Royal Naval Biography/Stewart, James Pattison

A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1812.]

This officer was made a lieutenant, Mar. 21, 1805; and appointed acting commander of the Port d’Espagne brig, on the Trinidad station, April 15, 1806. On the 6th June, 1807, a detachment of 25 men belonging to that vessel, in a prize schooner, disguised as a neutral, and commanded by his second lieutenant, boarded and carried the Mercedes Spanish privateer, mounting 2 carriage guns and 2 swivels, with a crew of 30 men; in this little affair, the enemy had 3 men killed, I drowned, and 3 wounded; the British none killed, and only 2 wounded.

On the 18th Aug. following, the Port d’Espagne captured la Maria, another vessel of the same description, mounting 1 long 18-pounder, and having on board 74 men. Two days afterwards, one of her prizes, manned as a tender, in conjunction with the boats of H.M. schooner Balahou, destroyed a small privateer in the Bay of St. Juan; and on the 12th Sept. in the same year, her boats, under Lieutenants Cotgrave and Hall, captured El Rosario, of 1 gun and 34 men.

Captain Stewart was afterwards successively appointed to the Dart ship-sloop, and the Snap and Epervier brigs, stationed at the Leeward islands: his commission as a commander, bears date Feb. 15, 1808. We next find him commanding the Sheldrake of 10 guns, and proceeding, in company with the Tartar frigate, to the relief of Anholt, an island in the Cattegat, forming a very important point of communication between Great Britain and the continent,and then threatened with an attack by a formidable Danish force under the orders of Major Melsteat. The following are extracts of his official letter to Captain Joseph Baker, reporting the capture of two heavy gunboats, mention of which has been made at p. 449 of Suppl. Part 1.:–

H.M. sloop Sheldrake, Anholt, Mar. 28, 1811.

“Sir,– In obedience to your signal yesterday to keep on the north side of the island, my attention was particularly occupied in preventing the escape of the enemy’s flotilla to leeward, hoping by so doing I anticipated your wishes.

“At 2 P.M. observing the Tartar to windward of the island, and the gun-boats endeavouring to push through the passage inside the reef, I endeavoured to place myself in such a situation as to turn them, or to render an action unavoidable. About 4 P.M. we closed within long range of shot, their force consisting of sixteen gun-boats and armed vessels, in close and compact order, formed in line, steering down with the apparent determination of supporting each other; but they, finding us equally determined to bring them to close action, began to disperse, just when we were in hopes of placing ourselves in such a situation as must have annihilated the whole of them in a short time. Five of them keeping in one direction, I stood after them, and I have the pleasure to inform you that we brought then) to close action at half-past four, when one immediately struck; – she mounts 2 long eighteen-pounders and 4 brass howitzers, had on board 65 men, and was commanded by a lieutenant of repute in the Danish navy. Immediately the prisoners were removed, we made all sail after the largest lugger, which we captured about 8 P.M. after exchanging a few shot: she proved to be gun-vessel No. I., mounting 2 long twenty-four-pounders and 4 howitzers, complement 70 men, only 60 of whom were found on board: from the number of shot she received, I am convinced she must have lost many of her crew; her commander is also a lieutenant in the Danish navy. I am extremely rejoiced to say we have no person hurt; our sails and rigging a little cut, and a few grape-shot in the hull, is the extent of our damage. * *  *  *. Night coming on, and we having on board 40 more prisoners than our own people, I am sorry to say we could not succeed in capturing any more of them, as they separated after the first had struck; but several that escaped were under our fire, and appeared to have suffered much, – so much so, that some of the people say one sunk.”

Captain Baker, when reporting his proceedings to Sir James Saumarez, says, “I cannot sufficiently praise the intrepidity and skill with which” Captain Stewart “attacked a force so superior to his own;” and the commander-in-chief of the Baltic fleet, in the official letter that he wrote to the Admiralty on that occasion, expressed his conviction that their lordships would duly “appreciate the good conduct” of the commander of the Sheldrake.

In July, 1811, Sir James Saumarez transmitted to the Admiralty a letter from Captain Charles Dudley Pater, of the Cressy 74, giving an account of an attack made off Hielm island, on the 5th of that month, by a Danish flotilla of seventeen gun-vessels and ten heavy row-boats, on a fleet of merchantmen under the protection of the Cressy, Defence 74, Dictator 64, Sheldrake, and Bruiser gun-brig. The enemy is therein stated to have been defeated with the loss of four gun-vessels, each mounting one long 24-pounder and 4 howitzers. On the 8th of the same month, Captain Stewart addressed an official letter to Captain Pater, of which the following is a copy:–

“I beg leave to inform you, that H.M. sloop under my command came up with the rear of the enemy’s gun-boats about six o’clock this morning, which we immediately brought to close action, and I am happy to say No. 2 and No. 5 struck to us: they each mount one long 24-pounder and one 32-pounder canonade, and are manned with 35 men each. As this brig has been in action with the enemy’s gun-boats four times, and five of them have been captured and destroyed by her, I trust it will not appear presumption on my part, to recommend to notice the first Lieutenant, William Luckraft, whose zeal, gallantry, and ability, have in every instance been truly conspicuous. Both lieutenants commanding the gunboats are severely wounded, and several men.”

Captain Stewart was promoted to post rank Feb. 1, 1812, and we soon afterwards find him performing “a most gallant exploit” within the rocks of Mardoe, on the coast of Norway:– his own description of it is the best that we can present to our readers:–

H.M.S. Dictator, in the Sleeve, July 7, 1812.

“Sir,– I have the honor to inform you, that yesterday evening, being off Mardoe, with the brigs named in the margin[1], the mast-heads of the Danish squadron were seen over the rocks; and Captain Robilliard, in the most handsome manner, volunteered to lead in to attack them, he having a man on board acquainted with the place: as neither the masters nor the pilots of either of the ships conceived themselves equal to the charge, I did not hesitate to accept his kind offer, well knowing that the British flag would meet with nothing but honor in such hands.

“In the entrance of the passage, the Podargus unfortunately took the ground; by which circumstance I was deprived of the valuable and gallant services of her commander during the remainder of the day, and was, in consequence, obliged to leave the Flamer to her assistance; but in Captain Weir I found every thing that could be wished for, which in a great measure made up for the loss I had sustained in the Podargus and Flamer. By this time, half-past seven P.M., we had arrived within one mile of the enemy, who were running inside the rocks under a press of sail; the Calypso, which had also grounded for a short time, was now leading us through the passage, and we were both engaged with the squadron and numerous gun-boats. At half-past nine, I had the satisfaction, after sailing 12 miles through a passage in some places scarcely wide enough to admit of our studding-sail-booms being out, of running the Dictator’s bow upon the land, with her broadside towards the enemy, within hail, their force as per margin[2]. The whole anchored with springs on their cables, close together, and supported by gun-boats, in the small creek of Lyngoe: the Calypso most nobly followed us up.

“In half an hour the frigate was literally battered to atoms, and the flames were bursting forth from her hatchways; the brigs had also struck, and most of the gun-boats were completely beaten, – some of them sunk. The action had scarcely ceased, and the Dictator floated, when we found ourselves again attacked by the gun-boats, which had retreated on seeing the fate of their squadron, and were again collecting from all quarters; but Captain Weir, having taken a most advantageous position, engaged them with the greatest gallantry and effect; indeed I am at a loss how to express my approbation of the prompt exertion of this gallant and meritorious officer.

“The Podargus and Flamer, in the mean time, were warmly engaged with numerous batteries and gun-boats, both of them being aground; but by the uncommon exertion and extreme gallantry of Captain Robilliard, and their officers and crews, they at last got afloat: on this occasion, Lieutenant England particularly distinguished himself.

“At 3 A.M., having got the Dictator, Calypso, and prize brigs in the fair way, we attempted to get out through the passages, when we were assailed by a division of gun-boats from behind the rocks, so situated that not a gun could be brought to bear on them from either vessel: in this situation the prize brigs grounded, and notwithstanding every exertion on the part of Lieutenant James Wilkie of this ship, in the Laaland, who had extinguished a fire on board her which was burning with great fury; and Lieutenant Benjamin Hooper, of the Calypso, in the Kiel, we had to abandon them complete wrecks, humanity forbidding our setting them on fire, owing to the number of wounded men they had on board[3].

“I cannot conclude this letter without mentioning in terms of praise Mr. William Buchanan, the first lieutenant of this ship, a most gallant and excellent officer. * * * *. Enclosed I have the honor to transmit a list of the killed, &c.: although I cannot help deploring the loss of so many brave men, it is much less than could be reasonably expected. The Danes acknowledge to have lost about 300; I rather suspect 500. Our ships have suffered extremely in their hulls, masts, and rigging. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)J. P. Stewart.”

This letter was addressed to Sir James Saumarez, who, when transmitting it to the Admiralty, informed their lordships that it was impossible for him “to express in an adequate manner, the undaunted spirit displayed by Captain Stewart, and all the officers and men under his orders,” which he was assured would be duly appreciated by the Board. The loss sustained by the Dictator and her consorts amounted to 9 killed, 36 wounded, and 2 missing: the enemy’s gunboats were 25 in number, each carrying 2 long guns and from 50 to 60 men.

On the 6th Oct. following, one of the Dictator’s boats, under the command of Lieutenant Duell, captured a Danish lugger, manned with 13 men (including a commissioned officer), 2 of whom were slain and 3 wounded. The British had not a man hurt.

Captain Stewart’s next appointment was May 5, 1813, to the Amphion frigate, on the North Sea station. On the 20th Nov. following, his ship then forming part of the inshore squadron off Walcheren, he volunteered his services to command the boats of the fleet under Admiral Young, and to attempt the capture, by a coup-de-main, of four French frigates lying at Flushing: “this proof of his zeal and good spirit” was received with “great pleasure” by the commander-in-chief , although he differed with him as to the practicability of his scheme. Captain Stewart subsequently displayed equal ardour when serving under Lord George Stuart at the capture of the islands of Schowen and Tholen[4]. On the 6th Mar. 1814, the boats of the Amphion made a gallant but unsuccessful attack upon some French armed vessels in the West Scheldt, lying under the immediate protection of Fort Lillo: their loss consisted of 3 killed and 16 wounded, including Lieutenant William Brydges Champion, a young officer of high character and great promise, mortally.

Captain Stewart was nominated a C.B., Dec. 8, 1815.

Agent.– J. Hinxman, Esq.

  1. Podargus, Captain William Robilliard; Calypso, Captain Henry Weir; and Flamer, Lieutenant Thomas England.
  2. Nayaden frigate, mounting 60 guns, long twenty-four-pounders on the main-deck, with a complement of 320 men; Lauland of 20 guns, long eighteen-pounders, and 125 men; and Samaoe and Kiel, each carrying 18 long eighteen-pounders and 125 men.
  3. The Samsoe struck, but appears not to have been taken possession of.
  4. See Vol. II. Part II. p. 872 et seq.