Royal Naval Biography/Bullen, Charles

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A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath; and Commodore on the coast of Africa.
[Post-Captain of 1802.]

This officer is a son of the late John Bullen, Esq. (Surgeon-General of the naval force employed on the coast of America, under Vice-Admiral Arbuthnot, in 1779, 1780, and 1781), by Ruth, daughter of Charles Liddell, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Esq., and second cousin of the present Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain[1].

He was born at the above place, Sept. 10, 1769; and embarked, when little more than ten years of age, as a Midshipman on board the Europe 64, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Arbuthnot, under whose patronage, and the immediate protection of his father, he proceeded to New York, where he was removed, at his own request, into the Renown of 50 guns, for the purpose of seeing more active service than the flagship was likely to be engaged in.

On her passage to Quebec with a large fleet under her protection, the Renown encountered a heavy gale of wind, during which she was totally dismasted, and only saved from destruction by the active exertions of her first Lieutenant, the present Rear-Admiral Sir James Athol Wood. The greater part of the merchantmen having either foundered or dispersed, she returned to New York, where Mr. Bullen joined the Loyalist sloop of war, commanded by Captain Ardesoif, with whom he continued on the American station till 1781, during which period he was present at the reduction of Charlestown, in South Carolina, and other services of importance[2].

The Loyalist being paid off on her return to England, and a general peace approaching, Mr. Bullen availed himself of the opportunity afforded him, by prosecuting nautical and other necessary studies, till 1786, when he again embarked, on board the Culloden 74, Captain Sir Thomas Rich, Bart., under whom he served upwards of three years. In Dec. 1789, he joined the Leander of 50 guns, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Peyton, by whom he was appointed to act as a Lieutenant on board the Mercury frigate, in 1791. He was soon after confirmed by the Admiralty to the Eurydice of 24 guns, on the Mediterranean station.

In Dec. 1792, the Culloden, having undergone a complete repair, was again commissioned by Sir Thomas Rich, and Lieutenant Bullen appointed to her at the particular request of his old commander. In Mar. 1793, she formed part of the squadron sent to Martinique, under the orders of Rear-Admiral Gardner; and after the failure of the attack made upon that island, she appears to have afforded shelter to more than 1000 French royalists, men, women, and children, of all ages, who were embarked in St. Ann’s Bay under the most distressing circumstances, the brigands having literally driven them into the water; and conveyed them in safety to Barbadoes[3].

Lieutenant Bullen’s next appointment was to the Ramillies 74, which ship bore a part in Lord Howe’s actions of May 28 and 29, and the memorable battle of June 1, 1794[4]; and was subsequently employed on the West India, Newfoundland, and North Sea stations. From her he removed into the Monmouth 64, as first Lieutenant to the Earl of Northesk, under whom he was serving when the mutiny broke out in Admiral Duncan’s fleet[5], on which occasion he was brought to trial by the rebellious crew, one of whom, a man who had received many favors from him, went so far as actually to throw a noose over his head. He, however, had the good fortune not only to escape with his life, but also to see the deluded part of the ship’s company return to obedience, and redeem their character by conduct more natural to British seamen, in the glorious battle off Camperdown, Oct. 11, 1797.

The Monmouth on that day compelled the Alkmaar and Delft, two Dutch ships of 50 guns each, to surrender; the former she conducted to Yarmouth Roads[6], the latter was taken possession of by Lieutenant Bullen, who found her in very shoal water, and so dreadfully cut up, that it was with great difficulty he could get her clear of the shore. She sunk under him, when in tow of the Veteran 64, two days after the action, and took down with her 180 Dutchmen, together with 5 British seamen and marines. The remainder of the persons on board were saved by boats sent from the Veteran to their assistance, on observing “the ship is sinking,” chalked on a board, and exhibited by them. A frigate, which had likewise been engaged by the Monmouth, but finally captured by the Beaulieu, was wrecked near West Capel. The loss sustained by the Delft in killed and wounded has never been ascertained; but according to the Dutch accounts, the Monmouth’s other opponents had no less than 76 men killed, and 102 wounded, whilst she herself had but 5 slain and 22 wounded.

For his bravery and exertions in and after the above battle, Lieutenant Bullen was deservedly promoted to the rank of Commander at the commencement of 1798, and from that period he enjoyed the pleasures of his domestic circle till June 1801, when he obtained an appointment to the Wasp sloop of war, fitting at Plymouth.

After accompanying the Newfoundland convoy to a certain latitude, he received orders to proceed, without loss of time, to Madeira and the coast of Guinea; and he appears by the following documents to have reached Sierra Leone at a very critical period:

Fort Thornton, Dec. 2, 1801.

“Sir, We, the governor and council of this colony, to whose care the lives and property of H.M. subjects, as well as the interests of the Sierra Leone company are entrusted, feel it to be our duty, at this critical juncture, to represent to you that the presence and aid of H.M. sloop Wasp, under your command, may materially contribute to the preservation and security of the colony, by co-operating with our force by land against a formidable confederacy of the Timmany chiefs; who, though repulsed in their attack on Fort Thornton, in the morning of the 18th ult., still persist in their design of plunder and extermination; and, according to the intelligence we have lately received, are now collecting a numerous force to the eastward, as well as endeavouring to maintain and recruit their numbers at Cape Sierra Leone, with a view to attack us as soon as we are deprived of the aid of H.M. sloop.

“The object we have at heart is, without loss of time, to reduce the enemy to such terms and conditions of peace, as will afford us a reasonable satisfaction for the past, and entire security for the time to come.

“We expect an answer in the course of this or the following day to a proposition we have made to King Firarna, the Sovereign of the Thninauy nation, through Smart and Moribundoo, our allies, to enter into a treaty; that answer will, in u great measure, determine our future operations.

“We shall be happy at all times to receive the benefit of your counsel and advice, upon the best means of attaining the end we have in view. we have the honor to be, &c. &c. &c.

(Signed)Wm. Dawes, Governor.
(Signed)J. Gray, 1st in Council.
(Signed)Rd. Bright, 2d Ditto.
(Signed)T. Ludlam, Counsellor, pro tempore.”

To Charles Bullen, Esq. Commanding H.M. sloop Wasp.

Fort Thornton, Jan. 24, 1802.

“Sir, We enclose a copy, which we have just received, of a representation from the principal private merchants in the colony.

“When vve had the honor of addressing you in an official manner, to request that you would sail direct for England with our despatches, we did not attach that degree of credit to the advices received from different quarters, ‘that the enemy were determined to renew their attack in a very few days,’ which subsequent information has now convinced us they merited. More, than once their forces have been in motion to execute the design of plundering and destroying this colony; but they have been stopped by their leaders, who thought it advisable to postpone offensive operations till the departure of the Wasp. In addition to the above, intelligence from a respectable quarter, and of a nature highly probable in itself, has been received by the governor, announcing the accession of a very powerful and enterprising chief to the confederacy already formed against us. A detail of the grounds upon which our apprehensions are founded shall be communicated to you as soon as possible. With such strong and just impressions of the public danger upon our minds, it would be inconsistent with our duty to be silent. We intreat you therefore to remain upon this station, till circumstances have taken a more favorable turn, which we shall use our utmost exertions to effect. A compliance with this entreaty will (humanly speaking) prove the means of preserving from imminent risk, the lives of 1200 of his Majesty’s subjects, together with property to the amount of upwards of 70,000l. sterling.

“We conclude with assuring you, that we are unanimous in thinking that the departure of the Wasp at this most critical juncture, would in all probability occasion the total ruin of the colony, by exposing the craft, stores, provisions, and other valuable property, afloat and on shore, along the water line, to the irresistible force which the enemy, in a night attack, by means of their numerous canoes, might bring against that defenceless quarter. We have the honor to be, &c. &c.

(Signed)Wm. Dawes
(Signed)R. Bright
(Signed)T. Ludlam.”

To Charles Bullen, Esq. &c. &c. &c.

In consequence of the receipt of those letters Captain Bullen remained in the Sierra Leone river till April 1802; when the rainy season being about to commence, and having the inward satisfaction of knowing the colony to be safe, he landed such ordnance stores as could be spared by his sloop, and proceeded to the West Indies on his way to England. Previous to his departure from Africa, he received a letter from Governor Dawes and Counsellor Bright, of which the following is a copy:

Fort Thornton, March 31, 1802.

“Sir,– The letter of the 27th inst., which we had the honor to receive from you, engaged our immediate attention, and would have been duly answered if, according to the intimation given by the Governor, we had not entertained a hope of receiving despatches of a very important nature from England in the course of a few days. Being, however, disappointed in this respect, and unwilling to add to the long detention of H.M. sloop Wasp in her present ill-provided state, though we think that the presence of a ship of war in this port is still very desirable, we are happy to state to you our opinion that the original purposes of her detention, which were to assist in preventing or repelling an attack; to afford time to strengthen the works at Fort Thornton by intimidating the enemy; and to enable us to negotiate under more favorable circumstances, have been fully answered. We trust the motives which influenced you, upon our solicitation, to depart from the letter of your instructions, will receive the sanction and approbation of the Lords of the Admiralty. It will be our duty to represent them in a proper light to our superiors. With grateful acknowledgments for the important services rendered to this government by yourself, and by the oflicers and men under your command, upon every public occasion, and with the most friendly wishes for your and their prosperity, we have the honor to be, &c. &c.

(Signed)Wm. Dawes
(Signed)Rd. Bright.”

To Charles Bullen, Esq. Commander H.M. sloop Wasp.

On his arrival in England, Captain Bullen found that he had been promoted to post rank for his services in Africa, by commission dated April 29, 1802. The Wasp was paid off at Portsmouth in July following.

On the renewal of hostilities, in May 1803, he was appointed pro tempore to la Minerve frigate, Captain Jahleel Brenton, her proper commander, having met with an accident which compelled him to remain for some time on shore. In that ship he had the good fortune to fall in with twenty-three sail of French vessels laden with timber and other valuable stores, bound to Brest, the whole of which were either captured or totally destroyed. He shortly after detained a frigate of the largest class, but she was ultimately released by the British government, in consequence of her having been employed on a voyage of discovery.

Captain Bullen subsequently commanded a district of Sea Fencibles, and the flotilla equipped in the Thames and Medway, for the purpose of repelling an invasion threatened by our late implacable enemy Napoleon Buonaparte. In June 1804, being applied for by the Earl of Northesk, he assumed the command of his lordship’s flag-ship, the Britannia, a first rate, forming part of the Channel fleet, but afterwards detached under the orders of Sir Robert Calder to reinforce Vice-Admiral Collingwood’s squadron off Cadiz. The part borne by her in the celebrated battle of Trafalgar has been described in our first volume; but in justice to Captain Bullen we must add, that although from her heavy sailing, which was remarkable on all occasions, she could not get into action as soon as some other ships, no effort was wanting on his part to place her in the most conspicuous situation. For his gallantry on that eventful day, he was rewarded with a gold medal commemorative of an event, the recital of which will ever excite admiration in the breast of Britons[7].

Lord Northesk being obliged to resign his command on account of ill health, Captain Bullen, after refitting the Britannia at Gibraltar, returned with her as a private ship, and three of the prizes under his protection to England. He was put out of commission at Plymouth, in June 1806.

His next appointment was, in 1807, to the Volontaire, a 38-gun frigate, in which he conveyed the Duke of Orleans and his brother, Count Beaujolois, to Malta. He was afterwards actively employed under the orders of Lord Collingwood, occasionally commanding the in-shore squadron off Toulon, and cruising on the coast of Catalonia. At the commencement of the war between France and Spain, we find him charged with a mission to the court of Morocco, and travelling by land from Fez to Tangier, in consequence of not finding the Emperor in his capital. The result of his embassy, which had for its object the procuring of supplies for the European peninsula, proved highly satisfactory to the commander-in-chief, and very advantageous to the common cause; the minister, Abdallah Slouey, with whom alone he had an opportunity of conferring, having granted permission for the necessary articles to be exported from his master’s dominions for the support of the oppressed patriots.

In 1809, the island of Pomigue, near Marseilles, was taken possession of, after a desperate resistance on the part of the enemy; and Fort Rioux, near Cape Croisette, with 14 guns, destroyed by detachments landed from the Volontaire, under the orders of Lieutenant Shaw. Pomigue was afterwards evacuated, for want of men to defend it. Several French officers were made prisoners, and a code of signals found in Fort Rioux. On the latter occasion the enemy had 5 men killed and 8 wounded; the English only 2 wounded.

On the 23d Oct. 1809, Captain Bullen being off Cape St. Sebastian, in company with the fleet under Lord Collingwood, and on the look out to windward, at 8 P.M., discovered a French squadron, and about twenty sail of transports, coming down from the eastward, and gave immediate notice, by signal, of their approach. The manner in which the ships of war were disposed of has been described in our memoir of the officer who commanded the division sent in pursuit of them[8]. The capture and destruction of the transports will be fully detailed under the head of Captain John Tailour. In the execution of the latter service the Volontaire had a Lieutenant[9] and 1 seaman killed; 2 supernumerary officers, and 13 of her own crew wounded. The assistance rendered by Captain Bullen in the preparation of fire materials, and providing his boats with every implement that contingency could require, was officially noticed by the commander-in-Chief.

In 1810 and 1811, Captain Bullen commanded a small squadron employed in active co-operation with the Spanish troops on the coast of Catalonia, as will be seen by the following letters, reporting his proceedings to Collingwood’s successor, the late Sir Charles Cotton:

H.M.S. Volontaire, off Cape St. Sebastian, Sept. 28, 1810.

“Sir,– Fearful my letter of the 22d inst. may not come to your hands so soon as this, I beg to repeat, that on the 5th inst. the Spanish army, under General O’Donnel, left Tarragona, and on the 13th got to Arens del Mar, at which place he divided his forces, himself taking the road to Besbal; and so rapid were his movements, the enemy was not apprised of his arrival till within a quarter of an hour of his entering the town. This happened on the 14th, when a smart action took place, but of very short duration; when the French General, Swartz, with 500 men, were taken prisoners. On the same day St. Felice, Palamos, and Begu, were severally attacked, and all surrendered; the total of French taken being about 1400 men, besides cannon, &c. &c.; so that this coast from Rosas, with the exception of the Modas islands, is again in the possession of the Spaniards.

“General O’Donnell, I am sorry to say, is badly wounded in the leg[10], but there are hopes of his doing well. The whole of the prisoners are at Tarragona, where the General now is, with only the inhabitants doing the duty of the garrison, which makes him anxious about their being removed.

“Upon the whole, there is every prospect of the enemy being soon driven out of this province. I was yesterday at Escala, in the bay of Rosas, where the French had a depot of corn, &c., all of which I have got on board this ship. 1 was gratified to hear that, on Monday last, the French were defeated at Bascarra, where they were attacked by 500 Spaniards, who took from them an immense convoy of provisions, (which was on its way from Perpignan to relieve Gerona,) besides 400 prisoners. General Macdonald was at Severa a few days since, but so reduced in his army, having now only 6000 men, that it is generally thought he will not get back to Barcelona. Cadaqués, and all the small holds the French had near Rosas are abandoned, and the whole are gone to that garrison. The French are also in a bad way before Tortosa, as all the forts which they had thrown up have been washed down by the heavy rains. * * * *.”

Cambrian[11], off Rosas, April 16, 1811.

“Sir,– I have great pleasure in sending to you, by the Blossom, the important intelligence of the surrender of Figueras to the Spaniards, on the 10th instant, and that St. Philon and Palamos were taken possession of by the Cambrian and Volontaire on the 12th and 14th, the guns all embarked, and the batteries destroyed. I am now on my way to Rosas and Cadaqués, and I have reason to hope the latter place, with Selva, will also shortly be ours.

“The fall of Figueras has roused the Spaniards, who are arming in all directions, and Hostalrich and Gerona are at this moment garrisoned by Spanish troops. The only correct account I can learn is, that 400 Italians, with 200 French troops, were left to protect Figueras; and that the former, disgusted with the treatment they daily received from the French, and being also half starved, opened the gates of the fortress to a body of Spaniards, apprised of their intention, who rushed into the castle, and put every Frenchman to the sword. About 2000 effective Spanish troops are in full possession of this important place; and General Sarsfield is on his way with more, as well as supplies of every kind.

“The French General, d’Hilliers, who has the command in Catalonia, on hearing of the fall of Figueras, has abandoned all his holds in Spain, except Barcelona, and is collecting the whole of his force to attack it, as well as to prevent supplies from getting in; but I am told a quantity of provisions was concealed in the town, unknown to the French, which has been given up to the Spanish troops in the castle, who are in the highest spirits possible. The Termagant continues to watch Barcelona; and I purpose remaining off here with the Volontaire, ready for any thing that may offer, as under all the existing circumstances, I think it likely Rosas may give in.

“I also beg leave to inform you, that a large settee, deeply laden with grain for Barcelona, was, the night before last, most handsomely cut out from under the Medas islands and batteries, by the boats of this ship, led on by Lieutenant Conolly, without a man being hurt. I beg leave to offer you my congratulations on the fall of Figueras, and the fair prospect it opens. I have the honor to he, &c. &c.

(Signed)Charles Bullen.”

“P.S. Since writing the above, I have spoke a small boat from Begu, which tells me the French General had made a rash attempt to recover Figueras two days since, and lost 700 men.”

At Cadaqués, one of the places alluded to above, Captain Bullen succeeded in capturing nineteen merchant vessels; six of which, being laden with grain and wine, were sent to Tarragona for the use of the garrison. At Selva, he received a severe wound whilst in a battery on shore, the effects of which he still labours under.

On the receipt of the foregoing letter, Sir Charles Cotton increased the naval force stationed on the coast of Catalonia, in order to afford a more effectual co-operation with the patriots, and ensure supplies reaching Figueras, and other places in their possession. The squadron thus augmented was placed under the orders of Captain (now Sir Edward) Codrington, with whom Captain Bullen served till the fall of Tarragona in June 1811[12], when he was sent to the commander-in-chief with an account of that unfortunate turn of affairs. The Cambrian subsequently refitted at Gibraltar, and then proceeded to Malta, from whence she convoyed home a considerable number of French prisoners. She was paid off at Plymouth in Dec. 1811.

Captain Bullen’s health being now very much impaired, he remained on shore from this period till Nov. 1874, when he was appointed to the Akbar of 60 guns, a ship fitted purposely to cope with the heavy American frigates, and intended for the East India station; to which, however, she did not proceed, the war between Great Britain and the United States being soon after terminated by the treaty of Ghent.

The Akbar’s next orders were to receive the flag of Sir T. Byam Martin, whom she conveyed from Plymouth to the Scheldt, on a particular service, we believe that of superintending the partition of the fleet and naval stores at Antwerp, for which purpose the Rear-Admiral had been nominated a Commissioner, in conjunction with Sir George Wood, of the Royal Engineers, and Joseph Tucker, Esq., a Surveyor of the Navy. That service being soon terminated, Captain Bullen was sent to the Halifax station, where he remained as second in command till Nov. 1816. He was put out of commission at Portsmouth, in Jan. 1817 5 and having no inducement to leave a happy home during a time of profound peace, remained on half-pay till Dec. 1823, when he was appointed to succeed his old friend and messmate, the late Sir Robert Mends, as Commodore on the coast of Africa, the arduous duties of which command he is now performing, with his broad pendant on board the Maidstone frigate. He was nominated a C.B. for his general services in 1815.

Commodore Bullen married,, about 1791, Miss Wood, a distant relation. He had previously become possessed of some property at Weymouth, in Dorset, by the demise of his, father; and when on shore, has ever since resided there.

Agents.– Messrs. Evans and Eyton.


(Vol. II. Part II. p. 600).

This officer commanded the African squadron from May 1824 until June 1827, a period of three years and one month; in which comparatively short time no less than 10,814 slaves were taken, besides vessels with slave cargoes. During the Ashantee war, he “rendered cordial co-operation and assistance” to his Majesty’s troops, as was publicly acknowledged by their commandant, Lieutenant-Colonel Sutherland. The Maidstone frigate, bearing his broad pendant, lost seventy-two of her officers and ship’s company whilst on that station. By promotions, invaliding, vacancies, and deaths, she had twenty-nine lieutenants, four pursers, and two surgeons, appointed to her. He paid off that ship at Portsmouth, Sept. 15th, 1827 ; and was appointed captain-superintendent of Pembroke Dock-yard on the 16th July 1830.

  1. The Earl of Eldon’s mother and Captain Bullen’s grandmother were first cousins.
  2. See Vol. II, part I, note † at p. 58.
  3. See Vol. I. p. 40*.
  4. See p. 570.
  5. See Vol. I, p. 200.
  6. See Vol. I, p. 850.
  7. The battle of Trafalgar was fought on the very day that General Mack and the Austrian garrison of Ulm passed under the yoke of the claimant to an unlimited command of “ships, colonies, and commerce.”
  8. See Vol. I, pp. 282 and 283.
  9. Lieutenant Dalhousie Tait, an excellent young officer, who had distinguished himself on many occasions.
  10. See Captain Francis William Fane.
  11. Captain Fane being taken prisoner at Palamos in Dec. 1810, Sir Charles Cotton very handsomely appointed Captain Bullen to the Cambrian, she being a much larger and finer frigate than the Volontaire. He however left the latter with much reluctance.
  12. See Vol. II, Part I, note at p. 225 et seq.