Faulknor, Robert (DNB00)

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FAULKNOR, ROBERT (1763–1795), captain in the navy, was the eldest son of Captain Robert Faulknor, who, in command of the Bellona of 74 guns, captured the Courageux of the same force on 14 Aug. 1761; grandson of Captain Samuel Faulknor of the Victory when she was lost, with all hands, on 5 Oct. 1744 [see Balchen, Sir John]; great-grandson of Captain William Faulknor, who, after serving through the wars of William III and Anne, died lieutenant-governor of Greenwich Hospital in 1725; nephew of Captain Samuel Faulknor, who served with credit in the war of the Austrian succession and the seven years' war, and died in 1760; nephew also of Jonathan Faulknor, captain of the Victory with Keppel in the action off Ushant, 27 July 1778, who died admiral of the blue in 1794; and first cousin of Jonathan Faulknor, who died rear-admiral of the red in 1809. His father, Robert, the hero of the day in the autumn of 1761, married Miss Elizabeth Ashe in November, and died in May 1769, leaving five children. The eldest, Robert, was in 1774 appointed to the Royal Naval College at Portsmouth, and in March 1777 was taken on board the Isis by Captain Cornwallis, whom he followed into the Bristol, Ruby, Medea, and Lion, and was present in the battle of Grenada on 6 July 1779, in the skirmish with M. de la Motte Piquet on 20 March 1780 and in that with M. de Ternay on 20 June 1780 [see Cornwallis, Sir William]. On 20 Dec. 1780 he was promoted to be a lieutenant of the Princess Royal, the flagship of Rear-admiral Rowley, and the following year he returned to England. In April 1782 he was appointed to the Britannia, flagship of Vice-admiral Barrington in the Channel, and afterwards at the relief of Gibraltar and in the encounter with the combined fleet off Cape Spartel. The Britannia was paid off at the peace. His nearly continuous service during the following years calls for no special mention; in the summer of 1790 he was lieutenant of the Royal George, carrying Admiral Barrington's flag, and was included in the large promotion made on the disarmament, 22 Nov. 1790. After commanding the Pluto fireship for a few months in the summer of 1791, he was in June 1793 appointed to the Zebra sloop of 16 guns, which he commanded for a short time in the North Sea, and then joined the flag of Sir John Jervis in the West Indies, where, on 20 March 1794, his brilliant conduct at the capture of Fort Royal of Martinique won for him his promotion to post rank, dated on the same day. The Zebra had been told off to attend on the Asia of 64 guns, appointed to batter the fort and to cover the boats of the landing party; but, as the Asia missed the entrance, Faulknor ‘determined to execute the service alone, and,’ in the words of Jervis's despatch, ‘he executed it with matchless intrepidity and conduct; running the Zebra close to the wall of the fort, and leaping overboard at the head of his sloop's company, he assailed and took this important post before the boats could get on shore. … No language of mine,’ added Jervis, ‘can express the merit of Captain Faulknor upon this occasion; but, as every officer and man in the army and squadron bears testimony to it, this incomparable action cannot fail of being recorded in the page of history.’ James (Naval Hist. ed. 1860, i. 243) questions the strict accuracy of the despatch; he thinks that the men from the boats were on shore first and took the fort, and that the admiral virtually admitted his mistake by appointing Captain Nugent, who led the boats, to the command of the fort. But Jervis, who never praised on light grounds, promoted Faulknor and appointed him to the Rose. Faulknor himself, writing to his mother, said: ‘The Zebra, when she came out of action, was cheered by the admiral's ship; and the admiral himself publicly embraced me on the quarter-deck and directed the band to play “See the conquering hero comes!” Such compliments are without example in the navy; I never could have deserved them.’ At the capture of St. Lucia a few days later the Rose led into what was known as the Cul de Sac, but which Jervis, in memory of Barrington's action with D'Estaing [see Barrington, Samuel], now called Barrington Bay. Faulknor was rewarded by being moved into the Blanche, a frigate of 32 guns, ‘where,’ he wrote, ‘I mean to stop, not wishing to have a larger ship.’ At Guadeloupe, the conquest of which was completed on 21 April, he was again foremost, and at the storming of Fort Fleur d'Épée had a narrow escape of his life.

From Guadeloupe the Blanche was sent to Halifax to refit, and returned to the West Indies in October to find that the French had recovered Guadeloupe with the exception of Fort Mathilde at Basseterre, which held out till 10 Dec. During these last months of 1794 the Blanche remained in the immediate neighbourhood of Guadeloupe, cutting off the enemy's communications and watching the French frigate Pique in Pointe à Pitre. On the morning of 4 Jan. 1795 the Pique was seen to be under way, but coming out cautiously, doubtful, it would appear, if the Blanche was alone, it was evening before she was clear of the land, following the Blanche to the southward. The Blanche having then turned towards her, the two frigates met a little after midnight. A well-contested action ensued, the Pique being handled in a gallant and seamanlike manner, and constantly endeavouring to lay the Blanche on board and carry her by force of superior numbers. These attempts the Blanche as constantly baffled, till a little before 3 A.M., when her main and mizen masts fell. The Pique then ran on board her on the port quarter, and Faulknor, intending to keep her there, exposed to the raking fire of the Blanche's guns, proceeded to lash, with his own hands, her bowsprit to the Blanche's capstan. While so doing he fell dead, shot through the heart by a musket-ball. Other hands secured the lashing, and the Blanche, paying off before the wind, dragged the Pique in her wake, keeping up a steady fire into her bows, which the Pique was unable to return. After two hours of this unequal combat the Pique hailed that she had surrendered, and was taken possession of by David Milne [q. v.], the second lieutenant, who with a party of ten men swam on board.

The circumstance of Faulknor's death gave an unwonted celebrity to this brilliant frigate action. A picture of the scene, by Stothard, engraved with the title ‘Death of Captain Faulknor,’ is even now not rare; and a monument by Rossi, erected in St. Paul's Cathedral at the public expense, still keeps alive the memory of one whose early death but crowned the glorious promise of his young life.

[Naval Chronicle, xvi. 1 (with a portrait); Ralfe's Naval Biography, iii. 308; James's Naval Hist. i. 308.]

J. K. L.