Royal Naval Biography/Saumarez, James
SIR JAMES SAUMAREZ,
Baronet; Vice-Admiral of Great Britain; Admiral of the White; Knight Grand Cross of the most Honourable Military Order of the Bath, and of the Royal Swedish Order of the Sword; Doctor of the Civil Law; a Vice-President of the Naval Charitable, and of the Naval and Military Bible Societies.
The Norman descent, claimed by this family, is corroborated by its name, which is evidently of French extraction; and its founder is said to have followed the fortunes of William the Conqueror, from Normandy, and to have finally settled in the island of Guernsey. The original name was de Sausmarez, and is continued to be used by the eldest branch; but a few years since, the de and s were both dropped by the younger branches in England, in order to give it a more anglicised appearance.
The subject of this memoir is the third son of the late Matthew Saumarez, of Guernsey, Esq. where he followed the profession of medicine with great reputation, by his second wife, Cartaret, daughter of James le Marchant, Esq. He was born in that island, March 11, 1757, and commenced his honourable career in the sea service as a Midshipman, in 1770, on board the Montreal, commanded by the late Commodore Alms, and employed on the Mediterranean station, where he continued until 1775; having intermediately served in the Winchelsea and Levant frigates, under the several commands of the late Admirals Goodall and Thompson, and returning home in the latter ship.
Soon after his arrival in England, Mr. Saumarez joined the Bristol, of 50 guns, bearing the broad pendant of Sir Peter Parker, the late Admiral of the Fleet; in which ship he served, June 28, 1776, at the attack of Fort Sullivan, near Charlestown, in South Carolina, where the Bristol had 111 men killed and wounded, including her Captain and several officers; and Mr. Saumarez had a narrow escape, as a large shot from the fort, entering the port-hole, when he was pointing a lower-decker, struck the gun, and killed and wounded seven men who were stationed at it. Mr. Saumarez’s conduct in this desperate business, a full account of which is already given in our memoir of Admiral Nugent, was so much approved of by the Commodore, that he received an appointment to act as Lieutenant on board the Bristol, which was afterwards confirmed by Lord Howe. Subsequently to this, he was employed in America upon most important and active operations connected with the army, and had the command of the Spitfire galley, in which he rendered great services by clearing the coast of the enemy’s privateers, and driving on shore a ship very superior in force to that of his own. The Spitfire was unfortunately among the number of vessels which were burnt or destroyed to prevent them from falling into the enemy’s hands, when the French fleet, under Count d’Estaing, arrived off Rhode Island. Lieutenant Saumarez afterwards acted as Aide-de-camp on shore to Commodore Brisbane, and commanded a party of seamen and marines at one of the advanced posts. He then returned to England in the Leviathan, in which vessel he narrowly escaped shipwreck on the Scilly Isles.
Soon after his arrival, Mr. Saumarez was appointed one of the Lieutenants of the Victory, of 100 guns, carrying the flag of Sir Charles Hardy; and continued in that ship, under different flag-officers, until his removal, as Second Lieutenant, into the Fortitude, 74, with Vice-Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, who was at that time appointed to the command of a squadron fitting out in consequence of the rupture with Holland. In this ship he participated in the battle with the Dutch fleet, under the command of Admiral Zoutman, off the Dogger Bank, when the enemy were compelled to retire into the Texel, with the loss of one ship of the line. For his conduct in this action, our officer, after conducting the Preston, a disabled ship, (whose Captain, Graeme, had lost an arm) into port, was promoted to the rank of Commander, and appointed to the Tisiphone, a new fire-vessel, then fitting at Sherness.
On the 18th of the same month, his late Majesty, ever desirous of bestowing marks of approbation on his brave seamen, and highly gratified by the intrepidity they had so recently displayed, honoured Sir Hyde Parker’s squadron, then at the Nore, with a visit. After paying a just tribute of applause to the conduct of the Admiral, he desired the commanding officers of the different ships might be presented to him. When Captain Saumarez was introduced, the King immediately asked Sir Hyde, “Is he a relation of the Saumarez’ who went round the world with Lord Anson?” “Yes, please your Majesty," the Admiral replied; " he is their nephew, and as brave and as good an officer as either of his uncles.”
In the month of December following, the Tisiphone formed part of a squadron under Admiral Kempenfelt, when that brave officer captured a number of French merchantmen in the face of a superior force, commanded by Count de Guichen. This success was in a great measure owing to the zeal and activity of Captain Saumarez, who first discovered the enemy; and immediately standing towards them, succeeded in taking several of the transports, one of which, a ship of 30 guns, had 400 troops on board. He was then detached by the Rear-Admiral with the intelligence to Sir Samuel Hood, Commander-in-Chief in the West Indies, whom it was necessary to apprize of the sailing of this armament. On his passage, he very narrowly escaped capture by two French frigates; from which danger he rescued himself in the most masterly manner, by making a number of night-signals, and burning false fires, thereby inducing the enemy to suppose that his was the advanced ship of an adverse squadron.
On delivering his despatches to Sir Samuel Hood, Captain Saumarez received a commission, appointing him, though then under twenty-five years of age, to the command of the Russell, of 74 guns in which ship he took a distinguished share in the memorable action between Rodney and de Grasse, April 12, 1782, being at one time, during the heat of the engagement, separated from the main body of the English fleet, and exposed to the fire of many adversaries. The loss sustained by the Russell on this occasion consisted of 10 men killed and 29 wounded. Subsequently to this action the Russell, being found in a very disabled state, was sent to England as one of the escorts to the homeward bound trade; and soon after the war terminating, Captain Saumarez was enabled to enjoy an interval repose; during which, he took a leading part in the establishment of Sunday schools in his native island, a trait in his character which does him as much honour as any of his professional exploits.
On the appearance of hostilities in the year 1787, our officer quitted his domestic enjoyments, and was appointed to the command of the Ambuscade frigate. The Spanish armament in the year 1790, again called him from an unwished for state of inactivity, and he was ordered to commission the Raisonable, of 64 guns. The dispute with Spain being adjusted, the ships were dismantled, and Captain Saumarez remained unemployed until the commencement of the French revolutionary war, when he obtained the command of the Crescent, of 42 guns, the crew of which, consisting of 257 men, were principally volunteers from the island of Guernsey.
In this ship, being on a cruize near Cherbourg, Oct. 20, 1793, he fell in with, and after a close action of two hours and twenty minutes, captured le Reunion, of 36 guns and 320 men, 120 of whom were either killed or wounded. The Crescent had not a single man hurt. This service procured him the honour of knighthood; and the merchants of London, who have ever been conspicuous for their partiality to naval merit, presented him at the same time with an elegant piece of plate.
When the Crescent was refitted, she sailed on a cruise in the Bay of Biscay, with the Hind, a smaller frigate, in company; during which the Club de Cherbourg, and l’Espoir, French privateers, were taken. Sir James Saumarez was afterwards attached to the squadron under Admiral M‘Bride, which formed a part of Earl Moira’s expedition in favour of the French royalists.
On the 8th June, 1794, the Crescent, accompanied by the Druid frigate, and Eurydice, a 24-gun ship, fell in with, off the island of Jersey, and was chaced by a French squadron, consisting of two cut-down 74’s, each mounting 54 guns, two frigates, and a brig. Sir James perceiving the vast superiority of the enemy, ordered the Eurydice, which was the worst sailor, to make the best of her way to Guernsey; whilst the Crescent and Druid followed under easy sail, occasionally engaging the French ships and keeping them at bay, until the Eurydice had got to some distance a-head; when they made all possible sail to get off. The enemy’s squadron, however, gained upon both in such a manner that they must have been taken, but for a bold and masterly manoeuvre. Sir James seeing the perilous situation of his consorts, hauled his wind, and stood along the French line, an evolution which immediately attracted the enemy’s attention, and the capture of the Crescent appeared for some time to be inevitable; but, by the assistance of an old and experienced pilot, she pushed through an intricate passage never attempted before by a king’s ship, and effected her escape into Guernsey Road, greatly to the disappointment of her pursuers.
In the month of Feb. following, our officer was appointed to the Marlborough, of 74 guns; and after a long cruize in that ship, removed into the Orion, of similar force; in which vessel he gave proof of his usual intrepidity in Lord Bridport’s action off l’Orient, June 23, in the same year. On this occasion the Orion was one of the first ships that came up with the enemy, and sustained a loss of 3 men slain and 10 wounded.
Sir James Saumarez was afterwards detached with two frigates to cruise off Rochfort, where he remained for six months, during the most tempestuous weather. He then resumed his station in the fleet off Brest, from whence he was sent to reinforce Sir John Jervis, whom he joined five days before the memorable battle off Cape St. Vincent, on which occasion the Orion was one of the six ships that attacked the body of the enemy’s fleet, and afterwards joined in the attack of the huge Santissima Trinidada, which, according to an entry made in the Orion’s log book, at length hauled down her colours, and hoisted English ones, but was rescued by several of the enemy’s fresh ships. In this engagement, already detailed in our memoir of Earl St. Vincent, the Orion had only 9 men wounded.
On the 30th April, 1798, Sir James Saumarez, who, subsequent to the above battle, had been employed in the blockade of Cadiz, accompanied Sir Horatio Nelson to the Mediterranean, and shared in the honours acquired off the Mouth of the Nile. The Orion was the third ship that doubled the enemy’s van, firing as long as her larboard guns would bear on le Guerrier; then passing inside of the Goliath, and being annoyed by a frigate, Sir James yawed as much as enabled him to sink this opponent by a tremendous fire; when he hauled round towards the French line, and took his station on the larboard bow of le Franklin and the quarter of le Peuple Souverain. In this celebrated conflict the Orion had 13 men killed and 29 wounded, including among the latter number her brave commander, who received a severe contusion on the side, notwithstanding which he refused the earnest solicitations of his officers to be taken below, and remained upon deck until the action ceased.
Sir James was, however, still able to take the command of the detachment sent to escort six of the prizes, with which he sailed for Gibraltar on the 15th, and while passing Malta fell in with a Portugueze squadron, under the Marquis de Niza. Being detained off the island by light airs and calms, our officer was waited upon by a deputation of the principal inhabitants, to solicit for a supply of arms and ammunition. The Maltese, at the same time, informed Sir James, that the French garrison at Valetta were driven to great distress, and that there was good reason for believing that the appearance of the British squadron would induce the enemy to surrender, if they were formally summoned. Accordingly, having obtained the concurrence of the Marquis de Niza, he, on the 25th Sept., sent in a flag of truce, with a proposal couched in the usual terms. After three hours deliberation, the French General, Vaubois, returned for answer, that he, Sir James Saumarez, had probably forgotten that they were Frenchmen who were at Malta; that the condition of the inhabitants was nothing to him, the English Captain; and that, as to the summons, the French did not understand the style of it. The nature of the service he had been ordered upon, left Sir James no alternative but to take advantage of the breeze that had just sprung up, and proceed on his destination, which he did after furnishing the islanders with arms and ammunition from the captured ships, which enabled them to annoy the enemy, and materially contributed to the ultimate reduction of that important fortress. The Orion arrived at Plymouth in November, and being found to want considerable repair, was paid off early in the following year.
Sir James Saumarez was now honoured for a second time with a gold medal and ribband; while the inhabitants of Guernsey, as a mark of attachment and respect, presented him with a magnificent vase, of considerable value. On the 14th Feb., in the same year, his late Majesty was pleased to confer upon him one of the Colonelcies of Marines, as a reward for his many and meritorious services; and after a short interval of repose, he was appointed to the Csesar, of 84 guns, one of the finest ships in the British service, and the first of that force on two decks ever built in England, in which he joined the Channel fleet, and cruised off Brest during a long and tempestuous period.
At the promotion which took place Jan. 1, 1801, Sir James Saumarez became a Rear-Admiral of the Blue; and on the 13th June following he was created a Baronet, with permission to wear the supporters belonging to the arms of his family, which have been registered in the Herald’s Office ever since the reign of King Charles II.
Subsequent to his advancement to the rank of a Flag-officer, Sir James commanded a division of the grand fleet stationed off the Black Rocks; and nothing can manifest in a stronger point of view the unwearied zeal with which he acquitted himself, than by stating, that no square-rigged vessel of any description either sailed from or entered into the port of Brest during the whole time he remained on that station.
On his return from this severe duty, the Rear-Admiral was ordered to prepare for foreign service; and, on the 14th June, he sailed from Plymouth with a squadron consisting of five sail of the line, one frigate, a brig, and a lugger, destined for the blockade of Cadiz, off which port he was joined by two more ships of the line.
At 2 A.M. on the 5th July, Sir James received intelligence that a French squadron had arrived from the Mediterranean, and after having made repeated attempts to push through the Straits, had anchored off Algeziras. He immediately bore up with the squadron, the Superb and Thames excepted, and made sail towards Gibraltar. The following morning, on opening Cabaretta Point, the enemy was discovered, and appeared to be warping close under the protection of the Spanish batteries, some of which were situated on an island about a quarter of a mile from the shore, others on commanding eminences to the north and south of the town of Algeziras, and the cross fire from which completely flanked the entrance to the harbour.
The plan of attack given out by Sir James Saumarez was, for the Venerable to lead into the bay, and pass the enemy’s ships without coming to anchor; the Pompée to anchor abreast of the inner ship; the Audacious, Spencer, Caesar, and Hannibal, to anchor abreast of the other French ships and the Spanish batteries; and the boats of the squadron to be lowered down and armed, in readiness to act where required.
At about eight A.M., the Venerable, then at a considerable distance to leeward, not being able to fetch further into the bay, returned the fire that had been opened upon the British as they advanced by the Spanish batteries on the island; and in half an hour after, the French ships joined in the cannonade. The Pompée soon after brought up in her allotted station, and commenced a most tremendous fire on the French Admiral; in a little while, however, she broke her sheer by a sudden flaw of wind, and was prevented from bringing more than a few guns to bear. The Audacious anchored astern of the Pompée; but, after a short time, was also baffled in bringing her broadside to a proper bearing. At about a quarter past nine, the Caesar dropped her anchor a-head of the Audacious, and opened her fire; and shortly afterwards the Hannibal, who, along with the Spencer, had been becalmed outside, got a breeze, and, anchoring a-head and within hail of the Caesar, united her fire to that of her companions. The Spencer next came into action; but, in spite of all her efforts, could not get much nearer than was sufficient to expose her to the heavy cannonade that continued to blaze from the numerous batteries by which the bay was defended.
A little after ten o’clock, Captain Ferris, having been ordered by Sir James Saumarez to go and rake the Formidable, cut his cable, and made sail to the northward. After standing in to a quarter less six, the Hannibal tacked for the French ship; shortening sail as she advanced, in order to be ready to hawl athwart her opponent’s hawse. Just, however, as Captain Ferris had got within hail of the French Admiral, the Hannibal took the ground; and, notwithstanding every possible effort was made to cover and get her off, she struck with such force that it was found impracticable. Captain Ferris made a most gallant resistance against the incessant fire of the Formidable, supported by the batteries and seven heavy gun-boats. At length finding it impossible to save the King’s ship, and for the preservation of the lives of the remainder of his brave crew, he was reduced to the painful necessity of ordering the colours to be struck.
The enemy’s ships during the battle continued to warp nearer the shore, by which means they had considerably increased the distance between them and their assailants. Sir James Saumarez resolving to use every exertion in his power, either to destroy or bring them off, ordered the cables of his squadron to be cut, with a view to stand closer in; but the unfavourable state of the weather, and a strong current, rendered all his endeavours ineffectual; and after a most severe conflict of five hours, he was compelled to withdraw his ships and proceed to Gibraltar, leaving the dismasted and shattered Hannibal as a trophy in the hands of the French.
The loss sustained by the British on this occasion was extremely heavy; it amounted to 121 killed, 240 wounded, and 14 missing; of which number, the Hannibal alone had 75 slain, 62 wounded, and 6 missing; the remainder of her crew were made prisoners. The French and Spaniards, according to their own published accounts, had 317 killed, including Captains Moncousu and Lalonde, and about 500 wounded. The ships and forts received considerable injury; five of their gun-boats were sunk, and the others materially damaged.
In the course of a few hours the British ships reached the anchorage in Rosia Bay. The Pompée, owing to her leaky state, was obliged to be towed strait into the New Mole; whither the Caesar soon followed her. Two days after, the Superb and Thames were observed in the Gut, with the signal for an enemy flying; and soon afterwards a Spanish squadron, of five sail of the line and three frigates, was seen from the rock to anchor off Algeziras. On the following day, another ship of the line, with a French Commodore’s broad pendant, arrived at the same place.
That the object of this reinforcement was to conduct the French ships and their prize to Cadiz was very apparent; and nothing could surpass the exertions of the British officers and men to get their vessels ready for sea. The Caesar being dismantled, Sir James Saumarez removed his flag to the Audacious. On the morning of the 12th, however, by working day and night, the crew of the Caesar got their ship in readiness to be warped out of the Mole; and the Rear-Admiral shifted back his flag to her. At three the same afternoon the Caesar weighed and put to sea, with the Superb, Spencer, Audacious, Venerable, and Thames, the Carlotta Portugueze frigate, the Calpe polacre, commanded by the Hon. G. H. L. Dundas, and the Louisa armed brig, but without the Pompée, who had not yet had time to take in her new masts.
At this moment the enemy, whose force now consisted, besides the Hannibal, of nine sail of the line, four frigates, two armed vessels, and a great number of gun-boats, were seen endeavouring to work out of the bay; but the wind, being light and baffling, rendered their progress very slow. The moment they had cleared Cabaretta point, Sir James Saumarez bore up in chace with a fresh breeze at east. The rock was covered by the garrison, who beheld with admiration the ardour which the British ships displayed, but could not believe it was their intention to attack a foe so superior. Confiding, however, in the zeal and intrepidity of those under his command, Sir James Saumarez determined, if possible, to obstruct the passage of this very powerful force to Cadiz, and accordingly directed the Superb to make sail and attack the sternmost ship in the enemy’s rear, using his endeavours to keep in shore of them.
At eleven the Superb opened her fire close to the enemy’s ships; and on the Caesar’s coming up, and preparing to engage one of the Spanish three-deckers that had hauled her wind, she was perceived to have taken fire, and the flames having communicated to a ship to leeward of her, both were soon in a blaze, and presented a most awful sight. No possibility existing of offering the least assistance in so distressing a situation, the Caesar passed to close with the ship engaged by the Superb; and by the cool and determined fire kept upon her, the enemy’s ship was completely silenced, and soon after hauled down her colours. The Venerable and Spencer having at this time come up, Sir James bore up after the enemy, who was carrying a press of sail, standing out of the Straits, and lost sight of them during the night. It blew excessively hard till day-light, and in the morning the only ships seen by the Caesar were the Spencer far a-stern, the Venerable and Thames a-head, and the Formidable some distance from them standing towards the shoals of Conil. Sail was immediately made by the Caesar and her consorts; but as they approached the enemy, the wind suddenly failed, and the Venerable was alone able to bring him to action, which Captain Hood did in the most gallant manner, and had nearly silenced him, when his own main-mast (which had been before wounded) was unfortunately shot away, and it falling nearly calm, the French ship was enabled to effect her escape, without any possibility of following her. This action was fought so near the shore, that the Venerable struck on one of the shoals, but was soon after hove off with the loss of all her masts, and taken in tow by the Thames. The crippled remains of the combined squadrons found shelter in the harbour of Cadiz; and Sir James Saumarez returned with the ships under his orders to Gibraltar.
Thus, during an eventful period of only seven days, two battles were fought by Sir James Saumarez, under peculiar disadvantages, and they contributed not a little to augment his reputation. The combined squadrons had on board a large body of troops, and were to have proceeded against Lisbon, which place it is most probable would have fallen into their hands, had they not been thus timely prevented from going thither.
In order to confer on him a signal mark of favour, the star and ribband of the most honourable military order of the Bath were transmitted by his late Majesty, and Sir James was invested with them by Lieutenant-Governor O’Hara, in the presence of all the officers of the garrison of Gibraltar. He also received the unanimous thanks of both Houses of Parliament, together with a pension of 1200l. per annum for life, and the freedom of the city of London, accompanied by a handsome sword. The vote of thanks was moved in the House of Lords by Earl St. Vincent, and seconded by Lord Nelson, who bore ample testimony to the exalted character of Sir James, and concluded with these words: “A greater action was never fought than that of Sir James Saumarez. The gallant Admiral had, before that action, undertaken an enterprise that none but the most gallant officer and the bravest seamen could have attempted. He had failed through an accident by the falling of the wind; for I venture to say, if that had not failed him, Sir James would have captured the French squadron. The promptness with which he refitted, the spirit with which he attacked a superior force after his recent disaster, and the masterly conduct of the action, I do not think were ever surpassed.”
A short interval of peace restored the Rear-Admiral once more to the arms of his family, and the society of his friends; nor did the war that speedily ensued deprive them long of his presence; for as the proximity of his native island to the French coast rendered it liable to an attack, he was, after serving for a short period at the Nore, appointed to the command at Guernsey, which he retained until his promotion to the rank of Vice-Admiral, when he was nominated second in command of the Channel Fleet, under Earl St. Vincent. His Lordship being absent on Admiralty leave, Sir James was employed in watching the enemy’s fleet in Brest, until the month of August following; when, upon the appointment of Lord Gardner to the chief command of the Channel Fleet, he resumed his former station. In the month of March 1808, Sir James was appointed to the command of a strong squadron sent to the Baltic for the protection of the Swedish dominions, on which station he continued upwards of four years.
Previous to his departure for England, Sir James received a most superb sword, which was delivered to him by Baron Essen, Aide-de-camp to the Crown Prince (Bernadotte), accompanied by a flattering letter from his Royal Highness, expressive of the sense which the Swedish Government entertained of his services. The whole of the hilt is elegantly set with brilliants, of exquisite workmanship, and of great value. On the 24th June, 1813, his present Majesty, then Prince Regent, was pleased, in compliance with the request of the late King of Sweden, to invest Sir James with the insignia of a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Swedish Military Order of the Sword, conferred upon him by that Monarch, as a distinguished testimony of his royal regard and esteem.
Sir James was promoted to the rank of Admiral of the Blue, June 4, 1814. In the summer of 1819 he received the honourable and lucrative appointment of Rear-Admiral of Great Britain; and on the demise of Sir William Young, he succeeded that officer as Vice-Admiral thereof.
Our officer married, Oct. 27, 1788, to Martha, only child of Thomas le Marchant, Esq. (by a marriage with Miss Mary Dobree, two of the most antient and respectable families in the island of Guernsey), and by that lady has had several children.
- See p. 95.
- See note at p. 101.
- A manifesto and declaration of war against Holland were issued at St. James’s, Dec. 20, 1780.
- On the 5th Aug. 1781, Sir Hyde Parker with seven sail of the line, four frigates, and a cutter, fell in with a Dutch squadron under Admiral Zoutman, consisting of six line-of-battle ships, two of 44 guns each, and four frigates. The action which ensued, though upon a small scale, was conducted and fought in such a manner, that it recalls afresh to the memory those dreadful sea-fights between England and Holland, which were witnessed in the preceding century. Both squadrons had the charge of a fleet of merchantmen; notwithstanding which, they were equally determined to meet and fight it out to the last. The British being to windward, Sir Hyde Parker made the signal for the merchant ships to keep their wind, and with the men-of-war bore down on the enemy, who were lying to, formed in the line of battle. An awful silence prevailed; and not a single gun was fired on either side until within half musket shot. The Fortitude being then abreast of the Dutch Admiral, the action began, and continued with unceasing fury for three hours and forty minutes. By this time the combatants were unavoidably separated; and the British ships so disabled as to be quite unmanageable. Sir Hyde Parker made every effort to form the line, in order to renew the engagement; but found it impracticable. The enemy’s ships were equally cut to pieces. In this shattered situation both squadrons lay-to a considerable time near each other refitting; at last Admiral Zoutman, with his convoy, bore away for the Texel; nor was it in the power of Sir Hyde to pursue him.
The next day the English frigates discovered the Hollandia, a Dutch ship of 68 guns, sunk in deep water, her top-gallant masts only being above the surface, and her pendant flying, which Captain Patten, of the Belle Poule, struck, and brought on board to Sir Hyde Parker. In this dreadful battle Captain Macartney, five other officers, and 105 men were killed, and 24 officers and 294 men wounded. The most authentic accounts state the Dutch to have had 1100 killed, wounded, and drowned.
- Sir Hyde Parker was subsequently appointed to the chief command in India, and having hoisted his flag on board the Cato, arrived safely at the Cape of Good Hope, in his way thither, but was never afterwards heard of.
Captains Philip and Thomas Saumarez, the two officers alluded to above, were in the expedition to the South Sea, under the orders of Commodore Auson. The former was slain in the engagement between Lord Hawke and M. de Letendeur, off Cape Finisterre, Oct. 14, 1747. The latter, when commander of the Antelope, a 50-gun ship, captured the Belliqueux, a French 64.
- See p. 58.
- His Post commission bears date, Feb. 7, 1782.
- See note at p. 35, et seq.
- Lieutenant-Governor Small, who with a multitude of the inhabitants of the Island, beheld the whole of the above proceedings, immediately published the following flattering testimonial in public orders, which was afterwards transmitted to Sir James by the Brigade-Major:
“The Lieutenant-Governor of Guernsey cannot, without doing injustice to his own feelings, help taking notice thus publicly of the gallant and distinguished conduct of Sir James Saumarez, with the officers and men of his Majesty’s ships Crescent, Druid, and Eurydice, under his command, in the very unequal conflict of yesterday, where their consummate professional skill and masterly manoeuvres, demonstrated with brilliant effect the superiority of British seamanship and bravery, by repelling and frustrating the views of a squadron of the enemy at least treble their force and weight of metal. This cheering instance of spirit and perseverance in a most respectable detachment of our royal navy, could not fail of presenting an animating and pleasing example to his Majesty’s land forces, both of the line and island troops, who were anxious spectators, and beheld with admiration the active conduct of their brave countrymen. To the loyal inhabitants of Guernsey it afforded cause of real exultation, to witness the manly and exertive conduct of an officer whom this flourishing island has to boast he is a native of."
- See Admiral Sir William Domett.
- See pp. 21 to 28.
- A formidable armament, which had long been in preparation, and had become the subject of various conjectures as to its destination, sailed from Toulon on the 20th May, 1798. It consisted, according to report, of fifteen ships of the line, ten or twelve frigates, some smaller armed vessels, and two hundred transports, carrying upwards of 40,000 troops, a considerable number of horses, and a vast quantity of provisions and military stores. The conduct of the whole was committed to Napoleon Buonaparte, who enjoyed the character of being the greatest General of the age, and was considered a man of superior talents and extraordinary resources. On the 9th June, this expedition arrived off the island of Malta, of which possession was taken with so little resistance as to excite suspicion of a previous concert between the captors and the knights who held the sovereignty. Having left there a sufficient garrison, the republican chief proceeded to his ultimate destination; and on reaching the coast of Egypt on the 1st July, disclosed the object of the expedition to be the acquirement of a station from whence the British possessions in India might be advantageously assailed. Buonaparte took Alexandria by storm; gave the Beys a defeat, which rendered him master of Cairo; and after organizing a temporary government, he set out in pursuit of the fugitive Beys to the confines of Syria.
The equipment of the Toulon fleet being known to the British ministry, though its destination was uncertain, Earl St. Vincent, who commanded the squadron employed in the blockade of Cadiz, was directed, if he thoughtit necessary, to take his whole force into the Mediterranean; but, if he should deem a detachment sufficient, “I think it almost unnecessary,” said the First Lord of the Admiralty, in his secret instructions, “to suggest to you the propriety of putting it under Sir Horatio Nelson.” A fortnight previous to the receipt of these orders, the noble Earl had sent that officer with a small squadron to endeavour to ascertain the object of the expedition; so sagaciously had his Lordship anticipated the views of the government at home.
Sir Horatio Nelson, his flag-ship, the Vanguard, of 74 guns, having completed her water and provisions at Gibraltar, sailed from thence, May 9, 1798, accompanied by the Alexander and Orion 74’s, Emerald and Terpsichore frigates, and Bonne Citoyenne sloop. On the 19th, when they were in the Gulf of Lyons, a gale came on from the N.W. It moderated on the 20th; but after dark again blew strong; and early on the morning of the 21st, the Vanguard carried away her main and mizen-top-masts. In two hours afterwards, the fore-mast went in three pieces, and the bowsprit was found to be sprung in as many places. At day-light the ship, by means of the remnant of her spritsail, was enabled to wear. The Alexander, Orion, and Emerald wore also; and the four vessels scudded before the wind. The Terpsichore, Bonne Citoyenne, and a prize-ship, continued lying-to, under bare poles, and therefore parted company; as did the Emerald, during the night.
At noon on the 22d, the three line-of-battle ships anchored in the Sardinian harbour of St. Pietro, where the Vanguard, by the indefatigable exertions of Sir Horatio Nelson, his officers and men, was refitted in four days. On the 27th, the detachment sailed for the rendezvous off Toulon; and on the 7th June, effected a junction with ten sail of the line, and a 50-gun ship, which had been detached from the fleet off Cadiz to reinforce the Rear-Admiral, who now found himself at the head of a well appointed squadron consisting of the following ships, commanded by some of the ablest officers in the British navy;
The first certain intelligence of the enemy’s armament was received from the British Consul at Messina, who informed Sir Horatio Nelson that the French had possessed themselves of Malta and Goza; and that their fleet was lying at anchor off the last-named island. A fresh breeze at N.W. and a rapid current, soon carried the British squadron clear of the celebrated straits of Messina; and the Rear-Admiral determined to attack the enemy at anchor. At day-break on the 22d, however, the Mutine obtained information from a Genoese brig, that the French had quitted Malta on the 18th, with the same wind that was then blowing, from which circumstance it was apparent that their destination was Egypt; and immediately the British commander bore up, and steered S.E., under all sail. He arrived off Alexandria on the 28th, and the enemy were not there, neither was there any account of them; but the Governor was endeavouring to put the city in a state of defence, having received advice from Leghorn that Egypt was the object of the expedition. Sir Horatio Nelson then shaped his course to the northward, for Karamania, and steered from thence along the southern side of Candia, carrying a press of sail, both night and day, with a contrary wind.
Guns. Vanguard 74 Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson.
Captain Edward Berry.
Orion 74 74 Sir James Saumarez. Alexander 74 Alexander John Ball. Culloden 74 Thomas Troubridge. Minotaur 74 Thomas Louis. Bellerophon 74 Henry D’Esterre Darby. Audacious 74 Davidge Gould. Defence 74 John Peyton. Goliath 74 Thomas Foley. Majestic 74 George B. Westcott. Swiftsure 74 Benjamin Hallowell. Theseus 74 Ralph Willett Miller. Zealous 74 Samuel Hood. Leander 60 60 Thomas Boulden Thompson. and Mutine brig 16 Thomas Masterman Hardy,
who had joined the Rear-Admiral two days before.
Baffled in his pursuit, the Rear-Admiral returned to Sicily, and after victualling and watering his squadron at Syracuse, sailed again in quest of the enemy, on the 25th July. All the accounts received while at that port, agreed in representing, that the French fleet had not been seen, either in the Archipelago, or the Adriatic; and that it had not gone down the Mediterranean; hence, no other conclusion remained, than that it still lay to the eastward, and that Egypt, after all, had been its destination. To be certain it was so, Nelson bent his course for the Morea. The squadron made the Gulf of Coron on the 28th. Captain Troubridge entered the port, and returned with intelligence that the French had been seen about four weeks before, steering to the S.E. from Candia. Sir Horatio then determined immediately to return to Alexandria; and, at length, on the 1st Aug., soon after noon, a fleet was descried at anchor in the Bay of Aboukir, near the mouth of the Nile, consisting of one ship of 120 guns, three 80 gun-ships, nine 74’s, and four frigates, flanked by four mortar-brigs several gun-boats, and a battery of guns and mortars on an island in their van.
[footnote: French line-of-battle, with remarks, showing at one view the result of the combat that ensued.
Guns. Guerrier 74 Captain Trullet.– The van ship, taken, and burnt, being unfit for service. Conquérant 74 Dalbarade.– Taken, and sent to England. Spartiate 74 Maurice-Julian Emeriau.– Taken, and sent to England. Aquilon 74 Thévenard.– Taken, and sent to England. Peuple-Souverain 74 Racors.– Taken, and sent to Gibraltar, where she was converted into a guardship. Franklin 80 Rear-Admiral Blanquet, second in command
Taken, and sent to England. Orient 120 Admiral Brueys, Commander-in-Chief
Took fire during the action, and blew up. Tonnant 80 Du Petit-Thouars.– Taken, and sent to England. Heureux 74 Jean-Pierre Etienne.– Taken, and burnt, being unfit for service. Mercure 74 Lalonde.– Taken, and burnt, being unfit for service. Guillaume Tell 80 Rear-Admiral Villeneuve, third in command.
Escaped Généreux 74 Lejoille. Escaped. Timoléon 74 Trullet.– Burnt by her crew.
N.B. The battery on Aboukir island, mounting four 12-pounders, several smaller guns, and two 13-inch mortars, was destroyed on the 8th, and the brass ordnance taken on board the British ships.]
Disregarding the advantageous position of the enemy, as well as their superiority of metal, Rear-Admiral Nelson decided for an immediate attack; and the more effectually to surround and engage one part of their fleet, while the rest remained unemployed, and of no service, some of the British ships ran between those of the French and the shore. Unfortunately, in standing into the bay the Culloden struck upon a shoal, and to the mortification of her gallant officers and crew, could not be got off in time to join in the action; she, however, served as a beacon to the Alexander and Swiftsure, which would else, from the course they were holding, have gone considerably farther on the reef, and must inevitably have been lost.
The battle commenced at sun-set, and was continued, with a few intervals, till day-break on the 2d. Several of the enemy’s ships had struck when night set in, which was rendered grand and terrific beyond description, by the blowing up of the 3-decker l’Orient, about ten o’clock. By this explosion the greater part of her crew, consisting of 1011 men, perished. The shock was felt to the very bottom of every vessel; and the masses of burning wreck, which were scattered in all directions, excited for some moments apprehensions in the English which they had never felt from any other danger. L’Orient had money on board (the plunder of Malta) to the amount of 600,000l. sterling, which heightened the chagrin felt by the victors at not being able to add so fine a ship to their other well-earned trophies.
On the morning of the 2d August, the Guillaume Tell, Généreux, Tonnant, and Timoléon, were the only French ships of the line which had their colours flying; the two former cut their cables about eleven o’clock, not having been engaged, and stood out to sea, accompanied by two frigates. The Zealous pursued; but as there was no other ship in a condition to support her, she was recalled. These four vessels, however, were all that escaped; the Tonnant surrendered on the 3d, and the Timoléon was burnt by her crew. The victory was the most complete and glorious in the annals of naval history. Of thirteen sail of the line, nine were taken, and two burnt; of the four frigates, one was sunk by the Orion, another, the Artemise, was burnt in a villainous manner by her Captain, M. Estandlet, who having fired a broadside at the Theseus, struck his colours, then set fire to the ship, and escaped with most of his crew to shore. The British loss, in killed and wounded, amounted to 896. Captain Westcott was the only officer of his rank who fell. Sir Horatio Nelson was severely wounded by a splinter which struck him a little above his right or darkened eye, causing a piece of flesh to hang over the lid. It was afterwards replaced and sewed up. No regular return was made of the loss sustained by the captured ships: the total number of men taken, drowned, burnt, and missing, is said to have been 5225, of whom 3105, including the wounded, were sent on shore in a cartel, upon the usual terms; but General Buonaparte, to shew how he respected treaties, formed them, as soon as they landed, into a battalion, which he named the Nautic legion. Admiral Brueys, while standing on the Orient’s poop, received three wounds, one of which was on the head. Soon afterwards, on descending to the quarter-deck, a shot almost cut him in two. This heroic commander then desired not to be carried below, but to be left to die at his post: he survived only a quarter of an hour. The Captains Casa-Bianca, Thévenard, and Du Petit-Thouars, were also slain; and 6 other principal officers were dangerously wounded. About 350 of the Timoléon’s crew, that escaped to the shore, were murdered by the Bedouin Arabs, thousands of whom and Egyptians lined the coast, and covered the house tops during the action, rejoicing in the destruction which had overtaken their invaders. The loss sustained by the Guerrier alone was estimated, in killed and wounded, at about 500 men, or two thirds of her whole complement.
This victory produced an astonishing effect all over Europe, in enhancing the idea of British valour, and strengthening the Anti-gallican cause. At home, the news was received with unbounded transport, and honours of every kind were heaped upon the gallant commander, among which was the apposite title of Baron Nelson of the Nile, with a pension of 2,000l. per annum. The King of Naples, on the Rear-Admiral’s return to the Sicilian coast, went on board his flag-ship to congratulate him; and subsequently conferred on him the Dukedom of Bronte. The present sent him by the Grand Seignior was a pelisse of sables, with broad sleeves, valued at 5,000 dollars; and a diamond aigrette, valued at 18,000, the most honourable badge among the Turks; and in this instance more especially so, because it was taken from one of the imperial turbans. The Sultan also sent, in a spirit worthy of imitation, a purse of 2,000 sequins, to be distributed among the wounded. The mother of the same ruler sent Nelson a box set with diamonds, valued at 1000l. sterling; the Czar Paul presented him with his portrait, set in diamonds, in a gold box, accompanied with a letter of congratulation, written by his own hand; and the King of Sardinia also wrote to him, and sent a gold box, set with diamonds. A grant of 10.000l. was voted to him by the East India Company; the Turkish Company presented him with a piece of plate; the City of London gave a sword to him, and to each of his Captains; gold medals were distributed to the Captains; the first Lieutenants of all the ships were promoted, as had been done after Lord Howe’s victory; and the thanks of Parliament were voted to all who had shared in this memorable achievement.
- The force under Sir James was now composed of the following vessels;
Guns. Caesar 84 Rear-Admiral Sir James Saumarez.
Captain Jahleel Brenton.
Pompeée 74 Charles Stirling. Superb 74 Richard Goodwin Keats. Spencer 74 Henry D’Esterre Darby. Audacious 74 Shuldham Peard. Hannibal 74 Solomon Ferris. Venerable 74 Samuel Hood. Thames 32 William Lukin. Pasley, armed brig; and Plymouth, hired lugger.
- The French squadron consisted of the
Guns. Formidable 74 Rear-Admiral Linois.
Indomptable 80 Moncousu. Desaix 74 Palliere. Messiton 36 Martinencq.
- This advantage obtained by the enemy was magnified by them into an important victory; and it was announced at all the Parisian theatres, that six English ships had been either taken or beaten back into Gibraltar, by three French ships. The same news was circulated by the telegraphs through the whole of the republican dominions, without a word of the land batteries; and the destruction of the modern Carthage, as Great Britain was denominated, predicted, in an epigram greatly admired at Paris, because it had lost its Hannibal.
- Captain Ferris, his officers, and wounded men, were afterwards liberated on parole.
- This squadron was from Cadiz, and composed of the following ships, under the orders of Rear-Admiral Moreno:
Guns. Real Carlos 112 Captain Esquerra. San Hermenegildo 112 Emparan. San Fernando 96 Malina. Argonauta 80 Harrera. San Augustin 74 Jopete. Sabina, Perla, and another frigate.
- San Antonio, 74 guns.– Commodore Le Roy.
- The circumstance of the Formidable escaping capture, was represented by the French as a naval victory, and a signal instance of the reviving glory of their marine.
- The casualties of the British in this second encounter with the enemy appears to have been confined to the Venerable and Superb, The former had 18 men killed, and 87 wounded; the latter had not a man slain, but 18 of her crew were wounded, and the greater part severely. The enemy’s loss was never ascertained; but it is reported, that of the 1840 men composing the crews of the Spanish 3-deckers, burnt during the action, only 84 were saved. The French Commodore Le Roy was wounded in action with the Superb.
- March 24, 1803, the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered the following message from the King to the House of Commons;:
“His Majesty having taken into his most gracious consideration the eminent services of Rear-Admiral Sir James Saumarez, Knight of the most honourable Order of the Bath, and particularly the valour, promptness, and intrepidity he displayed in an engagement with a Spanish squadron upon the 12th of July 1801, in the Straits of Gibraltar, recommends it to his faithful Commons to grant unto him, the said Sir James Saumarer, K.B. an annuity of twelve hundred pounds, for the term of his natural life.”
On the following day the House having resolved itself into a Committee on his Majesty’s message, the Chancellor of the Exchequer moved, that the annual sum of 1200/. be granted to his Majesty, to enable him to reward the services of Sir James Saumarez, out of the Consolidated Fund of Great Britain, to take effect from the 12th of July 1801. The motion was agreed to.