Royal Naval Biography/Knowles, Charles Henry

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Admiral of the Red; Knight Grand Cross of the most honourable Military Order of the Bath.

This family is descended from Sir Thomas Knowles, who attended Richard I. in his wars to the Holy Land, where that Prince, in consideration of the many signal marks of Sir Thomas’s valour, granted him those arms which his family now bears; which are nearly the same as the Jerusalem arms, differing only in some few particulars. The subject of this memoir is the only son of the late Sir Charles Knowles, Bart., Admiral of the Blue, and Rear-Admiral of the Navies and Seas of Great Britain; formerly Governor of Jamaica, and afterwards Chief President of the Admiralty, and one of the Council to the Empress Catharine, of Russia[1], by his second wife, Maria-Magdalena-Theresa Bouquet, a lady of an old Lorraine family.

Our officer succeeded his father in the Baronetcy, Dec. 9, 1777; and attained the rank of Post-Captain, Feb. 2, 1780. In the same year, we find him commanding the Porcupine, a small frigate, on the Mediterranean station, where he was not long without an opportunity of distinguishing himself.

On the 22d July, in the same year, Sir Charles H. Knowles, being on a cruize on the coast of Valencia, at 4 A.M., saw two sail a-head, standing for the Porcupine. As the day advanced, he perceived they were Spanish ships, polacre rigged. About six o’clock, being within gun-shot, they hoisted their colours, and fired a gun to leeward; about eight minutes after Sir Charles gave the headmost vessel a broadside. A spirited action commenced, and was kept up until 7h 20’, at which time the enemy sheered off. The largest ship carried 26 or 28 nine-pounders, and the smallest 22 or 24 guns of the same calibre; they were both full of men. A third vessel approaching, and the Porcupine being within half a mile of the Colebres Rocks, she made sail to the eastward; the enemy shortly after wore in pursuit. At 10h 10’, another action began between the Porcupine and her former antagonists, which lasted until 11h 3’, at which time they again hauled off, and did not afterwards attempt to renew the fight. In this unequal conflict the British ship had only four men wounded, and received but little damage.

Towards the conclusion of the American war, we find Sir Charles commanding the San Miguel, of 72 guns[2], and employed as senior officer of the naval force stationed at Gibraltar; to the garrison of which place he afforded the greatest assistance, by his active co-operation in repelling the oft-repeated attacks made by the enemy with a view of regaining possession of that important fortress[3]. He sailed from thence on his return to England, March 22, 1783.

A few weeks after the commencement of hostilities against the French Republic[4], our officer commissioned the Daedalus, of 32 guns, in which frigate he proceeded to North America. In the early part of 1794, the Daedalus, on her passage to Halifax, received considerable damage, and sprung her main and mizen-masts, which obliged Sir Charles to put into Norfolk, in Virginia, where he took in new masts, and was about to sail, when a French squadron arrived, and blocked him up. On the 20th April the enemy put to sea with a large fleet of merchantmen, bound to France, leaving only the Clorinde frigate, and a corvette of 16 guns. Sir Charles was now determined to proceed to Halifax, and was making every arrangement to get under sail, and engage the French ships, should they attempt to molest him, when, on the morning of the 17th May, he was joined by the Terpsichore, of 32 guns, commanded by the late gallant Captain R. Bowen, who afterwards fell at Teneriffe[5]. Notwithstanding this accession offeree, the French Commander shewed a disposition to follow the frigates, and bring them to action. Sir Charles Knowles stood off from Cape Henry four or five miles, and then hove to; upon which the Concorde tacked, and returned to her anchorage.

The Daedalus returned to England in the following summer, and Sir Charles was shortly after appointed to the Edgar, of 74 guns, stationed in the North Sea. From that ship he removed into the Goliath, of the same force, and was present in her at the memorable battle off Cape St. Vincent, Feb. 14, 1797[6]; on which occasion the Goliath had 8 men wounded, and her Commander, in common with the other Captains, was afterwards honoured with a gold medal. In the same year he assisted at the solemn procession to St. Paul’s, when the colours taken from the enemy in the different naval actions were deposited in that cathedral[7].

Our officer was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral, Feb. 14, 1799; Vice-Admiral, April 23, 1804; and Admiral, July 31, 1810. On May 20, 1820, he was created an extra G.C.B.[8]. He married Sept. 10, 1800, Charlotte, daughter of Charles Johnstone, of Ludlow, Esq.

Residence.– Lovell-Hill, near Windsor, co. Berks.

  1. Sir Charles Knowles returned from Russia overwhelmed with ingratitude. He was particularly skilful in the science of building ships; and as an officer, repeatedly distinguished himself, especially on the expedition against La Guira, in 1743. Dr. Smollet, the English historian, was originally a loblolly boy on board Sir Charles’s ship, and received his first appointment, as surgeon’s mate, from that officer, who in many instances behaved towards him with paternal kindness, for which he made the most ungrateful return. Admiral Knowles was the first person who ever attempted to carry a ship of the line into English Harbour, Antigua.
  2. The San Miguel originally formed part of the vast armament employed in the blockade of Gibraltar; but being driven from her anchor during a violent gale of wind, on the night of Oct. 10, 1782, and finding it impossible to weather the rock, she surrendered to the garrison on a few guns being fired from one of the batteries.
  3. The close of the year 1777, when the news of the convention of Saratoga first arrived in Europe, was the period which the Spaniards embraced to introduce themselves into the dispute then existing between Great Britain on the one hand, and her revolted colonies, aided by France, on the other. Hostilities had been carried on for near six months between England and France; Spain therefore judged the opportunity favourable to offer her mediation, proposing such an arrangement as she must be assured would not be agreeable to the principal belligerent powers. Great Britain had no sooner refused her acquiescence, than the Court of Madrid espoused the cause of France; and, on June 16, 1779, the Spanish Ambassador presented to the Court of London his hostile manifesto. On the 21st of the same month, the communication between Spain and Gibraltar was closed by an order from Madrid. It was not long before the inhabitants and garrison were reduced to great distress, by reason of the strictness of the blockade established by the enemy; and, notwithstanding the supplies thrown in at different times by Sir George B. Rodney, Vice-Admiral Darby, and Earl Howe, as already mentioned at pp. 3, 4, and 17, they continued from the same cause, and the destruction of the town by repeated bombardments, to suffer the greatest privations, experiencing, during a period of three years, seven months, and twelve days, (that is, from the commencement of the blockade to the cessation of arms,) a continued series of watchfulness and fatigue, the horrors of famine, and every harassing and vexatious mode of attack which a powerful, obstinate, and revengeful enemy could devise.
  4. See note at page 18.
  5. Brother of the present Commissioner Bowen. See Retired Captains.
  6. See p. 21, et seq.
  7. See p. 62.
  8. At that date four extra G.C.B.’s, and six K.C.B.’s, were added to the Order of the Bath, in contemplation of his present Majesty’s coronation, which, however, did not take place until the 19th July in the following year.