James Saumarez 1st Baron de Saumarez

1757-1836. He was born to an eminent family at St. Peter Port in Guernsey on 11 March 1757, the third son of Doctor Matthew Saumarez and his wife Carteret le Marchant. He was the brother of the physician Richard Saumarez (1764-1835), and of Sir Thomas Saumarez (1760-1845) who served in the American war and became a full general in 1838. He was also the nephew of Captain Philip Saumarez, Anson’s first lieutenant in his voyage around the world, and of Thomas Saumarez, who by bold manoeuvring and posturing captured the Belliqueux 64 without resistance off Lundy Island in 1758 whilst commanding the Antelope 54. The French vessel was in some distress, having lost her fore-topmast and being short of water and provisions following a difficult voyage home from Canada. When her captain reported aboard the Antelope he was mortified to discover that he had been captured by a smaller vessel and sought to be allowed to return to his ship to fight an honourable engagement. Suffice to say the request was denied.

In late 1769 James Saumarez entered the navy, serving in the frigate Montreal 32, Captain James Alms, having previously been borne on the books of the Solebay 24, Captain Lucius O’Bryen, whilst still at school in London. Going out to the Mediterranean, he joined the Pembroke 60, Commodore Charles Proby, and transferred in November to the Winchelsea 32, Captain Samuel Goodall, who allowed him to study in his own library. In February 1772 he joined the Levant 28, Captain Samuel Thompson, and this vessel returned to England in April 1775. After passing his lieutenant’s examination Saumarez was appointed to the Bristol 50, flagship of Commodore Sir Peter Parker, going out to North America.

During the unsuccessful Charleston attack on 28 June a gun he was pointing was overturned causing seven deaths, and he later bravely tried to replace a spring on the ship’s cable whilst under fire. As a reward for his gallantry he was promoted lieutenant on 11 July 1776, and from September he served aboard the Chatham 50, Captain Tobias Caulfield, carrying Parker’s flag.

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Lord de Saumarez

In February 1778 he was given command of the galley Spitfire 8, crewed by thirty-seven men, and after she had been involved in forty-seven actions she was burned at Rhode Island on 4 August to prevent her capture by the enemy. Whilst subsequently acting as a messenger ashore between Vice-Admiral Lord Howe and Commodore John Brisbane he received the fire of the whole French fleet but escaped unharmed. He returned to England aboard the storeship Leviathan, Commander Joseph Tathwell, and after a short period in Guernsey was appointed first lieutenant of the Edgar 74, the flagship of Commodore John Elliot, which was commissioning at Woolwich. However, whilst taking passage in the Ambuscade 32, Captain Hon. Charles Phipps, he found that the Edgar had already sailed to the Channel fleet and when he joined that body he was taken aboard the Victory 100.

From 1778-81 he remained in the Victory, which in turn served as the flagship in the Channel to Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel, Admiral Sir Charles Hardy, Admiral Francis Geary , Rear-Admiral Francis Drake, and Vice-Admiral Hyde Parker. In June 1781 he transferred with Vice-Admiral Parker to the Fortitude 74, and on 5 August saw excellent service as the flagship’s second lieutenant in the action against the Dutch fleet off the Doggersbank. Following the battle he was charged with taking the Preston 50 into port as her captain, Alexander Graeme, had been badly wounded in the action. Parker offered him a commission on the Cato 64, going out to his new command in the East Indies, but Saumarez fortuitously refused this and the ship was subsequently lost on passage.

On 23 August 1781 he was promoted commander and was appointed to the fireship Tisiphone 8, being employed in the Channel fleet and taking part in Rear-Admiral Kempenfelt’s brilliant attack on a French convoy on 12 December 1781. Later in the month he was sent by Kempenfelt to warn Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood in the West Indies of the Comte De Guichen’s approach, although in the event only two French sail of the line got through to that station.

After arriving at St. Kitts on 31 January 1782, Saumarez was posted 74 on 7 February to the Russell in place of Captain Hon. Henry Stanhope, who having been taken ill exchanged into the Tisiphone and returned home with despatches. He commanded the Russell with a great deal of flair at the Battle of the Saintes on 12 April 1782, coming about from the van and resuming the attack on the French an hour before Admiral Sir George Rodney signalled the rest of the van to do so. This manoeuvre allowed him to engage the French flagship Ville de Paris and he played no small part in her eventual surrender.

With the damaged Russell ordered home to England in convoy, he went on to half pay in May 1782 and lived for many years at Exeter or on Guernsey, devoting his time to such diverse tasks as opening up Sunday schools and visiting France. During his excursion to he continent he both surveyed the port of Cherbourg and was introduced to the King of France. Nevertheless, rumours later surfaced that during this period he had been confined on account of his depressive spirits. He also enjoyed short appointments to the frigate Ambuscade 32 in 1787, a vessel he barely fitted out before paying her off on the resolution of the dispute with the Netherlands, and the Raisonnable 64 in 1790 when hostilities threatened with Spain during the Nookta Sound dispute.

Upon the commencement of war with France in 1793 Saumarez was appointed to the Crescent 36, filling her with men from Exeter and Guernsey. On 20 October he captured the French frigate Réunion 36 in just two hours, receiving only one direct shot to his command and suffering no casualties. After bringing her into Spithead he was knighted in November and received an award from the merchants of London. Throughout the following year he served under the orders of Rear-Admiral John Macbride in the Channel, and on 8 June, whilst in company with the Druid 36 and Eurydice 20, was assailed by five large French men-of-war which were all larger than his consorts. Saumarez drove towards Guernsey, allowing the French to think his capture was inevitable, and at the same time ensuring that his consorts could get clean away, but he had a local pilot aboard and with their combined knowledge of the Guernsey coast they were able to navigate a hitherto unchallenged passage through the rocks and make good their own escape. On 14 September 1794 his frigate squadron consisting of four vessels failed to answer signals from the Trusty 50, Captain William O’Brien Drury, when off Weymouth and were temporarily thought to be a French squadron intent on capturing the King who was at the resort, thereby creating no little alarm ashore.

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HMS Orion

In March 1795 he was appointed to the Orion 74, taking his first lieutenant Charles Otter with him, but whilst she was commissioning under Commander Ross Captain Donnelly he cruised for four months as flag captain to Rear-Admiral Hon. William Waldegrave aboard the Marlborough 74. Upon eventually joining the Orion he commanded her at Lord Bridport’s action off Lorient on 23 June, suffering casualties of six men killed and eighteen wounded. He remained for the next six months on patrol off Rochefort in the company of two frigates before rejoining the main fleet off Brest. During the spring of 1796 his command underwent a refit at Portsmouth

In January 1797 the Orion formed part of Rear-Admiral William Parker’s squadron that was sent out to reinforce Admiral Sir John Jervis in the Mediterranean, and on 14 February 1797 he fought at the Battle of St. Vincent, where his ship was third in the line and took possession of the Salvador del Mundo 112, suffering nine men wounded. At the start of the battle Saumarez was active with Parker in pursuing six Spanish sail of the line, and later he also almost certainly received the surrender of the huge Santisima Trinidad, the largest ship in the world, although she subsequently re-hoisted her colours and fled the battle. Sadly Admiral Jervis was unaware of this part of the action, and his failure to mention it in his despatches caused much distress to Saumarez.

Thereafter the Orion assisted at the blockade of Cadiz until April 1798, when she was sent to join Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson in the Mediterranean, and Saumarez provided expert assistance in repairing the flagship Vanguard 74 after she had been badly damaged in a storm. He was senior captain and second-in-command at the Battle of the Nile on 1 August, being wounded in the side by a splinter, and with the Orion suffering casualties of thirteen men killed and twenty-nine wounded. His command was early into the battle, sinking the frigate Sérieuse 36 when she had the temerity to attack her, playing a leading role in forcing the surrender of the Peuple Souverain 74, and then moving up the line to attack other French ships. Typical of his nature however, the day after the battle he went aboard the flagship and started to voice his regrets about part of the action, whereupon Nelson turned his back on him and went below. Saumarez had never enjoyed Nelson’s full support and keenly felt the admiral’s preference for Captain Thomas Troubridge, being aware that prior to the battle the Orion had been under Admiral Lord St Vincent’s orders to return to England. He subsequently sailed to Gibraltar with the prizes and from there conveyed them to Lisbon and England, although his passage was interrupted in September at Malta where the inhabitants claimed, as it turned out falsely, that the French would give up their garrison to him.

On arrival at Plymouth in November the Orion was found to be in need of significant repairs and thus was paid off in January 1799. After being created a colonel of marines on 14 February, Saumarez was appointed to the Caesar 80 in February 1799, joining the Channel fleet off Brest. He later took up command of the Inshore Squadron with much success, the commander-in-chief, Admiral Earl of St. Vincent stating that with Saumarez in this role ‘I sleep as soundly as if the key of Brest was in my possession’. When the fleet was forced into Torbay by bad weather, Saumarez would take his squadron into Douarnenez Bay and ride out the storm, and during his period of command not one square rigged vessel escaped or entered Brest.

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The Battle of Algecitas 1801

He was promoted rear-admiral on 1 January 1801, and returning to England he was created a baronet on 13 June. Ordered to command the blockade of Cadiz, he set sail on 14 June with a squadron of five sail of the line, a frigate, brig and lugger, and was joined off Cadiz by two further sail of the line, his flag flying in the Caesar, Captain Jahleel Brenton. On 5 July he learned that a French squadron of three ships of the line and a frigate had been forced to put into Algeciras, and he went to investigate with six sail of the line, leaving the Superb 74, Captain Richard Keats stationed off Cadiz. Upon arriving at Gibraltar Bay the next morning, 6 July 1801, he went straight into the attack, but contrary winds, bold French resistance, and well placed shore batteries forced his retirement after five hours, somewhat battered and defeated, and having lost the Hannibal 74, Captain Solomon Ferris, to the enemy. Largely due to the great skill and tenacity of his flag-captain, Brenton, he was able to get to sea again by the time the Superb appeared ahead of the Spanish from Cadiz on 12 July, but he now faced a Franco-Spanish squadron of nine ships with his five. During a night when Keats and the Superb provided one of the greatest services to the navy ever performed by one captain and his ship the enemy lost three thousand men and three vessels, forcing even Nelson to conclude that a ‘greater battle was never fought’.

Saumarez was created a Knight of the Bath, the freedom of London, and the thanks of both houses of parliament as his reward, the motion in the Lords being proposed by St. Vincent and seconded by Nelson. Even so he was unhappy that he did not receive a peerage, and was further upset when the force sent to blockade Cadiz was placed under the command of Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Pole and not him. Following several bitter letters he fell out with the Earl St Vincent, who also refused to let him return home, although in November there was some small compensation when General Charles O’Hara invested him with the Order of the Bath at Gibraltar. After superintending the evacuation of Minorca with Captain Hugh Downman serving as his flag-captain from April to August 1802, Saumarez returned to England. Here he was offered the peacetime command of the Mediterranean but refused it.

On the resumption of hostilities in 1803 he briefly held the command of the Nore station with his flag in the Zealand 64 with Captain William Mitchell, who had risen from the lower decks, as his flag-captain. Thereafter until 1807 he was commander-in-chief at Guernsey, attacking the port of Granville with his flag in the Cerberus 32, Captain William Selby, at the beginning of this posting on 13 September, but spending a great amount of time ashore in his own house. During this period his flag flew in various vessels but primarily the Grampus 50, Captain Thomas Caulfield, from May 1803, the Diomede 50, Captain Thomas Larcom from 19 June 1803, and after this vessel was sent for a refit it reverted to the Cerberus. The Diomede returned to fly his flag from the beginning of 1804 under the command of Captain Hugh Downman, who had replaced the terminally ill Larcom, and finally from November 1805 Saumarez’ flagship was the Inconstant 36, Captain Edward Stirling Dickson. At various other times he briefly flew his flag on a frigate, such as the Thisbe 28 en flute, Captain Lewis Shepheard, during 1805.

He was promoted vice-admiral on 13 December 1806, being the most junior officer of six included in an advancement specifically arranged to promote him, and became second-in-command to Admiral Earl St Vincent in the Channel with his flag aboard the San Josef 100, Captain John Conn. When this vessel was sent for a refit in March 1807 he joined the Prince of Wales 98, Captain William Bedford, and in late May transferred to the Hibernia 110, Captain John Conn. He was replaced in his post in August at his own request following the arrival of his senior, Vice-Admiral Sir John Thomas Duckworth, whom Admiral Lord Gardner had invited to become his second-in-command, and he returned to the command at Guernsey with his flag once more in the Inconstant. His flag lieutenant at this time was Thomas Maxwell.

Having refused the command of the East Indian station, Saumarez was despatched to the Baltic in March 1808 as commander-in-chief of a fleet of sixty-two sail, including eighteen of the line. His flag flew aboard the Victory 100, Captain Philip Dumaresq, with Captain George Johnstone Hope serving as his captain of the fleet. Initially aiding the Swedes against the Russians and Danes, he remained in command of the station for another four years, generally being based in Wingo Sound near Gothenburg, although he returned to England each winter. When the British minister was kicked out of Stockholm upon war being declared by Sweden on 17 November, Saumarez wisely refused to take the offensive against the Swedes, although he resolutely ensured that any British vessels received his full protection. His diplomacy in allowing the Russians and Swedes to trade with the British and neutrals whilst they were nominally allied to Napoleon did much to forge their future alliance with Britain and it also influenced Napoleon to invade Russia. He continued to maintain a strict control over the Danes however, as it was essential to keep the Sound open for the safe passage of the British ships. At the end of his command in 1812 Saumarez was awarded by Sweden with a 2,000 guinea diamond hilted sword and also received the praise of Russia, Prussia and Austria. He returned to England at the end of the year aboard the Pyramus 36, Captain James Whitley Deans Dundas.

On 4 June 1814 he was promoted to the rank of admiral, in July 1819 became rear-admiral of Great Britain, in 1821 was created vice-admiral of Great Britain, and from March 1824 until May 1827 was commander-in-chief at Plymouth with his flag in the Britannia 120, Captain Philip Pipon. On 15 September 1831, upon the coronation of William IV and at the behest of his friend Earl Grey, the new Prime Minister, he was raised to the peerage as Baron de Saumarez of Saumarez in Guernsey. On 13 February 1832 he became the last ever general of marines, and he lived out his retirement on Guernsey, being feted by the islanders and participating actively in local religious and educational matters until his death on 9 October 1836. He was buried in the grounds of Câtel parish church.

He married Martha le Marchant of Guernsey on 27 October 1788 and had three sons and four daughters, his heir, James, taking holy orders. Another son, John Vincent, entered the Army. His nephew, Thomas Saumarez, died on 19 May 1823, days after having taken the acting-command of the Bann 20 at Ascension, whilst another nephew, Richard Saumarez, entered the service in 1806 and was posted captain in 1824. His grandson married the daughter of Rear-Admiral Sir Philip Broke.

Saumarez was bi-lingual, tall at just under six feet, handsome, fashionable and elegant, urbane and charitable, erect and correct, formal and ceremonious in manner, without the least affection or pride. Betsey Fremantle, wife of the admiral, described him as the ‘civilest man’ she knew. He was described as lacking a sense of humour, and as being strictly religious, and on his deathbed he was heard to be reciting a psalm. Unruffled and gallant in action, he was steady, placid and quietly spoken, although he confessed to irritable nerves and was liable to weight loss through worry. Saumarez was extremely sensitive and felt a slur heavily, being hurt on several occasions by the unfortunate omission of his name in despatches, and particularly after the Battle of Algeciras and again in 1814 when many contemporaries would probably have been raised to the peerage for their services. Petty grievances welled up inside him leading to depressions that would arouse the concerns of his friends. Some of his depressions would last for weeks on end and brought into question his fitness for high command. When still a young lieutenant he refused an invitation to Admiral Sir Hyde Parker’s table, having been rebuked by him on watch, which was at the time an unheard of reaction. In 1834 William IV, who had made it plain that he never liked Saumarez, gave him such a dressing down because of his unfortunate absence from Admiral Sir Richard Keats’ funeral that he burst into tears.

Whilst not having Nelson’s love or respect, perhaps because he did not look for it and came over as aloof to the temperamental admiral, he did have his confidence, and they were close enough for Saumarez to send Nelson the gift of a case of wine. His crews worshipped him however and he rarely had the necessity to press men into the service, relying instead on volunteers from his native Guernsey. He was undeniably brave and was trusted by his seniors, and his work in the Baltic earned him a reputation as a skilled diplomat, although he was never popular in high circles and did not indulge in party politics. He was a great friend of the equally religious Rear-Admiral Sir Alexander Ball.