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Royal Naval Biography/Shippard, Alexander

[Post-Captain of 1806.]

The first mention we find of this officer is contained in the following official letter from Captain Robert Honyman to Lord Keith, dated off Boulogne, Oct. 31, 1803:

“My Lord,– I have the honor to acquaint you, that this morning at 9 o’clock, six of the enemy’s sloops, some of them armed, under convoy of a large gun-brig, were discovered coming out of Staples, and standing to the eastward towards Boulogne; I immediately made the Harpy’s signal, as well as the Lark’s, to chase in that direction. The Admiral Mitchell cutter I perceived off Boulogne, and Lieutenant Shippard, her commander, immediately ran down within musket-shot, and commenced a very spirited and well-directed attack upon the brigs and sloops, which he continued in the most gallant manner for two hours and a half, driving the brig and one of the sloops on the rocks. I have great pleasure in bearing testimony to the intrepidity which was displayed in attacking so superior a force, especially when under cover of their numerous batteries on shore, and feel myself bound injustice to Lieutenant Shippard, for his gallant conduct this day, to recommend him to your lordship as an officer highly deserving every thing I can say in his favour. I enclose his report to me, and am sorry to perceive he has suffered so considerably: I also regret the strong winds off shore prevented the squadron from rendering that assbtance we were all anxious to do. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)Robert Honyman.”

Lieutenant Shippard’s report informs us that a shell fell on board his cutter, which wounded her mast and cross-jack-yard in several places; also that she was repeatedly hulled, and one of her guns dismounted by the enemy’s shot. The French brig is said by him to have mounted “twelve 32-pounders,” whereas the Admiral Mitchell had only an equal number of twelves. The complement of the latter did not exceed 35 men, 2 of whom were badly, and 2 slightly wounded.

The gallant and determined conduct of Lieutenant Shippard, which called forth such pointed commendation from Captain Honyman, and also obtained him his commander-in-chief’s warmest praise, does not appearto have been immediately revrarded. His commission as a Commander bears date Mar. 3, 1804; and his promotion to post rank took place Jan. 22, 1806.

Captain Shippard subsequently commanded the Banterer of 22 guns; the Namur, a third rate, bearing the flag of the late Vice-Admiral Thomas Wells, commander in-chief at Sheerness; and the Asia 74. The loss of the former ship near Point Mille Vache, in the river St. Lawrence, Oct. 29, 1808, and the sufferings of her officers and crew, are fully described in the Naval Chronicle, Vol. XXII, pp. 49–53. The following sentence was pronounced by the court-martial assembled to try Captain Shippard for his conduct on that occasion:

“The Court is of opinion, that the loss of the said ship was occasioned by the culpable neglect of the Master, in not having repeated to the Lieutenant who relieved hiin in the next watch, the orders he had received from Captain Shippard, to keep the lead going by the forecastle men, and to relieve them, in consequence of the very severe cold weather, every half hour; as also from the negligence and very culpable conduct of Lieutenant Stephen C. M‘Curdy, the officer of the middle watch, who not only permitted the pilot to quit the deck without his Captain’s knowledge, but likewise left it himself between the hours of two and four, without being relieved by any person whatever, and took with him to the gun-room, to drink grog, the pilot’s apprentice, the only midshipman, and the only quarter-master who were in the watch, where he remained upwards of a quarter of an hour: that Captain Shippard appears to have caused every possible exertion to be made to save the ship, and, when that was found impracticable, to preserve the stores, in which he was supported by his officers and crew. The Court doth therefore adjudge Lieutenant Stephen C. M‘Curdy to be dismissed from his Majesty’s service, as a Lieutenant, and Mr. Robert Clegram, acting Master, to be severely reprimanded, and admonished in all similar navigations to keep the lead going, and feel particular charge of any ship he may happen to serve in as Master, notwithstanding a pilot shall be on board at the time. And Lieutenant Stephen C. M‘Curdy is hereby sentenced to be dismissed from the rank of Lieutenant in his Majesty’s service, Mr. Robert Clegram to be severely reprimanded, and Captain Alexander Shippard, the other officers, ship’s company, and pilot, to be acquitted, and they are hereby acquitted accordingly. It is the opinion of the Court, that if Captain Shippard’s excellent arrangements had been duly attended to, the loss of his Majesty’s ship would have been avoided.”

Captain Shippard married a daughter of Admiral Sir John Knight, K.C.B. His eldest son, who was a student at the Royal Naval College, died in Jan. 1811. One of his daughters is the wife of Lieutenant Alexander Buchanan, R.N.

Agent.– J. Copland, Esq.