Portlock, Nathaniel (DNB00)

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PORTLOCK, NATHANIEL (1748?–1817), captain in the navy, and author, born about 1748, entered the navy in 1772 as an ‘able seaman’ on board the St. Albans, with Captain (afterwards Sir) Charles Douglas [q. v.] He had probably been previously mate, or perhaps master, of a merchantman, and Douglas, recognising his worth, placed him on the quarterdeck as a midshipman. He afterwards served in the Ardent and in the Ramillies, guardships in the Medway, and in 1776 was entered on board the Discovery, where he was rated as master's mate by Captain Charles Clerke [q. v.] He continued in her during the celebrated voyage of circumnavigation [see Cook, James, 1728–1779], till, in August 1779, he was moved into the Resolution. On returning to England he passed his examination on 7 Sept. 1780, when he was officially stated to be ‘more than 32’ (Passing Certificate). On 14 Sept. 1780 he was promoted to be lieutenant of the Firebrand, attached to the Channel fleet. In May 1785 he was appointed by the King George's Sound Company to command the King George, a vessel of 320 tons, and an expedition to the north-west coast of North America. She sailed from Gravesend on 29 Aug. 1785, in company with the smaller ship Queen Charlotte, commanded by George Dixon [q. v.] On 19 July 1786 they arrived at Cook's River, and, after some stay there, ranged along the coast, sighted Mount St. Elias, and on 29 Sept. sailed for the Sandwich Islands. There they wintered, returning to the American coast in the spring. When winter approached they again sought the Sandwich Islands, and, after having refitted there and refreshed the men, sailed for Macao and England. They anchored in Margate roads on 24 Aug. 1788. In the following year he published ‘A Voyage round the World, but more particularly to the North-West Coast of America …,’ 4to, 1789. Though rich in geographical results, the voyage was primarily intended to open out the fur trade, in which object it was fully successful.

In 1791 Portlock was appointed to command the Assistant brig, going out as tender to the Providence, which had been ordered to the Pacific to bring bread-fruit plants to the West Indies [see Bligh, William]. The ships returned to England in August 1793, and on 4 Nov. Portlock was promoted to the rank of commander. In 1799 he commanded the Arrow sloop, with the tremendous armament of twenty-eight 32-pounder carronades, fitted on the non-recoil principle suggested by Sir Samuel Bentham [q. v.] (James, Naval Hist. i. 456), and on 9 Sept. captured the Dutch ship Draak, at anchor in the narrow passage between Vlie and Harlingen (ib. ii. 388). On 28 Sept. Portlock was advanced to post rank, but he does not seem to have had any further service afloat. During his later years his health was much broken. In 1816 he was admitted to Greenwich Hospital, where he died on 12 Sept. 1817. A portrait, engraved by Mazell after Dodd, is prefixed to his ‘Voyage round the World.’ His son, Joseph Ellison Portlock, is noticed separately.

[Marshall's Royal Naval Biogr. iv. (vol. ii. pt. ii.), 630, and vi. (Suppl. pt. ii.) 386–7; his Voyage round the World; Paybook of Resolution and other documents in the Public Record Office; Gent. Mag. 1817, ii. 379.]

J. K. L.