Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Russell, Thomas Macnamara

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RUSSELL, THOMAS MACNAMARA (1740?–1824), admiral, born about 1740, is described as the son of an Englishman who settled in Ireland, where he married a Miss Macnamara, probably a daughter and coheiress of Sheedy Macnamara of Balyally, co. Clare [see Hayes, Sir John Macnamara]. On the death of his father when he was five years old, he is said to have inherited a large fortune, which, by the carelessness or dishonesty of his trustees, disappeared before he was fourteen. This was probably the cause of his going to sea in the merchant service. He does not seem to have entered the navy till about 1766, when he joined the Cornwall guardship at Plymouth, and in her, and afterwards in the Arrogant, served for nearly three years in the rating of ‘able seaman.’ He was then for about two years midshipman or second master of the Hunter cutter, employed on preventive service in the North Sea, and for about eighteen months as master's mate in the Terrible guardship at Portsmouth, with Captain Marriot Arbuthnot. He passed his examination on 2 Dec. 1772, being then described in his certificate as ‘more than 32.’ In 1776 he was serving on the coast of North America, and on 2 June was promoted by Rear-admiral Shuldham to be lieutenant of the Albany sloop, from which he was moved to the Diligent. On his return to England he was appointed to the Raleigh, with Captain James Gambier, afterwards Lord Gambier [q. v.], and was present at the relief of Jersey in May 1779, and at the capture of Charlestown. At Charlestown he was promoted by Arbuthnot on 11 May 1780 to the command of the Beaumont sloop, from which, on 7 May 1781, he was posted to the Bedford. Apparently this was for rank only, and he was almost immediately appointed to the Hussar of 20 guns, in which he cruised on the coast of North America with marked success, making several prizes.

On 22 Jan. 1783 he fell in with the French 32-gun frigate Sibylle, which had been roughly handled by the Magicienne three weeks before, and afterwards, in a violent gale, had been dismasted, and obliged to throw twelve of her guns overboard. When she sighted the Hussar she hoisted the English flag over the French, the recognised signal of a prize, and at the same time, in the shrouds, another English flag, union downwards, the signal of distress. Russell accordingly bore down to her assistance, but as he drew near, his suspicions being roused, he did not close her. On this the Sibylle, under English colours, attempted to board the Hussar, but was beaten off with great loss, and when the Centurion, attracted by the firing, came within gunshot, the Sibylle surrendered. Indignant at the treacherous conduct of her captain, the Comte de Kergariou, Russell broke his sword and made him a close prisoner, with a sentry over him. When he brought the prize into New York he reported the circumstance, but, as peace was then on the point of being concluded, the affair was hushed up. Kergariou threatened to demand personal satisfaction, and after the peace Russell went to Paris to meet him, but returned on finding that his would-be enemy had gone to the Pyrenees.

In 1789 he was appointed to the Diana frigate on the West Indian station, and in the end of 1791 was sent to St. Domingo with a convoy of provisions for the French. He learned that an English officer, Lieutenant Perkins, was imprisoned at Jeremie in Hayti, on a charge of having supplied the revolted blacks with arms. Russell convinced himself that the charge was false, went round to Jeremie, and, under a threat of laying the town in ruins, secured Perkins's release. He returned to England in 1792, and in 1796 was appointed to the Vengeance of 74 guns, again for service in the West Indies, where, under Rear-admiral Henry Harvey [q. v.], he took part in the reduction of St. Lucia and Trinidad. The Vengeance returned to England in the spring of 1799, and formed part of the Channel fleet during the summer, after which she was paid off, and in the following April Russell was appointed to the Princess Royal, which he commanded till his promotion to the rank of rear-admiral on 1 Jan. 1801. On the renewal of the war in 1803 he hoisted his flag on board the Dictator, under the orders of Lord Keith in the Downs. On 9 Nov. 1805 he was promoted to be vice-admiral, and in 1807 was appointed commander-in-chief of the squadron in the North Sea. In September, on the news of war having been declared by Denmark, he took possession of Heligoland, which during the war continued to be the great depôt of the English trade with Germany. He became an admiral on 12 Aug. 1812, and died suddenly, in his carriage, in the neighbourhood of Poole, on 22 July 1824. He married, about 1793, a Miss Phillips, who died in 1818, leaving no children.

[Gent. Mag. 1824, ii. 369; Naval Chronicle, xvii. 441, with a portrait after a painting by C. G. Stuart, then (1806) in the possession of Sir John Macnamara Hayes; ib. xxv. 239; official correspondence in the Public Record Office; Marshall's Royal Naval Biogr. i. 137, 606; Beatson's Naval and Military Memoirs, v. 552, vi. 349; Troude's Batailles Navales de la France, ii. 238.]

J. K. L.