Royal Naval Biography/Watts, George Edward
GEORGE EDWARD WATTS, Esq.
[Post-Captain of 1814.]
This officer was born in Scotland, and is descended from a respectable family of that name, settled in Northamptonshire previous to the year 1615, that being the date of the registry of arms in the Herald’s Office, of James Watts, Esq. a direct descendant, who held the rank of captain in the royal navy, by commission dated July 11, 1686, and commanded a line-of-battle ship about the same period.
Captain James Watts was paternal uncle to the celebrated Dr. Isaac Watts, and this officer’s lineal progenitor. His grandson accompanied the royal army under the Duke of Cumberland into Scotland, as a captain of infantry, fought at the battle of Culloden, and, at the end of the civil contest, in 1746, having succeeded to a handsome patrimony, married and settled in Selkirkshire. He had four sons, all of whom died childless, except John, who married Miss Agnes Skene – collaterally related to the very ancient family of the Skenes, of Skene, in Aberdeenshire. Although educated for the church, his desire was to enter the army; to which his father was so vehemently opposed, that he not only refused him present assistance, but threatened, in the event of disobedience, to disinherit him. In the mean time, his father, who had long been deeply engaged in mining speculations with the Earl of Dundonald and others, died; and when his affairs were investigated, his son, who had been born to, and educated in, the expectation of a handsome competence, found himself comparatively pennyless, and left to make his way in the world by his own unassisted exertion. He, however, followed the original bent of his inclination, and entered the army. At the commencement of the French revolutionary war, his regiment was ordered to the West Indies, and formed part of the grenadier brigade, under the command of the late Duke of Kent, at the reduction of Martinique, in 1794. His professional zeal was of the first order, and bore all the distinctive marks of gallantry and enthusiasm – properties which, coupled with his soldier-like deportment, could not fail to obtain the approbation and secure the esteem of his royal highness. At the storming of Fort Bourbon, he was mortally wounded; but his royal friend soothed his dying moments, with the consoling assurance, that he would bestow his future patronage on his only son (the subject of this memoir); and a promise once given by that admirable man, it is well known, was never violated.
Mr. George Edward Watts accordingly entered the navy as a midshipman, in 1797, under the auspices of Prince Edward; and served the greater part of his time in the Driver sloop, Prevoyante frigate. Assistance, of 60 guns, and Waakzaamheid 26, on the West India, Halifax, and North Sea stations. The latter ship being paid off at the peace of Amiens, his royal patron applied to Earl St. Vincent for his appointment to another; and the noble lord replied with elegant brevity – “I will obey your royal highness’s commands touching Mr. Watts, happy on all occasions to give proof of the high respect with which I have the honor to be,” &c.
Mr. Watts was immediately appointed Admiralty midshipman of the Leander, 50, fitting for the flag of Vice-Admiral Sir Andrew Mitchell, on the North American station, in which ship he was soon advanced to master’s-mate: his probationary term of service he completed as acting lieutenant, on board the Lily sloop.
In May, 1804, Mr. Watts was promoted, by Earl St. Vincent, to the rank of lieutenant, and at the same time appointed to the Vertu 40, on the Jamaica station. He afterwards served successively in the Fly brig. Elephant 74, Ardent 64, and Dauntless sloop. In 1806, we find him appointed flag-lieutenant to Sir Samuel Hood, in the Centaur 74; but being desirous to serve in an active frigate, he was, through the interest of that officer, nominated senior lieutenant of the Comus, attached to his squadron, and commanded by the gallant Conway Shipley.
In the Comus, it was Mr. Watts’ good fortune to see a variety of service. After cruising six weeks off the coast of Barbary, she proceeded to the Canary Islands, and there made several captures. The following is the substance of an official letter from Captain Shipley to Sir Samuel Hood, dated Mar. 15, 1807:
“I have the honor to report, for your information, the capture of six of the enemy’s vessels. by the boats of H.M. ship, under the direction of Lieutenants George Edward Watts, Hood Knight, and G. Campbell, R.M. They were moored in the Puerto de Haz, Grand Canaria, and defended by the cross fire of three batteries. Lieutenant Campbell was the only person wounded on the occasion. “Since your orders of the 1st instant, H.M. ship has also captured two Spanish brigs – the St. Philip, with salt fish, and Nostra Senora de los Remedios, with a mixed cargo of merchandize.”
“This service,” says Sir Samuel Hood, “appears to have been planned and executed with good judgment and energy.” After escorting her prizes to Gibraltar, the Comus had a smart rencontre in the Gut with a division of the Algeziras flotilla. On the 9th May, 1807, her captain addressed another letter on service to Sir Samuel Hood, of which the following is a copy:
“I have the honor to relate to you the particulars of a gallant exploit performed last night by the boats of H.M. ship, under the direction of Lieutenant George Edward Watts, assisted by Lieutenant Hood Knight and Mr. Jeaffreson Miles, master’s-mate, with a party of petty officers, seamen, and royal marines, in the port of Grand Canaria.
“A large armed felucca, with his Catholic Majesty’s colours flying, had been for the last three days lying under the protection of a strong fort and two batteries; and the wind yesterday evening proving favourable, she was boarded by Lieutenant Watts in the cutter, under a severe fire of musketry from between 30 and 40 soldiers, sent to assist in her defence; and he had nearly cleared her deck when the other two boats, which did not row so well, arrived, and fully accomplished the business.
“Her cables were now cut, and the boats took her in tow, the enemy having had the precaution to send her sails and rudder on shore, when a hawser, fast under water a-stern, was manned in the fort, and the vessel dragged nearly under the muzzles of the guns before it could be cut; upon which an exceeding heavy fire from all the batteries was commenced, and continued until she was out of sight.
“She proves to be the San Pedro, Spanish packet, having a cargo of bale goods, &c. from Cadiz, bound to Buenos Ayres.
“This was effected with the loss of one man killed and five wounded. Mr. Watts has several wounds, but none of them dangerous; and I feel convinced his gallant conduct, with the exertions of every officer and man employed on this service, will meet your approbation.
“Twenty-one of the enemy’s troops were made prisoners, 18 of whom are wounded; the rest, excepting a few who swam to the shore, were killed, as was her captain and some of her crew. She had captured, since her departure from Cadiz, the Lord Keith, bound from London to Mogadore. H.M. ship has taken and destroyed, since the 1st instant, the St. Francisco Spanish lugger, with wheat and salt; and La Louisa schooner, in ballast; the latter perfectly new.”
There are few instances upon record of a more remarkable escape from imminent peril than what befel Lieutenant Watts on this occasion. The enemy’s late disaster, joined to the daily appearance of the Comus off the harbour’s mouth, had excited his utmost vigilance, and the felucca, in addition to her natural means of defence, was moored with three cables a-head and a-stern, close to the fort, and still further secured, as is stated in Captain Shipley’s letter, by a hawser under water. She mounted 6 guns, and had on board at least 65 men, including about 40 select soldiers sent from the garrison to assist in defending her. The attacking force consisted of 40 officers, sailors, and marines, in three boats, two of which, on pulling into the harbour, were momentarily detached to observe some suspicious vessels, supposed to be gun-boats, and before they could be recalled, the cutter, commanded by Lieutenant Watts in person, was discovered and repeatedly hailed by the enemy. Instant attack or immediate retreat were the only alternatives. Hesitation would have been ruin. The cutter dashed onwards through a heavy fire of cannon and musketry. Lieutenant Watts’s first reception was a bayonet in the face, which forced him overboard; he, however, succeeded in scaling the vessel’s side, and made his way into the midst of the enemy, where he fought alone for a considerable time, during which he was often knocked down, his jacket was pierced in eight places with bayonets, and he received five severe and eight lesser wounds, together with numberless contusions, before he was succoured by his brave companions; when, after a short but severe conflict, the felucca was carried with a prodigious loss on the part of her defenders, all of whom, except seven, were either killed, wounded, or forced overboard. The other two boats arrived in time only to take her in tow, and had not a man hurt. For this most gallant exploit, the Patriotic Society voted Lieutenant Watts a sword, with a suitable inscription, value 50 guineas, together with a donation of 100 pounds.
On the return of the Comus to England, the different ships attached to the grand expedition against Copenhagen were proceeding to the general rendezvous, and, at this critical moment. Captain Shipley was appointed to la Nymphe frigate, under the orders of Admiral Gambier. Lieutenant Watts was to have gone with him; but before the exchange could be effected, la Nymphe sailed, and, to his great chagrin, the Comus, then commanded by Captain Edmund Heywood, was ordered to fit for Channel service. Her destination, however, was soon changed; for, when ready to sail, she was sent to Harwich, to receive on board three general officers, with their respective suites, and to take under her protection a fleet of transports, bound to the anchorage before Elsineur.
Shortly after her arrival in the Sound, the Comus was detached in pursuit of the Danish guard-ship, the latter having slipped her cables in the night of Aug. 12, 1807, and passed unperceived through the British fleet. At the same time the Defence 74, Captain Charles Ekins, was ordered to go in search of a two-decker, then on the coast of Norway.
The captain, officers, and crew of the Comus, were thus afforded “an opportunity to distinguish themselves particularly, by a very gallant action with an enemy greatly exceeding their force," The Dane was got sight of at 6 a.m. on the 14th Aug., and at 8 p.m. she was only 6 or 7 miles distant: the Defence, owing to her inferior sailing in light winds, was then about 5 leagues astern of her consort.
Just at this moment, the Comus caught a fine leading breeze off the land, and after a further run of 30 miles, and a chase of 34 hours, arrived within hail of the fugitive, who peremptorily refused to bring to, and to the menacing announcement of “This is an English frigate,” very pithily replied, “And this is a Danish frigate!” A musket-shot from the Comus was answered by a stern-chase gun, and the gallant Dane instantly bore round up to rake his assailant, but was fortunately foiled in the manoeuvre. The Comus then ranged up under his lee within half-pistol-shot, and so deadly was the effect of her first broadside, the guns being double-breeched and treble-shotted, that the enemy never recovered his equilibrium during the whole of the action, which continued with great animation on both sides about 45 minutes, when the two ships came in contact, and the boarders, headed by Lieutenants Watts and Knight, soon succeeded in carrying her. She proved to be the Frederickswoern, mounting 26 Danish long 12-pounders, 4 sixes, and 6 carronades, with a complement of 226 men, of whom 12 were killed and 20 wounded – several mortally. The Comus mounted 22 long nines and 10 carronades, with 145 officers, men, and boys, not one of whom was slain, and only 1 wounded. Admiral Gambier, in his official letter respecting this capture, says, “when the inequality of force between the two ships is considered, with the trifling injury sustained by the Comus, it will appear unnecessary for me to make any comment on the bravery and skill which must have been displayed by Captain Heywood, his officers, and crew.”
The Frederickswoern was taken off Marstrand, on the Swedish coast, and conducted to Copenhagen by Lieutenant Watts, whose promotion to the rank of commander took place on the 17th of the following month. Previous to his return home, he assisted at the capture of several vessels, and was more than once engaged with the enemy, on the coast of Norway.
The Duke of Kent, with that steady friendship for which he was so eminently distinguished, on reading the oflRcial report of the above action, wrote, unsolicited, to the First Lord of the Admiralty, in behalf of his protégé, and received the following answer:–
“Lord Mulgrave has the honor to assure your Royal Highness, that the promotion of Lieutenant Watts had been determined on by him, on the score of his gallant conduct at the capture of the Frederickswoern, previous to the receipt of your Royal Highness’s letter.”
This document H.R.H. most kindly forwarded to Captain Watts; and after complimenting him on the attainment of his rank by his own exertions, graciously added, “All the obligations you profess yourself to lie under, are done away by your excellent conduct upon all occasions, and as I have no doubt you will continue the same through life, you may ever rely upon a continuance of my friendship and protection.”
Sir Samuel Hood also addressed a very friendly letter to Captain Watts, of which the following is a copy:–
“Centaur, Downs, 11th Nov. 1807.
“My dear Sir,– In announcing to me your promotion, I assure you it has afforded me particular satisfaction, and I do most sincerely congratulate you thereon.
“The handsome manner in which your commanders have at all times spoken of you, has been very gratifying to me, and I hope I may, at some future period, be able further to demonstrate my wishes to serve you, which you have at present deprived me the happiness of doing, by your own meritorious conduct. I am, my dear Sir, with great truth, your’s most truly,
In 1808, Captain Watts was appointed to the command of the Ephira brig, on the North Sea station; and in the spring of the following year, we find him, with a small squadron of gun-vessels under his orders, stationed in the river Elbe, where he made many captures, and greatly harassed the enemy’s convoys from Hamburgh, Gluckstadt, and Altona, to Tonningen and Kiel. In July, 1809, he assisted in expelling the French from the towns of Cuxhaven and Ritzbuttle, as will be seen by reference to p. 38 of Suppl. Part II.
This was the prelude to a more important and equally successful enterprise by the seamen and marines of the squadron under Lord George Stuart, which led to the expulsion of the French from Gessendorf, and the destruction of an important battery commanding the mouth of the Weser. The principal part of his lordship’s official letter on that occasion is inserted at p. 870 of Vol. II. Part II. After giving all due credit to the senior commanders present, for their “zeal, ability, punctuality, &c.” he says:–
“But I beg leave particularly to mention Captain Watts, of the Ephira, who in the most gallant and active manner advanced intrepidly in front of the attacking party, amid the enemy’s galling fire, and rendered himself equally conspicuous afterwards, by his unremitting exertion in the complete demolition of the battery; in the execution of which service, I am concerned to say, he received a wound in the leg, but which from its nature will in no shape incapacitate him for future service.”
The following interesting narrative of the circumstances which led to the attack of the French troops in Hanover is contained in a letter from Captain Watts to one of his private correspondents.
“Captain Goate, assisted by myself, as already stated, having expelled the French force from Cuxhaven and Ritzbuttle, was superseded shortly after in the command of the squadron by Lord George Stuart, and we have, under his lordship’s auspices, just performed an exploit, with that promptitude and decision which exalt English sailors in the estimation of the world, and which will, if I mistake not, form one of the adornments of our naval annals. The circumstances which preceded and finally led to this enterprise, as respects both Lord George Stuart and myself, are in themselves so interesting and peculiar, and it may be added ludicrous, that I cannot forego the gratification of fully detailing them.
“Gallantry in ‘love and war,’ in ‘ladies bower and tented field’, are with the warrior one and indivisible. So sang the immortal troubadours, those chroniclers of the ‘deeds of days of other years.’ We had obtained the ascendancy over our rivals in the one, and it therefore became incumbent on us to equal or surpass them in the other. Amongst the number of those whose smiles proved magnetic, were the pretty Miss S ___, and her companion Miss N ___. Lord George and myself had just paid them a morning visit. The window of their drawing room overlooked the main street of Ritzbuttle, and while diligently employed in playing the agreeable, I by chance looked out, and was surprised by the sudden appearance of two mounted dragoons, with drawn sabres, dashing down the street, closely followed by others. Accosting Lord George, who was busily engaged in conversation with Miss S ___, I asked ‘where have those German dragoons come from?’ He did not notice the question, and I repeated it. He then turned to look, and his eye glancing on the lengthening column, the truth flashed on his mind. He sprang on his feet, vehemently exclaiming ‘we are surprised, the French are in the town, and we are all taken.’ More appalling words never saluted my ears; nor was a delightful tête-a-tête ever more abruptly, or disagreeably interrupted. We sought instant safety in flight: he one way, I another. My route lay through the garden, terminated by a palisade, which I mounted, and then leaped on what I took to be dry ground, but which proved to be a stagnant ditch, the water of which, evaporated by the summer heat, had left a residuum, which for consistence and odour might be likened to the most unutterable of abominations. I was absolutely so ‘enfoncé’ as to be in danger of suffocation; but by dint of immense exertion I at length succeeded, by the aid of the luxuriant corn which grew on the banks, in extricating myself from this vilest of durances, and creeping forward, I lay down in the midst of the field, listening to the clattering of the horses’ hoofs, as they rang on the pavement; to the shouts of the assailants; and the scattered fire of their carbines and pistols, discharged in exchange for the fire of our out-posts. To describe the train of disagreeable thought, nay of miserable feeling, which occupied my mind at this moment, is quite impossible. A more rapid moral transition from pleasure to pain, from happiness to misery, cannot be imagined. Instead of my day-dreams of victory, of glory, and promotion, Verdun, or Valenciennes, with its dungeon, and a lengthened imprisonment, appeared in withering and close perspective. Between me and my brig, whose flag I saw gallantly waving over the waters of the Elbe, at the distance of 2000 yards, was interposed, for aught that I knew, an entire French corps d’armée. It was indeed a blighting sight, and in the bitterness of the moment, I was not only tempted to curse my own folly, but to anathematize all womankind, who had thus seduced me from my own element, and my own quarter-deck, on which I ought to have been standing, free and independent. In the midst of this bitter reverie, the noise subsided, and the firing ceased. I ventured to look around me. All appeared tranquil. I became somewhat re-assured, and seeing two men in an adjoining field, I ventured to approach them. They gave me a plank to cross a stream. I asked by signs, and in English turned topsy-turvy (which makes no bad German), what road the enemy had taken? They motioned, that they had retreated, and demanded money from me at the same instant. Impressed by the belief, that if we were really masters of the place, the men would not have had the hardihood to do this, I instantly made off, intending to skirt the town and gain the landing place. In passing, I heard sounds which I thought familiar. I approached one of the lanes which traverse the main street, and there beheld! conceive the emotion, if you can, with which I beheld! our own dear, delightful, eccentric, and gallant Jacks, armed with pike, cutlass, and pistol, going it through the town, with all the celerity and animation of a fox-chase, in full cry, – ‘Forward my boys!’ – ‘Have at the French rascals!’ – ‘D__n their eyes, we’ll work them for this!’ ‘And so we will, my brave lads,’ I cried exultingly, bursting into the midst of them, and joining heart and soul in the enlivening chorus. My transport, on this unexpected deliverance, was only inferior to that of the reprieved criminal with the halter round his neck, and forcibly assured me, how true it is, that perfectly to enjoy, we must first suffer. To account for this sudden transformation in the state of my affairs, few words will suffice. Intelligence of the enemy’s entrance had quickly reached the squadron, together with the news that Lord George Stuart and Captain Watts were taken prisoners. All the boats were instantly manned and armed, and a force of 300 seamen and marines landed for their rescue, whom Lord George, had the pleasure of meeting at the landing place. His lordship, in his first flight, was accompanied up stairs by the pretty Miss S ___, who first suggested an asylum up the chimney, then under her bed, and finally, in her bed. King Charles the second, of amorous memory, often declared, that when in the midst of the oak, he “would not have kissed the bonniest lass in a’ Christendom;’ and so, in like manner, had Miss S ___, all lovely as she was, offered to be his lordship’s bed companion, at this critical moment, I verily believe he would have equally declined the overture. He made a better election; for happening to observe a burgher’s dress in one of the rooms, he put it on, sallied forth at the back-door, and reached the landing place, just in time to put himself at the head of his men, whom he was leading in pursuit when I joined, and cordially shook him by the hand. It would be difficult to say, whether his joy at our escape, or his merriment at my appearance, was the greatest. An hour before I had been the meet inmate of a lady’s boudoir; and now, covered from head to foot with filth and mire, I was untouchable, nay almost unapproachable, by any human being. Even Jack himself, with all his deference for his commander, was constrained to chuckle at the grotesqueness of my appearance. Heartily did I join in the laugh, merrily observing, that my condition was a fine illustration of the truism, that, ‘from the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step!’ – ‘But,’ what say you, my lord, I added, ‘to our giving a practical commentary upon it to those fellows?’ – pointing to the enemy’s cavalry, about 60 in number, whom we saw drawn up on an eminence a few miles off. The proposition was hardly uttered, when it was assented to; Lord George observing, ‘I was just about to ask your opinion upon that point.’ A halt was made, provisions were sent for, and then off we started in pursuit, determined, if possible, to serve out to our opponents a double portion of their own measure; and pretty well we executed our mission. * * * * * At daylight, we all but caught every rogue of them napping: twenty minutes sooner, and the entire body, of both cavalry and infantry, would have been surprised in their cantonments: as it was, we sent them scampering, like the herd of swine filled with devils, in treble quick time. It was my lucky lot to bear the most prominent part in the affair. With my own hands, I struck the flag in the battery, after giving them a most glorious peppering in our advance, and subsequently by unspiking their guns, and bringing them to bear upon them in their retreat. We captured Mons. Le Murche, the leader of the detachment, and his gallant charger; and, in 28 hours from the commencement of these detailed events, I was, in spite of a severe wound, gaily and triumphantly prancing on that very pavement, and on that identical horse, which with its rider, now my prisoner, had placed me in such jeopardy, and, filled me with such consternation.” * * * * *
In another letter to his friend, Captain Watts says – “It may with truth be asserted, that a more fortunate measure than our attack upon the enemy at Gessendorf, was never decided on. We have just assisted in rescuing the gallant Duke of Brunswick, with his corps of about 1800 men, from the most perilous condition. Excluded by Buonaparte from the terms of his late treaty with Austria, with which he had been acting as a partisan, be determined, rather than tamely submit to the despot, to attempt his retreat from the very heart of Germany, surrounded by enemies. In pursuance of this determination, he was forced to fight a battle every day, in one of which he captured 1200 prisoners: he stormed two towns which barred his progress; laid Leipsic itself under contribution; and finally arrived, closely pursued, on the banks of the Weser, four days after our defeat and dispersion of the enemy. By the flight of their armed vessels, and the destruction of their battery, the river, upon which he embarked his men in small coasters, was left open, and he, by these means, made his way down to us, without further hindrance or molestation.”
We have only room for one more extract of this highly interesting correspondence.
* * * * * “When I got on board the Mosquito, I was told by Captain Goate, that the Duke had just arrived, and that he would introduce me to him, adding, ‘see, here he comes!’ ‘What?’ I asked, in unfeigned astonishment, ‘can that be the Duke of Brunswijk ?’ looking at a slight advancing figure, about five feet five inches high, with a sun-burnt countenance, and light moustaches. He had a small foraging cap on his head, which, on my being introduced to him, he most courteously doffed. He was without his black jacket (the costume of his corps), his waistcoat thrown open, shirt-collar loose, throat bare, and wrists unbuttoned ; presenting altogether a figure so unheroic, that I took him for one of the humblest of his followers. Having conversed in French with him for a short time, he expressed a wish to repose himself. Captain Goate naturally offered to escort him to his cabin; but this he declined. Simply asking for a flag, in which he enveloped himself, and laid down on the deck, between two guns, with his cap for a pillow upon one of the quoins.
“Perhaps no individual since the days of Swedish Charles, ever endeared himself so greatly by his simplicity of manner, and rigid self-denial, as this gallant and persevering Prince. Practising every abstinence, exposing himself to every hardship, braving every danger, and participating in every triumph, he is idolized by his followers, all of whom speak of him with rapture and enthusiasm.”
We next find Captain Watts commanding the Woodlark brig, of 10 guns, in the Baltic; on which station he was employed four successive years; and, although no opportunity offered of sufficient importance in itself, singly to effect his promotion, yet it may safely be asserted, that of the many vessels composing the fleet under Sir James Saumarez, none was more marked for activity and success than his. With a crew of only 76 men and boys, he had no less than 13 prize-masters away at one time; and he himself, in addition to all calls, was at watch and watch for nearly four months. In May, 1810, he captured a Danish brig under the batteries at Fladstrand; and on the 27th of the same month, he pursued a cutter privateer through a navigation of such extreme intricacy, that his pilots abandoned their charge. Having repeatedly chased the same vessel, he determined, if possible, to end her career. Guided by an old chart taken out of a prize, and with look-out men at the mast-heads, he persevered till she ran on shore under the protection of a battery and several field-pieces on the island of Lassoe, from whence the enemy were soon driven by the Woodlark’s fire. The boats were then despatched under the direction of the first lieutenant, Mr. Thomas Crawford, who was instructed, if he found the cutter scuttled, which proved to be the case, to turn her own guns and blow her stem and stern-post out. This service was effectually executed, and all her sails, stores, rigging, &c. were brought away. An arduous task, however, remained to be performed. The Woodlark, in running in to cover her boats, struck upon a shoal; and to lighten, warp, and force her back again, was the work of 5 or 6 hours; but fortunately, the whole service was accomplished without any loss, or the slightest damage. The privateer proved to be the Swan, mounting six 24-pounders, with a complement of 35 men.
In June, 1810, having been despatched to reconnoitre the island of Bornholm, Captain Watts discovered a ship in the port of Ronne, which he learnt from a neutral vessel just out, had been condemned as prize to a Danish privateer. He instantly resolved to attempt her recapture, and placed the boats under the command of Lieutenant Crawford for that purpose. The attack was unavoidably delayed till the following morning at daybreak, notwithstanding which it fully succeeded. The ship was boarded, cut adrift, and towed out amid a heavy and incessant fire from the batteries and two privateers, the latter of which were beaten back with the loss of 15 men killed and wounded. She proved to be the Success, a new ship, laden with wheat and linen.
An instance of the celerity of British sailors was evinced on this occasion. At 8 o’clock, the prize had only her lower masts standing; before 12, she was fully rigged, with all sail set, and in tow of the Woodlark.
Many other instances of successful enterprise on the part of Captain Watts might be quoted; but the above will suffice to show the nature of the services he performed in the Woodlark, and afford the presumption, that if an arena for more brilliant exploits had been open to him, he would have secured the transference of his name from the commanders’ to the post-captains’ list earlier than he did; but the Baltic station, although it entailed hard duty, afforded no chance of preferment; a proof of which is supplied by the fact, that not a single promotion of the above nature took place /or service while he remained there.
During those intervals when the Woodlark was not cruising, Captain Watts was often employed in that most irksome of services, – escorting convoys through the circuitous navigation of the Great Belt. Even here his activity did not forsake him. The passage is not, upon an average, more than 5 or 6 miles across, and it consequently afforded vast facilities to the Danish privateers for annoying the different convoys. On one occasion, anticipating an attack, he resolved, as an experiment, to keep the Woodlark under sail all night, and was repaid for his vigilance by capturing a lugger, which he discovered at midnight in the rear of the convoy, carrying one of them oft. The success attending this first attempt to keep an armed vessel under sail all night, for the better protection of the trade, was productive of great additional labour to him, as he generally afterwards had this duty imposed on him, by the senior officer; the exertion and fatigue attendant on which, few knew of or cared about. Some notion of what it occasionally amounted to may be entertained when we state, that for many weeks in succession he never had his clothes off, being on deck all night, and continually on the alert. While thus arduously and laboriously employed, he succeeded in capturing five or six vessels, calculated to do much mischief to the Baltic trade.
In 1812, the Woodlark was ordered by Captain Raper, of the Mars 74, to lead in to the attack of a flotilla, stationed to guard the entrance of the Malmo Channel. The Mars, in following, struck on a shoal, in a position favorable for an attack by the Danish gun-boats. In order to attract their attention from her, Captain Watts, although under every disadvantage, brought them to action, and did not leave off until the British ship was again afloat, with the signal of recall flying. The Woodlark on this occasion sustained a loss of 13 killed and wounded. In the autumn of the same year, the Duke of Kent again exerted himself in favor of Captain Watts, as will be seen by the following copy of a letter from the late Sir George Hope, addressed to H.R.H.
“Admiralty, Aug. 7, 1812.
“Sir,– I have had the honor of receiving your Royal Highness’s letter of yesterday; and, independent of my duty in paying attention to your wishes respecting Captain Watts, I can with truth assure your Royal Highness, that his merits as an officer, with which I am well acquainted, are sufficient to insure my interest in his favor, whenever an opportunity offers of mentioning him to Lord Melville for promotion. I have the honor to be, your Royal Highness’s most dutiful and obedient servant,
The writer of the above letter had been several years first captain of the Baltic fleet, and was then a Lord of the Admiralty. In Nov. 1812, he arrived at Gottenburgh, to escort the Russian fleet to England, and spontaneously offered to make Viscount Melville acquainted with Captain Watts’s claims for promotion, giving him at the same time a letter to that nobleman, with directions to forward it on his arrival in England. His lordship, in reply, assured him, “that as soon as his arrangements would permit, he would attend to his wishes,” and added, “It will give me much pleasure to be of service to an officer of whom Rear-Admiral Hope thinks so highly.” His nomination to the Jaseur of 16 guns, the first to be commissioned of seventeen brigs then building, and his appointment to the Halifax station, were the immediate results of this recommendation. His commission for the Jaseur bears date April 5, 1813. In Sept. following, his royal patron addressed the following letter to Sir John B. Warren, commander-in-chief on the coast of America, &c.
“Kensington Palace, Sept. 10, 1813.
“Dear Sir John,– I trust you will allow me the pleasure of introducing to your notice and protection the bearer of this, Captain Watts, of the Jaseur; and, in doing it, I feet proud to say, that he is an officer who has been brought into the service under my auspices, for his character and conduct in his profession, have proved him beyond a doubt to be both an intelligent and gallant member of it. His ambition is, to be placed in such situations as may best afford him the opportunity of distinguishing himself. This favor, therefore, I request for him ; and I beg to assure you, I would not commit myself by making such a request, if past experience of his professional merit had not convinced me, that by selecting him for dashing and enterprising duties, you will best fulfil the good of the service, and gratify the feelings of an honorable and brave young man. Excuse my addressing you thus pointedly in Captain Watts’s behalf; but I do it with the more openness and confidence, as I recollect, that those who have themselves so justly reaped the laurels of intelligence and bravery united, can best appreciate those ingredients of professional character in others. I remain, with the truest regard and esteem. Dear Sir John, yours most faithfully,
The Jaseur’s first cruise was off the Delaware, where she captured several American vessels. Judging it expedient, in order to avoid an unnecessary consumption of water and provisions, to land his prisoners. Captain Watts sent his second lieutenant, Mr. Thomas Lovesay, with a flag of truce for this purpose. The prescribed period for his return having long elapsed, it was apprehended some accident had befallen him, to ascertain which, Mr. Henry West, the first lieutenant, was despatched with a second flag to Lewes, a town within the entrance of the above river. The treatment this respectable officer met with, was of so ungenerous and unmanly a nature, as to reflect disgrace upon the American name. He was beset by a mob, bullied, and insulted. All his boat’s crew, except one, were enticed from their allegiance, and induced to desert. With the assistance of that man only, he navigated his boat, and reached the Jaseur, in a dark and boisterous night, at the risk of his life, bringing with him an impudent and illiterate letter from the American commandant, commenting upon the informality of the flag of truce, and interdicting any further intercourse of a similar nature. To this, Captain Watts transmitted the following answer:–
“His Britannic Majesty’s sloop Jaseur, 27 Nov. 1813.
“Sir,– In reply to your note of the 26th instant, containing some comments upon the mode of signal adopted as a flag of truce, I have to observe, that it is conformable with long-established usage, and therefore consistent with the ‘law of nations,’ to display the flags of the two belligerents, instead of the white flag – with this difference, that it is considered as a point of complimentary etiquette, a thing apparently not much in request, and but little estimated in the vicinity of the Delaware.
“American courtesy I have heard much spoken of; but never experienced it before. After the reception my officer, bearing a flag of truce, met with yesterday, you need be under no apprehension that a ‘second attempt’ will be made on my part to communicate with the town of Lewes. When the government of the United States shall have agents endowed with sufficient energy, and invested with competent authority, to restrain a despicable mob from insulting a solitary individual, in the exercise of an office which sanctifies his person in the eyes of a civilized enemy; then, and not till then, can any amicable intercourse subsist between us.
“When the officer in question appears again before the town of Lewes, he shall most assuredly not be the harbinger of the olive branch. His province is not to negociate, but to fight. He shall ‘labor in his vocation.’ I have the honor to be, &c.
(Signed)“G. E. Watts.”
Much as Captain Watts longed for an opportunity to carry into effect the threat contained in this letter, circumstances did not admit of it. The Jaseur, having sustained great damage in her masts and rigging, was forced to bear away for Bermuda, and did not return to the Delaware.
Captain Watts afterwards served chiefly in the Chesapeake, under the orders of Rear-Admiral (now Sir George) Cockburn, and he had the gratification also to obtain that officer’s approbation of his conduct. On the 2d May, 1814, his boats, directed by Lieutenant West, captured and brought out from under a battery, the American letter of marque Grecian, pierced for 20 guns, but only 4 mounted, with 5 swivels, and having on board 27 men. This vessel was subsequently H.M. schooner Grecian.
About the same period. Captain Watts was ordered by Rear-Admiral Cockburn to use his best endeavours to discover a navigable passage through Tangier straits, and to procure fresh provisions for the use of the squadron in Chesapeake bay. He succeeded in establishing himself 15 miles higher than any square-rigged vessel had ever before been, and annoyed the enemy to the utmost of his power. On one occasion, he gave chase to a vessel in person, in his own boat, penetrated 12 or 14 miles up the river Wicomico, and not only destroyed her, but captured and burnt nine others. This affair gave place to such pressing remonstrances on the part of the authorities in that quarter, that the Baltimore flotilla, under Commodore Barney, was despatched to attempt to capture or destroy the Jaseur. In its passage for that purpose, however, it was fortunately intercepted by the Dragon 74, Captain Robert Barrie, and forced to take shelter in the Patuxent.
Captain Watts was also actively engaged with Captain Barrie, in various offensive operations. He assisted at the capture of the towns of Benedict and Marlborough, in the Patuxent, and at the destruction of much public property in its vicinity, for which he received the public thanks of both that officer and the Rear-Admiral. During his stay in the waters of thehe likewise captured and destroyed upwards of 30 vessels of different descriptions, in addition to the Grecian, and others already mentioned.
This active, gallant, and zealous officer, obtained post rank June 7, 1814, and returned to England early in 1815, after an unremitted service of 18 years; during which period he had received 17 wounds (besides having an arm fractured), all of them, except one, hand to hand with the enemy.
Upon the extension of, “the limits of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath,” Captain Watts interposed no claim for the distinction of a C.B., although, in common with others who were overlooked, he thought himself fully entitled to it. The detail of his services in this memoir tends to prove, that his exertions, while in command, placed him upon an equality with many who obtained the honor, but who never had the same opportunity as he had of distinguishing themselves while in a subordinate rank. He subsequently transmitted a memorial to the Admiralty, calling their lordships’ attention to his case, and expressing a hope, that in the event of a further enlargement of the Order, by installation or otherwise, his claim might be considered and rewarded. Justice and equity seem to intimate, that a series of even minor services may form a totality, so respectable and imposing, as to give weight and strength to a claim of service, far beyond that of any single exploit whatever.
Captain Watts has more recently tendered his services gratuitously, by an offer to the First Lord of the Admiralty, to serve his country in any way, without fee or emolument for so doing.
The subject of this memoir married, Oct. 17, 1820, Jane, youngest daughter of George Waldie, of Hendersyde Park, Roxburghshire, Esq. and has issue one son. A memoir of that “most amiable and highly-gifted woman,” who died July 6, 1826, will be found in “the Annual Biography and Obituary for the Year 1827.”
Agents.– Messrs. Goode and Clarke.
- See Suppl. Part . p. 394.
- A Spanish brig, of five guns, loaded with salt pork; two others with cargoes of wine, fruit, and salt fish; and three in ballast.
- Captain Heywood joined the Comus in a debilitated state of health, and was not well at the time of the action. Her superior firing and manoeuvring, which amply compensated for her disparity of force, was in no small degree attributable to the previous diligence and exertions of Lieutenant Watts. Captain Heywood died at Milford, South Wales, in 1822.
- William Goate and Robert Pettet.
- See Vol. II. Part II. p. 728 et seq. and Vol. I. Part II. p. 525.
- See Suppl. Part II. p. 193.