John Bourchier

1747-1808. Born on 26 September 1747 at Bramfield, Suffolk, he was the fourth son of the Revered Edward Bourchier and of his wife Elizabeth Gattacre.

Having been commissioned on 13 July 1775, Bourchier was first lieutenant of the sloop Druid 14, Commander Peter Carteret, when in the process of escorting home the Leeward Islands trade in company with the Camel 32, Captain Hon. William Clement Finch, and Weazel 16, Commander Samuel Warren, she was assailed by a ship from within the convoy on 4 September 1777. The intruder proved to be the American frigate Raleigh 32, Captain Thomas Thompson, which had stolen into the midst of the shipping armed with the signals and order of sailing. With the Druid taken completely by surprise a very one sided action ensued, and Captain Carteret was mortally wounded and the sailing master killed before the remaining ships rallied and drove off the aggressor.

Having returned to Spithead and been warmly praised by Captain Finch for his conduct during and after the engagement with the Raleigh, Bourchier was promoted commander of the Druid on 8 October 1777. In September 1779 the Druid was re-registered as the fireship Blast at Spithead, and he left her shortly afterwards.

The Battle of the Saintes 1782

In August 1780 he commissioned the brand new Zebra 16, serving in the Downs during the following year and assisting the Juno 32, Captain James Montagu, in the capture of the privateer Revanche 18 off Beachy Head on 10 February before seeing employment with the Channel Fleet during the June-November campaign. The Zebra sailed for the Leeward Islands in the following February and witnessed the Battle of the Saintes on 12 April 1782.

Bourchier was posted captain on 23 April and given command of the badly damaged Hector 74 which had been captured in the battle. With a sick and vastly undermanned crew he was sent home with Rear-Admiral Thomas Graves’ convoy, but on 22 August the Hector became detached from her consorts. Nearly two weeks later the French frigates Aigle 40 and Gloire 32 attacked her, and the Hector sustained their close range fire for nearly four hours and fought off a boarding attempt from the former before eventually the enemy sailed away. Bourchier was gravely wounded in the action that saw nine men killed and an additional thirty-two wounded, and his armed officers, led by the first lieutenant, Henry Inman, had to force the men to remain at the pumps with such conviction that several died of their exertions. Eventually the surviving crew of two hundred were crowded onto a privateer, the snow Hawke from Dartmouth, and taken to St. John’s whilst the abandoned Hector sank on the Newfoundland Banks on 3 October. In the meantime Graves’ convoy had run into a hurricane with devastating consequences on 16 September. At a court-martial presided over by Vice-Admiral John Evans aboard the Warspite at Portsmouth on 15 February 1783 Bourchier was acquitted for the loss of the Hector, his conduct and that of the crew being deemed ‘highly commendable, gallant, and worthy of example’.

He did not see any further active service, and having been pensioned in 1790 he became the captain of Greenwich Hospital in 1801. He was subsequently the lieutenant-governor from 1805 until his death on 30 December 1808.

Bourchier married firstly Mary Walter, the daughter of a naval chaplain, by whom he had issue two sons and two daughters, the elder of each died young. His surviving son Henry became a rear-admiral. After his wife’s death on 26 November 1789 he married Charlotte Corbett of Darnhall, Cheshire, on 16 December 1790 at St. James’ Westminster, and by her had five sons and five daughters, the eldest of whom, William, became a naval commander. After Bourchier’s death his widow married twice more.

Bourchier enjoyed a pension of £200 per year in respect of the wounds incurred in command of the Hector.