Royal Naval Biography/Brisbane, James

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A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1801.]

This officer is the fifth son of the late Admiral John Brisbane, and a brother of the present Sir Charles Brisbane, K.C.B.[1] He was born in 1774; entered the naval service as a Midshipman on board the Culloden 74, Captain Thomas Rich, during the Dutch armament of 1787; and in the spring of the following year, was removed into the Andromeda frigate, commanded by H.R.H. Prince William Henry, (now Duke of Clarence), under whom he served till that ship was put out of commission in 1789[2]. He then joined the Southampton 32, commanded by the late Sir Andrew Snape Douglas; which ship, as we have already stated, was the first his late Majesty ever went to sea in[3].

At the period of the Spanish armament, we find Mr. Brisbane serving under H.R.H. the Duke of Clarence, in the Valiant of 74 guns. That ship being put out of commission at the close of 1790, he was transferred to the Shark sloop, commanded by the Hon. A. K. Legge, with whom he continued as acting Lieutenant till the breaking out of the French revolutionary war in 1793, when he joined the London, a second rate, fitting for the flag of his royal patron; but circumstances occurring to prevent the Duke from going to sea, she was paid off, and Mr. Brisbane received on board the Queen Charlotte of 100 guns, bearing the flag of Earl Howe, under whom he had the honor of serving as a Signal Midshipman, in the memorable battle of June 1, 1794.

In the month of September following, Mr. Brisbane was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, and appointed to l’Espiegle sloop of war, stationed in the Channel. From that vessel he exchanged into the Sphynx, a 20-gun ship; and in her assisted at the reduction of the Cape of Good Hope by Sir George K. Elphinstone, and Major-General Clarke[4]; after which event he was removed into the Monarch 74, bearing the Vice-Admiral’s flag.

In our memoir of Viscount Keith, we have already recorded the capture of a Dutch squadron in Saldanha Bay, Aug. 18, 1796. Mr. Brisbane, at that time first Lieutenant of the Monarch, was immediately made a Commander into one of the prizes; and a few days afterwards, appointed to the command of the Daphne, a small frigate, in which he accompanied the commander-in-chief on his return to Europe.

Captain Brisbane’s post commission not being confirmed by the Admiralty, he remained on the half-pay list of Commanders from his arrival in England, about Jan. 1797, till early in 1801, when he was appointed to the Cruiser of 18 guns, on the North Sea station. He subsequently proceeded to the Sound, in company with the expedition under Sir Hyde Parker, sent thither to dissolve the Northern Confederacy; and whilst on that service, distinguished himself by his “unremitting exertions” in ascertaining the channels round the great shoal called the Middle Ground, and in laying down fresh buoys, the Danes having either removed or misplaced the former ones. His good conduct on this occasion was officially reported by Lord Nelson, who in a private letter to Earl St. Vincent, mentioned him as highly deserving of promotion[5]. During the absence of Captain Robert Waller Otway, who had been charged with the commander-in-chief s despatches, relative to the great victory obtained over the Danes, Captain Brisbane commanded the London, bearing Sir Hyde Parker’s flag[6]. He afterwards acted successively in the Ganges 74, and Alcmene frigate; and Lord Nelson’s recommendation being at length attended to, he was finally confirmed as a Post-Captain to the Saturn 74, the flag-ship of Rear-Admiral Totty, by commission dated back to the day of the battle.

In Dec. 1801, Rear-Admiral Totty obtained the chief command at the Leeward Islands, where he fell a victim to the yellow fever, a few months after his arrival. In consequence of this melancholy event, the Saturn returned to England and was paid off in the summer of 1802.

At the renewal of the war in 1803, Captain Brisbane was appointed to the command of the Sea Fencibles on the coast of Kent, where he continued till the autumn of 1805, when he joined the Alcmene on the Irish station; where he captured le Courier French privateer, formerly a British hired cutter of 7 guns, pierced for 14, with a complement of 70 men, Jan. 4, 1807.

On Lord Gardner’s removal from Ireland to command the Channel fleet, the Alcmene was transferred with that nobleman, and continued under his orders till the spring of 1808; when Captain Brisbane was appointed to la Belle Poule, a 38-gun frigate, in which he shortly after convoyed a large fleet of merchantmen to the Mediterranean. On his arrival there, he received directions from Lord Collingwood to assume the command of the squadron employed blockading Corfu, and watching the entrance of the Adriatic Sea.

Whilst thus employed, Captain Brisbane materially interrupted the enemy’s trade, cut off all the supplies sent from Italy for the French garrison at Corfu, and amongst numerous other vessels, captured one having on board the military chest. In Feb. 1809, that island being greatly distressed for want of corn, the enemy determined to risk one of their frigates for a supply; and accordingly, le Var, pierced for 32 guns, but having only 26 mounted, availing herself of a strong southerly gale and dark night, pushed out for Brindisi, but was discovered by Captain Brisbane at day-light on the following morning, and pursued by him into the Gulf of Valona, where she moored with cables to the walls of the Turkish fortress, mounting 14 heavy guns, with another fort on an eminence above her, completely commanding the whole anchorage.

Light and partial winds prevented Captain Brisbane closing with the enemy till one P.M. on the ensuing day (Feb. 15), when he anchored in a position at once to take or destroy the frigate, and at the same time to keep in check the formidable force he saw prepared to support her. A most animated and well-directed fire was immediately opened by la Belle Poule; and the forts, contrary to expectation, making no effort to protect le Var, the latter was soon compelled to surrender[7].

Some time after this event, the enemy’s force at Corfu having encreased so much as to induce Lord Collingwood to attach a ship of the line to that station, Captain Brisbane was superseded in the command of the squadron by Captain Eyre of the Magnificent; with whom he proceeded in September following, to join the expedition sent from Sicily to re-establish the Septinsular republic. The following are extracts from the public letters of Captain Spranger, the senior officer of the naval force employed on that occasion:

H.M.S. Warrior, Oct. 3 5, 1809.

“I sailed from Messina on the 23d ultimo, in company with the Philomel, two large gun-boats, and the transports with troops, under the command of Brigadier-General Oswald, and proceeded off Cephalonia, where we arrived on the 28th, and continued until the 1st Oct.; during which days we were joined, as had been previously arranged, by the Spartan from Malta; and the Magnificent, Belle Poule, and Kingsfisher, from Corfu; and anchored that night in the bay of Xante, just without reach of the nearest battery.

“At day-light on the following morning, the boats assembled alongside the Warrior, and under cover of the Spartan, Belle Poule, and gun-boats, who soon silenced the batteries, landed a division of the army, in the most perfect order, about three miles from the town; and whilst General Oswald was advancing, Captains Brenton and Brisbane, and the gun-boats conducted by Mr. Cole, my first Lieutenant, were actively employed in keeping the enemy, who had re-manned their batteries, in check, and covering the second disembarkation; when the whole army moved forward, and closely invested the castle, to which the French had retired from every direction. A proclamation was in the mean time distributed among the inhabitants, explanatory of our views; and finding, as was expected, that they rejoiced in the expulsion of these common disturbers of mankind, I forbore attacking with the ships a strong battery on the mole-head, which could not be taken without destroying a great part of the town; and I have the satisfaction of adding, that in the course of the day the enemy, though advantageously situated in a most important and commanding position, thought proper to capitulate.

“No time was lost after the surrender of Zante, in establishing a provisional government, re-embarking the troops, and proceeding on the 4th inst. with the squadron, augmented by the arrival of the Leonidas, to Cephalonia, the port of which was entered with the men of war formed in two columns, and the transports in the rear, and taken possession of without any opposition on the part of the enemy; which, indeed, from the formidable force I had the honor to command, would have been perfectly useless: and having landed the advance the same evening, the General summoned the fort of St. George, situated on a steep hill, two leagues frora the town, which immediately surrendered on the same terms as those granted to the garrison at Zante; both islands were fortunately occupied by his Majesty’s forces without any loss whatever, and the Septinsular flag, together with the British, to the great joy of the inhabitants, displayed at each[8].

To Rear-Admiral George Martin.

In the spring of 1810, Captain Brisbane assisted at the reduction of St. Maura; and during part of the siege had the sole charge of the naval arrangements, as will be seen by the following letter from Captain Eyre to Rear-Admiral Martin:

Magnificent, at St. Maura, April 18, 1810.

“Sir,– Having, in my letter to Lord Collingwood of the 8th of last month, stated the principal reasons which induced General Oswald and myself to determine upon attacking the enemy in the Island of St. Maura, I have now the satisfaction to inform you of the complete success of our expedition.

“Immediately this measure was resolved upon, I sailed from Cephalonia to collect the squadron, and directed Captain Griffiths of the Leonidas to cruise to the northward of St. Maura, in order to prevent any supplies or reinforcements being sent to Corfu; a service which was most effectually performed. On the 18th March we were all assembled at Zante; but the Montagu, in working into the road, through the ignorance of the pilot, got upon the shoal, and knocked her rudder off, by which unfortunate accident she was prevented from accompanying us. The troops which she was intended to take being divided amongst the other ships, as also her marines, under the command of Captain Snow, and the General having done me the honor to embark on board the Magnificent, I sailed with the Belle Poule, Imogene, three gun-boats, and five transports, early on the morning of the 21st, and arrived at St. Maura the same evening. I gave directions to Captain Stephens of the Imogene, to anchor as close to the shore as possible, taking the gun-boats with him, in order to cover the lauding of the troops, and to silence two small batteries which were situated near the landing-place.

“The disembarkation began at day-break the following morning, and was very expeditiously effected, under theJmmediate direction of Captain Brisbane. The marines belonging to the Magnificent, Montagu, and Belle Poule, were landed at the same time, and attached to the army. One of the batteries tired at the Imogene; but upon a brisk return being made from the gun-boats, the enemy abandoned it, as he also did two other batteries, which commanded the entrance of a large lake that extends to the town and citadel.

“The citadel of St. Maura is situated upon a low neck of land, projecting into the sea, on the north-east end of the island; and though nearly surrounded by the sea, is, from its embayed position, and shallowness of the water, unassailable by ships.

“The want of secure anchorage on that side of the island obliged me to place the transports in a port six or seven miles from where the operations were to be carried on.

“As soon as the troops were landed, they began their march towards the town, which was given up without opposition, and taken possession of by Colonel Lowe and a body of troops. Another division continued on its route towards the citadel. 1 thought it necessary to accompany the General, in order to facilitate such supplies and co-operation from the ships as the circumstances of the moment might render necessary. When we reached the northern shore, it was discovered that the enemy had constructed two strong redoubts upon a neck of land a considerable distance in advance of the citadel, and which it was necessary to drive him from before any thing could be undertaken against the principal work. A battery of two guns, still further in advance, the enemy had been forced to abandon, by a detachment of troops under the command of Major Church. The Leonidas was then only a few miles from the shore; and the weather being fine, it was judged a favorable opportunity to make an immediate and joint attack upon the first redoubt.

“Captain Brisbane, who was with me, ever anxious to render himself of use, volunteered to take any orders to the Leonidas. I therefore sent directions by him to Captain Griffiths, to anchor as near the redoubt as possible, and cannonade it; which was executed with his usual promptitude. The troops, at the same time, with the General at their head, advanced under a heavy fire of grape and musketry to the assault, drove the enemy from his entrenchments at the point of the bayonet, and followed him so close, that he had not time to rally at the second redoubt, but fled through it without stopping, and was pursued close to the walls of the citadel. The acquisition of these posts, which from that moment we retained possession of, was of the greatest importance to the future operations. “Being myself wounded in the head, I was under the necessity, for a few days, of giving up the naval arrangements to Captain Brisbane, to whose zealous ardour, whatever service he is employed upon, it is impossible for me to do sufficient justice.

"On the 25th, finding myself able to give all such directions as could be necessary for the service going forward, and that it was very essential to increase the force on the north side of the island, I directed Captain Brisbane to proceed there in the Belle Poule, taking with him the Imogene and gun-boats.

“Captain Stephens had been wounded in the foot at the storming of the redoubts, but was too zealous to allow it to interfere with his personal exertions. I am sorry to say that he still suffers from it very considerably.

“Ten of the Magnificent’s guns were landed, and 150 seamen, under the command of Lieutenant Astley, whose assiduous attention and activity in performing every duty entrusted to him, the General speaks of in strong terms of approbation.

“On the 30th the Montagu joined me. Captain Moubray, by the greatest exertions, had re-hung his rudder at Zante, and lost not a moment afterwards in following us. On her arrival, two of her lower-deck guns were landed, and 100 of her seamen, to do duty on shore. I at the same time directed Captain Moubray to superintend all the operations that were going forward, that no assistance which the ships could give might be omitted. On the 7th April, I left the transports under the care of the Montagu, and proceeded to the opposite side of the island, where our batteries opened the following morning. The seamen of the Magnificent, in consequence of the ship going to sea, were withdrawn from the shore, and an additional number sent from the Montagu, the whole being then under the command of Lieutenant Lyons of that ship.

“The only way the citadel could be approached with cannon being a narrow neck of land, and which is composed principally of loose gravel thrown up by the sea, the difficulties in erecting our batteries had been very great; but the ardour and energies of the soldiers and sailors, animated in every danger and every fatigue by the continual presence of General Oswald, rose in proportion as the obstacles presented themselves. Captains Brisbane and Griffiths, with the masters of their ships, took great pains to sound about the citadel; but it was found impracticable to carry the ships nearer than a mile. On the 5th, the Kingsfisher joined us from Malta; and information having been received that the enemy had made great preparations at Corfu and Parga, to throw supplies into St. Maura, I directed Captain Tritton to keep under way at a short distance in the offing, and Captain Stephens to anchor in the Imogene, just out of gun-shot of the enemy’s works. The vigilant attention paid by these officers to that important piece of duty, is highly creditable to them; and, I believe, not a boat made its way. The citadel kept up a spirited fire till the night of the 15th, when a detachment of troops, under the command of Colonel Moore, drove the enemy from an advanced entrenchment, and lodged itself in their place. A very heavy fire of grape and musketry continued for many hours; but the enemy finding that the British troops were immoveable, and that his own men were picked off in the embrasures, he sent a flag of truce to propose terms of capitulation. Captain Moubray and Colonel Lowe were authorized by the General and myself to treat with the Governor. In a short time terms were agreed upon, and that night the gates put into our possession.

“It is a great pleasure to me, Sir, to represent to you the flattering terms in which the General speaks of the uninterrupted good conduct of the seamen and marines employed on shore during this siege, and which is so creditable to the officers who were with them; and though the part which the ships could take, from the peculiar situation of the place, was very limited, yet I am sure you would readily believe, from the known character of the Captains I had the honor to have under my command, that the greatest zeal and anxiety were shewn by them to do every thing that was possible. The assistance I received from Captain Moubray, and his unremitting attention to every piece of duty that was going forward, demand my warmest acknowledgments. To Lieutenant Elphick, the first Lieutenant of the Magnificent, a very gallant and zealous officer, I am much indebted, for his attention and assiduity, at a time when I was unable to exert myself as usual; and it would be injustice if I omitted to mention the readiness and alacrity shewn by Lieutenant Bussel, agent of transports, in attending any duty which was required of him, when the Lieutenants of the Magnificent were employed on shore.”

On the 11th Dec. in the same year, Captain Brisbane captured the Carlotta, Italian brig of war, pierced for 14 guns, but only 10 mounted, with a complement of 100 men, from Venice bound to Corfu. About the same period he assisted at the capture of a French national schooner on the coast of Dalmatia.

At 10 A.M. on the 4th May 1811, la Belle Poule, being on a cruise off the coast of Istria, in company with the Alceste frigate, discovered and chased a French 18-gun brig into the small harbour of Parenza. Having received intelligence that such a vessel might be expected conveying supplies of all descriptions for the French frigates which had escaped into Ragusa, after their action with a British squadron off Lissa[9], Captain Brisbane felt that no means should be left untried to capture or destroy her. After reconnoitring her position, and consulting the pilots and Mr. Boardman, an officer belonging to the Acorn, who from his general local knowledge of the Adriatic, had handsomely volunteered his services for the cruise, he found it impracticable for the frigates to enter the port, there being only fifteen feet water in it, but that the brig might nevertheless be cannonaded with effect where she was then lying: according at 3 P.M. both ships stood in, within a cable’s length of the rocks at the entrance of the harbour, and opened an animated fire on her, and a battery under which she lay. In about an hour from the commencement the brig hauled on shore near the town completely out of the reach of shot; and all further efforts from the frigates being perfectly useless, Captain Brisbane determined on taking possession of an island in the mouth of the harbour, and within musket-shot of the town. The ships being anchored after the close of day, about four miles from the shore, 200 seamen and the whole of the marines were landed, under the orders of Lieutenant John M‘Curdy, and took possession thereof about 11 o’clock. With incessant labour, and the most extraordinary exertions, a defence was thrown up, and a battery of two howitzers and two 9-pounders erected on a commanding position, by five A.M. A field-piece was also placed at some distance to the left, to divide the attention of the enemy, who, aware of what was going on, had been busily enployed during the night planting guns in various parts of the harbour. Soon after five o’clock the French opened a cross fire from four different positions, which was immediately returned, and kept up on both sides with great vigour for five hours; when the brig being cut to pieces, the detachment, guns, ammunition, &c. were re-embarked with the most perfect order and regularity. This service was performed with the loss of 4 men killed and the same number wounded. The frigates were frequently hulled by the batteries, but received no other damage that could not be instantly repaired.

La Belle Poule returned to England in August following, and was subsequently employed cruising on the Channel station, where she captured the General Gates, a fast sailing privateer, and several other American vessels. About Sept. 1812, Captain Brisbane was appointed to the Pembroke of 74 guns, in which ship he served with the Channel fleet under the command of Lord Keith till the summer of 1813, when he was again ordered to the Mediterranean.

On the 5th Nov. in the same year, the Pembroke had 3 men wounded in a skirmish with the rear of the Toulon fleet. Captain Brisbane was soon afterwards detached, with the Aigle and Alcmene frigates under his orders, to cruise off Corsica and in the Gulf of Genoa. At 10 A.M. April 11, 1814, being off Cape delle Melle, he discovered twenty sail of French vessels, the greater part of which, on seeing the British squadron, ran ashore under the guns of Port Maurice. Passing close along the line of the enemy’s batteries, the Pembroke and her companions anchored at musket-shot distance from the town, and despatched their boats to endeavour to get the vessels off from the beach; but they had scarcely pulled up to them, before they were assailed with a heavy fire of musketry from behind the houses. The ships now opened their broadsides; but being unwilling to destroy the town, Captain Brisbane sent a flag of truce to demand the vessels, but without effect. Determined not to lose time, he ordered the ships to renew their fire, and at the end of an hour had the satisfaction to see the French colours hauled down, and a white flag hung out in token of submission. In the mean time, almost all the vessels had been stripped and scuttled; but by great exertions during the night and following day, four of them were got off, and the greater part of the cargoes of the others which were destroyed. One of the latter was armed with 4 long guns. The captors on this occasion had 2 men killed and 4 wounded.

Soon after the performance of this service, Captain Brisbane fell in with the squadron under Sir Edward Pellew, then proceeding to co-operate with Lord William Bentinck’s army, in the reduction of Genoa. The Pembroke accompanied this squadron, and was consequently present at the surrender of that place[10]; after which event Captain Brisbane was sent, with a small force under his orders, accompanied by Major-General Montressor and 1800 troops, to take provisional possession of Corsica[11], where he remained until a convention was signed by his military colleague and the French General Berthier, by which the forts of Ajaccio, Calvi, and Bonifacio, were delivered up to the British, to be retained by them until the ultimate disposal of the island should be decided upon by the respective governments of Europe.

On his return to Genoa, Captain Brisbane was ordered home with four French brigs of war, taken at that place, under his protection. The Pembroke was paid off about Sept. 1814. In the Spring of the ensuing year Captain Brisbane was appointed to the Boyne, a second rate, bearing the flag of Lord Exmouth, who had been ordered to re-assume the command on the Mediterranean station, in consequence of Buonaparte’s return to France from Elba. After contributing to the restoration of the King of Naples, his Lordship proceeded to Genoa, and from thence escorted Sir Hudson Lowe and 4,000 British troops to Marseilles, for the purpose of creating a diversion in favour of the allied armies previous to the decisive battle of Waterloo. The subsequent proceedings of the squadron have already been noticed in his Lordship’s memoir, and at pp. 253, of this volume.

During the celebrated expedition against Algiers, Captain Brisbane commanded Lord Exmouth’s flag-ship, the Queen Charlotte of 108 guns; and after the bloody battle of Aug. 27, 1816, was selected by the commander-in-chief to negociate with the Dey, who it will be remembered was compelled to make a public apology before his ministers, and beg pardon of the British Consul, in terms dictated by the subject of this memoir[12].

The objects of the expedition having been fully accomplished, Captain Brisbane was charged with the duplicates of his noble chief’s despatches, with which he came home overland, and arrived at the Admiralty some days before the original. On the 2d Oct. in the same year, he received the honor of knighthood, as a reward for his able and meritorious conduct. He had been nominated a C.B. for his former services, at the extension of that Order in 1815.

Sir James Brisbane married, in 1800, the only daughter of John Ventham, Esq., by whom he has one son and two daughters.

Agent.– William Marsh, Esq.

  1. See vol. I. p. 730.
  2. The Andromeda was employed on the Halifax and West India stations; but ordered home from the latter, in consequence of our late monarch’s alarming indisposition, in 1789.
  3. See Vol. I. note †, at p. 706. N.B. The Southampton was subsequently commanded by Captain (now Sir Richard G.) Keats; see id. p. 342.
  4. See Vol. I. p. 47, et seq.
  5. The Cruiser was attached to Lord Nelson’s division in the battle off Copenhagen, an account of which will be found under the head of Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Foley.
  6. The same ship in which he had served as a Midshipman at the commencement of the war.
  7. Le Var had a complement of 200 men, most of whom escaped to the shore, so that her loss could not be ascertained; la Belle Poule had not a man hurt.
  8. The island of Ithaca was taken by the Philomel sloop of war, and a detachment of troops, Oct. 8; and Cerigo by the Spartan, and a party of soldiers under Major Clarke, on the 12th of the same month.
  9. See Captain Sir William Hoste, Bart.
  10. See Vol. I. p. 634.
  11. An account of Major-General Montressor’s proceedings in the island of Corsica will be found in Phillipart’s Royal Military Calendar, Vol. I. p. 208. et seq.
  12. According to Mr. Salamé, whose “Narrative of the Expedition to Algiers” is well worthy of perusal, the Queen Charlotte expended no less than 30,4241bs. of powder, and 4462 shot. The loss she sustained in the battle has been stated in our 1st vol. at p. 227.