Royal Naval Biography/Lawrence, John

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JOHN LAWRENCE, Esq.
A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1817.]

This mark of distinction was conferred upon Captain Lawrence for his gallant and zealous services, while commanding the Fantome brig, under the immediate orders of Rear-Admiral (now Sir George) Cockburn, whose flag we find flying on board that vessel, in April, 1813. The following is a copy of the Rear-Admiral’s official letter to Sir John B. Warren, detailing his operations against the Americans, at the commencement of the ensuing month:

H.M.S. Maidstone, at anchor off Turkey Point,
3d May, 1813.

“Sir,– I have the honor to inform you, that whilst anchoring the brigs and tenders off Spesuçie island, agreeable to my intentions, notified to you in my official report of the 29th ultimo[1], I observed guns fired, and American colours hoisted at a battery lately erected at Havre-de-Grace, at the entrance of the Susquehanna river. This of course, immediately gave to the place an importance which I had not before attached to it; and I therefore determined on attacking it after the completion of our business at the Island. Having sounded in the direction towards it, and found that the shallowness of water would only admit of its being approached by boats, I directed their assembling under Lieutenant Westphal, first of the Marlborough, last night at 12 o’clock, alongside the Fantome, when our detachments of marines, consisting of about 150 men, under Captains Wyborn and Carter, with a small party of artillery-men, under Lieutenant Robertson, embarked in them, and the whole being under the immediate direction of Captain Lawrence, of the Fantome, who with much zeal and readiness took upon himself, at my request, the conducting of this service, proceeded towards Havre, to take up, under cover of the night, the necessary positions for commencing the attack at dawn of day. The Dolphin and Highflyer tenders, commanded by Lieutenants Hutchinson and Lewis, followed for the support of the boats, but the shoalness of the water prevented their getting within 6 miles of the place. Captain Lawrence, however, having got up with the boats, and very ably and judiciously placed them during the dark, a warm fire was opened on the place at daylight from our launches and rocket-boats, which was smartly returned from the battery for a short time; but the launches constantly closing with it, and their fire rather increasing than decreasing, that from the battery soon began to slacken; and Captain Lawrence observing this, very judiciously directed the landing of the marines on the left, which movement, added to the hot fire they were under, induced the Americans to commence withdrawing from the battery, to take shelter in the town. Lieutenant G. A. Westphal, who had taken his station in the rocket-boat close to the battery, therefore now judging the moment to be favourable, pulled directly up under the work, and landing his boat’s crew, got immediate possession of it, turned their own guns on them, and thereby soon obliged them to retreat with their whole force to the furthest extremity of the town, whither (the marines having by this time landed) they were closely pursued, and no longer feeling themselves equal to a manly and open resistance, they commenced a teazing and irritating fire from behind the houses, walls, trees, &c. from which I am sorry to say, my gallant first lieutenant received a shot through his hand whilst leading the pursuing party; he, however, continued to head the advance, with which he soon succeeded in dislodging the whole of the enemy from their lurking places, and driving them from shelter to the neighbouring woods, and whilst performing which service, he had the satisfaction to overtake, and with his remaining hand to make prisoner, and bring in, a captain of their militia. We also took an ensign and some armed individuals; but the rest of the force which had been opposed to us, having penetrated into the woods, I did not judge it prudent to allow of their being further followed with our small numbers; therefore after setting fire to some of the houses, to cause the proprietors (who had deserted them, and formed part of the militia who had fled to the woods,) to understand and feel what they were liable to bring upon themselves, by building batteries and acting towards us with so much useless rancour, I embarked in the boats the guns from the battery and having also taken and destroyed about one hundred and thirty stand of small arms, I detached a small division of boats up the Susquehanna to take and destroy whatever they might meet with in it, and proceeded myself with the remaining boats under Captain Lawrence, in search of a cannon foundry, which I had gained intelligence of, whilst on shore in Havre, as being situated about three or four miles to the northward, where we found it accordingly, and getting possession of it without difficulty, commenced instantly its destruction, and that of the guns and other materials we found there, to complete which occupied us during the remainder of the day, as there were several buildings and much complicated heavy machinery attached to it. It was known by the names of the Cecil or Principio Foundry, and was one of the most valuable works of the kind in America; the destruction of it, therefore, at this moment, will, I trust, prove of much national importance.

“In the margin I have stated the ordnance taken and disabled by our small division this day[2], during the whole of which we have been on shore in the centre of the enemy’s country, and on his high road between Baltimore and Philadelphia. The boats which I sent up the Susquehanna, returned after destroying five vessels in it, and a large store of flour; when, every thing being completed to my utmost wishes, the whole division re-embarked and returned to the ships, where we arrived at ten o’clock, after being twenty-two hours in constant exertion, without nourishment of any kind; and I have much pleasure in being able to add, that, excepting Lieutenant Westphal’s wound, we have not suffered any casualty whatever.

“The judicious dispositions made by Captain Lawrence, of the Fantome, during the preceding night, and the able manner in which he conducted the attack of Havre in the morning, added to the gallantry, zeal, and attention shewn by him during this whole day, most justly entitle him to my highest encomiums and acknowledgments, and will, I trust, ensure to him your approbation; and I have the pleasure to add, that he speaks in the most favourable manner of the good conduct of all the officers and men employed in the boats under his immediate orders, particularly of Lieutenants Alexander and Reed, of the Dragon and Fantome, who each commanded a division; of Lieutenant G. A. Westphal, whose exemplary and gallant conduct it has been necessary for me already to notice in detailing to you the operations of the day; I shall only now add, that from a thorough knowledge of his merits (he having served many years with me as first lieutenant) I always, on similar occasions, expect much from him; but this day be even outstripped those expectations, and though in considerable pain from his wound, tie insisted on continuing to assist me to the last moment with his able exertions; I therefore, Sir, cannot but entertain a confident hope that his services of to-day, and the wound he has received, added to what he so successfully executed at French Town (as detailed in my letter to you of the 29th ultimo), will obtain for him your favourable consideration and notice, and that of my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty. I should be wanting in justice did I not also mention to you, particularly, the able assistance again afforded me by Lieutenant Robertson, of the artillery, who is ever a volunteer where service is to be performed, and always foremost in performing such service, being equally conspicuous for his gallantry and ability; and he also obliged me by superintending the destruction of the ordnance taken at the foundry. To Captains Wyborn and Carter, who commanded the marines, and shewed much skill in the management of them, every praise is likewise due, as are my acknowledgments to Lieutenant Lewis of the Highflyer, who, not being able to bring his vessel near enough to render assistance, came himself with his usual active zeal to offer his personal services. And it is my pleasing duty to have to report to you, in addition, that all the other officers and men seemed to vie with each other in the cheerful and zealous discharge of their duly; and I have therefore the satisfaction of recommending their general good conduct on this occasion to your notice accordingly. – I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)Geo. Cockburn.”

On the 5th Oct. 1813, Captain Lawrence captured an American privateer schooner, of 5 guns and 45 men. He obtained post rank, Jan. 1, 1817; and was appointed to the Eden 26, fitting for the West India station, Aug. 31, 1822.

This officer’s sister is the wife of Lieutenant William Lowcay, R.N.

Agent.– Sir F. M. Ommanney.



  1. See Captain Sir George A. Westphal.
  2. Total – 51 guns, and 130 stand of small arms.