Royal Naval Biography/Woodriff, Daniel James

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DANIEL JAMES WOODRIFF, Esq.
[Commander.]

Eldest son of Captain Daniel Woodriff, R.N., C.B., of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich, whose heroic defence of the Calcutta 50, against a French squadron, consisting of one three decker, four 74-gun ships, three frigates of the largest class, and two brigs, thereby preserving a valuable fleet of merchantmen under his convoy from capture, we have recorded in Vol. II. Part II. p. 541, et seq.

Mr. Daniel James Woodriff first went to sea in the Endymion 44, armed en flûte, and commanded by his father (then a lieutenant), which ship was totally lost, in 1790, upon a rock previously unknown, (and which has ever since retained her name), situated about nine miles S.W.b.W. from the middle of the southern sand isle of the Turks Islands in the West Indian sea, on which occasion, fatal as it was, that gallant and worthy officer had the satisfaction of seeing every person, except one man, safe off the wreck before he quitted it, the ship then under water as far aft as the capstan.

In 1792, Mr. D. J. Woodriff accompanied his father in circumnavigating the globe, the latter gentleman having been appointed to a peculiar service, the principal object of which voyage was to afford relief to the then infant colony of Port Jackson, in New South Wales.

On the 1st. Aug. 1801, the subject of this memoir embarked as midshipman on board the Princess Charlotte frigate, bearing the flag of Lord Gardner, on the Irish station, and commanded by his son, the Hon. Francis F. Gardner. Whilst belonging to this ship, he was detached in an open boat (in charge of a lieutenant) from Cork, to proceed round the coast and into the lakes of Killarney, to meet and salute the Viceroy, which, after much difficulty, was accomplished. We are induced to mention this circumstance, from the supposition that the Princess Charlotte’s was probably the first boat from a man-of-war which did so, and possibly the last.

On the 1st Feb. 1803, Mr. Woodriff rejoined his father, then commanding the Calcutta, armed en flûte, and preparing to convey 450 convicts of both sexes, to Port Philip, in Bass’s Straits, for the purpose of forming a settlement on the southern extremity of New Holland. An outline of that ship’s voyage out and home has been given in Vol. II. Part II. p. 541 . During her stay at Port Philip, Mr. Woodriff went on many excursions for the purpose of exploring the country, and often suffered much from the want of water when bewildered in the woods. On one occasion, having landed at a considerable distance from the ship, in company with some other gentlemen, his boat was swept away from the beach and carried by the tide to a distance of about twenty-five miles along the coast, leaving the exploring party and boat’s crew with nothing to eat or drink. Fortunately they had the means of kindling a fire, by which, after dark, they sat, sung, told stories, and, one after the other, sank to sleep, but not without experiencing previously the usual craving of hunger and thirst. At daylight next morning, they ascended trees on the highest ground, but could not see anything of the boat, nor any movement from the ship; indeed they had no reason to expect any relief from her, as they had been supplied with provisions and water for several days consumption. They now, as on the preceding day, eat a few shell fish, which, although a momentary alleviation of hunger, increased their thirst; and drank some brackish water, which at the moment seemed a relief, but the temporary gratification was the certain precursor of increased want of drink, accompanied by an inward burning. At length, however, after passing many hours in this unenviable manner, they succeeded in attracting the notice of the colonial boat, which had left the settlement for the purpose of fishing, and had not any previous knowledge of their situation; the scanty supply of bread and other refreshments which her limited means afforded them was most acceptable – it was indeed a luxury. Their own boat they succeeded in rescuing just as she was about to enter a heavy surf.

On the 11th Oct. 1804, Mr. Woodriff was removed to the Bellerophon 74, in which ship, successively commanded by Captains John Loving, and John Cooke[1], Lieutenant William Pryce Cumby, and Captain Edward Rotherham, he served on the Channel and Mediterranean stations upwards of three years. The following is an extract of a certificate which he received from Captain Cooke’s immediate successor:–

“His conduct during the action off Cape Trafalgar, on the 21st Oct. 1805, was highly spirited and meritorious, as I had frequent occasion to remark from his being stationed under my immediate notice on the quarter-deck.

(Signed)W. P. Cumby.”

The Bellerophon on this memorable occasion, had no less than 150 officers and men killed and wounded. In the gales of wind after the action, she rolled and laboured much, being very light, and greatly damaged both below and aloft: the numerous wounded were consequently great sufferers. In order to relieve them as much as possible, Lieutenant Cumby, who, with the other commissioned officers was most anxiously engaged on deck, directed Mr. Woodriff to do what he could; whereupon he conceived the idea of nailing capstan bars and other spars longitudinally upon the deck of the captain’s cabins at such a distance from each other as only to admit one bed between two bars tightly. This experiment succeeded, for the fine fellows were thus rendered as comfortable as they possibly could be, in so disabled a ship, in such bad weather, at sea. In addition to the approbation and thanks of his commander and the surgeon, Mr. Woodriff, when attending the removal of the sick and wounded to Gibraltar hospital, had the gratification of hearing those gallant men utter many expressions of gratitude for the relief he had afforded them, and for his constant endeavours to alleviate their sufferings.

In Oct. 1807, the petty officers and crew of the Bellerophon were turned over to the Bedford 74, Captain James Walker, previous to which Mr. Woodriff had been entrusted with the charge of a watch. On the 11th Dec. following, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant; and soon afterwards appointed to the Polyphemus 64, Captain Peter Heywood, in which ship he continued only for a few months, in consequence of her being ordered to hoist the flag of Vice-Admiral B. S. Rowley, commander-in-chief on the Jamaica station; by one of whose followers he was superseded about May 1808. In the course of the same year he received an appointment to the Achille 74; and, while waiting at Plymouth for an opportunity to join that ship, we find him very active in subduing a fire which had broken out in the hemp-house, threatening the adjacent stores, &c. with destruction.

On the 19th Mar. 1809, being then still at Plymouth, Lieutenant Woodriff was appointed second of the Solebay frigate, commanded by Commodore E. H. Columbine, who, on being nominated governor of Sierra Leone, with orders to examine the windward coast of Africa, had applied for him to assist in the surveys and drawings.

The Solebay arrived at Gorée on the 24th June 1809, when an expedition was immediately projected and agreed upon between Commodore Columbine and Major Maxwell, governor of that island, for the purpose of attacking Senegal, then a French settlement, garrisoned by four hundred regular soldiers, militia, and volunteers; and protected by seven vessels mounting thirty-five guns of different calibre. On the 4th July, she sailed, accompanied by the Derwent sloop. Commander Frederick Parker; Tigress gun-brig. Lieutenant Richard Bones; seven gun-vessels mounting altogether eighteen carronades, three field-pieces, and one howitzer; nineteen armed boats, with necessary appurtenances for all; and the Agincourt transport, having on board a military detachment, l(i6 strong. On the 7th, this armament anchored off the bar at the mouth of the Senegal river, which is not only dangerous, occasioned by the heavy surf, but very difficult to pass, in consequence of the shoal water, and the deepest part frequently changing position. In attempting to cross it, on the following morning, two vessels containing ammunition and provisions were lost, and the commander of the Derwent, with one of his midshipmen, and six sailors perished. The Virginia, an American-built schooner, commanded by Lieutenant Woodriff, and in which vessel Commodore Columbine chose to go over the bar, struck repeatedly, and would have broached to, but for the judgment and cool presence of mind of the lieutenant, who instantly took the helm, lowered the peaks, jibed the sails, and, with the aid of successive seas bearing her along, at length succeeded in entering the river, followed by the rest of the flotilla. The military detachment and sixty marines were then landed on the left bank, where Major Maxwell took up a position, with a view to wait till provisions could be passed from the frigate and brigs outside. On the 9th this position was attacked, but the enemy were speedily repulsed, and driven within their lines at Babagué, twelve miles up the river, and in front of which their armed vessels were lying protected by a boom. On the 10th, Lieutenant Woodriff having been sent up in a four-oared whale boat, to reconnoitre and sound, was in the act of taking a plan of the enemy’s position, when a breeze suddenly sprang up, and a schooner immediately started in pursuit of him; he, however, effected his escape by tracking the boat along the beach faster than she could have been rowed; and, in the evening of the same day, we find him rendering an essential service to the expedition by getting off the colonial schooner George (the principal vessel of the flotilla) which had grounded inside the bar, and there remained immoveable, notwithstanding many former attempts to float her. On the 11th, the Solebay and Derwent were ordered to anchor opposite the post of Babagué, and bombard it, which was executed with much effect. During the night. In shifting her berth, the frigate, then in charge of the master, all the commissioned officers being absent, unfortunately got aground, but in a position which enabled her still to annoy the enemy. On the morning of the 12th, the troops were embarked, and the flotilla proceeded up the river, till just without gun-shot of the enemy’s line of defence; and when every thing was in readiness for a night attack. Commodore Columbine received information that it was the intention of the French commandant to capitulate. At day-break on the 13th, it was discovered that the enemy had abandoned the battery and vessels, leaving their colours flying. Next morning the garrison laid down their arms and were embarked. The ordnance found mounted in the different works consisted of twenty-eight long 24-pounders, four brass mortars and howitzers, two field-pieces, and fourteen guns of smaller calibre. The only loss sustained by the navy in reducing the colony of Senegal has been stated above. On the part of the army, one officer died in consequence of intense heat, when charging the enemy in the affair of the 9th; but not a man was killed, and only one wounded.

On the 16th, the Solebay having become a wreck. Lieutenant Woodriff was appointed to the command of the Agincourt transport, for the purpose of conveying the prisoners and part of the frigate’s crew to England, previously performing various duties at Senegal and Gorée, during the execution of which he had a severe attack of the fever peculiar to Africa. He returned home and struck his pendant about the end of October[2]. From Mar. 24th, 1810, until Oct. 10th, 1816, he was employed as an agent of transports, on the coasts of Spain and Portugal, in the Mediterranean, and at Halifax and Quebec. Whilst on the Lisbon station, he was attached to the army at Salva-terra, upon the banks of the Tagus, about forty-five miles up the river, a considerable distance above the French lines on the opposite side, in charge of pontoons, flat-boats, and river craft, to convey the army across; and materials for constructing temporary bridges, and, if necessary, to replace those at Punkete, Abrantes, and Villa Velha. Whilst at Quebec, he had charge of the prisoner-of-war department after the death of Captain Kempt, the principal agent of transports on that station, and to execute various other extra duties required of him by the Commander-in-chief upon the lakes and waters of Canada. In 1815, he was presented with a piece of plate bearing the following inscription:–

“We, the Masters of Transports serving in Canada, offer this as a mark of the esteem borne by us to Lieut. D. J. Woodriff, whilst serving under his immediate direction.”

Lieutenant Woodriff also received several very gratifying letters from Commodore William Fitzwilliam Owen, of which the following are extracts:–

Kingston, Upper Canada, Dec. 16th, 1815.

“Your exertions to save the Lady Hamilton, are highly creditable to you, and I must hope have been fully successful.”

May 5th, 1816.

“Your known zeal in the public service renders it unnecessary to urge you to spare no exertion to save the Emma or her stores[3].”

May 20th, 1816.

“I have no hesitation in certifying that his Majesty’s service has very materially benefited by your being at Quebec during the late winter, as being the only agent or officer of the naval department to whom I could have entrusted the duties which, during my command, have fallen to you; I am of opinion that his Majesty’s service would have suffered very materially had you not been there * * * * * * * * * * * * On the various occasions of service which have occurred whilst you have been serving within my command, I have had frequent occasion to express my approbation to you: these certificates of your attention may be serviceable, to shew your constant attention in the discharge of your duties with which 1 have on all occasions been satisfied.”

On the 27th May, 1816, Major-General Sir Sidney Beckwith, K.C.B. wrote to Lieutenant Woodriff as follows:–

“In quitting my situation of Quarter-Master-General in Canada, I consider it an act of justice to the service and to yourself to bear testimony, to the zealous co-operation and support I have on all occasions experienced from you in the execution of those duties connected with my department, and I have great pleasure in stating on this occasion the satisfaction I have felt on witnessing the delicacy and attention shewn by you to the accommodation and comfort of the numerous families called from this country on the great body of troops leaving it. With very sincere wishes for your health and success, I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)Sidney Beckwith.”

Lastly, Lieutenant Woodriff was thus addressed by the Naval Storekeeper at Montreal, Aug. 22d. 1816:–

“Permit me. Sir,– (although a subordinate officer in his Majesty’s service) as you are about to quit Quebec, to offer you the thanks of the civil naval establishment in Canada, for the cordial co-operation, prompt, able, and undivided attention, which have at all times been combined with your official zeal and abilities, in the many transactions (particularly in the lower province) which your situation as resident agent for transports, &c. rendered absolutely necessary for the good of the public service; and believe me to be, with the highest esteem. Sir, &c.

(Signed)J. Marks.”

On the 4th Mar. 1819, Lieutenant Woodriff was appointed to the command of the Whitworth revenue cutter, stationed on the N.W. coast of Ireland, in which vessel he continued (although suffering much from rheumatism, with which he is still frequently afflicted) until Sept. 22nd, 1822, when he received a commander’s commission dated four days previously.

This able officer is married and has three children. One of his brothers, John Robert, is a lieutenant in the royal navy; another, Robert Mathews, who held the same rank, died in 1822.



  1. Killed at Trafalgar, – see Vol. II. Part II. p. 968, et seq.
  2. Senegal and Gorée were evacuated by the British, agreeably to the treaty of 1814.
  3. Both the Lady Hamilton and the Emma were laden with ordnance stores for the use of the navy upon the lakes.