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Royal Naval Biography/Vassall, Spencer Lambart Hunter


Eldest son of the late Lieutenant-Colonel Spencer Thomas Vassall, H.M. 38th regiment, who, after twenty-eight years of active and unremitting service, during which he had acquired a high military reputation, was mortally wounded at the storming of Monte Video, Feb. 3d, 1807, at the moment he had conducted his corps through the breach in the walls of that fortress. The following is taken from a printed memoir of that gallant officer:–

“Lieutenant-Colonel Vassall was the second son of the late John Vassall, Esq., of the Crescent, Bath, and of Newfound River, in the island of Jamaica. The latter derived his origin from a gentleman of the same name, who, as Rushworth informs us, fitted out two ships of war at his own expence, and led them in person against the Spanish Armada, in the year 1588. He also reckoned among his immediate ancestors Alderman Samuel Vassall, member in several successive parliaments for the city of London, who took an active part in the political transactions of his time. He was the first man in England who had the courage to refuse payment of the arbitrary tax of tonnage and poundage. He was one of the three hundred members who signed the protestation to support the churoh of England and the liberty of parliament; and was appointed one of the members of the council during the recess. His name stood at the head of the list of subscribers for raising money against the rebels in Ireland; for which purpose he bestowed the sum of 1200l. The son of this Samuel Vassall afterwards embarked for America, and purchasing two-twentieth shares of Massachussett’s Bay, in New England, became an original settler in that country, where the family henceforward resided, and where the lieutenant-colonel and his father were both born, the latter, who, at the commencement of the civil war, was a colonel of militia, and one of his Majesty’s council for the province of Boston, did not attempt to conceal the sentiments of loyalty and attachment to his sovereign, with which he was animated; and after many fruitless efforts to support the royal cause, becoming at last convinced that any further struggle would be ineffectual, he abandoned his native country and his property, and came with his wife and children to England, supporting an honourable independence on an estate which still belonged to him in the island of Jamaica. Though his family was large, and the losses which he had suffered in America were considerable, his high and noble spirit would not allow him to accept of any remuneration for the sacrifices to which his adherence to Great Britain had compelled him to submit; and he contented himself with receiving back those advances which he had actually made for the service of government. On being pressed by Lord George Germain, then H.M. secretary of state for the colonial department, to bring forward his claims he modestly answered, ‘It shall never be said, that I emigrated from my own country to become a charge on this.’ So ardent, indeed, was his attachment to our gracious sovereign, that he never could be persuaded to use his family motto, ‘Saepe pro rege semper pro republicâ;’ because, though these words when properly construed, are expressive of the purest patriotism, he was apprehensive lest they might be misinterpreted, and considered as conveying a sentiment unfavorable to monarchical principles. Such was the father of the gallant Lieutenant-Colonel Vassall, who, from the first hour in which he became a soldier, to the moment of his honorable death, seemed only to exist for the profession which he had chosen, and for the country which he served.

“The Vassall arms were a cup and sun; a ship for a crest. The lieutenant-colonel’s descendants have been granted the following heraldic honors, commemorative of his heroic death:– The sun rising in full splendour from behind the breached bastions of a fortress, and above the same, the words ‘Monte Video;’ the number ‘38th’ on a canton argent within a branch of Cyprus and another of laurel, the stems uniting in saltire; and for their crest, on a wreath of the colours upon a mount vert, a breached fortress, thereon hoisted a flag, gules, with the inscription ‘Montevideo,’ in letters of gold; motto, ‘Every bullet has its billet,’ supported by two colours on each side, half furled[1].”

Besides a widow (Catherine, daughter of the Rev. D. Evans, D.D., of Harley Street, London, chaplain to King George III., and rector of West Tilbury, co. Essex), Lieutenant-Colonel Vassall left four children to deplore his loss, the elder of whom was not eight years of age at the time of his father’s death.

Mr. Spencer L. H. Vassall entered the royal navy in May 1812, as midshipman on board the Venerable 74, Captain Sir Home Popham, and was present at the successful attack soon afterwards made upon the French troops in possession of Lequitio, on the north coast of Spain, by a squadron under the orders of that officer, aided by a body of guerillas. He subsequently witnessed the destruction of the fortifications of Bermeo and Plencia, the castle of Galea, and the batteries of Algorta, Begona, El Campillo las Quersas, and Xebiles; the reduction of Castro, the attacks upon Puerta Galletta, Guetaria, and Santander; and the capture of the castle of Ano[2].

In April 1813, Mr. Vassall followed Sir Home Popham into the Stirling Castle 74; fitting out for the conveyance of the Marquis of Hastings to India. In June 1814, he was removed into the Magnificent 74, Captain (now Sir Willoughby T.) Lake, with whom he proceeded to the West Indies. On his return from thence, in Aug. 1815, he joined the Lacedemonian frigate. Captain Samuel Jackson; and in Oct. following, sailed with that officer, in the Niger 38, for North America. After visiting Annapolis, Quebec, and Halifax[3], he was turned over to the Harrier sloop, Captain Sir Charles T. Jones. In June 1818, he returned to England, for the purpose of passing his examination; and in Oct. following, we find him on board the Iphigenia 42, Captain Hyde Parker, destined to Jamaica, where he was appointed an acting lieutenant of that ship, by Sir Home Popham, Mar. 11th, 1819. His commission appears to have been confirmed at home, on the 3d July, in the same year.

Mr. Vassall’s next appointment was, July 5th, 1820, to the Blossom 20, in which ship he served, under Captains Frederick E. V. Vernon (now Harcourt) and Archibald M‘Lean, on the St. Helena and South American stations, until July 1823, when he was obliged to return home, for the recovery of his health, which had been much impaired by two attacks of yellow fever. In July 1824, he joined the Prince Regent 120, flag-ship of Sir Robert Moorsom, in the river Medway; in July 1825, the Ranger 28, Captain Lord Henry Thynne, fitting out for the South American station; and in April 1827, the Ganges 84, bearing the flag of Sir Robert Waller Otway, by whom he was promoted to the command of the Eclair sloop, in the month of July following. His advancement to the rank of commander had then already taken place, by commission dated April 30th, 1827. After paying off the Eclair, in Sept. 1827, he remained on half-pay till Nov. 24th, 1831, when he was appointed to the Harrier, a new 18-gun corvette, of very superior construction, in which vessel he is at present serving on the East India station.

Commander Vassall’s only brother is a captain in H.M. 78th regiment, the Highland, or Rossshire, Buffs. His eldest sister, wife of the Rev. E. P. Henslowe, chaplain in the royal artillery, died at Tunbridge Wells, in Aug 1834; his youngest sister is married to the Hon. T. Le Marchant Saumarez, son of Admiral Lord De Saumarez, G.C.B.

  1. When Lieutenant-Colonel Vassall observed any of his men stoop or flinch, at the assault of Monte Video, he cried out as loud as possible, “Brave 38th, my brave men, don’t flinch; every bullet has its billet. Push on, follow me, 38th!” He rallied them repeatedly until he got them inside the breach.
  2. See Vol. II. Part II. pp. 523–527.
  3. See Suppl. Part I. p. 278.