Royal Naval Biography/Ryves, George Frederick

[Post-Captain of 1798.]

This officer is the representative of a very ancient and respectable family in Dorsetshire, descended from John Ryves, of Damory Court, near Blandford, Esq., one of whose grandsons, Bruno, was Chaplain to King Charles I. in 1628; and at the restoration became Chaplain in Ordinary to his son, by whom he was successively made Dean of Windsor, Secretary of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, and Rector of Haseley, in Oxfordshire, as a compensation for the losses he had sustained during the great rebellion, at the commencement of which he had been deprived of the livings of Stairwell, co. Middlesex, and St. Martin’s in the Vintry, London; his house was plundered; and himself obliged to fly from place to place, for refuge from the fury of the Presbyterians[1]

Mr. G. F. Ryves was born Sept. 8, 1758; educated at Harrow school; and entered the naval service as a Midshipman on board the Kent of 74 guns, commanded by the Hon. Charles Fielding, and stationed as a guard-ship at Plymouth, Feb. 15, 1774. In the month of July following, the Kent was ordered on a six weeks’ cruise; and when working out of the Sound to join the other ships of the squadron, had 11 men killed and 45 wounded, by the explosion of nearly 400 lbs. of gunpowder, which had been placed in a chest on the larboard side of the poop. This melancholy accident took place at a moment when the Kent was saluting the Admiral’s flag, and Mr. Ryves walking on the opposite side of the same deck; his preservation may therefore be justly deemed miraculous but that of a marine drummer still more extraordinary. The latter was sitting upon the chest in question when its contents ignited, and blown into the sea, from whence he was taken on board without having received the slightest injury!

In 1775, our officer was removed into the Portland of 50 guns, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral James Young, father of the late Vice-Admiral of Great Britain, who was then the junior Lieutenant of that ship[2]. At the commencement of the American war we find Mr. Ryves in the West Indies, where he was selected from a numerous quarter-deck, to command one of the Portland’s tenders, the Tartar of 8 guns, and 33 men, including himself, another Midshipman, and a Surgeon’s Mate. In this small vessel he had the good fortune to capture upwards of fifty prizes, some of which were privateers of force superior to his own; and it once happened, that with his crew reduced to 12 men, he had no less than 40 prisoners on board.

Mr. Ryves returned to England in the Portland; and on the 1st May 1779, sailed for New York in the Europe 64, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Arbuthnot, by whom he was made a Lieutenant during the passage, into the Pacific store-ship. In this vessel he saw much hard service, and had nearly suffered shipwreck when passing through Hell Gates, on her way to Huntingdon Bay, Long Island, for the purpose of affording protection to the troops employed cutting wood foe the use of the army. The Pacific was thus employed for a period of nineteen months, and during that time experienced one of the severest winters ever known; the glass being frequently 15° below 0, and the ice so solid that the Americans meditated her capture by marching a body of troops over it to attack her: their scheme, however, was providentially frustrated by the intervention of a snow-storm, which completely dispersed them.

Previous to her departure from Huntingdon Bay, the cook of the Pacific, a man with only one arm, fell overboard, and would inevitably have perished but for the generous exertions of Lieutenant Ryves, who leaped after, and succeeded in rescuing him. A similar act of humanity had been performed by our officer when commanding tke Portland’s tender: a seaman having lost his hat overboard, jumped after and reached its, but not before his strength had failed him. This being observed by Mr. Ryves, he immediately swam to his assistance, and was fortunate enough to bring him back in safety to the vessel.

Lieutenant Ryves continued in the Pacific, himself and the Master constantly at watch and watch, until the latter end of 1780, when he joined the Fox frigate as First Lieutenant; in which capacity we find him serving on the Jamaica station, from whence he returned to England with the Hon. Captain Windsor, in the Lowestoffe of 28 guns, towards the conclusion of the war. Whilst at Jamaica, Lieutenant Ryves was the happy instrument of saving a marine centinel, who fell overboard from his post on the fore-castle, and having struck against the anchor, was completely stunned thereby. This happened on the evening of a Christmas day, and when all the crew were below regaling themselves. Providentially, Lieutenant Ryves happened to be on deck, and hearing the noise occasioned by the man’s musket striking against the anchor, immediately suspected the cause, flew to the poor fellow’s relief, and jumping off the gunwale with a rope in his hands, caught him by the head with his feet, when in the act of sinking. In performing this generous act, our officer’s hands were very much burnt, owing to the shortness of the rope, which brought him up before his body reached the water.

Mr. Ryves’s next appointment was as First Lieutenant of the Grafton 74, Captain Sir John Hamilton; which ship being in the Bay of Biscay, on her passage to the East Indies, rolled all her masts away, and was consequently obliged to put back.

A general peace having taken place, and the Grafton being put out of commission, Lieutenant Ryves made a tour on foot over part of France, Switzerland, Alsace, the Duchy of Luxembourg, and Flanders. In 1788 he was appointed first Lieutenant of the Aurora frigate; and in Feb. 1795, to the Arethusa: which latter ship formed part of the fleet sent to Quiberon Bay, for the purpose of co-operating with the French royalists, and was subsequently employed cruising on the coast of France.

In Oct. 1795, our officer was promoted to the rank of Commander, and appointed to the Bull-Dog sloop of war, then in the West Indies; to which station he proceeded as a passenger in the Colossus 74, one of the fleet commanded by Rear-Admiral Christian, and destined for the reduction of the French colonies[3].

On his arrival at St. Lucia, the Bull-Dog being absent, Captain Ryves landed with a body of seamen and during the ensuing operations in that island, was employed in assisting the troops, making roads, and transporting guns, one of which, a 24-pounder, to the surprise of the. artillerymen of the army, who considered it impossible to be accomplished, was mounted upon one of the highest hills, and from thence threw the only point-blank shot which fell into the Morne Fortunée. After the conquest of the island, Captain Ryves remained on shore with 400 seamen, to remove the cannon from the British advanced batteries into the Morne; a service of extreme fatigue, the rainy season having set in, and the detachment having nothing but the bare earth to lie on.

The skill, alacrity, and unremitting exertions of the navy, during the siege of St. Lucia, were duly acknowledged by the Commander-in-Chief of the army, to whose General Order of May 27, 1796, which will be found in our first volume, p. 134, we must refer the reader, for a passage applicable to the subject of this memoir; whose conduct is also eulogized by Sir Hugh C. Christian, in his official letter on the same subject, from which we make the following extracts:

“In the prepress of the siege great difficulties were to be surmounted, and much service of fatigue undertaken. The more effectually to assist the operations of the army, I directed 800 seamen to land, under the command of Captain Lane of the Astrea, and Captain Ry ves of the Bull-Dog: the merit of their services will be better reported by the Commander-in-Chief of his Majesty’s troops; but I feel it an indispensable duty to acquaint their Lordships, that the conduct of the officers and seamen equalled my most sanguine expectations, and that it has been in every instance highly meritorious. *  *  *  *

“Captain Ryves of the Bull-Dog, will proceed immediately to join his ship; but I should be unjust to the merits of his exertion, were I to omit recommending him to their Lordships’ notice and protection.”

The Rear-Admiral, on his return to England, addressed the following letter to Mrs. Ryves:

Cavendish Square, Nov. 29, 1796.

“Madam.– Your letter of the 24th was forwarded to me from the Isle of Wight, which will account for my not replying more immediately to it. I had the pleasure of hearing from Captain Ryves a few days previous to my quitting the West Indies; he was then perfectly well, and proceeding to the island ef Antigua to refit his ship.

“I much regret that more notice has not been taken of his conspicuous merit and exertions. I hope that a favorable opinion is entertained of him, and should believe that a very little exertion of interest by his friends, would obtain for him the promotion to which, in my opinion, he has a most just claim. I trust, in such event, that I may have the satisfaction of seeing him very shortly. I have the honor to be, Madam, &c., &c., &c.

(Signed)Hugh C. Christian.”

From this period Captain Ryves was employed cruising off the Virgin Islands, until Sept. 1797, when he convoyed the trade to England, and on his arrival was put out of commission. In April 1798, he was again appointed to the Bull-Dog; and on the 29th of the following month, advanced to post rank in the Medea frigate. His next appointment was in April 1800, to the Agincourt of 64 guns, bearing the flag of Sir Charles Morice Pole, with whom he had before sailed in the Colossus. The Agincourt was at Newfoundland during the ensuing summer; and on her return from thence at the close of the season, Captain Ryves received orders to join the armament preparing for the Baltic. These, however, were countermanded; and after serving for some time in the North Sea under Admiral Dickson, we find him conveying General Graham, (now Lord Lynedoch) and the 25th regiment, to Egypt.

The harmony that prevailed between the Agincourt’s crew and the troops has never been surpassed, not one complaint having been made on either side during the passage to Aboukir Bay, where the whole regiment, with the exception of one man, was landed in perfect health. The same corps was subsequently taken back to Malta by Captain Ryves, who appears to have suffered greatly in a pecuniary point of view, as in consequence of the Agincourt not being fitted up for the reception of troops, he was obliged to entertain no less than 10 officers, exclusive of the General, at his own expence, without ever receiving the least compensation from government. Previous to his quitting the shores of Egypt, he was presented by the Grand Seignior with the gold medal of the Order of the Crescent.

We next find Captain Ryves entrusted with the command of a small squadron, consisting of the Agincourt, Solebay, Champion, and Salamine, sent by Lord Keith to take possession of Corfu, where he remained till July 4, 1802, on which day he was honored with the thanks of the Government and Corps Representative of that island. The address presented to him by a deputation of Syndicks and other official personages, was couched in the following terms:

“Three months since, Sir, you saw us as at present, on board the vessel you command, but on a very different occasion. We then came to rejoice at your arrival, and to beg your continuance of those favors by which the English army had already so greatly benefited us. To-day it is to mourn your departure, and to thank you for those benefits arising from your presence; nor can we sufficiently satisfy our hearts, or express our sentiments on this last subject, whatever may be our wishes; to have proved the fact, and made a more lasting acknowledgment, it would have been our pleasure to have added, had not the state of our circumstances, and the ungrateful times in which we live, prevented the fulfilment of our washes. At the same time, sincere gratitude indelibly engraven on the hearts of men, is a nobler monument to the honor of themselves, and its object, and more becoming in acceptance, than arches and statues.

“Go, Sir, where you are sure to be followed by our earnest prayers; go, and present to your King these sentiments of veneration and gratitude, which our great regard for yourself, and indeed all British officers, has caused us to make public. May our Republic one day attain that ascendant which the aid of sovereigns appears to conduct us to; when the honor of rendering some service to the British nation will not be rejected. If to save us from misfortune, sparing by the most circumspect conduct even the slightest threat which might promote revolt; keeping secret all political and other important concerns; whatever, in fine, related to the conclusion of a peace necessary to the safety of our lives; is not a service which we can never hope adequately to return? The answer to this must live for ever in our memories, and be a homage rendered in silence to greatness, while your renown is alone left to us as a consolation for your departure from our country this day.”

Some time after his departure from Corfu, Captain Ryves was ordered by Sir Richard Bickerton to proceed to the Madalena islands, and if possible to do so, without using force, to prevent the French taking possession of them, which, according to intelligence recently received, they were about to do, notwithstanding the treaty of Amiens, by which all hostilities had long since ceased in Europe. At this period there did not exist a chart of those islands, nor had any ship of war ever anchored among them. The Agincourt was nearly lost in doing so. No Frenchmen appearing, Captain Ryves spent the week he was directed to remain there in making a survey of the islands, which he performed alone, there not being a single person on board able to assist him.

In May 1803, the ship’s company of the Gibraltar evinced symptoms of mutiny, in consequence of their being kept abroad after hostilities had ceased; and her commander having been dismissed by the sentence of a court-martial, Captain Ryves was appointed to that ship, and sent to Naples to attend upon the King. He continued on that service about eight months, and had the satisfaction of completely restoring subordination among his men; 50 of whom were frequently allowed to go on shore at one time, without ever giving cause for the least complaint from the inhabitants of that city; their general conduct on board being equally exemplary, punishment was seldom necessary. When about to quit that station, the King presented Captain Ryves with a superb diamond ring; whilst from the King of Sardinia he received a handsome gold snuff-box, in return for the attention he had paid to his royal brother, when on board the Gibraltar for a passage to Cagliari.

On the arrival of Lord Nelson to assume the chief command in the Mediterranean at the renewal of the war, Captain Ryves presented his Lordship with a manuscript chart of the Madalena and Barelino Islands: its correctness and utility are proved by the following letter, dated Victory, Nov. 1, 1803:

“My dear Sir,– We anchored in Agincourt Sound yesterday evening, and I assure you that I individually feel all the obligation due to you for your most correct chart and directions for these islands. We worked the Victory every foot of the way from Asinana to this anchorage, the wind blowing from Largo Sarde, under double reefed top-sails. I shall write to the Admiralty, stating how much they ought to feel obliged to your very great skill and attention in making this survey. This is absolutely one of the finest harbours I have ever seen.” The gallant Admiral, alluding to the state of Naples, &c. &c. thus proceeds in his usual kind and cqmmunicative manner:

“Although I forgot to mention to you when the Childers went to Naples, my desire, if circumstances would allow the Gibraltar to be spared from thence, that you would see the Sardinian galley with the King’s brother on board, safe into Cagliari, I have since then wrote to you by way of Palermo on the subject: but I am sure you would do it if the particular service you are employed upon would admit it, without any directions from me. We are all in high health, and nothing to ruffle our tempers. The French have eight sail ready, so that we shall have them out one of these days. I sincerely hope that your ship’s company are perfectly recovered. We have had very bad weather, and I am afraid the Gibraltar’s rotten masts and yards must have suffered. As I am very anxious to get the Raven back before I leave this anchorage, I beg you will give her all the assistance in your power and send her off, for we are very short of candles, nearly in distress. With every good wish, I am, my dear Sir, your much obliged, and very obedient servant,

(Signed)Nelson and Bronte.”

“P.S. Will you be so good as to embark my servant Gaetano on board the Raven.”

In June 1804, the Gibraltar having been upwards of twelve years in commission, and in great want of repair, was ordered to proceed home, calling at Cadiz for the trade bound to England, with which she arrived at the Motherbank on the 14th of the following month; and two days after, the following letter was sent to Captain Ryves, by the masters of the vessels who had accompanied him:

Ship Mountroyal, 16th July, 1804.

“Sir.– We the undersigned Masters of vessels under your convoy from Cadiz, sensible of the advantage we derived from your very great protection and attention during the whole course of the voyage, beg leave to present our sincere acknowledgments for the same, and to offer our best wishes for your future happiness. We are respectfully, Sir,

“Your most obedient Servants,
(Signed by the different Masters.)

Geo. Fred. Ryves, Esq.

The Gibraltar was paid off July 30, 1804, and Captain Ryves did not obtain another appointment until March 1810; at which period he was commissioned to the Africa of 64 guns, and ordered to the Baltic station, where he was employed in a variety of hazardous services, particularly that of blockading Copenhagen, keeping the numerous gun-boats by which he was constantly surrounded in check, and in conducting two hundred sail of merchantmen through the Great Belt, during the prevalence of a heavy gale of wind, without the loss of a single vessel. The manner in which this latter service was conducted, excited the surprise of officers who had been several years on the station, one of whom addressed a most gratifying letter to Mrs. Ryves on the occasion.

According to the orders received by Captain Ryves, on quitting the Baltic with the above fleet, he was to part company with his valuable charge off Yarmouth, and from thence proceed to Portsmouth. On his passage thither, he experienced a most severe gale of wind from the southward, with very thick weather; and fearing lest the Africa should be driven back into the North Sea, he immediately resolved to bring her up, although in deep water, and against the advice of the pilots, who considered such a step unsafe, and relinquished all charge of the ship. The event answered Captain Ryves’s expectations; the Africa rode very comfortable for four days, at the end of which time the gale abated, and she was found to be exactly in the same place where the anchor was let go. Had such a measure been adopted by the St. George, Hero, and Minotaur, they would in all probability have avoided the melancholy fate which befel them about that time.

The Africa being required for the flag of Vice-Admiral Sawyer on the Halifax station, Captain Ryves was superseded soon after his arrival in England ; since which he has been on half-pay.

Our officer married, first, Jan. 3, 1792, Catharine Elizabeth, third daughter of the late Hon. James Everard Arundel, of Ashcomb, Wilts, sister of the late Lord Arundel, and aunt of the present peer. The death of this lady was announced to Captain Ryves when at Naples; on which occasion Lord Nelson, who ever delighted in administering consolation to the afflicted mind, wrote to him as follows:

Victory, Madalena, Feb. 10, 1804.

“My dear Sir. It is with the sincerest sorrow that I am to be the messenger of such news as must distress you very much, but for the sake of your dear children you must bear up against this heavy misfortune. To attempt consolation at such a moment is I know out of the question; therefore I can only assure you of my most sincere condolence, and that I am your most faithful friend.”

(Signed)Nelson & Bronte

Captain Ryves married, second, in 1806, a daughter of R. Graham, Esq., of Chelsea Hospital, by whom he has seven children. By his former marriage he has three children living. His eldest son has recently been promoted to the rank of Commander in the Sophie sloop of war, on the East India station. Two other sons are also serving in the navy.

Agents.– Goode and Clarke.

  1. The above mentioned John Ryves, of Damory Court, had eight sons and three daughters. Three of the former received the honor of knighthood, viz. John, William, and Thomas. William was presented by his father with 24,000l. for his fortune, part of which he laid out near Oxford; he then married and settled in Ireland, where he purchased Rathsallow, Crunmore, and Cayamoie, in the county of Down; Ballyferinott, near Dublin; and the rectory of the Naas. He was one of the Judges in Ireland, Speaker to the House of Lords, and the King’s Attorney-General.

    Thomas, eighth son of John Ryves, an eminent advocate in Doctors’ Commons and the Court of Admiralty, was elected a Fellow of New College, Oxford, in 1598; and made a D.C.L. in 1610. He was also one of the Masters in Chancery, and Judge of the Faculty and Prerogative Court in Ireland. He received the honor of knighthood from Charles I. who appointed him his Advocate, and assistant to the Warden of the Cinque Ports and Castle of Dover. When the rebellion broke out, Sir Thomas gave good evidence of his loyalty and valor; and, notwithstanding his advanced age, received several wounds in fights and skirmishes for his royal master’s cause, and suffered much in his estate on that account. He was the author of many books, among which were “Historta Navalis Antiqua,” lib. 4. Lond. 1633, 8vo.; and “Histeria Navalis Media,” Load. 1640, 8vo. He left the advowson of Abbot’s Stoke, 100l. a year, to New College, Oxford.

  2. Sir William Young, G.C.B. Admiral of the Red, and Vice-Admiral of Great Britain, died in Queen Anne Street, London, Oct, 25, 1821, in the 71st year of his age. For a memoir of that distinguished officer, see “Annual Biography and Obituary for 1823,” p. 315, et seq.
  3. The disasters of the fleet under Rear-Admiral Christian are well known, aud have already been noticed by us. See Vol. I, note †, at p. 89; and Vol. II. p. 96, et seq.