Views of James Saumarez in 1801
'A good deal of the grimace of a Frenchman'. A short biography from The European Magazine, and London Review, for October 1801; and a less kind opinion of the Admiral, written by Admiral Thomas Byam Martin, a veteran of his campaigns who had fallen out with him, parts of whose account are often regarded as at the least fanciful. Saumarez was prone to depression, however.
Havilland Le Mesurier, writing from HM Cutter St Vincent, in the Mediterranean, 9th November 1801:
'I found Sir James Saumarez a great favourite at Head Quarters and upon the Rock'. [Letter in the Library Collection.]
SIR JAMES SAUMAREZ is of a family from whence already has issued some of the heroes of the sea. (His uncles Captain Philip and Captain Thomas Saumarez were in the expedition to the South Seas under Lord Anson; the former, besides several other gallant actions, took the Mars, of 64. guns, in a single action, and lost his life in the memorable action of Lord Hawke; the latter added to the British Navy the Belliqueux, of 64 guns, taken in the British Channel.)
He was born at Guernsey in 1757, and at the age of thirteen became a Midshipman on board the Montreal, commanded by Captain Alms, and remained on the Mediterranean station until the year 1775, under the commands of the late Admirals Goodall and Thompson. On his return to England, he passed his examination for Lieutenant, and had an appointment on board the Bristol, of 50 guns, bearing the broad pendant of Sir Peter Parker, and distinguished himself with great bravery in the celebrated action of the 28th of June 1778 off Charlestown, in which he had a narrow escape. At the moment he was pointing a lower decker, of which he had the command, a large shot from the fort entered the port-hole, struck the gun, and killed and wounded seven men who were stationed at it. Mr. Saumarez' conduct on this occasion was deemed so highly meritorious, that the Officer in command expressed his approbation of it in the warmest terms, and the day after the battle promoted him to the rank of Lieutenant. He then was appointed to the Spitfire, an armed galley, and cruised successfully on the American coast, until the vessel he commanded was burnt, in order to prevent its falling into the enemy's hands. On this event he returned to England, and narrowly escaped shipwreck on the Isles of Scilly. He did not long continue unemployment, but was appointed one of the Lieutenants of the Victory, bearing Sir Charles Hardy's flag, and remained on board this ship until Vice-Admiral Sir Hyde Parker was appointed Commander of the Squadron in the North Seas, who shifted his flag from the Victory to the Fortitude, in which Mr Saumarez retained his post of Second Lieutenant. The memorable action off the Dogger Bank soon followed, and our gallant officer was nominated to the Preston, and for his meritorious services promoted to the rank of Master and Commander, and received an immediate appointment to the Tisiphone, a new fire-ship.
On the arrival of the fleet at the Nore, the King honoured the squadron with a visit. On Mr Saumarez being introduced, His Majesty asked the Admiral, 'Is he a relation of the Saumarez who was round the world with Lord Anson?'1 'Yes, please Your Majesty,' the Admiral replied, 'he is their nephew, and as brave and as good an officer as either of his uncles.' In December following, Captain Saumarez sailed with a detachment of the Channel fleet under Admiral Kempenfelt, and bore a principal share in the taking part of a large convoy of transports bound to the West Indies; this critical service was so highly approved by the Admiral, that he was offered either to be promoted to one of the prizes, or to be sent with the account of the success to Sir Samuel Hood, then Commanding Officer in the Welt Indies. The latter was accepted, and after eluding a superior force of the enemy, he joined Admiral Hood, who soon after appointed him to the command of the Russell, of 74 guns. The glorious 12th of April 1781 followed, in which Captain Saumarez bore a distinguished share. On the arrival of the fleet at Jamaica, the Russell was found to be in so disabled a state, that she at one time was ordered to be sent home with the Ville de Paris and other prizes, but fortunately the order was countermanded, by which means the Russell was saved from the state of that unfortunate prize. Peace soon followed; and in 1788 Captain Saumarez married Miss Le Marchant, daughter of Thomas Le Marchant, of the island of Guernsey, by whom he has a son and four daughters.
On the appearance of hostilities in 1787, Captain Saumarez was appointed by Lord Howe to the Ambuscade frigate; and in 1790, on the Spanish' armament, the Raisonable was ordered to be commissioned for him; but the disputes being adjusted, the ships were dismantled, and he was unemployed until the commencement of the present war, when he hoisted his pendant on board the Crescent frigate, of 36 guns, in January 1793. Since that period, the life of Captain Saumarez has produced a seried of events each of which would be sufficient to constitute a hero. In October 12793 he took the Reunion French frigate, of 36 guns and 320 men, for which he was knighted. In June 1794 he effected a masterly retreat from a superior force in a manner to entitle him to more credit than a victory. On the 23rd of June he bore a considerable part in the engagement under Admiral Waldegrave. On the 14th of February 1795 he was a principal actor in the great victory obtained by Lord St. Vincent. In August 1798 he had the glory to be a principal in the unparalleled engagement in the Bay of Aboukir. Shortly after his ship was found to want a considerable repair, and therefore in January was paid off. A short respite from fatigue was sufficient. On the 14th of February 1799 a promotion of Flag Officers took place, and Sir James was appointed to one of the Colonelcies of Marines, and the command of the Cæsar, of 84 guns. On the 1st January 1801 a further promotion of Flag Officers was ordered, and he hoisted his flag on board the Cæsar. About the same time he was created a Baronet, and obtained the King's sign manual to wear the supporters belonging to the arms of his family.
His late exploits in the Bay of Algeziras have been already detailed in our Magazines for the present year: we shall therefore add no more than that a further accession of honour has lately been conferred upon him by being created a Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Bath.
Here we leave this gallant Commander to the enjoyment of the honours he has so nobly achieved, to the well earned rewards he has so bravely obtained, and to the contemplation of the services he has done for his country. His private virtues will secure him the enjoyment of domestic happiness; and when he casts his eyes back to the eventful acts of his life, he will have reason to exult in the thought that to him, with other brave men like himself, his country is indebted for safety and security against the machinations of the open foe and the treacherous friend.
From Letters and Papers of Sir Thomas Byam Martin, 1903.
In June 1786 we sailed from Plymouth under the orders of Captain Henry Harvey of the Rose, and in company with the Druid, and proceeded to Guernsey to lay in a stock of wine, which was to be had there cheap, as well as other articles; and as the Prince was strictly tied down to £3,000 a year, economy was considered necessary.
It was at Guernsey that l first saw the present Lord De Saumarez, then Captain Saumarez; he was then twenty-eight years of age, very erect in his figure, and a good deal of the grimace of a Frenchman. With a singularity of countenance he was well-looking, but a wildness of expression gave great weight to the report at the time of his being at times much excited; it was said indeed he had been very lately under restraint. Indeed Sir Philip Durham, some years after, told me how he had been instrumental in assisting his escape from a mad-house where, according to Sir Philip, he was unnecessarily detained—an assertion which I think meets a complete contradiction in the known devoted attachment of his family, who would, I am sure, one and all watch over his happiness with the deepest sympathy had he been subject to anything like undue restraint. I purposely mention my authority that those who know Sir Philip may give what credit they please to the statement; for anything coming from him need be received not with grains but pounds of allowance.
Lord De Saumarez was certainly subject to great depression of spirits, and when labouring under such attacks, which sometimes lasted for weeks, he was hardly a safe man to be entrusted with the direction of duties of great national interest. But he was very fortunate, for, notwithstanding this sad infirmity, he gained the highest distinction that conduct and courage could win; a more gallant man never trod the deck of a British man-of-war. [Note from Martin: In the annals of our navy there is nothing more brilliant than the way in which he refitted the squadron after the disastrous repulse at Algesiras on the 6th of July, 1801, and sailed on the evening of the 12th, with five sail of the line, to win a signal victory over the combined French and Spanish squadrons of nine ships of the line and four frigates. How his diplomacy prevented war with Sweden in 1810-12, is told post, vol. 2, Introduction, pp. ix, x.]
Captain the Hon. G. Barrington, the son-in-law of the Prime Minister, Lord Grey, and himself at the time a lord of the admiralty, told me that Lord Grey had twice been to the King to urge him to make Sir James Saumarez a peer, but his Majesty absolutely refused. But as Lord Grey was at the time busy creating peers to give him political strength in the Lords, it may be doubted if his recommendation was very strongly urged in favour of an officer whose feelings and principles were known to be adverse to the Whig Government; but it was at length conferred on him, on the condition of his supporting Lord Grey's administration.
William IV always had a violent prejudice against this officer, but without the slightest cause for so ungenerous a feeling. His Majesty lost no opportunity of showing it, and one day, when I called at the Palace by command, we had a lengthened conversation on professional matters and professional men. As ill luck would have it, something was said in a tone of great anger about Saumarez not attending Sir Richard Keats's funeral, which I endeavoured to excuse, but my officiousness only provoked coarse and unbecoming expressions; whereupon I remarked that, although there might be something stiff and unpleasing to some people in Lord De Saumarez's manner, he was entitled to great respect as a most distinguished officer, and an honourable and estimable man. I thought the King took this as too plain a rebuke, and I was speedily bowed out of the audience chamber.
A few days before I found that Lord De Saumarez had been cut to the quick by some expressions of the King upon the same subject; and at the next levee after my interview, the King's manner to him was so offensive and produced such annoyance, that a letter was written by De Saumarez—whether to the King, or to whom, I do not recollect, but intended for his Majesty—expressing in the strongest manner his wounded feelings, and when he showed me the letter he wept like a child. I recommended him to throw the letter into the fire, not to take to heart such idle, unfounded, and heartless expressions, which, had they been addressed to me, I said, would only have produced a smile. I advised him to go to the next levee, and show not the least symptom of concern at what had been said. He did so, and the King was reasonably gracious.
On the 5th of June his Royal Highness went on shore at Guernsey in state, with the standard flying, and was saluted by the ships and the fort.
The 8th, sailed in company with the Rose and Druid.
1 See Log of the Centurion: based on the original papers of Captain Philip Saumarez on board HMS Centurion, Lord Anson's flagship during his circumnavigation 1740-44, Heaps, Leo, London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon 1973, and A voyage round the world: in the years 1740, 1741, 1742, 1743, 1744, by George Anson, Esq., afterwards Lord Anson, Commander-in-Chief of a squadron of His Majesty's ships, sent upon an expedition to the South Seas, byAnson, George, Baron Anson, 1697-1762; Walter, Richard; S.P.C.K 1899, in the Library Collection.