Billy Douglas

1749-1817. He was born on 30 April 1749 at Turnham Green, Chiswick, London.

Douglas was commissioned lieutenant on 10 August 1776, and by July 1777 he was in command of the brig Antigua 12 at Jamaica, with which he captured the rebel privateer Blacksnake 12 in a ferocious duel. He was promoted commander on 18 July 1778, and after being appointed to the sloop Snake 12 he served in the Leeward Islands. Prior to the Battle of St. Lucia on 15 December his sloop was part of a small squadron sent to patrol the coast and prevent word of the British invasion reaching the French. Seeing duty thereafter in North American waters, the Snake was present at the siege of Savannah, subsequent to which Douglas joined the Fly 14 in October 1779.

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The Battle of St.Lucia 1778

He was posted captain on 15 August 1781, joining the Princess Amelia 80 in succession to the late Captain John Macartney who had been killed at the Battle of the Doggersbank, and he served in the Channel fleet until July of the following year.

In March 1794, after a long period of unemployment, Douglas commissioned the Nonsuch 64 for service in the Channel, removing shortly afterwards to the Stately 64. He put to sea from St. Helen’s on 2 May with Admiral Lord Howe’s Channel fleet, and at the appropriate latitude was detached with the East India convoy and the Suffolk 74, Commodore Peter Rainier for the onward voyage south. One of his officers at this time was the esteemed Phillip Beaver.

Douglas commanded the Stately in Rear-Admiral Sir George Keith Elphinstone’s expedition to the Cape on 16 September 1795, and was present at the reduction of Ceylon. Not long afterwards the Stately fell in with Elphinstone again off Cape Agulhas at the very southern tip of Africa where Beaver was instrumental in preventing her from foundering. She later captured the privateer Milanie on 7 July 1796 and on 17 August was present at the surrender of the Dutch squadron in Saldanha Bay. Douglas left her shortly afterwards, and he returned to England towards the end of the following year in command of the Dutch prize Tromp 54. Whilst she was converted into a troopship he spent the next three years with the Sandwich 98 in the Medway.

Douglas was advanced to flag rank on 1 January 1801, and during 1805 he flew his flag aboard the Leopard 50, Captain Richard Raggett, in the Downs and occasionally off Boulogne. On one occasion he recalled an attack by Commodore Edward Owen, much to that officer’s evident disgust, after he had surprised six prams of the enemy’s flotilla including one flying a rear-admiral’s flag.

He was promoted vice-admiral on 9 November 1805, and held the command of the Great Yarmouth station with his flag aboard the Roebuck 44, initially commanded by George M’Kinley, and from January 1806 Richard Curry. He remained in this position until 1810, and during this period he sat on the court martial on Admiral Lord Gambier following the Basque Roads fiasco of 11 April 1809.

Douglas was promoted admiral on 4 December 1813, and died at Hamble in Hampshire on 2 December 1817.

He married Ann Weatherall and had three sons and three daughters. He was the father of Commander Roddam Douglas who from 1807-08 was held as a prisoner of war at Verdun, and who died at Halifax in 1813, and of Admiral Peter John Douglas. His oldest daughter Alithea married Captain John Millar Adye whilst his second daughter, Catherine, married Captain Matthew Barton Bradby, the son of Rear-Admiral James Bradby, who died in the company of Admiral Sir Joseph Sidney Yorke in May 1831 when their yacht sank in Stokes Bay near Portsmouth. A third daughter, Grace, married Captain John Richard Lumley. who died in the East Indies in July 1821 whilst commanding the Topaze 46. Douglas’ address in his will was given as Charlton, Kent.