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A Naval Biographical Dictionary/Gordon, James Alexander (a)

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GORDON, K.C.B. (Rear-Admiral of the Red, 1837. f-p., 30; h-p., 24.)

Sir James Alexander Gordon is eldest son of the late Chas. Gordon, Esq., of Wardhouse, co. Aberdeen, by a daughter of the late Major Jas. Mercer, of Auchnacant, in the same shire; and uncle of Commander Thos. Fred. Birch, R.N.

This officer entered the Navy, 25 Nov. 1793, as Captain’s Servant, on board the Arrogant 74, Capt. Jas. Hawkins Whitshed, employed on the Home station; where, and in the Mediterranean, he afterwards served, part of the time as Midshipman, in the Invincible, Ramillies, and Defence 74’s, Capts. Hon. Thos. Fakenham, Sir Rich. Bickerton, and Thos. Wells, Eurydice and Révolutionnaire frigates, both commanded (the latter in Bridport’s action) by Capt. Fras. Cole, Namur 98, Capt. J. H. Whitshed, Goliath 74, Capt. Thos. Foley (one of the victorious fleet in the battle off Cape St. Vincent, 14 Feb. 1797), and Royal William, flag-ship of Admiral Milbanke. Being promoted to a Lieutenancy, 27 Jan. 1800, in Le Bourdelois, of 24 guns and 195 men, Capts. Thos. Manby and John Hayes, he particularly signalized himself in that ship, on 28 Jan. 1801, at the capture, after a close cannonade of half an hour, of the French national brig La Curieuse, of 18 guns and 168 men, about 50 of whom were killed and wounded, while the British only sustained a loss of 1 man killed and 7 wounded. Towards the end of 1802 Mr. Gordon became First-Lieutenant of the Racoon 18, Capts. Wilson Rathborne and Austin Bissell; by the latter of whom we find his conduct on many occasions described as highly exemplary and praiseworthy, but especially lauded in a very warm action of 40 minutes, which, on 11 July, 1803, led to the capture, in Leogane Roads, of the French corvette Le Lodi, of 10 guns and 61 men.[1] Succeeding Capt. Bissell, on 3 March, 1804, in the command of the Racoon, Capt. Gordon had the good fortune, during his continuance in that sloop, to make prize of many of the enemy’s vessels, and, among others, of the French national transport L’Argo, of 6 guns and 30 men, and the privateers L’Aventure, of 1 gun and 28 men, and L’Alliance, of 6 guns and 68 men. He was posted, 16 May, 1805, into the Diligentia, afterwards Legera, employed, as was the Racoon, on the Jamaica station, but resigned the command in a few months, and was next appointed, 18 June, 1807, to the Mercury 28. After visiting Newfoundland with convoy, he proceeded off Cadiz, where, in company with the Alceste 38, and Grasshopper 18, he took a distinguished part, 4 April, 1808, in a gallant action of two hours and a half, which terminated in the defeat, under the batteries of Rota, and in the teeth of 11 French and Spanish line-of-battle ships, of 20 of the enemy’s gun-boats, having a fleet of merchantmen under their charge.[2] During a subsequent command, from 27 June, 1808, to 11 June, 1812, of the Active, of 46 guns and 300 men, Capt. Gordon, whose prompt and zealous co-operation in thp different services on which he was employed appears to have raised his name to a high pitch, planned several cutting-out affairs, and on the occasion of one which took place at Ortano, 12 Feb. 1811, won the particular thanks of Capt. Henry Whitby, his senior officer, for the judicious manner in which he placed his ship and prevented any body of the enemy from forming in the rear of the men detached on the expedition.[3] On 13 March in the same year he had the fortune to render himself conspicuous by his valour in the memorable action off Lissa [errata 1], when the Active and three other frigates, carrying in the whole 156 guns and 879 men, completely routed, after a conflict of six hours, and a loss to the former of 4 killed and 24 wounded, a Franco-Venetian armament, whose force amounted to 284 guns and 2655 men.[4] A few months subsequent to the latter event, on 29 Nov., the Active, whose complement had been reduced to about 218 men, again distinguished herself in becoming the captor of La Pomone, of 44 guns and 332 men, 50 of whom were killed and wounded. The British did not sustain a loss of more than 8 killed and 27 wounded; among the latter of whom, however, was the gallant Gordon himself, “an officer whose merits,” as expressed by Capt. Murray Maxwell, of the Alceste, who had witnessed the action, and been simultaneously engaged with La Pauline, another of the enemy’s frigates, “are known to his country, and who lives in the hearts of all who have the happiness to know him.”[5] A 36-pounder took his leg clean off, just at the knee-joint, while he was standing on a shot-rack, and leaning on the capstan. Capt. Gordon’s next appointment was, on 14 Sept. 1812, to the Seahorse 38, in which frigate, after cruizing for some time in the Channel, making a voyage also to South America, and effecting the destruction, 13 Nov. 1813, of Le Subitile privateer, of 16 guns and 72 men, he joined Sir Alex. Cochrane in the Chesapeake. On 17 Aug. 1814 Capt. Gordon, with a squadron under his orders consisting, besides the Seahorse, of the Euryalus 36, Devastation, Aetna, and Meteor bombs, Erebus rocket-vessel, and Anna Maria tender, entered the river Potomac. After ten days of unequalled labour, during which the British were constantly impeded by shoals and contrary winds, and every ship in the squadron grounded not less than 20 times, they reached and attacked Fort Washington; the which, together with a battery on the beach, a martello tower, and a battery in the rear, containing in the whole 21 heavy cannon and 6 field-pieces, fell into their possession. The city of Alexandria, having thus lost its only defence, was, on the next day, the 29th, forced to capitulate on the most humiliating terms. On the 31st the conquerors, animated with the success they had encountered, retired in charge of 21 of the enemy’s vessels, laden with all kinds of merchandize; the whole of which they brought down in triumph, notwithstanding that the Americans, to the natural difficulties with which their invaders had previously had to contend, how added all the obstacles that the most determined spirit of opposition could suggest. The loss endured by the squadron fortunately did not exceed 7 killed and 35 wounded; yet some idea of the operations may be formed when it is asserted that during the 23 days they lasted the hammocks of the men were down but for two nights. The issue, indeed, of the enterprise was stated by Sir Alex. Cochrane to have surpassed his most sanguine expectations.[6] Capt. Gordon afterwards accompanied the expedition against New Orleans, and throughout all its details afforded, as officially recorded, his unwearied and cheerful assistance to Rear-Admiral Pulteney Malcolm.[7] The importance of his services met a just reward, on 2 Jan. 1815, by the conferrence upon him of the K.C.B. His after-appointments were – 7 Not. 1815 and 24 Oct. 1816, to the Madagascar and Maeander frigates, the latter of which was all but lost, off Orfordness, in Dec. 1816 – 11 Jan. 1819, to the Active 46, employed on the Halifax and Mediterranean stations – and, in July, 1832, to the superintendentship of Chatham Dockyard, where he remained, with his name part of the time on the books of the Chatham yacht, until his promotion to Flag-rank 10 Jan. 1837. He has been Lieutenant-Governor, since 1 July, 1840, of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich.

Sir Jas. Alex. Gordon was presented by the Board of Admiralty in 1812 with a gold medal, descriptive of the action off Lissa, to be worn with his uniform in the usual manner; and he has been in the receipt, since 31 July in that year, of a pension of 300l. In 1817 he was presented with the freedom of Aberdeen. He married, 27 Aug. 1812, the youngest daughter of John Ward, Esq., of Marlborough, co. Wilts, by whom he had issue an only son, the late Commander J. A. Gordon, R.N.



GORDON. (Commander, 1842.)

James Alexander Gordon was born 19 March, 1816, and died 6 Jan. 1847. He was only son of Rear-Admiral Sir Jas. A. Gordon, K.C.B.

This officer entered the Navy 16 March, 1829; passed his examination 6 May, 1835; and obtained his first commission 27 June, 1838. His appointments, as Lieutenant, were – 17 Sept. 1838, as Additional, to the Niagara 20, Capt. Williams Sandom, on the Lakes of Canada – 23 Oct. 1839, in a similar capacity, to the Donegal 78, flag-ship off Lisbon of Sir John Acworth Ommanney – and (after several months of half-pay), 18 Aug. 1841, as Senior, to the Warspite 50, Capt. Lord John Hay, on the North America and West India station. He attained the rank of Commander 15 Oct. 1842; and, from 17 Jan. 1845 until the period of his death, which took place as above off Labuan, on the coast of Borneo [errata 2], commanded the Wolf sloop, of 18 guns. Agents – Coplands and Burnett.



GORDON. (Lieut., 1814. f-p., 12; h-p., 31.)

James Alexander Gordon (a) entered the Navy, 16 April, 1804, as Fst.-cl. Vol., on board the Ville de Paris 110, Capt. Thos. Le Marchant Gosselin, bearing the flag of Hon. Wm. Cornwallis, Commander-in-Chief in the Channel, where he attained the rating of Midshipman 1 Nov. following. Removing, in Nov. 1806, to the Royal Sovereign 100, flag-ship in the Mediterranean of Vice-Admiral Edw. Thornbrough, he there served for four years, principally at the blockade of Toulon. He then returned to England in the Montagu 74, Capt. John Halliday, and after a brief attachment to the Egmont 74, Capt. Joseph Bingham, fitting at Sheerness, joined the Laurestinus 24, Capts. Hon. Wm. Gordon and Thos. Graves; in which ship, having first visited the Rio de la Plata, and escorted convoy to Halifax, he took a warm part, as Master’s Mate, in the hostilities against the Americans in the Chesapeake, and was present in the attack upon Crany Island. The Laurestinus being in the end wrecked, on the Silver Keys, off the Bahamas, on the night of 21 Aug, 1813, Mr. Gordon came home in the Diomede troop-ship, Capt. Chas. Montagu Fabian, but sailed soon after his arrival for Bermuda as Admiralty-Midshipman of the Asia 64, flagship of Hon. Sir Alex. Cochrane; by whom he was appointed, 1 April, 1814, Lieutenant of the Manly 14, Capts. Henry C. Merser, Nagle Lock, and Chas. Simeon. His promotion being confirmed by commission dated 26 May in the same year, he continued to serve in the Manly until paid off in Sept. 1815, and had thus an opportunity of being again employed in the Chesapeake, and of accompanying the expedition to New Orleans. He has since, however, been on half-pay.



GORDON. (Lieut., 1811. f-p., 11; h-p., 32.)

James Edward Gordon entered the Navy, 16 April, 1804, as Fst.-cl. Vol., on board the Ville de Paris 110, Capt. Thos. Le Marchant Gosselin, flagship in the Channel of Hon. Wm. Cornwallis, by whom he was soon awarded the rating of Midshipman. Between 25 Nov. 1806 and 5 May, 1811, he served, on the Mediterranean and Lisbon stations, in the Royal Sovereign 100, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Edw. Thornbrough, Malta 84, Capt. Robt. Waller Otway, Ville de Paris again, flag-ship at the time of Lord Collingwood, and Barfleur 98, bearing the flag of Hon. Geo. Cranfield Berkeley. He then became Acting-Lieutenant of the Vestal, Capt. Maurice Fred. Fitzhardinge Berkeley, and on 17 of the same month had the fortune to be confirmed by the Admiralty. His succeeding appointments were – on the North Sea and American stations – 16 Nov. 1811, to the Valiant 74, Capt. Robt. Dudley Oliver – 21 Dec. 1812, to the Lacedaemonian 38, Capt. Sam. Jackson – and 16 Nov. 1814, to the command of the St. Lawrence schooner, of 12 12-pounder carronades, 1 long 9-pounder, and 51 men. In the latter vessel Mr. Gordon had the ill luck, while proceeding with despatches from Rear-Admiral Cockburn relative to the peace between Great Britain and the United States, to be captured, after a desperate and sanguinary action, by the American privateer brig Chasseur, of 6 long 9-pounders, 8 18-pounder carronades, and 115 men, 26 Feb. 1815.[8] Being shortly afterwards, however, retaken, the St. Lawrence, in compliance with the orders of Sir Jas. Alex. Gordon, was commissioned afresh at the Havana by her late Commander, who nevertheless went on half-pay on 23 of the following April, and has not since been employed.

Lieut. Gordon sat for some time as M.P. for Dundalk. He married, 25 Oct. 1836, Barbara, daughter of the late Sam. Smith, Esq., of Berkeley Square, London, and of Woodnall Park, Herts. Agents – Coplands and Burnett.



GORDON. (Commander, 1815. f-p., 17; h-p., 29.)

James Gabriel Gordon entered the Navy, 19 Aug. 1801, as Fst.-cl. Vol., on board the Vengeance 74, Capt. Geo. Duff, of which ship, successively stationed in the Channel and West Indies, he became Midshipman 5 Sept. following. During the years 1802-3 he appears to have been employed at Portsmouth on board the Neptune 98, Capts. Eras. Wm. Austen and Wm. O’Brien Drury, Topaze 38, Capt. Willoughby Thos. Lake, and Puissant 74, Capt. John Irwin. Joining, then, the Illustrious 74, Capts. Sir Chas. Hamilton, Michael Seymour, Wm. Shield, and Wm. Robt. Broughton, he commanded the barge belonging to that ship at the cutting out of a brig from Vivero Harbour, was also present at the attack on the French fleet in Aix Roads, and had further charge of a gun-boat during the expedition to the Walcheren, where he was severely wounded. We are informed that on 18 Dec. 1809 Mr. Gordon, while in the Freija frigate, witnessed the capture, at Guadeloupe, of the two French frigates Loire and Seine. He shortly afterwards joined the Pompée 80, bearing the flag of Sir Alex. Cochrane, by whom, on 22 Jan. 1810, he was promoted, in consequence of a death vacancy, to a Lieutenancy in the Guadeloupe sloop, Capt. Michael Head, part of the force employed at the ensuing reduction of the island bearing that name. Being confirmed by the Admiralty 3 Oct. following, Mr. Gordon next joined – on 6 of the same month, the Tonnant 80, Capt. Sir John Gore – and in 1812-14, the Egmont, Porcupine, and Queen, flag-ships on the Home and Mediterranean stations of Rear-Admirals Sir Geo. Hope and Chas. Vinicombe Penrose, under the latter of whom, after sharing in the operations connected with the forcing


  1. Original: Lisbon was amended to Lissa : detail
  2. Original: Norway was amended to Borneo : detail

  1. Vide Gaz. 1803, p. 1229.
  2. Vide Gaz. 1808, p. 570.
  3. Vide Gaz. 1811, p. 997.
  4. Vide Gaz. 1811, pp. 893-4.
  5. Vide Gaz. 1812, pp. 450, 506.
  6. Vide Gaz. 1814, pp. 1940, 2080.
  7. Vide Gaz. 1815, p. 450.
  8. Mr. James, in his Naval History, has erroneously attributed the command of the St. Lawrence to Lieut. Henry Cranmer Gordon, an account of whose services we have given above.