Towry, George Henry (DNB00)

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TOWRY, GEORGE HENRY (1767–1809), captain in the navy, born on 4 March 1767, one of a family which for several generations had served in or been connected with the navy, was the son of George Philipps Towry, for many years a commissioner of victualling. His grandfather, Henry John Philipps Towry (d. 1762), a captain in the navy, was the nephew of Captain John Towry (d. 1757), sometime commissioner of the navy at Port Mahon, and took the name of Towry on succeeding to his uncle's property in 1760. George Henry Towry was for some time at Eton, while his name was borne on the books of various ships. In June 1782 he joined the Alexander as captain's servant with Lord Longford, and was present at the relief of Gibraltar under Lord Howe, and the rencounter with the allied fleet off Cape Spartel [see Howe, Richard, Earl]. He afterwards served in the Carnatic with Captain Molloy, in the Royal Charlotte yacht with Captain (afterwards Sir William) Cornwallis [q. v.], and in the Europa; from October 1784 to March 1786 in the Hebe with Captain (afterwards Sir Edward) Thornbrough [q. v.], in which ship Prince William Henry (afterwards King William IV) was one of the lieutenants; and from March 1786 to December 1787 in the Pegasus with Prince William as captain. On 6 Feb. 1788 he passed his examination, and on 23 Oct. 1790 was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. Early in 1793, by Lord Hood's desire, he was appointed to the Victory, in which he went out to the Mediterranean, where in the spring of 1794 he was made commander, and on 18 June 1794 was posted to the Dido, a 28-gun frigate [see Hood, Samuel, Viscount].

On 24 June 1795, being in company with the Lowestoft of 32 guns, on her way from Minorca to look into Toulon, the Dido fell in with two French frigates, the Minerve of 40 guns and the Artémise of 36, both of them larger, heavier, and more heavily armed than the English ships. In fact the comparison of the tonnage and the armament as given by James (Naval History, i. 323) and Troude (Batailles Navales, ii. 449) fully bears out James's statement that ‘the Minerve alone was superior in broadside weight of shot to the Dido and Lowestoft together.’ Seeing this great apparent superiority, the French ships stood towards the English, the Minerve leading. Of the English ships, the Dido led and brought the Minerve to close action. The Minerve, being twice the weight of the Dido, attempted to run her down, but the Dido, swerving at the critical moment, received the blow obliquely and caught the Minerve's bowsprit in her mizen rigging. The heavy swell broke off the Minerve's bowsprit and the Dido's mizenmast, and the two ships lay by to clear away the wreck, when the Lowestoft, coming to the Dido's support, completely dismasted the Minerve. On this the Artémise, which had been firing distant broadsides at the English ships, turned and fled. Towry, seeing that the Minerve could not escape, made the signal for the Lowestoft to chase, but recalled her an hour and a half later, seeing that pursuit was hopeless. When the Lowestoft again closed with the Minerve, and the Dido having repaired her damages came up, the Frenchman, whose colours had been shot away, hailed that the ship surrendered. It is very evident that the success of the English was largely due to the misconduct of the captain of the Artémise; but the capture of such a ship as the Minerve was in itself a brilliant achievement. ‘It was a very handsome done thing in the captains,’ Nelson wrote to his wife, ‘and much credit must be done to these officers and their ships' company. Thank God the superiority of the British navy remains, and I hope ever will: I feel quite delighted at the event’ (Nicolas}, ii. 48).

The Minerve was brought into the service and Towry appointed to command her; but in April 1796 he was moved by Sir John Jervis (afterwards Earl St. Vincent) [q. v.] to the 64-gun ship Diadem. During the year he was detached in the Diadem under the orders of Commodore Nelson, who for part of the time hoisted his broad pennant on board her, notably at the evacuation of Corsica in October (ib. ii. 300–2). Off Cape St. Vincent on 14 Feb. 1797 the Diadem, still commanded by Towry, closed the line, but had no very prominent part in the battle. Towards the end of the year she was sent to England. In December 1798 Towry was appointed to the command of the 38-gun frigate Uranie, in which, and afterwards in the Cambrian, he continued till the peace. In July 1803 he was appointed to the Tribune, which he commanded in the Channel during the early months of the winter. Under the severity of the work his health gave way, and in January 1804 he was obliged to invalid. From May 1804 to June 1806 he commanded the Royal Charlotte yacht, and was afterwards one of the commissioners for the transport service. He died in his father's house in Somerset Place, London, on 9 April 1809, and was buried on 17 April at St. Marylebone. He married in 1802, and left issue.

[Gent. Mag. 1809, i. 475; Nicolas's Despatches and Letters of Lord Nelson, freq. (see index); Passing Certificate, Full Pay Ledgers, and other official documents in the Public Record Office; Navy Lists.]

J. K. L.