Royal Naval Biography/Sayer, George

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A Companion of the most Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1801.]

This officer is a native of Deal in Kent, where his father resided as Collector of the Customs upwards of thirty years. He entered the service at an early age as a Midshipman on board the Phoenix frigate, commanded by the late Captain George Anson Byron, with whom he proceeded to the East Indies, in company with a squadron under Commodore Cornwallis.

In 1790 and 1791, Mr. Sayer served on shore with a body of seamen and marines, at the reduction of Tippoo Saib’s forts, and other possessions on the Malabar coast. He was also employed on various boat services in co-operation with the army; and bore a part in the action between the Phoenix and la Resolu, an account of which will be found under the head of Admiral Sir Richard J. Strachan, who commanded the Phoenix on that occasion[1].

iThe Phoenix returned to England in July 1793, and Mr. Sayer was soon after made a Lieutenant into the Carysfort, a 9-pounder frigate, rated at 28 guns, and commanded by the present Sir Francis Laforey. In this ship he assisted at the capture of the Castor French frigate, mounting 26 long twelves, six 6-pounders and 4 carronades[errata 1] after a close action of an hour and a quarter, off Brest, May 29, 1794[2].

From this period, Mr. Sayer served as Captain Laforey’s first Lieutenant in the Carysfort, Beaulieu frigate, and Ganges 74, till March 1796, when he was promoted by that officer’s father to the rank of Commander, and appointed to the Lacedaemonian sloop of war on the Leeward Islands station; in which vessel he was present at the capture of St. Lucia by the military and naval forces under Lieutenant-General Sir Ralph Abercromby, and Rear-Admiral Sir Hugh C. Christian[3].

Captain Sayer subsequently commanded the Albicore sloop on the Jamaica station, where he remained but a short time, the Admiralty having confirmed his commission for rank only. In 1797, he was attached to the flotilla equipped for the purpose of acting against the mutinous ships at the Nore.

During the ensuing two years, and part of 1800, we find him commanding the Xenophon sloop of war, stationed in the North Sea. In 1799 he brought the notorious Irish rebel, Napper Tandy, and his principal associates, as state prisoners from Hamburgh to England. His next appointment was to the Inspector, of 16 guns, in which vessel he conveyed the present King of the Netherlands and suite from England to the continent. Captain Sayer’s zeal and activity in affording protection to the trade of his country was at length represented in the strongest manner by the members of the mercantile community to Earl Spencer, then presiding at the Admiralty, by whom he was advanced to post-rank on the 14th Feb. 1801.

The peace of Amiens took place soon after this promotion; and Captain Sayer, notwithstanding his applications for employment, was not again called into service till the latter end of 1804, when he obtained an appointment to the Proselyte of 28 guns. Early in the following year he sailed for the West Indies, with 150 merchant vessels and three regiments of infantry under his protection; and being fortunate enough to elude the vigilance of the celebrated Rochefort squadron, conducted the whole in safety to Barbadoes[4]; where he was presented with a complimentary address on the part of the different masters.

In July 1805, Captain Sayer was removed by an Admiralty order to the Galatea of 32 guns, in which frigate he assisted at the capture of the Danish islands[5], by Sir Alexander Cochrane and General Bowyer, in Dec. 1807. From this period till his departure for England, we find him entrusted with the command of a detached naval force, employed at the Virgin Isles and off the Spanish Main.

The Galatea’s boats appear to have performed several dashing exploits, one of which we may venture to say has rarely been equalled, never surpassed. The following is a copy of Captain Sayer’s official letter on the occasion alluded to:

Galatea, Coast of Caraccas, Jan. 22, 1807.

“Sir.– Yesterday morning we discovered, from the mast-head, a sail in the S.E., steering for la Guira, and soon compelled her to shape another course for Barcelona. About noon it was nearly calm, when she appeared to be a man of war, and, by her manreuvres, an enemy: she had now the advantage of us by a breeze, and with her lofty flying sails, and sweeps, was leaving us fast. At two o’clock her top-gallant-sails were scarcely above the horizon, but in a situation between the ship and the coast that still afforded me hopes of her, by co-operation of the boats. They pushed off, under the direction of the first Lieutenant William Coombe, manned with 5 officers[6], 50 seamen, and 20 marines; and after rowing about twelve leagues in eight hours, (part of the time under a burning sun,) they came up with her, going, with a light land breeze, about two knots. Having, first hailed her, our brave fellows instantly attempted to board on both quarters, but by the fire of her guns, all which had been trained aft in readiness, and having to combat under every disadvantage, with more than double their numbers, were twice repulsed by them. The boats now dropped, and poured through her stern and quarter-ports a destructive fire of musketoons and small arms, that cleared the deck of many of the enemy, who were all crowded aft; when, after an arduous struggle, a third time, for a footing, our men rushed on board, and in a few minutes drove all before them. The bowsprit and jib-boom were covered; some flew aloft, and others ran below: the Captain and most of his officers were lying wounded on the deck, leaving the remainder of this handful of men in proud possession of the French Imperial corvette, le Lynx, of fourteen 24-pounder carronades, and two long 9-pounders, pierced for 18 guns, and with a complement of 161 men. She is two years old, and a well-equipped fine vessel, in all respects fit for his Majesty’s service. At the head of our invaluable mens’ names, who fell in this quarter of an hour’s sharp contest, stands that of the second Lieutenant, Harry Walker, of his third wound; of the officers commanding our five boats, only Lieutenant Robert Gibson escaped unhurt. It may be unnecessary to add Lieutenant Coombe’s report, that every man did his duty. I am satisfied they did, &c. &c.

(Signed)Geo. Sayer.”

To Rear-Admiral
Hon. Sir Alex. Coohrane, K.B.

The loss sustained by the British on this brilliant occasion amounted to 9 killed and 22 wounded; the enemy had 14 slain and 20 wounded. When we take into consideration the fatigue of so long a row as the boats’ crews had before they came up with le Lynx, their great disparity in numbers, their having to attack a man of war under sail, completely prepared for their reception, and their perseverance in the attack, without a chance of support from the Galatea, after being twice repulsed, we can have no hesitation in declaring that more determined bravery was never displayed, and that the eulogy afterwards pronounced in the House of Peers was highly merited. In the death of Lieutenant Walker, who had some time before been promoted from the Northumberland 74, the service lost a most promising officer. Lieutenant Coombe’s conduct speaks for itself; although he had previously lost a leg, his activity in the execution of his duty had always been remarked: in this action a musket-ball passed through the muscular part of his thigh, above the former amputation. The zeal and gallantry manifested by the whole party were deservedly praised by the Board of Admiralty, who promoted the surviving officers, each of whom received a sword from the Patriotic Fund. Le Lynx being a fine brig of 337 tons, was added to the navy as a sloop of war, and the command of her given to Lieutenant Coombe[7].

The Galatea returned to England in the spring of 1809, and being found very defective, was soon after put out of commission and taken to pieces at Woolwich. In Nov. following Captain Sayer was appointed to the Leda, a new frigate of 42 guns; and at the commencement of the ensuing year, ordered to convoy a number of transports with troops to Cadiz, from whence he came home with the flag of Vice-Admiral Purvis, on that officer being relieved in his command by Sir Charles Cotton[8].

Captain Sayer subsequently escorted a fleet of Indiamen to Bengal, and joining Vice-Admiral Drury at Madras, in Jan. 1811, was directed by that officer to assume the command of a squadron, having on board 600 soldiers belonging to the 14th and 89th regiments, sent to pave the way for the reduction of Java and the enemy’s remaining possessions in the Eastern seas.

Previous to the arrival of the armament prepared in India to effect those conquests, a detachment from the squadron, consisting of 200 seamen, marines, and soldiers, defeated 500 of the enemy’s troops near the city of Bantam; and a fort mounting 54 guns, with a garrison of 180 men, besides the crews of 2 gun-vessels, was stormed by a Lieutenant and 34 sailors belonging to the Minden, events which compelled the enemy to weaken his force at Batavia, by detaching a body of 1000 men to Bantam, at a time when the former place was threatened with an immediate attack[9].

Captain Sayer’s services during the subsequent operations in the island of Java, are thus related by Commodore Broughton and Rear-Admiral Stopford, the latter of whom joined the expedition and took upon himself the direction of the naval part thereof on the 9th Aug. 1811:

Commodore Broughton to Rear-Admiral Stopford.

On the 3d Aug., in the afternoon, we saw the coast about Murderer’s Point, and on the following day, about 3 P.M. we anchored off the village of Chillingchill, in five fathoms water. The greater part of the army was landed before dark, without the smallest opposition; and in the course of the next day, every thing the army required was on shore. On the 6th, the Leda and the small cruisers proceeded off the entrance of the river Antziol, and we anchored off Panjong Priock, where the advance of the army took post in the course of the day. On the 7th, the advance crossed the Antziol, on a bridge of flat boats, prepared by the navy, under the direction of Captain Sayer, and the Commanders Maunsell and Reynolds. In the morning of the 8th, a flag of truce was sent into Batavia, and a deputation came out from the city, requesting to surrender at discretion, and put themselves under our protection. The General (Sir Samuel Auchmuty) and myself agreed to respect the private property of those inhabitants who remained in the city; and the advance, under the command of Colonel Gillespie, took immediate possession; the men of war and transports in consequence removed from their former anchorage towards Batavia. I beg to acquaint you, the Captains Sayer, Testing, and Owen, had the direction of disembarking the troops, and have since continued attached to the army. * * * * I have great pleasure in acknowledging the zeal and ability displayed by all the above-named officers in the execution of their orders, and that the most perfect harmony has subsisted between the army and navy on all occasions.

The Hon. Robert Stopford to the Secretary of the Admiralty, Aug. 28, 1811.

I have to request you will acquaint my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, with the unconditional surrender of the capital city of Batavia, on the 8th inst., and the destruction or capture of the greatest part of the enemy’s European troops, by a successful assault made upon a strongly entrenched and fortified work, called Meester Cornelis, on the morning of the 26th, by the army under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Samuel Auchmuty, who had also with him the royal marines of the squadron.

Previous to this important and decisive advantage, the Lieutenant-General had caused batteries to be erected, consisting of twenty 18pounders, which were entirely manned by 500 seamen from his Majesty’s ships, under the direction of Captain Sayer, assisted by Captains Festing, Maunsell, Reynolds, and Stopford.

The enemy was enabled to bring 34 heavy guns, (18, 24, and 32-pounders) to bear upon our batteries; but from the superior and well-directed fire kept up by the British seamen, the enemy’s guns were occasionally silenced, and on the evening of the 25th completely so; their front line of defence also appeared much damaged, and many of their guns were dismounted. So favourable an opportunity was therefore seized by the General, and the fortunate result of the assault, on the morning of the 26th, followed, as before mentioned.

The fatigue of the seamen was great, and much increased by being exposed to the hot sun of this climate, for three successive days, during which time the fire was kept up with little interruption; but it was borne with their characteristic fortitude, Captain Sayer and the officers above mentioned setting them noble examples[10].

As a farther proof of the high estimation in which Captain Sayer’s conduct was held by the superior authorities, we here present our readers with copies of several documents, which we have reason to believe were not published in the London Gazette:

The Supreme Government of India, to Captain Sayer.

“Sensible as this Government is of the value of your services in advance of the expedition against the enemy’s settlements to the eastward, his Lordship, the Governor-General, has much pleasure in acknowledging the exertions made by his Majesty’s squadron under your command.”

General Order issued by the military Commander-in-Chief.

“Lieutenant-General Sir Samuel Auchmuty requests Captain Sayer, the senior officer of the naval detachments, and all the officers and seamen of the Royal Navy under his command, to accept his thanks for the able and active assistance rendered by the naval detachments from the moment of their disembarkation to join the army and assist in the batteries. The eager exertions of the corps of seamen, when permitted at their earnest request to leave the batteries and join in the pursuit of the enemy, gave the most satisfactory proof that British sailors, though not acting on the element particularly their own, are in every situation ready, able, and happy, to oppose with vigour and effect the enemies of their King and Country.”

The Hon. Rear-Admiral Stopford to Captain Sayer.

“I feel great satisfaction in expressing to you my fullest approbation of your conduct during the tedious service entrusted to your charge in landing the army stores of all descriptions from the transports at Batavia, as well as the more arduous service you had to perform whilst in command of the seamen employed in the batteries which reduced the enemy’s very superior force to complete silence, on the evening of the 25th Aug. I have taken care to impress my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty with as perfect an idea as possible of the great share you have had, in cooperation with Captains Festing, Maunsell, and Reynolds, in effecting the success which has already attended the British arms upon the island of Java. Captain Stopford’s early misfortune[11] will I hope procure him that next step which he is so anxious to get. I have to request that you will accept yourself, and communicate to the officers above-mentioned, my warmest thanks for the meritorious and indefatigable exertions displayed under many discouraging circumstances; and believe me, when I assure you, that in any similar enterprise I shall always feel confident of success, with such officers to execute my orders.”

From the same, to the same, Sept. 7, 1812.

“I have great pleasure in fulfilling the commands of my Lords Commissioners, by expressing to you their Lordships’ high approbation of the zeal, gallantry, and good conduct, displayed by yourself and the officers and men employed under your orders in the distinguished services at Batavia, and at the assault of Meester Cornelis.”

After the subjugation of Java, Captain Sayer was left, as senior officer of a squadron, to secure and garrison its numerous valuable dependencies. The manner in which he executed this important duty may be inferred from the following testimonial:

The Government of Java, to the Government of India, June 25, 1812.

“The Honorable the Lieutenant-Governor cannot omit expressing the very high sense he entertains of the services rendered by Captain Sayer, since the capture of the island, while exercising the chief naval command. His ready compliance with every requisition, and the zealous co-operation of his Majesty’s navy under his command, on all occasions, have claimed the particular acknowledgments of this Government.”

In January, 1813, when the late Sir Samuel Hood, who at that period commanded on the East India station, received intelligence of the war between Great Britain and America, Captain Sayer was again detached to the Eastern seas. In the course of the same year it was found necessary to send an expedition against the Sultan of Sambas, in the island of Borneo, whose lawless depredations had become so daring and extensive as to threaten the extinction of our commerce in that quarter, and who had some time before repulsed a respectable force sent to check his piracies. Captain Sayer commanded the vessels employed on this occasion; and, in conjunction with Colonel James Watson, succeeded in taking the town, and subduing the whole province of Sambas. During this trying service, the British naval and military forces proceeded seventy miles up the principal river, and stormed several batteries and redoubts, mounting in the whole 40 guns. Previous to their separation, Captain Sayer received the following letter from his colleague, Colonel (now Major-General) Watson:

“The service on which we have been mutually employed, being so happily terminated by the capture of the defences of Sambas, my feelings will not allow me to depart without first endeavouring to express my sentiments on the powerful and effectual assistance afforded by you from his Majesty’s squadron under your command. Allow me to express my warmest thanks for the honor you have done me in accompanying me during the operations, and personally affording your assistance and advice; as also to convey my thanks to the whole of the captains, officers, seamen, and marines landed from the squadron under your command. I trust we have convinced these daring pirates, as well as the enemies of our country in all parts of the world, that his Majesty’s navy and army, when acting together heart and hand, are invincible.”

The following is an extract from the general orders published by the Supreme Government of India, on learning the result of the expedition against Sambas:

“Although it is not within the immediate province of the Supreme Government to bestow on the officers, seamen, and marines of his Majesty’s squadron, who so cordially and zealously co-operated with the troops, and shared with them the fatigues and dangers of the contest, those encomiums of exalted praise which their unanimity, perseverance, and characteristic bravery so justly merit, his Lordship in Council would nevertheless do violence to his feelings were he to refrain on the present occasion from expressing his deep acknowledgments to Captain Sayer, who commanded the squadron; to Captain the Hon. George Elliot, of the Hussar, who was entrusted with the immediate arrangement and command of the armed boats; to Captain Norton, of the Procris; to Captain Samuel Leslie; and to all the captains, officers, seamen, and marines, of his Majesty’s ships, who so ably seconded the troops in the attack on Sambas.”

Sir Samuel Hood, when transmitting an account of the Borneo expedition to the Admiralty, expressed himself as follows:

“The cordial co-operation with which this service has been executed, does great honor to the officers of the army and navy employed thereon; and more distinguished gallantry has been seldom shewn than by those who had the good fortune to be engaged in carrying the works of the enemy. Captain Bayer’s services are well known to their Lordships, and require no comment of mine to heighten their value; and he appears to have been most ably seconded on this arduous service by the Hon. Captain Elliot, the other captains, officers, seamen, and marines under his command.”

Vice-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood died at Madras, Dec. 24, 1814, after an illness of only three days; and the command of the squadron consequently devolved on Captain Sayer, as the officer next in seniority, at a period when the relations of amity between Great Britain and various European powers were scarcely re-established in India, and no reduction had taken place in our naval force there, as war with the United States still continued, and that station had become the object of additional enterprise on the part of the American Government. He accordingly hoisted a broad pendant in the Leda, and made so judicious a disposition of the force under his orders, that Rear-Admiral Sir George Burlton, on his arrival from England in June 1815, to assume the chief command, sent him from Madras to the Straits of Sunda and China sea, for the purpose of directing the movements of the ships he had already despatched thither to counteract the designs of the enemy.

At Java, July 23, Captain Sayer heard officially the fate of the American frigate President[12], the ratification of peace on the part of the United States[13], and the formal cessation of hostilities by the only American cruiser[14] in those seas, whose commander, in conformity to an article of the treaty, had restored the Hon. Company’s brig Nautilus, captured by him off Anjier Point, on the 30th of the preceding month.

After giving the necessary directions to the ships of war in that neighbourhood, Captain Sayer proceeded towards the China sea; and finding our peaceable relations with America every where completely confirmed, was returning from thence at the first change of the monsoon to re-join Sir George Burlton, when he experienced a Ty-foong, in which the Leda sustained much damage, and was nearly lost. Thus retarded in his progress, Captain Sayer did not enter the Straits of Malacca till the 19th Nov. 1815, when he received intelligence of the Rear-Admiral’s death at Madras, on the 21st Sept., by which event he again found himself authorized to hoist the distinguishing broad pendant, and assume the denomination of a Commodore.

Great Britain being now at peace with all the world, several of the ships composing the East India squadron were ordered home, and the remainder gradually relieved. At the close of 1816, Rear-Admiral Sir Richard King having arrived from Europe as successor to Sir George Burlton, Captain Sayer resigned the command to that officer, and returned to England after an absence of nearly seven years. Previous to his departure from India he received a letter, of which the following is an extract, from Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Brownrigg, Governor of his Majesty’s possessions in the island of Ceylon, &c.

“Your attention during the interral of Sir Samuel Hood’s absence (in 1814) on a voyage to the Eastern seas, left no doubt of your friendly disposition towards this island, and prepared me to expect that communication of your sentiments for which I beg you will be pleased to accept my grateful thanks. I shall always be happy to have an opportunity of making my acknowledgments for the ready attention with which you have honored my applications in the prosecution of my duties here; and my humble testimony of your exertions in the public service will never be withheld.”

Captain Sayer received a gold medal, and, in common with his brother officers, was honored with the thanks of Parliament for his services at the reduction of the enemy’s settlements in the Eastern hemisphere[15]. He was nominated a C.B. in 1815.

Agents.– Messrs. Goode and Clarke.

  1. See Vol. I, p. 285; and Vol. II, note † at p. 319.
  2. See Vol. I, p. 447.
  3. See Vol. I, note † at p. 134.
  4. The Rochefort squadron consisted of five sail of the line, three frigates, and two brigs, commanded by Rear-Admiral Allemand, who having got scent of Captain Sayer’s departure from England, used every endeavour to intercept his valuable charge. We need not remind our naval readers of the great depredations committed by M. Allemand upon British commerce.
  5. See Vol. I, p. 263.
  6. Lieutenants Coombe, Walker, and Gibson; Messrs. John Green and Barry Sarsfield, Masters-Mates.
  7. There being already a Lynx in the British navy, the Galatea’s prize was named the Heureux, after a vessel so called which had foundered with all her crew in the preceding year. Captain Coombe was killed by a 24-pound shot, when heading his boats in an attack on several French vessels at Guadaloupe, Nov. 29, 1808; an account of which will be given under the head of Captain Daniel Lawrence.
  8. See vol. 1, p. 241.
  9. See Captains Edward Wallis Hoare, and Edmund Lyons.
  10. Meester Cornelis was an entrenched camp, situated about nine miles from the city of Batavia, and defended by two rivers, one on the east, the other on the west, with a number of redoubts and batteries guarding each pass. The circumference of these fortified lines was nearly five miles, and there were mounted in different parts of them 280 pieces of cannon.
  11. Captain Edward Stopford, a statement of whose services will appear in its proper place, had his right arm shot off whilst actively employed in the batteries.
  12. See Captain Henry Hope, C.B.
  13. Feb. 17, 1815.
  14. The Peacock sloop of war, Captain Warrington, was the only vessel that reached the Eastern seas; the rest having been prevented by the vigilance of our cruisers.
  15. On the 10th Jan. 1812, the thanks of both Houses of Parliament were unanimously voted to the naval and military commanders, officers, &c. &c. employed at the capture of Batavia and its dependencies, for their “skilful, gallant, and meritorious exertions.

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