John Hamilton married seventeen year old Sarah Hedgecock at St Mary the Virgin, Dover, on 16 August 1788. He was twenty-three. His younger brother, Richard, had married Martha Cornelious at the same church three months earlier. To place events in perspective, it is worth remembering that at the beginning of the same year a fleet of transports carrying convicts had arrived off Botany Bay in the yet to be established colony of New South Wales.
John’s wife, Sarah, the daughter of Michael Hedgecock and Judith Cox, had been born on 7 April 1771, and baptised at St Mary the Virgin on 21 April 1771. John and Sarah had several children, including Sarah, baptised on 19 April 1789, Michael Hamilton on 28 May 1791, and Henry Duncan Hamilton born on 24 January 1805. Henry died on 22 April 1822. Jane Dalrymple Hamilton was born on 18 September 1807, Allen in 1809, and Mary Ann Hamilton baptised in February 1812.
John Bavington Jones, once the Honorary Librarian of the Corporation of Dover, in a work titled Dover, published in 1907, stated that
Sir John Hamilton was one of our sea warriors of the 18th Century. He Commanded the Active on Oct.11th 1797 when Admiral Duncan, with sixteen sail of the line, attacked and captured the Dutch Fleet under Admiral de Winter off Camperdown. For that victory, Duncan was elevated to the Peerage and Hamilton was knighted.
This story has been repeated several times by subsequent writers of Hamilton family histories. But there is much more to John Hamilton’s life than this.
There were in fact several ships named the Active towards the end of the eighteenth century. The first, a frigate of 28 guns, was built in 1758 and was captured on 1 September 1778. The second, a 12 gun cutter, was lost on 18 August 1779. The third, a 14 gun sloop, was lost on 10 April 1780. The fourth, a 32 gun, fifth rate frigate, was built in 1780 and wrecked 13 July 1796. In all cases, ships named Active carried the motto Festina Lente - Hasten Slowly. None of these Royal Navy ships was still sailing at the time of the Battle of Camperdown.
What of John Hamilton then? James' Naval History lists a John Hamilton as a Captain in its Index of Naval Officers, it gives no indication that he was ever knighted or was in command of the Active. This John Hamilton is listed as having been in command of a merchant vessel named the Bombay Castle and engaged by the East India Company. This John Hamilton certainly did get involved in a number of exciting adventures that are worth reading about.
Syrett’s list of Commissioned Officers with the Royal Navy between 1660 and 1815 shows four John Hamiltons. One died in 1708 - far too early. The second died in 1755. The third was knighted in 1776 and died in 1784. The fourth retired in 1861 and died in 1881 - rather too late as our John Hamilton was born in 1765.
The answer to the mystery of the Active and John Hamilton lies in the fact that the ship was not a warship and John Hamilton was not a regular commissioned officer of the Navy.
There was a tiny cutter built in 1794, seventy-one feet long and armed with ten guns. It was named the Active and its Master was Lieutenant John Hamilton. It was this cutter that was with Admiral Duncan at the Nore Mutiny and the Battle of Camperdown. The ship and its Master had been hired for service with the Navy. A letter written by Admiral Duncan to the British Admiralty, and published in The Times on 17 October 1797, lists all of the ships involved at Camperdown. At the end of the list, in very small type, are the support ships - the cutters, sloops and luggers. Among these is listed the cutter Active.
It is not known how John Hamilton first obtained a position as a seaman. Hopefully he was not the victim of one of the press-gangs that operated near Dover, his services and his ship had apparently been legitimately hired by the Navy. Nevertheless, the press-gangs became so enthusiastic around Dover during the early 1790s that in 1791 the Mayor of Dover had complained to the Navy about too many of the city’s Freemen being pressed into service.
The policy of Impressment - a form of Naval Conscription in time of war - and the instrument for achieving it, the press-gang, have become part of the legends of the Royal Navy of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The intention of the policy was fair enough, but the methods used by the press-gangs were far from being fair.
By the early 1790s the adequate manning of the navy depended upon securing men from the merchant service and from the ranks of fishermen. The government however did not work out a way of recruiting the most suitable men from these occupations, it simply sent out the gangs to get them. And once it had them, it did little to ensure they served under reasonable conditions on board the ships to which they were assigned. Little wonder many impressed men were resentful and eventually mutinous in spirit.
There were some exceptions to those liable for impressment. Firstly, it applied only to "persons using the sea" in the course of their daily work, but it did exempt Masters, Chief Mates, Boatswains and Carpenters on Merchant Ships "when at sea" - which made their lives somewhat tricky if they happened to go ashore for some reason. Pilots were also exempt - unless they ran their ships aground. Those who had been at sea for less than two years were also exempt in an attempt to encourage men and boys to take up a seafaring life without having to fear the press-gang - at least, not for their first two years. If the Impress officer made a mistake and took the wrong person he could be taken to court.
By 1795 the press-gangs could not get enough men to man the Navy's ships. Prime Minister William Pitt therefore introduced the Quota Acts that imposed a quota of men to supplied by the counties, cities and towns of Britain. Some volunteered, but many were conscripted to fill the quota. The quota-men did not have to be seafarers, although some undoubtedly were. Unfortunately the local Selectors selected the wrong people to fill the quota - they tended to pick the undesirables of their county or town - it was a convenient way to be rid of them.
But some of the quota-men were also educated, and educated men with revolutionary ideas could be even more troublesome than uneducated, resentful conscripts.
Those with a bit of knowledge could soon urge their lesser-educated shipmates to question the conditions under which they were expected to work. By 1797 the Navy was manned by men ready to mutiny. The ringleaders of the 1797 mutiny at Spithead were probably newcomers, quota-men, who may have had among their numbers trained lawyers. At Nore, Richard Parker, a quota-man, achieved the rank of Acting Lieutenant, but was still ready to lead the mutiny. More of Richard Parker later.
And John Hamilton? He probably attended a school, perhaps in Dover, between about 1772 and 1779. After leaving school when he was fifteen he probably secured a position, perhaps an apprenticeship, at sea. Many young men obtained apprenticeships as Mariners, as the Dover Borough Records of Apprenticeship Enrolments indicate, although there is no record of John Hamilton having been apprenticed at Dover. His younger brother, Richard, is listed as having entered an apprenticeship as a tailor in Dover in 1779 at the age of thirteen. Nevertheless, by 1792 we begin to find references to John Hamilton’s service with the Navy.
In 1792, aged twenty-seven, John Hamilton was on the Charlotte, an armed cutter that was part of a squadron patrolling the Downs under the command of Admiral John Macbride. A year later, in 1793, he was called upon to take part in the naval support of Frederick, Duke of York’s ill-fated siege of Dunkirk.
On 1 February 1793 the French had declared war against the United Provinces – the Low Countries to the north of France. On 16 February they advanced from Antwerp to Willemstadt, about ninety miles from Helevoetsluys. The Dutch Stadtholder had previously requested assistance from the British but this had not been forthcoming. Now the British decided to act and on 1 March 1793 the Duke of York and 2,000 men were carried across the Channel to Helevoetsluys and Royal Navy crews were made available to man Dutch gunboats.
On 30 March 1793 a squadron commanded by Admiral John Macbride and troops under General Sir Charles Grey managed to force the French from Ostend and Nieuport. The British were then able to use Ostend as their main point of entry onto the Continent until it was evacuated in June 1794.
A letter from Dunkirk, dated Friday 26 April 1793, reported that eight English cutters under Captain Clements were blockading the port at Dunkirk. A week earlier, on Friday 19 April, a French privateer captured two English fishing vessels between Dover and Folkestone. In retaliation Captain Clements took the French vessel Trois Soeurs, its master Mathieu Charles Kezel, and his son, and conveyed them to Ostend. Keeping the son as hostage the English sent Kezel to the commander of the French Garrison at Dunkirk, Pascal Kerenveyer, with a letter suggesting that it would be wise to surrender before the arrival of the Duke of York’s troops caused “the total ruin and destruction of the city”. Clements promised to free the fisherman, his son, and the vessel, and to “pay them for their trouble”, once an answer was received. The answer from Kerenveyer was that the French refused to surrender and that Clements should “Do me the honour to attack me in a military manner and I shall have that of answering you” rather than writing letters “which would become tedious”.
In the meantime the Duke of York waited at Ostend for British troop reinforcements. At 8 a.m. on Friday 24 May sixteen transports left Blackwall carrying the regiments of the 2nd and 7th Queens Dragoon Guards. The 3rd Regiment, the Prince of Wales Dragoon Guards left Northfleet the next day. The Times commented that
His Majesty and the Prince of Wales were expected at the embarkation, but neither of them were there.
They probably had better things to do.
A small article of some interest appeared in the Times a week earlier.
Ensign Hamilton, of the Third regiment of Guards, had a very narrow escape: a cannon ball was making directly for his head, but a Sergeant who was near him, seeing it, held up his hand, and altered its direction so much that it only went through Mr. Hamilton’s hat: we are sorry to learn that the sergeant lost his hand by this single proof of heroism.
Gone are the days when cannon balls could be seen coming, let alone be deflected by the wave of a hand! It is not known who this Ensign Hamilton was.
For several months Frederick, Duke of York, and his army of some 14,500 British, Hanoverian, German and Dutch troops made their way down the coast towards Dunkirk. By early August it was reported that the French garrison had left the city and that the inhabitants were ready to welcome the British. But these reports proved false and when the Duke arrived he sent a letter to the entrenched garrison urging their surrender in order to avoid “the total ruin of a flourishing city”. His request was, of course, refused.
The Duke of York soon began to experience determined resistance from the French garrison and considerable annoyance from six French gunboats anchored off shore. A letter from Dunkirk on Sunday 25 August reported that a British frigate and seven cutters had sailed up the Channel towards Ostend. They had ignored the events at Dunkirk to the apparent dismay of the writer. However this small fleet was delivering heavy stores and artillery to Nieuport, some eight miles north of Dunkirk, arriving there on 27 August.
In command of this fleet was Admiral John Macbride, who had relinquished his command of the Downs squadron in June and had taken up command of the Channel Fleet. On 29 August he met with the Duke of York at Dunkirk to discuss ways of overcoming the unexpectedly large French garrison, now estimated at some 16,000 men.
Macbride returned to London with a request for a greater force of gunboats and bomb vessels to support the siege. The request was immediately granted and, in addition, troops of the 19th, 42nd, and 52nd Regiments that had been destined for the West Indies were diverted to Flanders.
In the meantime, on 30 August
at 1 p.m. six English cutters left Nieuport and stood for the fleet of the enemy lying off Dunkirk. The wind being about N.W. they were obliged to make several short tacks before they could gain them. During this time the enemy fired several very heavy shots at them, both from their gunboats and from a battery at the water-side, but without effect. Our fleet continued working to the windward, and at sun set they were several miles to the northward of Dunkirk.
And so the Duke waited. At least the French also waited and things were reported to be fairly quiet for a number of days. By 3 September it was reported that two fifty-gun war ships, some frigates and bomb ketches were on their way to Dunkirk. A few days later four twenty-four pounder and four eighteen pounder cannons were shipped from Dover.
But the promised naval support did not arrive. The ships were still at Plymouth on 9 September. The delay meant that the French had time to muster reinforcements and soon the Duke of York was forced to retreat from Dunkirk to avoid being surrounded by a total French force of some 20,000 troops. The failure of the siege was attributed to the Admiralty’s delay in providing the promised naval support.
But the English back at home were not all absorbed by the siege at Dunkirk. There were the King’s fox and deer hunts to report and the coming and going of the Royal Family between Buckingham Palace and Windsor, not to mention the young Prince of Wales’ mounting debts. The Times was also reporting the latest trials at the Old Bailey. On 11 September John Gabriel was found guilty of entering the house of William Burch and stealing a pair of silver candlesticks worth about £10. Two days later Richard Clements was found guilty of stealing a pocket-handkerchief and just over £4 from a shop. Both men were sentenced to the only appropriate punishment for such crimes – death. If the men were very lucky they just might have their sentences commuted to transportation for life to the very newly settled penal colony halfway around the world at Botany Bay.
And so, while the poverty-stricken of England were being sentenced to death for trying to stay alive, the Duke of York marched his men to the top of the hill, then marched them back again, and countless thousands of men continued to die in the never-ending wars of the 1790s.
It was for the Duke of York’s siege of Dunkirk that John Hamilton and his cutter Charlotte provided support in 1793. In the following year Hamilton was appointed Lieutenant to the newly built armed cutter Active One of his first duties in that role was to attend King George III at Weymouth.
King George III’s son, George, Prince of Wales, developed a reputation for his inappropriate love affairs, not to mention his excessive expenditure from the public purse. On 15 December 1785 young George had secretly married twice-widowed Catholic Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert. After much rumour and controversy the King annulled the marriage in 1793.
By 1794, having had at least one other inappropriate affair and accumulating more debts, the Prince announced a desire to marry his cousin, Princess Caroline of Brunswick. He hardly knew her, but at least if he was married his allowance would be increased and his debts might be reduced.
Arrangements were put into place to bring the Princess to England at the earliest opportunity. On 29 December 1794, accompanied by her mother, two maids and Lord Malmesbury, she left Brunswick for the journey to Hellevoetsluis where an English squadron was to meet her. The journey did not go as planned. They reached Osnabruck on 1 January 1795 and had to halt. French victories ahead of them made the continuance of the journey dangerous and severe ice and fog had prevented the English ships getting in to Hellevoetsluis. After waiting for three weeks Lord Malmesbury ordered a return to Hanover on 22 January.
The delay was perhaps an advantage as Lord Malmesbury had discovered to his dismay that the Princess was less than accomplished in many aspects of her life. He later wrote in his diaries that she could barely write, and certainly could not spell. He found her character, manners and lack of “acquired morality” completely wanting improvement, not to mention her appalling washing habits – she seldom washed her hair and feet and was, as he put it, “offensive” as a result. He tried to persuade her that she should give “great and nice attention to every part of dress, as well as to what was hid, as to what was seen”. He observed that her coarse petticoats, shifts and stockings were “never well washed or changed enough”.
At last news came that the English squadron consisting of H.M.S. Jupiter, under Captain Jack Payne, H.M.S. Phaeton and two cutters, the Princess Royal and another, presumably the Active, commanded by John Hamilton, had reached Cuxhaven. The cutters proceeded further up the River Elbe to the town of Stade.
At seven o’clock in the morning of Tuesday 24 March 1795 the entourage left the city of Hanover in a procession of six six-horse coaches, with four accompanying out-riders, two courier carriages each with four horses, and two baggage carriages. A large contingent of Hanoverian guards with drums beating and colours flying escorted the carriages out of the city while a salute of guns was fired from the garrison. By nightfall the coaches and their occupants had reached the town of Weltzrode where the travellers stayed overnight. The next day they continued their journey to Closterseven for another overnight stop. On Thursday 26 March the procession reached the town of Stade on the River Elbe. The garrison turned out to greet the visitors with a salute from their cannons. The Mayor and Burghers of the city were there. Thousands of people had travelled from all over the country to be in Stade for the occasion. The Princess spent all of Friday walking about the ramparts, walking about the town, and dining in public so that the people could meet her.
At 9 o’clock on Saturday morning the Princess and her entourage went down to the River Elbe where the two English cutters were waiting to convey them to H.M.S. Jupiter, which was lying off Cuxhaven.
On Sunday 29 March, at eight o’clock in the morning, the ships, H.M.S. Jupiter, H.M.S. Phaeton and the two cutters, weighed anchor and, with a fair wind from the northeast proceeded to England. By Wednesday they were six leagues off Yarmouth when they were halted by thick fog. Firing off fog guns every hour the ships were forced to remain where they were throughout the rest of Wednesday and the whole of Thursday. The fog eventually cleared and at four o’clock on Friday morning the fleet weighed anchor and proceeded to Harwich where they arrived at about noon. At the same time fourteen transports loaded with troops, and twenty cutters, escorted by a frigate arrived off Harwich on their way back from the Continent.
The original intention was that the young Princess would disembark at Harwich and travel to London from there, but she decided that she liked the warship so much that she preferred to remain on board the ship. So they continued on into the Thames but a thick fog set in and the ships were obliged to drop anchor until the fog lifted at four in the afternoon. They then continued on to the Nore where they arrived at six o’clock. At six o’clock on Saturday morning the ships set sail again and arrived off Gravesend at noon.
Despite the generally circulating reports that the Princess would disembark at Greenwich that day, she remained on board the Jupiter overnight. In the meantime the town was crowded with people who had come to welcome her to England. On Sunday morning the royal party transferred to the Royal Yacht Augusta and was then accompanied by John Hamilton’s cutter up to Greenwich Hospital where they arrived just after midday. Princess Caroline, true to form, upon seeing the number of maimed pensioners at the hospital made the rather tactless comment “Do all Englishmen have only one arm or leg?”
After spending some time at the Governor’s house at Greenwich one of the King’s coaches, drawn by six horses, escorted by a party of the Prince of Wales’ Light Dragoons, took the Princess to St James Palace. Thousands of people gathered along the way to cheer her on.
Arriving at St James Palace the Princess was presented to the Prince of Wales. After this first close encounter the Prince quickly retreated to a corner of the room and asked Lord Malmesbury to fetch him a brandy.
The Times, perhaps being rather generous, gave the following description of the Princess.
The Princess is rather below middling stature; a pleasing figure; has a look of great good nature; expressive eyes, flaxen hair, teeth as white as ivory, a good complexion, beautiful hand and arm, and may certainly be deemed a very pretty woman. She bears something of his Majesty’s resemblance, particularly in her upper lip, which rather projects. For personal accomplishments, we believe few ladies can exceed her; and her manners are reported to us, by those who have been for the last three months in the daily habit of seeing her, to be uncommonly engaging. We are strongly prepossessed in the opinion, that her Serene Highness will not only be an ornament to the British Court, but will be beloved by the people.
Having clearly lodged Caroline, with her “uncommonly engaging” manners, as a new ornament for the British Court The Times then suggested that
whatever virtuous qualities this amiable Princess may bring with her from her native country, she will certainly find the opportunity of rendering them still more perfect and shining, by imitating the accomplished model set before her of her Majesty, who unites in herself all the private virtues of domestic life, as well as the public virtues of a great Princess.
The suggestion that the Princess still had a lot to learn was barely disguised.
Within months of the wedding, which took place at the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace on Wednesday evening, 8 April 1795 the couple separated and continued to live apart for the rest of the marriage. In 1814 Caroline left England and travelled around Europe for the next six years. It would seem that she managed to improve her virtues during that time.
On 29 January 1820 King George III died and the Prince of Wales became King George IV. Caroline immediately made plans to return to England to claim her role as Queen. Despite the attempts of her husband and the Parliament to deny her the title of Queen through threats and bribery she was determined to return to London. A great number of supporters and well wishers greeted at Calais when she arrived there in the evening of Sunday 4 June 1820. Fearful that the French might attempt to prevent her crossing the Channel she went immediately on board the English packet Prince Leopold.
The Prince Leopold left the Calais pier at 11 o’clock that night but could not get out of the harbour until six the next morning. A west wind prevented any headway until about 11 a.m. Despite a rough voyage Caroline remained on deck discussing political events with the officers of the boat.
When the Prince Leopold approached Dover the garrison was thrown into confusion about how Caroline should be received. Colonel Monroe finally decided to provide a royal salute, much to the pleasure of the people of Dover who flocked to the harbour to welcome their Queen.
The packet arrived off Dover at about a quarter to one, but because of the tide could not land. Caroline decided to risk a landing in the open boat despite the heavy swell. The crowds cheered her as she came towards the pier.
She then walked
with a firm step, a composed manner, and a smiling but steady countenance along the crowded ranks of principal inhabitants. Well-dressed females, young and old, saluted her as she passed with exclamations of “God bless her: she has a noble spirit: she must be innocent”…
Innocent, that is of charges of adultery and treason that were being threatened against her by a hostile parliament.
As she moved along the crowd gathered so fast, and pressed so closely around her, that she was compelled to take refuge in the York Hotel. Mr. Wright, of the Ship Hotel, seeing that it would be impossible for her Majesty to reach his house on foot, immediately despatched a handsome open carriage to the York. Her Majesty, Lady Hamilton, and Alderman Wood, ascended the carriage… A guard of honour was placed at the door of the hotel, but the people did not seem to relish their appearance, and the Queen observing to Alderman Wood that their presence appeared rather to produce and unpleasant and angry feeling, the worthy Alderman suggested the propriety of their going away. After playing “God save the King” the soldiers retired, and the populace seemed highly delighted… Her Majesty then went to the principal window of the hotel, and bowed several times with great grace and sweetness of manner to the happy assemblage.
The Queen, somewhat exhausted by her travels, then took several hours of rest at the hotel.
Shortly after five o’clock her Majesty appeared at the window of Wright’s Hotel, and was received with the most enthusiastic expressions of satisfaction.
At six o’clock a deputation of the inhabitants of Dover begged to be introduced to her Majesty, stating that they were anxious to present to her an address expressive of their feelings on her Majesty’s arrival in her own kingdom.
The moment the arrival of these gentlemen was mentioned to her Majesty she desired that they be admitted to her presence. She stood at the upper end of the room, Alderman Wood on her right, and Lady Hamilton, on her left hand. The deputation soon entered and bowed with great respect.
After reading an address proclaiming their congratulations on her return to England the deputation took turns to kiss her hand and then retired. A group of ladies of the town was then admitted. At half-past six the Queen left the hotel and entered her carriage which was then drawn by the people out of the town where the horses were harnessed and she was carried to London.
We might imagine John Hamilton, his brother Richard, their wives and their children being among the crowd at Dover that welcomed Caroline back to England. John Hamilton certainly would have looked back to that time, twenty-five years earlier, when he had been part of the squadron that brought her to England for her ill-fated marriage.
The Times, clearly supporting the Queen against her opponents described her arrival.
There have been disembarkations on the British coast, bringing war and producing revolutions in the State, ere now. The chief of those were the landing of WILLIAM the Conqueror at Hastings; the landing of HENRY VII at Milford-haven; and the landing of the Prince of ORANGE at Torbay. What were the feelings of the people at those momentous eras we know but feebly… yet… we would be inclined to say, that neither at the landing of WILLIAM the Conqueror, nor at that of the Earl of RICHMOND, nor of WILLIAM III, were the people’s bosoms of this metropolis so much agitated as they were last night, when it was known that her Majesty the Queen of ENGLAND had once again – bravely, we will say – once again set her foot on British ground… WILLIAM the Conquerer came attended by a force which at once subdued the army that was opposed to him... But this woman comes arrayed only in native courage, and (may we not add?) conscious innocence; and presents her bosom, aye, offers her neck, to those who have threatened to sever her head from it, if she ever dared to come within their reach.
Despite the immense public support for her Caroline was brought to trial. She was nevertheless acquitted. Soon afterwards her health failed and she died within a year.
The Grand Expedition
Going back to 1795, after having the honour of escorting Princess Caroline from the Elbe to Greenwich John Hamilton went back to more regular English Channel duty.
Two weeks after the Royal Wedding it was reported, on Tuesday 21 April 1795, that Captain Anthony Deane of the cutter Princess Royal had arrived at Harwich after escaping from Dunkirk. It would appear that the frigate H.M.S. Lapwing and two cutters, including the Princess Royal, had chased three French privateer brigs and a cutter into Dunkirk. In the ensuing exchange of fire the French sank the Princess Royal. The crew managed to throw the mail overboard and escaped to the supporting vessels. We might wonder whether the other cutter was John Hamilton’s Active.
By May 1795 John Hamilton and the Active were again stationed at the Downs and within a few months he was recruited as part of what was called the Grand Expedition from Cowes to Cancalle Bay under Lord Moira.
An army of several thousand French Royalists had been assembled in England and a secret plan was devised to carry them from England to Quiberon Bay on the coast of France. A squadron under Commodore Sir John Warren was assembled at Cowes to escort the 8,000 troops of the émigré army. In the meantime another fleet of thirteen of the largest British warships under Lord Bridport headed for Brest, and yet another fleet under Sir Sydney Smith cruised along the French coast.
Sir John Warren’s expedition to transport the emigre army to France was considered a great success and another expedition under Lord Moira was immediately planned.
On 4 July it was reported that 4,000 French emigrant infantry had embarked from Stad on the River Elbe headed for Jersey. They would eventually join Lord Moira’s who had been authorised to collect as many French emigrants as he could. The expedition would then be taken to France to support the Royalists who wished to install Louis XVIII as the rightful king of France.
By 7 July John Warren’s expedition had been landed at Quiberon Bay and local Royalists were flocking to join the force. Within a few days however 50,000 Republican troops were ordered to Brittany to oppose the Royalists.
Preparations for Lord Moira’s operation were ordered to he brought forward as a matter of urgency and for the next few weeks vast numbers of emigrant troops, transport ships, and frigates continued to arrive at Deal, Plymouth and other ports on their way to Portsmouth.
In the meantime there was also a continual departure of frigates and transports from Cowes, Plymouth and Portsmouth bound for Quiberon Bay to support Sir John Warren’s force, but on Friday 24 July great consternation was expressed at early reports that the Republican forces had repulsed the Royalists at Quiberon Bay.
Within days of this news all troops near Portsmouth were ordered to be ready for foreign service. By 29 July it was reported that “a great number of revenue cutters have been ordered to the Isle of Wight, presumably to be employed as transports for troops under Lord Moira”. We might assume that John Hamilton and the Active were among this latest influx of ships to Cowes.
Further news of the Republican victories finally arrived. A letter from Sir John Warren indicated that on the night of 21 July the emigrant army had been surprised by the Republicans who had been joined by a large number of Royalist deserters. It was impossible to tell friend from foe and many Royalists were killed by men they had assumed were their supporters. Up to 7,000 of the Royalists were killed in this confrontation.
On 16 August a fleet of thirty-five transports arrived off Harwich with emigrant troops from northern Europe on their way to Portsmouth. The loading of troops, horses and artillery at Southampton, Plymouth and Portsmouth continued. Almost every day for several weeks The Times announced that the expedition was nearly ready to leave. Although great secrecy surrounded the precise arrangements it was reported that there would be two divisions to the expedition, one consisting mainly of English support troops under Major General Doyle, and the second with the majority of the French emigrants under Lord Moira.
After nearly two months of preparations it was announced that on the afternoon of Wednesday 26 August Admiral Harvey with a massive fleet of two hundred transports had sailed for France. They had been joined that morning by the transports that had come past Harwich some two weeks earlier. The division commanded by General Doyle included 4,000 English officers as well as a “great number of gentlemen who possess estates in Brittany, Anjou and Maine” and whose presence it was hoped would promote a general uprising against the Republic.
The Times said that it would be at least two weeks before news of the expedition’s arrival at France would be received. It was nearly three weeks later that news arrived indicating that Admiral Harvey had met with a storm of Ushant on 4 September and had finally arrived at the Isle of Honat on 13 September where the fleet stopped for a five day break before continuing.
Further news was very slow in coming and it was not until mid October that the activities of the emigrant army began to be reported in any detail.
On the day after the fleet left Cowes Lord Moira, having superintended the preparations for the expedition, resigned from his position of command. During the weeks preceding the embarkation he had been staying in a house he rented for £10 per week, while at the Nottingham Court of Assizes one Anne Meckings was convicted of stealing “a piece of thread edging” and was sentenced to death.
But the British Government could not execute every person it sentenced to death and there was no room to house the ever-growing numbers of prisoners who were serving time. It was convenient that Captain James Cook had laid claim to New South Wales back in 1770. But nobody knew what to do with it so it just sat there. It was even more convenient when somebody had the inspiration to suggest that a solution to the problem of England’s excess criminal population of petty burglars and thieves would be to transport them to the other side of the world in 1788. Out of sight, hopefully out of mind. Little did they know how this decision would effect the Hamilton family fifty years later. Seventeen eighty-eight was an important year for the Hamilton family.
By mid October the expedition arrived off the Isle Dieu and disembarked its English troops and emigrants, but within days rough weather forced Admiral Harvey to take his ships out of the area. On the night of 17 October a storm blew up and Admiral Warren was also driven away from Isle Dieu. The French took advantage of their absence to retake the island. Admiral Warren reported that there had been so much damage to the ships that many of them would have to return home.
On Monday 26 October The Times reluctantly reported that the expedition led by Admiral Harvey and General Doyle was “not likely to be attended with any success”. Although there was a constant stream of vessels coming and going from Quiberon Bay for the remainder of the year many of the ships involved in the expedition returned home over the next few weeks. Despite the failure of the expedition Admirals Warren and Harvey continued to patrol the French coast.
And so ended the Grand Expedition that had taken months of preparation, thousands of men and hundreds of ships.
Hunters and Collectors
The storms that had disrupted the Grand Expedition off the Isle Dieu during mid October continued into November 1795 and at 2 a.m. on Friday 6 November Dover experienced the most violent storm in memory. Houses were unroofed, trees blown down, and many people left their homes fearing they would fall down. This storm, which was regarded as being a hurricane, was also reported to have caused considerable damage at Deal and Harwich. Ten days later, on 17 November, three English transports carrying 600 foreign troops and emigrants were blown onto the shore at Calais. Two hundred were drowned. Another “dreadful gale” on 18 November resulted in much damage and several dead bodies being found at Dover. The storm continued.
After taking part in the Grand Expedition Hamilton continued to serve under Sir John Warren and Sir Edward Pellew as part of a squadron of frigates cruising off the Channel Islands. The British regularly patrolled the Channel Islands, keeping watch outside the Bay of Brest for any French naval activity. However small French naval ships and privateers could set to sea from any number of ports along the coast so the British formed “hunting squadrons” consisting of the best Frigates and the most competent captains, and their support vessels, to foil, and preferably capture, any French ships they saw. Warren’s ship was the Flora; Pellew’s was the Arethusa.
Sir John Warren’s squadron, with which John Hamilton served, was one of the most effective. However, some of the British commanders came in for criticism over their zealous hunting down of foreign ships. For every captured ship, or prize, they brought back to an English port they were awarded part of that prize according to the value of the ship and its cargo. Some began to wonder whether the lining of their own pockets had become more of a motivation than the protection of British interests.
The Blockade of the Texel and the Naval Mutinies
In 1795 Holland decided to join France in its war against England. It was common for former allies to swap sides at short notice. The relatively small English North Sea Fleet under Admiral Adam Duncan was given the task of blockading the Texel, an island at the entrance to the main Dutch harbours. The intention of this action was to prevent the Dutch sailing out to join the French navy at Brest and forming an alliance that would severely stretch the resources of the Royal Navy. John Hamilton was appointed to support Duncan in this blockade.
As if things weren’t already bad enough, in April 1797 a significant number of ships of the English Channel Fleet mutinied at Spithead, off Portsmouth. The immediate causes of the mutiny at Spithead included the appalling conditions in relation to food, pay and discipline. The sailors’ grievances were justified, their behaviour orderly and the mutiny was peacefully brought to an end with most of the complaints being addressed to the satisfaction of the mutineers.
But, despite the satisfactory end of the Spithead Mutiny, the men of the North Sea Fleet, based at the Nore were not satisfied. They took matters much further and engaged in more drastic action, all of which raised speculation that there was some anti-government Jacobin influence in promoting discontent at the Nore.
The Jacobins - not to be confused with the Jacobites, who were supporters of the House of Stuart after the 1688 revolution in Great Britain, and were associated with attempts to restore Prince Charles to the throne - were originally members of a political group in France who were responsible for some of the excesses of the later French Revolution and the subsequent Reign of Terror. In England, anybody who seemed to have extreme revolutionary ideas, including those who called for the reform of parliament, were referred to as Jacobins.
During the previous year, 1796, Jacobin supporters John Gale Jones and John Binns had toured a number of naval towns, including Portsmouth, and several in Kent, and had actively promoted revolutionary sentiments. Both were arrested at Birmingham a short time later.
Another Jacobin, John Thelwell, spoke against the government at Yarmouth and “ninety sailors armed with cutlasses and bludgeons, who had been sent for this purpose from a frigate lying in the harbour”, attacked him and his audience.
One of the leaders of the Nore mutiny, Richard Parker, who later became known as the Admiral of the Floating Republic, was a typical quota-man, both educated and familiar with Tom Paine's publication Rights of Man, which had been banned by the government but not before it had been read by hundreds of thousands across the country and was still widely circulated.
For most of the time Admiral Duncan's fleet, which was based at Yarmouth, remained loyal to him, despite an attempted mutiny on board his own ship Venerable at the end of April. However, on Wednesday 31 May 1797 The Times reported that
some delegates had left Sheerness to go round to Yarmouth, and endeavour to breed a revolt in Admiral Duncan’s fleet. The mutineers seized upon the Cygnet sloop of war at the Nore, to carry them round; which reached Yarmouth Roads as Admiral Duncan was leaving them. The Admiral very properly took the Delegates on board his own ship and ordered the Cutter to attend him to sea.
Two or three ships of the Admiral’s fleet shewed symptoms of mutiney on the signal to sail, but obedience was soon restored. The Lion, of 64 guns, and one of the frigates actually refused to weigh anchor, which being noticed by Captain Trollope’ of the Glatton, he, at the desire of his ship’s company, offered his services to the Admiral to compel these ships to sail, and they declared at the same time that they would have nothing to do with the Delegates or Lawyers. This spirited conduct had the desired effect. The Montague was another refactory ship, and so was the Nassau, but the latter ship was only dissatisfied on the men having 18 months wages due to them. The Nassau was left behind until the men are paid.
Within a few days more of Duncan’s ships had hoisted the Red Flag of Defiance - the Lion, Standard, Belliquex, Comet, Agamemnon and others.
In the meantime Duncan received Admiralty orders to take what ships he had and sailed for the Texel, fearful that the Dutch fleet might take advantage of the situation and sail to join the French. By the time he reached sight of the Dutch coast he was left only with his own ship, the Venerable, the Adamant, and two smaller ships, the Trent and Circe. The others had one by one, hoisted the red flag and turned back to Yarmouth. It would appear that Captain John Hamilton and his cutter, the Active, remained loyal to Duncan throughout the episode. Many of the smaller vessels, such as the Active, are not mentioned in the accounts of the mutinies - the large warships attract most of the attention.
One warship, the San Fiorenzo, which wanted to remain with Duncan, had been hemmed into port by the mutinous Sandwich, Richard Parker’s ship, and others. A chance came to escape and the San Fiorenzo was fired on by the others in an attempt to stop her. Considerable damage and loss of life was reported.
The mutineers sailed south towards London and for a week the Thames was blockaded, but despite talk of taking the fleet to France, most of the mutineers remained respectful to their officers and loyal to the King.
While the mutineers had just cause in wanting to be paid, some ship’s crews being owed two year’s back pay, in wanting revision of unjustly harsh disciplinary measures, and in wanting the appalling conditions on many ships to be addressed, the introduction of violence and threats of political revolution immediately turned both the government and public against many of the leaders of the Nore mutiny.
By June it was over and the long process of trying and punishing the ringleaders began. Many, including Parker, were subsequently executed although the sailors were offered a Royal pardon.
Despite the loss of most of his fleet Admiral Duncan maintained the blockade by deluding the Dutch with imaginary signals to ships which were supposedly over the horizon. It was a remarkable game of bluff as the Dutch had well over twenty ships in harbour, while Duncan had four, plus a few tiny support vessels. Every day one of the small boats looked in to the Texel and reported on the state of the Dutch ships. The small boats included the Active and Rose, cutters, Black Joke, Spider, Espiegle and Speculator, luggers, and Circe, a frigate. It is reported that “all were honourably distinguished and prominent in this service”.
Once the mutiny ended Duncan regained most of his fleet again, but soon, having been at sea for so long, it was necessary for him to take most of his ships back to Great Yarmouth for stores and refit. He did this on 1 October 1797 and reported to the Admiralty in London that “I have left the Circe, the Vestal and two cutters to watch the Texel”. These ships, which included the Active, were later joined by others under the command of Captain Henry Trollope of the 74 gun Frigate Russell.
The Battle of Camperdown
When the Dutch learned of Duncan’s return to Yarmouth to refit they ordered sixteen Dutch warships under Admiral de Winter to put to sea.
The Dutch intention was possibly to sail south along the channel to join the French at Brest in readiness to invade Ireland. That this was their intention has never been confirmed, although it would appear that Admiral de Winter was opposed to the fleet sailing in the first place.
On Friday 6 October Lieutenant John Hamilton, while cruising inshore, had boarded a Dutch galliot and learned from the captain of the Dutch intention to sail on the Saturday morning. He relayed this to Captain Halkett on the Circe and was ordered to keep watch overnight from a position close inshore. Hamilton did this and was able to sink one of the red buoys marking the Dutch passage out of the Texel. Unfortunately this action did not significantly hinder the Dutch progress.
On the morning of Saturday 7 October the Active saw that the Dutch had in fact left port. Captain Hamilton then sailed along the line of the Dutch fleet to gain some idea of the strength of their armaments. Having done that he then reported his findings to Captain Halkett. The Dutch, perhaps trying to keep him from gaining further information, chased him some thirteen leagues from the Texel until he met up with Captain Trollope and the Russell. At midnight Hamilton boarded the Russell and, waking Captain Trollope, reported what he had discovered.
A slightly different version of events is that Captain Henry Hall on the Speculator made a note that the Dutch had been seen preparing to leave at six o’clock in the morning. At six thirty Captain Halkett of the Circe despatched the Speculator to Yarmouth to inform Duncan.
Sir, Since day break the Fleet in the Texel have been getting under sail...I despatch this by the Speculator. I shall as soon as I discover their motions, send the Active and mean to stand a little way to the N.W. to make signals as if I saw your Fleet, but I imagine they have already heard you are in port...
The Speculator informed Trollope on its way past and Trollope added his own message to Duncan
...whether they go North or South you may depend on seeing the Russell and Adamant in sight of them whenever you meet them.
The Active and Circe kept watching all that day and the next. At eleven in the morning on Monday 9 October Duncan wrote to the Admiralty
A lugger this morning appeared at the back of the sands with a signal flying that the Dutch are out...I shall put to sea immediately.
John Hamilton and the Active had arrived to provide additional details of what was happening.
Captain Trollope, in the Russell, had been keeping a close tail on the Dutch and soon decided to send the Active with additional despatches for the Admiralty. According to Hamilton’s own account, when he arrived off Yarmouth Sands he found that he had arrived there first and decided to deliberately disobey his orders and started signalling to call the fleet out.
At one o’clock, Admiral Duncan added to his log
I left Yarmouth Roads at 11 this forenoon. I shall proceed to the Texel with all possible expedition. A cutter has just come into sight which I take to be the Active.
Hamilton went on board the Venerable and informed Admiral Duncan of what had taken place. He was then ordered to lead the fleet back to the Texel.
Despite Hamilton’s claim to have been the first to inform Duncan of what was happening most accounts state that the lugger Speculator brought the news.
In London The Times carried the news two days later
According to advice received yesterday at the Admiralty, and at Lloyds, from Yarmouth that a lugger had arrived there on Monday morning with advices of the DUTCH FLEET having put to sea. From the best observation of the Commander, the fleet consisted of the following force: - 12 ships of two decks; 6 ships of 50 guns; 10 frigates, besides some transports.
Admiral Duncan, on receiving advices of their sailing, immediately got his fleet under weigh, and on Monday afternoon it had already cleared the sands off Yarmouth.
In its Shipping News section, The Times carried further details
The whole of Admiral Duncan's fleet are at this moment to meet the Dutch, who are at sea. This information was received early this morning by a lugger which had been left off the Texel to watch them. She made the signal for their being out, from the back of the sands, and the signal for sailing was immediately made and obeyed with astonishing alacrity. The wind is favourable to the English Fleet.
Twelve O'clock - The whole fleet will be out of sight by half past two. A number of men and officers are left on shore.
After the Dutch left port a north-east wind had hampered their progress down the channel, yet favoured Duncan's rapid transit from Yarmouth. Duncan was able to cross the channel unseen by the Dutch and headed for the Texel in case the Dutch attempted to return to port. In the meantime Admiral Curtis was ordered to sail from Plymouth with a fleet of reinforcements.
When Duncan caught up with the Dutch at nine o'clock on the Wednesday morning he ordered a general chase. Just before ten o’clock Admiral de Winter decided there was no alternative but to form a line of battle and face the English, although they were clearly trying to reach the Texel again. Duncan decided to prevent the Dutch reaching their home. By this time the fleets were only a few miles off Camperdown, or Kamperduin, an expanse of low downs separating the village of Kampen in Northern Holland from the ocean. It is about thirty miles north of Haarlem.
Admiral Duncan's first tactic was to divide the English fleet into two divisions.
The Larboard or Lee Division under Vice Admiral Onslow, included the Russell (74 guns, 590 men) under Captain H.Trollope; Director (64 guns, 491 men) Captain W.Bligh; Montague (74, 590) Captain J.Knight; Veteran (64, 491) Captain G.Gregory; Monarch (74, 590) Captain E. O'Brien, Vice Admiral Onslow); Powerful (74, 590) Captain O'Brien Drury; Monmouth (64, 491) Captain J.Walker; and the Agincourt (64, 491) Captain J.Williamson.
In addition to these warships were the Repeaters - Beaulieu, a Frigate; the King George, the Active and the Diligent, all cutters; and the Speculator, a lugger. A Repeater served to relay messages from one part of the fleet to another by repeating the flagged messages that were raised by the Flagship. It was accepted protocol that these support vessels would not be attacked by either side in the conflict.
The Starboard or Weather Division included the Triumph (74 guns and 640 men) under Captain W.H.Essington; the Venerable (74, 593) Captain W.Fairfax, Admiral Adam Duncan; Ardent (64, 491) Captain R.Burgess; Bedford (74, 590) Captain Sir T.Beard; Lancaster (64, 491) Captain J.Wells; Belliquex (64, 491) Captain J.Inglis; Adamant (50, 343) Captain W.Hotham; and the Iris (50, 343) Captain W.Mitchell.
In addition to the warships in this division were the Repeaters - Circe, a Frigate, and Martin, a sloop.
At about ten minutes to twelve Duncan took his own ships through the Dutch line so that they were between the Dutch Fleet and the shore. Thousands of Dutch citizens had come out to watch the engagement from their rooftops.
The Active had been specifically appointed as tender to the Venerable and as such accompanied the Admiral’s ship into battle when he first broke the Dutch line. Very early in the battle the top of the Venerable’s mast was shot away. Adam Duncan rescued his fallen colours and sent one of the young seamen, John Crawford, to nail the colours to the top of what remained of the mast. Soon afterwards the wheel was shot away. Captain John Hamilton, being close by the ship, apparently witnessed both of these events and later recounted them.
Admiral Duncan described the action of the battle in his Log Book.
About thirty minutes past twelve, Vice-Admiral Onslow in the Monarch, who broke through the enemy’s line, passed under the Vice-Admiral’s stern, engaged him to leeward. The Venerable, intending to engage the Dutch Commander-in-Chief, was prevented by the States General, of 76 guns, bearing a blue flag at the mizen, shooting close up to him; we therefore put our helm a-port, ran under his stern, engaged him close, and soon caused him to run out of his line. The Venerable then fell alongside the Dutch Admiral de Winter, in the Vryheid, who was for some time well supported, and kept up a very heavy fire upon us…the Hercules, a Dutch ship, of 64 guns, caught fire a-head of us; she wore and drove very near our ship to leeward, while we were engaged and handled very roughly by four ships of the enemy. A little before three o’clock, while passing to the leeward of the Dutch Admiral, and Commander-in-Chief on the opposite tack, our starboard broadside was fired, which took effect principally among the rigging, as all her masts came immediately by the board. Soon after he struck his colours, all further opposition being vain and fruitless.
John Hamilton also gave this account of part of the action at Camperdown.
As soon as the action was over in the rear, I went on board the Monarch, and was received by Admiral Onslow, who said he was very happy to see me, and if I went with despatches, and landed at Yarmouth, would I call on Mrs. Onslow, and say that he was quite well, but that he had 148 men killed and wounded, and that all his best forecastle men were gone. I found him so much affected he could not speak another word; and when I said ‘Admiral, this is a great proof of the discipline of your ship; after losing so many brave fellows, the last broadside you fired was equal to any you had fired in the whole of the action, for it went off like a flash of lightning, and brought down the Dutch admiral’s mainmast in three pieces.’ He did not speak another word; but I saw tears run down his cheeks. I went into the cabin, when he asked me what was such a ship about? ‘Hove to, to reef topsails,’ I said. He repeated the question with regard to another ship. I replied, ‘She was doing the same.’ I found he was much displeased with the conduct of these ships, when I said, ‘Now, admiral, allow me to go on board the Dutch ship, as the admiral has struck his colours.’ He said, ‘Do so, and return and report to me.’ I said, I could not do that, for as soon as the action was over in the van, I must go on board the commander-in-chief; and I made my bow and went to the quarterdeck, where I met Captain Edward O’Brien. I observed to him the beautiful style the Monarch went into action, - passing through the enemy’s line, she gave a broadside to the Dutch admiral’s stern, and another into the next ship’s bow, - brought to close under the admiral’s lee, and opened the most tremendous fire I ever saw. Captain O'Brien said, 'They will give me the credit for that, for you know Dicky has not got a good name (meaning the admiral); but I can assure you he went to the quarter-master at the wheel, and said, You will pass through the enemy’s line, close under the Dutch admiral’s stern, and bring the ship to as near under his lee as possible. He took command of the ship himself, and fought her through the whole of the action; and a more brave or gallant man never slept than Admiral Onslow. There is not the smallest credit due to me; and, now, sir. I beg you will mention this wherever you have an opportunity.’
I was on the quarterdeck of the Venerable, when the Dutch admiral (commander-in-chief) was brought on board by Lieutenant Richardson.
The account of the conflict in The Times gave due praise to Duncan and his men for winning the battle, but it also gave great praise to Admiral de Winter and his men
We feel pleasure in doing justice to the gallant Dutch Admiral de Winter who fought his ship until there was not a man left on the deck but himself.
De Winter had little choice in the end - his ship, Vrijheid, was virtually battered to pieces by the British ships Ardent, Bedford and Venerable. When the Venerable had to retire due to its own severe damage its place was taken by the Triumph.
A painting depicting the moment of surrender, created soon after the event by Daniel Orme, a London artist, shows the key people, both officers and crew, who were present. Captain John Hamilton is shown standing in the background to the left of Admiral Duncan. His ship, the Active is in the centre background attempting to save the crew of the Dutch ship, Hercules, which is on fire. Young Jack Crawford is also depicted in Orme’s painting.
When de Winter came on board the Venerable to surrender and hand over his sword, it is reported that Duncan refused to accept it and said, with some degree of admiration, "I would much prefer your hand to your sword". Both men were six feet three inches tall and de Winter commented that “It is a marvellous thing that two such gigantic objects as Admiral Duncan and myself should have escaped the general carnage of this day.”
At the end of the battle Admiral Duncan sent the following despatch.
The Venerable soon got through the enemy's line, and I began a close action, with my Division on their Van, which lasted nearly two hours and a half, when I observed all the masts of the Dutch Admiral's ship to go by the board; she was, however, defended for some time in a most gallant manner; but being overpowered by numbers, her Colours were struck, and Admiral de Winter was soon brought on board the Venerable. On looking around me I observed the ship bearing the Vice Admiral's flag was also dismasted, and had surrendered to Vice Admiral Onslow; and that many others had likewise struck. Finding we were in 9 fathoms of water, and not farther than 5 miles from the land, my attention was so much taken up in getting the heads of the disabled ships off there, that I was not able to distinguish the number of ships captured; and the wind having been constantly on the land since, we have unavoidably been much dispersed, so that I have not been able to gain an exact account of them, but we have taken possession of eight or nine; more of them had struck, but taking advantage of the night, and being so close to their own coast, they succeeded in getting off, and some of them were seen going into the Texel the next morning...
One of the enemy's ships caught fire in the action and drove very near the Venerable; but I have the pleasure to say it was extinguished and she is one of the ships in our possession. The squadron has suffered much in their masts, yards and rigging, and many of them have lost a number of men; however, in no proportion to that of the enemy. The carnage on board the two ships that bore the Admiral's flags has been beyond all description; they have no less than 250 men killed and wounded on board of each ship; and here I have to lament the loss of Captain Burgess, of His Majesty's Ship the Ardent, who brought that ship into action in the most gallant and masterly manner, but was unfortunately killed soon after...
Captain Trollope's exertions and active good conduct in keeping sight of the enemy's fleet until I came up, have been truly meritorious, and, I trust, will meet a just reward.
I send this by Captain Fairfax, by whose able advice I profited much during the action, and who will give their Lordships and further particulars they may wish to know.
Duncan's letter was written on 13 October, but the cutter Rose was delayed several days in being able to deliver it. The wind blowing on to the Dutch coast caused the English ships great difficulty in keeping off the shore and they became widely separated. The unfavourable winds continued until the Saturday morning when they were finally able to make some headway towards the English coast.
In all, the Dutch lost 540 killed and 620 wounded. The English suffered 203 killed and 622 wounded.
So ended the Battle of Camperdown.
A paragraph in The Times account, but without explanation at the time, read "One of the Captains of Admiral Duncan's fleet is reported to have kept a very respectable distance during the late action."
This was undoubtedly a reference to Captain Williamson of the Agincourt who failed to close on the enemy as ordered by Duncan. He was court martialled, demoted to the bottom of the list of post captains, and prevented from serving with the Navy again. It was Captain Thomas Hopper of the Royal Marines who was serving on the Agincourt who brought the charge against Williamson.
Further reports in The Times indicated that "It is generally believed that His Majesty will pay a visit to Admiral Duncan and the Officers of his Fleet at Nore", and "All of the First Lieutenants of Admiral Duncan's Fleet are immediately to be promoted to the rank of Masters and Commanders."
On the day before the battle The Times had reported that the King was engaged in a deer hunt, and when he was informed of the outcome of the battle he was most pleased.
After returning to shore John Hamilton, now promoted to the rank of Captain, accompanied Admiral Duncan to visit Prime Minister William Pitt at Walmer Castle, only a few miles up the coast from Dover, where Duncan praised Hamilton’s most important service during the battle. Later he went to Daniel Orme’s studio at 112 Bond Street, London, to have his portrait painted in readiness for the major work depicting the surrender of the Dutch Admiral. Horatio Nelson came in and approached the Captain.
“Why, Hamilton,” he said, “the admiral took you down to Walmer Castle with him – what did Mr Pitt do for you?”
“As the admiral wished me to stop with him whilst the flag was flying, he promised to do something for me afterwards,” Hamilton replied.
“Pitt ought to have done something for you better than a promise,” said Lord Nelson clearly thinking that Hamilton should have received something substantial from the government as well as a promise from Duncan.
“But don’t mind,” he continued, “ it will always be of service to your family hereafter.”
Then, apparently having further considered Pitt’s failure to reward Hamilton, Nelson added.
“Don’t depend upon that, however, as John Bull is ungrateful, and your services may soon be forgotten.”
Pitt may have failed reward John Hamilton for his service, at least in the short term, but Admiral Duncan was subsequently awarded a £2,000 pension, given the title of Viscount in 1799 and promoted to the rank of Admiral of the White. Young John Crawford, who had climbed the mast and nailed the colours to the top, was given “a paltry doled-out pension of £30”. His home town of Sunderland presented him with a silver medal which he later had to pawn. He was not even mentioned in any of the despatches from Duncan, but then as Captain Edward Robinson later observed
Poor Jack was a member of an obscure family, and did not strut the quarter deck with a gold-laced jacket, neither was he the scion of some titled family, or most assuredly he would not have passed un-noticed even in Admiral Duncan’s despatches.
John Hamilton continued serving with Duncan until the Admiral retired from the command of the North Sea Fleet in 1800. He would have been with Duncan in August 1799 when he escorted 250 transports taking 29,000 British troops to Helder, just north of Camperdown. After a few successes against the Franco-Batavian alliance the British invasion force suffered a serious defeat on 6 October 1799 and had to be evacuated.
By the end of 1799 Britain had virtually no allies in Europe. Its high-handed approach to blockading ports and hindering the shipping convoys of neutral nations alienated many nations that had previously kept out of the never-ending wars. Denmark and Sweden were among those who expressed their displeasure with British tactics.
On 9 October 1800, Active, under Captain John Hamilton, and the cutter Rose, were captured by two Dutch gunboats and a French privateer in the river Ems in northwest Germany. The Times reported that they were attacked by surprise as they lay at anchor “yet they did not surrender until many of the crew were killed”. The Active was recaptured by the Lady Ann on 16 May 1801. The Battle of Copenhagen in 1801 resulted in peace treaties being signed with the Scandinavian states during that year.
A ship named the Active was involved in an expedition to Egypt in March 1801, but this was not the same ship.
The Bombay Castle and the East India Company
Readers of British Naval history might discover that in 1804 a Captain John Hamilton was in command of the Bombay Castle, a 1,200 ton East India Company ship, when it accompanied a convoy of sixteen ships carrying eight million pounds worth of silks, porcelain and tea from Canton to England. The ships left Canton on 31 January 1804 on their four month homeward voyage – among them were the Royal George, the Earl Camden, under Captain Nathaniel Dance, the Warley, and the Alfred. After two weeks they were joined by eleven other ships bound for India. They had no Royal Navy escort and had to rely upon their own resources for defence. After another two weeks, as they approached the Strait of Malacca, they sighted five French warships led by the 74 gun Marengo under Rear Admiral Charles Durand-Linois. Captain Dance ordered the convoy to form a close line of battle and the three leading ships replaced their East India Company flags with the Royal Navy Blue Ensign. The intention was to bluff the French.
Linois had been expecting a convoy of unescorted merchantmen. What he saw was a line of twenty-four merchantmen led by three Royal Navy ships. He hesitated to attack. Captain Dance kept his line close and sailed on at a steady pace through the night. At one o’clock on the next afternoon Linois decided to attack the rear of the line in an attempt to cut it off from what he believed were the Royal Navy ships. Dance ordered his leading ships to undertake a precise naval manoeuvre, doubling back on the French attackers. One by one, as they came within range of the French, they opened fire. By two o’clock the French retreated, believing they had engaged a force of British warships. But Dance was not finished. He ordered his ships to pursue the French and this they did for the next two hours.
After a subsequently uneventful journey home they arrived in London in August 1804. Dance was knighted and given a substantial pension of £5,000 per year, as well as an additional payment of £2,000 and another £5,000 from the Bombay Insurance Company. All other officers received smaller amounts.
The Bombay Castle continued on the China run for several more years. Her departure with a convoy in 1812 was described by Captain Basil Hall.
There sailed along with us in the Volage, from Spithead, the Princess Caroline, 74, and the Theban, frigate, to aid in protecting a fleet of the following ships of the East India Company:- the Elphinstone, Wexford, Cirencester, Marquess of Huntly, Bombay Castle, and Alnwick Castle, all for China direct. All these ships were of the largest class, well manned, well commanded, and were likewise pretty well armed, and got up to look like men-of-war, our force had not only an imposing aspect, but, in the event of coming into contact with an enemy, even in considerable strength, we should either have beaten him outright, or baffled him by crippling his spars in such a war as to prevent him interrupting our voyage…
Captain John Hamilton’s Bombay Castle must have been a sight to see as it sailed past Dover with the convoys of East Indiamen and Naval ships.
Archives at the British Library’s India Office contain the ship's journal for the Bombay Castle for the years 1794/95, 1797/98, 1799/1800, during which John Hamilton was her commander.
The Bombay Castle was launched in 1792. It had 3 decks, a 4 inch bottom, was 164 feet long and had a 132 foot keel. Its breadth was 42 feet, its hold 17 feet, wing transom 25 feet, port cell 29 feet, waist 3 feet, between decks 6 feet, roundhouse 6 feet, it had 14 middle and upper ports, its deck was 97 feet long, and it weighed 1234 tons. Some ship!
Captain John Hamilton of the Bombay Castle was born on 9 February 1764 at Coilsfield, Ayrshire in Scotland. He was in the Royal Navy on HMS Union for one year before entering the East India Company's service.
Captain John Hamilton of the Bombay Castle was therefore not the same person as Captain John Hamilton of the Active. And the seventy one feet long cutter Active armed with ten guns was hardly in the same class as the 164 foot, 1,200 ton Bombay Castle.
His Majesty’s Packet Service
What did Captain John Hamilton of the Active do after his ship was captured in 1800? John Hamilton himself states that
I served under the admiral till he struck his flag, and lived with his family at Yarmouth, by the whole of whom I have always been treated with the greatest kindness. I last served under Admiral Thornborough, of the ‘Leda’ frigate, Captain Honeymoon.
When Admiral Duncan retired from the command of the North Sea Fleet in 1800 he lived up to his earlier promise and used his influence to obtain a position for John Hamilton commanding one of the government Post Office Packets. Lord Auckland, who was then the postmaster general, wrote the following letter to Admiral Duncan on 11 February 1800.
Lord Gower has concurred with me to-day, in ordering a minute to be made on the Office Books, of your lordship’s recommendation of Mr. John Hamilton for a Dover Packet; and our personal respect for your lordship, as well as our desire to show every attention in our power to the glorious and important services to which Mr. Hamilton contributed, will make it a real gratification to us, on an eventual vacancy upon the station in question, we should be able to comply with your wishes.
John Hamilton was thus secured a position in command of one of the Post Office Packets at the Harwich station.
John Hamilton and Luke Smithett at Dover
From 14 July 1803, at the age of thirty-eight, John Hamilton was appointed to take command of the Dorset, carrying mail on the Dover to Calais route. The Calais route had been officially closed during the war years, but after the signing of a peace treaty with France in 1802 there was a rush of travellers wanting to catch up on lost time. Among those who thronged to Dover to take a packet to the Continent in the summer of 1802 was twenty-seven year old painter Joseph Mallord William Turner. It was Turner’s first trip across the Channel and, typically for him, it was a rough one. The packet, unable to berth at Calais, disembarked some of its passengers, including Turner, by small boat. On the pier he made a number of sketches which he later used as the basis for a painting of the packet trying to berth at Calais Pier.
But Turner’s voyage to Calais was made nearly a year before John Hamilton took up his appointment at Dover. The Channel peace barely lasted a year and hostilities were resumed when Britain again declared war on France in May 1803 and resumed its blockade of Brest. John Hamilton therefore found himself mainly working on the Dover to Harwich route rather than going across to Calais, although there was still plenty of opportunity to make the Calais or Ostend run when required.
In David Mathews’ words, for those going into the Packet Service,
It was a soft life after the Navy ways or the East India Company’s sea service. The schedule was easy to keep and the company was not unreasonable unless there were passengers of position seriously inconvenienced.
The more relaxed life of the Post Office Packet Service after years of war service allowed John and Sarah Hamilton a more normal family life and, after an apparent break of nearly fourteen years, John and Sarah’s third child, Henry Duncan Hamilton, was born at Dover on 24 January 1805. He was named after Admiral Adam Duncan’s son, Henry, later Sir Henry. Unfortunately Henry died on 22 April 1822.
Soon John Hamilton had a new ship to replace the Dorset, a sailing packet built especially for him and which he named the Lord Duncan. It was a name that was also used by one of the East India Company’s regular ships during the years after Lord Duncan’s death in 1804. He was appointed to the command of this ship on 26 June 1807 and was to carry mail between Dover and Harwich. Like most other sailing packets, it was a sloop of about 70 tons.
Three months after taking up his new appointment John and Sarah Hamilton’s fourth child, Jane Dalrymple Hamilton, was born at Dover on 18 September 1807. Jane was named after Admiral Adam Duncan’s daughter, Jane Dalrymple Duncan born in 1779, and who, coincidentally was married in 1800 to Sir Hew Dalrymple-Hamilton, 4th Baronet of Berwick and Bargany. Sir Hew and Lady Jane subsequently divided their time between living at their estates in Ayrshire and living in France.
A fifth child, Allen Hamilton, is reported as having been born in Dover 1809 and a sixth, Mary Ann Hamilton was baptised at Dover in February 1812.
In April 1814 a young man aged thirteen took up a position as mail officer with John Hamilton on board the Lord Duncan. His name was Luke Smithett. Luke was the son of Luke Smithett and Judith Hedgecock. Judith’s sister was Sarah Hedgecock who had married John Hamilton back in 1788. Luke junior was born on 3 November 1800 and had at least one sister, Susanna, and a brother, William.
Luke worked with his uncle on board the Lord Duncan for the next seven years, until January 1821 when he was appointed master of his own packet.
After Napoleon was finally defeated in 1815 John Hamilton took up the reinstated cross Channel service from Dover and another rush of travellers converged upon the seaside town. J.M.W.Turner, by now a prominent member of the Royal Academy and increasingly well known as a painter, decided to travel to the Continent once again. This time his destination was Ostend and then to the Rhine. Undoubtedly it was John Hamilton who took him across in the Lord Duncan.
Turner returned to Dover again in the summer of 1819 to spend six months in France and Italy. He commented in his diary “Left Dover at 10, arr.Calais at 3 in a boat from the packet boat. Beset as usual.” But Turner came to enjoy the rough sea voyages and they formed the basis of some of his most memorable paintings. His voyages to the Continent became increasingly regular during the summer months of August and September – 1821 to France, 1824 to Germany, 1825 to Holland, August 1826 to France, back to Italy in 1828, to Normandy in 1829, Paris in 1832, to Venice in 1833, France in 1837 and to Ostend and Germany in 1839.
It is clear that J.M.W.Turner soon became a familiar passenger on the Dover packet service.
The Age of Speed and Steam – The Arrow and the Spitfire
Steam packets gradually replaced the sailing packets during the 1820s and 1830s, the Rob Roy being the first on the Dover to Calais route in 1820. Sailing packets could take around five hours to reach Calais while steam took between two and a half to three hours. In February 1834 the Arrow took five and a half hours to travel from Dover to Ostend. The speed of the steam packets meant that if the packet left Dover harbour an hour before high tide, it was possible to enter Calais harbour at the same phase of the tide. However, if the tide was missed the packets had to anchor off shore and passengers and goods ferried to shore by men operating small boats. At these times the small boat operators made a huge profit in charging landing fees. On some occasions such landings were also hazardous. In 1821 five packets missed the tide when arriving at Dover and a fleet of small boats had to ferry the passengers to the beach. One capsized and a passenger drowned. It was said that he was weighed down by the amount of gold he was carrying and a £1,000 reward was offered for the recovery of his body.
In 1821, after serving as mail officer with John Hamilton on the Lord Duncan, Luke Smithett was promoted to the position of Master of the newly built steam packet Arrow. The Post Office decided to operate a packet from Port Patrick and in 1825 he was again promoted to command the Dasher on the route from Port Patrick in Scotland to Donaghadee in Ireland.
In support of his promotion John Hamilton said that his nephew was
diligent, sober, and strictly attentive to the very responsible duties, frequently in cases of great emergency and danger, and was often, in the absence of one of the commanders, entrusted with the command of one of the vessels.
On 16 March 1825, the day after he was due to take up his appointment on the Dasher he was informed that he was to be transferred to one of the new steam packets on the Port Patrick route. He was told that he should be prepared to go to London to oversee the fitting out of the vessel. It is unclear whether he actually took up the Dasher appointment or the new vessel as later in 1825 Smithett reported that the Arrow was in need of a considerable refit. It would appear that Smithett went to Glasgow to investigate the purchase of a new steam packet to replace the Arrow on the Port Patrick to Donaghadee route. The price was too high however and he was requested to return to Liverpool.
By January 1826 Luke Smithett reported that the Arrow had such a defective engine that on her first cruise to Port Patrick she was unable to make any headway against the wind and tide when approaching Donaghadee. The Dasher had to take her in tow. The Arrow had an engine of only 15 horsepower and some consideration was given to replacing it with a 60 horsepower engine.
In 1825 John Hamilton was given a new steam packet, named the Spitfire. The Spitfire was eighty-three feet long and had 40 horsepower engines. It had been put into service by private enterprise and taken over by the Post Office in 1823, continuing in service until 1828.
This is less than half of this chapter. the rest can be found in the book.