Royal Naval Biography/Griffith Colpoys, Edward

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(late griffith.)
Vice-Admiral of the Blue.

At the commencement of the French revolutionary war, we find this officer proceeding to the West Indies, as third Lieutenant of the Boyne, a second rate, bearing the flag of Sir John Jervis, by whom he was made a Commander into the Avenger sloop; and from that vessel promoted to the rank of Post-Captain, May 21, 1794.

In the course of the same year, Captain Griffith was appointed to the London, of 98 guns, bearing the flag of his friend the late Sir John Colpoys, in which ship he appears to have been engaged in the action off l’Orient, June 23, 1795[1]. The London on that occasion bad 3 men wounded. From this time until the end of 1796, Vice-Admiral Colpoys. with his flag in the London, was employed in the command of different cruizing squadrons.

Early in 1797, symptoms of mutiny and discontent displayed themselves in his Majesty’s fleet at Spithead. In the month of February, petitions were sent from all the line-of-battle ships at that anchorage, and in Portsmouth harbour, to Earl Howe; but as they were considered to be only the productions of a few factious individuals, they were wholly disregarded. This neglect, however, tended to a more extensive dissemination of mutinous principles; and on the 15th April, when Lord Bridport, who had succeeded to the command of the fleet, on the indisposition of the above nobleman, made the signal to prepare for sea, the crew of the Queen Charlotte, bearing his Lordship’s flag, instead of weighing anchor, ran up the shrouds, and gave three cheers, as the notice of disaffection, which was immediately answered by every other ship present. Astonishment, on the part of the officers, succeeded this sudden and violent act of disobedience; they used every means in their power to induce a return to duty; but all their exertions were ineffectual; and, on the following day, two delegates were appointed from each vessel, to represent the whole fleet, the Commander-in-Chief’s cabin being fixed upon as the place for their deliberations.

On the 18th April, a committee of the Board of Admiralty arrived at Portsmouth, and made propositions to the mutineers, all of which, however, were ineffectual. On the 21st, Admirals Gardner, Colpoys, and Pole, went on board the Queen Charlotte, in order to confer with the delegates; but. these men assured them, that no arrangement would be considered as final, until it should be sanctioned by the King and Parliament, and guaranteed by a proclamation for a general pardon.

After much time had been spent in negotiation, the wishes of the men were in a great measure acceded to; and it was concluded that loyalty and subordination had resumed their seats. Unfortunately this was not the case. On the 7th May, when Lord Bridport again made the signal for sailing, every ship in the fleet refused to obey. For this second act of disobedience, the seamen alleged, as a reason, the silence which Government observed on the subject of their complaints. The idea, that the promised redress of their grievances would not be carried into effect, was strengthened by the distribution of a number of seditious hand bills among the ships; and the seamen therefore resolved to hold a convention of delegates on board the London, at Spithead. In pursuance of their intention, they proceeded in their boats alongside of that ship; but Vice-Admiral Colpoys, determined to oppose their coming on board, cautioned them against acting as they had formerly done; told them that they had asked a great deal, and had obtained much; and that he would not suffer them to proceed to demand more; that they ought to be contented; and that, if they offered to meet in convention, he would order the marines to fire on them. The delegates, however, persisted, and the Vice-Admiral ordered the marines to level their pieces at them. In this situation, he again admonished them, but without effect; a slight scuffle ensued, and one of the delegates, all of whom were armed, fired at Lieutenant Sims of the marines, and wounded him. At the command of Mr. Simpson, the first Lieutenant of the London, the marines then fired, and killed 5 seamen, two of whom were delegates. The whole crew of that ship now declared open hostility against the officers and their loyal supporters, turned the guns in the fore part of the vessel towards the stern, and threatened to blow all aft into the water, unless they surrendered. Circumstanced as they were, to this imperious menace, there was no alternative but submission.

In consequence of the death of their comrades, by the firing of the marines, the seamen were proceeding to hang Lieutenant Simpson; but at this trying moment, the Vice-Admiral rushed forward, alleged his own responsibility, and assured them, that that officer had acted only by his orders, agreeably to directions received from the Admiralty. The seamen instantly demanded these instructions, and they were immediately produced. The mutineers then confined Vice-Admiral Colpoys, Captain Griffith, and the other officers, to their cabins, and made the marines prisoners. On the 11th May, four days after the renewed symptoms of mutiny had appeared, the crew of the London expressed a wish that the Vice-Admiral and Captain Griffith should go on shore, which they accordingly did, acompanied by the Rev. Mr. Cole, the Chaplain.

The fleet remained in this mutinous state till the 14th of the month, when Earl Howe arrived at Portsmouth, invested with full powers for settling the different points in dispute. As he also brought with him an act of parliament, which had been passed on the 9th, in compliance with the wishes of the seamen, and a proclamation of pardon for all who should immediately return to their duty; affairs were, for a time, adjusted to the satisfaction of the sailors; the flag of disaffection was struck, and two days after, the fleet put to sea to encounter the enemy.

The following is an authentic copy of the several papers which passed on this very extraordinary occasion.

To the Right Honourable and the Honourable Knights, Citizens, and Burgesses, in Parliament assembled.

The humble Petition of the Seamen and Marines on board his Majesty’s Fleet, on behalf of themselves;

Humbly sheweth,

That your petitioners, relying on the candour and justice of your honourable house, make bold to lay their grievances before you, hoping, that when you reflect on them, you will please to give redress, as far as your wisdom shall deem necessary.

We beg leave to remind your august assembly, that the act of parliament passed in the reign of King Charles the second, wherein the wages of all seamen serving on board his Majesty’s fleet was settled, passed at a time when the necessaries of life, and slops of every denomination, were at least 30 per cent, cheaper than at the present time, which enabled seamen and marines to provide better for their families than we can now do with one half advance.

We therefore request your honourable house will be so kind as to revise the act before mentioned, and make such amends therein as will enable your petitioners and their families to live in the same comfortable manner as seamen and marines did at that time.

Your petitioners with all humility laid their grievances before the Hon. Earl Howe, and flattered ourselves with the hopes that his lordship would have been an advocate for us, as we have been repeatedly under his command, and made the British flag ride triumphantly over that of our enemies; but, to our great surprize, we find ourselves unprotected by him, who has seen so many instances of our intrepidity in carrying the British flag into every part of the seas with victory and success.

We profess ourselves as loyal to our Sovereign, and zealous in the defence of our country, as the army or militia can be; and esteem ourselves equally entitled to his Majesty’s munificence; therefore with jealousy we behold their pay augmented, and the out-pensions of Chelsea College increased to thirteen pounds per annum, while we remain neglected, and the out-pensioners of Greenwich have only seven pounds per annum.

We, your petitioners, therefore humbly implore that you will take these matters into consideration; and with your accustomed goodness and liberality, comply with the prayer of this petition; and your petititioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.

We, the Delegates of the Fleet, hereunto sign our names for the ships’ companies, &c.

Copy of the Petition to the Admiralty.

To the Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty.

We, the seamen of his Majesty’s navy, take the liberty of addressing your Lordships in an humble petition, shewing the many hardships and oppressions we have laboured tinder for many years, and which wc hope your Lordships will redress as soon us possible.

We flatter ourselves that your Lordships, together with the nation in general, will acknowledge our worth and good services, both in the American war and the present; for which service your Lordships petitioners do unanimously agree in opinion, that their worth to the nation, and laborious industry in defence of their country, deserve some better encouragement than that we meet with at present, or from any we have experienced. We your petitioners, do not boast of our good services for any other purpose, than that of putting you and the nation in mind of the respect due to us; nor do we ever intend to deviate from our former character; so far from any thing of that kind, or that an Englishman or men should turn their coats; we likewise agree in opinion, that we should suffer double the hardships we have hitherto experienced, before we would suffer the crown of England to be in the least imposed upon by that of any other power in the world; we therefore beg leave to inform your Lordships of the grievances which we at present labour under.

We your humble petitioners, relying that your Lordships will take into early consideration the grievances of which we complain; and do not in the least doubt but your Lordships will comply with our desires, which are every way reasonable.

The first grievance which we have to complain of is, that our wages are too low, and ought to be raised, that we might be better able to support our wives and families in a manner comfortable, and whom we are in dutybound to support as far as our wages will allow, which, we trust, will be looked into by your Lordships and the honourable House of Commons in parliament assembled.

We your petitioners beg that your Lordships will take into consideration the grievances of which we complain, and now lay before you. First, that our provisions be raised to the weight of sixteen ounces to the pound, and of a better quality; and that our measures may be the same as those used in the commercial trade of this country.

Secondly, that your petitioners request your honours will please to observe, there should be no flour served while we are in harbour, or any port whatever under the command of the British flag; and also that there be granted a sufficient quantity of vegetables of such kind as may be the most plentiful in the ports to which we go, which we grievously complain and lie under the want of.

Thirdly, that your Lordships will be pleased seriously to look into the state of the sick on board his Majesty’s ships, that they be better attended to, and that they may have the use of such necessaries as are allowed for them in time of their sickness; and that these necessaries be not on any account embezzled.

Fourthly, that your Lordships will be so kind as to look into this affair, which is no ways unreasonable; and that we may be looked upon as a number of men standing in defence of our country; and that we may in some wise have granted an opportunity to taste the sweets of liberty on shore when in any harb our; and when we have completed the duty of our ships, after our return from sea; and that no man may incroach upon his liberty, there shall be a boundary limited, and those trespassing any further, without a written order from the commanding officer, shall be punished according to the rules of the navy; which is a natural request, and congenial to the heart of man, and certainly to us, that you make the boast of being the guardians of the land.

Fifthly, that if any man is wounded in action, his pay be continued until he is cured and discharged; and if any ship has any real grievances to complain of, we hope your Lordships will readily redress them, as far as in your power, to prevent any disturbances.

It is also unanimously agreed by the fleet, that from this day no grievance shall be received, in order to convince the nation at large, that we know when to cease to ask, as well as when to begin; and that we ask nothing but what is moderate, and may be granted, without detriment to the nation, or injury to the service.

Given on board the Queen Charlotte, by the Delegates of the Fleet, this 18th day of April, 1797.

The Lords of the Admiralty, who were at Portsmouth, sent to Lord Bridport the following answer to the petition of the seamen.

By the Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral of Great Britain and Ireland, &c.

Having taken into consideration the petitions transmitted to us by your Lordship from the crews of his Majesty’s ships under your command; and having the strongest desire to attend to all complaints of the seamen of his Majesty’s navy, and to grant them every just and reasonable redress; and having considered the difference of the price of the necessaries of life at this, and at the period when the pay of seamen was established, we do hereby require and direct your Lordship to take the speediest method of communicating to the fleet, That we have resolved to recommend it to his Majesty to propose to parliament to increase the wages of seamen in his Majesty’s navy in the following proportions, viz.

To add four shillings per month to the wages of petty officers and able seamen.

Three shillings per month to the wages of ordinary seamen; and two shillings per month to the wages of landmen.

That we have resolved that seamen wounded in action shall be continued in pay until their wounds are healed; or, until being declared unserviceable, they shall receive a pension, or be received into the Royal Hospital at Greenwich; and that having a perfect confidence in the zeal, loyalty, and courage of all the seamen in the fleet, so generally expressed in their petition; and in their earnest desire of serving their country with that spirit which always so eminently distinguished British seamen, we have come to this resolution the more readily, that the seamen may have as early as possible an opportunity of shewing their good dispositions, by returning to their duty; as it may be necessary that the fleet should speedily put to sea, to meet the enemy of the country.

Given under our hands at Portsmouth, the 18th day of April, 1797.

W. Young.
To the Right Honourable Lord Bridport, K.B. Admiral of the White, Commander-in-Chief of a Squadron of his Majesty’s Ships employed in the Channel Service.

The Seamen’s reply.

We received your Lordship’s answer to our petition; and in order to convince your Lordships, and the nation in general, of our moderation, beg leave to offer the following remarks to your considerations, viz. – That there never has existed but two orders of men in the navy, able and ordinary; therefore the distinction between ordinary and landmen is totally new; we therefore humbly propose to your Lordships, that the old regulations be adhered to, that the wages of able seamen be raised to one shilling per day, and that of petty officers and ordinary in the usual proportion; and as further proof of our moderation, and that we are actuated by a true spirit of benevolence towards our brethren the marines, who are not noticed in your Lordship’s answer, we humbly propose that their pay be augmented, while serving on board, in the same proportion as ordinary seamen. This we hope and trust will be a convincing proof to your Lordships that we are not actuated by a spirit of contradiction, but that we earnestly wish to put a speedy end to the present affair. We beg leave to state to your Lordships, that the pensions from Greenwich Hospital we earnestly wish to be raised to ten pounds per annum; and, in order to maintain which, we humbly propose to your Lordships, that every seaman employed in the merchants’ service, instead of sixpence per month, which he now pays, shall hereafter pay one shilling per month, which we trust will raise a fund fully adequate to the purpose; and as this in time of peace must be paid by your petitioners, we trust it will give a convincing proof of our disinterestedness and moderation. We would also recommend that this regulation be extended to the seamen in the service of the East-India Company, as we know by experience that there are few sailors employed by them but what have been in the royal navy; and we have seen them with our own eyes, after sickness or other accident has disabled them, without any hope of relief or support, but from their former services in the navy. As to provisions, that they be augmented to sixteen ounces to the pound of bread and meat; cheese, butter, and liquors in proportion, and of a better quality, and a sufficient quantity of vegetables; and that no flour be served with fresh beef. And we further beg leave to inform your Lordships, that it is unanimously agreed, that until the grievances before stated are redressed, and an act of indemnity passed, we are determined not to lift an anchor, and the grievances of particular ships must be redressed.

Given under our hands, the Delegates of the Fleet, on board the Queen Charlotte at Spithead, April 19, 1797.(Signed as before.)

The next day the following letter from the Admiralty, was sent to Lord Bridport, notifying their compliance with the demands of the seamen; with their final answer, and a copy of the Royal Proclamation.

By the Commissioners for executing the Office of Lord High Admiral of Great Britain, Ireland, &c.

Having taken into our consideration a paper, containing several representations from the seamen of his Majesty’s ships at Spithead, respecting the advance of their wages, and being desirous of granting them every request that can with any degree of reason be complied with, we have resolved to recommend it to his Majesty, that an addition of five shillings and six-pence per month be made to the wages of petty officers and seamen belonging to his Majesty’s navy, which will make the wages of able seamen one shilling per day, clear of all deductions; and an addition of four shillings and sixpence per month to the wages of ordinary seamen; and an addition of three shillings and six-pence per month to the wages of landmen: and that none of the allowance made to the marines when on shore shall be stopped, on their being embarked on board any of his Majesty’s ships. – We have also resolved, that all seamen, marines, and others, serving in his Majesty’s ships, shall have the full allowance of provisions, without any deductions for leakage or waste; and that until proper steps can be taken for carrying this into effect, short allowance money shall be paid to the men in lieu of the deduction heretofore made; and that all men wounded in action shall receive their full pay until their wounds shall be healed; or, until being declared incurable, they shall receive a pension from the Chest at Chatham, or shall be admitted into the Royal Hospital at Greenwich. And your Lordship is hereby required and directed to communicate this our determination to the Captain of each of his Majesty’s ships under your orders, directing him to make it known to the ship’s company under his command, and to inform them, that should they be insensible to the very liberal offers now made to them, and persist in their present disobedience, they must no longer expect to enjoy those benefits to which, by their former good conduct, they were entitled; and that in such case, all the men now on board the fleet at Spithead, shall be incapable of receiving any smart money or pensions from the Chest of Chatham, or of being admitted at any time into the Royal Hospital at Greenwich; and that they must be answerable for the dreadful consequences which will necessarily attend their continuing to transgress the rules of the service, in open violation of the laws of their country.

On the other hand, he is to inform them, that we promise the most perfect forgiveness of all that has passed on this occasion to every ship’s company, who, within one hour after the communication to them of the abovementioned resolutions, shall return to their duty in every particular, and shall cease to hold further intercourse with any men who continue in a state of disobedience and mutiny.

Given under our hands at Portsmouth, the 20th of April, 1797.
W. Young.
By command of their Lordships,
W. Marsden.

To the Right Honourable Lord Bridport,
Admiral of the White, &c.

To the Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty.

We, the seamen and marines in and belonging to his Majesty’s fleet now lying at Spithead, having received with the utmost satisfaction, and with hearts full of gratitude, the bountiful augmentation of pay and provisions which your Lordships have been pleased to signify shall take place in future in his Majesty’s royal navy by your order, which has been read to us this morning by the command of Admiral Lord Bridport.

Your Lordships having thus taken the prayer of our several petitions into your serious consideration, you have given satisfaction to every loyal and well-disposed seaman and marine belonging to his Majesty’s fleets; and from the assurance which your Lordships have given us respecting such other grievances as we thought right to lay before you, we are thoroughly convinced, should any real grievance or other causes of complaint arise in future, and the same be laid before your Lordships in a regular manner, we are perfectly satisfied that your Lordships will pay every attention to a number of brave men, who ever have, and ever will be, true ami faithful to their King and country.

But we beg leave to remind your Lordships, that it is a firm resolution, that until the flour in port be removed, the vegetables and pensions augmented, the grievances of private ships be redressed, an act passed, and his Majesty’s most gracious pardon for the fleet now lying at Spithead be granted, that the fleet will not lift an anchor; and this is the total and final answer.

The following is a copy of the Royal Proclamation,
By the KING.

A Proclamation

For pardoning such seamen and marines of the squadron of His Majesty’s fleet stationed at Spithead, as have been guilty of any act of mutiny or disobedience of orders, or any breach or neglect of duty, and who shall upon notification of such proclamation on board their respective ships, return to the regular and ordinary discharge of their duty.

George R.

Upon report of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty of the proceedings of the seamen and marines of the squadron of our fleet stationed at Spithead, and of the measures taken by the said Lords Commissioners in consequence thereof; and in order to manifest our desire to give due encouragement to all those who shall return to the regular and ordinary discharge of their duty, according to the rules and practice of the navy; we have thought fit by the advice of our Privy Council, to issue this our royal proclamation, and do hereby promise our most gracious pardon to all seamen and marines serving on board the said squadron, who shall upon notification hereof on board their respective ships, return to the regular and ordinary discharge of their duty; and we do hereby declare, that all such seamen and marines so returning to their duty, shall be discharged and released from all prosecutions, imprisonments, and penalties, incurred by reason of any act of mutiny or disobedience of orders, or any breach or neglect of duty, previously committed by them, or any of them.

Given at our Court at Windsor, the 22d day of April, 1 797, and the 37th year of our reign.
God save the King[2].

Captain Griffith, we believe, did not return to the London; but some time in the course of the same year,he was appointed to the Niger, of 32 guns, stationed on the French coast, and from her removed into the Triton, of the same force. In these ships he captured the following privateers: la Rosée, 14 guns, 70 men; l’Impromptu, 14 guns, 64 men; and le Delphine, of 4 guns, and 38 men. Our officer afterwards obtained the command of the Diamond, a fine frigate; and in the summer of 1800, accompanied the expedition against Ferrol and Belleilse[3].

Captain Griffith remained in the Diamond until the spring of 1804, and then joined the Dragon, of 74 guns; in which ship, after serving some time off Ferrol, under the orders of Sir Edward Pellew, he joined Sir Robert Calder’s fleet at the close of the action with the combined squadrons of France and Spain, July 22d, 1805, on which occasion the Dragon had 4 men wounded[4]. He subsequently went to the Mediterranean in company with the Queen, of 98 guns, Rear-Admiral Knight, and a fleet of transports, having on board a body of 5,000 troops, commanded by Sir James Craig. Our officer’s next appointment was in Oct. 1807, to the Sultan, a new 74, forming part of the fleet employed in watching the port of Toulon. On the 12th August in the following year, whilst lying in Mahon harbour, Minorca, that ship was struck by lightning, which killed 9 men, and badly wounded 3 others. The momentary alarm and consternation which it produced throughout the vessel, may be readily conceived, but not easily described. Had it struck the hull, instead of the jib-boom, which it shivered to atoms, her destruction would have been inevitable. Fortunately, after running along the boom, and reaching the cap of the bowsprit, which was also rendered useless, it fell into the water close to the bows.

From this period we lose sight of Captain Griffith until Aug. 1812, on the 12th of which month he was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral, and soon after appointed to a command on the coast of North America. In Sept. 1814, he conducted an expedition up the Penobscot river, for the purpose of bringing that part of the province of Maine under the British dominion; which was attended with complete success, and a provisional government established for the district. The troops employed on this service were under the orders of Lieutenant-General Sir J. C. Sherbrooke. The United States’ frigate Adams, lying at Hampden, a considerable distance up the river, was burnt by the enemy to prevent her falling into the hands of the British.

Rear-Admiral Griffiths remained in America until relieved by Sir David Milne, in 1816; and at the expiration of that officer’s period of command, about the latter end of 1818, he was again appointed Commander-in-Chief at Halifax, where he continued until the month of December, 1821, since which he has not been employed. Previous to his departure for England, he received an address from the council, magistrates, and inhabitants of Halifax, regretting that the circumstance of his promotion to the rank of Vice-Admiral, on the 19th July preceding, should occasion him so soon to return to Europe. His assumption of the name of Colpoys, took place subsequent to the demise of the venerable Admiral of that name.

The subject of this memoir, if we mistake not, married the widow of the Hon. Sir John Wilson, one of the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas. His eldest daughter married, Jan. 8, 1818, Captain Charles C. Johnson, of the 85th regiment of foot, third son of Sir John Johnson, Bart., of Montreal, Upper Canada.

  1. See p. 246.
  2. The concessions of Parliament, and its acquiescence to the demands of the seamen, it was to be hoped would have restored general tranquillity throughout the navy; but towards the end of May, a mutiny still more alarming than the preceding, broke out on board the ships at the Nore and in the North Sea fleet, the particulars of which will be found under the head of Admiral Sir John Knight, p. 160, et seq.
  3. See Viscount Exmouth.
  4. See p. 405.