Charles Sawyer

Died 1798. He was the second son of Admiral Herbert Sawyer and of his wife Anne Majendie, and was the younger brother of Admiral Sir Herbert Sawyer.

Sawyer was commissioned lieutenant on 8 July 1785 and promoted commander on 1 November 1793 of the bomb Vesuvius 8 in succession to Captain Hon. George Grey. Sailing for the Leeward Islands with Vice-Admiral Sir John Jervis’ expedition, he participated in the campaign of January – December 1794. He was posted captain on 25 March of Commodore Charles Thompson’s pennant ship Vengeance 74 following the return home with despatches of Captain Lord Henry Paulet, and he led a battalion of seamen ashore at the unsuccessful invasion of Guadeloupe in June.

On 2 November, whilst still in the Leeward Islands, he transferred to the Assurance 44 to replace the late Commander William Bryer, and in January 1795 he joined the Blanche 32 in succession to the gallant Captain Robert Faulknor who had been killed in action on 4 January. His frigate returned to Portsmouth from Antigua in twenty-three days on 29 July 1795 in what was described as one of the fastest passages ever known, and with Vice-Admiral Benjamin Caldwell a passenger.

In October 1795 the Blanche went out of harbour to Spithead after a refit, and eleven of her men had a fortunate escape whilst running out to her anchorage in the following month when their boat overset in a fresh gale – fortunately they were saved by nearby boats. She arrived in the Mediterranean with a convoy in early December with Commissioner Isaac Coffin a passenger, and on 19 December reached Leghorn from Gibraltar under the orders of Vice-Admiral Hon William Waldegrave of the Barfleur 90, and in escort of thirty-five vessels. Further service followed under the orders of Commodore Horatio Nelson off the Riviera in support of the Austrian Army.

By the early part of 1796 Sawyer had lost the respect of his crew due to his homosexual activities, and in particular with two midshipmen, a coxswain, and a seaman at the wheel, his modus operandi being to summon young men to his cabin and then make a grab for their private parts. His first lieutenant, Archibald Cowan, complained in writing to the squadron commander, Captain George Cockburn of the frigate Meleager 32, and with the matter being escalated to Nelson and then Jervis, Sawyer was removed from the command of the Blanche in June. A court martial was held on 17 October with the charge being that of ‘sundry indecent familiarities with persons belonging to the Blanche, and for not taking public notice of mutinous expressions uttered against him’. The mutinous expression was apparently to the effect that he was a ‘man fucking buggar’. Found guilty, he was dismissed the service, with the charge against him subsequently being documented as that of ‘odious misconduct’.

Captain Sawyer died, unmarried, in 1798.

Notwithstanding his personal disgrace, Sawyer had the respect of Nelson for his professional abilities.