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Royal Naval Biography/Spicer, Peter

[Post-Captain of 1802.]

Of this officer’s services whilst a Lieutenant, it would be sufficient to say that he served as such under Nelson, in his favorite ship the Agamemnon; but as he had the honor of being repeatedly mentioned by that great man, in his official accounts of the numerous actions in which the officers and men under his orders were engaged, it may not be amiss to introduce a few extracts from those despatches respecting him.

On the 26th Aug. 1795, the boats of the Agamemnon and other ships, cut out of the bay of Alassio, la Resolu, French national polacre, of 10 guns, 4 swivels, and 87 men; la Republique, of 6 guns and 49 men 5 two armed gallies; and three transports laden with powder, shells, and wine; two others in ballast; and destroyed three vessels laden with ammunition and provisions.

This enterprise was soon succeeded by another, which did not terminate quite so successfully. It is detailed in the following letter from Nelson to Viee-Admiral Hotham, dated Vado Bay, Aug. 30, 1795:

Sir,– Having received information that a ship laden with provisions was arrived at Oneglia, I yesterday afternoon manned the two small gallies taken on the 26th, with 44 officers and men from the Agamemnon, and 10 men belonging to the Southampton, under the command of Lieutenant George Andrews, arid Lieutenant Peter Spker of the Agamemnon; and ordered Lieutenant Andrews to proceed to Oneglia, and to endeavour to take the said ship. On his passage down, about nine at night, he fell in with three large vessels with lateen sails, which he engaged at ten o’clock. One of these was carried by boarding; but the men belonging to her retiring to the others, cut her adrift, the three vessels being made fast together. At half past ten the attack on the other two was renewed with the greatest spirit; but the number of men on board was too great, united with the height of their vessels, for our force; and my gallant officers and men, after a long contest, were obliged to retreat. It is with the greatest pain I have to render so long a list of killed and wounded. The spirited and officer-like conduct of Lieutenants Andrews and Spicer, I cannot sufficiently applaud; and every praise is due to each individual, for their exemplary bravery and good conduct. The vessels had no colours hoisted, but a Greek flag has been found on board the prize.”

In this unfortunate affair the gallant party had no less than 4 men killed and 13 wounded. The following additional information is extracted from a letter to Mrs. Nelson, dated Sept. 1, 1795.

“We have made a small expedition with the squadron, and taken a French corvette and some other vessels, in which affair I lost no men; but since, I have not been so successful. I detached Mr. Andrews[1] to cut off a ship from Oneglia. On his passage he fell in with three Turkish vessels, as it has since turned out, who killed and wounded 17 of my poor fellows. Seven are already dead, and more must be lost by the badness of their wounds. I am sorry to add that the Turks got into Genoa, with six millions of hard cash: however, they who play at bowls must expect rubs; and the worse success now, the better, I hope, another time.”

On the 31st May, 1796, Nelson’s squadron captured a valuable convoy laden with arms, ammunition, entrenching tools, &c., sent to Buonaparte for the purpose of enabling him to carry on the siege of Mantua. The Commodore’s account thereof will be found at p. 519 et seq. of Vol. I. On a subsequent day he writes thus:

“In my public letter it was impossible to enumerate every individual; but next to Captain Cockburn stands Captain Stuart of the Peterell. Spicer commanded the boats which first boarded the ketch[2], under a heavy fire, and had a little skirmish when on board; and to him the commander surrendered.”

In the following month, Commodore Nelson shifted his broad pendant into the Captain of 74 guns, on which occasion the whole of the Agamemnon’s officers, with the exception of one Lieutenant and the Master, were exchanged, and followed him.

About this period the French army, under Buonaparte, entered Leghorn, and Nelson immediately commenced a vigorous blockade of that port. H soon after took possession of Porto Ferrajo, in order to prevent the island of Elba from falling into the enemy’s possession, in which case the safety of Corsica would have been rendered extremely doubtful.

On the 18th Sept. in the same year Capraja, an island situated about 37 miles from Corsica, was also secured by the squadron. On this occasion, as appears by the Commodore’s account of the operations, “a party of seamen were landed under Lieutenant Spicer, who dragged cannon up the mountain with their usual spirit and alacrity.”

It was on the 13th Feb. in the eventful year 1797, that Commodore Nelson again hoisted his pendant in the Captain, from which he had occasionally removed it into other ships, for the purpose of superintending the evacuation of Corsica, and the removal of the naval establishment and stores from Porto Ferrajo, measures that had become necessary in consequence of the turbulent disposition of the Corsicans, the recent declaration of war by Spain, and the want of a sufficient naval force to counteract the designs of the enemy in that quarter.

On the following day was obtained one of the most brilliant victories ever recorded in our naval annals. It would be superfluous to repeat any of the circumstances of that proud event, in this place. A particular account thereof will be found under the head of Earl St. Vincent; and the conspicuous part acted by the Captain, in our memoirs of Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Berry and Captain James Noble.

Soon after the above glorious event, Lieutenant Spicer was promoted to the command of the Arab, and subsequently removed into le Renard of 20 guns; the latter sloop he left in 1801.

On the 29th April, 1802, Captain Spicer was included in the list of officers who were advanced to post rank, in consequence of the cessation of hostilities. Soon after the renewal of the war we find him commanding the San Josef, a first rate, and subsequently the Foudroyant of 80 guns. The latter ship he appears to have quitted about June 1804, from which period there is no further mention of him until the summer of 1810, when he was appointed to regulate the impress service at Swansea. Captain Spicer obtained the out pension of Greenwich Hospital, March 18, 1816. He is a burgess of Saltash, in Cornwall, and was formerly an alderman of that borough.

  1. Lieutenant Andrews was afterwards made a Post-Captain. He died at Tiverton, July 23, 1810.
  2. La Genie, of three 18-pounders, two 4-pounders, four swivels, and 50 men.