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Royal Naval Biography/Walker, James


Rear-Admiral of the Blue; a Companion of the most honorable Military Order of the Bath; and a Knight Commander of the Portuguese Order of the Tower and Sword.

This officer is descended, on his father’s side, from the old family of the Walkers of St. Fort, in Fifeshire, N.B.; and on that of his mother, from the noble and ancient family of Leslie, being the grandson of Alexander, fifth Earl of Leven and Melville. His entry into the naval service appears to have been about 1776, as a Midshipman, on board the Southampton frigate, in which ship he served during a period of five years, principally on the Jamaica station, and in the grand fleet under Sir Charles Hardy. While in the West Indies, he was frequently employed in her boats attacking and cutting out vessels from under the enemy’s batteries.

In Aug. 1780, the Southampton captured a French privateer, of 18 guns and 80 men. Mr. Walker was sent to assist. in removing the prisoners; but before that service could be completely effected she suddenly sunk, and he remained a considerable time in the water before he could be rescued from his perilous situation. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant on the 18th June, in the following year.

Lieutenant Walker’s first appointment was to the Princess Royal, a second rate; but as that ship was ordered to England, he exchanged into the Torbay, of 74 guns, then about to proceed to North America. He served in that ship, under Sir Samuel Hood, during the splendid operations at St. Christopher’s[1], and in the memorable engagement between Sir George B. Rodney and the Count de Grasse, April 12, 1782[2]; on which latter occasion she had 10 men killed and 25 wounded.

In the month of October following, the Torbay being on a cruise off Hispaniola, in company with the London 98, and Badger sloop, fell in with, and after a most arduous chase, brought le Scipion, a French 74, to close action, which was maintained with very great bravery and skill by the French commander, Monsieur de Grimoire, who to avoid capture ran his ship on shore in Serrena Bay, where she was totally wrecked. The brunt of this action was borne by the London, whose loss amounted to 9 men killed, and 75, including the Lieutenants Burgess, Hankey, and Trigge, wounded.

After his return to England at the peace in 1783, Lieutenant Walker spent some years in France, Italy, and Germany; and in 1788, when the war broke out between Russia and Turkey, he was offered the command of a ship belonging to the former power, but could not obtain leave from his own government to accept it. He was subsequently appointed in succession to the Champion, Winchelsea, Boyne, and Niger. The latter was one of the repeating frigates to the fleet under Earl Howe, in the battle of June 1, 1794; and Mr. Walker was soon after advanced to the rank of Commander, for his conduct as first Lieutenant and signal officer on that glorious day.

In the summer of 1797, while the mutiny raged at the Nore[3], he suggested a plan for attacking the Sandwich by means of the smasher guns, invented by his relative, the late General Melville[4], and volunteered to conduct the enterprise in person. It so happened, that a plan exactly similar had been adopted by the Board of Admiralty not an hour before, and Captain Walker was immediately appointed to the command of a division of gun-boats, fitted at Woolwich for the purpose of acting against the mutineers; but before he reached Gravesend they had been induced to surrender at discretion. He was then ordered to act as Captain of the Garland frigate, and to escort the trade bound to the Baltic as far as Elsineur; on his return from that service, he removed into the Monmouth, of 64 guns, employed in the North Sea, under the orders of Admiral Duncan.

On the memorable 11th Oct. 1797, when that excellent commander attacked and defeated the Dutch fleet under the brave de Winter, the Monmouth was closely engaged for an hour and a half with the Drift and Alkmaar ships of the line, and compelled them both to surrender. The latter was taken in tow immediately after the action, and notwithstanding the heavy gale that ensued, Captain Walker did not quit her till after an anxious period of five days, when he had the satisfaction of anchoring her safely in Yarmouth Roads.

For his gallant conduct in the battle off Camperdown, our officer was immediately confirmed in the rank of Post-Captain, and the command of the Monmouth, whose loss on that glorious occasion was 5 men, including a Lieutenant, killed, and 22 wounded. He was also honored with the naval gold medal, and the thanks of Parliament.

On the 19th Dec. following, Captain Walker assisted at the ceremony of depositing the colours taken from the enemy by Lords Howe, St. Vincent, Duncan, &c, in the Cathedral of St. Paul’s[5]. He subsequently commanded in succession, the Veteran, 64; Braakel, 56; Prince George, 98; Prince, of the same force, and Isis, of 50 guns.

The Isis formed part of Lord Nelson’s division in the sanguinary battle off Copenhagen, April 2, 1801[6], and was most warmly engaged for four hours and a half with two of the enemy’s heaviest block-ships, moored about two cables’ length from each other, and a battery of 14 guns and 2 howitzers in the interval between them, at the distance of about three cables’ length. The loss she sustained, considering the smallness of her crew, was immense. It amounted to no less than 9 officers and 103 men killed and wounded.

In the ensuing summer, Captain Walker obtained the command of the Tartar frigate, and was ordered to convoy a fleet of merchantmen to the Jamaica station, where he received a commission from the Admiralty, appointing him to the Vanguard, 74. On the renewal of hostilities in 1803, we find him employed in the blockade of St. Domingo. While on that service, in company with a squadron, under the orders of Captain Loring, he captured the Creole frigate, of 44 guns, having on board the French General Morgan and 530 troops, bound to Port-au-Prince; and the Duquesne, 74, bearing the broad pendant of Commodore Kerrangel. The latter vessel had slipped out of Cape François during a heavy squall; but the weather soon moderating, she was immediately discovered and pursued by the squadron. The chase continued about twenty hours, and the enemy was at length overtaken by Captain Walker, who, after a running fight of an hour and a half, ran the Vanguard alongside his opponeut, and compelled her to surrender.

After escorting his prize, and a French schooner of 16 guns and 60 men, which had been taken by the squadron near Port-au-Paix, to Jamaica, Captain Walker returned to his station off St. Domingo, and on the 1st Oct. summoned the town of St. Marc to surrender. On the following day General d’Henin, the Governor, sent off an officer to treat with him, and a convention was accordingly entered into, by which the French garrison, the Papillon corvette, a transport brig, and a schooner laden with ammunition, were surrendered to the Vanguard.

The situation of the French troops was the most deplorable it is possible to imagine; they were literally reduced to skeletons, having long subsisted on horse-flesh. To screen them from the threatened vengeance of the black General, Dessalines, Captain Walker received them on board his ship, and landed them in safety at Cape Nichola Mole; but as they were in all 1100 men, and remained in the Vanguard, her prizes and boats, for eight days, this act of humanity proved in the sequel of great prejudice to our officer in a pecuniary point of view, as he was thereby compelled to return to port for provisions at the very moment Cape François was about to surrender. However, during the fourteen weeks which he remained off that place, he had the satisfaction of considerably hastening so desirable an event, not only by his exertions in maintaining a most vigorous blockade, but by keeping up a constant correspondence with the black chiefs, and informing them of every occurrence at the Cape. And here it may be proper to observe, that while at St. Marc’s Captain Walker was so forcibly struck with the representations of General Dessalines, that one of his chiefs had deserted from him witli a body of 2000 men, and taken possession of the plain near Cape François, by which he was enabled to furnish the European French in the city with ground provisions and fruit, hereby materially adding to their resources and enabling them to protract their surrender, that he did not hesitate to take upon himself the responsibility of supplying him with powder, the total want of which, Dessalines assured him, had alone prevented his attacking them. In consequence of this supply, General Christophe (the late Emperor of Hayti), then second in command of the Blacks, took the field, routed the deserters, and hanged their leaders. It is beyond all doubt, that this event accelerated the surrender of General Rochambeau, at least six weeks or two months.

Captain Walker’s next appointment was to the Duquesne, in which ship he returned to England from Jamaica with only 160 men, although nearly that number of French officers and soldiers were embarked on board her; a circumstance which naturally caused him great anxiety, and rendered the utmost vigilance necessary during the passage. The Duquesne being in want of extensive repairs, was paid off soon after her arrival.

Our officer was subsequently appointed to the Thalia frigate, and sent to the East Indies. We next find him commanding the Bedford, 74, one of the squadron sent by Sir W. Sidney Smith to escort the royal family of Portugal from Lisbon to Rio Janeiro[7]. Previous to his return from thence, the Prince Regent signified his intention of conferring upon him the Order of St. Bento d’Avis; but some objections having been started by his spiritual advisers, on account of Captain Walker’s religion, H.R.H. determined to revive the military Order of the Tower and Sword[8], of which he created him a Knight Commander, in consideration of his unremitted attention to the Portuguese fleet during a long and tempestuous voyage. The Bedford was afterwards employed in the blockade of Flushing, and various other services, till the month of Sept. 1814, when Captain Walker received orders to assume the command of a squadron, on board of which was embarked the advanced guard of the army sent against New Orleans, under Major-General Keane.

The naval and military forces employed in this disastrous expedition, arrived off Chandeleur islands on the 8th Dec, and the debarkation of the troops commenced on the 16th. From that period until the termination of the campaign, Captain Walker’s situation was one of the most anxious and painful description. During the absence of Sir Alexander Cochrane, and the Rear-Admirals Malcolm and Codrington, who were with the army during the whole of the operations on shore, he was left in charge of the line-of-battle ships, which, on account of the shallow water, could not approach within 100 miles of the scene of action; and the Bedford, after the failure of the enterprise, was literally crowded with wounded soldiers for a very considerable period. We should here observe, that most of her officers, and 150 of her best men, were landed to co-operate with the troops in the attack upon New Orleans.

In the summer of 1814, our officer was selected to accompany H.R.H. the Duke of Clarence to Boulogne, for the purpose of bringing over the Emperor of Russia and King of Prussia. Since the peace, he has commanded the Albion, Queen, and Northumberland, third rates. The latter he paid off on the 10th Sept. 1818, and thus closed a continued service of twenty-one years as a Post-Captain. He was nominated a Companion of the Bath, at the extension of that honorable Order in 1815; and advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral July 19, 1821, the promotion of that memorable day ending with him.

Rear-Admiral Walker has been twice married. His first wife was a daughter of the late Right Hon. General Sir John Irvine, K.B. His present lady is a daughter of Arnoldus Jones Skelton, of Branthwaite Hall, Cumberland, Esq. (who for many years, and at the time of his death, was M.P. for Eye in Suffolk) and a first cousin of the Marquis Cornwallis. His eldest son, Melville, is an officer of dragoons; his second, Frederick, a Lieutenant R.N.; and his third, Thomas, a Midshipman in the navy.

Residence.– Hastings.

  1. See Retired Captain J. N. Inglefield, in our next volume.
  2. See note at p. 35, et seq.
  3. See p. 160, et seq.
  4. An interesting memoir of General Melville will be found in a Work entitled Public Characters, vol. i, p. 149, et seq.
  5. See p. 62.
  6. See note *, at p 365, et seq.
  7. See pp. 320 and 537.
  8. The Order of St. Bento d’Avis is partly military, partly monastic.