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Royal Naval Biography/de Courcy, Michael

Admiral of the Blue.

The noble family of De Courcy is allied to most of the Princes of Europe, deriving its descent in the male line from the house of Lorraine, of the race of the Emperor Charlemagne, or Charles I, surnamed the Great, who obliged the Saxons, and all other heathens whom he conquered, to receive the Christian faith; and so made the grand revolution of Europe[1].

The subject of this memoir is the third and eldest surviving son of John, the 25th Lord Kingsale, Baron Courcy, of Courcy, and Baron of Ringrone, premier Baron of the kingdom of Ireland, by Martha, daughter of the Rev. Isaac Heron, of Dorsetshire, which nobleman, on being presented to his late Majesty, Sept. 15, 1762, had the honour of asserting the antient privilege of his family, by wearing his hat in the royal presence, granted to his ancestor, John de Courcy, Earl of Ulster, &c. by John, King of England[2].

During the American war our officer commanded the Swallow sloop, from which vessel he was posted Sept. 6, 1783, into the Europa of 50 guns, the flag ship of the late Admiral Gambier, on the Jamaica station. In 1787, we find him in the Hyaena of 20 guns, escorting the first party of convicts ever sent to New South Wales, clear of the Channel[3]. He was afterwards stationed on the coast of Ireland, for the suppression of smuggling.

At the commencement of the war with France, in 1793, Captain De Courcy was appointed to the Pearl frigate, on the Irish station; and from that ship removed, about the latter end of the year 1794, to the Magnanime, a cut down 64, mounting 26 24-pounders on the main-deck, 18 12-pounders on the quarter-deck and forecastle, and 4 42-pounder carronades.

We find the following French privateers among the list of captures made by Captain De Courcy during the time he commanded the Magnanime:– Le Triton, 8 guns, pierced for 18, 180 men; le Tiercelet, 8 guns, 10 swivels, and 47 men; l’Eugénie, 18 guns, 107 men; l’Audacieux, 20 guns, 137 men; and la Colombe, 12 guns, 64 men. He also assisted at the capture of la Decade French frigate of 36 guns; and the defeat of a French squadron off Ireland, Oct. 12, 1798; on which latter occasion the Magnanime had 7 men wounded[4]. In February, 1799, our officer was appointed to the Canada, of 74 guns, attached to the Channel fleet, one of the ships sent on an expedition against Quiberon in the summer of 1800[5].

On the 10th April, 1801, the Canada was off the Black Rocks, when the Mars carried away her head, bowsprit, foremast, main-top-mast, and main-yard, by running foul of the Centaur. Captain De Courcy immediately took the disabled ship in tow; but the wind blowing hard from the northward, right on the shore, and the Canada’s top-sails being blown to rags, he was obliged to cut the hawser, determined however to remain by the Mars to the last extremity. That fine vessel was nearing the shore very fast, and Captain De Courcy had made preparations for taking out her officers and men, when the wind suddenly lulled, and shifted to E.N.E., by which providential change, and getting up a sail on the stump of the fore-mast, she was enabled to gain an offing, and the Canada succeeded in towing her safe into Plymouth, where she arrived ten days after the accident. At the conclusion of the war, our officer commanded the Namur, a second rate.

Soon after the renewal of hostilities, in 1803, Captain De Courcy was appointed to the Plantagenet, a 74-gun ship built without a poop, on a plan suggested by Lord Gambier[6]. After cruizing some time on the coast of Ireland, he convoyed the outward bound East India fleet to St. Helena; and on his return from thence with several China ships under his protection, was presented by the Court of Directors with 500 guineas, for the purchase of a piece of plate.

On the 28th Nov. 1804, he commissioned the St. George of 98 guns, at Plymouth; and soon after proceeded in her to the Jamaica station, where he continued until promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral, Nov. 9, 1805. Early in 1808, we find him, with his flag in the Tonnant, 80, accompanying Sir John T. Duckworth to the West Indies and coast of America, in chace of a French squadron; which, however, eluded the vigilance of its pursuers, who anchored in Cawsand bay on the 18th April, after traversing upwards of 13,000 miles.

In January, 1809, Rear-Admiral De Courcy commanded the squadron that covered the embarkation of the ill-fated British army at Corunna, in front of which place the gallant Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore, after conducting a retreat unparalleled in modern history, was snatched from his country in the moment of victory. Among the emigrants of distinction who sought an asylum on board the Tonnant, on this occasion, was the Duke of Vera Aguas, the lineal descendant of the celebrated Christopher Columbus. On the 25th of the same month, the Houses of Lords and Commons passed a vote of thanks to the Rear-Admiral, the Captains, officers, and men of the squadron, for the assistance they had afforded the army.

The subject of this memoir was soon after appointed Commander-in-Chief at Brazil, and proceeded thither in the Diana frigate. On his arrival at Rio Janeiro, he hoisted his flag in the Foudroyant, of 80 guns, where it continued until his return to England, in 1812.

Our officer was advanced to the rank of Vice-Admiral, July 31, 1810; and became an Admiral of the Blue, July 19, 1821. He married, Oct. 24, 1786, Miss Blennerhasset, daughter of Conway Blennerhasset, of Castle Conway, co. Kerry, Esq. (descended from the ancient Cumberland family of that name) and sister of the present Dowager Baroness Kingsale. The Admiral’s daughter, Anne, married in June, 1812, Captain Sir John Gordon Sinclair, Bart. R.N. His eldest son is in Holy Orders.

  1. Charlemagne was born April 2, 742; succeeded his father as King of France, in 768; was made King of Italy in 774; of Germany, in 785; and crowned Emperor of the West, by Pope Leo III, at Rome, in 800. He died Jan. 24, 814.
  2. The claim of being covered in the presence of the Monarch, is not, as generally supposed, strictly peculiar to this family; for John Nethersale, of Nethersale House, near Barham Downs, co. Kent, Esq. was so great a favourite with Hen. VIII, that he was indulged with the privilege of wearing a cap in the King’s presence.
  3. On the 13th May, 1787, Commodore Arthur Philip, in the Sirius, commanded by Captain John Hunter, with the Supply armed brig, Lieutenant Ball, and nine transports, having on board a great number of convicts of both sexes, sailed from Spithead for New South Wales, in order to establish a colony at Botany Bay. The Hyaena was ordered to accompany the fleet 100 leagues to the westward.
  4. See p. 171.
  5. See p. 219.
  6. See p. 84.