Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Trevenen, James
TREVENEN, JAMES (1760–1790), lieutenant in the royal navy and captain in the Russian navy, third son of John Trevenen, curate of Camborne in Cornwall, by his wife Elizabeth, born Tellam (d. 1799), was born at Rosewarne near Camborne on 1 Jan. 1760. His sister Elizabeth married Lieutenant (afterwards Vice-admiral Sir) Charles Vinicombe Penrose [q. v.] In 1773 (from Helston grammar school) James entered the academy at Portsmouth, studied there for the full course of three years, and in the spring of 1776 was appointed to the Resolution, then fitting out for the last voyage of Captain James Cook [q. v.] From her, in August 1779, he followed Captain James King [q. v.] to the Discovery. On the return of the expedition to England he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant on 28 Oct. 1780, and early in the following year was appointed to the Crocodile, then commanded by King, in the North Sea and in the Channel. In the summer of 1782 he again followed King to the Resistance, which went out to the West Indies in charge of convoy. On 2 March 1783 she fell in with and captured the French frigate Coquette, then returning from taking possession of Turk's Island. A few days later the Resistance and some smaller vessels under the orders of Captain Horatio (afterwards Viscount) Nelson [q. v.] in the Albemarle, attempted to recapture Turk's Island, but without success. Trevenen returned home in July 1783, and spent most of the next two years in Italy.
In 1786 he had some idea of a merchant voyage to Nootka Sound, and a small company was talked of. This, however, fell through. He had some intention of trying the East India Company's service; he applied to the admiralty for employment in connection with the new settlement at Botany Bay, or any service ‘out of the common routine of sea duty.’ Even in that ‘common routine’ there were at that time not many vacancies, out of it there were none; and Trevenen conceived a disgust for the admiralty that was so slow to recognise his—as yet unproved—merit.
In February 1787 he suggested to the Russian ambassador in London the scheme of a voyage to the North Pacific, and this, on reference to St. Petersburg, was approved. Trevenen was ordered to St. Petersburg, as he believed, to take command of it; and though his friends, especially Penrose, who just about that time married his sister, strongly advised him against the step, pointing out that if Russia should be engaged in war with any other nation than England, he would be almost bound to serve, he resolved to accept the Russian offer. He left England in June; but, travelling overland, was delayed for several weeks by a broken leg, and reached Petersburg only to find that the Turks had declared war against Russia, that the expedition to Kamtchatka was of necessity postponed, and that it was expected he would serve in the navy with the rank of second captain. He agreed to this, subject to the consent of the English admiralty; but, assuming that this would be given, he accepted the command of a ship intended for the Mediterranean. When, in the last days of 1787, he received a refusal from the admiralty, he considered himself bound to the Russians, and forthwith sent home his commission and a letter resigning it. His friends, however, did not forward this, and it does not appear that the admiralty ever knew officially of his disobedience.
The outbreak of the war with Sweden in 1788 prevented his being sent to the Mediterranean, and in July he commanded the 64-gun ship Rodislaff in the fleet under Admiral Samuel Greig [q. v.], which on the 17th engaged the Swedes near Hogland. The ignorance or bad conduct of the Russian officers prevented Greig achieving the success he had hoped for, and towards the end of the battle he is described as being supported only by Trevenen, Dennison, another English officer, and one Russian. In August Trevenen was sent in command of a small squadron to Hango Head, cutting the communication between Stockholm and the Swedish ports in the Gulf of Finland. This blockade he maintained till the close of the season, and on his return to Cronstadt he was promoted to be captain of the first class. In May 1789 Trevenen was again sent to his station off Hango Head; but during the winter the Swedes had thrown up several batteries. He was therefore recalled, and joined Admiral Chichagoff at Reval. Towards the middle of July they sailed to join a division of the fleet which had wintered at Copenhagen; but on the 25th they found themselves in presence of the Swedish fleet. A desultory engagement followed; the fleets separated without any result, and Chichagoff, having joined the Copenhagen squadron, returned to Reval. Trevenen was then sent to occupy Porkala Point and destroy the batteries in Baro Sound. On his return to Reval in the end of October, the Rodislaff was run on a submerged reef and became a total wreck. A court-martial decided that the pilot alone was to blame, and Trevenen was appointed to the Natron Menea at Cronstadt under the command of Admiral Kruse.
In May 1790 Kruse put to sea with sixteen ships of the line, wishing to effect a junction with Chichagoff at Reval. The Swedish fleet of twenty-two sail of the line interposed, and on 3 June a sharp action was fought, renewed on the following day, without any decided advantage to either side. Kruse was, however, able to join with Chichagoff, and the Swedes fell back into Viborg Bay. On 3 July they made an ineffectual attempt to force their way out; but in the action Trevenen's thigh was stripped of the flesh by a cannon-shot. He lingered for a few days, and died on board his ship at Cronstadt on the 9th, the day on which his friend and brother-in-law Dennison was killed in action in Viborg Bay.
Trevenen married at Cronstadt, in February 1789, Elizabeth, daughter of John Farquharson; Dennison married her sister. Trevenen left one daughter, who died unmarried in 1823. Mrs. Trevenen, after living for some years with her husband's relatives in Cornwall, married, on 13 Sept. 1806, Thomas Bowdler [q. v.] of St. Boniface, Isle of Wight, and died at Bath in 1845.
A lithograph portrait, after a painting by Allingham, is prefixed to Penrose's ‘Memoir’ of 1850. [Memoir by the Rev. John Penrose from a manuscript by Sir C. V. Penrose; Gent. Mag. 1790, ii. 765; Letters of Anna Seward, 1811, iii. 31; Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornubiensis.]