A Naval Biographical Dictionary/Martin, Thomas Byam

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MARTIN, G.C.B., K.S.S. (Admiral, of the Red, 1830. f-p., 27; h-p., 35.)

Sir Thomas Byam Martin is third son of the late Sir Henry Martin, Bart., Comptroller of the Navy, and M.P. for Southampton, by Eliza Anne, daughter of Harding Parker, Esq., of Hilbrook, co. Cork, and relict of Hayward Gillman, Esq., of Gillmanville, in the same co. His half-uncle, Sam. Martin, Esq., M.P., several years Joint Secretary to the Treasury, and Treasurer to the Princess Dowager of Wales, died in Nov. 1789; and his own uncle, Josiah Martin, Esq., a Colonel in the Army, who died in 1786, was Governor of North Carolina in 1770. One of her cousins, Sam. Martin, Esq., Colonel in the 1st Regt. of Guards, was killed at St. Sebastian; and another, Wm. Byam Martin, Esq., was for some time Governor of Amboyna. His father’s grandmother, Lydia, daughter of Colonel George Thomas, of Antigua (who commanded the Barbadoes Regiment, and greatly distinguished himself at the capture of St. Christopher’s in 1690), married, a second time, Edw. Byam, Esq., Governor of the Leeward Islands.

This officer, whose name had been borne from 23 June, until 31 Dec. 1782, on the books of the Foudroyant 80, Capt. John Jervis, entered the Royal Naval Academy in Aug. 1785, and embarked, in March, 1786, as Captain’s Servant, on board the Pegasus 28, commanded by H.R.H. Prince William Henry, with whom he continued to serve in that vessel, and, as Midshipman, in the Andromeda frigate, on the North American and West India stations, until July, 1789. He was then in succession employed, chiefly on Channel service, in the Colossus 74, Capt. Hugh Cloberry Christian, Southampton 32, Capt. Rich. Goodwin Keats, and Barfleur 98 and Royal George 100, flag-ships of Admiral Barrington; and on 22 Oct. 1790, he was made Lieutenant into the Canada 74, Capts. Lord Hugh Seymour and Erasmus Gower. After serving for two years in the capacity last-mentioned on board the Inconstant and Juno frigates, commanded in the Channel by Capts. Geo. Wilson and Sam. Hood, he was promoted, in May, 1793, to the command of the Tisiphone 12, fitting for the Mediterranean, where, on 5 of the ensuing Nov., having witnessed Lord Hood’s occupation of Toulon, he was made Post into the Modeste frigate. His ensuing appointment was to the Artois, in which vessel, we believe, he co-operated in the reduction of Bastia. Obtaining command, next, of the Santa Margaritta, of 40 guns and 237 men, Capt. Martin, besides making prize, in that ship, of Le Jean Bart corvette of 18 guns, and the privateers Le Buonaparte of 16 guns and 137 men, and Le Vengeur of 18 guns and 110 men, succeeded, 8 June, 1796, in effecting the capture, after a close and gallant action of 20 minutes, of the Tamise, of 40 guns and 306 men, of whom 32 were killed and 19 wounded, with a loss to the British of only 2 slain and 3 wounded.[1] In Dec. 1796, he removed to the Tamar 38, and, being ordered to the West Indies, was present, in April, 1797, in the unsuccessful attack on Puerto Rico. During the five following months he had the fortune to capture not less than nine privateers, carrying in the whole 58 guns and 519 men.[2] In Oct. 1798, at which period he had had command for 10 months of the Dictator 64, Capt. Martin removed to the Fisgard of 46 guns and 281 men. Continuing in that frigate on the Channel station until Dec. 1801, he contrived, 20 Oct. 1798, when off Brest, to capture the French ship Immortalité of 42 guns and 580 men, including troops, at the close of an obstinate conflict of great length, productive of a loss to the enemy of 54 killed and 61 wounded, and to the Fisgard of 10 killed and 26 wounded.[3] To add to the merit of Capt. Martin in possessing himself of the Tamise and Immortalité, we may record the fact that in both instances his own ship was manned with a young, raw, and inexperienced crew; but in neither case did his valour meet with the least reward. On the night of 23 June, 1800, we find him, in personal command of the boats of a squadron, entering the Quimper river, and effecting, on its banks, the destruction of three batteries, mounting seven 24-pounders, together with their magazines.[4] Prior to leaving the Fisgard he further took La Vénus of 32 guns and 200 men, Le Dragon corvette of 14 guns, La Gironde privateer of 16 guns and 141 men, L’Alerte privateer of 14 guns and 84 men, El Vivo national vessel of 14 guns and 100 men, and three others mounting 18 guns. His succeeding appointments were – in March, 1803, to the Impétueux 84, in which ship he served in the Channel until 22 Dec. 1805 – in 1807 to the Prince of Wales 98, and Implacable 74, on the Home and Baltic stations – 2 Sept. 1808, to the Victory 100, as Captain of the Fleet under Sir Jas. Saumarez, Commander-in-Chief in the Baltic – a short time afterwards, again to the Implacable – and, about Aug. 1810, to the Royal Sovereign yacht. On 26 Aug. 1808, Capt. Martin, at the time in the Implacable, fell in with, and, after a long chase, brought to close action, in a most brave and gallant manner, the Russian 74-gun ship Sewolod, whose fire he silenced in about 20 minutes, being only prevented from capturing her by the approach of the whole Russian fleet, which bore up to her support. She soon, however, grounded on a shoal at the entrance of the port of Rogerswick, and in that position was attacked by Rear-Admiral Sir Sam. Hood, in the Centaur, who, although that ship herself took the ground, compelled her to surrender, after an obstinate defence, in which and in her engagement with the Implacable (6 of whose people were slain and 26 wounded) she had 303 men killed, wounded, and missing. She was then set on fire and destroyed; the Centaur having been previously hove off by the exertions of Capt. Martin, who displayed so much professional ability on the occasion as to call forth the thanks of Sir Sam. Hood. In alluding to the conduct of the Implacable in her antecedent action, Sir Samuel, in his official letter, declares himself unable by any words of his to enhance the “merit of her brave, worthy, and excellent commander;”[5] upon whom the King of Sweden, as an acknowledgment, conferred the insignia of a Knight of the Order of the Sword. On 6 July, 1809, Capt. Martin, in company with the Melpomène frigate, entered the Gulf of Narva, and captured nine merchant-vessels.[6] Being advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral 1 Aug. 1811, he hoisted his flag, in April, 1812, on board the Aboukir 74, and returned to the Baltic, where he took an energetic part in the defence of Riga, and co-operated with the Russian army under Prince Bagration against the French troops under Davoust. In the course of the same year he was appointed second in command at Plymouth; at which port he continued (with the exception of a short time, passed in the Créole 36, and Akbar 50, on the coast of Spain and off the Scheldt) until 1815; his flag flying during the period in the Prince Frederick 74, Impregnable 98, and Ganges 74. In 1814 he received the honour of Knighthood. He was created a K.C.B. 2 Jan. 1815; a Vice-Admiral 12 Aug. 1819; a G.C.B. 3 March, 1830; a full Admiral 22 July following; and Vice-Admiral of the United Kingdom in 1847.

In Jan. 1815, Sir Thos. Byam Martin was appointed Deputy-Comptroller of the Navy, and in the following year he succeeded Sir T. B. Thompson as Comptroller of the Navy; the duties of which post he continued to discharge for many years. From 1818 until 1831 he sat in Parliament as Member for Plymouth. He is now one of the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House; and has been a Director of Greenwich Hospital, a Commissioner of the Board of Longitude, &c. At the funerals of George IV. and William IV. the Admiral acted as an assistant supporter of the canopy over the royal body. He married Catherine, daughter of Capt. Robt. Fanshawe, R.N.,[7] Resident Commissioner of Plymouth Dockyard, sister of the present Capt. Arthur Fanshawe, R.N., C.B., and sister-in-law of Admirals Wm. Bedford, Sir John Chambers White, K.C.B., and Hon. Sir Robt. Stopford, G.C.B., by whom he has had issue three sons and three daughters. His two elder sons, Wm. Fanshawe and Henry Byam, are both Captains in the R.N. His youngest, Lieut.-Colonel Robt. Fanshawe Martin, Deputy-Adjutant-General of the Queen’s Forces at Bombay, died at Poonah 13 July, 1846. One of his daughters is married to her cousin. Sir Henry Martin, Bart., of Lockynge, co. Berks.


  1. Vide Gaz. 1790, p. 577.
  2. Le Poisson Volant of 4 guns and 40 men, La Jalouse of 4 guns and 46 men, La Galatée of 8 guns and 55 men, L’Heureuse of 2 guns and 26 men, Le Poisson Volant of 4 guns and 38 men, La Barbarossa of 8 guns and 61 men, Le Pont d’Arcole of 4 guns and 48 men, Le Renard of 10 guns and 71 men, and L’Utile of 14 guns and 135 men.
  3. Vide Gaz. 1798, p. 1012.
  4. Vide Gaz. 1800, p. 749.
  5. Vide Gaz. 1808, p. 1282.
  6. Vide Gaz. 1809, p. 1209.
  7. Vide Note, p. 347.