Posts Tagged ‘Admiral Adam Duncan’

Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Sir William Hotham
12 February 1772 – 31 May 1848


William Hotham

Sir William Hotham

Hotham was an officer of the Royal Navy who saw service during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

Hotham was born into a military family on 12 February 1772, with strong connections to the nobility. He was the second son of General George Hotham, and his wife Diana, the youngest daughter of baronet Sir Warton Pennyman-Warton. His uncle was Admiral Lord Hotham, while his first cousin, Henry Hotham, became a vice-admiral.

He was educated at Westminster School, with his name being entered on the books of the yacht HMS William and Mary in 1779. He later attended the Royal Naval Academy, and by 1786 was aboard the 50-gun HMS Grampus as a captain’s servant and ordinary seaman. Grampus‘s commander, Captain Edward Thompson, was commodore in charge on the African coasts, and Hotham went out to the Guinea coast with him.

Hotham was back in Portsmouth by the middle of the year, where he transferred to the 64-gun HMS Ardent, joining her as an able seaman. His service on Ardent was short-lived, he joined the 32-gun HMS Solebay as a midshipman, serving under Captain John Holloway, and went out to the Leeward Islands.

He was re-rated at his former rank of able seaman in 1788 during his service in the Caribbean, but in 1789, he was back as a midshipman, serving aboard the yacht Royal Charlotte, under Sir Hyde Parker.

Hotham’s next ship was the 38-gun HMS Hebe, which he joined in 1790, serving under Captain Alexander Hood in the English Channel. He transferred again, back under his old captain John Holloway, now commanding the 90-gun HMS Princess Royal as flag captain to Hotham’s uncle, Rear-Admiral William Hotham.

The younger Hotham received his commission as a lieutenant that year while serving with his uncle, and remained in Princess Royal until early 1791, when he joined the 20-gun HMS Alligator under Captain Isaac Coffin. Coffin and Hotham went out to Halifax, where Hotham served until his return in the fall of 1791. After a short period spent ashore, he was appointed in 1792 to serve aboard the 32-gun HMS Winchelsea under Captain Richard Fisher. The Winchelsea returned Hotham to Halifax, followed by service in the Leeward Islands.

The outbreak of war with revolutionary France in early 1793 brought opportunities for Hotham to distinguish himself. He joined the 90-gun HMS Duke and served under Commodore John Murray. Transferring to Captain Augustus Montgomery’s 36-gun HMS Inconstant, Hotham went out to the Mediterranean to join Lord Hood’s fleet.

In early 1794 Hotham became lieutenant aboard Hood’s flagship, the 100-gun HMS Victory, and took part in the evacuation of the French port of Toulon. The following year Hotham took part in the siege of Bastia, serving onshore with the forces led by Horatio Nelson.

On 12 August he was appointed to his first command, the sloop HMS Eclair. Two months later, on 7 October, 1794 he was advanced to post-captain, and given command of the 28-gun HMS Cyclops.

Hotham continued to serve in the Mediterranean, taking part in the Naval Battle of Hyères Islands with his uncle’s fleet in 1795. He was sent back to Britain with despatches in early 1796, whereupon Cyclops was paid off.

Hotham spent nearly a year ashore, until he was appointed to command the 50-gun HMS Adamant in early 1797. He was based at the Nore, operating in the North Sea and blockading the Dutch fleet at the Texel with Admiral Adam Duncan’s fleet.

When the mutiny broke out among the ships at the Nore, following on from one at Spithead earlier in the year. Of the two decker ships of the fleet, only the crews of Duncan’s flagship HMS Venerable, and Hotham’s crew aboard the Adamant remained loyal.

With only two ships available to blockade the Dutch, Duncan and Hotham took their ships out to sea, remaining in sight of the Dutch coast and for several weeks implied by false signals and manoeuvres, that the rest of the fleet was just over the horizon. Convinced by the impersonation that the blockade was still in force, the Dutch remained in port. A Russian squadron based at Harwich later reinforced Duncan and Hotham and then ships abandoning the mutiny individually too joined them.

Hotham remained with Duncan’s fleet and was engaged at the Battle of Camperdown. He subsequently received the Naval Gold Medal for his part in the battle. Adamant was then attached to Sir Richard Strachan’s squadron patrolling off Le Havre, after which she and Hotham were sent to the Cape of Good Hope, where he remained for the next three years.

In 1799 Hotham was sailing off Port Louis, Mauritius, in company with Captain John Osborn’s 74-gun HMS Tremendous when they encountered the 44-gun French frigate Preneuse, under the command of Jean-Marthe-Adrien l’Hermite. They chased her, forcing her to run ashore three miles from Port Louis, under the cover of French shore batteries. Hotham took Adamant in close, and tried to work up to the grounded frigate, coming under heavy fire from the batteries and the Preneuse as he did so.

After a period of exchanging fire, the Adamant forced the French frigate to strike, and that evening three boats carrying men from Adamant and Tremendous approached with orders to destroy the French vessel. Despite coming under heavy fire from the batteries, they boarded the ship, captured the remaining French crew, including Captain l’Hermite, and removed as much of their captives’ private property, they set fire to the Preneuse and returned to their ships without the loss of a single man.

Hotham remained off South Africa and in the Indian Ocean until being recalled to Britain as an escort for a convoy in 1801. The Peace of Amiens left him without a ship, but the resumption of hostilities in 1803 led to his return to active service at sea.

Hotham was given command of the 64-gun HMS Raisonnable in 1803 and assigned to serve in the North Sea and the English Channel. He was employed in the blockade of the invasion flotilla at Boulogne, but his health declined while on this service, and he resigned the command in the late summer of 1803. He came ashore, and on 12 June 1804 married Anne Jeynes, sister-in-law of Admiral Sir Edward Thornbrough.

In 1808 he returned to semi-active service commanding the Sea Fencibles at Liverpool. He held this position until 1810. In 1812 he became commander of the yacht HMS Royal Sovereign, received a promotion to rear-admiral in 1813, and relinquished command of her in 1814.

He was offered the command of one or two dockyards, but declined them in the hope of being offered a command afloat. Nothing could be found for him however.

He became a gentleman-in-waiting at court, later writing a manuscript book entitled Characters, Principally Professional, and was one of the first appointments as Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath on the restructuring of the order in 1815.

He was advanced to vice-admiral in 1821, and to full admiral on in 1837. He became a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in 1840. Sir William Hotham died at New Windsor, Berkshire on 31 May 1848 at the age of 76. He was buried on 7 June in the family vault at Binfield, Berkshire.

Hotham had four sons and one daughter with his first wife Jayne. Two sons followed him into the navy, another entered the Church. Jayne died on 21 August 1827, and in 1835 Hotham married Jane Seymour.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Edward O’Bryen
1753 – 18 December 1808

Edward O’Bryen

A British Royal Navy officer prominent in the late nineteenth century, who is best known for his participation at the Nore Mutiny and the Battle of Camperdown, both in 1797 during the French Revolutionary Wars. At the Nore, O’Bryen had recently been given command of the ship of the line HMS Nassau when the mutiny broke out. Although he was not the cause and the crew expressed their affection for him, O’Bryen had to be prevented from throwing himself overboard when his men refused to obey his orders. Just five months later, now in command of Vice-Admiral Richard Onslow’s flagship HMS Monarch, O’Bryen led the southern division of the British attack at the Battle of Camperdown, in which a Dutch fleet was destroyed and British supremacy in the North Sea confirmed. Although he was praised for his exertions in the battle, O’Bryen’s health was deteriorating and he retired from the Navy in 1803, dying at the rank of rear-admiral five years later.

Nothing is known of Edward O’Bryen’s parents or childhood, and he first appears as a junior officer aboard the frigate HMS Aeolus during the early 1770s. He later moved to HMS Prudent in the East Indies and then in 1775 became a lieutenant, at which time he was at least 21 years old. He then served on a number of ships, including the galley HMS Ferret that fought under Lord Howe in Narragansett Bay in August 1778 and later HMS Ostrich and HMS Ambuscade in the Channel Fleet. In 1781 he sailed for the Caribbean in HMS Actaeon and two years later took over the sloop HMS Jamaica. In 1784 he was promoted to post captain and returned to Europe in HMS Resistance. He was then immediately placed on the reserve list on half-pay, not serving at sea again until 1795.

As O’Bryen lacked any influence at the Admiralty, he was forced to wait more than ten years for another commission, finally being given command of HMS Southampton in April 1795. In June of that year he transferred to HMS Windsor Castle, the flagship of Rear-Admiral Robert Mann. He was still in post in July 1796 when Mann abandoned Gibraltar and returned to Britain without orders, inviting severe censure from the Admiralty, government and Admiral Sir John Jervis.

Mann was dismissed from the service and O’Bryen had to wait until February 1797 for another ship, when he was given HMS Nassau at Yarmouth, flagship of Vice-Admiral Richard Onslow. Nassau was a disaffected ship, its men had been unpaid for the previous 19 months service, and when the Nore Mutiny broke out in May 1797, O’Bryen’s authority was challenged and resisted by his crew. When the crew attempted to hang two men who would not join them, O’Bryen insisted that if anyone should die he would be the first and threatened to throw himself overboard. This checked the actions of the mutineers, but reportedly O’Bryen was left close to suicide. He left the ship shortly afterwards, and although the crew, who expressed their affection for him, invited him to return, he refused until the mutiny was over.

In July, Onslow and O’Bryen moved to HMS Monarch and on 11 October 1797 served with Admiral Adam Duncan’s fleet at the Battle of Camperdown. Monarch lead the larboard division into action against the Dutch rear. O’Bryen’s ship was heavily engaged, and fought successfully against the Dutch ships Jupiter, Haarlem and Monnikendam, all of which were eventually captured.

Monarch suffered 136 casualties and O’Bryen was praised by King George III for his role in the battle. Monarch remained active in the North Sea during the remainder of 1797, but in 1798 O’Bryen was struck by the first of recurring bouts of ill-health and briefly retired ashore, returning briefly to service in 1801 to command HMS Kent in the Mediterranean. O’bryen retired permanently from the Navy in 1803.

O’Bryen subsequently lived with his wife Mary Alsop and their daughter, also named Mary, at Catisfield in Hampshire until his wife’s death in 1807, shortly after which he was married to Martha Charlotte Bradbury. O’Bryen was promoted to rear-admiral in 1805, but ill-health prevented any return to the sea and he died in December 1808, acknowledging an illegitimate son named James Cavendish in his will.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Sir Richard Onslow
23 June 1741 – 27 December 1817


Sir Richard Onslow

He was the younger son of Lt-Gen. Richard Onslow and his wife Pooley, daughter of Charles Walton. Onslow’s uncle was Arthur Onslow, Speaker of the British House of Commons, and he enjoyed considerable interest as he rapidly rose through the Navy.

He was made fourth lieutenant of the Sunderland in 1758 by V-Adm. George Pocock, fifth lieutenant of the Grafton in 1759, and fourth lieutenant of Pocock’s flagship, the Yarmouth on in 1760, upon which he returned to England.

Onslow became commander of the Martin in 1761, cruising in the Skagerrak until his promotion to captain of the Humber in 1762. He joined the Humber in June, but she was wrecked off Flamborough Head while returning from the Baltic in September. Onslow was court-martialed for her loss, but was acquitted, the pilot being blamed for the wreck. In 1762, he was appointed to command the Phoenix.

Onslow did not receive another command until 1776, when he was appointed to the St Albans. He took a convoy to New York City in 1777 and joined Lord Howe in time for the repulse of d’Estaing in 1777 at Sandy Hook. Onslow sailed for the West Indies in 1778 with Commodore Hotham, and took part in the capture of Saint Lucia and its defense against d’Estaing that December at the Cul-de-Sac. In 1779, he brought a convoy from St Kitts to Spithead.

He was placed in command of the Bellona, in the Channel Fleet under Admiral Francis Geary, in February 1780, and captured the Dutch 54-gun ship Prinses Carolina in 1780. Onslow took part in the Relief of Gibraltar under Admiral Darby in 1781, and again under Howe in 1782. The Bellona captured La Solitaire in the West Indies before Onslow returned home and took half-pay in June 1783.

In early 1789, he was appointed to command the Magnificent at Portsmouth, but was out of employment again in 1791. He was promoted Rear-Admiral of the White in 1793 and Vice-Admiral in 1794. In 1796, he was made port admiral at Portsmouth, and in November, he went aboard the Nassau to act as second-in-command of the North Sea Fleet under Admiral Duncan.

During the Spithead and Nore mutinies, Onslow suppressed a rising aboard the Nassau, and was sent by Duncan to quell the Adamant. When the Nassau refused to sail on 26 May 1797, Onslow moved his flag to the Adamant and until the end of the mutiny, Duncan (in the Venerable) and Onslow maintained the blockade off the Texel alone, making signals to an imaginary fleet over the horizon.

Onslow moved his flag again to the Monarch on 25 July 1797, and it was aboard her that he took part in the Battle of Camperdown. His flag captain, Edward O’Bryen, supposedly warned him that the Dutch ships were too close together to get between, to which Onslow replied “The Monarch will make a passage.” Indeed, Monarch was the first to break the Dutch line and attack the Jupiter of 72 guns, flagship of Vice-Admiral Reyntjes, who subsequently surrendered to Onslow.

For his exertions at Camperdown, Onslow was created a baronet and presented with the Freedom of the City of London. He became Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth in 1796.

He went on sick leave in 1798 and retired as Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth a few weeks later. He was promoted Admiral of the Red in 1805 and received the GCB in 1815. He died in 1817 at Southampton.

In 1765, Onslow, known for his conviviality, was a founder of the Navy Society dining club. In 1766, he was appointed to command the frigate Aquilon in the Mediterranean, which he did until 1769, and from 12 October 1770, commanded the Diana in the West Indies.

Admiral Rodney gave him command of Achilles in 1773, in which he returned to England, where he acquired an estate and married Anne, daughter of Commodore Matthew Michell. They had three sons and four daughters:

  • Matthew Richard Onslow, married Sarah Seton in 1805 and had two daughters
  • Sir Henry Onslow, 2nd Baronet
  • Capt. John James Onslow
  • Frances Onslow, married V-Adm. Sir Hyde Parker
  • Anne Onslow, married Francis Lake, 2nd Viscount Lake in 1833; married Henry Gritton in 1837
  • Elizabeth Onslow, married Robert Lewis
  • Harriet Onslow, married J.N. Creighton

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Henry Duncan
1786 – 1 November 1835

Duncan was a prominent Royal Navy officer of the early nineteenth century. The second surviving son of the highly regarded Admiral Adam Duncan, 1st Viscount Duncan, who defeated the Dutch Navy at the Battle of Camperdown in 1797, Duncan achieved a successful career in his own right, operating with great success against French and Italian shipping and shore fortifications in the Mediterranean during the Napoleonic Wars. For his services he was knighted and given numerous honours before dying at the young age of 49 from a sudden apoplexy in 1835.

Henry Duncan was born in 1786, the second surviving son of Adam Duncan, then a captain in the Royal Navy, later to become the admiral who defeated the Dutch fleet at the Battle of Camperdown and thus became Viscount Duncan. Henry’s elder brother Robert inherited the titles on their father’s death and was later created Earl of Camperdown. Their mother, Henrietta, was the daughter of Robert Dundas, a prominent Scottish judge. Following his father into the Navy at 14 in 1800, Duncan served as a midshipman on board the frigate HMS Maidstone until the Peace of Amiens the following year.

When the Navy was expanded once more at the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars in 1803, Duncan joined HMS Narcissus in the Eastern Mediterranean and served in operations in the Aegean Sea and off Egypt. With Narcissus ordered back to Britain in 1804, Duncan joined the first rate HMS Royal Sovereign under Admiral Sir Richard Bickerton as a lieutenant and it was aboard this ship that he received news of the death of his father. The death of such a senior officer was marked by numerous letters of condolence, including one from Horatio Nelson which offered command of the small brig HMS Bittern, whose captain Robert Corbet had been taken ill. When Duncan arrived to take command however Corbet had recovered and was restored to command. Duncan was instead promoted to commander and returned to Britain to take over the 18-gun HMS Minorca in the Channel Fleet.

Returning to the Mediterranean, Duncan was promoted to post captain in 1806 and took over the sixth rate HMS Porcupine in 1807, sent to serve in the Adriatic campaign by operating off the coast of the Kingdom of Italy. In 1808 he moved to the small frigate HMS Mercury engaged on the same service, raiding French harbours in the Adriatic Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. During these operations, he captured numerous coastal merchant ships and destroyed large quantities of military supplies. With Mercury in a poor state of repair, Duncan was ordered to escort the Mediterranean merchant shipping back to Britain and pay the ship off, arriving in early 1810 after a stormy passage.

Duncan was then given the large frigate HMS Imperieuse and commanded her in the Western Mediterranean off Toulon and Tripoli, seizing a number of French merchant ships. Raiding the Northwestern coast of Italy, Duncan succeeded in capturing numerous ships and destroying large quantities of supplies in fortified harbours before Imperieuse was forced to undergo extensive repairs in Port Mahon. Offered two other frigates as replacements, Duncan was presented with a letter from Imperieuse‘s crew declaring their regard and respect for him and asking him not to move to another ship without them. Moved by this letter, Duncan remained with the ship and was given command of a squadron to operate against the Kingdom of Naples.

Returning to Britain in 1814 at the end of the War of the Sixth Coalition, Imperieuse was paid off and Duncan given command of the new HMS Glasgow. Operating off the Spanish Atlantic coast and in the Bay of Biscay, Duncan saw little action before the final end to the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and his ship was paid off in September. Appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath, Duncan was unemployed for three years before taking over the 50-gun fifth rate HMS Liffey which he commanded on anti-pirate operations in the West Indies and later escorted the Prince Regent on his fleet inspection in 1819, during which he praised Duncan and his ship. He subsequently conveyed Sir Charles Bagot, Ambassador to Russia, to Saint Petersburg and took despatches to Naples, remaining in the Mediterranean until 1821.

Marrying Mary Simson Crawford, the daughter of naval officer Captain James Coutts Crawford, in 1823, Duncan was briefly detached to Lisbon on confidential duties. He subsequently conveyed King George IV to Ireland and Calais before the ship was paid off and Duncan entered retirement. Except for occasional and largely ceremonial shore duties, Duncan did not serve in a naval capacity again. He had one surviving son, Adam Alexander and a daughter Anne Mary. A third child, Henry Robert, died at only a few days old. In December 1834, Duncan was knighted in the Royal Guelphic Order, but two years later suddenly collapsed and died at his London home in Eaton Place from apoplexy. He was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, his funeral attended by many prominent serving naval officers.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Admiral Adam Duncan
1 July 1731 – 4 August 1804


Admiral Adam Duncan

Duncan was a British admiral who defeated the Dutch fleet off Camperdown (north of Haarlem) on 11 October 1797. This victory was considered one of the most significant actions in naval history.

Adam was the second son of Alexander Duncan of Lundie, Provost of Dundee, and his wife Helen, born at Dundee. In 1746, after receiving his education in Dundee, he entered the Royal Navy on board the sloop Trial, under Captain Robert Haldane, with whom, in HMS Trial and afterwards in HMS Shoreham, he continued till the peace in 1748. In 1749 he was appointed to HMS Centurion, then commissioned for service in the Mediterranean, by the Hon. Augustus Keppel (afterwards Viscount Keppel), with whom he was afterwards in HMS Norwich on the coast of North America, and was confirmed in the rank of lieutenant in 1755.

In August 1755 he followed Keppel to the Swiftsure, and in January 1756 to the Torbay, in which he continued till his promotion to commander’s rank in 1759. During this time he was present in the expedition to Basque Roads in 1757, at the reduction of Gorée in 1758, and in the blockade of Brest in 1759.

From October 1759 to April 1760 he had command of the Royal Exchange, a hired vessel employed in petty convoy service with a miscellaneous ship’s company, consisting to a large extent of boys and foreigners, many of whom (he reported) could not speak English, and all impressed with the idea that as they had been engaged by the merchants from whom the ship was hired so they were not subject to naval discipline. It would seem that a misunderstanding with the merchants on this point was the cause of the ship’s being put out of commission after a few months.

As a commander Duncan had no further service, but in 1761 he was posted and appointed to the HMS Valiant, fitting for Keppel’s broad pennant. In her he had an important share in the reduction of Belle Île in June, and of Havana in August 1762. He returned to England in 1763, and, notwithstanding his repeated request, had no further employment for many years.

During this time he lived principally at Dundee, and married in 1777 Henrietta, daughter of Robert Dundas of Arniston, Lord President of the Court of Session. It would seem that his alliance with this influential family obtained him the employment which he had been vainly seeking during fifteen years. Towards the end of 1778 he was appointed to HMS Suffolk, from which he was almost immediately moved into HMS Monarch.

In January 1779 he sat as a member of the court-martial of Admiral Keppel for the poor performance of the Channel Fleet during the First Battle of Ushant. During the course of the trial Duncan objected several times to stop the prosecutor in irrelevant and in leading questions, or in perversions of answers. The admiralty was therefore desirous that he should not sit on the court-martial of Sir Hugh Palliser for failure to obey orders during the same battle. The court-martial was set for April. The day before the assembling of the court the admiralty sent down orders for the Monarch to go to St. Helens. Her crew, however, refused to weigh the anchor until they were paid their advance; and as this could not be done in time, the Monarch was still in Portsmouth harbour when the signal for the court-martial was made; so that, sorely against the wishes of the admiralty, Duncan sat on this court-martial also.

During the summer of 1779 the Monarch was attached to the Channel fleet under Sir Charles Hardy; in December was one of the squadron with which Rodney sailed for the relief of Gibraltar, and had a prominent share in the action off St. Vincent on 16 January 1780. On returning to England Duncan quit the Monarch, and had no further command till after the change of Ministry in 1782, when Keppel became first lord of the admiralty. He was then appointed to HMS Blenheim of 90 guns, and commanded her during the year in the Grand Fleet under Howe, at the relief of Gibraltar in October, and the encounter with the allied fleet off Cape Spartel. He afterwards succeeded Sir John Jervis in command of the Foudroyant, and after the peace commanded HMS Edgar as guardship at Portsmouth for three years. He attained flag rank on 24 September 1787, became Vice Admiral in 1793, and was promoted to Admiral in 1795. At which time he was appointed commander-in-chief in the North Sea, and hoisted his flag on board HMS Venerable.

During the first two years of Duncan’s command the work was limited to enforcing a rigid blockade of the enemy’s coast, but in the spring of 1797 it became more important from the knowledge that the Dutch fleet in the Texel was getting ready for sea.

The situation was one of extreme difficulty, for the mutiny which had paralyzed the fleet at the Nore broke out also in mutiny under Duncan, and kept it for some weeks in enforced inactivity. Duncan’s personal influence and some happy displays of his vast personal strength held the crew of the Venerable to their duty; but with one other exception, that of the Adamant, the ships refused to quit their anchorage at Yarmouth, leaving the Venerable and Adamant alone to keep up the pretense of the blockade.

Fortunately the Dutch were not at the time ready for sea; and when they were ready and anxious to sail, with thirty thousand troops, for the invasion of Ireland, a persistent westerly wind detained them in harbour till they judged that the season was too far advanced. For political purposes, however, the French Revolutionaries who controlled the government in Holland, in spite of the opinion of their admiral, De Winter, to the contrary, ordered him to put to sea in the early days of October.

Duncan, with the main body of the fleet, was at the time lying at Great Yarmouth revictualling, the Texel being watched by a small squadron under Captain Henry Trollope in HMS Russell, from whom he received early information of the Dutch being at sea. He at once weighed anchor, and with a fair wind approached the Dutch coast, saw that the fleet was not returned to the Texel, and steering towards the south sighted it on the morning of 11 October about seven miles from the shore and nearly halfway between the villages of Egmont and Camperdown. The wind was blowing straight on shore, and though the Dutch forming their line to the north preserved a bold front, it was clear that if the attack was not made promptly they would speedily get into shoal water, where no attack would be possible. Duncan at once realized the necessity of cutting off their retreat by getting between them and the land. At first he was anxious to bring up his fleet in a compact body, for his numbers were at best equal to those of the Dutch; but seeing the absolute necessity of immediate action, without waiting for the ships astern to come up, without waiting to form line of battle, and with the fleet in very irregular order of sailing, in two groups, led respectively by himself in the Venerable and Vice-admiral Richard Onslow in the Monarch, he made the signal to pass through the enemy’s line and engage to leeward.

It was a bold departure from the absolute rule laid down in the Fighting Instructions, and on this occasion, was crowned with complete success. The engagement was long and bloody; for though Duncan, by passing through the enemy’s line, had prevented their untimely retreat, he had not advanced further in tactical science, and the battle was fought out on the primitive principles of ship against ship, the advantage remaining with those who were the better trained to the great gun exercise, though the Dutch by their obstinate courage inflicted great loss on the Royal navy.

It had been proposed to De Winter to make up for the want of skill by firing shell from the lower deck guns; and some experiments had been made during the summer which showed that the idea was feasible; but want of familiarity with an arm so new and so dangerous presumably prevented its being acted on in the battle.

The news of the victory was received in Britain with the warmest enthusiasm. It was the first certain sign that the mutinies of the summer had not destroyed the power and the prestige of the Royal Navy. Duncan was at once raised to the peerage as Viscount Duncan, of Camperdown, and Baron Duncan, of Lundie in the Shire of Perth (with which came the lands now known as Camperdown Park in Dundee), and there was a strong feeling that the reward was inadequate.

Even as early as 18 October his aunt, Lady Mary Duncan, wrote to Henry Dundas, at that time secretary of state for war: Report says my nephew is only made a Viscount. Myself it is nothing, but the whole nation thinks the least you can do is to give him an English earldom. … Am sure were this properly represented to our good king, who esteems a brave, religious man like himself, would be of my opinion. …. It was not, however, till 1831, many years after Duncan’s death, that his son, then bearing his title, was raised to the dignity of an earl, and his other children to the rank and precedence of the children of an earl.

Duncan was awarded the Large Naval Gold Medal and an annual pension of £3,000, to himself and the next two heirs to his title – this was the biggest pension ever awarded by the British government. Additionally, he was given the freedom of several cities, including Dundee and London.

Duncan continued in command of the North Sea fleet until 1801, but without any further opportunity of distinction. Three years later, 4 August 1804, he died quite suddenly, aged seventy-three, at the inn at Cornhill, a village on the border, where he had stopped for the night on his journey to Edinburgh and was buried in Lundie. He left a family of four daughters, and, besides the eldest son who succeeded to the peerage, a second son, Henry, who died a captain in the navy and K.C.H. in 1835.

  • Several ships have been named HMS Duncan after him.
  • Duncan Street in Leeds town centre is named for him. The pub on this street honours him with its name and many pictures and paintings.
  • The Galapagos island, now known as Pinzón Island, was named Duncan Island.
  • A statue of Duncan was erected in 1997 in his birthplace, Dundee, on the corner of High Street and Commercial Street.
  • Several public houses, including one in Soho, London, a gay pub that was the scene of a terrorist bombing in 1999, perpetuate his name.

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