Royal Naval Biography/Tucker, Robert


Was born at Devonport, on the 7th Feb. 1769; and had his name entered on the books of the Boyne 70, commanded by the late Admiral Herbert Sawyer, in 1777. We first find him serving in an hired armed vessel, the Three Brothers; and, in 1785, he appears to have joined the Weazel sloop. Captain (afterwards Sir Samuel) Hood, then employed in surveying the coasts and harbours within the limits of the Halifax station.

On the completion of this service, about May, 1788, Mr. Tucker was removed to the Pegasus 28, Captain (now Sir Herbert) Sawyer, on the Newfoundland station; which ship he left, in order to rejoin Captain Hood, who had been appointed to the Juno 32, in the summer of 1790. The ships in which he subsequently served, as midshipman and master’s-mate, were the Diana frigate, Captain Thomas Macnamara Russell; Dover 44, armed en flûte, Lieutenant ____ Drummond; Vengeance 74, Captain Sir Thomas Rich, Bart.; Berwick 74, successively commanded by Captains Sir John Collins, Knt., William Shield, George Campbell, William Smith, and Adam Littlejohn; and the Britannia, first-rate, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral (afterwards Lord) Hotham, by whom he was promoted into the Courageux 74, Captain Augustus Montgomery, shortly after the action between the British and French fleets, off Genoa, in March, 1795[1].

The Courageux was subsequently placed under the command of Captain Hallowell (now Sir Benjamin H. Carew), and Lieutenant Tucker was almost constantly employed in her boats, attacking the coasting trade to the westward of Toulon, skirmishing with gun-boats, and obtaining information from the shore. On several occasions we find him capturing and destroying vessels close to the enemy’s batteries.

The melancholy fate of the Courageux has been recorded in p. 467 et seq, of Vol. I. Part II. We have here to add, however, that at the period when she was wrecked, Captain Hallowell and Mr. Tucker (then third lieutenant) were absent on duty; the first and second lieutenants sick; and the ship and all on board under the charge of a very young and inexperienced officer.

Subsequent to this disaster. Lieutenant Tucker joined the flag-ship of Sir John Jervis, by whom he was ordered to assist in bringing home the San -Josef, a Spanish first-rate, captured off Cape St. Vincent, Feb. 14th, 1797. We afterwards find him first-lieutenant of the Saturn 74; from which ship he followed the late Rear-Admiral Totty into the Invincible, of similar force.

On the 16th Mar. 1801, the latter ship sailed from Yarmouth Roads, for the purpose of joining the expedition sent against the Northern Confederacy; and she was proceeding with a fair wind, at the rate of nine knots, when she unfortunately struck upon Hammond’s Knowl; both the master and the pilot having neglected to make allowance for a rapid tide then running to the eastward. In this situation she continued, beating heavily, for three hours, during which time many heavy stores were thrown overboard, and the pumps kept incessantly at work, until they became choaked and useless. The mizen-mast having fallen, the main-mast was then cut away, and the ship at length drifted over the bank into seventeen fathoms water. Night now approaching, an anchor was let go; and the pumps being again rendered efficacious, the water in the hold was soon reduced from ten to four feet: owing, however, to the master having stoppered the cable when only one-third had run out, and the rudder having been knocked away, she again struck the shoal about 10 p.m., and with such violence as to convince every one on board that she could not long hold together. At this awful juncture, a fishing-smack approached; and Rear-Admiral Totty, Mr. John Clyde (purser), four young midshipmen, and one boat’s crew, succeeded in reaching her. During the night, four other boats were cut adrift with people in them, the whole of whom had the good fortune to get on board a merchant brig to leeward. On the following morning, at day-light, the flag of the commander-in-chief in Yarmouth Roads was seen; but, although a cutter had answered the first guns fired as signals of distress, and immediately stood for that anchorage, nothing could be discovered coming towards the Knowl. At 7 a.m., the Invincible once more drifted into deep water, and immediately began to sink head foremost. Lieutenants Tucker and Quash, two master’s-mates, the boatswain, and a few seamen, then got into the launch, the only remaining serviceable boat, and were the happy means of saving nearly 120 persons: the total number of officers and men saved amounted to 195; that of the unfortunate sufferers to about 490.

After this sad catastrophe. Lieutenant Tucker accompanied Rear-Admiral Totty to the Baltic and West Indies, in the Zealous 74, and their old ship, the Saturn. On the 28th May, 1802, he was appointed acting captain of the Excellent 74, bearing the broad pendant of Commodore (now Sir Robert) Stopford; and we subsequently find him commanding the Hornet and Surinam, sloops, in which latter vessel he was sent by Commodore Samuel Hood, to demand the liberation of two British officers, who had imprudently thrown themselves into the power of the brigands at St. Domingo, although instant death was the declared fate of every white person who should then venture to land within the space under their jurisdiction. Having, at the risk of his own life, and by the aid of many presents, ascertained, that one of those officers had been executed, and that the other had escaped to Port-au-Prince, Commander Tucker proceeded from the neighbourhood of Gonahives to Jacquemel, where he rendered such material assistance to the besieged French garrison as procured him most handsome letters of thanks from the commandant and principal inhabitants, the latter of whom concluded their address to him as follows:

“We beg you. Sir, to receive the thanks of all our fellow citizens, for your voluntary stay among us, and for your spontaneous offer daily to harass the insurgents, a measure so necessary towards the security of our women, children, and sick, and the further preservation of the town. We have seen with the most lively interest the effects of a proceeding so noble, and which, whilst it convinces us of the goodness of your private character, assures us at the same time of the union and good understanding between our respective Governments. We have the honor. Sir, to salute you with sentiments of the most perfect consideration.

(Signed by the Council of Select Men of the
town of Jacquemel)“Duray,
town of Jacquemel)"Theuret,
town of Jacquemel)“Aquaute.”

The following cruel and infamously false charge is alleged against Commander Tucker, in James’s Naval History, Vol. III. p. 411 et seq.

“When, in the middle of the year 1803, intelligence of the declaration of war against Holland reached Port Royal, Jamaica, the lO-gun schooner Gipsy, acting Lieutenant Michael Fitton, was despatched to Curaçoa, to warn any British cruisers that might be lying there, of what had taken place, in order that they might provide for their safety. Arriving in the harbour of St. Ann, the Gipsy found at anchor there the 18-gun ship-sloop Surinam, Captain Robert Tucker. To this officer, in as secret a manner as he could, Lieutenant Fitton communicated the intelligence, and advised him immediately to get under weigh. ‘No,’ says Captain Tucker, ‘I’ll summon the fiscal to surrender the island to me.’ In vain did the lieutenant represent the folly of such a proceeding; in vain did he point to the numerous batteries around the harbour: Captain Tucker went on shore, and made his proposal in form. The Dutch authorities had received no official account of the war; but they took the captain’s word, and not only his word, but his sword, and his ship, and all that were on board of her.

Knowing well what would happen. Lieutenant Fitton, in the mean time, had weighed and stood out; and the Gipsy was soon chased off the port by two armed vessels of superior force, which, in consequence of Captain Tucker’s imprudence, had been despatched in pursuit of her.”

In refutation of this statement, we shall first give an extract of a letter recently written by Lieutenant Fitton; and then lay before our readers Commander Tucker’s own account of the causes which led to his detention and subsequent imprisonment.

H.M.S. Agincourt, Devonport, 20th Nov. 1831.

“Sir,– I this day received yours of the 15th instant, informing me of a statement made in James’s Naval History. I immediately sent for the volume to which you refer, and am sorry to find my name mentioned in an affair of which I never had any knowledge: – to the best of my recollection, I never saw the Surinam; and never, till this day, did I know the name of her commander: – the historian, therefore, is completely in error. * * * * * *

(Signed)Michl. Fitton.”

To Commander R. Tucker.

“On the second day after my departure from Jacquemel,” says Commander Tucker, “the Surinam sprung her fore-top-mast, had all her lower-rigging stranded, and pitched with so much violence that the casks in the ground-tier literally fell to pieces, leaving all the other contents of the hold in dangerous motion. Thus circumstanced, I steered for Curaçoa, and was there busily employed in refitting my ship, when private information from the island of St. Thomas led me to believe that Great Britain and Holland would, ere long, be again declared enemies. I therefore redoubled my efforts; and, although not quite ready for sea, had warped the Surinam to the head of the harbour, in hopes of preventing any similar information reaching the Dutch governor, when a prize-schooner, in charge of Lieutenant Thomas Forrest, whom I had despatched to Commodore Hood, and who was returning from that officer with orders for my future guidance, ran past me, and incautiously proceeded until she reached the government-wharf, when some of her late crew, who had so imprudently been afforded the opportunity, jumped on shore, and reported that the British had already commenced hostilities.

“On receiving the orders brought by Lieutenant Forrest, I instantly sent him back to his schooner, with directions not to remain a moment longer in the harbour; at the same time intimating my intention of immediately putting to sea; but before I could do so, the Surinam was hailed by a Dutch frigate, and threatened with instant destruction if she attempted to move; the forts and batteries were then evidently preparing to carry this menace into effect. I was soon afterwards sent for by the governor, who acquainted me that, according to affidavits then lying before him, Dutch vessels had been detained by the British squadron on the Leeward Islands station; but that if I would recal the schooner, and her commander would pledge his word and honor to the contrary, the Surinam should not be detained. This, as I then felt convinced, was merely a ruse, and I therefore considered it my duty likewise to dissemble: I accordingly professed to acquiesce; but instead of recalling Lieutenant Forrest, I hailed the Surinam, directing that he should be ordered by signal to proceed to the commodore. There not being any possibility of effecting my escape, I now employed myself in taking plans of the forts and batteries, and in ascertaining the disposition of the inhabitants of St. Ann; transmitted all the information I acquired both to Sir John T. Duckworth and Commodore Hood; and was informed by those officers, that as soon as troops could be spared, an expedition would be sent against Curaçoa. My last despatches, however, were treacherously delivered into the hands of the Dutch governor, who immediately demanded the surrender of my ship, and ordered me to be confined in a room over the soldiers’ barrack, the windows of which were level with a rampart, and watched by two sentinels. In the course of the same evening, two musket-balls were fired into this room, one of which struck a table that I had just before removed from. On the following day, my servant was informed by a Mr. Ricardo, captain of the burgher-guard, that if we were not very particular I should be poisoned. Several shot were afterwards fired into my prison-room, and had I not shifted my bed repeatedly, every night, some one or other of them would probably have proved fatal. On one occasion, I was threatened with confinement in a dungeon, and actually placed for a few hours in one, because I would not divulge the names of the inhabitants through whose hands I still contrived to send and receive letters. In this state of suspense I was kept for four months.

“My men, I should observe, were sent to Jamaica soon after the surrender of the Surinam, the enemy hoping that an equal number of Dutch sailors would have been exchanged for them; instead of which, however, only a receipt for the number was returned; as I had pointed out to Sir John T. Duckworth the probability of H.M. late sloop being instantly sent to cruise against our trade. At length the enemy conceived it a good plan to send me, with my officers and the receipt, to Barbadoes; but in this instance likewise they were unsuccessful. Finding no man-of-war at that island when we arrived there, I however took upon myself to send them back nine Dutch clergymen in lieu of us; and I have the satisfaction to add, that, when tried by a court-martial, I was acquitted of all blame for the loss of the Surinam.”