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Royal Naval Biography/Schomberg, Alexander Wilmot

[Post-Captain of 1801.]

This officer was made a Lieutenant in 1793; and obtained post rank Jan. 1, 1801.

Agent.– William Marsh, Esq.


[Post-Captain of 1801.]

The Schombergs are a branch of the family of the Duke of Schomberg, who commanded the King’s troops, and fell at the battle of the Boyne, aged 80 years. They first came over to England with William III., and are the only family of that name in these dominions.

The subject of the following memoir is the eldest son of the late Captain Sir Alexander Schomberg, R.N. by Mary Susannah Arabella, only child of the Rev. Henry Chalmers, and niece to Sir Edmund Aleyn, Bart.[1]

Mr. Alexander Wilmot Schomberg was born in 1775, and first went to sea, at the age of ten years, in the Dorset yacht, commanded by his father, of whose services we have given a brief account in p. 817 of Vol. II. Part II. In 1788, he joined the Porcupine 24, Captain Lambert Brabazon, stationed on the N.W. coast of Ireland; and in 1789, the Lowestoffe 32, Captain Edmund Dodd, employed in the English Channel. We subsequently find him in the Trusty 50, bearing the flag of Sir John Laforey, commander-in-chief at the Leeward Islands, by whom he was appointed to act as lieutenant of the Nautilus sloop. Captain (now Lord Henry) Paulet, immediately after the capture of Tobago, in April, 1793[2].

On the arrival of the expedition sent from England to reduce the other French colonies, Mr. Schomberg, whose appointment had been confirmed in July 1793, was removed by Sir John Jervis into the Solebay 32, Captain William Hancock Kelly; and he appears to have been entrusted with the command of fifty seamen, landed from that ship, to co-operate with the army under Sir Charles Grey, during the whole of the laborious and extremely harassing operations against Martinique, St. Lucia, and Guadaloupe[3]. He also served on shore when an attempt was made to re-conquer the posts in the latter island, which had been unexpectedly and successfully attacked, during the hurricane season, by a republican force under the notorious Victor Hugues[4].

In common with most of his companions in arms, Lieutetenant Schomberg suffered severely from the effects of such constant exposure, excessive fatigue, and very great privations; and at length he had so violent an attack of yellow fever, that his life was only saved by the commander-in-chief ordering him a passage home in the Dictator 64. His next appointment was, in June 1795, to be second of the Glatton 56, Captain (now Sir Henry) Trollope, whose celebrated action with an enemy’s squadron, consisting of a cut-down 74, five frigates, a brig, and a cutter, July 15th, 1796, we have recorded in Vol. I. p. 147, et seq.

During this remarkable combat, which took place in a quarter-less-five fathoms water, close to the Brill light-house, Lieutenant Schomberg commanded on the lower-deck, and, finding that his men were not sufficiently numerous to fight all the guns on both sides, he resorted to Lord Anson’s expedient of forming them into small gangs, to load and run out in quick succession, leaving only two picked hands at each gun to point and fire it. His gallant and judicious conduct on this occasion was highly approved and publicly acknowledged by Captain Trollope.

On the Glatton’s return into port. Lieutenant Schomberg was appointed first of the Amphion frigate, Captain (now Sir Israel) Pellew, as a step towards promotion; hut unfortunately that ship was destroyed by fire, in Hamoaze, whilst he was on his passage to join her. We subsequently find him commanding the Rambler brig, of two hundred tons, mounting 14 long six-pounders, with a complement of 86 men. In July 1797 while cruising on the Dogger Bank, he captured the French brig privateer Prospére, of 26 guns and 73 men.

In April 1798, this officer was promoted to the rank of commander, and sent in the Rambler, then registered as a sloop-of-war, to join the squadron under Vice-Admiral Waldegrave (the late Lord Radstock), on the Newfoundland station. Returning from thence, as convoy to the trade bound to Portugal, he encountered, on the Great Bank, a tremendous gale of wind, in which the Rambler was thrown on her beam-ends, and nearly foundered. After getting her before the wind, he succeeded, though not without great exertions, in throwing twelve of her guns overboard, reserving two for signals; and she was subsequently armed, at his request, with 18-pounder carronades, thereby reducing the dead-weight on deck, and rendering her a more formidable vessel in action. Some time afterwards she pitched away her bowsprit and foremast, during another violent storm, whilst in the Race of Alderney.

Captain Schomberg obtained post rank on the 1st Jan. 1801; and was appointed to the temporary command of the Windsor Castle 98, off Brest, in 1804. From Oct. 1807 until Aug. 1812, he commanded the Loire frigate, of 48 guns and 300 men.

Early in the spring of 1808, Captain Schomberg was sent, with the Success frigate under his orders, to the Greenland seas, for the protection of the fishery; and although the Loire and her consort were only fitted for common Channel service, he persevered until they got to the northward of Spitzbergen, and reached the main ice of that hemisphere. On the 4th June, the ships were in lat. 77° 30' N., long. 3° 00' E. The Success was then commanded by Captain John Ayscough, late Commissioner at Jamaica and Bermuda.

Towards the close of 1808, Captain Schomberg escorted a fleet consisting of 168 transports, having on board a fine and gallant army, 14,000 strong, under Sir David Baird, from Falmouth to Corunna, where every ship was safely anchored, without casualty or loss of any description, on the fourth day from England. The only men-of-war in company with the Loire when this important service was so ably, expeditiously, and successfully conducted, were the Amelia of 46 guns, and Champion 24, Captains the Hon. Frederick Paul Irby and James Coutts Crawford. The Sybille 46, Captain Clotworthy Upton, had also been placed under the orders of Captain Schomberg, but was unable to accompany him in consequence of a leak in her magazine.

Captain Schomborg was afterwards employed in co-operation with the Spanish patriots, on the coasts of Galicia, Asturias, and Biscay. He subsequently visited Cadiz, proceeded from thence to the Tagus, and there received on board 100 Russian prisoners of war, for a passage to England. On his return homeward, Feb. 5th, 1809, he captured, after an anxious chase of eight hours, and a short night action, the French national ship Hebe, pierced for 34 guns, but mounting only twenty-two 24-pounder carronades and two long 12-pounders, with a complement of 168 men. This little frigate was quite new, and full of stores under hatches, then cruising, but ultimately bound to St. Domingo. She was added to the British navy, under the name of “Ganymede.”

In the beginning of 1810, after convoying a battalion of the 60th regiment from Spithead to Barbadoes, Captain Schomberg was entrusted with the command of a squadron stationed to windward of Guadaloupe, to intercept any reinforcements or supplies intended for the enemy’s garrison; and on the surrender of that vahiable island, he was ordered to convey the French “Captain-General” (Ernouf) and his suite to England, where he arrived in the month of March. On the passage home, he encountered a violent hurricane, in which two of the transports under his convoy, full of French prisoners, foundered.

In May, 1810, Captain Schomberg, then on the coast of Norway, had the good fortune to save H.M. sloop Snake from being captured by eight Danish nations) brigs; which vessels, however, taking advantage of a sudden calm, effected their escape by sweeping.

During the remainder of that season, the Loire was employed in the Gulf of Finland, watching the Russian fleet; and she subsequently cruised at the entrance of the Cattegat, until obliged by tempestuous weather to bear up for England, having previously parted company with her consorts, the Cruiser and Erebus sloops. After refitting, she accompanied the outward bound West India convoy to the latitude of Madeira.

In 1811, Captain Schomberg commanded a squadron of two frigates and four sloops, stationed in the Sleeve, where he rendered most effectual protection to the Baltic trade. Returning from thence, in December, the Loire providentially escaped the melancholy fate of the Minotaur 74, with which ship she had sailed from Wingo Sound, on the 15th of that month, and kept company until the 19th; when, observing the high land of Camperdown on the lee-bow, and fearing that the wind would not keep to the northward of west, Captain Schomberg prudently resolved to continue no longer on the starboard tack, although the master and pilot of the Loire were decidedly bent upon doing so. The Minotaur, then about seven miles on the weather-quarter of the Loire, persisted in endeavouring to weather the coast of Holland, got embayed, and was wrecked near the Texel, on the night of the 22d; the wind having shifted to S.W. very soon after Captain Schomberg had wore, in order to keep the North Sea open. According to the Dutch official account, only 110 of the Minotaur’s officers and men succeeded in reaching the shore: the remainder, including her captain, perished[5].

In the spring of 1812, Captain Schomberg once more returned to the Baltic station, and again commanded a light squadron; with which he kept the Danish cruisers so completely blockaded that a single sloop-of-war was sufficient protection for any fleet of merchantmen crossing the North Sea. In the ensuing summer, he escorted a convoy out of soundings, to the westward; and on the completion of that service we find him appointed to the York 74, then cruising off the Scheldt, but subsequently attached to the Channel fleet, and occasionally employed in the blockade of Rochefort and l’Orient.

After the abdication of Napoleon Buonaparte, in 1814, Captain Schomberg, with the Vengeur 74, Captain Tristram Robert Ricketts, and Erne 20, Captain the Hon. W. J. (now Lord) Napier, under his orders, conducted a body of troops from Bourdeaux to Quebec, each line-of-battle ship carrying out no less than 1000 men, in addition to her proper complement. On his return home, he submitted to Lord Melville and the Board of Admiralty a plan for the future victualling of the seamen and marines of H.M. fleet, wherein he was the first to propose the substitution of tea, sugar, etc. for half the usual allowance of spirits; heaving it, however, at the option of captains and other commanding officers, to issue the full allowance of grog whenever they might judge it necessary, in bad weather, &c. &c. This suggestion was highly approved of by Lord Melville, from whom he received a most flattering letter on the occasion; eight or nine years, however, elapsed before a fair trial was made, when the alteration was found to have proved so very acceptable to the crew of the Thetis frigate, commanded by Sir John Phillimore, that a general change in the system of victualling H.M. navy was immediately determined upon. From this much benefit must result in future wars, particularly when troops are embarked, as on such occasions drunkenness, irregularities of every kind, and consequently punishments, have always hitherto been found greatly to increase in consequence of the ease with which sailors could obtain grog from sea-sick and other soldiers, who will now have little or none to dispose of. At the close of the war with America, he commanded a squadron off Cape Clear; and in Aug. 1815, we find him putting the York out of commission.

In 1818, Captain Schomberg printed, for private distribution, a tract entitled “Naval Suggestions,” and embracing a variety of subjects, – such as the building, classification, arming, manning, and fitting of ships; “with Observations and Remarks in other departments of the Service.” These were also most highly approved of by Lord Melville, the Board of Admiralty, and all the officers of high rank, to whom copies were presented; and many things therein proposed have been adopted with success.

Captain Schomberg’s next appointment was, Mar. 1st, 1829, to the Melville 74, in which ship he was serving, on the Mediterranean station, when advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral, July 22d, 1830.

This highly meritorious officer married, 1st, Catherine Anna, daughter of the late Stepney Rawson Stepney, of Castle Durrow, King’s County, Ireland, Esq.; and, 2dly, in 1804, Anne, youngest daughter of the late Rear-Admiral Richard Smith (an old officer, much beloved and respected), whose mother had the honor of being entrusted with the care of her future revered monarch, King George III., in early life, and was applauded and caressed for the judicious manner in which she acquitted herself of so important a charge. Rear-Admiral Smith was made a post-captain in Nov. 1762, and died at Poulton-cum-Seccombe, in Cheshire, in July 1811. Rear-Admiral Schomberg’s eldest son by his first marriage is a lieutenant in the royal navy, which rank he obtained on the 11th Sept. 1827. By his present lady he has had two sons, one of whom, named Charles Frederick, is a midshipman in the navy; and the other, George Augustus, a child at school.

  1. Lady Schomberg was an heiress on her mother’s side, and possessed of an estate called the Priory, in Essex.
  2. See Vol. I. note at p. 514.
  3. See Vol. II. note at p. 107 et seq.; and Vol. I. pp. 19, 711, and 841.
  4. See Vol. II. pp. 109–113.
  5. See Nav. Chron. vol. xxv., p. 56; and vol. xxxvii. p. 181.