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Royal Naval Biography/Stuart, George

A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1804.]

This officer is nearly related to the present Marquis of Bute, and consequently descended from Robert II. King of Scotland.

We are not acquainted with the particulars of his birth, but have been told that he was educated at Eton; and that he entered the naval service towards the close of 1793, as a Midshipman on board the Providence of 16 guns, commanded by the late Captain William R. Broughton, with whom he proceeded first to Nootka Sound, and then on a service well calculated to render him an expert navigator, and able marine surveyor.

The Providence, on her voyage to the N.W. coast of America, touched at Teneriffe, Rio Janeiro, New South Wales, Otaheite, and the Sandwich Islands, where Captain Broughton received intelligence that Captain Vancouver, under whose orders he had been directed to place himself, had already taken his departure for England[1]. He, however, proceeded to Nootka Sound, where he anchored on the 17th Mar. 1796, after a passage of thirteen months and two days from Plymouth.

The ship having proved leaky was now hove down, which led to the discovery of a bolt-hole in the garboard-streak through which it was supposed no bolt had ever been drove to the floor-timber. The augur boring remained perfect; nor was there any appearance of decayed iron. The thin copper which covered it had cracked round the hole, and by that means the water was admitted. It was also exactly in the same place the carpenters had supposed, on examining the limbers, and whence the coming in of the water was perceived. Indeed there was no other part of the bottom of the ship that appeared to be bad, although the copper in some parts was much worn, a circumstance which caused Captain Broughton to regret that she had not been sheathed with wood, and then coppered over all.

At Nootka, Captain Broughton received letters dated Mar. 1795, which informed him that Captain Vancouver had sailed from Monterrey bay, in California, on the 1st Dec. 1794; and that the Spaniards had delivered up the port, &c. to Lieutenant Pierce, of the marines, agreeably to the mode of restitution settled between the Courts of London and Madrid. His future proceedings now depending on his own discretion, and as he wished to employ the Providence in such a manner as might be deemed most eligible for the improvement of geography and navigation, he proceeded along the coast to Monterry, and there demanded of his officers their sentiments in writing, respecting the manner in which the discretionary powers allowed to him might most effectually be employed.

The result of their opinions, he was happy to find, coincided with his own, which was to survey the coast of Asia, commencing at the island of Sachalin, situated in lat. 52°. N., in the southern part of the sea of Lama; and ending at the Nan-king river, in Lat. 30°. N. His intention was also to survey the adjacent islands, viz. the Kurilles, and those of Jesso and Japan, left unfinished in Captain Cook’s last voyage. He considered that such a survey would be very acceptable to geographers; for the limits of Asia and America would then be known as far as navigation was practicable, and a knowledge of the Northern Pacific Ocean would be completed. He therefore determined to spend his time in that pursuit till Christmas, then to go to Canton for stores and provisions, and to continue the survey early in the ensuing year. A log of his proceedings from the time he left England until his arrival at Macao, after surveying the land of Jesso, the Kurille isles, and those of Japan, is contained in the first six chapters of a quarto volume published by him in 1804. At Macao, Captain Broughton purchased a small schooner to assist him in his survey, which he found to be the identical vessel built by some of the ill-fated Bounty’s people, during their involuntary exile in the South Seas, and which had been brought from Otaheite to Samarang, by Captain Edwards, of the Pandora. This proved a most fortunate circumstance for the officers and crew of the Providence, as that ship was wrecked near Ty-pin-san, an island lying between Formosa and the Great Loo-Choo, when about to prosecute the object of her researches. The following is Captain Broughton’s account of that disastrous event:

“About 7-30 P.M. (May 17, 1797), white water was seen a-head and upon each bow, and reported to the officer of the watch, Lieutenant James G. Vashon; and almost directly after, the ship struck upon a reef of coral rocks. Having felt the shock, which was not violent, I instantly went upon deck, and by the way met Mr. Vashon coming to acquaint me with the disaster. The officers and men were upon deck in a moment, and the sails directly braced a-back. It appeared to me the helm was a-weather, and the ship’s head about E.N.E.[2], sails all full. Had the helm been put a-lee on seeing the danger, I think we should have escaped it.

“The proper signals were made to the schooner, and the Master sent to anchor her as near as possible, to heave by her. The ship soon after paid off, with her head to the eastward; and we hauled up the main-sail, shivering the other sails, to let her go round off without acquiring headway: before she paid off to the southward, she again struck fore and aft, and remained fixed at last with her head due south. Breakers were then upon each bow, and we had from 5 to 15 fathoms in the starboard chains, and only 2 fathoms at times both a-head and a-stern. Having chocked the rudder, the top-masrs were struck; and we began hoisting the boats out, the lower-yards having been kept up for that purpose. At this time the ship did not strike violently, and had only made 19 inches water. Unfortunately the wind freshened from the N.N.W., and the sea began to break with great force, which soon knocked the rudder off: we secured it with hawsers. It was now 9 o’clock, and we only waited the schooner’s anchoring, to attempt heaving off; and in the mean time began hoisting out the long-boat: during which period the ship made water very fast; and the violent shocks she received, rendered it doubtful whether the masts would stand. The water increased so much upon the pumps, that before the long-boat was out we had 7 feet water in the hold. At this time the schooner had anchored near us in 25 fathoms, and the Master returned on board, when the ship suddenly changed her position, swinging round from S. to N. by E., and striking more violently than ever. Before we could carry our hawsers to the schooner, the carpenter reported the water up to the orlop-deck, and the ship having bilged forward; we therefore gave up the idea of attempting to heave off, for had we succeeded, the ship must inevitably have foundered. The spare pumps were down the fore hatchway, but the water still increasing upon the gun-deck, rendered all our exertions useless. The officers were unanimous with me in opinion, that nothing could be done to save the ship; and to cut away the masts would have no effect upon her, as she was settling fast forward from her being bilged, as we imagined, in her larboard bow. It now became highly necessary to preserve the people, and the boats were ordered ready for their reception; while they were employed trying to collect arms and ammunition, with armourer’s and carpenter’s tools; but the ship laying nearly on her beam ends, and the gun-deck being full of water with the washing of the bulk-heads to and fro, chests, &c. prevented their saving many. On one side of the ship we had only 6 feet water, and on the other 3½ fathoms. The fore part of her was immersed in the sea, and the surf breaking over the upper-deck. As nothing more could be procured for the present, the crew were sent into the boats, which was happily effected without any accident; and soon after 11 o’clock they reached the schooner in safety, but with the loss, both officers and men, of every thing belonging to them. The pinnace returned for myself and the remaining officers; and at half an hour after midnight we quitted the Providence, leaving her a perfect wreek to the mercy of the sea.”

This disaster having taken place during the S.W. monsoon, the situation of 109 persons without clothing[3], crowded in a small vessel only capable of admitting one third of that number below at a time, may readily be conceived. Fortunately, however, they met with the most friendly and hospitable reception at Ty-pin-san, the natives of which place loaded their little bark with provisions, and thereby enabled them to reach Whampoa, in China, without feeling the pangs of hunger and thirst, too often experienced by persons placed in similar situations of danger.

The schooner, having met with no bad weather, nor any other obstacle, passed the Bocca Tigris on the 4th June, 1797, remained in the neighbourhood of Canton for a few days, and then worked down towards Macao roads, where a division of her officers and crew took place – 43 being discharged into the Swift sloop of war for the disposal of Rear-Admiral Rainier; 30 into a fleet of homeward bound Indiamen; and 35 retained by Captain Broughton for the purpose of completing his survey. Among those sent home were the first Lieutenant (now Captain) Zachary Mudge, Lord George Stuart, and the present Hon. Captain Alexander Jones. It is here worthy of remark that the Providence was the ship in which “Bounty Bligh” ultimately conveyed the bread fruit to St. Vincent’s and Jamaica; that Captain Broughton, when warping into Mataviabay, Nov. 30, 1795, swept an iron-stocked anchor which the Bounty’s mutineers left behind them when they cut their cable and bade an everlasting farewell to Otaheite, Sept. 22, 1789; that the schooner built by the poor fellows who had been innocently involved in their guilt was, as we have stated above, the vessel destined to preserve the crew of the Providence; and that the 43 officers and men who were drafted into the Swift, were doomed to perish under the command of an officer who was one of Bligh’s companions when turned adrift in the Bounty’s launch by Christian and his colleagues. Strange as the coincidence may appear, what we have stated admits of no contradiction.

Lord George Stuart was made a Lieutenant in 1800, a Commander in 1802; and confirmed in his post rank Mar. 3 1804. If we mistake not, he was in the East Indies at each of those periods.

About the 7th Jan. 1805, a hurricane commenced at Ceylon, during which the Sheerness 44, then commanded by the subject of this memoir, parted her cables, and drove on shore. Very little time had elapsed, before the water rose above the orlop-deck, the main-mast went by the board, and pumping proved ineffectual. At the commencement of the storm, Lord George, his first Lieutenant, and others, used every possible exertion to get on board, but their boat swamping, they with difficulty regained the shore. The launch, sent to their assistance, was also swamped, and two of her crew drowned.

His Lordship subsequently commanded the Duncan frigate, and on the 8th April, 1806, captured a French privateer of 8 guns and 71 nien. In the summer of 1807, he was appointed to l’Aimable 32, on the North Sea station, where he intercepted another marauder of the same description, mounting 16 guns, and having on board a number of British prisoners. In the summer of 1808, he appears to have assisted in escorting the army under Sir Arthur Wellesley, from Cork to Portugal, and it has been said that he was a spectator of the celebrated battle which led to the inglorious convention of Cintra[4].

On the 3d Feb. 1809, Lord George Stuart, having returned to his former station, captured, after a chase of 28 hours, and a short running fight, l’Iris, French national ship, pierced for 32 guns, but only mounting 22 24-pounder carronades and 2 long twelves, with a complement of 110 men, having on board 640 casks of flour for Martinique, victualled and stored for four months. L’Amiable, on this occasion, had 2 men wounded, and suffered materially in her masts, spars, sails, and rigging. The enemy sustained a loss of 2 killed and 8 wounded.

In July following, Lord George assumed the command of a light squadron employed at the mouth of the Elbe, and on the 26th of that month he performed an important service, the particulars of which are thus stated in his official report to the officer under whose orders he was then placed:

H.M.S: l’Aimable, off Cuxhaven, July 29, 1809.

“Sir,– The French troops in Hanover, not content with frequent predatory and piratical incursions in the neighbourhood of Cuxhaven, had the audacity to enter the village of Ritzbuttle with a body of horse at mid-day on the 26th instant, and very narrowly missed making several officers of the squadron prisoners[5]. In consequence I was induced to land a detachment of seamen and marines from the vessels composing the squadron under my orders, for the purpose, if possible, of intercepting them. In the ardour of pursuit, we advanced until we got sight of the town of Bremer-lehe, into which we learnt they had retreated. The information was incorrect. On entering the town we were assured that the enemy, to the number of about 250, occupied the town of Gessendorf, two miles distant, and further, that it contained a depot of confiscated merchandise. It was resolved instantly to attack it. For this purpose, Captain Goate of the Mosquito, advanced with a detachment, while I directed Captain Pettet of the Briseis, to proceed by a circuitous route, and take a well-constructed battery of four 12-pounders, commanding the river Weser, in flank, while the remainder, under my own immediate directions, headed by Captain Watts, of the Ephira, advanced to attack it in front. The road we had to pass subjected us all to a galling fire of round and grape from the battery, the guns of which were all pointed inwards, and which we could only answer by discharges of musketry. Gessendorf, though certainly tenable with the numbers the enemy had opposed to ours, was on the approach of Captain Goate precipitately evacuated. The enemy being previously informed of our approach, had put into requisition a number of light waggons for the transportation of the foot, in the rear of which 60 well mounted cavalry drew up.

“The enemy in the battery seeing us determined, notwithstanding their fire, to carry our point, and that we were making preparations for fording a deep and wide creek in their front, abandoned it, and embarked in boats on the Weser ready for their reception, under a severe fire of musketry from our detachment, with the loss on their part of several killed and wounded. From a foreknowledge of our intentions on the part of the enemy, we made but four prisoners, the commandant of the battery (Mons. le Murche), a Lieutenant, and two inferior officers. The battery-guns were burst in pieces, the einbrazures demolished, the gun-carriages burnt, together with the magazine, guard-houses, &c. &c. The powder we brought off, as also six waggon loads of confiscated merchandise. * * *

“The distance from Gessendorf to Cuxhaven is 28 miles; I leave it their to their Lordships to estimate the spirit, alacrity, and expedition with which this service has been performed, when I state, that in 24 hours from our departure, the whole detachment returned, and were safely embarked on board their respective ships, without the loss of an individual[6]. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)G. Stuart.”

To Rear-Admiral Sir R. I. Strachan, Bart. K.B.

As the importance of this service cannot be estimated by Lord George Stuart’s official letter alone, we shall in explanation state, that the heroic Duke of Brunswick Oels, having at that moment nearly effected his fine retreat through the heart of Germany, arrived a few days afterwards on the opposite bank of the Weser, and by the previous dispersion of the enemy, and the destruction of their fortress, which enfiladed the whole of that river, was enabled to embark and bring away his brave companions in arms, without meeting with those obstructions which would otherwise have impeded his progress, enabled his pursuers to come up with him, and in all likelihood have led to the capture or destruction of his whole detachment.

His Lordship’s next appointment was, about Sept. 1810, to the Horatio, a 38-gun frigate, the boats of which ship, under the directions of Lieutenant Abraham Mills Hawkins, performed a very gallant exploit on the coast of Norway, in Aug. 1812, which we shall give a full account of in our memoir of that meritorious officer, who was soon after promoted for his persevering bravery and severe sufferings on the occasion now alluded to.

The reverses of Napoleon Buonaparte, who, after losing the flower of his army in the inhospitable clime of Russia, in the winter of 1812, had been obliged to retreat, during the whole of 1813, before his accumulating enemies, till at length they pursued him into France, gave occasion to a revolution in Holland. The consequence of this political change was the recall of the Prince of Orange, whose departure from England, and landing at Scheveling, we have already noticed[7]. An application was also made to the British government for assistance, which was readily granted; and by the end of the year, the whole territory of the Seven United Provinces was cleared of the enemy, with the exception of a few fortified places. The assistance contributed by Lord George Stuart towards the accomplishment of this desirable event, will be seen by the following extracts from his public letters to the late Admiral Sir William Young, under whom he had been for some time serving:

“Yesterday morning (Dec. 7, 1813) some pilots brought off a letter, from a gentleman who had been in the British service, requesting aid to drive the French from Zierick-zee[8]. I lost no time in working up, and anchored just out of gun-shot of a heavy battery, which totally commanded the passage. As it was necessary to pass in execution of your orders, I made the disposition for attacking it. I therefore collected 50 marines and 70 seamen from the Horatio, with the same number from the Amphion, with a determination of storming it from the rear, as soon as the tide would answer for the boats to leave the ship, which could not be till 9 P.M. During the interval, a deputation from the principal citizens came on board under a flag of truce, from the French General, requesting that, in order to save the effusion of blood, and prevent the disorders which were likely to ensue in the city, then in a state of insurrection, terms of capitulation should be granted, by which the French, with their baggage, should be allowed to withdraw and be conveyed to Bergen-opzoom: this I peremptorily refused, * * * and sent back the terms herewith enclosed[9]. The thickness of the weather prevented the deputation from quitting the ship before 10 P.M., which induced me to extend the time till midnight. I had not proceeded any considerable distance from the ship before the signal (3 guns), in token of submission, was made. I landed at the battery, which having secured, I went forward to the town, and found the native French had made their escape. I directed the seamen to remain at the gate, and entered with the marines, amidst the acclamations of an immense multitude. Proceeding to the town-hall, I was met by the most respectable inhabitants in a body, and then having disolved the French municipal authorities, I directed the ancient magistrates of the city to resume their functions. This morning (Dec. 8), in compliance with my directions, the magistrates of the town of Browershaven reported their having driven the French from thence, and they received similar injunctions with respect to their provisional government. I took possession of a brig of 14 guns, formerly H.M.B. Bustler, which the enemy had attempted to scuttle, also a French gun-boat, and a considerable quantity of powder. In the course of this day 1 have collected 20 prisoners, and more are expected.

“I feel happy in having obtained so important an acquisition as the whole island of Schowen, without bloodshed, thereby facilitating the means of opening a communication with the allied forces in the south of Holland[10].

“Having received information that the French had augmented their forces in the island of Tholen with 400 men, and it being necessary to secure the battery at the point of Steavinesse, in order for the ships to pass up the Keeten, I despatched the boats of the two ships at 10 P.M. (Dec. 9), with the boats’ crews only, when they landed two miles in the rear of the battery; immediately on their approach, the French precipitately fled, and did not enable our brave fellows to oppose them, we therefore made only 3 prisoners. The battery mounted six 24-pounders. Lieutenants Whyte and Champion, of the Horatio and Amphion, with the officers and men under their command, dismantled the battery, spiked the guns, destroyed the carriages, &c. and returned on board at 3-30 A.M.”

Lord George Stuart, whose great promptitude of decision to storm the batteries on the island of Schowen, and very spirited preparation for doing so, if the enemy had not immediately submitted, were highly commended by Admiral Young, was soon after appointed to the Newcastle of 58 guns, built for the express purpose of coping with the American ships of similar force. The particulars of his cruise in quest of the Constitution and her supposed consorts will be found at p. 533, et seq. of this volume. His Lordship was nominated a C.B. in 1815.

Agent.– Thomas Stilwell, Esq.

  1. See Vol. II. Part I. p. 201.
  2. When Captain Broughton left the deck a few minutes before, she was lying up N.E.½N. with the larboard tacks on board, and going at the rate of 4½ knots per hour.
  3. The Providence left England with a complement of 115 officers, seamen, and marines. Of this number one had died a natural death, three been killed by accident, and two murdered by the natives at one of the Sandwich Islands.
  4. See Vol. I. p. 595, and note † at p. 431 et seq.
  5. Cuxhaven and Ritzbuttle had recently been taken possession of by the British. See Captain William Goate.
  6. Captain George Edward Watts “particularly” distinguished himself, and was the only person wounded. The passages contained in the above letter which we have omitted, are reserved for insertion in our memoirs of that gallant officer, and others to whose conduct they immediately refer.
  7. See Vol. I. p. 663.
  8. Zierick-zee is the capital of Schowen, an island of Zealand, lying between Goeree and North Beverland.
  9. “Sir,– With a view to spare the effusion of blood, as senior officer in command of H.B.M.’s forces, I feel it my duty, after the communication I have received, and the resources which I at present have, to summons you with the French officers and troops under your immediate command, to surrender prisoners of war. No other conditions will be admitted. I expect a decisive answer by 12 o’clock this night; my authority will not admit of the suspension of hostilities longer than that period.

    (Signed)G. Stuart.”

    To the French Commandant.

  10. The ordnance taken at Zierick-zee, consisted of 12 iron 36 and 24-pounders, 2 brass 13-inch mortars, and 2 six-pounders.