Open main menu

Royal Naval Biography/Williams, Richard (b)


RICHARD WILLIAMS (b), Esq.
[Commander.]

Eldest son of the late Lieutenant Thomas Williams, R.N., an old and meritorious officer, who lost his right leg, and was otherwise wounded, while serving on board the Chatham 50, Captain (afterwards Sir Andrew Snape) Douglas, in action with the French frigate Magicienne, near Boston, North America, Sept. 2d, 1781[1].

The subject of this memoir was born at St. Columb, co.

Cornwall; and entered the royal navy as midshipman on board the Belliqueux 64. He subsequently served in the Plumper and Tickler, gun-vessels, commanded by his father; and, early in 1801, was received on board the Neptune 98, flag-ship of Vice-Admiral (afterwards Lord) Gambler, then third in command of the Channel fleet. During the peace of Amiens, he was successively removed to the Endymion frigate and Isis 50, in which latter ship he accompanied the Vice-Admiral to and from Newfoundland. On her passage thither, she encountered a hurricane, was thrown on her beam ends, lost her top-masts and jib-boom, had all her sails blown to shreds, and was obliged to cut away her mizenmast: the main-mast was about to follow, when she fortunately fell off, partially righted, and at length shewed her stern to the wind. After her return home, she received the flag of Rear-Admiral (now Sir Edward) Thornbrough, and cruised for a short period in the North Sea. During her second trip to Newfoundland, several of her midshipmen, including Mr. Williams, were borne on the books of the Puissant, receiving ship at Spithead, having been left behind for the purpose of passing the usual examination at the Navy Office.

In the summer of 1804, Mr. Williams again sailed for St. John’s, under Vice-Admiral Gambier’s successor, the late Sir Erasmus Gower, by whom he was appointed acting lieutenant and commander of the Mackerel schooner, mounting four small carronades, with a complement of fifteen officers and men. In this pigmy man-of-war, which he joined, and fitted out at Bermuda, we find him rendering essential assistance to the Tartar frigate, Captain Edward Hawker, by carrying out a bower anchor, and receiving and landing her main-deck guns, after she had parted her cables in Murray’s Reads, and struck on one of the reefs forming the eastern passage. Subsequently, the Mackerel, with fifty-seven French prisoners of war on board, was driven from her anchorage in a N.W. gale, and in rounding St. Catherine’s Point, for the purpose of taking shelter under the lee of the island, she repeatedly grazed the rocks, the foam and spray obscuring all the marks, and totally bewildering the pilot:– the anchors were quickly cut away, and she brought up, but continued to strike until the cables snapped asunder, when she providentially drifted to sea, clear of the innumerable sunken rocks surrounding the Bermudas. For these services Mr. Williams, who had been promoted to the rank of lieutenant on the 13th Dec. 1804, received the thanks of Sir Andrew Mitchell, commander-in-chief on the Halifax station.

The Mackerel was afterwards employed in protecting the fisheries on the S.W. side of Newfoundland, where Lieutenant Williams seized the cargoes (whale oil) of two American vessels, and ordered them from the coast. She subsequently had the honor of twice receiving the flag of Sir Erasmus Gower.

We next find Lieutenant Williams serving under Captain Thomas White (b), in the Avenger sloop, employed in affording protection to the homeward bound Newfoundland trade. On his way up Channel, he assisted in destroying the French cutter privateer Hazard, of sixteen guns and fifty men, which vessel, mistaking the Avenger (a north-country built ship) for a merchantman, had run athwart hawse, and made an ineffectual attempt to board her. On this occasion, two British seamen and the whole of the French crew, with the exception of four persons, perished; le Hazard having sunk before boats could be sent to her assistance.

Soon after his arrival in England, Lieutenant Williams was appointed third of the Jupiter 50, Captain H. E. R. Baker, in which ship he visited India and China. During the voyage out, her officers and crew were much distressed for water, being for some weeks, within the tropics, on a pint each person per diem. On her return homeward, after experiencing tremendous gales off the Cape of Good Hope, she lost nearly twenty men by scurvy.

After refitting, the Jupiter was ordered to the coast of Spain, for the purpose of receiving on board part of the gallant army under Sir John Moore; but, unfortunately, she struck on a sunken rock, in Vigo Bay, and was totally wrecked, in the night of Dec. 10th, 1808. On their return to Plymouth, Captain Baker, his officers, and ship’s company, were tried by a court-martial, when, it appearing that he had not endeavoured to get a pilot, or bring the ship to an anchor, the court adjudged him to be admonished to act with more precaution for the future. The officers and ship’s company were acquitted of all blame.

In Mar. 1809, Lieutenant Williams was appointed to the H elder 32, Captain John Serrell, fitting out for the Jamaica station; in which ship he continued till she was ordered home, about Aug. 1810, when he got removed into the Reindeer sloop. Previous to this, the Helder, in the course of six weeks, had lost one lieutenant, two masters, two pursers, five midshipmen, and about eighty sailors, &c., all by the yellow fever: the only officer who escaped an attack was a lieutenant of marines.

In April 1811, Lieutenant Williams obtained the command of the Decouverte brig, of 14 guns and 64 men; in which vessel he appears to have been for some time actively employed among the Bahamas, and in the gulfs of Florida and Mexico; where he captured a brig with a cargo of slaves; a schooner under Swedish colours, laden with dry goods, French prize property; and the American privateer Nonpareil, the master of which vessel intended to attack and burn the defenceless town of Harbour Island. Returning to Jamaica, he fell in with, and gave chase to, the Comet privateer, of 5 guns and 80 men, but was compelled reluctantly to abandon the pursuit, after being within long gun-shot for upwards of two hours, the Decouverte’s fore-top-gallant mast having gone over the side in a squall, and both her lower masts being sprung, the fore-mast badly.

On her arrival at Port Royal, the Decouverte was ordered to undergo a thorough repair, and nearly nine months elapsed before she was again ready for sea. In the mean time Lieutenant Williams, with his crew, in the Confiance schooner, lent by the merchants of Kingston, was employed in escorting several vessels to St. Jago de Cuba and Carthagena, and in carrying despatches to Santa Martha and Porto Bello.

After her re-equipment, the Decouverte captured two American schooners, laden with flour and logwood; she likewise drove from the coast two privateers, whose superior sailing enabled them to escape. She was subsequently obliged to cut away her masts in Murray’s anchorage, Bermuda, where she rode out a heavy N.W. gale within two cables’ length of the rocks. Returning through the Caycos passage, in July 1813, with convoy from New Providence to Cape François and Jamaica, she prevented a colonial schooner from being captured by the Saratoga privateer, of far superior force.

In 1814, Lieutenant Williams was appointed by Rear-Admiral Brown to the command of the Edward, a brigantine of 360 tons, 12 guns, and 74 men, with a view to his promotion; but after the failure of the expedition against New Orleans, to which that vessel was attached, he had the mortification to be superseded by a commander sent from England. Previous to his quitting the Jamaica station, he received a letter of thanks from the mayor and principal merchants of Kingston, for the many services he had rendered the trade of the island. He returned home, with an impaired constitution, in 1815; and was not again employed until Aug. 1825, when he became first lieutenant of the Ramillies 74, and was placed in charge of the centre division of the coast blockade, the whole of which service he superintended for three months, during the illness and consequent absence of Captain William M‘Culloch. After the demise of that officer, he continued to serve under his successor, Captain (now Sir Hugh) Pigot; by whom he was introduced, and strongly recommended, to his present Majesty, when visiting the Ramillies, as Lord High Admiral, in Sept. 1828. We need not add, that his promotion immediately followed.

Commander Williams married Elizabeth Eleanor, eldest daughter of John Henderson, Esq., of Deal, many years (secretary to Admirals Lords Bridport and Gardner, and late paymaster of the civil department of the Ordnance at Woolwich. He is consequently brother-in-law to Captain George Henderson, R.N., and to the wife of Captain William Henderson, R.N. One of his brothers, George Williams, now surgeon of the Vestal 26, on the West India and Halifax station, was promoted to his present rank for gallant conduct when assistant surgeon of the Maidstone frigate. Commodore BuUen, and employed in her tender, the Hope, at the capture of the Prince of Guinea, a slave ship of far superior force, on the coast of Africa. Another brother, Henry, is assistant surgeon of the Endymion 50, Captain Sir Samuel Roberts, on the Mediterranean station.



  1. Lieutenant Thomas Williams (a descendant of the ancient and respectable family of that name, in Carnarvonshire, North Wales) was very actively employed during the greater part of the American revolutionary war. He served under Captain A. S. Douglas in the Roebuck 44, and followed him from that ship into the Chatham. The services in which he participated are thus briefly alluded to by his gallant commander:

    “On the 15th May 1780, my uncle. Sir Andrew S. Hamond, being ordered to England with despatches, I was directed to take the command of the Roebuck during his absence. Through the kindness of my uncle, a confirmation was sent to me from the Admiralty, as captain of the Roebuck, in which ship I remained until July 1781; having during that time been very actively employed, and having taken two rebel frigates – viz. the Confederacy 36, and Protector 28, besides several privateers.

    “In July 1781, the Roebuck being ordered home, I was appointed captain of the Chatham; in the command of which ship I continued during the war, upon the coast of North America, where I captured or destroyed, during the last twenty months, fifty sail of merchant vessels, one French frigate of 32 guns and 280 men, and several stout American privateers. The frigate engaged the Chatham half-an-hour, although close alongside, and had eighty-six men killed and wounded: we had only two men slain and four wounded.”

    Lieutenant Thomas Williams married Miss Bond, of a highly respectable family in Cornwall; and at the time of his demise was one of the officers of the Royal Hospital, Greenwich. His uncle, the late Captain Richard Williams, was a shipmate of the illustrious Nelson, who, many years afterwards, paid him a very flattering compliment. On his entering the waiting room at the Admiralty, in which a number of distinguished officers attending the First Lord’s levee were assembled, the hero shook him heartily by the hand, and said, “Gentlemen, permit me to introduce to you Captain Williams, an officer to whom I owe all I have gained in the service; for he first made me a seaman.”