Royal Naval Biography/Holloway, John

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JOHN HOLLOWAY, Esq
Admiral of the Red.


This officer was born at Wells, in Somersetshire, the present residence of his family. During the year 1760, when he was about 13, he was sent on board the Antelope, of 50 guns, Captain Webb; and in the following year, sailed in her to Newfoundland, with Captain (the late Lord) Graves, who had recently been appointed Governor of the island, and Commander-in-Chief of the naval force on that station. Mr. Holloway then served for two years under Sir Hugh Palliser, and also, with a view of promotion, embarked with Admiral Durell; but that officer dying soon after his arrival in America, our Midshipman was, in 1768, taken under the patronage of Commodore, afterwards Viscount, Hood, in the Romney.

Mr. Holloway was advanced to the rank of Lieutenant in the year 1771; and soon after appointed to the Marlborough, of 74 guns, stationed as a guard-ship at Portsmouth, and commanded by Captain Hood. On the breaking out of the colonial war, he removed into the Perseus frigate, Captain G. K. Elphinstone, now Viscount Keith. The Perseus was an active ship, and Lieutenant Holloway remained in her one year. He was afterwards received by Commodore (the late Lord) Hotham, on board the Preston, of 50 guns, and was First Lieutenant of that ship in 1778, when attached to Earl Howe’s squadron in America, at the time M. d’Estaing anchored with a powerful fleet, having on board a large body of troops, off Shrewsbury inlet, about four miles from Sandy Hook, where his Lordship had moored his ships in the best order for defence, should the French Admiral attempt to force his passage over the bar[1]. On the 22nd July, the French fleet weighed, and proceeded to Rhode Island, off which place Lord Howe made his appearance, Aug. 9, and the day following M. d’Estaing put to sea, with a fresh breeze from the N.E., and bore down on the British squadron. Lord Howe edged away to draw the enemy off the land, in hopes of being able to gain the advantage of the wind; but it still continued adverse. On the 12th, he was resolved to risk an action, notwithstanding the great superiority of their force; for this purpose he drew his ships into the order of battle, and shortened sail. In order to conduct the manoeuvres of the squadron, Lord Howe quitted the Eagle, (leaving his flag flying in that ship) and went on board the Apollo frigate. Scarcely were the rival forces arranged in the order of battle, and in momentary expectation of commencing a desperate action, when the wind began to blow with great violence, which soon increased to a dreadful storm. The next day only seven of Lord Howe’s ships were with him. The Apollo having lost her fore mast, he went on board the Phoenix, and steered for New York.

On the evening of the 13th, the Renown, of 50 guns, Captain Dawson, discovered the Languedoc, of 80 guns, (the French Admiral’s ship) at anchor, and totally dismasted. Captain Dawson made his attack with great skill and bravery; but the night being extremely dark and tempestuous, he ceased firing, and continued near her with a view of renewing the action the next morning; at day-break, to his great mortification, several of the French ships hove in sight, and bore down to the relief of their distressed Admiral. On the same night the Preston crossed the Tonnant, of 80 guns, with only her main mast standing, and immediately attacked her. The engagement lasted for some hours; a great many of the Tonnant’s men were killed; and if the firing had not brought a part of the French squadron to her relief, there is no doubt she would have been compelled to surrender to so inferior a force.

Towards the latter end of the same year, Commodore Hotham was sent to Barbadoes, with a reinforcement for Rear-Admiral Barrington’s squadron, and having under his escort a body of 5000 troops, destined for the reduction of St. Lucia[2]. Some time after the conquest of that island, Lieutenant Holloway removed with his patron into the Vengeance, of 74 guns; but soon left that ship to join the Princess Royal, a second rate, bearing the flag of Admiral Parker, who made him a Commander. On the 23rd Jan. 1780, he was advanced to the rank of Post-Captain, and on that occasion returned to the Vengeance, still carrying the broad pendant of Commodore Hotham, in which ship he was present at the different encounters between Sir George B. Rodney and M. de Guichen, in the ensuing spring[3]. In the month of September following, when Sir George Rodney sailed for North America, the command at the Leeward Island devolved on Commodore Hotham. On the night of the 10th Oct., there arose a hurricane at N.E. which increased by the morning to a degree of violence that is not to be described. The Vengeance, and some smaller vessels of war, were moored within the Careenage of St. Lucia, and prepared with every caution that could be taken to withstand the tempest, which had already driven several transports on shore. A little after twelve o’clock she parted one of her cables, and tailed upon the rocks. It now became absolutely requisite to cut away her masts, the loss of which, with the help of a number of guns that were got forward, considerably eased the force with which she struck; and by the wind fortunately shifting two or three points further to the eastward, her stern swung into deep water, and she was, beyond every expectation, saved; for it now blew, if possible, with redoubled violence, and nothing was to be seen or expected but ruin, desolation, and destruction in every part. The storm continued with incredible vehemence during the whole day; but the weather, about midnight, became more moderate, and by the next morning the wind was totally abated. The direction of the hurricane was from N.N.E. to E.S.E., and it lasted twenty-nine hours.

The Laurel, Andromeda, and Blanche frigates, Scarborough, of 20 guns, and four sloops of war, were entirely lost, and of their crews not more than 48 men were saved. Of the remainder of the squadron on that station not one escaped without considerable damage; and the French ships suffered in equal proportion.

The Vengeance sailed for England in the spring of 1781, with another line-of-battle ship, and three frigates, as convoy to a fleet of thirty-four ships, richly laden, chiefly Dutch, which had been captured at St. Eustatia; and on the 2d May, falling in with a French squadron of six sail of the line besides frigates, under the command of M. de la Mothe Piquet, the utmost skill and dexterity were necessary, to effect an escape. Owing, however, to the judicious measures which Commodore Hotham immediately adopted, and to the able assistance of Captain Holloway, he preserved his own squadron, and saved the greater part of the merchant vessels; the remainder, of considerable value, fell into the hands of the enemy. On the 29th June, the Vengeance arrived at Spithead, and was immediately put out of commission.

After a short relaxation from the fatigues of service, Captain Holloway was appointed to the command of the Cambridge, of 80 guns, and went off the Texel with Lord Howe. He was next removed into the Buffalo, of 60 guns, attached to the fleet under the same Admiral, which, on the 11th Sept. 1782, sailed for the relief of Gibraltar. On the 11th Oct. the convoy entered the Gut; but the wind blowing strong from W.N.W. only four of the transports, under the care of the Latona frigate, reached their destined anchorage that day; the rest passed into the Mediterranean. The combined fleets of France and Spain, consisting of eighty sail of pendants, standing out of the bay, on the 13th, Lord Howe, then off Marbella, ordered Captain Holloway to take the store-ships under his protection, and proceed with them to the Zaffarine Isles, or L’Oriston, in Sardinia, in case he should be driven past Cape Tres Forcas, and to use his own judgment for bringing them back to relieve the besieged fortress. Two days after the Buffalo had parted from the British fleet, she fell in with four of the enemy’s ships, that had come out of Malaga to join the combined fleets, and narrowly escaped being captured by them. One vessel was taken at midnight, not a mile from the Buffalo; but from the darkness of the night, and being close to the Barbary coast, the rest escaped[4]. Captain Holloway then resolved to remain in that situation until the wind should become fair. On the fifth or sixth day, he again came in sight of the British fleet at anchor. When Lord Howe was informed that the Buffalo and her charge were approaching, and was congratulated by one of his officers on the event, he replied, “The Captain of the Buffalo has done his duty.

Nauticus Junior, the anonymous author of the Naval Atlantis, published in 1789, in drawing the character of Captain Holloway, has been very severe on Earl Howe for selecting the Buffalo on this occasion: “It must first be mentioned,” says he, “that the Buffalo had for a long time been stationed as a flag ship in the Downs, on account of her being considered as unfit for sea. Secondly, that she was badly manned, and therefore selected by that admirable officer, Lord Howe, as a proper ship to take charge of a convoy of store-ships destined for the relief of a distressed garrison; and thirdly, placed as the last ship in the rear division of that fleet, which Great Britain had thought fit to entrust to his Lordship’s charge. By his judicious conduct, Captain Holloway, who, with his convoy, were driven up the Mediterranean by a violent gale of wind and separated from the fleet, happily regained the rock, and he saw his store-ships, &c. into the garrison[5]. This service performed, the Buffalo took her station in the rear division of the fleet, commanded by Vice-Admiral Milbanke, and during the action that took place, was for a long time so pointed an object for the enemy’s heavy ships, that they had nearly sunk her.” It is well known that the centre of the combined fleets was opposed to the rear of the British; and the Santissima Trinidada, of 130 guns, supported by two French three-deckers, was opposite to the Buffalo, when the Spaniard opened his fire; Captain Holloway, however, by keeping close to the ship a-head, maintained his station until the action ceased. In this unequal conflict, the Buffalo had 6 men killed and 16 wounded.

On Captain Holloway’s return to England, he was appointed to the Vigilant; but peace taking place soon after, that vessel was paid off, and he continued without any other command for a considerable time; but was at length appointed to the Solebay frigate, and proceeded to the Leeward Islands, where he served under the orders of the late Lord Nelson, at that time Captain of the Boreas, between whom and Captain Holloway a friendship soon commenced, and was ever afterwards maintained[6].

During the Spanish and Russian armaments, in 1790 and 1791, Captain Holloway commanded the Princess Royal, of 98 guns, bearing the flag of his former patron, Vice-Admiral Hotham; and at the commencement of the war with France, in 1793, when that officer went to the Mediterranean, as second in command under Lord Hood, Captain Holloway accompanied him in the Britannia, of 100 guns. The operations at Toulon during that year will be found detailed in our memoirs of Viscount Keith, Lord Radstock, &c.[7]

When Lord Hood returned to England, towards the close of 1794, Admiral Hotham succeeded him in the chief command, and appointed his long-tried follower Captain of the Fleet, in which situation he gave general satisfaction. During the period of Admiral Hotham’s command, two engagements took place with the French fleet. The first was on the 14th March, 1795; an account thereof will be found in our sketch of Sir Davidge Gould’s services. The Commander-in-Chief, in his official letter to the Admiralty on that occasion, after a general commendation of the officers in his fleet, concluded with saying, “It is, however, an act of justice, to express the sense I entertain of the services of Captain Holloway, of the Britannia; during a long friendship with that officer, I have had repeated proofs of his personal and professional talents; and on this recent demand for experience and information, his zeal afforded me the most beneficial and satisfactory assistance.”

The second action was fought on the 13th July following; the particulars thereof will be found in our memoir of Admiral Sir John Sutton. For these services, Admiral Hotham was raised to the dignity of an Irish Peer, and at the end of the year returned to England, being superseded by Sir John Jervis. Subsequently to this latter event, Captain Holloway was appointed to the Duke, a second rate, and from her removed into the St. George, of 98 guns, attached to the Channel Fleet. He commanded the former ship during the alarming mutiny that raged among the crews of the ships at Spithead, in May 1797, and was one of the officers who, from their strict adherence to discipline, were turned on shore by those malcontents[8]. His services as a Captain ended in the St. George. On the 14th Feb. 1799, he was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral, and it was not long before he hoisted his flag as assistant Port-Admiral at Portsmouth, where he continued until the suspension of hostilities in 1801.

Soon after the renewal of the war, in 1803, the Rear-Admiral was again sent to his former tedious duty at the above port, and on his arrival was welcomed by the inhabitants with a hearty peal on the bells, so highly was he respected. In the course of the same year, he made a survey of the adjacent coast; and in consequence of his representations, three ships, of 98 guns each, were stationed at Lymington, St. Helens, and the mouth of Southampton River, to guard the Isle of Wight in case the enemy should fulfil their threats of invasion.

Our officer was promoted to the rank of Vice-Admiral, April 23, 1804, and about the same period hoisted his flag in the Downs, under the orders of Lord Keith. In 1807, he was constituted Governor of Newfoundland, and Commander-in-Chief on that station; an appointment in which he displayed his wonted ability; and endeavoured, by every means, to conciliate the affections of such of the Indians as lived on the island.

Previous to the Vice-Admiral’s final departure from that settlement, in Oct. 1809, he received a letter from the society of merchants there, containing sentiments of veneration and esteem for his person and character, and expressions of gratitude for the facilities afforded them upon all occasions in the prosecution of their commerce.

The subject of the foregoing memoir was raised to the rank of Admiral of the Blue, Oct. 25, 1809. He married previous to his departure from the West Indies, in 1781, to a lady of Antigua, named Waldron, of an old English family. Of his children, one, a son, died on board the Narcissus, on the passage from Leghorn to Palermo. He was only thirteen years of age, four and a half of which he had actually served at sea, and was on board the Venerable, of 74 guns, Captain Samuel Hood, in Sir James Saumarez’s actions, July 6 and 13, 1801. The Admiral’s eldest daughter is the lady of Rear-Admiral R. W. Otway[9].



  1. Upon the appearance of the enemy, 1000 volunteers from the transports immediately offered their services to man the King’s ships; and such was the ardour among these brave fellows, that even many of those who it was necessary should remain to take care of their respective vessels, were found concealed in the boats which were employed to convey their fortunate companions on board the men of war. The zeal displayed by the masters and mates of the merchant vessels at New York, was equally meritorious; they earnestly solicited employment, and chearfully took their stations at the guns, and assisted in all other duties of a common sailor. Others put to sea in light vessels, to watch the motions of the enemy, and performed various essential services. One in particular, with a noble disinterestedness, offered to convert his vessel, which was the whole of his fortune, into a fire-ship, to be conducted by himself. The public spirit, zeal, and bravery, were not less conspicuous amoug the troops, who contended the point of honour to serve as marines on board the fleet; it was at length decided by lot, which fell to the share of the light infantry and grenadiers. The British squadron lay in this situation for several days, with the continual mortification of seeing vessels captured, without a possibility of affording them relief. would have been forced to fight, had not the wind on a sudden shifted six points, which enabled them to recover that advantage. At seven P.M. Captain Bowyer, in the Albion, reached the centre of the enemy’s line, and commenced a heavy cannonade, supported by the Conqueror and the rest of the van; hut as the enemy continued under a press of sail, none of the rest of the British fleet could partake in the action.

    From this time to the 19th, the enemy had the advantage of the wind; on that day it so far favoured the British fleet, as to flatter the Admiral with the hope of being able to bring on a general action; but before he could close with the enemy, it again changed.

    The French Admiral, seeing that his rear could not escape being engaged, appeared to have taken the resolution of risking a general action; for as soon as his van had weathered the British, he bore away along their line to windward, and commenced a heavy cannonade, but at such a distance as to do little execution; the Frenchmen could not however avoid being closely attacked by the ships of the van led by Commodore Hotham. The enemy continued under a press of sail to the northward; and on the 21st were entirely out of sight. The pursuit having led the fleet 40 leagues to windward of Martinique, and many of the ships requiring considerable repair, the Admiral steered for Barbadoes, and arrived on the 22nd in Carlisle Bay.

    The loss sustained by the English in these three actions was 188 killed, and 567 wounded. In the first list was the Hon. Captain St. John, of the Intrepid, and 5 officers; and in the last Captain Watson, of the Conqueror, mortally, and fifteen officers. The enemy had 158 slain, and 820 wounded.

  2. Commodore Hotham formed a junction with Rear-Admiral Barrington, Dec. 10, 1778, and on the 13th of the same month, the armament arrived off St. Lucia. The army was immediately landed in different parts of the Grand Cul de Sac, hut had not been long in the possession of that part of the island, before M. d’Estaing made his appearance with twelve sail of the line, having on board 9,000 troops. Rear-Admiral Barrington ordered the transports to be warped close in shore, and moored his squadron, consisting of five ships of the line, two fifties, and three frigates, with so much skill and judgment as to haffle the repeated attacks of the enemy. On the 15th, the French commander made two desperate efforts to obtain his object; but the determined coolness, resolution, and bravery of the officers and men of the King’s ships, supported by a steady and well-directed fire from the batteries on shore, compelled him to stand to sea. The next day the French fleet were observed working to windward, and in the evening it anchored off Gros Islet. The enemy’s troops having effected a landing, made several attempts to carry the batteries, in all of which they were repulsed, as well as in the field, with a dreadful slaughter. Finding every endeavour to recover the island ineffectual, they re-embarked, and left the conquerors in quiet possession.
  3. On the 27th March, 1780, Sir George Rodney, then in Gros Islet Bay, received intelligence that the French Admiral de Guichen, with twenty-three sail of the line and eight frigates, had just retired into Fort Royal Bay, Martinique, after having for several days paraded in sight of St Lucia. Sir George hastened the equipment of his ships, and on the 2d April, proceeded off Fort Royal with his whole force, consisting of twenty ships of the line, one of 50 guns, and three frigates, and continued there for two days, offering the enemy battle. As M. de Guichen did not choose to venture out, notwithstanding his superior numbers, Sir George left a squadron to watch his motions, and returned with the remainder to the anchorage in Gros Islet Bay.

    In the night of the 15th, the French fleet put to sea; on the 16th, they were discovered in the N.W., and Sir George immediately pursued them. Night coming on, the British ships were formed into a line of battle a-head, keeping sight of the enemy, who by his manoeuvres evidently wished to avoid a battle. In the morning of the 17th, the wind favoured the British fleet, so as to give them the advantage of the weather gage. At llh 50’, Sir George made the signal for every ship to bear down, steer for, and closely engage her opponent in the enemy’s line. At one P.M. the action began, and soon became general, which continued with great obstinacy until 4h 15’, when M. de Guichen, in the Couronne, with his seconds, the Triomphant and Pendant, were forced out of the line and bore away; this example of the French Admiral was soon followed by the whole of his fleet. The crippled state of the British ships rendered pursuit impracticable.

    Every exertion was used to put the fleet in order, to go in quest of the enemy. On the 20th, Sir George again got sight of, and chaced them for three successive days, without effect; their great object seemed to have been to push for Fort Royal Bay, where alone they could obtain the necessary repairs; but M. de Guichen finding it impossible to succeed without the risk of a second action, took shelter under Guadaloupe. The British put into Chocque Bay, St. Lucia, to refit, water, and land their wounded. On the 6th May, Sir George Rodney was informed that the French fleet had left Guadaloupe, and were approaching to windward of Martinique. He directly put to sea, and on the 10th, discovered them about three leagues to windward. M. de Guichen studiously avoided coming to a general action; but sensible of his superiority in point of sailing to the British, frequently bore down in line a-breast; and then brought to the wind at a little more than random shot distance. The British Admiral, mortified at not having it in his power to force the enemy to battle, on the 15th directed his fleet by signal to make all sail possible by the wind; this manoeuvre led the French Commander to think he was retiring, and emboldened him to approach much nearer than usual. Sir George Rodney suffered him to enjoy the deception, until the enemy’s van ship had approached abreast of the centre of the English line, when by a lucky change of wind, which would enable him to weather the enemy, he made the signal for the van of his own fleet to tack. The French instantly wore, and fled with a croud of sail, notwithstanding which they

  4. The captured transport had on board the wives and baggage of the two regiments which were embarked in the fleet, as a reinforcement for the garrison: her capture greatly distressed those corps, and their brethren on the rock heartily condoled with them.
  5. See p. 17.
  6. Whilst Admiral Holloway remained unemployed in 1803, he received the following letter from Lord Nelson, dated off Toulon, August, 22.

    “My dear Holloway,
    “Your letter, by Mr. Taylor, I received from Admiral Campbell, Mr. Taylor being gone to Malta, a place probably I shall never see during my command. However, I shall be happy in shewing every attention to your recommendation. I am sorry you are not employed, but I think it must come at last; for, as you observe, your nerves are good, and your head I never heard disputed. The Narcissus not having joined, I have not had an opportunity of seeing your nephew Lyons. Your son-in-law, Captain Otway, will get a ship, and I hope his Culloden: and that you may both be soon actively employed, is the sincere wish of, my dear Holloway,

    “Your obliged and faithful friend,
    “Nelson and Bronte.”

  7. See pp. 46, 60, &c.
  8. See Vice-Admiral E. Griffith Colpoys.
  9. See note at p. 108.