Royal Naval Biography/White, John Chambers

[Post-Captain of 1799.]

This officer was made a Lieutenant about 1790; appointed to the command of the Sylph sloop of war in 1795; and captured the Mercury, a Dutch brig of 16 guns, off the Texel, May 12, 1796. In September following, he took the Phoenix French privateer of 4 guns, and 32 men.

On the 27th July 1797, the Sylph being on a cruise to the southward of Ushant, in company with the Pomone, Artois, and Anson frigate, and the Dolly cutter, discovered fourteen sail of vessels, escorted by la Calliope of 36 guns, a corvette, and an armed brig, standing into Hodierne bay. The two latter escaped round the Penmarks; but the frigate, not being able to follow them, cut away her masts and ran ashore. Captain White, with great promptitude stood in, and by a well-directed fire, prevented her crew from using any means to save the ship or stores. The next day she went to pieces. Eight of the vessels under her convoy, laden with naval stores, provisions, and clothing, were captured; and two others destroyed. In this affair the Sylph had 6 men wounded.

On the 11th Aug. following, Captain White joined in an attack made upon a French convoy at the entrance of the Sable d’Olonne, on which occasion 2 of his crew were killed, and 4 others wounded. A few days afterwards, he assisted at the capture of five coasting vessels, and destruction of le Petit Diable, a French cutter of 18 guns and 100 men[1].

In Feb. 1798, the Sylph formed part of a squadron under the orders of the Hon. Captain Stopford, when that officer captured la Legere a French ship privateer of 18 guns and 130 men. She subsequently intercepted the Eliza, an American ship, with a valuable cargo, from Batavia, via Boston, bound to Amsterdam; la Fouine, a French national lugger of 8 guns; two Spanish letters of marque, richly laden; le Debut, a French brig of 8 guns, pierced for 16, bound to Cayenne with merchandise; and El Golondina, a Spanish packet, pierced for 20 guns, but with only 4 mounted.

Captain White was promoted to post rank, Aug. 2, 1799; and in Nov. 1800, obtained the command of the Renown, a third rate, bearing the flag of Sir John Borlase Warren, then on the point of sailing for the Cadiz station.

Early in 1801, an armament under Rear-Admiral Gantheaume sailed from Brest, during the temporary absence of our fleet, and after capturing the Success frigate, Incendiary fire-vessel, and Sprightly cutter, arrived in safety at Toulon, on the 19th Feb. Sir John Warren, on receiving information that the enemy had been seen in the Straits of Gibraltar, lost no time in proceeding up the Mediterranean, with the intention of following them, should they make a push for their supposed destination, the coast of Egypt. Having refitted his squadron at Minorca, he sailed from that island on the 24th Feb.; but during the ensuing night, experienced a heavy gale of wind, with much thunder and lightning, which killed 3 men and wounded 2 others on board the Renown, and did much damage to the other ships, thereby obliging him to put back.

On the 4th March, the squadron being again fit for service, Sir John Warren quitted Port Mahon and steered for Palermo, from whence he went to the Bay of Naples. On the 25th of the same month, being then on his way to reconnoitre Toulon, he was joined by the Salamine brig, whose commander informed him Rear-Admiral Gantheaume had left that port with seven sail of the line and three frigates, six days before. Sir John immediately altered his course to the eastward, and at day-break on the 26th, fell in with the enemy between Sardinia and Maritime. All sail was instantly made in chase, and towards the evening the British appeared to be gaining upon them; but unfortunately the night proved very foggy, of which the French Admiral is supposed to have availed himself, by hauling to the northward, as they were not to be seen the next morning[2].

It being reported that the enemy’s squadron had embarked upwards of 4000 troops at Toulon, Sir John Warren lost no time in proceeding towards Alexandria, hoping to prevent such a reinforcement from joining the French army in Egypt. On his forming a junction with Lord Keith on the 20th April, he received the melancholy tidings of the death of his only son, an officer in the guards, who had recently been killed in battle.

From Alexandria, Sir John was sent with a squadron to Coron bay, in the Morea, where he procured supplies of fresh meat, wine, and vegetables, of which the ships were much in want, their crews being sickly, and symptoms of scurvy appearing amongst them, in consequence of their having been nearly six months upon salt provisions and bad water. He subsequently touched at Corfu, Malta, and Minorca; looked into Toulon, and ultimately proceeded off Porto Ferrajo, which place had long been besieged by a French army, and gallantly defended by the Tuscan troops composing its garrison. It is almost needless for us to observe, that his endeavours to deliver a suffering, brave, and faithful people, from the state of privation to which they were reduced, had the desired effect; and, that owing to the measures adopted by him, Buonaparte, who then presided over the consular government of France, was baffled in his designs upon that post, until his attempts were totally frustrated by the treaty of Amiens[3]. Sir John Warren’s private affairs now rendering it absolutely necessary for him to return home, he shifted his flag into la Minerve frigate, leaving the subject of this memoir in the Renown, as a private ship, at Minorca.

At the renewal of the war in 1803, Captain White proceeded with the squadron under Sir Richard Bickerton from Malta, to blockade Toulon, where he continued till July 1804, when the Renown was ordered to relieve the Kent 74, at Naples; in which latter ship he returned to England with 1,060,000 dollars, received on board at Cadiz. We next find him serving as Flag-Captain to Sir John B. Warren in the Foudroyant of 80 guns, at the capture of the French Rear-Admiral Linois, March 13, 1806[4].

In Nov. 1810, Captain White took the Hibernia, a first rate, fitted for the flag of Sir Samuel Hood, to the Mediterranean; and on his arrival at Port Mahon, removed into the Centaur 74. After serving for some time with the in-shore squadron off Toulon, he was sent to co-operate in the defence of Tarragona; on which service he continued under the orders of Captain (now Sir Edward) Codrington, till the fall of that unfortunate city, June 28, 1811[5]. In April 1814, Captain White witnessed the destruction of a French 74, three brigs of war, and several smaller vessels, in the neighbourhood of Bourdeaux[6].

Our officer married, May , 1816, Charlotte Elizabeth, daughter of General Sir Hew Dalrymple, Bart.

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

  1. See Vol. I. p. 403.
  2. Sir John B. Warren’s squadron consisted of the Renown, Dragon, Gibraltar, Hector, and Alexander 74’s; Athenienne 64; Haarlem, a 2-decker, armed en flute; and Mercury frigate. The French squadron subsequently captured the Swiftsure, a British 74. See Vol. I, p. 479.
  3. On the 14th Sept. 1801, Captain White superintended the landing and re-embarkation of 689 seamen and marines, sent from the squadron to assist the garrison of Porto Ferrajo in a sortie, made for the purpose of destroying the enemy’s batteries; a service which he performed in a very creditable manner, under a heavy fire from the French, and for which Sir John Warren acknowledged him to be “entitled to his warmest thanks.”
  4. See Vol. I. p. 435, et seq.
  5. See Vol. II. p. 225.
  6. See Vol. I. p. 579.