Royal Naval Biography/Woolnough, Joseph Chappell

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JOSEPH CHAPPELL WOOLLNOUGH, Esq.
Knight of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order.
[Commander.]

The Woolloughs claim descent from an ancient family originally seated at Wenlock, co. Salop, about the time of Henry III., a descendant of whom. Sir William Woolno’e, Knt., married and settled in Suffolk, temp. Edw. IV. At this period the family, it may be supposed, were wealthy and influential, Roger Woolno’e, a younger brother of Sir William, having married a sister of Richard Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. A pedigree up to the period of Cooke’s Visitation, (anno 1585) with the family arms, will be found among the Harleian MSS. in the British Museum.[1]

The subject of the following memoir is the only son of Mr. Joseph Chappell Woollnough, formerly dispenser of the royal naval hospitals at Deal, Madras, North Yarmouth, and the Cape of Good Hope, but now in private practice at South Town, North Yarmouth, by Ruth Cator, daughter of Mr. William Clarke, of Stubbs, in the county of Norfolk. His grandfather, a Suffolk yeoman, possessed property in Stadbrooke, which he added to by his marriage with Miss Cybele Chappell, of the same town. In 1774; he occupied Mettingham Castle, near Bungay, renting, in addition to his own estate, the manor and farm belonging to it. These he very much improved; he also laid out and beautified with much taste and at great expense, the grounds within the walls of the ancient castle and college, considerable portions of which, with the principal gateway, still remain, the towers forming a conspicuous object from many parts of the surrounding country. Like most country gentlemen of his time, he appears to have been a free liver and a great sportsman; an oracle among the neighbouring gentry and farmers, in all questions relative to horses and dogs; liberal and hospitable, but thoughtless and extravagant. In the latter years of his life, he entered into some mercantile speculations for which he was altogether unqualified, and at length died at Dunkirk, about the year 1789.

Mr. Joseph Chappell Woollnough, junior, was brought up at Stubbs, under the care of his maternal relations. He entered the royal navy in 1800, as midshipman on board the Monarch 74, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Sir Archibald Dickson, then commanding the North Sea fleet; and in the course of a few months was removed, for the benefit of more active service, into the Waaksamheidt 28, Captain Daniel Atkins; but which ship he was soon under the necessity of quitting, for the re-establishment of his health, then much impaired by his extraordinary rapid growth, he being at that time, although only fourteen years of age, no less than six feet, three inches and a half in height.

The treaty of Amiens having been concluded previous to young Woolnough’s perfect recovery, his attention was next turned to the merchant service; and we accordingly find him, early in 1802, embarking on board the Harriet, a beautiful and well armed ship, belonging to Messrs. Hurry and Co., commanded by Mr. Frank Hurry, and usually employed in the Honduras trade. An accident, however, which, though sufficiently serious in itself, was in all probability the means of preserving his health, if not his life, by checking his rapid growth, effectually prevented his proceeding to sea in her; for playing one day, with another youngster, on the beams of the hold, the ship having only a half-deck for the people, he leaped upon an arm-chest which stood partially projecting over the break of that deck, and both fell together, a depth of about twenty feet, into the hold. The consequence was a compound fracture of the right thigh, a portion of the bone projecting through the trowsers. His recovery was tedious, but complete. To the care and attention of Mr. John Dinning, a skilful surgeon who resided at Shadwell, and by whom several pieces of the broken bone were extracted, he was probably indebted for the preservation of the limb. As soon as he had gained sufficient strength, he embarked on board another vessel belonging to the same owners, bound to Gibraltar; where his father was then acting surgeon of l’Aurore prison-ship, and also attached to the naval hospital[2].

We next find our young officer, Sept. 26th, 1803, re-entering the royal navy, as midshipman on board the Bloodhound gun-brig, commanded by the late Lieutenant Henry Richardson, and employed in the blockade of Boulogne. In the course of the same year, he was four times engaged with the enemy’s flotilla and land batteries. On the 29th Sept. he witnessed the destruction of two French gun-vessels; and on the 10th Dec. assisted in destroying a large ship, laden with hemp, iron, tar, &c. on the beach near Cape Grisnez. In the night of Jan. 20th, 1804, the Bloodhound was nearly sunk, off Dungeness, by the Arab 28, Captain Lord Cochrane, which ship, when in the act of wearing, ran her on board, stove in the larboard bow, and did considerable damage to her fore and head rigging.

In the ensuing spring, Mr. Woollnough was present at two attempts made to block up the entrance of Boulogne harbour, by means of three large merchant ships, loaded with masses of stone, firmly clamped and cemented together; leaving only spaces around the masts, filled with combustibles to ensure their destruction. After the abandonment of this hopeful scheme, the Bloodhound was incessantly employed in watching and annoying the enemy’s flotilla. On the 31st July, 1804, the thanks of the Admiralty were read to her officers and crew, for their gallant conduct in a recent action, of which an account is given in Vol. II. Part II. p. 127, et seq.

On the 15th of the following month, Mr. Woollnough joined the Agamemnon 64, Captain John Harvey; in which ship he assisted at the capture of four Spanish merchantmen, from the Havannah and Vera Cruz, laden with sugar, cochineal, coffee, twenty chests of silver, and nearly a million of dollars. One of these valuable prizes, the Cleopatra, taken off Cape St. Vincent, Dec. 29th, 1804, was entrusted to his charge, and safely conducted to Gibraltar.

On the 31st Jan. 1805, the Cleopatra was driven on shore in a heavy gale of wind, during which many vessels were totally destroyed, the bay and new mole being then crowded with shipping of every description. The Agamemnon herself had a narrow escape, having parted one of her cables, and drifted close to the rocks under the Devil’s Bowling Green, where she rode with two cables an end, the offset from the rocks fortunately easing the strain.

Some months previous to this destructive storm, the garrison at Gibraltar had been, for the first time, afflicted with that dreadful scourge the yellow fever; and many families had embarked to escape the infection, which had only just begun to assume a milder character at the period of Mr. Woollnough’s arrival. During the continuance of the gale, the rain was incessant, and so heavy that many coffins buried in the red sands were exposed. After its abatement not a single case of fever occurred.

On the 8th April, while still detained with the prizes at Gibraltar, Mr. Woollnough had the mortification to see a French squadron from Toulon, consisting of eleven sail of the line, seven frigates, two brigs, and a store-ship, pass the Straits to the westward. Every eye was turned to the Mediterranean, in expectation of Lord Nelson and his squadron; but he not appearing. Lord Mark Kerr, of the Fisgard, then senior officer in the bay, immediately despatched a small fast-sailing vessel with the intelligence to his Lordship, while he himself watched the enemy until their arrival at Cadiz.

In the beginning of May, when Nelson also passed the rock, Mr. Woollnough was employed, together with the other prize-masters and their crews, in fitting out the Spanish frigate Amphitrite, captured by Sir Richard ;. Strachan, and commissioned, pro tempore, by Captain Robert Corbet, with whose successor, the Hon. Courtenay Boyle, he returned home early in Aug. 1805. On the 25th of that month, he rejoined the Agamemnon, off Ushant; which ship was shortly afterwards placed under the command of Captain Sir Edward Berry, to whose notice he appears to have been strongly recommended by his Norfolk connections.

On the 10th Oct. the Agamemnon, then off Cape Finisterre, on her way to join Lord Nelson, had a very narrow escape from the famous Rochefort squadron. Her proceedings on this occasion are thus described by one of Sir Edward Berry’s officers:–

“We sailed from Spithead on the 2d Oct., having on board Lord Robert Fitzgerald, H.M. ambassador to the court of Lisbon. On the 10th, about 2 a.m., we found ourselves in the midst of several large ships, but it being excessively dark, and some difficulty arising about the signal lights, it was day-break before we made them out to be a French squadron, consisting of one three-decker, four other line-of-battle ships, one 54 (the Calcutta, recently captured from the British), two frigates and a brig; with several sail of merchantmen in tow. At this time, the Agamemnon was so near the three-decker, bearing the flag of a Rear-Admiral, that a biscuit might almost have been thrown on board; all the ships going large. She was instantly hauled to the wind, and all sail made; and to the rapidity with which this was effected we owed our safety. We were immediately chased by the three-decker and two other ships; the former occasionally firing at us from her bow-guns. The wind was so fresh, that we could barely carry top-gallant sails over single reefed topsails, and were frequently obliged to take them in. In doing so, we always handed them, thereby gaining some advantage, as the enemy allowed theirs to hang loose until the squall had passed and admitted of their being again set. The hammocks were down, and one watch was ordered to lie down in them; the lee-guns were run in amidships, and the weather quarter boat was cut away. Two of the enemy gained on us; the three-decker barely held her own; the rest of the squadron were soon far astern. One of the former might have brought us to action with the greatest ease. We occasionally made signals and fired guns, in order to deceive the enemy, whose position, however, afforded us but very faint hopes of escape. At this time. Lord Robert Fitzgerald asked Sir Edward Berry if he thought we should be taken? ‘That, my Lord, I cannot exactly say,’ he replied, ‘but I can assure you they shall only have half of her – they shall never take her into port!’ At 10, a.m. one of the two-deckers was far advanced upon our starboard quarter, and the other on our larboard beam; notwithstanding which their chief thought proper to recall them, and bear up after a convoy to leeward, the outward-bound Oporto trade, part of which he captured.

“The Agamemnon, it appeared, was not to be detained by landing Lord Robert Fitzgerald at Lisbon; as we carried him on past Cape St. Vincent, where we fell in with the Nautilus sloop, in which vessel he was conveyed to the Tagus. On the following morning, Oct. 13th, we joined Lord Nelson’s fleet, then ninety-three miles due west of Cadiz.”

On the night previous to the battle of Trafalgar, the situation of the Agamemnon was rather a critical one, she having lost her main top-mast in a heavy squall, while midway between her friends and the fleets of France and Spain. On the glorious 21st Oct. 1805, after dismasting a French 74, she took up a position under the stern of the Santissima Trinidada, and stuck close to that huge ship until attacked by four two-deckers belonging to the enemy’s van – two on the larboard bow, one abeam, and one astern; had these ships fired steadily and low, she must have been sunk; but their guns were pointed so high, that not one shot in a hundred struck the hull. During this conflict, Mr. Woollnough had the command of the forecastle.

The Agamemnon subsequently accompanied Sir John T. Duckworth to the West Indies, and formed part of the squadron under that officer’s command, at the battle of St. Domingo, Feb. 6th, 1806. Mr. Woollnough afterwards assisted at the capture of la Dame Ernouf, French privateer, of 17 guns and 115 men; la Lutine, national brig, of 18 guns and 95 men; and the Spanish national schooner Sevillana, from Coruna bound to Vera Cruz.

In Sept. 1806, the Agamemnon, then commanded by Captain Jonas Rose, returned home with 275 sail of valuable merchantmen under her protection. After refitting at Chatham, she joined the expedition destined against Copenhagen, where Mr. Woollnough was sent, with an old man and two boys, to take charge of the Danish merchant-ship Louisa, the crew of which were allowed to remain. Taking advantage of his temporary absence on board another prize, the Danes plied his boys with brandy until drunk, forced the old man below, and were about to cut and run, when he, not feeling perfectly at his ease, as the evening closed in dark, with a westerly breeze, paddled himself alongside in a little skiff. On reaching the deck, the first person he met was the master’s wife, an Irishwoman, with her clothes all nearly torn off, flying from her husband, who, with a drawn dirk in his hand, was swearing that she should not live to betray him. On seeing Mr. Woollnough, he retreated to the cabin, where five of his countrymen, all in the prime of life, were finishing their potations. The mate then stepped forward, armed with a handspike; but, being intoxicated, he was easily tripped up, disarmed, and put down the forecastle, from whence the old Englishman, who had cautiously refrained from drink, was at the same time liberated. Thus checked at the outset, the whole party were easily overawed and placed in confinement.

On the surrender of the Danish navy, Mr. Woollnough was ordered to assist the Agamemnon’s first lieutenant in equipping and taking to England the Princess Caroline 74. This ship was loaded with an immense quantity of knee-timber, oak-plank, and iron, some cables, between sixty and seventy anchor-stocks, and twenty-four spars, most of which were calculated for line-of-battle ships’ lower masts. She also brought home 665 officers and men of H.M. 95th regiment.

In Dec. 1807, the Agamemnon formed part of the squadron employed in blockading the Tagus; and on the 28th of that month Mr. Woollnough was put in charge of the Portuguese ship Commerciante, of 900 tons, from South America bound to Lisbon. This ship he found in a most miserable state: her cargo had shifted in a gale of wind, and she heeled three streaks to port; her waist bulwarks had been washed away, her rudder pintles were loose, and she was so leaky as to require constant pumping. Notwithstanding the bad weather she had met with, her topsails had never been reefed, but, when it blew hard, merely lowered on the cap: in consequence thereof, the reef-points were all fagged out, merely with knocking against the canvas. The only instrument found on board her was a mutilated quadrant; there was not a hole to shelter the crew from the weather, though in the midst of winter; even the cabin was filled with cocoa: added to all this she had but one cable, and was as heavily rigged as an English frigate. Mr. Woollnough’s prize crew consisted of three tolerable seamen, nine other blue jackets, and four marines. The Portuguese remaining on board were eleven in number, principally officers.

On the 4th Jan. 1808, being then about twelve leagues west of Cape Finisterre, at 6 a.m., Mr. Woollnough found himself in the midst of a strange squadron, but, as the morning was very dark and hazy, he could not make out what they were. To attempt running away in such a ship as the Commerciante was out of the question; he therefore kept on his course for England, without making any more sail, and the strangers fortunately paid no attention to him. At daylight, he was abreast of a frigate, and could clearly make out six sail of the line, evidently foreign, steering to the S.W. under a press of sail. The frigate was then a long way astern of them, and, although close to the Commerciante, who shewed no colours, hurried on after her friends, without stopping to overhaul a ship which every one could plainly see was not English.

On the 11th Jan., about 11 p.m., a vessel was discovered in chase of the Commerciante; and drawing up astern, Mr. Woollnough soon made her out to be a large lugger, and there was little doubt of her being a French privateer. Ushant then bore N.E., distant about eighty miles.

The Commerciante had originally mounted twenty nine-pounders; but those, with the exception of two, were in the hold, under the cargo, as were likewise all the shot belonging to them. Captain Rose had supplied Mr. Woollnough with a few cartridges of powder; but the only substitute he could find for shot was a compound of old iron, tin kettles, saucepans, &e. moulded into something like form by the hammer.

The wind was blowing strong from the westward, and the ship running with the fore and main topsails double reefed on the cap, the mizen topsail furled. The enemy ran under her lee without hailing, prepared for action, with a light at every gun, and when on the quarter lowered his main lug. One of Mr. Woollnough’s men had a knack of imitating the boatswain’s call by piping through his fingers, and did so while the topsails were being hoisted. The order was then loudly given, through a speaking-trumpet, to “stand by the forecastle gun.” “All ready. Sir,” was promptly answered. The enemy had now shot before the beam, and seemed to hesitate how to act. The fire of the 9-pounder determined him; his lights were instantly extinguished, and, shooting across the Commerciante’s bow like an arrow, he was soon out of sight. On the following day, this lugger was captured by a British cruiser, and proved to be a privateer of 14 guns, full of men. On the 14th, Mr. Woollnough, who then had not been in bed for seventeen nights, arrived safely at St. Helens.

Previous to his re-joining the Agamemnon, in South America, Mr. Woollnough was successively transferred, as supernumerary, to the Resolution 74, Captain George Burlton; Hibernia 110, bearing the flag of Sir Charles Cotton; Minotaur 74, Captain Norborne Thompson; Royal William, flag-ship at Spithead; President frigate. Captain Adam Mackenzie; and Lightning sloop, Captain Bentinck C. Doyle; in which latter ship he arrived at Rio Janeiro, about Sept. 1808.

The Brazilian station, though interesting at first, from its novelty, was altogether an inactive one. The representative of the House of Braganza, who had recently emigrated from Portugal with his family and court, dreaded to have any of the British squadron go to sea. The Agamemnon, however, had one cruise, during which the situation of Trinidad and the rocks of Martin Vaz was correctly ascertained. On Trinidad were found seven men, who stated that they belonged to an American whaler, and had landed on the island eighteen months before, for the purpose of burying their legs in the earth, as a remedy for the scurvy; that it had come on to blow, and, there being no anchorage, their ship had been blown off, leaving them behind. They had built themselves a hut, just sufficient to shelter them from the weather; and they had subsisted on the flesh of goats and fish, the former of which are numerous on the island, and tame; the fish they caught with their hands among the rocks; eggs also they obtained in abundance. Their boat was lying on the beach, but stove; they declined being taken off, as they said they had no doubt of their ship calling for them again, if she came on the coast. They appeared the very counterparts of De Foe’s “Robinson Crusoe,” clothed from head to foot in goat-skin dresses, with the hair outwards; and their beards of eighteen months growth, leaving but little of the “humble form divine” at first sight distinguishable.

On the 5th Aug. 1809, the Agamemnon was wrecked near Gorita, an island in the Rio de la Plata. Mr. Woollnough’s exertions after the ship struck, in saving her stores, &c. were most incessant and laborious; they attracted the notice of Captain Richard Turner Hancock, commanding the Foudroyant 80, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral De Courcy, who offered him a mate’s rating in that ship, which he accordingly joined on the 8th of the same month. The admiral and his lady also paid him the most polite attention; the former even supplying him with body linen until his chest could be recovered[3].

Thus ended the services of Nelson’s favorite ship, always before a fortunate, and always a favorite one. Many of the older seamen, when they went over her side for the last time, were actually shedding tears. Her name will always be associated with that of Britain’s greatest naval hero. Still, among all our new ships, we have not an “Agamemnon.” Mr. Woollnough’s stay in the Foudroyant was but short. He passed his examination on the 23d of August; and, in three days afterwards, was appointed sub-lieutenant of the Steady gun-brig, then under the command of the late Captain Arthur Stow. While in this vessel he became a good pilot for the Rio de la Plata and the adjacent coast of Brazil.

In the spring of 1810, the Steady was ordered to bring home Mr. Hill, Secretary of Legation, and the bearer of a treaty highly advantageous to the commercial interests of Great Britain; also a Portuguese Consul for St. Petersburgh. On her arrival in England, Lieutenant Stow obtained leave of absence, and the charge of the vessel devolved upon Mr. Woollnough, for a period of two months. His active and officer-like conduct during the time that she was refitting did not escape the notice of Sir Roger Curtis, then commander-in-chief at that port, who kindly asked him what his prospects were, and what he intended to do? Mr. Woollnough frankly replied, that he had no one to whom he had any reason to look for patronage, and that he must rely on his own exertions. “Why then,” said the gallant veteran, “do you not go and wait on Mr. Yorke (First Lord of the Admiralty), and lay your services before him?” Mr. Woollnough thanked him for the friendly hint, and requested his permission to visit London for that purpose. “No,” said Sir Roger, “I cannot give you leave to go to London, but I will allow you to be absent from your duty for twenty-four hours, and you may go where you like.”

Mr. Woollnough was received by Mr. Yorke in the most gentlemanly manner; his services were considered by him as a sufficient claim to promotion; but he was told, that he must go abroad, as no officer, “except for immediate and particular service,” would be promoted at home. Accordingly, a few days after he had re-joined the Steady, an order was received for him to proceed to Halifax, on promotion; but as the Steady was about to sail for the Mediterranean, he requested permission to remain in her, and that his name might be transferred to the list of recommended candidates on that station: this was unhesitatingly acceded to.

On the 26th Sept. 1810, the Steady arrived at Gibraltar, in company with the Undaunted frigate and Mediterranean trade. On the 28th, Mr. Woollnough received an order from Commodore Penrose to act as lieutenant of that fine ship, then about to sail for Malta, where he was unfortunately obliged to leave her in consequence of severe illness. From thence he proceeded, in the Bustard sloop, to join the fleet under Sir Charles Cotton; and on his arrival at Port Mahon, found himself promoted into the Leviathan 74, commanded by his friend Captain John Harvey, and then fitting at Gibraltar. This appointment was confirmed by the Admiralty, Jan. 19th, 1811.

Having joined the Leviathan before his health was re-established, Lieutenant Woollnough soon had a relapse, and was ultimately obliged to invalid. He returned home in the Hotspur frigate, Captain the Hon. Josceline Percy; and on presenting himself at Haslar hospital, appeared so ill that the medical officers insisted on his remaining there as a patient. On his recovery, he again applied for employment, and was immediately appointed to the Providence armed brig. Captain Peter Rye, on the North Sea station. We next find him in the Arab sloop. Captain John Wilson, employed in taking out a Spanish ambassador for the court of St. Petersburgh; and bringing home from Gottenburg the despatches containing an account of the burning of Moscow, and commencement of Napoleon’s retreat from Russia. This momentous intelligence Lieutenant Woollnough had the honor to convey to London; and although he could not expect promotion before he had served the allotted period, he reasonably hoped that at a future period it would be remembered in his favor.

The Arab was afterwards employed in escorting a fleet of merchantmen to Barbadoes, where shortly after his arrival. Captain Wilson, whose health had been extremely bad, found himself under the necessity of going to sick-quarters; and was succeeded in the command of his sloop by Lieutenant Robert Standly, the officer next on the Admiralty list for promotion[4].

In April 1813, the Arab detained four vessels under Swedish colours, two of which were condemned; but the prize agent, a Mr. Burridge, having failed, no money was ever received for them. In the summer of the same year. Lieutenant Woollnough returned home in the Tartarus 20, Captain John Pasco; from which ship he appears to have been appointed to the Blazer sloop. Captain Francis Banks, Oct. 8th following.

Owing to the movements of the Blazer, then actively employed in the rivers Elbe and Weser, Lieutenant Woollnough could not join her until after the capture of the enemy’s forts at Cuxhaven, Dec. 1st, 1813.[5] The subsequent operations against Gluckstadt, in all of which he bore an ample share, are officially detailed under the head of Captain (now Sir John) Marshall.[6]

After the fall of the latter place, the Blazer returned to Cuxhaven, where she remained in charge of the flotilla and French prisoners, until the breaking up of the ice, in Mar. 1814. The prisoners, about 300 in number, including several ladies, were placed under the directions of Lieutenant Woollnough, in the “chateau,” with every regard to their comfort.

During the severe frost of 1814, this officer, who had also charge of the stores on shore, imposed upon himself the voluntary duty of patrolling the towns of Cuxhaven and Ritzbuttle twice or thrice every night, thereby preventing many depredations which the foreign troops, sent by Count Walmoden to assist in guarding the prisoners, would otherwise have committed.

In March, General the Count de Bennigsen having invested Hamburgh, then occupied by a French army under Marshal Davoust, he applied to Commander Marshall, of the Shamrock sloop, for the assistance of the British flotilla. The gun-boats at Cuxhaven were consequently equipped with all possible speed, and moved up in company with the Shamrock and Blazer, the former sloop having wintered at Gluckstadt. Their crews consisted of British and Danish seamen, some Hanoverian peasantry, and 300 Russian soldiers. The only officers to command this motley group were Commanders Marshall and Banks, Lieutenants Woollnough and Edgecombe, two second masters, and two midshipmen; those who had been employed in them during the sieges of Cuxhaven and Gluckstadt having gone home with the Heligoland squadron.

Shortly after their arrival before Hamburgh, a division of these gun-boats, under Commander Marshall and Lieutenant Edgecombe, in flanking a reconnoissance of the troops investing Haarburgh, had some sharp firing with the enemy’s batteries, during which one of them was sunk, but no loss in men sustained.

Although the allies entered Paris on the 30th March, the restoration of Louis XVIII. was not fully known before Hamburgh until late in April when the Count de Bennigsen lost no time in sending a summons to Davoust. After this, it was evident that great excitement existed in the city, Napoleon’s colours being hoisted on several of the forts, while others displayed those of Louis. Under these circumstances, Lieutenant Woollnough was directed to go in with a flag of truce, bearing a letter from Commander Marshall, sanctioning, on the part of England, the convention by which Hamburgh was to be surrendered. He was also directed to insist on the flotilla being considered an independent co-operating force, and not at the disposal of the Count de Bennigsen, as the Russian officers had affected to represent it. In this Mr. Woollnough perfectly succeeded.

After the embarkation of the French army, the charge of the arsenal at Hamburgh was given to Commander Banks; and Lieutenant Woollnough was sent with some gun-boats to Gluckstadt, to claim the brass guns and mortars belonging to that fortress, and to equip and bring away the late Danish flotilla. On his arrival at Stadt, he had the mortification to find that the transports which were to have received the guns, &c., had sailed for England; and at Gluckstadt, where he was left with only twelve seamen (the Danes, Hanoverians, and Russians having all been discharged,) every possible obstable was thrown in his way. On the 19th May, 1814, Commander Marshall, then at Altona, wrote to him as follows:–

“My dear Sir,– Your letter of the 17th reached me this morning. I beg to express my sense of your exertions on the service in which you are at present employed. You have done perfectly right in making every effort to place the ci-devant Danish flotilla and brass ordnance in the actual possession of our squadron. I beg you will persevere in your activity, and I am induced to hope that we shall yet succeed in getting every thing clear of Gluckstadt. I remain, dear Sir, &c.

(Signed)John Marshall.”

The flotilla alluded to consisted of an armed brig, a galliot, and nine gun-vessels. During the absence of the British force, the masts of the former had been cut away above the deck, and two of the latter sunk; added to which, the greater part of the rigging, sails, &c., of the whole, had been stolen from the storehouses. Notwithstanding all these difficulties, and the extremely limited means at his disposal. Lieutenant Woollnough had the satisfaction of bringing away all the vessels, except those sunk, together with forty-nine heavy guns and mortars. This service was performed in an incredibly short time, to the astonishment of the Danish naval officers, who had offered heavy beta that, with the few men he had, it would not be accomplished in a month, if at all. The galliot and gun-boats were sold; the brig, in company with our own flotilla, arrived at the Nore, Aug. 1st, 1814. About this period. Lieutenant Woollnough received letters from Commander Marshall and the Count de Bennigsen, of which the following are copies:–

“My dear Sir,– It is particularly gratifying to me, when on the eve of resigning the command of the Elbe squadron, to notice the good conduct of the officers who served in it. I therefore feel very great pleasure in expressing my sense of your services; although I am assured the captain of your own sloop will not neglect to observe your merits. Your great zeal and exertions are honourable claims, and will, I trust, lead you to promotion, of which I am confident your efforts will, on every occasion, render you worthy. I have the pleasure to remain, yours very faithfully.

(Signed)John Marshall.”

“Monsr. Lieutenant Woollnough. – Sa Majesté l’empereur de tout les Russes, sur ma representation, a bien voulu rendre justice à la bravour et aux talens militaires dont vous avez donné des preuves pendant le blocus de Hamburg et Haarburg – surtout dans la dernier affaire navale contre les fortifications de Haarburg. Pour vous donner une marque de son contentement, Sa Majesté a daigné vous conferer son ordre de St. Vladimir, 4{{sup|me} class, dont je joins ici les signes pour vous en decorer.

(Signed)Cont de Bennigsen,”
Commandant-in-chef de l’Armée de Pologne,
Generale de Cavallerie.”

No. 589. A 5 Juillet, 1814.”

As the order of St. Vladimir conferred no distinction in England, nor was even noticed by a distinctive mark on the navy list. Lieutenant Woollnough did not then apply for the royal permission to accept and wear it; but in 1827, when his present Majesty, then Lord High Admiral, was graciously pleased to direct that the names of officers having foreign orders should be inserted in that list, and a distinguishing mark placed against their names as they stood in seniority, it became desirable to attain it; and he accordingly applied through the proper channel. About twelve months afterwards, he was told that the Board of Admiralty could not recommend him to his Majesty for permission to wear the order, as it did not appear that he had been under fire while before Hamburgh. Captain Marshall, Commander Banks, and Lieutenant Edgecombe, had each received permission to wear their respective orders; though the only firing which took place at Hamburgh was on the occasion mentioned in p. 284, which led to no result, and where the former and the latter officers only were present, Commander Banks, as well as Lieutenant Woollnough, being on the other side of the river, separated from them by a long range of islands. On no occasion was Commander Banks under fire, that Lieutenant Woollnough was not so likewise; yet the former gentleman obtained permission, and the latter was denied it. Lieutenant Woollnough could not help feeling also, that on him, under the direction of Commander Banks, had rested the equipment of the gun-boats for this service in the first instance; that he had been afterwards selected for the rather delicate missions to Davoust and the Danish authorities at Gluckstadt; and that he had finally received the thanks of the senior officer for his exertions. To the determination of their Lordships, he felt it to be his duty to bow without a murmur; but still he could not help feeling, that, whatever regulations might have been more recently made, his own case was a hard one.

The Blazer was paid off, at Sheerness, Aug. 18th, 1814; and on the following day, we find Lieutenant Woollnough appointed to the Hearty sloop, Commander James Rose, on the North Sea station. He soon afterwards volunteered to serve in Canada, the only quarter which then appeared to afford an opening for a zealous officer’s exertions: but negociations for peace between Great Britain and America having commenced about the same period, probably prevented his appointment. In the spring of 1815, when the return of Napoleon Buonaparte from Elba again called forth the energies of the British nation, permission was given for a certain number of seamen from the ships in commission, to join the army in Belgium, as volunteers, for the purpose of working guns and managing pontoons. Lieutenant WooUnough lost not a moment in offering his services for this duty, but was told that all the officers intended to be so employed were already appointed.

After the battle of Waterloo, the Hearty was employed in suppressing a very serious riot among the seamen in the river Tyne, for which service her commander, officers, and crew Mere honored with the thanks of H.M. ministers. She was paid off, at Deptford, Dec. 1st, 1815. Up to this period. Lieutenant WooUnough had witnessed the capture and destruction of 44 sail of the line (French, Spanish, and Danish), 11 frigates (one of which was a Russian seized at Spithead), 19 sloops, 57 gun-boats, and 13 merchant vessels, mounting altogether 4337 guns.

In 1816, Lieutenant Woollnough laid before the Hon. Court of Directors of the East India Company a plan of what he considered a much shorter route than that commonly used, for the conveyance of despatches, &c. overland to and from Calcutta; offering his own services to establish its practicability. The Court complimented him on the occasion, but did not think it expedient to adopt his proposition.

In 1817, having resided for several months at Cartmell, in Lancashire, this officer’s attention was drawn to the number of lives lost on the extensive sands which separate that promontory from Lancaster and Furness; and which are daily crossed, between half ebb and quarter flood, by great numbers of persons in their way to and from the market towns of Lancaster and Ulverston. These sands, from shore to shore, on the Lancaster side, are about nine miles across; and the great danger arises from the passengers being overtaken by fog, thick weather, or darkness, and thus prevented from distinguishing the land, or the guide who attends at the bed of the rivers to shew the ford; in which case, and should he deviate from the proper route, he would run serious risk of being overtaken by the tide, or overwhelmed in a quicksand. Lieutenant Woollnough drew up a plan and estimate for rendering this passage more safe, which he submitted to Lord George Cavendish, and various gentlemen of property residing in the same neighbourhood. His Lordship’s opinion thereon was conveyed to him in a note, of which the following is a copy:–

“Lord George Cavendish’s compliments to Lieutenant Woollnough, is much obliged to him for the communication, and sketch of the vessel, for insuring the safety of passengers crossing the sands. It appears to be very ingenious, but he should much fear the practicability of carrying it into effect. There would be great difficulty in securing the vessel being stationary, and the expense attending it would not be easily defrayed, or likely to be adopted by the county.”

Subsequently, in exploring the sands and adjacent coasts, Lieutenant Woollnough soon discovered that they were very erroneously laid down in the existing charts; and he therefore set about constructing one of Morecambe Bay and the coast, from the north end of Walney Isle to the entrance of the Ribble, including the river Lune. This he effected at great personal risk, and immense labour, arising from the want of proper assistance. It was presented to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, who honored him, through their secretary, with a very handsome letter of thanks.

Lieutenant Woollnough also published, in the Lancaster newspaper, plain and easy directions for crossing the above mentioned sands, when overtaken by fog, &c. He subsequently presented a copy of his survey to the corporation of Liverpool, for which he received a vote of thanks.

In 1817 and 1818, when the disturbances in the large manufacturing towns in the north of England, agitated by Messrs. Hunt and Co., assumed a very serious aspect. Lieutenant Woollnough offered his services to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, in any way in which they could be rendered available; and had the honor of receiving Lord Sidmouth’s thanks for his zeal. In May 1819, he was appointed to the command of the Tartar revenue cruiser, and stationed in her from the Goodwin Sands to the coast of Essex, including the entrances to the Thames. On a service of this kind, an officer who turns his whole attention, as it is his duty, to the suppression of smuggling, cannot expect to be very fortunate in seizures, as the very activity which prevents the successful pursuits of the illicit trader drives him to try some other part of the coast, which he hopes to find less vigilantly guarded. Lieutenant Woollnough, however, captured about 1000 tubs of spirits while on this station, and was moreover successful in materially checking the contraband trade. In 1822, when the revenue cruisers were placed under the orders of the Comptroller-General of the Coast Guard, the Tartar was removed to the Weymouth station. While there. Lieutenant Woollnough superintended the building of a similar vessel, at Bridport, and the equipment and launch of another, at Hastings. He was not superseded in the command of the Tartar until Dec, 1822, seven months after the expiration of the usual period of service. Previous to this, his attachment to maritime surveying, which he was in the habit of having recourse to as an amusement, whenever opportunities of doing so occurred without interfering with his immediate duties, had procured him the friendship of the late Captain Hurd, many years hydrographer to the Admiralty, and with whom he kept up a correspondence until his death. Captain Hurd having requested that he would transmit to him such remarks as he had made while in the Tartar, he laid down the soundings, &c., and forwarded them with his observations, which produced a letter containing the following passage:–

“I understand, with the rest of the world, that a promotion will most probably take place at the ensuing coronation, and most sincerely shall I rejoice at finding your name included therein. I am, however, sorry to add, that I possess no influence at head-quarters which can be made useful to you, beyond that of an official reference being made to me on the subject of character and abilities. Should any such be made or called for, in consequence of your intended application to Lord Melville, I shall be most happy to testify my opinion of your zeal, abilities, and strong desire to be made useful to this department. With my best wishes for your success, I remain, my dear Sir, &c.

(Signed)Thomas Hurd.”

In 1823, Lieutenant Woollnough made experiments on the antiseptic properties of various substances, with a view to their possible utility at sea. The result was laid before the Admiralty. He also analyzed the water of a mineral spring called the Holywell, near Cartmell, celebrated for its salutary effects on the health of the lead-miners from Alston-Moor. The result was published in the Quarterly Journal of Science and the Arts, in 1824.

On the 12th Jan. 1825, Lieutenant Woollnough was appointed to the command of the Surly cutter, then on the North Sea station, but afterwards employed in conveying specie to Dublin. In Oct. following, he was ordered to the river Wear, to act in aid of the civil power, the seamen there having struck for higher wages, and had recourse to some dreadful acts of violence, while attempting to prevent ships from proceeding to sea. He continued on this duty until Oct. 1826, when he was enabled, with the sanction of the Sunderland magistrates, to report that there was no farther necessity for an armed vessel to remain there. During his stay in that port, the inhabitants and ship-owners were so satisfied with his conduct, that, as we have been given to understand, they wrote through the Marquis of Londonderry, a letter strongly recommending him to the favorable notice of Viscount Melville. In 1827, he was similarly employed at Shields; and on both those occasions he appears to have had an additional party of marines; with a commissioned officer of that corps under his command. While at Sunderland, he constructed a chart of the harbour and roads, in which some dangerous rocks, unnoticed in any former charts, were laid down; and on this occasion he was honored with the following communication:–

Prince Regent, in the Medway, Aug. 1827.

“Memo. – Having laid before his Royal Highness the Lord High Admiral your survey of the harbour and road of Sunderland, I have it in command to express to you H.R.H.’s satisfaction therewith, and with the zeal you have manifested in making the said survey.

(Signed)H. Blackwood, Vice-Admiral.”

To Lieutenant Woollnough.

The Surly was next employed on the coast of Scotland, where she continued till the beginning of the winter of 1827, during which season we find her stationed in the entrances of the Thames, for the suppression of a system of smuggling, supposed to be carried on to a great extent in loaded merchant vessels, and which it was extremely difficult to detect. For this purpose, the Asp cutter, tender to the flag-ship in the river Medway, was placed under his orders, together with a draft of men from the Prince Regent and Gloucester. During his continuance on this service no smuggling transaction was heard of.

While thus serving under the command of Sir Henry Blackwood, Lieutenant Woollnough, at his desire, drew up a memoir of what he believed to be the present state of the contraband trade carried on about the entrances of the Thames, and the probable mode of prevention. On the 8th May, 1828, he received a most gratifying note from that officer, to the following effect:–

“Sir Henry Blackwood derives much pleasure in the transmission of the annexed notification of promotion to Lieutenant, now Commander Woollnough, and begs to wish him joy on the occasion, as being so well merited.”

Commander Woollnough was superseded on the 17th of the same month, since which he has not been employed. In 1829, he submitted to the Lords of the Admiralty the advantage of adopting a shorter and lighter piece, in small vessels of war, in lieu of the present long and heavy musket; and also a comparative estimate of the expense of the hired transports, and that of a certain class of men-of-war, fitted for the conveyance of troops. In 1831, the following application was made in his favour to Lord Durham, and, we believe, transmitted by that nobleman to Sir James Graham:

“My Lord, – We, the undersigned merchants and ship-owners of the port of Sunderland, do most respectfully beg leave to solicit your Lordship’s recommendation of Commander J. C. Woollnough, R.N., to the favourable consideration of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty.

“During the riots of the seamen at this port, in 1825, Commander Woollnough, then lieutenant, commanding H.M. cutter Surly, was stationed here, and by his very active and judicious conduct, not only restored and preserved the tranquillity of the port, but also by his prompt and obliging readiness in rendering assistance to our vessels on every occasion, gained the good will and esteem of all the respectable inhabitants. He has since been made a Commander, and is anxious to obtain employment: but although his services are before the Lords of the Admiralty, his personal character is unknown to Sir James Graham.

“He has been twenty-seven years in the navy, seventeen of which he was lieutenant, and during the war was in the battles of Trafalgar, St. Domingo, &c., &c., and otherwise frequently engaged with the enemy. He has several times been honoured with the thanks of the Admiralty, and of the commanders under whom he served, the details of which are now before the Admiralty; and he has also had conferred upon him the order of St. Vladimir, for services in Germany. We are given to understand some ships of war are about to be commissioned, suitable to his rank; and if your Lordship should deem it proper to intercede in his favour, and procure him an appointment, it would be conferring a great obligation on the inhabitants of this port generally: and we feel confident that Commander Woollnough would do honor to the appointment.

“Hoping your Lordship will pardon the liberty we have taken in this recommendation, we are, my Lord, &c.”

(Signed by the chairman of the ship-owners’ society, and 33 of
the most respectable merchants and ship-owners of the port.)

On the 18th Aug. in the same year. Sir Henry Blackwood wrote to Commander Woollnough as follows:–

“My dear Sir,– I have received your letter of the 16th, and beg to assure you that it always gives me pleasure to bear testimony to the good conduct of the officers who have served under my flag; and am happy to have it in my power on this occasion to testify my opinion of the talent and zeal displayed by you in the public service on all occasions when in command of his Majesty’s cutter Surly, under my orders in the North Sea; and I shall be at all times extremely happy to see you again under my flag. With best wishes for your success, I remain, dear Sir, yours faithfully.

(Signed)Henry Blackwood.”

In the beginning of 1834, the King was graciously pleased to confer on Commander Woollnough the insignia of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order.

This officer is the author of several letters on the education of young gentlemen on board H.M. ships, in which he particularly, and very properly condemns the old system of putting them to mess with warrant officers. These letters appeared in the latter volumes of the Naval Chronicle.

Commander Woollnough married, Feb. 16th, 1833, Sophia, youngest daughter of the late Richard Williams, Gent., one of the solicitors of the Lord Mayor’s Court, and widow of Charles Waylock, Gent., of West Wratting, co. Cambridge, and Stoke Newington, in Middlesex, also a solicitor of the same court.



  1. In the reign of James I. one of the name of Woolnoagh, or Woollnough, held lands under the crown at Wymondham, as appears from a very curious petition, preserved in the library of the British Museum. Harleian MSS. 791.
  2. Some years previously, Mr. Woollnough senior had, through the recommendation of Dr. John Weir, been appointed by Earl St. Vincent “examining surgeon” to the Mediterranean fleet. It was his duty to examine every reported hospital case, before the patient was allowed to ht removed from his. ship, and none could be received on shore without his sanction. This unique appointment ceased with his Lordship’s command, if not before; for it naturally gave offence to the old confirmed surgeons, nor are we aware that it was ever sanctioned by the Admiralty.
  3. To Captain Adam Mackenzie, of the Bedford 74, and the officers of that ship; also to Lieutenant (now Captain) Robert Ramsay, who then commanded the Misletoe schooner, the Agamemnons were particularly indebted for their unwearied kindness and attention to them while on the wreck. The schooner anchored alongside, and cooked the people’s dinners; the Bedford’s supplied their distressed brother officers with their daily meals.
  4. Mr. Standly was confirmed into the Crane sloop, which vessel foundered with all on board, Sept. 30th, 1814.
  5. See Suppl. Part III. p. 251.
  6. See Id. p. 390, et seq.