Royal Naval Biography/Clement, Benjamin

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[Post-Captain of 1811.]

Son of the late Thomas Clement, Esq. a solicitor of considerable eminence, and extensive practice, at Alton, in Hampshire; and descended from a family of great respectability, who possessed considerable landed property at Steep, near Petersfield, in the same county.

This officer was born at Alton; and he entered the navy, in 1794, as a midshipman on board the Prince 98, Captain Charles Powell Hamilton, which ship formed part of Lord Bridport’s fleet, off l’Orient, June 23, 1795[1].

The Prince being paid off in 1796, Mr. Clement then joined the Diana 38, and continued in that frigate, on the Irish station, till July, 1797. He subsequently served under Captain Edward O’Bryen, in the Nassau of 64 guns, and Monarch 74, the latter ship bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Onslow, in the North Sea fleet.

In Sept. 1797, Mr. Clement was sent in the Monarch’s jolly-boat to the Nassau, where his men got intoxicated, and thereby exposed both him and themselves to the most imminent peril, the night closing while he was vainly endeavouring to regain his own ship, and the whole fleet being out of sight next morning. In this perilous situation, and without any thing to eat or drink, he remained upwards of 40 hours, but was at length picked up by the Astraea frigate, in a dreadfully exhausted state, both from cold and hunger.

We have already stated in our first volume (p. 151), that the glorious battle of Camperdown was commenced by the Monarch; – her loss on that occasion amounted to 36 slain and 100 wounded, one of whom was the subject of this memoir, as will be seen by the following extract of a letter from his gallant captain to Mr. Clement, senior:

“My dear Sir,– In justice to your son, Mr. Benjamin Clement, I beg to assure you that he not only merits from me the most ample testimony as to his general character, but deserves to be spoken of for his spirited behaviour, and for his conduct when under my command on board the Monarch, on the 11th October, 1797. He was wounded early in the action, and was carried off the deck to be dressed, after which he returned to his duty and carried my orders to the different parts of the ship, very much to my satisfaction, until he received a second severe wound, which nearly proved fatal, and deprived me of his further services.”

The first wound mentioned by Captain O’Bryen was in the left thigh; the latter, in the head, by a musket-ball; – in the intermediate time Mr. Clement was also slightly wounded in the left arm.

On the Monarch’s arrival in England, Mr. Clement returned to his paternal residence, where he continued until his health was re-established. The wound in his thigh compelled him to use crutches for more than four months, and that in his head continued open, with frequent exfoliations, nearly as long: he was of course under medical care the whole time, and consequently at a heavy expence. The committee at Lloyd’s presented him with 50l. in consideration of his sufferings; but Captain O’Bryen advised him not to accept a smart-ticket, as it might weaken his claim to promotion.

Immediately after his recovery, Mr. Clement re-joined the Monarch, then commanded by Captain Archibald Collingwood Dickson, with whom he afterwards removed to the Veteran 64, in which ship we find him at the capture of the Texel squadron, Aug. 30, 1799; and the passage of the Sound, by the armaments under Vice-Admiral Dickson and Sir Hyde Parker, in 1800 and 1801[2].

Previous to the battle off Copenhagen, April 2, in the latter year, Mr. Clement was sent in a flat-bottomed-boat to the division under Lord Nelson, and he had the honor of being on board the Elephant in the latter part of that sanguinary combat. He afterwards assisted in removing the riotous crew of the Provesteen, a block-ship which had been boarded, under very peculiar circumstances, by Lieutenant, now Sir Nisbet J., Willoughby[3].

Some time after this event, Mr. Clement’s father was gratified with the receipt of Captain O’Bryen’s letter, of which we have already given an extract: the following is a copy of the remainder of its contents:

“It is very pleasing to me to learn from Captain Dickson, that your son continues to do his duty in every particular to his satisfaction.

“I am happy to say, that I feel very little the effects of the blow which obliged me to leave a set of very gallant fellows in the Monarch; but I am advised by the faculty to keep quiet some time longer, to get perfectly sound, after which, should I enter on active service, it will give me pleasure to take your young man again under my protection. I am, with much regard, yours,

(Signed)Edw. O’Bryen[4].”

Mr. Clement continued in the Veteran till July 1801, when he passed his examination for a lieutenant, and was immediately promoted to that rank, “as a reward,” said Earl St. Vincent, “due to his meritorious and gallant conduct.” From this period, he served in the Zebra bomb, on the Boulogne station, until the peace of Amiens.

On the renewal of hostilities, Lieutenant Clement was appointed to the Tonnant 80, then commanded by Sir Edward Pellew, but subsequently by Captain (now Sir Charles) Tyler; in which ship he continued, off Ferrol, Carthagena, and Cadiz, till the commencement of 1806.

The Tonnant’s loss at the battle of Trafalgar amounted to 76 killed and wounded. Towards the close of that ever memorable conflict. Lieutenant Clement was sent in the jollyboat, with two hands, to take possession of the San-Juan Nepomuceno, Spanish 74. The boat, being damaged, swamped before she reached a quarter of the way, and soon afterwards a shot knocked off her quarter; she then turned bottom upwards, and Lieutenant Clement was obliged to hold fast by the keel until one of his men, who could swim, brought him a rope by which he was hauled on board again in a very exhausted state, some time having elapsed in consequence of the ship being still engaged with the enemy.

Lieutenant Clement’s next appointment was to be first of la Constance 22, Captain Alexander S. Burrowes; but he soon left that ship in order to join the Cerberus 32, Captain William Selby, then about to sail for the Jamaica station; where he was employed in cutting many vessels out of the enemy’s harbours, particularly about the Havannah. On one occasion he appears to have been placed in a most perilous situation, a gale of wind having blown the Cerberus, off the land whilst he was in a Spanish vessel that had been wrecked on the Colorados, where he remained two nights and a day without any prospect of succour.

On the 18th April, 1806, Lieutenant Clement was promoted to the command of the Goelan brig; but, owing to his Admiralty commission having been accidentally detained at Barbadoes, he did not join that vessel till the 21st October following. Shortly after he had done so, it was found necessary to heave her down, and while under repair she lost many men through sickness and desertion. In consequence of this he was sent to the east end of Jamaica, with directions to complete his complement by impressment.

The execution of these orders gave great offence to the masters of merchant vessels at Port Morant, and they resolved to insult Captain Clement the first opportunity that offered: accordingly, on the Goelan’s anchoring there a second time, in order to complete her water, they took advantage of his absence up the country to set a large Newfoundland dog upon his gig’s crew, consisting of four young lads, one of whom was bitten in a most deplorable manner. On returning to the boat, and learning what had occurred. Captain Clement remonstrated with the parties, who replied that they would serve him in the same manner, and followed up their threat by instantly collaring him, and some of his officers then on the spot. Having a horse-whip in his hand, and feeling it necessary to act in self-defence, he immediately began to exercise the same upon the ruffian who had assaulted him, and very properly gave him a sound trimming. As the case originated in impressment, however, their merchants made it a pretext for an action at law, and managed to have it tried during his absence at sea, so that not one of his own witnesses could be personally examined. A verdict of 500l. damages was given against him, and the costs amounted to nearly 200l. more. The jury, it should be observed, were also merchants, and equally as inimical to impressment as those who had promoted the prosecution for an assault.

About this period, the Goelan’s boats captured, after an arduous pursuit, the Spanish schooner Berrena, of 4 guns and 30 men, on the south side of Cuba.

In the course of 1807, Captain Clement experienced a dreadful hurricane off Porto Rico, and it was with great difficulty that he got back to Port Royal, with the loss of all his guns.

At Jamaica, Captain Clement exchanged into the Favorite, a ship-sloop, which vessel was principally employed in protecting the trade from the depredations of the enemy’s privateers. Whilst employed on that service, the Favorite happened to be at Falmouth, on the north side of the island, when a fire broke out which raged with great fury, and threatened destruction to all around. The moment Captain Clement perceived the flames, he landed with his crew to give assistance, and by uncommon exertions succeeded in saving property to a very large amount, as well as the hospital and a great number of houses. For this service he received the following vote of thanks of the justices and vestry of Falmouth, inclosed in a letter from James Stewart, Esq. the Custos of that parish:

Jamaica – Trelawney, In Vestry, 30th May, 1808.

“Resolved, that the thanks of the justices and vestry be given to Captain Clement of H.M.S. Favorite, his officers, and ship’s company, for their great exertions at the unfortunate fire on Tuesday night, the 24th instant, and that his honor the Custos be requested to communicate the same in the most acceptable manner.

(Signed)James Blair, Clk. Vestry.”

On the above alarming occasion, whilst encouraging his crew in their endeavours to arrest the progress of the flames, Captain Clement fell through the burning roof of a house, and thereby suffered material injury. After the fire was subdued he had the mortification to see his men dying hourly of a fever, occasioned by their late fatigue; and he at length buried the greater part of his crew, whilst he himself recovered from a severe attack, contrary to all expectation. Subsequent to this severe visitation, he took charge of 60 merchant vessels, and convoyed them in safety to the place of their destination. At this time the Favorite had only 45 persons on board capable of doing duty; and five stout privateers were constantly hovering about the convoy. In this reduced state, he found it necessary to make use of an impress warrant, for doing which two actions were brought against him ; and although the instrument was regularly signed by the Governor and Council of Jamaica, and backed by a magistrate of Montego bay, in which district it was used, his prosecutors obtaining a verdict in their favor, ht was compelled to pay damages and costs, amounting in the whole to 535l., for which heavy loss, incurred in the execution of his positive duty, he has never received the least remuneration.

The sickness still continuing on board his sloop, Captain Clement was obliged to return to Port Royal, where, on his anchoring, he could not muster hands enough to furl the sails. The Favorite was there re-manned by part of the crew of H.M. late ship Astraea[5], and in Jan. 1809 sent to the Curaçoa station, from whence Captain Clement went on a mission to the city of Caraccas. Returning from thence, he was ordered to take command of the naval department at Curafoa where he continued until ordered to Port Royal, where he took charge of the trade bound to England. On the passage home, Aug. 27, 1809, he encountered another dreadful hurricane, during which several of the convoy foundered, and most of the others were dismasted. The Favorite also lost her top-masts and sustained considerable injury. After the storm. Captain Clement had to perform the arduous task of erecting jury-masts in the disabled ships under his protection; with which, and part of four other convoys met with at sea, he arrived in the Downs on the 18th September.

During his continuance in the West Indies, Captain Clement had three attacks of the yellow fever, and was once nearly drowned in consequence of his boat striking, after dark, on some sunken rocks near the island of Aruba, from which viangerous situation he was rescued by the crew of an American schooner, who heard the shouts of his people, and hastened to their assistance.

Previous to his return home. Captain Clement captured the Esperance Spanish letter of marque, mounting 10 guns, with a complement of 40 men; which vessel he burnt by orders of Captain Micaiah Malbon, commanding the Adamant 50. Peace having been established between Great Britain and Spain, though no official intelligence of such an event had reached Jamaica at this period, an action was afterwards entered against Captain Clement in the Vice-Admiralty Court of that island; and notwithstanding a verdict was, on this occasion, given in his favor, his law expenses amounted to 300l.

Captain Clement was latterly employed on the Plymouth station, where he captured, in company with the Orestes brig, la Dorade French schooner privateer, of 10 guns and 43 men. May 9, 1810. He also re-captured several British merchantmen, destroyed some of the enemy’s coasting vessels, and on one occasion drove a convoy on shore in a bay near the Isle of Bas, under the fire of two batteries, and in the face of a national brig and schooner. As a reward for his active and unremitted services, he was advanced to post rank Aug. 1, 1811.

Captain Clement married Oct. 5, 1811, Ann Mary, youngest daughter of the late William Prowting, Esq. many years a magistrate and deputy-lieutenant for Hampshire, by whom he has two sons and one daughter.

Agent.– John Chippendale, Esq.


(Suppl. Part II. p. 393.)

The flat-bottomed boat commanded by this officer at the battle of Copenhagen, April 2d, 1801, was attached to the Russel 74, whose lieutenant, the present Sir Nisbet J. Willoughby, he assisted in boarding and securing a Danish block-ship, the Provesteen 56, which had struck her colours, but kept up a fire from the lower-deck for some time after her officers had surrendered[6].

On this occasion, a Dane snapped his pistol in Lieutenant Clement’s face, but it fortunately missed fire, and was immediately wrested from him by a British seaman named Ford, who soon settled his business, first knocking him down with the butt end, and then despatching him. Captain Clement’s last appointment was, in Sept. 1828, to the Shannon 46, fitting out at Chatham for the West India station, from whence he returned to Spithead on the 22d Nov. 18131. During his absence, in Feb. 1830, he was elected a burgess of Southampton.

  1. See Vol. I. Part I. p. 246.
  2. See Vol. I. Part II. p. 759.
  3. See p. 117, et seq.
  4. Captain O’Bryen obtained the rank of Rear-Admiral, Nov. 9, 1805; and died at Fareham, Hants, Dec. 18, 1808.
  5. The Astraea 32, Captain Edmund Heywood, was wrecked near Anegada, May 24, 1808.
  6. See Suppl. Part II. p. 117, et seq.