Open main menu

Royal Naval Biography/Spear, Richard

[Post-Captain of 1813.]

Was originally a banker’s clerk at Dublin. He entered the naval service under the auspices of the first Lord Gardner, and was subsequently patronized by the Marquis of Hastings. We first find him serving as lieutenant of the Conqueror 74, Captain (now Sir Israel) Pellew, at the glorious battle of Trafalgar.

After that tremendous conflict Lieutenant Spear was entrusted with the charge of the Bucentaure 80, (Mons. Villeneuve’s late flag-ship) in which he was wrecked, on the 22d Oct. at the entrance of Cadiz bay. His promotion to the rank of commander took place Dec 24, 1805.

On the 2d Sept. 1811, Captain Spear, then in the Chanticleer brig of 10 guns, was attacked, and nearly captured, by a Danish squadron. The very gallant defence made by his consort, Lieutenant Richard William Simmonds, of the Manly gun-brig, will be seen by the following extracts of a letter from that officer to Sir Henry Edwin Stanhope, the commander-in-chief at Sheerness ; dated Christiansand, Norway, Sept. 4:–

“We exchanged numbers with the Chanticleer at 5-30 P.M. on the 1st instant, Drommels bearing N.W. by W., distant about 12 leagues, when she made our signal to pass within hail, which I accordingly complied with, and after waiting on Captain Spear, having no surgeon on board the Manly, and both vessels being bound to one port, I thought it prudent, through his advice, to remain in company with the Chanticleer that night, for the purpose of her surgeon visiting my sick people the next morning. Captain Spear informing me, at the same time, he meant to sail along the coast during the night: the superior sailing of the Chanticleer occasioned me to carry a press of sail, against a heavy head-sea, to keep her company.

“At 1 A.M. she was a long way a-head; and at 2, I observed three strange sail close to her, but could not now discover which was the Chanticleer. I then made the private signal which was answered in that direction; and the four vessels being right ahead, I continued my course, endeavouring to come up with them, as I was certain the Chanticleer must be one. About 3-30 I observed a firing amongst them, which gave me suspicion that the three strangers must be enemy’s vessels; and perceived from their superior force the Chanticleer must be in a very perilous situation. I was determined, whatever might be the consequence, not to forsake her, but to share the same fate, and continued under all sail, using every exertion in my power to close with them for her assistance: being confident, from the appearance of the strangers, that their force was more than double ours, both in guns and men, I only thought of selling the Manly as near as possible, in her support. I could not, however, distinguish which was the Chanticleer, till after I had received the fire of two of the enemy’s vessels, which I found to be three Danish brigs of war. I then perceived the Chanticleer to be abaft my larboard beam, making sail from the enemy. The largest brig now tacked to close the Manly. I hauled to the wind, and tacked, with our head to the eastward, to join the Chanticleer, if possible; but she still kept her course, steering from the enemy, and seemed to decline, on her part, to renew the action. I had, however, by this time, for her support, placed the Manly in a situation where it was impossible to avoid it, and the largest of the enemy’s brigs, which afterwards proved to be the Loland, coming up on our starboard beam, we received her whole broadside, which did us considerable damage. We instantly returned it, when an action commenced, and continued within nmsket-shot for ihe space of 2 hours and 25 minutes, when the other two brigs, which had now left off chasing the Chanticleer, returned to support the Loland, and were within musket-shot, the one endeavouring to take her station on our larboard bow, the other to supply the place of the Loland, who now tacked, and placed herself on our starboard quarter, keeping up a constant fire; nor was it in the smallest degree possible for us to prevent these manoeuvres on the part of the enemy, owing to their superior sailing, and we being completely disabled, our head-sails having been all shot away about the beginning of the action, and afterwards our standing and running rigging, with all the other sails entirely cut to pieces; our masts and bowsprit being badly wounded in several places, and 4 guns dismounted: as the fire of all three brigs would have been opened upon us at a very small distance, within the space of 5 minutes, they still continuing to close, and our force consisting of only 37 men and 5 boys; the brig being in a crippled state and quite unmanageable, I conceived it would only have been vain presumption on my part, and a cruel sacrifice of the lives of my brave little crew, to have pretended further resistance against three heavy vessels, each of which, as it afterwards proved, mounted 158long 18-pounders, especially when there was not the smallest hopes of any assistance, or possibility of escape. I was, therefore, reluctantly compelled to submit to their superior force; and although our loss in men was very trifling, having only 1 killed and 3 wounded, yet, from the length of time we were exposed to their fire, and the shattered state of the brig at the close of the action, I have to thank the Almighty no more of them fell. The Loland has also suffered considerably; but of their damages and loss of men they avoid letting us gain the least information. The Loland has to get a thorough repair, and is this day getting out her foremast.”

The Loland, Captain H. P. Holm, had on board three Lieutenants and 126 men: the other Danish brigs were the Alsen and Samsoe, commanded by first Lieutenants Lutkin and Grothschilling, each having 123 officers and men. The Manly had only ten 18-pounder carronades, and 2 long sixes. Her brave defender was most honorably acquitted by a court-martial, at Sheerness, Jan. 6, 1812; and is still a lieutenant. The commander of the Chanticleer obtained post rank, May 3, 1813.

Captain Spear married, in 1809, Anne Maria, only daughter of John Walter, Esq. naval contractor at North Yarmouth.