Watson, Charles (DNB00)

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WATSON, CHARLES (1714–1757), rear-admiral, born in 1714, was son of Dr. John Watson, prebendary of Westminster (d. 1724). His maternal grandfather was Alexander Parker [q. v.], whose wife Prudence was mother (by her first marriage) of Admiral Sir Charles Wager [q. v.], and daughter of William Goodson, presumably Goodsonn [q. v.], the parliamentary admiral. Watson entered the navy in 1728 as a volunteer per order on board the Romney, with Captain Charles Brown [q. v.]; in the end of 1730 he joined the Bideford with Captain Curtis Barnett [q. v.], and passed his examination on 31 Jan. 1734–5. As the nephew of the first lord of the admiralty, he passed rapidly through the subordinate ranks, and on 14 Feb. 1737–8 was posted to the Garland, a 20-gun frigate attached to the fleet in the Mediterranean under the command of Rear-admiral Nicholas Haddock [q. v.] In 1741 he was moved by Haddock into the Plymouth of 60 guns, and in November 1742, by Mathews, into the Dragon, which he commanded, though without particular distinction, in the action off Toulon on 11 Feb. 1743–4 (Narrative of the Proceedings of his Majesty's Fleet in the Mediterranean .... by a Sea Officer, p. 60). On his return to England early in 1746 he was appointed to the Advice, and from her to the Princess Louisa, which he commanded in the following year in the engagements off Cape Finisterre on 3 May, and in the Bay of Biscay on 14 Oct. [see Anson, George, Lord; Hawke, Edward, Lord], in both of which, under a capable commander, he showed that he was quite ready to fight if only he understood what he was to do. In January 1747–8 he was appointed to the Lion, in which in March he was sent out as commander-in-chief on the Newfoundland and North American station, with a broad pennant as an established commodore. On 12 May he was promoted to be rear-admiral of the blue, and in February 1754 was appointed commander-in-chief in the East Indies.

He sailed shortly afterwards in the Kent, with three other ships of the line, and for the first year was on the Coromandel coast, keeping a watch on the French. In November 1755 he went round to Bombay, whence in February 1756, in company with the vessels of the Bombay marine under Commodore (Sir) William James [q. v.] and a body of troops commanded by Lieutenant-colonel Robert Clive (afterwards Lord Clive) [q. v.], he went to Gheriah, the stronghold of the pirate Angria. On the sea face the batteries were very formidable, but Watson, forcing his way into the harbour, was able to take them in the rear, while the troops cut off the retreat of the garrison, which surrendered after an obstinate but ineffective resistance for twenty-four hours. The power of the pirates was broken, and their accumulated stores and treasure fell into the hands of the captors. After refitting his ships at Bombay, Watson sailed for St. David's in the end of April, and at Madras had news of the tragedy of the black hole of Calcutta. In consultation with Clive, then governor of St. David's, it was determined to punish Suráj ud Dowlah. By the middle of October the preparations were completed, and Watson sailed for the Húgli, carrying with him Clive and his small army. On 4 June he had been promoted to the rank of vice-admiral.

After many delays he arrived in the river on 15 Dec.; on the 29th the walls of Budge Budge were breached, and during the night the place was stormed by the soldiers in a mob, following the lead of two or three drunken sailors. At Calcutta the fort was taken by a combined detachment of seamen and soldiers. Húgli was taken a few days later, and some five hundred seamen were added to Clive's little army for the defence of Calcutta. On 9 Feb. 1757 the nawáb concluded a treaty with the English, but shortly afterwards he was won by French intrigues to support them in the war of which the news had just arrived. Watson determined nevertheless to reduce Chandernagore, which was done on 23 March after a destructive cannonade from the ships and the shore batteries. The nawáb, trusting to the support of the French, became very insolent; but his own servants conspired against him. His minister, Mír Jaffier, entered into negotiations with Clive and Watson, and it was agreed that Suráj ud Dowlah should be deposed, and that Mír Jaffier should succeed him. The intermediary now made a very exaggerated claim for reward, and was quieted only by a clause in his favour introduced into a fictitious agreement. Watson refused to be a party to the fraud, and, though his name was written to it by Clive or by Clive's order, it does not appear that he ever knew anything about it. In the military operations which followed, Watson reinforced Clive's small force by a party of fifty sailors, who acted as artillerymen, and had an important share in the brilliant victory of Plassey on 22 June. In this Watson was not personally concerned. His health, severely tried by the climate, broke down, and he died on 16 Aug. 1757. A monument to his memory was erected in Westminster Abbey, at the cost of the East India Company. He married, in 1741, Rebecca, eldest daughter of John Francis Buller of Morval, Cornwall, and had issue two daughters and one son, Charles, born in 1751, on whom in 1760 a baronetcy was conferred.

His portrait, by Thomas Hudson, has been engraved by Edward Fisher.

[Charnock's Biogr. Nav. iv. 407; Beatson's Naval and Mil. Memoirs; Ives's Historical Narrative; Passing Certificate and Commission and Warrant Books in the Public Record Office; English Cyclopædia, ‘Biography,’ v. 551–2; Foster's Baronetage.]

J. K. L.