Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Trotter, Henry Dundas

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TROTTER, HENRY DUNDAS (1802–1859), rear-admiral, third son of Alexander Trotter of Dreghorn, near Edinburgh, was born on 19 Sept. 1802. He entered the Royal Naval College at Portsmouth in 1815, and in February 1818 joined the Ister at Leith. From her in May he was sent to the Eden of 26 guns, going out to the East Indies, and in her during 1819 taking part in the expedition against the pirates of the Persian Gulf, under Captain (afterwards Sir) Francis Augustus Collier [q. v.] In March 1821 he was moved to the Leander, flagship of Sir Henry Blackwood [q. v.], by whom he was appointed acting lieutenant. On arriving in England the commission was confirmed, dating from 9 Jan. 1823. He was then appointed to the Hussar, going out to the West Indies, and was specially reported by her captain, George Harris, for his gallant conduct in the capture of a band of pirates at the Isle of Pines. He afterwards served in the Bellette and Rattlesnake, and on 20 Feb. 1826 was made commander into the Britomart sloop. In July 1830 he commissioned the Curlew for service on the west coast of Africa, where he was for the most part senior officer, the commander-in-chief remaining at the Cape of Good Hope. In May 1833, being at Prince's Island in the Gulf of Guinea, he had intelligence of an act of piracy committed on an American brig in the previous September by a large schooner, identified with the Panda, a Spanish slaver from Havana, and then on the coast. On 4 June he seized the Panda in the Nazareth River, but the men escaped to the shore. After an unremitting hunt of several months, he succeeded in capturing most of them, and took possession of the Esperanza, a Portuguese schooner, which had been active in assisting the fugitives. The prisoners and the Esperanza he took to England. The prisoners were sent over to Salem in Massachusetts, where, by good fortune, the brig they had plundered was then in harbour, and in due course of law the greater number of them were hanged; Trotter received the thanks of the American government. Against the Esperanza there was no legal evidence; her owners instituted a prosecution against Trotter, and Lord Palmerston, then foreign secretary, agreed that the schooner should be returned to Lisbon. Trotter was called on to fit her out at his own expense. At Plymouth, however, the feeling of the service was so strong that the captains of the several ships lying there sent parties of men who completed her refit free of all cost to Trotter; and the admiralty showed their sense of his conduct by specially promoting him to post rank on 16 Sept. 1835.

For a few months in 1838 he was flag-captain to Sir Philip Durham at Portsmouth; and in 1840 he was appointed captain of the Albert steamer, commander of an expedition to the coast of Africa, more especially for the examination of the Niger, and chief of the commission authorised to conclude treaties of commerce with the negro kings. The little squadron of three small steamers sailed from England in May 1841, and entered the Niger on 13 Aug. In less than three weeks the other two vessels were incapacitated by fever, and obliged to return [see Allen, William, (1793–1864)]. Trotter in the Albert struggled on as far as Egga, where, on 3 Oct., he was prostrated by the fever; and, as the greater part of his ship's company was also down with it, he was obliged to turn back. He succeeded, however, in establishing a satisfactory treaty with some of the kings; and the admiralty was so far satisfied that everything possible had been done, that they promoted all the junior officers, and in the following years offered Trotter the governorship of New Zealand in 1843 the command of an Arctic expedition in 1844, and the command of the Indian navy in 1846. The state of his health, however, which but slowly and partially recovered from the effects of African fever, compelled him to refuse these offers, and it was not till the outbreak of the Crimean war that he was able to accept employment. He was then appointed commodore at the Cape of Good Hope, an office which he held for three years, during which time he succeeded in establishing the Cape Town Sailors' Home. On 19 March 1857 he became a rear-admiral on the retired list. He died suddenly in London on 14 July 1859, and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery. He married, in November 1835, Charlotte, second daughter of Major-general James Pringle of the East India Company's service.

His father's brother, John Trotter (1757–1833), coming up to London in 1774, joined and at an early age became head of a firm of army contractors. After the peace of 1783 he urged on the government the absurdity and extravagance of selling off all the military stores, only to replace them by new purchases on the occasion of any alarm, and offered to warehouse them in his own premises. This was agreed to in 1787. On the outbreak of the French war the business increased enormously, and by 1807 he had established 109 depots, containing supplies insured for 600,000l. The storekeepers were all appointed and paid by him; there was no government inspection, apparently no government audit. The agreement was that he was paid the cost of the stores, plus a percentage to cover expenses and profit. In the hands of an honest and capable man the system worked efficiently; but it was felt to be improper to leave the country in entire dependence on one man or to give any one man such vast patronage; and in 1807 Sir James Pulteney, then secretary for war [see Murray, Sir James], established the office of ‘storekeeper-general,’ giving Trotter the first nomination to the post, and retaining the services of all his employés.

In 1815 Trotter established the Soho Bazaar, leading from the west side of Soho Square to Oxford Street. Designed at first to enable the distressed widows and daughters of army officers to dispose economically of their home ‘work’ by renting a few feet of counter, the bazaar eventually proved a source of wealth to its projector. He was a man of many schemes, some of which—as the two already spoken of—led to fortune; others died in their infancy, including one for the establishment of a universal language.

[Information from Coutts Trotter, esq. Daily News, 20 Aug. 1859; ‘The Pirate Slaver,’ in Nautical Magazine, 1851; Allen's Narrative of the Expedition … to the River Niger in 1841, under the command of Captain H. D. Trotter (1848, 2 vols. 8vo); Official Letters in Public Record Office; Gent. Mag. 1859 ii. 314, 1833 ii. 380; Jerdan's Autobiography, vols. ii. and iv.; Dupin's Voyages dans la Grande-Bretagne; Eighth Report of the Military Commission from 1794.]

J. K. L.