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Yeo, James Lucas (DNB00)


YEO, Sir JAMES LUCAS (1782–1818), commodore, son of James Yeo, formerly agent victualler at Minorca, was born at Southampton on 7 Oct. 1782. Both father and mother survived their son, the former dying a pensioner at Hampton Court Palace on 21 Jan. 1825, the latter at Boulogne on 13 Jan. 1822. As a child James was at a school at Bishop's Waltham, but was not much more than ten when, in March 1793, he was entered on board the Windsor Castle, going out to the Mediterranean as flagship of Rear-admiral Phillips Cosby [q. v.], whom he followed to the Alcide, returning to England with him in the end of 1794. In the spring of 1795 he joined the Orion with Captain John Thomas Duckworth [q. v.] in the Channel, and was shortly afterwards taken by Duckworth to the Leviathan, going out to Jamaica. On 20 Feb. 1797 Yeo was promoted to be lieutenant of the Albicore, in which he continued in the West Indies till, early in 1798, after a sharp attack of yellow fever, he was sent home. He was then appointed to the Veteran in the North Sea, and in December 1798 to the Charon, going to the Mediterranean, where in May 1800 he was moved into El Corso brig, with Commander William Ricketts. In her he was present at the siege of Genoa, and afterwards in the Adriatic, where on 26 Aug. 1800 the brig's boats, commanded by Yeo and covered by the Pigmy cutter, forced their way into the harbour of Cesenatico, burnt or sank thirteen merchant vessels, whose wrecks choked the harbour, and burnt the piers (Marshall, Royal Naval Biogr. iv. (vol. ii. pt. ii.) 689–690). In February 1802 Yeo was moved to the Généreux, and in her he returned to England. In February 1805 he was appointed to the Loire, with Captain Frederick Lewis Maitland [q. v.], and commanded her boats on several expeditions, particularly in Muros Bay on 4 June, where, after spiking the guns of a small battery, with only fifty men he stormed a closed fort in the town, spiked its guns—twelve 18-pounders—and made it possible for the Loire to seize a large privateer and some other vessels lying in the bay. The privateer was commissioned for the navy under the name of Confiance, and Yeo promoted to command her. His commission was dated 21 June 1805 (James, iv. 33–6).

In the Confiance Yeo was employed for the next two years at Lisbon. In November 1807 he was sent home with despatches by Sir William Sidney Smith [q. v.], and on 19 Dec. was promoted to the rank of captain. He was, however, continued in the Confiance and sent back to the Tagus, whence in the following spring he accompanied Smith to Brazil. From Rio de Janeiro he was sent in September to Para, where he suggested to the governor the practicability of taking Cayenne and French Guiana. The governor adopted the suggestion, and put Yeo in command of such Portuguese as he could add to his force; but when he landed at Cayenne on 7 Jan. 1809 he had in all only four hundred men with whom to attack a strongly fortified position mounting over two hundred guns of various sizes. When five weeks later the place surrendered, Yeo found himself with upwards of a thousand prisoners on his hands and no adequate means of securing them. For more than a month, till he received reinforcements, neither Yeo nor any of his officers and men slept out of their clothes. Most of them were attacked by fever, and Yeo, after being confined to bed for two months, was obliged to go to England to recruit his health. On his return to Rio the prince regent of Portugal presented him with a valuable diamond ring and nominated him a knight commander of St. Benedict of Aviz, an order of a semi-religious character; it is said that Yeo was the first protestant admitted to it. His acceptance of the order was approved by George III, and he was knighted on 16 March 1810 (ib. v. 73–7).

In 1811 Yeo commanded the Southampton frigate on the Jamaica station, and on 3 Feb. 1812 took, after an obstinate but very one-sided action, the Amethyste, a large piratical frigate which had been stolen from the Haytian emperor, Christophe, and fitted out by one Gaspard, a Frenchman, with a crew of seven hundred men, ‘a motley group of almost every nation.’ The Amethyste was taken to Port Royal, and subsequently restored to Christophe (ib. v. 352–4).

In the following year Yeo was appointed commodore and commander-in-chief of the ships of war on the American lakes, and reached Kingston at the foot of Lake Ontario in the early part of May. By the end of the month he had got together an efficient squadron of two ships of twenty-four and twenty guns, with a 14-gun brig and some smaller vessels, and agreed with Sir George Prevost (1767–1816) [q. v.] on an attack on Sackett's harbour, where the enemy had a couple of large vessels on the stocks. On the 27th the troops were embarked, but when off the harbour Prevost judged the place too strong and refused to land. Two days later he was encouraged to make another attempt. This time the men were landed, had driven out the enemy, and had set fire to the two ships, when Prevost's nerve again failed him, he ordered the ‘retire’ to be sounded, and re-embarked the men, permitting the enemy peacefully to reoccupy the port and to extinguish the fire. Having for the time got rid of Prevost, Yeo took his squadron up the lake, and captured or destroyed some of the enemy's storeships and depôts; but the mischief done at Sackett's harbour could not be undone, and by the end of July the larger of the two vessels not burnt was fitted out and ready for service. She was of 850 tons, mounted twenty-eight long 24-pounders, had a crew of four hundred men, and is described as nearly a match for the whole of the English squadron. The American advantage was not only in the possession of this powerful ship, but also in the heavier and more efficient armament of the rest of their squadron; and though in an engagement near Niagara on 10 Aug. Yeo succeeded in cutting off and capturing two of the enemy's schooners, it was evident that against a more determined leader the English chance would have been small. Other partial engagements took place on 11 and 28 Sept., but the American commodore, unwilling to relinquish the superiority of his long guns, refused close action, and with the long guns alone he could not obtain any marked success. Under a more adventurous commander the American squadron on Lake Erie took full advantage of its very superior force and overwhelmed the English squadron on 10 Sept. During the winter great exertions were made by both parties. Yeo had two large ships built at Kingston, and, with these added to his squadron, embarked a large body of troops and proceeded to Oswego, where on 6 May the men were landed. After a sharp contest the place was carried, and a large quantity of ordnance stores as well as provisions was captured or destroyed. Yeo then blockaded Sackett's harbour, where the enemy had also launched two large ships, which they were unable to fit out so long as the stores could be prevented reaching them. By the end of July he was obliged to raise the blockade, and the Americans with a vastly superior force were able to drive Yeo back to Kingston and blockade him there during the rest of the year.

Yeo's position had all along been one of great difficulty, not only in consequence of the superior advantages for building and fitting out ships which the Americans had, but, and still more, in consequence of the indisposition of Prevost to co-operate loyally and boldly. The difference was brought to a head by the catastrophe on Lake Champlain, occasioned by Prevost's call on the navy for assistance and his neglect to support the squadron (ib. vi. 214–21; see also {{sc|Walker, James Robertson-). The case appeared so flagrant that Yeo preferred distinct charges of gross neglect of duty, and, though Prevost died before he could be brought to a court-martial, the court which tried Walker and the other survivors found that the disaster was ‘principally caused’ by Prevost's urging the squadron into battle when it was not ‘in a proper state to meet the enemy,’ and by his not co-operating as he had promised to do. On his return to England in 1815 Yeo was appointed commander-in-chief on the west coast of Africa, with a broad pennant in the Inconstant. In October 1817 he moved into the Semiramis, in which he went to Jamaica, and sailed thence for England. On the passage, 21 Aug. 1818, he died ‘of general debility.’ His body was brought home and buried on 8 Sept. in the garrison chapel at Portsmouth. He was not married. His only brother, Lieutenant G. C. Yeo, died on his passage to Bermuda in the spring of 1819 ‘in consequence of a fall from the poop of his Majesty's ship Newcastle.’

[Naval Chronicle, with a portrait, xxiv. 265, xl. 231, 243; Gent. Mag. 1818 ii. 371, 1819 ii. 91, 1822 i. 188, 1825 i. 188; Morgan's Sketches of Celebrated Canadians, p. 222; service book in the Public Record Office; James's Naval Hist. (edit. in cr. 8vo); Roosevelt's Naval War of 1812; Navy Lists.]

J. K. L.