Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Seymour, Michael (1768-1834)

SEYMOUR, Sir MICHAEL (1768–1834), rear-admiral, second son of the Rev. John Seymour (d 1795), one of a younger branch of the family of the dukes of Somerset which settled in Ireland in the time of Elizabeth, was born at the Glebe House, Pallas, co. Limerick, on 8 Nov. 1768. By his mother, Griselda, daughter and coheiress of William Hobart of High Mount, co. Cork, he was related to the family of the earls of Buckinghamshire. He entered the navy in November 1780 on board the Merlin sloop with Captain James Luttrell [q. v.], whom he followed in March 1781 to the Portland; in April 1782 to the Mediator, and in April 1783 to the Ganges. When Luttrell retired from the navy in September 1783, Seymour was moved into the Europa, going out to Jamaica with the flag of Vice-admiral James Gambier (1723–1789) [q. v.] From the Europa he was transferred to the Antelope, and afterwards to the Janus with Captain John Pakenham, and in September 1785 returned to England in the Ariel, in bad health. In June 1786 he joined the Pégase, guardship at Portsmouth; and in June 1787 the Magnificent, with Captain George Cranfield Berkeley [q. v.], an intimate friend of Luttrell's. On Luttrell's death in December 1788, Berkeley brought Seymour's name before the Duchess of Gloucester, but it was not till 29 Oct. 1790 that Seymour was promoted to be lieutenant of the Magnificent. In October 1791 the Magnificent was paid off, and the next eighteen months Seymour spent with his family in Ireland. In March 1793 he was appointed to the Marlborough, then commissioned by Berkeley, and was still in her in the battle of 1 June 1794, when he was severely wounded. His arm had to be amputated above the elbow, and Seymour was obliged to go on shore for recovery. In the following February he joined Berkeley in the Formidable, from which he was moved in June to the Commerce de Marseilles, and in August to the Prince. On 11 Aug. 1795 he was promoted to the rank of commander. In June 1796 he was appointed to the Fly, from which in August he was moved to the Spitfire sloop, carrying eighteen 18-pounder carronades and two long six-pounders. In this he was employed for the next four years in the Channel and on the north coast of France, where he made a great number of prizes—privateers and armed vessels, besides small vessels trying to carry on the coasting trade; he is said to have captured eighty-three guns and four hundred seamen brought in as prisoners. On 11 Aug. 1800 he was advanced to post rank.

During the following years he was appointed to the temporary command of a great many different ships, without being able to get a ship of his own. It was not till June 1806 that he was appointed to the 36-gun frigate Amethyst, which was attached to the Channel fleet, but principally employed in independent cruising on the coast of France, with which, during his long service in the Spitfire, Seymour had become well acquainted. On the evening of 10 Nov. 1808, off the Isle Groix, he fell in with the French frigate Thétis which had sailed that afternoon from Lorient with a detachment of troops on board for Martinique. A little after nine he brought her to action, and for three hours one of the most stubborn and well-contested fights of the war was maintained. Crowded as she was with men, the Thétis endeavoured to close with her antagonist and carry her by boarding; but failing to do this, while her men were gathered on deck, she received the Amethyst's broadside of guns loaded to the muzzle with roundshot and grape. The effect was terrible; and a few minutes after midnight, being reduced to a wreck, having 236 killed or wounded out of 436 on board at the beginning of the action, she struck her flag and was taken possession of. The Amethyst's loss of seventy killed or wounded out of 261 testified to the severity of the struggle. Her rigging, too, was cut to pieces, her mizenmast fallen, and her main and fore masts badly wounded. Unfortunately for Seymour, his rockets and the sound of the firing had drawn to the scene of action the 74-gun ship Triumph and the frigate Shannon; and, though they did not come up for almost an hour after the Thétis had been won, they were sufficiently near to share for the capture, and to permit the commanding officer of the Thétis to say that she was taken by a 74-gun ship and two frigates (cf. Troude, iii. 519; James, iv. 379; and art. Broke, Sir Philip Bowes Vere). As soon as the two ships were made safe, the Amethyst returned to Plymouth, accompanied by her prize in tow of the Shannon. Seymour was presented with the gold medal; by the Patriotic Fund, with 100l. for a sword or a piece of plate; and by the corporations of Limerick and Cork with the freedom of the cities. The first lieutenant of the Amethyst and one of the midshipmen nominated by Seymour were promoted, and other officers appointed to higher rates.

On 8 Feb. 1809 Seymour, still in the Amethyst, sailed again on a cruise, and in the early morning of 6 April, off Ushant, fell in with, engaged, and captured the French frigate Niémen, which lost 120 men killed and wounded in the action. Again the brilliance of the victory was a little clouded by the arrival of the Arethusa just before the Niémen struck her flag; and though she was clearly beaten before the Arethusa came up, and the captain of the Arethusa disclaimed any part in the action beyond firing a few shots, these few shots had probably the effect of making her surrender a few minutes sooner than she otherwise would have done (cf. Troude, iv. 66; James, v. 17; and the article on Mends, Sir Robert). On his return to England Seymour was created a baronet, Lord Mulgrave writing, on 22 April, that the king highly approved of his distinguished gallantry and conduct, and the two brilliant and successful actions which had added these two frigates of superior force to the British navy. During the summer the Amethyst was attached to the fleet on the coast of Holland, part of the time with the flag of Sir Richard John Strachan [q. v.] on board; and in October Seymour was appointed to the Niémen, the officers and crew of the Amethyst being at the same time turned over to her. In her he continued on similar service, but without any particular opportunity of distinction, till May 1812, when he was appointed to the 74-gun ship Hannibal, which he commanded in the Channel for the next two years, capturing the French frigate Sultane on 26 March 1814.

In September the Hannibal was paid off, and Seymour settled down for the next few years near Kingsbridge in Devonshire. On 3 Jan. 1815 he was nominated a K.C.B.; and in the following December the pension for the loss of his arm was increased to 300l. a year. In September 1818 he was appointed to the Northumberland, guardship at Sheerness; and in August 1819 to the Prince Regent, one of the royal yachts, from which, in 1825, he was moved to the Royal George, the king's own yacht. During this time he lived principally on shore at Blendworth House, which he had bought, within easy distance of Portsmouth. He read much, and occupied himself with gardening. In spite of having only one arm, he was able to dispense with assistance in the ordinary pursuits of life.

In January 1829 he accepted the appointment of commissioner at Portsmouth, which was, by custom, tenable for life; but in 1832 the admiralty abolished the navy board and, with it, the commissionerships at the dockyards. Seymour was offered the choice of holding his office for two years longer and then retiring, or of returning to the active list, taking his flag, and going out to South America as commander-in-chief. This was what he chose to do, his commission as rear-admiral being dated 27 June 1832. With his flag in the Spartiate, he sailed in February 1833 for Rio, where the duties of the station compelled him to remain. In April 1834 he had a severe attack of low fever, and on his partial recovery he was landed for the benefit of his health. On shore, however, he made no satisfactory progress, and died on 9 July 1834. He was buried in the English cemetery at Rio, where there is a monument to his memory. There is also a tablet in the dockyard chapel at Portsmouth. He married, in 1798, Jane, daughter of Captain James Hawker [q. v.] of the royal navy, and had by her a large family. His third son, Michael (1802–1887), is separately noticed. Seymour's portrait, by Northcote, is in the possession of his grandson, Admiral Sir Michael Culme-Seymour.

[The Memoir (privately printed, 8vo, 1878) by his fifth son, the Rev. Richard Seymour, canon of Worcester, is full and accurate; see also Marshall's Roy. Nav. Biogr. iii. (vol. ii. pt. i.) 294; Naval Chronicle, xxi. 89 (with portrait); United Service Journal, 1834, pt. iii.; James's Naval Hist. (cr. 8vo edit.); Troude's Batailles navales de la France.]

J. K. L.