James Richard Dacres (1)
1749-1810. Born in February 1749 at Gibraltar, he was the eldest son of Richard Dacres, the secretary to the Gibraltar garrison, and of his wife Mary Bateman. He was the brother of Vice-Admiral Sir Richard Dacres, father of Captain Barrington Dacres and Vice-Admiral James Richard Dacres, and uncle of Rear-Admiral William Furlong Wise.
Dacres entered the Navy in February 1762 aboard the Active 28, Captain Herbert Sawyer, almost immediately enjoying a share in the capture of one of the richest prizes ever taken, the Spanish register ship Hermione. Further employment came in the Channel in the latter part of the Seven Years War aboard the Aeolus 32, Captain William Hotham, the Thames 32, Captain John Elliott, and then Jersey 60, Captain William Dickson, flying the broad pennant of Commodore Richard Spry in the Mediterranean in the late 1760’s. The latter officer promoted him lieutenant of the Montreal 32, Captain Phillips Cosby, on 17 March 1769, and he remained on that station for a short while.
In 1776 he was second lieutenant of the Blonde 32, Captain Philemon Pownall, going out to Quebec with a convoy, and he was selected by Commodore Sir Charles Douglas to join the naval force under the less than inspiring Captain Thomas Pringle on the strategically important Lake Champlain. When commanding the schooner Carleton 12 in the Battle of Lake Champlain on 11-12 October 1776, Dacres was knocked unconscious after his vessel came under heavy attack from the Americans, thereby allowing a midshipman, Edward Pellew the future Lord Exmouth, the opportunity to take command and demonstrate his immense abilities. Dacres was nevertheless cited by three lieutenants including John Schanck in an unprecedented letter to the commander of the British forces, Captain Thomas Pringle, for being given undue praise for his efforts in the battle. The fact that he had been singled out for praise resulted in him being sent home with despatches. Upon arrival in England he was promoted commander on 25 November.
Appointed immediately to the new sloop Sylph 18, he went out to the Leeward Islands in February 1777 and escorted home a convoy in company with the Hind 28, Captain Henry Bryne. In September he was appointed to the Ceres 18, going out to the Leeward Islands once more, in which, with the Ariadne 24, Captain Pringle, he captured the American rebel Alfred, 20 Captain Elisha Hinman, in the West Indies on 9 March 1778. In the same action the American Raleigh 32 fled. The Ceres was engaged in convoy duty later in the year and also took the privateer Tigre on 18 October, but on 17 December, after a two day pursuit and following the Battle of St. Lucia on 15 December 1779, she was captured off that island by the French Iphigénie 32, Captain Count de Kersaint, although her convoy was thus enabled to escape. Dacres was shown great courtesy by the French, and with Lieutenant Sir Charles Henry Knowles was returned by their commander-in-chief, the Comte d’Estaing, to resume his career prior to being officially exchanged.
Having returned to England, Dacres was posted captain of the Perseus 20 on 13 September 1780, serving in the Downs for the next couple of years and, assisting at the capture of the privateer Comte de Vaux on 1 December 1780, the Dutch Indiaman Catherine Wilhelmina on 7 January 1781, and privateer Deane on 30 October 1781. Having been paid off in March 1782 he commanded the Orpheus 32 through the winter of 1782-3 and later Aurora 28, the latter being paid off in May 1783.
After almost ten years of unemployment he commissioned the Sceptre 64 at the commencement of the war with France in 1793, serving in the Channel and participating in the fleet cruise during July-August. He thereafter sailed for the Jamaican station in November where he was present with the Sceptre in Commodore John Ford’s attack that saw the surrender of Port au Prince, San Domingo, on 4 June 1794. With his crew suffering greatly from sickness, Dacres returned to England with a convoy.
In March 1795 he joined the Barfleur 98 in which he was present at the Battle of Lorient on 23 June 1795, although his ship was barely engaged and did not suffer any casualties. He then commanded the Barfleur as flagship to Vice-Admiral Hon. William Waldegrave, going out to the Mediterranean in December and being part of the force sent to recover the frigate Nemesis 28 which had been carried by the French into neutral Tunis. Still with Waldegrave’s flag he fought at the Battle of St. Vincent on 14 February 1797, incurring casualties of seven men wounded. He was later in the Channel and off Cadiz during 1798 before exchanging with Captain John Elphinstone in to the Foudroyant 80 for a brief period at the beginning of 1799, Vice-Admiral Lord Keith having desired the Barfleur as his flagship and Elphinstone as his flag-captain.
Dacres was advanced to the rank of rear-admiral on 14 February 1799 and left the Foudroyant shortly afterwards. In 1802 his flag was aboard the Centaur 74, Captain Bendall Littlehales, which was based at Plymouth where he was the second-in-command, and during the peace he held the chief command of that station. From June 1803 he resorted to being second-in-command with Admiral Sir John Colpoys becoming his senior, and he flew his flag aboard the Foudroyant 80, Captain Peter Spicer, removing briefly to the Prince 98, Captain Richard Grindall, on 29 October.
On 10 November 1803 he transferred to the Courageux 74, Captain Thomas Bertie, and on 2 January 1804 set sail for the Jamaican station from St. Helen’s as deputy commander-in-chief designate to Rear-Admiral Sir John Duckworth. After running into bad weather he was forced to put into Plymouth on 1 February with thirty of the one hundred and fifty ship convoy he had previously departed with, and he was obliged to shift his flag into the Franchise 36, Captain John Murray, in order to proceed to the West Indies. After eventually reaching Jamaica in June he moved his flag to the Theseus 74, Captain Edward Hawker, and succeeded Duckworth in January 1805. During the Trafalgar campaign his station was reinforced by four sail of the line despatched from his counterpart in the Leeward Islands, Rear-Admiral Hon. Alexander Cochrane. After his flagship was badly damaged in a hurricane in September 1805, losing all her masts and boats, and with her officers serving at the pumps to help keep her afloat, he removed into the Hercule 74, commanded by his son, Captain Barrington Dacres.
Promoted vice-admiral on 9 November 1805, towards the end of the year Dacres had to be alert to the departure from France of the flying squadrons under the command of Vice-Admiral Leissègues and Rear-Admiral Willaumez, during which time he briefly flew his flag aboard the receiving ship Shark 18, Acting-Commander Peter Douglas. In 1806 he flew his flag aboard the Veteran 64, Captain Andrew Evans, and he despatched the small force of frigates under Captain Charles Brisbane which captured Curaçoa on 1 January 1807. He eventually returned to England in 1808, somewhat debilitated by the years spent in the tropical climate.
Admiral Dacres died on 6 January 1810 after failing to recover from a fall from a horse.
He married Eleanor Pearce of Cambridge at Totnes on 1 August 1777, and had two children, Captain Barrington Dacres and Vice-Admiral James Richard Dacres, who served as his flag-lieutenant for some time at Jamaica.
Dacres was a round-faced man with a small mouth and heavy dark eyebrows. He was as guilty as any in being prepared to advance his relatives or followers at the expense of more worthy officers, as illustrated in the notorious case of Lieutenant Michael Fitton, who Dacres not only failed to promote for his capture of the celebrated privateer Superbe 14 in October 1806, but also replaced in command of his vessel, the Pitt 12, with one of his favourites. He did very well out of prize-money, having got off to a good start with his share of the Hermione, and an excellent finish with his lucrative command in Jamaica. Otherwise he was well regarded, kept a happy ship, and was described as ‘kind-hearted’ and ‘worthy’, with Betsey Fremantle considering him to be ‘domestic-minded’.