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Royal Naval Biography/Venables-Vernon, Frederick Edward


FREDERICK EDWARD VENABLES VERNON, Esq.
[Post-Captain of 1814.]

Is a son of the Right Hon. Edward Venables Vernon, D.C.L. Lord Archbishop of York, Primate of England, and Lord High Almoner to the King, &c. &c. &c. by Lady Anne Leveson Gower, third daughter of Granville, first Marquis of Stafford. He is consequently descended from William de Vernon, sole proprietor of the town and district of Vernon, in Normandy, anno 1052, whose eldest son, Richard de Vernon, came over to England with William the Conqueror, in 1066. The Archbishop of York is the youngest son of the first Lord Vernon, and brother to the present peer.

Mr. Frederick Edward Venables Vernon entered the navy, in Feb. 1803, as midshipman on board the Calcutta 50, armée en flûte, Captain Daniel Woodriff, with whom he made a voyage round the world in the short space of 10 months and 3 days[1]. On his return home from New Holland and Brazil, in July, 1804, he joined the Latona 38, Captain Thomas Le Marchant Gosselyn, in which frigate he assisted at the capture of the Amphion Spanish privateer, of 12 guns and 70 men, Oct. 22, 1805. In the following year, he removed with the latter officer to the Audacious 74, and accompanied the squadron under Sir Richard J. Strachan to Barbadoes, in pursuit of Jerome Buonaparte and his companions[2].

Mr. Vernon next joined the Centaur 74, bearing the flag of the late Sir Samuel Hood, in which ship he continued until appointed lieutenant of the Implacable 74, Captain Thomas Byam Martin, on the Baltic station, April 29, 1809. Soon after his promotion to that rank, he was afforded an opportunity of distinguishing himself in a very signal manner, as will be seen by the following extracts of his captain’s official correspondence:–

H.M.S. Implacable, off Percola Point, July 6, 1809.

“The Implacable and Melpomene having stood into the Gulf of Narva, captured 9 sail of vessels, laden with timber, spars, and cordage, belonging to the Emperor of Russia, and which I doubt not will prove a valuable acquisition to our own dock-yards. The boats of the ships, under that active and valuable officer. Lieutenant Joseph Hawkey, have looked into every creek along the south coast of the gulf, without finding any vessels whatever, and he is now on the opposite, with the same view. * * * * * *

“Since writing the above. Lieutenant Hawkey has returned with 3 vessels, captured by the boats of the Implacable, Melpomene, and Prometheus, under his command; he reports 8 sail of gun-boats protecting some ships in shore, and is very desirous of attacking them, which shall be done, if there is a reasonable hope of success.

July 8, 1809.

“The position taken by the Russian flotilla, under Percola Point, seemed so much like a defiance, that I considered something; was necessary to be done, in order to impress these people with that sense of respect and fear which his Majesty’s other enemies arc accustomed to shew to the British flag; I therefore determined to gratify the anxious wish of Lieutenant Hawkey, to lead the boats of the Implacable, Bellerophon, Melpomene, and Prometheus, which were assembled by 9 o’clock last night. They proceeded with an irresistible zeal and intrepidity towards the enemy, who had the advantage of local knowledge, to take a position of extraordinary strength within two rocks, serving as a cover to their wings, and from whence they could pour a destructive fire of grape upon our boats, which, notwithstanding, advanced with perfect coolness, and never fired a gun till actually touching the enemy, when they boarded sword in hand, and carried all before them.

I believe a more brilliant achievement does not grace the records of our naval history; each officer was impatient to be the leader in the attack, and each man zealous to emulate their noble example; the most complete success has been the consequence of such determined bravery; of 8 gun-boats, each mounting a 32 and a 24-pounder, with 46 men, six have been brought out, and one sunk; and the whole of the ships and vessels, 12 in number, under their protection, laden with powder and provisions for the Russian army, also brought out, and a large armed ship taken and burnt. I have deeply to lament the loss of many men killed and wounded, and especially that most valuable officer Lieutenant Hawkey, who, after taking one gun-boat, was killed by a grape-shot, in the act of boarding the second. No praise from my pen can do adequate justice to this lamented young man; as an officer, he was active, correct, and zealous, to the highest degree; the leader in every kind of enterprise, and regardless of danger; he delighted in whatever could tend to promote the glory of his country: his last words were, ‘huzza! push on! England for ever!’

“Mr. Hawkey had been away in the boats on different services, since last Monday, accompanied by Lieutenant Vernon, whose conduct in this affair has been highly exemplary, and shewn him worthy to be the companion of so heroic a man; but while I am induced to mention the name of Mr. Vernon, from his constant services with Mr. Hawkey, I feel that every officer, seaman, and marine, has a claim to my warmest praises * * * * * *. Lieutenant Charles Allen, of the Bellerophon, was the senior officer after Mr. Hawkey’s death. * * * * * *

" The Russians have suffered severely in this conflict; the most moderate statement makes it appear that two-thirds of them have been killed, wounded, or driven overboard. * * * * * *

(Signed)T. B. Martin.”

The total loss sustained by the British was 17 slain and 37 wounded; among the former were Lieutenant Stirling, of the Prometheus, and Mr. WiHiam Barclay Mountney, midshipman of the Melpomene. The senior surviving lieutenant was immediately afterwards promoted, and his commission dated back to the day of the action; three others, viz. George Rennie, of the Melpomene, and John Sheridan and John Skekel, of the Bellerophon, were also made commanders in the course of the ensuing two years; and Lieutenant Vernon was likewise advanced to that rank, as soon as he had served the necessary time to render him eligible. His promotion consequently took place April 29, 1811.

In July, 1810, the Implacable, then commanded by Captain George Cockburn, conveyed Sir Richard G. Keats to Cadiz. On the 6th Sept. following she sailed from thence for the Havannah, with two Spanish 3-deckers under her protection; and on the 18th Feb. 1811, we find her returning in a sickly state, with 6,000,000 of dollars on board. Her officers and crew were subsequently employed in the defence of l’Isla de Leon.

On the 25th May, 1813, Captain Vernon was appointed to the Challenger brig, of 16 guns, in which vessel he was present at the siege and surrender of St. Sebastian, the northern Gibraltar of Spain[3]. He also assisted at the destruction of le Flibustier, French national brig, mounting 16 guns, a brass howitzer, and 4 swivels, bound to Santona, and having on board treasure, arms, ammunition, and salt provisions, for the relief of that garrison. She had been waiting an opportunity to steal out of St. Jean de Luz for several months, the near approach of the allies under Lord Wellington at length made it absolutely necessary, and a dark and stormy night determined her commander to risk the attempt, although closely watched by the Challenger. She was discovered under sail at day-light on the morning of the 13th Oct. 1813; and instantly pursued by Captain Vernon, in company with the Constant gun-brig and Telegraph schooner, commanded by Lieutenants John Stokes and Timothy Scriven. It being impossible for her to escape, she anchored under the protection of some batteries close to the mouth of the Adour, and after sustaining a cannonade of some duration was set on fire by her crew, who suddenly quitted her, and speedily gained the shore. This little affair was witnessed by some thousands of the French and British armies.

Captain Vernon was with Rear-Admiral (now Sir Charles V.) Penrose, when that officer forced the passage of the Gironde, Mar. 27, 1814[4]. He obtained post rank June 7 following; and has since commanded the Blossom 24, and Doris frigate, on the South American station.

Agents.– Messrs. Cooke, Halford, and Son.