Royal Naval Biography/Sanders, James
JAMES SANDERS, Esq
[Post-Captain of 1802.]
This officer entered the naval service as a Midshipman on board the America, of 64 guns, commanded by his maternal uncle, the late Rear-Admiral Samuel Thompson, April 5, 1780; and continued in that ship on foreign service till the peace of 1783; during which period he bore a part in the actions between Vice-Admiral Arbuthnot and Mons. de Ternay, Mar. 16, 1781; Rear-Admiral Graves and the Count de Grasse, Sept. 5, 1781; Sir Samuel Hood and the same French commander, Jan. 25 and 26, 1782; and in Rodney’s battles of April 9 and 12 in the same year. On the latter day the America led the centre division of the British fleet, and sustained a loss of 12 men, including 2 Lieutenants, killed, and 22 officers and men wounded, besides being greatly cut up in her masts, sails, and rigging, notwithstanding which she was far advanced in pursuit of the flying enemy when the Ville de Paris surrendered.
The America returned to England in July 1783; and from that period Mr. Sanders was constantly employed in different ships till May 1792, when he was removed from the Duke of 90 guns into the Lion 64, commanded by the late Sir Erasmus Gower, who entrusted him with the command of the Jackall, a brig of 101 tons, originally a Welch coaster, which vessel had been purchased into the service, and fitted as a tender to the embassy under Lord Macartney, then about to proceed to the court of Pekin.
Every arrangement having been made to ensure the success, and add to the splendour and accommodation of an embassy, which had long engaged a considerable share of the public attention; all those who were to accompany the Ambassador, to the amount of near 100 persons, besides soldiers and servants, joined his Excellency, at Portsmouth, in September, 1792; and on the 26th of that month the Lion sailed from Spithead, with an easterly breeze, accompanied by her tender, and the Hindostan, a large East Indiaman, the latter having on board the presents destined for Tchien Lung, the Chinese Emperor; and those persons of Lord Macartney’s suite who could not be accommodated on board the King’s ship.
The squadron had made but little progress down Channel when the wind became adverse, and soon increased to a gale. The Jackall, being unable to weather Portland, parted company during the night of the 28th, and was left to perform the voyage to the Straits of Sunda by herself, with only nine working hands on board, and those totally unprovided with the means of defending themselves against any hostile attack.
After encountering much bad weather, Mr. Sanders succeeded in reaching Madeira on the 22d October; and there received a letter from Sir Erasmus Gower, expressing great uneasiness for his safety; directing him to lose no time, after completing his provisions, in following him to the Cape de Verds; and, in the event of his not finding him at St. Jago, to proceed without delay to North Island, near the Straits of Banca; where he was to remain until joined by the Lion.
Mr. Sanders had scarcely brought up in Funchal Road before a gale from the S.W. compelled him to slip his cable, and run to sea; where he remained, contending with very tempestuous weather, for a period of seven days, at the expiration of which the wind shifted to the eastward, and enabled him to regain the anchorage. On the 30th October, the Jackall, after recovering the anchor that had been left behind, and taking on board a supply of provisions and water, was again under way; and eleven days after we find her anchoring in Porto Praya Bay, where Mr. Sanders received additional instructions for his guidance, from Sir Erasmus Gower, who had sailed from thence only two days previous to his arrival.
The island of St. Jago was at this period in an absolute state of famine. Little or no rain had fallen there for about three years before. The rivers were, almost all, entirely dry. The surface of the earth was, in general, destitute of herbage. The greatest part of the cattle had already perished, not less through drought than want of food; many of the inhabitants had migrated, and many died through hunger. Under those calamitous circumstances, the license contained in Sir Erasmus Gower’s letter, to make a reasonable tarry in Porto Praya Bay, for the purpose of refreshing his little crew, only served to excite discontent; and it was not without having recourse to strong measures that Mr. Sanders could induce them to prosecute their voyage.
From St. Jago to the Straits of Sunda, the Jackall only experienced one heavy gale of wind. It took place to the eastward of Madagascar, blowing violently in all directions, and occasioning an uncommonly confused sea, attended with incessant rain, loud peals of thunder, and lightning of the most awful description. There was, however, a very great swell from the S.W. during the whole passage, and frequently without any apparent cause. On the 13th Feb. 1793, Mr. Sanders made the island of St. Paul; and on the 23d of the following month he had the happiness of joining his commander at the appointed rendezvous, after a painful separation of nearly six months.
The following is an extract from Sir George Staunton’s “Account of the Embassy,” a work to which we must refer our readers for a detail of the subsequent proceedings of Lord Macartney and those in his train:–
“Very soon after the Lion’s return to this spot (North Island) the long-lost Jackall came in sight. It had been conjectured that in the stormy night, in which she lost company of the ships, or in her attempt afterwards to follow them, she had met with some severe misfortune. She had been manned by a part of the Lion’s crew; and their former companions, who knew not then of Great Britain being at war, could not have even the consolation of supposing their friends, though captive, yet alive. The joy of seeing her was very general: she had, in fact, been damaged in the beginning of the voyage, returned into port to repair, and afterwards used every diligence to re-join the ships. She was obliged to stop for refreshments at Madeira, where she arrived a short time after the Lion had left it. She pursued the latter to St. Jago, which she reached, likewise, some days too late. From thence to North Island she did not once come to anchor. She was what navigators call a good sea-boat, being compactly built, and little liable to perish by mere foul weather; but neither did she afford much shelter against the hardships of a rough voyage, or make her way so quickly as larger vessels against violent waves. Her provisions were damaged by salt water; and her crew were reduced to a very scanty pittance when she joined the Lion. Mr. Sanders, who commanded her, got much credit for his conduct throughout the voyage.”
On his return to England, in Sept. 1794, Mr. Sanders was recommended for promotion by Lord Macartney; and soon after advanced to the rank of Lieutenant in the Prince George, of 98 guns, which ship formed part of Lord Bridport’s fleet at the capture of three French 2-deckers, off l’Orient, on the 23d June, in the following year.
In the autumn of 1795, the Prince George received the flag of Rear-Admiral Christian, and made an ineffectual attempt to clear the Channel, in company with a large armament destined to act against the enemies’ colonies in the West Indies. The Glory, another second rate, into which Lieutenant Sanders had removed with the Rear-Admiral, being equally unsuccessful, he returned to the Prince George in July, 1796; and on the 14th Feb. following, had the honour of participating in the victory obtained by Sir John Jervis over the Spanish fleet off Cape St. Vincent. On that memorable occasion, the Prince George bore the flag of Rear-Admiral William Parker, and sustained a loss of 8 men slain and 7 wounded.
Lieutenant Sanders’ next appointment was in March 1797, to the Victory of 100 guns, bearing the flag of his Commander-in-chief, whom he afterwards accompanied into the Ville de Paris, also a first rate. During the time he belonged to the latter ship he was twice engaged in her boats with the Cadiz flotilla, and on one of those occasions received a severe wound. His promotion to the rank of Commander took place about November, 1798.
On the 22d Feb. 1799, Captain Sanders, in l’Espoir, a brig mounting 14 long 6-pounders, with a complement of 70 men, part of whom were absent in a detained neutral, after a sharp conflict of an hour and fifty minutes, captured a Spanish national xebec, of 14 long 4-pounders, 4 swivels of the same calibre, and 113 men. The following is a copy of his official letter on the occasion:–
“Sir,– At a quarter past noon, the town of Marbello bearing N.N.W. distant 3 leagues, a brig and two xebecs in the S.E. quarter appearing suspicious, I shewed my colours to them, when the brig and one of the xebecs hoisted Spanish; upon which a Moorish brig in tow was cast off, and l’Espoir hauled to the wind in chase. It was soon perceived they were armed vessels; but not being so fortunate as to weather them, we exchanged broadsides with both in passing. L’Espoir, being tacked, soon brought the xebec to close action, which continued for an hour and a half, when a favorable opportunity of boarding her was embraced; and after a sharp contest of about twenty minutes she surrendered, and proved to be the Africa, commanded by Josepho Subjado, in the service of the King of Spain, mounting 14 long 4-pounders and 4 brass 4-pr. swivels, having on board 75 seamen and 38 soldiers, from Algosamus bound to Malaga. Lieutenant Richardson, in whom I have much confidence, and all the officers and seamen of his Majesty’s sloop I have the honor to command, behaved with the same courage they have done on former occasions. During the action the brig, which, I have since learned, mounted 18 guns, stood in-shore and anchored. L’Espoir had 2 seamen killed and 2 wounded; the Africa 1 officer and 8 seamen killed, her captain, 2 officers, and 25 men wounded.”
“Captain Cuthbert, H.M.S. Majestic.”
The officer to whom this letter was addressed, when transmitting it to Earl St. Vincent, said, it was not in the power of his pen sufficiently to extol the meritorious conduct of Captain Sanders and his crew in the action, which he had himself witnessed, but at too great a distance to be able to assist l’Espoir.
Some time previous to this gallant affair, Captain Sanders had been sent to examine the Barbary coast for a watering place; and it is to him that we are indebted for the discovery of a valuable run of fine water in Mazari Bay, 6 or 7 miles to the eastward of Tetuan river, which has since been of infinite service both to his Majesty’s ships and the garrison of Gibraltar. In June following l’Espoir formed part of Lord Keith’s fleet, and joined in the pursuit of a French squadron under Rear-Admiral Perée, whose capture we have already recorded. Subsequent to this event, Captain Sanders, being at Gibraltar, observed several Spanish gun-boats capture a merchant brig between Cabritta Point and Ceuta. Having obtained permission to that effect from the senior officer then present, he weighed at sun-set unobserved by the enemy, succeeded in recapturing the English vessel, sunk one of the gun-boats, and compelled the others to make a hasty retreat. In addition to those services, he rescued several British merchantmen at different times from the hands of the Algeziras flotilla, and captured and destroyed several privateers and trading vessels on the coast of Spain; in doing which l’Espoir was more than once warmly engaged, though, fortunately, without sustaining any material loss or damage.
Captain Sanders paid off l’Espoir at Sheerness in Dec. 1799; and on that vessel being taken into dock, several feet of her counter fell out the moment the copper was removed; a sufficient proof that his predecessor’s fears were not groundless. Towards the conclusion of the war he commanded the Raven of 18 guns, on the West India station. His post commission bears date April 29, 1802.
In the spring of 1805, we find him acting in the Ariadne, a 20gun ship, during the temporary absence of her proper Captain, the Hon. Edward King, and stationed off the enemy’s coast, with a small squadron under his orders, for the purpose of watching the French flotilla between Dunkirk and Calais. While thus employed he submitted a plan to Lord Keith for attacking the armed vessels lying off the former place. His proposal being approved, a number of fire-ships, &c. were assembled in the Downs for that purpose; but the enemy, anticipating an attack from the force collected, availed himself of the first favorable opportunity to move from Dunkirk Roads and force his way to Boulogne and Calais, which he effected after a sharp brush with the British cruisers, on which occasion each party had several men killed and wounded.
In Nov. 1807, Captain Sanders was appointed to the Atlas of 74 guns, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Purvis, on the Cadiz station, where he was most actively employed for a period of nearly three years.
The late war in the Peninsula will be memorable above all of modern times. It stands alone for the perfidiousness with which the French commenced it, and the atrocious system upon which it was persevered in by an individual the most ambitious of the human race, who was intoxicated with success, and whose heart and conscience were equally callous. For many months previous to its commencement, the Atlas was employed blockading Cadiz; but no sooner had the spirit of patriotism burst forth in Andalusia, than the officer whose flag she bore was seen hastening to offer every assistance in his power to the cause of the oppressed inhabitants. We should greatly exceed our limits were we to enter into a detailed account of the transactions in that quarter during the long protracted siege of Cadiz: an idea of the dangers to which the British officers and seamen were constantly exposed will be readily conceived, when we state, that the Atlas scarcely passed a day without being under the fire of the enemy’s batteries, and that her loss amounted to at least 50 men killed and wounded, including the casualties that occurred in gunboats manned by detachments from her crew.
In August 1810, the Council of Regency having assented to a proposal made by Lieutenant-General Graham and Sir Richard G. Keats, (successor to Vice-Admiral Purvis,) for the formation of a canal, navigable for gun-boats at low water, within the fort of Puntales, Captain Sanders was selected to survey the spot and discuss the points connected with it, in conjunction with several other British and Spanish officers. The destruction of Fort Catalina was likewise effected under his superintendance.
The Atlas being found defective, was at length ordered home and put out of commission in Dec. 1810. Previous to her departure from Cadiz, the Junta of that city made arrangements by which a large sum of money was sent to England in her, as a reward for Captain Sanders’ exertions at that place.
Captain Sanders remained on half-pay till Mar. 9, 1812, when he was appointed to the Junon of 46 guns, in which ship we find him cruising off the Chesapeake, and capturing several prizes at the commencement of the late war with America. He also led the squadron under Sir John B. Warren, when that officer first entered the same bay for the purpose of establishing a strict and active blockade, which was afterwards most rigidly enforced by the Junon and other frigates under the orders of Captain Burdett; to whose memoir we must refer our readers for a copy of the general order issued by Rear-Admiral Cockburn on the 4th Mar. 1813, acknowledging the “gallant, active, and zealous conduct of every officer and man of the small squadron” employed on that arduous service.
On the 20th June following, Captain Sanders being at the entrance of Norfolk river, in company with the Narcissus and Barrossa frigates, was attacked by fifteen American gun-boats, several of which were disabled, and the whole compelled to retreat, after an action of three hours, during which the Junon had 2 men killed and 3 wounded. Fortunately for the enemy, the shoalness of the water, and their proximity to the shore, enabled them to effect their escape.
In the following month Captain Sanders was entrusted with the blockade of Delaware Bay, where the boats of the Junon and Martin gallantly attacked and carried an American gun-vessel, mounting one long 32-pounder and one 4-pounder, with a complement of 35 men. Great credit is due to Captain Sanders for the promptitude with which he despatched the boats on this service, the enemy’s vessel being part of a flotilla that had come out to attempt the destruction of the Martin, then lying aground on the outer ridge of Crow’s Shoal, and not more than two miles and a half from the beach. This gallant affair will be more fully spoken of in our memoirs of Captain H. F. Senhouse and Commander Philip Westphal.
Captain Sanders continued actively and successfully employed on the American station till Sept. 30, 1813, when he was obliged to exchange into the Sybille frigate and return to England for the recovery of his health, which had by this time become much impaired by a long and laborious course of service, during which, as we have already shewn, he had assisted at the capture and destruction of three first-rates, eleven other ships of the line, four frigates, and three sloops of war, besides upwards of one hundred sail of smaller armed vessels, privateers, and merchantmen. He left the Sybille on the 15th Mar. 1814, and has ever since been on half-pay. He married, in May, 1801, Miss M‘Adam, of Ayrshire.
- Rear-Admiral Thompson, a brave officer and excellent seaman, died at Titchfield, Hants, Aug. 13, 1813, on which day he had completed his 95th year, His eldest son, Norborne, is a Captain R.N.
- For an account of the above actions see Vol. I, pp. 40 and 133; Vol. II, Part I. p. 63, et seq.: and Vol. I, note at p. 35 et seq.
- Captain Gower was appointed to the Lion at Lord Macartney’s express desire, and gratified with the choice of his own officers, whom he selected from a personal knowledge of their merit. The nomination of a Captain was far from being a matter of indifference to the Ambassador; for, beside the proper qualifications to conduct any very long voyage, with safety and comfort to the passengers and crew, still more might possibly be requisite in an undertaking in which a new tract of sea was to be explored; as it became a part of the plan to sail directly for the harbour next to the capital of China, through the Yellow Sea and the Gulf of Pekin, for a space of 10° of latitude, and more than half that quantity of longitude, no part of which had ever been described by any European navigator. To every branch of the sea service Captain Gower was known to be fully equal. In addition to the military exertions of this spirited and able officer, he had twice, at an early age, been round the world, having suffered, and materially contributed to surmount, the vast variety of evils incident to such perilous and protracted voyages, by which his mind was inured to, and provided with resources against, the accidents of untried routes. Numberless applications were made to serve under him upon the present interesting occasion; and young gentlemen of the most respectable families, glowing with all the ardour and enterprise of youth, were admitted on board the Lion, considerably beyond her proper complement of Midshipmen. Three of those gentlemen were placed under Mr. Sanders in the Jackall.
- The Lion, on her passage from Batavia to North Island, struck upon a knoll in three fathoms water, with six or seven fathoms all round it. Had the knoll risen nearer to the surface, the accident might have been attended with serious consequences; and the want of a tender was now much felt, as she might have preceded the ships, and sounded the depth of water in any unknown or suspected place The East India Company’s Commissioners at Canton had destined two small vessels for this purpose; but in their late despatches to Lord Macartney, received by him at Batavia, they expressed their regret that those vessels were still otherwise employed. It appeared, that, even should the Jackall join, another vessel would still be useful; and his Lordship sent back to Batavia to purchase such a one as the service required; to which, as a mark of respect to the Duke of Clarence, H.R.H.’s name was given. The seeds of dangerous diseases had by this time taken root on board the Lion and Hindostan; and the evil consequences of a long voyage in so small a vessel, with a very limited allowance of food, and that not of the most wholesome description, began to shew themselves among the Jackall’s crew immediately after their arrival, although no previous signs of debility had been exhibited by them: their cases, however, soon yielded to the kind treatment they experienced, aided by salutary refreshments; whilst by moving to different parts of the coasts of Java and Sumatra, in order to find out the healthiest and coolest spot, the number of persons on the, sick-lists of the Lion and Hindostan was gradually reduced.
- See Vol. I. p. 246.
- See Vol. I, note †, at p. 89 and Vol. II. Part I. p. 96 et seq.
- It appeared by information afterwards received, that the Spanish vessels made sure of carrying l’Espoir into Malaga; also, that the brig which withdrew from the fight and anchored in-shore, was ultimately destroyed.
- See Vol. I. p. 267, and Vol. II. Part 1, Note †, at p. 276. We should here observe that Captain Bland, who commanded l’Espoir before the subject of this memoir, considered her as scarcely sea-worthy, her upper works in particular being in a most deplorable state. Captain Sanders, however, continued to command her for twelve months, and when off Cape delle Melle, with Lord Keith’s fleet, in June 1799, went in chase, although her starboard-side had been stove in and nearly laid flat on the deck by the Emerald frigate running foul of her during the preceding night.
- Captain King had resumed the command of his ship, and the squadron a few days previous to the action. He was afterwards appointed to the Alexandria frigate, and died on the West India station in 1807.
- The Narcissus and Barrossa used every exertion to close with the enemy, hut owing to the tide could not reach their stations till the gun-boats were about to retire.