Sir Albemarle Bertie

1755-1824. He was born on 20 January 1755, the illegitimate son of General Peregrine Bertie, the 3rd Duke of Ancaster and Kesteven.

Having been commissioned lieutenant on 20 December 1777, Bertie served at the Battle of Ushant on 27 July 1778 as the first lieutenant of the repeating frigate Fox 28, Captain Hon. Thomas Windsor. On 10 September the Fox was captured by the French frigate Junon 32 and Bertie became a prisoner of war, in which capacity he drafted the letter confirming the frigate’s loss to the Admiralty in the stead of his injured captain. Both officers were allowed to return to England on parole in the following January to give evidence at the politically charged court-martials upon Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel and Vice-Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser, with Bertie giving great favour to the former. It is unclear whether he returned to France at the end of June with Captain Windsor under the terms of their parole, and given that his father was within weeks of his death, he may have been allowed to remain in England on compassionate grounds.

Fox v Junon

On 3 June 1780 he was promoted commander of the armed ship Queen 20, which vessel he retained for the next three months, taking the Baltic convoy out of Newcastle for the Sound on 2 July, and reaching Portsmouth with several vessels from Riga on 15 August.

In May 1781 Bertie was appointed to the Merlin 18, going out on a cruise from the Downs with other men-of-war in July and arriving at Plymouth at the end of the month. She then took a convoy back to the Downs before entering Portsmouth in mid-October with two smuggling cutters, and she returned to the Hampshire port at the end of the month with three East Indiamen from the Downs. She continued to serve in the Downs for the remainder of the year, and she delivered another East India convoy to Portsmouth at the beginning of December.

Bertie was posted captain of the small frigate Crocodile 24 on 21 March 1782, immediately escorting a convoy from Portsmouth to the Downs. and then serving with a division of the Channel Fleet. On 22 April he led a small squadron of three vessels which captured the Dunkirk-based privateer cutter Active Roebuck 18, commanded by an Englishman by the name of Chitty, with the prize being sent into the Downs. The Crocodile then reportedly fought an inconclusive action with the privateer Prince de Robecq 28 on 25 April off the Goodwin Sands, which vessel was later captured off Cork on 30 June by the Artois 40, Captain Edward Pellew. A further stint of convoy duty to Portsmouth followed in May, and in June the Crocodile escorted a convoy from the Downs to Ireland.

After getting married on 1 July 1782, Bertie was appointed to the frigate Recovery 32 on 30 July, being dispatched with a strong squadron to the west of the Scilly Islands in August to meet the incoming Leeward Islands fleet. His command collected a number of victuallers at Plymouth at the end of the month, and she was attached to Admiral Lord Howe’s fleet which departed Portsmouth on 11 September to carry out the Relief of Gibraltar on 18 October. She returned to Plymouth with other elements of the fleet on 16 November, and by the second week of December was at Portsmouth, where she appears to have remained for some weeks. On 3 March 1783 the Recovery arrived at Sheerness from where she was sent up to Chatham to be paid off.

Bertie briefly recommissioned the frigate Nymphe 36 in the Dutch Armament during October 1787, fitting her out at Portsmouth before paying her off in early December. Remaining ashore, in March 1789 it was reported that the King had joined him in an unsuccessful deer hunt at his seat, Carter’s Hill, near Billingbear in Berkshire.

In May 1790 he commissioned the frigate Latona 38 during the Spanish Armament, going around from the Downs to Spithead in late June to join the Channel Fleet. On 1 August his command passed through the Needles, and a week later she sailed with Admiral Lord Howe’s fleet for Torbay. During September she was dispatched off Cape Finisterre to observe the motions of the Spanish fleet prior to returning to Plymouth on the 24th, and after returning to serve in the Channel, she received orders to be paid off at the end of November.

On 16 March 1792 Bertie was ordered to recommission the thirteen-year-old Edgar 74 as a guardship at Portsmouth, and during the same year he sat on the Bounty court-martial, one of the accused from the mutiny on 28 April 1789 being his kinsman, Midshipman Peter Heywood. Another court-martial occurred at the end of July when the Edgar’s boatswain was dismissed the service for embezzlement of stores. On 2 December 1792, as relations with France were deteriorating, the Edgar and several other Portsmouth guardships were ordered out of the harbour for Spithead.

He retained the Edgar at the commencement of the French Revolutionary War and on 9 March 1793 set off on a cruise from Portsmouth with the Bedford 74, Captain Robert Man. Eight days later he was back at the Hampshire port with urgent tidings for the government, and after forbidding his barge crew to communicate with anybody onshore, he raced off for London in a post chaise and four. Conjecture at the time was that the two vessels had discovered the French fleet to be at sea. Returning to the Edgar, he joined Rear-Admiral John Gell’s squadron which took an East India convoy out to Cape Finisterre at the end of March, and which captured the French privateer General Dumourier and her exceedingly rich Spanish prize, the St. Jago, on 14 April. The Edgar was detached from Gell’s squadron to return to Portsmouth with her hold full of treasure, and it was one of Bertie’s lieutenants who delivered the astonishing news of the capture to the Admiralty on 1st May. Further joy came on 26 May when Bertie was personally credited with discovering more chests of gold and silver hidden in the Spanish vessel, and come the share-out of the prizemoney, it was reported that he had received £56,000, or £8m in today’s money. The Edgar later participated in the Channel Fleet cruise during July – August, and on 13 January 1794 she sailed from Portsmouth for Chatham to be paid off.


The fleets in close action at the Battle of the Glorious first of June – but Bertie was criticised for engaging from distance


On 20 January 1794 he was appointed to the newly commissioned Thunderer 74, and when the Edgar arrived at Chatham from Blackstakes to be paid off on 19 February he transferred with his crew to the new vessel. The Thunderer arrived in the Downs on 30 March where she remained for a short while, and by the middle of April she was with the Channel Fleet at Spithead. Fighting at the Battle of the Glorious First of June, she was the only ship in the fleet not to suffer a single casualty and at one point, when it was considered that she was engaging from too far to windward, Bertie suffered the indignity of being ordered to close with the enemy by Admiral Thomas Graves. Nevertheless, the contemporary newspapers claimed that the Thunderer had taken a conspicuous part in the action and towards the end of the day had dismasted two enemy vessels. Seventeen days after the battle she arrived at St. Helens with two of the captured French ships, the Sans Pareil 84 and Achille 74.

On 8 August 1794 the Thunderer was off St. Helens prior to sailing with the escort of a convoy to Lisbon, and having seen it to a safe latitude she returned to join the Channel Fleet when it put out in early September. She continued to serve with the fleet through the winter, and on 8 March 1795 arrived off Deal, putting out the next day with a strong squadron under the orders of Rear-Admiral Henry Harvey to collect troops from Emden, and arriving back on the former station on the 27th. Days later she put out on a cruise with Harvey’s squadron, from which she returned on 6 May to proceed to Portsmouth.

On 11 June 1795 the Thunderer sailed from Cowes with Commodore Sir John Borlase Warren’s expedition ferrying French Royalist forces to Quiberon Bay, but although she was detached when this officer learned of the Brest fleet being at sea, she arrived too late to participate in the Battle of Groix on 23 June, despite the wish of Admiral Lord Bridport to take her into his line of battle. After returning to Portsmouth, Bertie arrived at the Admiralty with Bridport’s and Warren’s dispatches on 22 July, and on 7 August the Thunderer put out from Portsmouth to replenish Bridport’s fleet. Bertie then led four gunboats up a river within three miles of the town of Vannes in Brittany to capture and destroy the sloop Oiseau 20, the Henry 12, and two cutters, and there followed a spell in the Bay of Biscay under the promoted Rear-Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren. After another cruise off the coast of France under Rear-Admiral Harvey, the Thunderer returned to Portsmouth on 26 November and Bertie left her in March 1796 to remain ashore for the next two and a half years.

He commissioned another new ship in August 1798, the Renown 74, serving in the Channel and reaching Portsmouth from the Downs in early February 1799 with a large convoy, although half of this fleet had become detached in a heavy storm. In June his command was off the coast of France with three other sail of the line under Rear-Admiral Hon. George Berkeley, and in July she was present under the orders of Rear-Admiral Charles Morice Pole at the blockade of five Spanish sail of the line at Rochefort during the campaign generated by the Brest fleet’s breakout on 25 April. She subsequently entered Plymouth to August.

On 10 October 1799 Bertie was appointed to the Windsor Castle 98, arriving at Plymouth on 6 January 1800, and briefly carrying the flag of Rear-Admiral Sir Charles Cotton during April. A month later, whilst still serving with the Channel Fleet, it was reported that the Windsor Castle had been laid on her beam ends for some minutes before righting during a severe gale. Bertie eventually left her in July.

In May 1801 he was appointed to commission the French prize Guillaume Tell as the Malta 80 at Portsmouth, sailing out of the harbour for Spithead on 10 July. Shortly afterwards a fire broke out on his new command whilst she was guarding the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour off St. Helens, but Bertie’s calmness and sagacity in persuading the crew to remain aboard and prevent the blaze from reaching her magazine earned him great credit. Whilst still at Portsmouth he preferred several charges against Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Winter of the Marines relating to comments made whilst a marine detachment was proceeding to board the Malta, but that officer was acquitted, as was the sailing master of the Malta who had earlier been charged by Bertie with taking an authorised leave.

On 15 September 1801 the Malta sailed to join the Channel Fleet, and in December she was with Vice-Admiral Sir Andrew Mitchell’s squadron in Bantry Bay when several other ships displayed mutinous tendencies. Bertie sat on the court-martial of the mutineers from the Temeraire 98 in Portsmouth Harbour on 6 January 1802, and towards the end of the month his command sailed for Torbay. During March she was with elements of the fleet in Cawsand Bay, and at the end of the month she was ordered to dispose of her provisions and stores into other vessels in accordance with an official view that she had not put to sea as quickly as had been expected. When the Malta went up the Hamoaze on 4 April to be paid off, a large crowd of spectators came out to view what was evidently a beautiful ship.

After the resumption of hostilities with France in May 1803, Bertie was once more appointed to the Windsor Castle 98 at Portsmouth, and in early June it was reported that she was waiting on the completion of her crew before putting out of the harbour for Spithead. Even so, it was the first week of August before she was able to leave the harbour, and she was still off Portsmouth in the middle of September when the Prince of Wales visited the port. In October she was posted to the west of the Isle of Wight off Lymington Creek as a guardship, and by December she was back off St. Helens with other capital ships. She sailed for Plymouth on 17 January 1804 to be paid, prior to joining the Channel Fleet, but a gale soon drove her back to the Hampshire port, and here Captain Thomas Wells succeeded to the command.

Bertie was promoted rear-admiral on 23 April 1804, and. a few weeks later he attended a ball in Manchester Square, London with the cream of society. With his wife suffering from a terminal illness, he put his residence at Grantham up for sale in November, together with all his household furniture and wine cellar, and in the same month he arrived in Bath with his family. Sadly, his wife died in Gay Street the following March. During the autumn of 1805 Bertie visited Southampton, and he was amongst the mourners at the funeral of Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson on 9 January 1806. He attended a further ball with royalty in June before returning once more to Southampton.

The capture of the Isle de France in 1810

Shortly after the installation of a Tory government in March 1807, Bertie was ordered to raise his flag aboard the Foudroyant 80, Captain Norborne Thompson. After attending a private levee with the King on 6 May, he sailed from Portsmouth for Plymouth with his suite eleven days later aboard the sloop Emulous 16, Commander Gustavus Stupart. to join his flagship on 20 May. A week later she went out of the harbour and anchored in Cawsand Bay, but it was not until the third week of June that she sailed to join the Channel Fleet. She was with that force when it returned briefly to Torbay in October, and on 6 November she sailed for Plymouth for a brief refit. Two weeks later Bertie shifted his flag into the Bellerophon 74, Captain Edward Rotheram, and in February 1808 he led a squadron of six sail of the line that left Plymouth to assume the blockade of Brest. The ships arrived back in Torbay on 20 March, but they sailed again two days later for their station.

On 13 April 1808 Bertie arrived at Portsmouth following an announcement that he was to be appointed the commander-in-chief at the Cape in the room of Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Troubridge, who had been lost at sea in the Indian Ocean. Sadly, he suffered another personal tragedy a few days late when his sickly second daughter died suddenly at Hill, near Southampton. On 27 April he was presented to the King at a private levee, and he was further advanced to the rank of vice-admiral on the next day, 28 April. His flag was hoisted at Portsmouth on 2 May aboard the Leopard 50, Captain James Johnstone, which put out from St. Helens five days later with an East India convoy of seven vessels. By 30 May the convoy was at Madeira, and the Leopard arrived at the Cape on 2 August.

On 3 February 1809 he convened the court-martial of Captain Robert Corbet at that officer’s request following complaints of cruelty from the crew of the Nereide 36, but apart from a daring raid on the French island of Bourbon by Captain Josias Rowley of the Boadicea 38 on 21 September, little of note occurred on his station. By November Bertie’s flag in Table Bay was aboard the Bourbonnaise 38, Captain Corbet, and in March 1810 it was removed to the Boadicea, Captain Rowley.

On 4 September 1810, taking advantage of ambiguous orders, Bertie departed the Cape aboard the Nisus 38, Captain Philip Beaver, to controversially assume command of the forces at the lucrative capture of the Isle de France, taking advantage of the fact that the French had already been weakened by Commodore Rowley’s brilliant campaigning from July. On arrival he hoisted his flag aboard the Africaine 38, Acting-Captain Charles Gordon, but by now the choice of a landing site had already been decided, and it was understood that the enemy forces could barely provide any resistance. To make matters worse, by taking command he superseded Vice-Admiral William O’Brien Drury, the commander-in-chief of the East Indies station, who had masterminded the operation. Not surprisingly, Drury considered himself to be ‘insulted and injured’. Bertie left the Isle de France on 16 December and upon his return to the Cape he found himself recalled to England at the end of January, his fragile reputation having been further damaged by a dispute with the local commissioner of the navy. On 20 March 1811 he arrived at Portsmouth aboard the Africaine together with his daughter, and in the following month he attended a levee with the Prince Regent to mark his return.

Bertie’s request for a court martial into his conduct at the Isle de France was disdainfully rejected by the Admiralty, but within a year, following another change of government, he found himself back in favour and he received a baronetcy on 9 December 1812, being invested in June 1813 by the Prince Regent. Even so he was never employed again, and instead he retired to his estate at Donnington, Berkshire, embarking on only the occasional visit to London. By now he had at least redeemed some credit by his advocating of a baronetcy for the deserving Rowley.

On 4 June 1814 Bertie was promoted admiral, on 2 January 1815 he was created a K.C.B., and he died on 24 February 1824 at Donnington Priory, Berkshire.

He married Emma Heywood of Mariston, Devon, on 1 July 1782 and had two daughters and a son, Lyndsey-James, who entered the Army. His nephew, Captain Bertie Cornelius Cator, the son of his illegitimate sister, was born in 1787, served with him at the Cape, and was posted captain in 1814. Bertie was related to the Heywood family, which no doubt was of some significance in the pardoning of young Peter Heywood when Bertie sat on the court martial into the loss of the Bounty. He was also a friend of Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson. He was regarded as benevolent, but his reputation suffered greatly as a result of his avaricious behaviour at the Isle de France.