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Royal Naval Biography/Wallis, James


JAMES WALLIS, Esq.
[Post-Captain of 1817.]

We first find this officer serving as senior lieutenant of the Vincejo brig. Captain John Wesley Wright, when that vessel was sent to cruise between the Loire and l’Orient, for the purpose of carrying on the communications between this country and the French royalists, which led to the mysterious death of her gallant commander in the tower of the Temple at Paris.

The Vincejo was a deep-waisted brig, formerly Spanish, pierced for 28 guns, mounting only 18-pounder carronades on the main-deck, with an established complement of 96 officers, men, and boys. The flotilla by which she was attacked and captured at the entrance of the Morbihan, May 8, 1804, consisted of six brigs and eleven luggers, each of the former mounting one long 24 and two 18-pounders, the latter armed with twelve long guns of the same calibre, and five 33-pounder carronades throwing shells. The following is an extract of Captain Wright’s official account of the action:–

“By half-past 8 a.m., the enemy had advanced within extreme range, and opened their fire: they continued rapidly gaining upon us until about half-past 9, when they were so near that I was compelled to sweep her broadside to, and engage under the greatest disadvantages the Vincejo could possibly be exposed to; – a perfect calm; a strong flood tide then made against her; the people fatigued by hard labour at the sweeps, and divided, during the action, between the larboard guns and the starboard oars.

“This unequal contest was maintained with great animation and with frequent cheers, by my weak but gallant ship’s company, for nearly two hours, within grape and hailing distance; the hull, masts, yards, and rigging, had at length received great damage; three guns were disabled; the fire was slackened, notwithstanding every effort to revive it, to one gun in about five minutes, by the booms falling upon the main deck, and the flower of my men being killed or wounded.

“In this painful situation, without a chance of escape, or hope of succour, closely pressed in a dead calm by seventeen vessels advancing to board with numerous troops; with a crew reduced to fifty efficient officers and seamen. Including seventeen boys, I might still perhaps have opposed a momentary, though vain resistance, to such superior force; but I felt it a duty I owed my country, to surrender in time, to preserve the lives of my brave men for some better occasion.

“Of the conduct of my officers and ship’s company in general, their Lordships will form an adequate opinion, from the superiority of the enemy, compared with the length of the action; the retrospect of which affords me consolation in misfortune, as it presents little to blame, and much to commend and admire; but it is a pleasing duty of mine to particularize the active intrepidity and intelligent bravery of Lieutenants Wallis and Hall.”

After a captivity of nine years. Lieutenant Wallis at length effected his escape from Verdun, and reached England in Sept. 1813. He obtained the rank of commander on the 3rd Nov. in the same year, and was appointed to the Pincher brig on the 6th of the following month. His subsequent appointments were, Aug. 26, 1815, to the Podargus of 14 guns; and Nov. 26, 1817, as post-captain, to the Racoon 26, stationed at the Cape of Good Hope.

Agent.– J. Woodhead, Esq.