Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Seymour, Michael (1802-1887)

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SEYMOUR, Sir MICHAEL (1802–1887), admiral, third son of Rear-admiral Sir Michael Seymour (1768–1834) [q. v.], was born on 5 Dec. 1802. He entered the navy in December 1813 on board the Hannibal, with his father; but when she was paid off he was sent back to school, and in March 1816 was entered as a scholar at the Royal Naval College at Portsmouth. On passing out from the college he was appointed, in October 1818, to the Rochefort, going out to the Mediterranean with the flag of Sir Thomas Francis Fremantle [q. v.] In her, and afterwards in the Ganymede, with Captain Robert Cavendish Spencer [q. v.], he continued till his promotion to the rank of lieutenant, 12 Sept. 1822. In July 1823 he was appointed to the Sybille, with Captain (afterwards Sir Samuel John Brooke) Pechell [q. v.], and in her was present at the demonstration against Algiers in 1824. On 6 Dec. 1824 he was promoted to be commander, and in August 1825 was appointed to the Chameleon brig in the Channel, from which he was posted on 5 Aug. 1826. In January 1827 he was appointed to the Menai for the South American station, which then included both the east and west coasts of South America and all the eastern Pacific. In September 1827 he was moved into the Volage, in which he returned to England in the spring of 1829. In 1832 his father, on being appointed to the command of the South American station, wished to have him as his flag-captain. This the admiralty refused, but, in accordance with a promise then given, appointed him in June 1833 to the Challenger, in which he joined his father at Rio. He was afterwards sent round to the Peruvian coast, but returned to Rio on the news of his father's death. Later, on his way back to the Pacific, the Challenger, by an abnormal and previously unknown reversal of the current, was wrecked on the coast of Chili, near Leubu, on 19 May 1835. The men were landed, and encamped for about seven weeks on this desolate shore, till assistance could be brought from Concepcion. Seymour returned to England in the Conway frigate, and, being tried by court-martial for the loss of his ship, was acquitted of all blame and highly commended for his conduct subsequent to the wreck. In 1841 he commanded the Britannia as flag-captain to Sir John Acworth Ommanney [q. v.], and from her was moved to the Powerful, which he brought home and paid off early in 1842.

From 1845 to 1848 he commanded the Vindictive as flag-captain to Sir Francis William Austen [q. v.] on the North American and West Indies station. In 1849 he made a prolonged tour in France, visiting the dockyards, arsenals, and engineering works, and after his return wrote a very full and careful report to the admiralty. In December 1850 he was appointed superintendent of Sheerness dockyard, from which, in September 1851, he was transferred to Devonport, with the rank of commodore of the first class. On the imminence of the war with Russia in 1854, he was appointed captain of the fleet ordered to the Baltic under the command of Sir Charles Napier, and held that office during the campaign of that year. On 27 May 1854 he was promoted to be rear-admiral, and the following year was again in the Baltic as second in command, with his flag in the Exmouth, a screw ship of ninety-one guns. While examining one of the ‘Jacobis’ (i.e. small sea mines), which had been picked up off Cronstadt, it exploded, wounding him in the face, and destroying the sight of one eye.

In the spring of 1856 Seymour went out overland to take command of the China station, and, after having visited Japan, had returned to Hong Kong when, early in October, he received news of the seizure of the British lorcha Arrow by the Chinese authorities at Canton. The governor of Hong Kong, Sir John Bowring [q. v.], put the matter into Seymour's hands with a request that he would bring pressure to bear on the Chinese viceroy. Accordingly Seymour seized the forts which covered the approaches to Canton, and, when the viceroy proved unyielding, occupied the Bogue forts. Troops were sent out from England, and Lord Elgin arrived with full powers to negotiate [see Bruce, James, eighth Earl of Elgin]. But the outbreak of the mutiny in India rendered it necessary to change the destination of the troops, and Lord Elgin followed them to Calcutta. Meantime the Chinese junk fleet was destroyed after a sharp action in the Fatshan creek on 1 June 1857; and on the arrival of other troops and the return of Lord Elgin, as the Chinese viceroy still refused all concessions, Seymour pushed up the river, and, after a clever feint, attacked and captured Canton with very little loss on 28–29 Dec. 1857. The viceroy was seized [see Key, Sir Astley Cooper] and sent, a prisoner, to Calcutta; but as the court of Peking refused to negotiate, Lord Elgin considered it necessary to move the scene of action to the north. In the end of April 1858 Seymour in his flagship, the Calcutta, arrived in the Gulf of Pecheli, and, on the request of Elgin, took the forts at the mouth of the Pei-ho on 20 May, and forced the passage up the river as far as Tientsing, where on 26 June a treaty was signed, in which the Chinese government conceded the demands of the English minister. Seymour afterwards escorted Lord Elgin to Japan, and then returned to Hong Kong, reaching England early in the following summer, on the expiration of his term of three years. The invariable success which attended his operations in the war in China was entirely due to his calm foresight and careful attention to the minutest details. On 20 May 1859 he was nominated a G.C.B., and shortly afterwards was presented by the China merchants with a handsome service of plate. On 9 Aug. 1859 he was returned to parliament for Devonport, resigning his seat in February 1863.

On 1 Nov. 1860 he was promoted to the rank of vice-admiral, and on 5 March 1864 to be admiral. From March 1863 to March 1866 he was commander-in-chief at Portsmouth. In 1870 he was put on the retired list, and in 1875 was nominated to the then honorary office of vice-admiral of the United Kingdom. He died on 23 Feb. 1887. He married, in 1829, his first cousin, Dorothea, daughter of Sir William Knighton [q. v.], and left issue two daughters. A good portrait in crayons, by A. de Salome, was engraved by F. Holl the elder.

[Journals, letter-books, &c., and information from the family; The Wreck of His Majesty's Ship Challenger, 1836, 8vo; G. W. Cooke's China; Oliphant's Narrative of the Earl of Elgin's Mission to China and Japan; Parliamentary Papers: Correspondence relative to Operations in the Canton River, 1857; Correspondence between Lord Elgin and the Chinese High Commissioner Yeh, 1857–8; Correspondence respecting insults in China, 1857; Papers relating to the proceedings of Her Majesty's Naval Forces at Canton, 1857; Correspondence relative to the Earl of Elgin's Special Mission to China and Japan, 1859; Correspondence respecting the Affairs of China, 1860; Correspondence relating to the Non-arrival of Gunboats off the Peiho at the time required by the Earl of Elgin, 1860; Navy Lists; Personal knowledge.]

J. K. L.