George Balfour

Died 1794. He came from a Scottish family.

British_burninng_warship_Prudent_and_capturing_Bienfaisant._Siege_of_Louisbourg_1758._Maritime_Museum_of_the_Atlantic,_M55.7.1

The capture of the French Bienfaisant at Louisbourg, depicted on the right of this painting

Balfour was commissioned lieutenant on 5 May 1745 and promoted commander on 15 November 1756. In the same month he commissioned the fireship Aetna for service in the Downs prior to going out to North America in January 1758. During the siege of Louisbourg in the summer he and Captain John Laforey were ordered by Admiral Hon. Edward Boscawen to undertake a boat attack with six hundred men on the two French ships of the line that were still afloat in the harbour. He fulfilled his instructions by carrying the Bienfaisant 64, a success that tipped the siege in the British favour and led to the French seeking terms. He was rewarded by being posted captain with effect from 26 July.

During the return to England Balfour held the command of the captured Bienfaisant 64 when Boscawen’s depleted squadron fell in with the French fleet that was sailing home from Quebec. Stormy weather prevented any serious exchange, which given his ship’s lack of powder was perhaps somewhat fortuitous. He later commanded the Bienfaisant under the orders of Rear-Admiral Francis Geary during 1759, but although ordered to join Admiral Sir Edward Hawke the squadron arrived too late to take part in the Battle of Quiberon Bay on 20 November. Retaining the Bienfaisant, Balfour went out to the Leeward Islands in the spring of 1760, and after returning home he served in the Mediterranean from 1762 until his command was paid off in August 1763.

In October 1770 he was appointed to the Venus 36 which he retained until she was paid off in April 1772, and after a brief hiatus he commanded the Plymouth guard ship Royal Oak 74 until November 1773.

Balfour commissioned the brand new Culloden 74 during July 1776 in which he cruised off Cape Finisterre in search of rebel shipping and in the prevention of supplies to the American rebels. He joined Vice-Admiral Hon. John Byron’s fleet when it was sent out to North America on 9 June 1778, but having separated from the admiral his ship endured a three-month voyage before entering Nova Scotia. Upon leaving Halifax on 4 September the Culloden ran into another atrocious storm and could only seek salvation by sailing all the way back to Milford Haven in Wales, reaching that port in early December. The only saving grace was that she was able to capture the rebel privateer General Washington on 16 October during this return. Balfour then commanded the Culloden in the Channel fleet and was present during Admiral Sir Charles Hardy’s retreat in August of the following year.

Hms_culloden

HMS Culloden

On Christmas Day 1779 the Culloden set sail with Admiral Sir George Rodney’s fleet bound for the relief of Gibraltar, and she was present at the Moonlight Battle off St. Vincent on 16 January 1780 where she assisted the Prince George 98 in forcing the surrender of the San Julian 70. After being refitted and coppered at Portsmouth the Culloden sailed for the Leeward Islands in June before going north with Admiral Sir George Rodney’s fleet to New York in the autumn. Having been detached under the orders of Rear-Admiral Thomas Graves with two other sail of the line to intercept a similar number of French vessels that were looking to bring in a convoy, she was wrecked on Long Island on 23 January 1781 during a fierce gale. The storm also dismasted the Bedford 74, Captain Edmund Affleck, who skilfully re-masted the Bedford with the wrecked Culloden’s redundant spars and was thus able to rejoin the fleet in time to participate at the Battle of Cape Henry on 16 March. Balfour served as a volunteer aboard Vice-Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot’s flagship Royal Oak 74 in this action and was sent home with the admiral’s despatches.

He commissioned the Conqueror 74 at Plymouth in May 1781, and after commanding her in the Channel fleet campaign of June-November 1781 went out to the Leeward Islands with Admiral Sir George Rodney that winter, fighting at the Battle of the Saintes on 12 April 1782. He then joined the fleet off North America and upon returning to England after the peace in 1783 the Conqueror was decommissioned.

In 1787 Balfour was one of the most senior officers superannuated as a rear-admiral, in effect being passed over for promotion in favour of those considered to be worthier officers further down the Captain’s List. Admiral Lord Howe’s position as first lord of the Admiralty became untenable following parliamentary concern over this decision, and the dispute forced his resignation on 16 July 1788.

Balfour died in St. Georges’ Square, Portsmouth on 28 June 1794.

He was seen as a thorough practical seaman, and it was much regretted by his contemporaries that he did not obtain the elevation to flag rank that his abilities and experience deserved.