Royal Naval Biography/Watkins, Frederick

[Superannuated Rear-Admiral.]

Soon after the commencement of the French revolutionary war, in 1793, we find this officer serving as first Lieutenant of the Blanche frigate, commanded by the late Captain Faulknor, and employed on the Leeward Islands station.

On the 4th Jan. 1795, that heroic Commander, being on a cruise off Point-à-Pêtre, at 7 A.M., observed a large republican frigate coming out of the harbour, with a schooner in company. Captain Faulknor immediately stood towards the enemy, and continued to do so until nearly within gun-shot of Fort Fleur d’Epée, the scene of his former glory[1], when he tacked, hove to, and filled occasionally. Finding the French frigate disinclined to venture out from under the batteries, he made sail to examine a schooner which was coming down along shore; she proved to be an American from Bourdeaux, and appearing suspicious, was detained and taken in tow, the Blanche proceeding under easy sail, first towards Mariegalante, and afterwards stretching over for Dominica. At 8h 30' P.M., the French frigate was seen about two leagues astern; upon which the schooner was cast off, and the Blanche made sail to meet the enemy. At half past twelve o’clock, after some manoeuvring and an exchange of broadsides, when passing on opposite tacks, a most bloody and desperate action was commenced within pistol-shot; and at one A.M., Captain Faulknor ran the Blanche across the enemy’s bows, and lashed the bowsprit of the latter to the capstern of his own ship. A brisk fire was now kept up from such guns as could be brought to bear, and musketry, which the enemy returned from his quarterdeck guns, run in a-midships and pointed fore and aft, also from small arms in his tops and elsewhere. At this period the main and mizen-masts of the Blanche were shot away; and the French made an attempt to board her, but were repulsed with great loss. At a quarter past two, his antagonist having dropped astern, Captain Faulknor ordered another hawser to be got up, with which he lashed the French frigate to his quarter, and whilst in the act of doing so, was shot through the heart by a musket-ball. On his death, the command naturally devolved on Lieutenant Watkins, who continued the action in a manner that did him immortal honor.

The Blanche, having only her fore-mast standing, now paid off before the wind; towing, and plying with incessant and well-directed vollies of musketry, her equally determined opponent. None of the great guns could be brought to bear, until a part of the stern-frame was blown out; when the enemy’s ship was so effectually raked, that all her masts were soon shot away. Still did the brave Frenchmen persevere in their resistance; and it was not until a quarter past five, that they hailed to announce their surrender.

It was not yet day-light; neither of the ships were able to put a boat in the water. Under these difficulties, nothing remained but to get on board the prize, by means of the hawser; this was successfully performed by Lieutenant (now Sir David) Milne and 10 seamen, whose weight bringing the bight of the rope into the water, obliged them to swim part of the distance, when they gained her deck, and found her to be la Pique of 40 guns, besides several brass swivels on her gunwale, and 360 men, of whom 67 were killed, 110 wounded, and about 9 supposed to have been drowned by falling into the sea when attempting to board the Blanche; whose loss, considering the length and violence of the conflict, was but small. It consisted of 8 killed and 21 wounded[2]. The fall of her commander was, however, deplored by every friend to the service; his courage and determined bravery had been often tried, and always with success; indeed the English cause in the West Indies, at that period, could hardly have received a deeper wound than it did by his death.

The gallantry of this action was long the theme of praise. An Interlude, called “The Death of Captain Faulknor” was performed at Covent Garden Theatre; and a monument to his memory, with a suitable inscription, was erected in St. Paul’s Cathedral, by a vote of the House of Commons.

As a reward for his distinguished bravery in the above glorious affair, Lieutenant Watkins was promoted to the rank of Post-Captain, by commission dated April 26, 1795; and appointed to the command of the Resource, of 28 guns, in which ship he continued about two years, on the Leeward Islands and Jamaica stations, and cruised with very considerable success against the enemy. On the 10th Dec. 1796, in company with the Mermaid frigate, he captured the General Leveau, French corvette of 16 guns, near St. Domingo.

In the spring of 1799, our officer commissioned the Nereìde of 36 guns; and on the 2d March, in the following year, captured la Vengeance privateer, of 16 guns and 174 men, in the Bay of Biscay; the next day he re-captured an American ship, with a cargo of coffee, sugar, and tobacco, valued at 30,000l. The Nereìde was afterwards ordered to the West Indies.

On the 11th Sept. 1800, Captain Watkins being on a cruise off Curaçoa, had the good fortune to acquire information that 1500 French troops from Guadaloupe had made good their landing a short time before, and were at that very moment in actual contest with the Dutch inhabitants, who claimed the protection of his Britannic Majesty. With the most prompt decision, he pushed for the harbour, landed his men and some cannon, occupied the forts, and thereby induced the French to evacuate the island on the 22d. In the mean time, the Governor entered into a capitulation, by which Curaçoa and its dependencies, together with the vessels in the harbour, in all forty-four sail, and such property as was on board of them on the 10th, were surrendered to the Nereìde.

Captain Watkins returned to England, in Feb. 1801; and from that period we lose sight of him until the beginning of 1808, when he was appointed to the Majestic of 74 guns; from the command of which ship he was afterwards dismissed by the sentence of a court-martial, for a breach of naval discipline towards the late Admiral Wells. He was superannuated, with the rank of Rear-Admiral, June 11, 1814.

In 1809, our officer published a work entitled, “The Young Naval Hero; or Hints to Parents and Guardians, on educating and preparing Young Gentlemen for his Majesty’s Navy,” 8vo.

Agents.– Messrs. Maude.

  1. In our first volume, at pp. 711 and 840, will he found an account of the storming of Fort Fleur d’Epée, by a gallant band, headed by Captain Faulknor, on the 12th April, 1794.
  2. The Blanche mounted 38 carriage guns, and had on board at the commencement of the battle only 198 men; 14 of her crew being absent in prizes. With respect to size, she was 196 tons less than her opponent.