. We were prepared to have opened with eleven 32-pounders, twelve 18-pounders, four mortars, and four howitzers.

“Every captain, officer, and person in the squadron has done his duty. Captain Rowley has been, as usual, most prominent on every occasion. I admired the example he shewed at the attack of the Shanza, with the courage and activity of Lieutenants Hotham and Moore, and Mr. Hibbert, midshipman of the Eagle. Captain Angelo, of the 21st regiment, was foremost in shewing where to place fascines to protect the men, whilst the gun was getting up.

“I beg to recommend to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, Captain Moresby, of his Majesty’s sloop Wizard. He commanded one of the batteries from the 16th until the 24th, when he was ordered to form a battery with four 32-pounders, within breaching distance: in the course of fifty-six hours, under all the disadvantages of weather, &c. he, with fifty men from the Milford, and twenty from the Wizard, completed the whole without any assistance whatever. And I must also mention the good conduct of Mr. William Watts, acting master of the said sloop, who was severely wounded. Captain Dunn, of the Mermaid, was also very assiduous on every occasion. Captain Markland commanded the marines, and I have to thank him for exerting himself in every way; particularly in the arrangements of stores and provisions. We have at times had one thousand two hundred men on shore, at work and in the batteries, and the general good conduct of the officers, seamen, and marines, with the harmony that has invariably subsisted between the Austrian troops and our people, is quite gratifying to me.

“When we opened against the citadel it contained eight hundred Frenchmen, forty-five large guns, four mortars, and four howitzers.

“The consequences of the taking this place will be felt throughout this country; and General Nugent has deservedly all the merit of having liberated these provinces in the space of two months, with so small a force. About fifty sail of vessels were taken in this port. Our loss has not been so great as might have been expected under all the circumstances.” – (Eagle, 4 killed, 7 wounded – total loss, 10 slain, 35 wounded).

Captain Rowley continued to serve in the Adriatic until the fall of Ragusa made the allies masters of every fortress in Dalmatia, Croatia, Istria, and the Frioul, with all the islands in that sea. In April 1814, he attended Louis 18th from England to France; and in the following month, he obtained the royal permission to accept and wear the insignia of a Knight of the Imperial Military Order of Maria Theresa, which had been conferred upon him by the Emperor of Austria, “in testimony of the high sense entertained by that sovereign of his distinguished gallantry and services.” He was advanced to the rank of rear-admiral on the 4th June 1814, nominated a Knight Commander of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath, Jan. 2d, 1815; and appointed to the chief command in the River Medway, towards the close of the latter year.

Sir Charles Rowley’s next appointment was, in the autumn of 1820, to be commander-in chief on the Jamaica station, then much infested with pirates. Immediately on those desperadoes attempting to insult the flag of Great Britain, this active officer took such effectual steps that many vessels were captured and destroyed by the cruisers under his orders. Of the survivors of their lawless crews, about thirty were sentenced to death, and executed at Port Royal. He returned home, with his flag on board the Sybille 44, in May 1823; was promoted to the rank of vice-admiral in May 1825; nominated a Groom of His Majesty’s Bed-chamber, Nov. 23d, 1832; and appointed one of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, in Dec. 1834.

Sir Charles married Elizabeth, youngest daughter of the late Admiral Sir Richard King, Bart., and sister to the recently deceased commander-in-chief at Sheerness. One of his sons, Richard Freeman Rowley, is a captain in the navy[5]; his youngest daughter is married to the Earl of Kinnoul.



  1. He had previously commanded for a short time the Ville de Paris, a first rate, bearing the flag of the Hon. W. Cornwallis, Commander-in-Chief of the grand fleet.
  2. See Vol. III. Part I. p. 212, et seq.
  3. Milford 74, Elizabeth 74, Eagle 74, Bacchante 38, and Haughty gun-brig.
  4. Eugene Beauharnois.
  5. See Vol. III. Part II. p. 125.