Royal Naval Biography/Tucker, Edward

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Knight Commander of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1807.]

Was made a Lieutenant May 21, 1709; and advanced to the rank of Commander Jan. 22, 1807. His post commission bears date Mar. 23, 1807.

We first find this officer commanding the Dover frigate, under the orders of Vice-Admiral William O’Brien Drury, commander-in-chief on the East India station; by whom he was entrusted with the charge of a small squadron sent to attack the Moluccas, in 1809. Shortly after his arrival on the coast of Java, the Dover and her boats captured two brigs, two sloops, one war junk, and fifteen proas, carrying altogether 50 guns, 4 six-inch swivels, and 380 men.

At day-light on the 6th Feb. 1810, Captain Tucker discovered two sail off Amboyna, which, after a chace of five hours, and a defence honorable to them, struck their colours, and were found to be the Dutch national brigs of war Rembang and Hope; the former of 18 long 6-pounders and 100 men, the latter of 10 guns and 68 men. Captain Tucker’s subsequent proceedings will be seen by the following extracts from his official letter, addressed to Vice-Admiral Drury, on the 20th of the same month.

Sir,– Since my letter of the 8th instant, acquainting your Excellency with the capture of the Dutch brigs of war Rembang and Hope, by H.M.S. Dover, under my command, the services of the force under my orders, and the capture of Amboyna, require that I should enter into a detail thereof.

“I have, therefore, to inform your Excellency, that being joined on the 9th by H.M.S. Cornwallis, and a Dutch sloop of war which she had taken[1], I proceeded immediately up the harbour of Amboyna, and anchored in Laetitia bay, from whence we were enabled to examine tolerably well the numerous batteries erected since the English restored the island in 1803, on the different heights commanding the fort and anchorage of Victoria, as well as the anchorage of Portuguese bay.

“These anchorages are also further protected by the fort of Victoria, the sea-face of which is extremely strong; a battery close on the beach, well to the right of the fort, mounting four 12 pounders, one 8-pounder, two 6-pounders, and one brass 32-pounder; and a heavy battery built upon piles, far out in the sea, mounting nine 12-pounders and one brass 32-pounder.

“On the morning of the 16th, the plan of attack was determined upon, in consultation with Captains Montagu and (Richard) Spencer of the royal navy” (the latter commanding H.M. sloop Samarang); Captain M. H. Court, of the Hon.E.I.Company’s coast artillery, commanding the troops; and Captains Phillips and Forbes, of the Madras European regiment[2].

“The arrangements for the attack were, that 401 officers and men, selected as per margin[3], under the command of Captain Court, should be landed a little to the right of Portuguese bay, and advance immediately to the attack of the batteries on the heights commanding that anchorage, as well as the town and fort of Victoria; and that, at the same time, the ships should commence their attack on the fort and such batteries as they could be brought to bear upon: about 2 P.M., the boats being all out, and every thing in readiness for landing the party selected for that service, the ships were got under weigh, and stood across the bay, with the apparent intention of working out to sea; but, by keeping the sails lifting, and other manoeuvres, we contrived to drift in towards the spot fixed upon for a landings at the same time keeping the boats on the opposite side of the ships, so as not to be perceived by the enemy.

“Upon a nearer approach the preparative signal was made to bear up and sail large; the ships bore up together with a fine breeze, and passing within a cable’s length of the landing-place, slipped all the boats at the same moment per signal. The troops, seamen, and marines were instantly landed, and formed agreeably to the directions issued by Captain Court, to whose report of their further proceedings I beg leave to refer your Excellency.

“The ships immediately commenced an attack upon the fort and surrounding batteries, which was continued without intermission for two hours and a half, by which time, having drifted very close in, exposed to a very heavy fire, particularly from the heights on the left of the town, with red hot shot, and the object of the attack being accomplished by the unexampled intrepidity of the troops, seamen, and marines, in storming and gaining possession of the heights commanding Portuguese bay, I took advantage of a spirt of wind off the land, and ordered the ships to anchor.”

Before we proceed with Captain Tucker’s narrative, it may not be amiss to shew in what manner the heights commanding Portuguese bay were carried by the detachment under Captain Court, from whose letter we shall therefore draw the necessary extracts.

“The advanced party under Captain Phillips, consisting of 30 rank and file of the second battalion of artillery, the detachment of royal marines from H.M.S. Dover, one company of the Madras European regiment, and a party of seamen from the Dover, in all about 180 men, was directed to attack the battery at Wannetoo, situated on the top of a small hill, of a most commanding height and position, and defended by five 12-pounders, two 8-pounders, two 6-pounders, and two 5 1/2-inch brass howitzers. This, the most advanced post of the enemy, and commanding the shore at Portuguese bay, was attacked with that gallantry, promptitude, and judgment, which were to be expected from the exertions and talents of that distinguished officer Captain Phillips, and was immediately carried, notwithstanding the determined opposition of the enemy, who had two officers killed, and one desperately wounded, after the entrance of our party into the battery.

“Under the able directions of Lieutenant Duncan Stuart” (commanding the 30 artillerymen), “who, although wounded, continued at his post, three of the guns were immediately brought to bear upon the enemy in his retreat, and subsequently upon the post at Batter Gantong, which had opened a fire upon our troops at Wannetoo on their taking possession thereof .

“With the remaining force, I proceeded along the heights to turn the enemy’s position at Batter Gantong, situated about 1500 yards distant from, and nearly on the same level with that at Wannetoo, and which commanded the town of Amboyna and Fort Victoria. This party endured with the greatest spirit and patience a most fatiguing and troublesome march, ascending and descending hills over which there was no road, and many of them so extremely steep as to require the assistance of the bushes for the men to get up and down by. Their toils were, however, rewarded by our reaching, a little after sun-set, an eminence which effectually commanded the enemy, and by the satisfaction we experienced on finding that we bad pursued the only mode of attack against this post which admitted a probability of success, otherwise than by a great sacrifice of lives. The enemy, who were collected in some numbers, retired immediately we were perceived on the heights above them, and we entered the battery without opposition, where we found four 12-pounders and one 9-pounder. * * * * * * Our loss in obtaining these advantages was trifling, in comparison with the importance of their consequences, and considering the obstacles we had to surmount. * * * * * * Lieutenant Jefferies, of the royal navy” (commanding the Dover’s seamen), “received a contusion in the breast, from a spent grape-shot; but I am happy to say, the service was at no period deprived of his valuable assistance[4]. It is but justice to the royal marines, troops, and seamen, to make known to you the steadiness with which they advanced against Wannetoo, under a heavy fire of grape and musketry: not a shot was fired until they reached the breastwork of the battery. Such a testimony of their valour and conduct, while highly honorable to the royal marines and troops, must reflect more than ordinary credit upon the seamen. * * * * * *

(Signed)Major Henry Court.”

“During the night” (continues Captain Tucker) “40 men were landed from the Samarang, and 2 field-pieces from the Dover, under the direction of Captain Spencer, who volunteered on this occasion, and succeeded in getting the guns up the heights, over a very heavy and difficult ground.

“Day-light on the 17th shewed the very great advantage obtained over the enemy in the attack of the preceding day, as he had abandoned in the night the battery on the beach, as well as the water-battery; both of which being very low, had much annoyed the shipping. Shortly after some shells were thrown from the fort at our positions on the heights, without doing any injury, while the shot from our batteries in return, were seen to have considerable effect.

“This decided superiority, and the ships being ready to advance again, induced me, after landing and examining with Captain Court the strength of our positions, to send in a summons; and, in consequence, terms were submitted by the commandant of Amboyna, for the surrender of the island; and after some alteration the articles of capitulation were agreed to.

“At nine o’clock on the morning of the 19th, the force originally landed under Captain Court marched in and took possession of Fort Victoria for his Majesty, the enemy having previously laid down their arms on the esplanade, when the British union was hoisted under a royal salute from the fort and shipping.

“I beg leave to congratulate your Excellency on the acquisition of this important colony, defended by 130 Europeans, and upwards of 1000 Javanese and Madurese troops, exclusive of the officers and crews of three vessels sunk in the inner harbour, many of which are Europeans, amounting to 220 men, aided by the Dutch inhabitants and burghers, who were stationed in the batteries on this very formidable line of defence. I trust it will appear, that the characteristic coolness and bravery of British seamen and soldiers have seldom shone forth with greater lustre than on this occasion, in the intrepid conduct displayed by the handful of brave men which I have had the honor and good fortune to command.” * * * * * *

On taking possession of fort Victoria, and the batteries on the heights to the right and left thereof, it was found that they contained no less than 215 pieces of mounted ordnance, of which number 4 were thirty-two pounders, 6 twenty-fours, 10 eighteens, 61 twelves, 36 eights, 20 sixes, and 18 small mortars. The three vessels sunk in the inner harbour were, the Dutch national brig Mandurese of 12 guns (afterwards weighed by the British), the cutter San Pan of 10 guns, and a cutter, name unknown, of 12 guns.

Shortly after the capture of Amboyna we find Captain Tucker reporting the surrender of the valuable islands of Saparoua, Harouka, and Nasso-Laut, as well as those of Bouro and Manippa. He also acquainted Vice-Admiral Drury that two large ships, a brig, and a ketch, had fallen into his hands, having come from Souroubaya, richly laden with supplies of every kind for the governments of Amboyna, Banda, and Ternate. The capture of a national brig with specie on board, will be noticed in our memoir of Lord Selsey, who was then senior Lieutenant of the Cornwallis.

Between Mar. 5 and April 29, 1810, Captain Tucker’s little squadron captured one ship, six brigs, and four sloops; all armed, and laden with supplies for Ternate, Banda, &c. A successful attack was also made by Captain Richard Spencer, upon the fort in the island of Pulo Ay, from whence that active officer removed the garrison, ordnance, and public property.

After sending all his prisoners from Amboyna and the other islands to Java, Captain Tucker proceeded to the port of Gorontello, on the N.E. part of Celebes, and succeeded in persuading the Sultan and his two sons, in whose hands the whole settlement was vested for the Dutch East India Company, to haul down the Batavian, and substitute the English Colours; a ceremony which they performed with every demonstration of attachment to the British government.

On the 21st June, Captain Tucker arrived at Manado, and sent a summons to the governor of fort Amsterdam, on which and some neighbouring batteries were mounted 3 twelve-pounders, 5 eight-pounders, 10 sixes, and 32 pieces of smaller calibre. The terms offered were immediately accepted; 102 Dutch officers and soldiers laid down their arms, and 11 seamen were also taken prisoners. Along with Manado fell its dependencies, the ports of Kemar, le Copang, Amerang, and Tawangwoo: the capture thereof, as well as Gorontello, was very opportune, as large supplies were preparing at all these places, and ready to be shipped for the isles of Banda, &c. Captain Tucker’s account of the reduction of Ternate, “one of the strongest islands in the Molucca seas, which he accomplished in the most gallant manner,” will be found in the Naval Chronicle, Vol. XXVI., pp. 71–78.

Important as the conquest of the Spice Islands may appear in a military point of view, by so small a force as two frigates and a sloop, yet those who know them locally, and reflecting upon the limited resources of Captain Tucker, will consider him, if possible, entitled to greater praise for his address and judgment in removing so many prisoners, finding the means of subsistence for the British garrisons, and protecting them for many months before supplies and reinforcements were received from India.

The Dover returned to Madras without the loss of a single man by sickness, and in such a complete state, that Captain Tucker immediately volunteered lo accompany the expedition then about to proceed against Batavia; but circumstances prevented him from sailing with it, and his ship was unfortunately wrecked, during a hurricane which arose very soon after its departure.

Captain Tucker received the honor of knighthood May 6, 1813; and in the course of the same year we find him commanding the Inconstant frigate, on the South American station, from whence he returned to England in the autumn of 1815. He was nominated a K.C.B. Jan. 2, in the latter year.

Agent.– Sir F. M. Ommanney.

  1. The Mandarine of 16 guns and 66 men, captured on the 3d Feb. A detachment landed from the Cornwallis had previously destroyed the Dutch fort at Doolo Combo, on the island of Celebes; and the boats of that frigate had made a very spirited and successful attack upon a brig lying under the fort at Manippa; the particulars of which services will be given in our memoir of Captain William Augustus Montagu, C.B.
  2. The Dover, Cornwallis, and Samarang being very deficient of marines, Vice-Admiral Drury had requested the supreme government to lend the services of a detachment of artillery and two companies from one of the native regiments, which was immediately attended to.
  3. Dover 85, Cornwallis 106, Samarang 35, troops 176.
  4. The total loss on shore was 4 killed and 11 wounded.