A Naval Biographical Dictionary/Milne, David

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MILNE, G.C.B., K.S.J., K.W.N. (Admiral of the White, 1841. f-p. 30; h-p., 36.)

Sir David Milne was born in May, 1763, at Musselburgh, near Edinburgh, and died 5 May, 1845, while on his passage, in the Clarence steamer, from London to, Granton Pier, in Scotland. He was son of David Milne, Esq., merchant, of Edinburgh, by a daughter of ___ Vernor, Esq., of Musselburgh.

This officer entered the Navy, 26 May, 1779, as Midshipman, on board the Canada 74, Capts. Hugh Dalrymple, Sir Geo. Collier, and Hon. Wm. Cornwallis. While in that ship, in which he continued until the close of 178$, he accompanied Admiral Darby to the relief of Gibraltar in 1780; assisted, after having been repeatedly engaged with the Spanish gun-boats and batteries, at the capture, despite a brave defence, of the Santa Leocadia Spanish frigate of 44 guns; was with the fleet under Sir Sam. Hood when thrice attacked, in Jan. 1782, by the Comte de Grasse at St. Kitt’s; enacted a warm part in Rodney’s famous actions of 9 and 12 April (for his conduct on the latter of which occasions he was awarded the rating of Master’s Mate); and was present in the ensuing Sept. in a dreadful hurricane, which only allowed the Canada and Jason, out of 10 ships of war, all homeward bound, to reach their destination. On leaving the Canada, as above, Mr. Milne was received on board the Elizabeth 74, Capt. Kingsmill, fitting for the East Indies; but being in a few weeks paid off, and having no immediate prospect of employment in his own profession, he entered the merchant service, in which he continued, part of the time in the East Indies, until the renewal of war with France in 1793, when he was afforded an opportunity of joining the Boyne 98, bearing the flag of Sir John Jervis, who, on his arrival in the West Indies, promoted him, 13 Jan. 1794, to a Lieutenancy in the Blanche of 38 guns, Capts. Christopher Parker, Robt. Faulkner, and Chas. Sawyer. Under the second-named of those officers we find him actively employed in the proximate operations against the French islands, particularly in an attack upon one of the Saintes, where he landed and assisted in taking the enemy by a coup-de-maln. On her return to the West Indies, after conveying H.R.H. the Duke of Kent to Halifax, the Blanche was stationed off Guadeloupe, the whole of which island, with the exception of Fort Matilda, had again fallen into the hands of the French; and Lieut. Milne was in consequence repeatedly employed on detached service. On one occasion he so distinguished himself by the manner in which he boarded and brought a vessel out from under a pelting fire from the batteries in Mahout Bay, that Capt. Faulknor, on being presented by him with the French commander’s sword, returned it to him with many flattering compliments; and on another, 30 Dec 1794, with an equal degree of gallantry, he cut out a large armed schooner of 8 guns irom beneath a destructive fire from a fort and a body of troops, not fifty yards distant, in the island of Deseada. On 5 Jan. 1795 it was his fortune to be Second-Lieutenant of the Blanche when, after a deadly action of nearly four hours and a half, and a loss to herself, out of 198 men, of 8 persons (including Capt. Faulknor) killed and 21 wounded, she effected the capture of the French frigate La Pique, of 38 guns and about 279 men, of whom 76 were killed and 110 wounded. As the boats of both ships, at the end of the conflict, were either completely destroyed or unable to float, Mr. Milne, followed by 10 seamen, swam to the conquered vessel, and took possession of her.[1] As a reward for his valour on so dashing an occasion, he was promoted, as soon as the intelligence reached the Admiralty, to the command of the Inspector sloop; but, prior to the receipt of his commission, he appears to have been further present in the Blanche in the unsuccessful attack on Ste. Lucie, and, until the troops were obliged to re-embark and return to Martinique, to have been constantly employed in her boats. When at length apprized of his promotion, the Inspector being on a distant service, Capt. Milne was successively nominated Acting-Captain of the Quebec 32 and Alarm 32; in the latter of which frigates, having previously escorted convoy to the northward of the islands, he destroyed, in the neighbourhood of Puerto Rico, 30 May, 1795, the French corvette La Liberté of 20 guns, with clothing and ammunition on board for the French army at Guadeloupe. On the departure of the Inspector, shortly after he had joined her, for England, he was induced, by an offer from Sir John Laforey, the Commander-in-Chief, of the first Post vacancy that should occur, to take charge of the transport department under him; a service in which, by collecting a great number of transports from all parts of the West Indies, which had been uselessly lying there at a great expense, and sending them to England, he saved an immense sum to the nation. He was also employed at Martinique, which was daily threatened with an attack from Guadeloupe and Ste. Lucie; and had the satisfaction, while there, of witnessing the perpetual repulse of the enemy. On 2 Oct. 1795, as had been promised, he was made Post into the Matilda frigate; but so necessary did the Commander-in-Chief find it to have by him an officer of his experience and active disposition, that he ordered that ship to cruize under her First-Lieutenant. At the close of the year, however, the command of La Pique, the frigate he had so materially contributed to capture, becoming vacant, he solicited the Admiral for the appointment with claims that were not to be denied; and he accordingly, in Jan. 1796, joined her at Barbadoes. On 9 of the ensuing March, being on a cruize in the neighbourhood of that island in quest of a part of the convoy which had been dispersed in the memorable gales under Sir Hugh Cloberry Christian, Capt. Milne succeeded in making prize of the Lacédémonien French privateer of 14 guns and 90 men, and in chasing a ship of 20 guns, a brig, and a schooner off the station. He next, in April, 1796, accompanied the expedition against the Dutch colonies of Demerara, Essequibo,. and Berbice; and in the course of the same year, feeling himself justified by circumstances, although without any orders to do so, he took charge of a valuable convoy and returned to England – a step, however, which the Admiralty sanctioned with its approbation. After the general mutiny at Spithead, and a second exhibition of insubordination on board La Pique in particular, which was completely subdued by a mixture of intrepidity, firmness, and clemency on the part of Capt. Milne, he continued attached to the force on the coast of France, until there wrecked at the capture, 29 June, 1798, of the French frigate La Seine of 42 guns and 610 men (including troops), after a running action of about five hours, in which the enemy sustained a loss of 170 killed and 100 wounded, and the British (whose force consisted, in addition to La Pique, of the Jason 38, and Mermaid 32) of 9 killed and 18 wounded.[2] Being acquitted by court-martial of all blame in the loss of his ship, Capt. Milne was soon afterwards appointed to the command of La Seine, whose armament, upon her being added to the British Navy, had been increased to 48 guns, and her complement of men fixed at 281. In Oct. 1799 he sailed with the annual store-ship for the coast of Africa, whence, at the end of four months, during which period he had gallantly gone in pursuit of three French frigates, and had lost, owing to the sanitory nature of his arrangements, but one man from the unhealthiness of the climate, he proceeded with convoy to the West Indies; subsequently to his arrival on which station, and when in the Mona Passage, he had the good fortune to effect, 21 Aug. 1800, the capture of La Vengeance of 52 guns and 326 men, an achievement which was the result of a brilliant action of two hours and a half, attended with a loss to La Seine of 13 men killed and 29 wounded, and to her opponent of more than twice that number. Notwithstanding that the performance was highly and justly lauded in the despatches of the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Hugh Seymour,[3] and that it was allowed to glitter among the brightest exploits of the war, Capt. Milne received neither honour nor reward. After passing some time in the blockade of the Mississippi, where he made prize of several vessels, he returned to England, and in April, 1803, was paid off. Resuming command of La Seine in April of the following year, he joined the force under Admiral Thornbrough in the North Sea; where, on 21 July, 1803, while proceeding to blockade the Texel, he had the misfortune, owing to the ignorance of his pilots, to be wrecked, by running on a sandbank off Schelling Island. In 1811, having been for about six years very efficiently employed in command of the Frith of Forth district of Sea Fencibles, he obtained an appointment to the Impétueux 74; in which ship, and in the Dublin 74, Royal Charlotte yacht, and Venerable and Bulwark 74’s, he served with activity on the Baltic, North Sea, Lisbon, Channel, and North American stations until informed of his advancement to Flag-rank, which took place 4 June, 1814. While in the last-mentioned ship, he had command of a squadron in Boston Bay, and was engaged in blockading the different harbours and rivers along that part of the American coast, where he destroyed bo many of the enemy’s vessels that their trade was totally ruined. He also served at the capture of Castine, in the Penobscot; and when afterwards, in Oct. 1814, at Halifax, there being at the time no line-of-battle ship off Boston, he volunteered and was sent thither for the purpose of watching such vessels as might be in the port fitting for sea. He continued on this service (capturing intermediately the Harlequin privateer, of 300 tons, 10 long 12-pounders, and 115 men) until the close of the month; and then, having been superseded in the Bulwark in consequence of his promotion, returned to England a passenger in the Loire frigate. On 2 May, 1816, Rear-Admiral Milne (who, to his mortification, had been omitted in the extension of the Order of the Bath in the preceding year) hoisted his flag on board the Leander 50, as Commander-in-Chief in North America and on the Lakes of Canada. At his urgent request, however, he was allowed, previously to his departure, to join, as second in command, the expedition fitting out under Lord Exmouth against Algiers; where, on the memorable 27 Aug., with his flag in the Impregnable 104, he afforded his Lordship such honourable and cordial support, that he was induced to send him home in charge of the despatch announcing the glorious result of the battle.[4] Owing to the dilapidated condition of his own ship, the Leander, the Rear-Admiral was under the necessity of returning to England in the Glasgow 50. Subsequently to his arrival he had the gratification, as well for the brilliancy of his former services as for his recent meritorious conduct, of being nominated a K.C.B., with additional armorial bearings, 19 Sept. 1816. He was voted also the thanks of both Houses of Parliament; obtained the Royal permission to accept and wear the insignia of the Orders of Wilhelm of the Netherlands and St. Januarius of Naples, conferred upon him by the Sovereigns of those countries; received from the city of London its freedom, accompanied by a handsome sword; and was presented by Lord Exmouth with a gold snuff-box, having on it a device expressive of the effects resulting from the ever-famous battle in which they had fought. In 1817 Sir David Milne proceeded to Halifax for the purpose of assuming command, as originally intended, of the British squadron in North America, whence he returned in the summer of 1819 – receiving, previously to his departure, a very flattering address frotn the merchants at Bermuda. He attained the rank of Vice-Admiral 27 May, 1825; was created a G.C.B. 4 July, 1840; and became a full Admiral 23 Nov. 1841. From 21 April, 1842, until within a few days of his decease, he filled the post of Commander-in-Chief at Devonport, with his flag on board the Caledonia 120.

Sir David Milne, who was a Magistrate and Deputy-Lieutenant for co. Berwick, was returned to Parliament in 1820 as Member for the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. He married, first, in 1804, Grace, daughter of Sir Alex. Purves, Bart.; and (that lady dying in 1814), secondly, 28 Nov. 1819, a daughter of the late Geo. Stephen, Esq., of the island of Grenada. By his former marriage he had issue two sons, the younger of whom, the present Capt. Alex. Milne, R.N., is a Lord of the Admiralty. Agents – Messrs. Halford and Co.

  1. Vide Gaz. 1795, p. 148.
  2. Vide Gaz. 1798, p. 650.
  3. Vide Gaz. 1800, p. 1256.
  4. Vide Gaz. 1816, p. 1790. During the conflict Rear-Admiral Milne received a severe contusion in consequence of a large round shot passing between his thighs. Although so serious as to occasion lameness for several months, he would not allow it to he reported.