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Royal Naval Biography/Troubridge, Edward Thomas

[Post-Captain of 1807.]

Only son of the late Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Troubridge, Bart, an officer who was the architect of his own fortune, and who will long be remembered as a pattern of professional excellence, of undaunted valour, and of patriotic worth. We find no particular mention of the subject of this memoir previous to July 1806, when he commanded the Harrier brig, and bore a principal part in some successful operations against the Dutch, as will be seen by the following copy of an official letter from the officer under whose orders he was then serving:–

Greyhound, Java Seas, 27th July, 1806.

“Sir,– I have the honor to inform you, that H.M. ships Greyhound and Harrier, after destroying, on the 4th July, under the fort of Manado, the Dutch Company’s brig Christian Elizabeth, armed with 8 guns, and having a complement of 80 men, stood across the Molucca sea to the island of Tidon, where they captured, on the 6th, another of the enemy’s cruisers called the Belgica, armed with 12 guns and manned with 32 men; from thence proceeding to the westward, on the evening of the 25th July, four ships were descried passing through the Straits of Salayer; immediate chase was given to them, and, by nine, I had the satisfaction of seeing them lying to between the small Dutch posts of Bouthian and Boolo-Combo, at about seven miles distance from the shore. I easily made out one of them to be a frigate, and another a corvette; but a third had so much the appearance of a line-of-battle ship, that both Captain Troubridge and myself deemed it prudent to wait till day-light before we examined them. We accordingly lay-to during the night, at two miles distance to windward; and as the day broke, I had the pleasure of finding the ship which had forced us on cautionary measures, was a large two-decker, resembling an English Indiaman.

“The enemy (for they proved to be a Dutch squadron) immediately drew out in order of battle on the larboard tack, under their top-sails; the frigate taking her station in the van, an armed ship astern of her, the large ship in the centre, and the corvette in the rear. Fortunately for us the frigate, by fore-reaching upon her second astern, caused a small opening in their line It was suggested to me by Mr. Martin, Master of H.M.S. Greyhound, that if we could close with the enemy whilst in that position, our attack might be made to advantage: accordingly, under French colours, we bore up, as if with an intention to speak the frigate; and when within hail, all further disguise being unnecessary, we shifted our colours, and commenced firing, which was instantly returned with a smartness and spirit that evinced they were fully prepared for the contest. The Harrier, who had kept close astern of the Greyhound, on seeing her engaged, bore round up, and passing between the frigate and her second astern, raked them both, the latter with such effect that she bore up to return her fire” (as did also the two-decked ship), “thus leaving the frigate separated from them. Being resolved to avail myself of this advantage, and anxious to be in a position for supporting the Harrier, now engaged in the centre of the enemy’s line, I wore close round the frigate’s bows, raking her severely while passing; and when on the starboard tack, by throwing our sails aback, we fell into the desired position. The cannonade from the Greyhound was now admirable, while that of the frigate visibly slackened, and at last, after an action of forty minutes, wholly ceased. On hailing to know if they had struck, they answered they had; and Lieutenant Home took immediate possession of her. On directing her fire on the ships astern, they all followed her example, except the corvette, who, from being in the rear, had suffered little in the action, and now made off towards the shore. Captain Troubridge immediately wore in pursuit of her, sending, at the same time, a boat to take possession of the large ship, whose fire he had silenced early in the action. Perceiving the corvette sailed remarkably well, and that she could spread more canvass than the Harrier, her masts and rigging being entire, I recalled the latter from a chase which was likely to be fruitless.

“The prizes proved to be the Dutch republican frigate Pallas, of 36 guns, commanded by N. S. Aalbers, a Captain in the Dutch navy” (who was mortally wounded); “the Victoria, of about 800 tons; and the Batavia, of about 500 tons: both the latter are armed for the purpose of war, and richly laden with the produce of the Moluccas. The ship which escaped was the republican corvette William, mounting twenty 24-pounders, and manned with 110 men.

“The support and assistance I have received from Captain Troubridge on every other occasion, through a difficult and perilous navigation, I attribute to the same talents, ability, and zeal, which he so nobly displayed on this one.

“I feel happy in an opportunity for recommending Mr. Purvis Home, first Lieutenant of the Greyhound, a deserving good officer, who proved that innate courage was to be assisted by experience; and I reaped the benefit of that which he had acquired at Copenhagen, by the advice and assistance he gave mc. The fire from the main-deck, and the consequences of it, is the best encomium on Lieutenants Andoe and Whitehead; but I beg leave to add, that their conduct has been as good and exemplary on every other occasion. I have had cause to speak of Mr. Martin in the body of this letter; I can only add, that he is a credit to the profession to which he belongs. The behaviour of the warrant officers and midshipmen was highly becoming; from among the latter I beg leave to recommend Messrs. Harris, Bray, Grace, and Marjoribanks, as young officers deserving of promotion.

“Captain Troubridge speaks in the highest terms of the Harrier; he has requested me to make known the great assistance he received from Mr. Mitchell, the first Lieutenant; and the very exemplary conduct of acting Lieutenant Charles Hole[1] In expressing his approbation of the conduct of the warrant and petty officers, he mentions Messrs. Coffin and Mitford, midshipmen, especially: and I take the liberty of adding, that both of them have served their time.

(Signed)Charles Elphinstone[2].”

To Sir Thomas Troubridge, Bart., &c. &c. &c.

In this action the British suffered considerably in their masts and rigging; but the loss they sustained was trifling, when compared with that of the enemy: it amounted to no more than 1 man killed, and 11 persons wounded: among the latter was Mr. George Marjoribanks, master’s-mate of the Greyhound. The Dutch had 12 killed and 39 wounded, 8 of whom mortally. We should here observe, that the force of the combatants would have been nearly equal, if the Indiamen had not been “armed for the purpose of war;” but, as they took an active part in the engagement, the preponderance was possessed by the enemy; the Greyhound being only a 32-gun frigate, and the Harrier a brig, mounting 16 carronades (32-pounders) and 2 long sixes.

Captain Troubridge’s father was, at this period, commander-in-chief of the naval force employed to the eastward of Ceylon; and we believe that the last official letter he ever transmitted to England was the one which we have just transcribed: his lamentable fate now demands our attention.

Viscount Exmouth, then Sir Edward Pellew, having been ordered to assume the chief command in the Indian seas. Sir Thomas Troubridge, who had but for a short time shared the patronage and emoluments of that desirable station, proceeded from Pulo Penang to Madras, where his flag-ship, the Blenheim 74 then under jury-masts, was found to be totally unfit for further service, she being very much hogged, and her beams, &c. shewing that she was in danger of falling to pieces; while the labour of her crew at the pumps barely sufficed to keep the water from gaining on them as she lay at anchor. In vain did her captain[3] represent her crazy state, and predict that she would be their coffin; the Rear-Admiral, whose pride it was to overcome difficulties, persisted in his purpose of taking her to the Cape of Good Hope, and many persons of the highest respectability felt happy in being allowed to take a passage with him.

The Blenheim sailed from Madras, Jan. 12, 1807, in company with the Java frigate, and the sloop recently commanded by Captain Troubridge; which vessel lost sight of her consorts near the Isle of Rodrigues, during a tremendous gale on the fifth of the following month, and there is reason to believe that they both foundered during the continuance of the storm.

Hearing of the distressed state in which his brother officer was last seen, and having a faint hope that he might have put into some port to repair his damages, Sir Edward Pellew directed the subject of this memoir, then commanding the Greyhound, to go in search of his worthy father, instructing him to proceed, in the first instance to Rodrigues, then to the Mauritius, and subsequently to Madagascar; Captain Troubridge’s anxious and melancholy cruise is thus described by an officer belonging to that frigate:

Greyhound, Simon’s Bay, Cape of Good Hope, Sept. 21, 1807.

“Dear Uncle,– * * * * In my last, from Madras, I informed you of our intended search after our much lamented friend. Sir Thomas. At the Isle of France, Captain Troubridge sent me in with a flag of truce; the enemy did not allow me to land, but in other respects they were very civil; giving us every information they possibly could, and sending us extracts of letters from different correspondents at Madagascar, Bourbon, and Rodrigues; together with a description of a piece of oak which had been picked up near Bourbon, and which appears to have been a large ship’s top-mast crosstree. On the second day after the Harrier parted from the Blenheim and Java, a line-of-battle ship was seen from the heights of Isle Bourbon, making signals, but at such a distance that they could not be made out; we imagined it might have been the Admiral informing his consort that the land was discovered; and our ideas, I assure you, were very sanguine on the subject, more particularly when we arrived at St. Mary’s (Madagascar), where the inhabitants acquainted us that two ships answering their description had put into that harbour, and continued there about twenty days, during which time they watered and took on board a considerable number of bullocks. We imagined it was them, consequently made the best of our way to this place, but when off the Cape met with contrary winds and very tempestuous weather. Rear-Admiral Stirling is fitting us with all despatch, intending to send us back to India, although, from the state of the ship, and our captain’s probable loss, we hoped that he would have allowed us to go home, particularly as Captain Troubridge so much wishes it.”

Among others who perished with Sir Thomas Troubridge were Captain Charles Elphinstone and Lord Rosehill, the latter a son of the Earl of Northesk, and a very promising young officer. The Java was commanded by Captain George Pigot, and their joint crews amounted to at least 1000 persons. It is remarkable, that the Harrier also foundered in the vicinity of Madagascar, about Mar. 1809.

Sir Edward T. Troubridge’s commission as a Commander, was confirmed Sept. 5, 1806; and he obtained post-rank on the 28th Nov. in the following year. His last appointment was, Feb. 8, 1813, to the Armide frigate; and in Aug. 1814, we find him capturing the Herald, American privateer schooner, of 17 guns and 100 men; and the Invincible, French letter of marque, of 16 guns and 60 men. His conduct as senior officer of the naval brigade, landed to assist at the reduction of New Orleans, is highly spoken of in the naval and military despatches respecting that fortunate enterprise. He married, Oct, 19, 1810, Forrester, youngest daughter of Sir Alexander J. Cochrane, K.B.

  1. Made a Commander Aug. 29, 1812.
  2. Son of the Hon. William Fullarton Elphinstone, and nephew to Admiral Viscount Keith.
  3. Austin Bissell, Esq.