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Royal Naval Biography/Tucker, Thomas Tudor

[Post-Captain of 1811.]

Third son of Henry Tucker, Esq. many years president of the council, treasurer, and secretary at the Bermudas, where he also held the reins of government at various periods, by Frances, eldest daughter of his Excellency George Bruere, the governor of those islands.

Mr. T. Tudor Tucker was born at the official residence of his maternal grandfather, but at what period it is not in our power to state. He entered the navy towards the close of 1793, previous to which he had made one voyage to China, and another to Bombay, as a midshipman in the service of the Hon. East India Company. The first king’s ship in which he embarked was the Argo 44, Captain William Clarke, then about to sail from the Nore for the purpose of affording protection to the homeward-bound Baltic trade. He afterwards successively joined the Jason frigate, Sampson 64, Victorious 74, and Monarch, of similar force, the latter third rate bearing the flag of Sir George Keith Elphinstone, commander-in-chief at the Cape of Good Hope. During the operations which led to the capture of that colony, he served on shore with the seamen and marines landed to cooperate with the small military force under Major-General Craig[1].

Early in 1796 Mr. Tucker passed his examination for a lieutenant; Sir George K. Elphinstone having directed that the time he had served in the Hon. Company’s service should be admitted by the passing captains. In addition to this extraordinary mark of favor, he was immediately afterwards promoted into the Suffolk 74, flag-ship of Rear-Admiral Rainier.

Mr. Tucker’s next appointment was to the Swift sloop. Captain Thomas Hayward, and he appears to have quitted that vessel at Madras only a few days previous to her sailing from thence on a cruise in the China seas, since which she has never been heard of: the name of her unfortunate commander is frequently mentioned in our memoir of Captain Peter Heywood[2].

Mr. Tucker’s removal from the Swift was occasioned by a complaint of the liver, which induced Captain William Clarke to request that he might be appointed to the Victorious, as she would be a more comfortable ship for him in such a climate: this application was readily granted by Rear-Admiral Rainier, and he accordingly rejoined his first patron, with whom he continued to serve until a second attack of the liver, in 1799, rendered it advisable for him to exchange into the Sceptre 64, then under orders for England. At this period the commander-in-chief was about to receive him into his flag-ship on promotion.

On the 19th Sept. 1799, Mr. Tucker commanded the boats of the Sceptre at the capture and destruction of l’Eclair, French brig privateer, mounting 10 guns, with a complement of 83 men, moored close to the shore, within a reef of rocks, at the island of Rodriguez: the manner in which this service was executed will be seen by reference to p. 116, et seq. where we have also noticed the loss of the Sceptre in Table Bay, Cape of Good Hope, Nov. 5, 1799.

On the day previous to that melancholy disaster, Mr. Tucker, then acting as second lieutenant, requested Captain Edwards to grant him permission to attend a ball that was to be given on shore, saying he would not leave the ship until the business of the day was finished, and promising to return on board at day-light the next morning, in order to attend to his duty as the executive officer, the first lieutenant being at sick-quarters. Captain Edwards told him in reply, that as the third and fifth lieutenants were also on shore, and his standing orders were, that the ship was never to be left without at least two lieutenants and the master, he did not like to deviate from them. Mr. Tucker had previously sent to the third lieutenant to come on board in the evening and relieve him, but, as a ball was pending, he had no expectation that his request would be complied with: however, while the ship’s company were at their supper, he was agreeably surprised to see his messmate come alongside, and he soon afterwards went on shore, leaving orders for a boat to be sent to bring him off at day-light. During the night it came on to blow very hard; and next morning, on repairing to the place where he expected a boat would be, Mr. Tucker found such a sea running that it was utterly impossible for one to approach the shore, and he could perceive the people on board the Sceptre busily employed in striking lower-yards and top-masts: the wind continued to increase during the day, until it blew a hurricane, and the sea to roll in from the ocean, in almost resistless billows: before 8 P.M. the Sceptre and most of the vessels in the bay were ashore; she soon went to pieces, and her captain, the third and fourth lieutenants, the master, the captain’s son and three other midshipmen, two warrant officers, and about 280 of her crew perished. A list of those who escaped this terrible catastrophe will be found at p. 222 of Suppl. Part I.

Mr. Tucker returned home with despatches from Sir George Yonge, governor of the Cape, who entrusted them to his charge in hopes that the expenses of his voyage would be paid by government; an expectation that was not realized.

On his arrival in London, May 1800, Mr. Tucker was obliged to pass another examination at Somerset Place, the Lords of the Admiralty having refused to make any allowance for the time he had served at sea previous to his entering the navy. Having done so, he was immediately appointed a lieutenant of the Prince George 98, forming part of the Channel fleet, under the command of Earl St. Vincent. At the close of the French revolutionary war we find him serving as fourth of the Prince, a very dull sailing ship of similar force, in which he received a rupture, through great exertion and anxiety to keep her in her station.

Lieutenant Tucker’s next appointment was to the Northumberland 74, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral the Hon. Alexander Cochrane. In May, 1805, he assisted at the capture of a French privateer, near St. Domingo, by the boats of the Unicorn frigate; the manner in which that service was performed will be seen by the following extract of an official letter written by Captain Lucius Hardyman:

“On the morning of the 6th instant, a strange sail was seen on the larboard bow, distant 7 or 8 miles; having then light-airs, inclinable to calm, and perceiving the stranger was using every effort with his sweeps to escape, I directed Mr. Henry Smith Wilson, first lieutenant, assisted by Messrs. James Tait and Henry Bourchier, second and third lieutenants, and backed by the volunteer services of Lieutenant Thomas Tudor Tucker, a passenger belonging to H.M.S. Northumberland, Lieutenant Walter Powell, R.M. and Mr. Charles Rundle, purser of H.M.S. under my command, to proceed with four boats, and endeavour to come up with the chase. The cool and determined manner in which this service was performed, after a pull of many hours, and the strong opposition they met with, induce me thus publicly to express my approbation of every officer, seaman, and marine engaged in it; and I am happy to add that no lives were lost upon the occasion.”

The privateer proved to be le Tape-à-bord, mounting four 6-pounders, with a complement of 46 well-armed men. Lieutenant Tucker, who commanded one of the above boats, was then proceeding with despatches from his Admiral to Sir John B. Warren.

After the action off St. Domingo, Feb. 6, 1806[3], the subject of this memoir was appointed to the command of the Dolphin 44, armed en flute, in which ship Rear-Admiral Cochrane hoisted his flag while the Northumberland went to Antigua, for the purpose of repairing her damages. He was subsequently appointed in succession, by that officer, to the Dart, Curieux, Epervier, and Cherub sloops of war; but his commission as a Commander was not confirmed until Feb. 15, 1808.

Captain Tucker assisted at the capture of Martinique, in 1809[4], and was subsequently placed under the orders of Captain Philip Beaver, senior officer of the squadron employed in the blockade of Basse Terre, Guadaloupe.

The Cherub had not been long with the above squadron before Captain Tucker, and Captain William Dowers, of the Julia brig, volunteered to go in with their vessels, and board and bring out two French frigates, then lying at Basse Terre under the protection of a very strong fort on the high land commanding that anchorage. Their spirited offer was readily accepted by Captain Beaver, who sent 60 of his own ship’s company to the Julia, and offered the Cherub as many as her commander wished; but none were accepted by him, as his officers and crew expressed a desire to have all the glory of the enterprise to themselves. After waiting many days for a favorable opportunity to make the attempt, Captain Tucker at length had the pleasure to observe that the wind blew home into the roadstead, and he immediately made the appointed signal to his consort. Both sloops stood towards the frigates with as much wind, as enabled them to carry top-gallant-sails over single-reefed top-sails close hauled, received the fire of two batteries in passing them, and was confidently expecting to be soon alongside the enemy, when their sails suddenly flapped to the masts, and they were left without so much as a breath of wind. In this unlooked-for and most mortifying predicament, Captain Tucker, with great presence of mind, immediately ordered the helm to be put hard a-starboard, by which decisive measure the vessels got out of gunshot of a third heavy battery, then just opening upon them, before they lost their way. Captain Beaver was an eye-witness to the movements of the Cherub and Julia ; and he afterwards told Captain Tucker that the promptitude with which he had extricated them from their perilous situation was deserving of the highest praise; that as much credit was due to him as if he had brought out the frigates, and that he would duly report his conduct. All who are acquainted with the anchorage at Basse Terre, must be aware of the difficulty of an enemy getting into that roadstead, as the high land commanding it occasions constant baffling winds and calms.

Highly as Sir Alexander Cochrane admired Captain Tucker’s heroic attempt, he gave strict orders that it should not be repeated. Captain Beaver, however, determined, if possible, to destroy the French frigates, and for that purpose he directed the Unique brig to be prepared as a fire-vessel; her unavoidable destruction, before she could reach the enemy, has been related at p. 322.

On the 14th June, 1809, the guard-boats of the blockading squadron gave notice that both the frigates were getting under weigh. As the night was extremely dark, and the enemy had the choice of several passages, it was a matter of opinion with the different British captains which they would prefer. The Cherub immediately made all sail to the northward, and continued steering the same course until sun-set next day, when her commander discovered the fugitives under St. Martin’s, with their heads to the southward. Considering this only a feint to deceive him, he stood on, ran through the Sambrero passage, and at dawn of day, on the 16th, perceived them right a-head, but not a single British ship or vessel in sight. The enemy were now so near to the Cherub that Captain Tucker thought his crew would scarcely have time to breakfast; but still he was determined that they should have their meal before they went into action, and he was equally resolved to engage the enemy, in hopes of crippling them so as to render their ultimate capture certain. Unfortunately, the wind began to moderate, and as it slackened the frigates increased their distance: whenever it freshened again for a short time, the Cherub had evidently the advantage of sailing. At 2 P.M., the Latona frigate was seen from the mast head, coming up on the lee-quarter. At sunset, the enemy’s manoeuvres led Captain Tucker to believe that they intended altering their course after dark; and as he thought it probable that they would separate, he considered it most expedient to keep a little to windward. When dark enough not to be observed by the Frenchmen, he hauled up as close as he could without taking in his royal, top-gallant, and fore-top-mast-studding sails; on the morning of the 17th, he had the mortification to find that they had both escaped him. It subsequently appeared that one of the frigates bore up after dark, and at midnight found herself alongside of the Latona, Captain Hugh Pigot, who very soon captured her: the other braced sharp up, and was intercepted by the Bonne Citoyenne sloop of war, between Bermuda and Halifax[5].

The subject of this memoir assisted at the reduction of Guadaloupe, in 1810; and remained on the Leeward Islands’ station, under the orders of Sir Alexander Cochrane and his successor. Sir Francis Laforey, in consequence of whose report to the Admiralty, of the excellent state in which the Cherub was kept, and the discipline of her crew, their Lordships were pleased to direct that she should be rated as a post-ship, and signed a commission promoting Captain Tucker to that rank, and continuing him in the same command, Aug. 1, 1811.

At the end of Sept. 1812, the Cherub returned to England with ninety-six sail of merchantmen under her protection. Captain Tucker was immediately ordered to refit her for foreign service; and in a little more than two months he sailed for the South American station. During the time that his ship was in dock, at Portsmouth, her crew were allowed a month’s leave of absence to see their friends; and although they were aware that she was again going abroad, not a man was absent from his duty at the time of her departure. On his taking leave of Sir Richard Bickerton, who then commanded at that port, Captain Tucker mentioned this circumstance, and reminded him that although his people had so recently returned from the West Indies, where many of them had served at least seven years, in the Epervier and Cherub, he was about to quit England without having asked for, or wished to obtain a single man from the flag-ship! The port-admiral replied that it was so rare an instance, he would make a point of reporting it officially. We should here observe, that when Captain Tucker removed into the Cherub, about Dec. 1808, most of the Epervier’s officers and the whole of her crew volunteered to follow him, notwithstanding that that brig was then under orders to return home, and his new sloop had but just arrived on the station!

We next find Captain Tucker employed in the Pacific Ocean. On his arrival at Lima he was informed that salted provisions were not to be procured there, and he therefore determined to reserve all that remained on board for the passage back round Cape Horn. He also attempted to add to that stock, which was only sufficient for six weeks’ consumption at full allowance; but although various modes were tried, every attempt failed, owing to the excessive heat of the weather; and he was consequently obliged to adopt the plan of the Spaniards, who supply their vessels with beef cut in slices, and dried in the sun until it becomes as hard as wood. This substitute for salt-meat is then packed in matting, but from its nature must not be stowed in the hold, or between decks.

Shortly after his departure from Valparaiso, and a few days before the last of the oxen taken on board there was slaughtered, the rain which fell for many hours had such an effect upon that contained in the mat packages, all of which were stowed on the main-deck, about the booms, &c. as to make it emit such a horrible smell, that many officers would doubtless have ordered the whole to be thrown overboard: Captain Tucker, however, took advantage of the first fine day to expose it to the sun, when it very soon lost the offensive smell, resumed its former solidity, and was again re-packed. Notwithstanding this, he was afraid that the ship’s company might have a dislike to eat it, and he therefore directed all the officers to make a point of doing so; his steward was likewise told to have nothing else cooked for the use of the cabin on the day when it was to be first made use of. When that time arrived, not a man appeared in the galley to claim the meat for his mess, nor was a single piece of it taken away even after it had been surveyed and reported “wholesome food, fit for men to eat.” The first Lieutenant was then desired by Captain Tucker to allow it to remain in the cook’s charge until the usual hour for mustering at quarters, and then to throw whatever remained unclaimed overboard. On the 2d, 3d, and 4th days, the meat was cooked as before, but still no demand was made for it by any of the messes, the ship’s company preferring to dine on biscuit and grog alone. On each of those days the quantity cooked was again properly surveyed, and ordered to be disposed of as before. In the afternoon of the latter day, however, a marine said to one of his companions that he was very hungry, and as the Captain and officers eat the beef every day he would go and do the same; his messmate replied, “if you do, you will be severely punished by the ship’s company;” which threat he immediately reported to the officer of the watch, who lost no time in making the circumstance known to Captain Tucker. The marines were instantaneously ordered to be got under arms, and preparation was made for punishment. On the offender being brought to the gangway. Captain Tucker told him that he was not going to flog him for declining to eat the meat, but for presuming to assume an authority which was alone vested in his captain; and which power, added he, “I will not resign to any one, as long as I have a head on my shoulders.” He then ordered the boatswain of the Cherub to give the first dozen lashes; the boatswain’s-mates followed in succession, and the prisoner received as severe a punishment as he thought himself authorized in inflicting. Captain Tucker next addressed himself to the ship’s company in terms nearly as follow:

“My lads,– You have now been under my command between five and six years; and during that time you must have observed that I have ever made it a study, as it was my duty, always to get for you the best provisions that could possibly be procured; I need not add, that it has always afforded me the most heartfelt satisfaction so to do, and to see you comfortable and happy: the meat that you have refused to eat for the last four days, and which your captain and officers have eaten, was the only substitute for salt provisions that could be obtained in the Pacific; I believe that I have been brought up from my birth to eat as delicate food as any of you, yet I have made four dinners on that which you do not think good enough for you, and I most fervently pray to God to grant that I may never fare worse than I have this day done on that very beef. It is far from my intention to compel you to eat it, if you prefer dining on biscuit and grog; but if you expect that I will allow the salt provisions now in the hold to be used until we arrive in those high latitudes where this beef cannot be preserved, you are very much mistaken:– return to your various duties.”

This firmness on the part of Captain Tucker was productive of the desired effect: next day the beef was demanded by every mess, immediately after piping to dinner, and the men continued to eat it until their arrival at the Sandwich Islands, where a stock of excellent pork was procured for general use. It must be allowed by all who have any knowledge in these matters, that prompt, determined, and decisive conduct is absolutely necessary in such cases; but justice demands that we should not attribute the conduct of the Cherub’s crew, on the above occasion, to a mutinous spirit, but merely to the disgust occasioned by the beef’s intolerable smell when moistened by the rain. Their attachment to Captain Tucker may be fairly inferred from what we have stated in the first paragraph at p. 426.

Captain Tucker was severely wounded in both legs at the commencement of the action with the United States’ frigate Essex, off Valparaiso, Mar. 28, 1814, the official account of which will be found at p. 861 et seq. of Vol II. Part II. On that occasion he returned upon deck the moment his wounds were dressed, and continued there, “using every exertion against the baffling winds and occasional calms, to close near the enemy,” until he had the satisfaction to see the American colours lowered.

The Cherub returned home from Brazil in charge of a large fleet of merchantmen, and Captain Tucker was afterwards successively appointed to the Andromeda and Comus, each rated at 22 guns. He has not been employed since the end of May, 1816.

This officer married, Jan. 23, 1811, Anne Byam, eldest daughter of the late D. Hill, Esq. a merchant and land proprietor in the island of Antigua, by whom he has issue two sons and three daughters. His eldest brother, Henry St. George Tucker, is a Director of the Hon. East India Company; his second brother, George, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the army, and Assistant-Adjutant-General to the forces under Sir Arthur Wellesley, perished in the Primrose sloop of war, when returning to the peninsula, after a short leave of absence[6]. His next brother, Lieutenaut-Colonel John G. P. Tucker, has served in India and at the Cape of Good Hope, at Monte Video, in Canada, and in France; the next, Captain Nathaniel B. Tucker, Brigade-Major to Sir M. Nightingale, shared the melancholy fate of his brother George; the next in point of age, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Hon.E.I.C. service, and Deputy-Quarter-Master-General at the presidency of Bombay, died at sea, when returning home on leave of absence, in 1826; the next, Captain Charlton B. Tucker, of the dragoons, served as aide-de-camp to Sir M. Nightingale when that officer was commander-in-chief of the army at Bombay; and the youngest brother, Richard A. Tucker, is now Chief Justice at Newfoundland.

  1. See Vol. I. Part I, pp. 47–49.
  2. See Vol. II. Part II. p. 762, et seq.
  3. SeeVol. I. Part I. pp. 261–263; and Vol. II. Part I, note † at p. 280.
  4. See Vol. I. Part I. p. 264.
  5. See Captain William Mounsey, C.B.
  6. The Primrose, of 18 guns, Captain James Mein, was wrecked on the Manacle rocks, near Falmouth, Jan. 22, 1809. – all on board perished.