Charles Stirling

1760-1833. He was born in London on 28 April 1760, the second and youngest son of Captain Sir Walter Stirling of Faskine, Lanarkshire, and of his wife, Dorothy Willing of Philadelphia.

Following his entry to the books of various ships commanded by his father, Stirling joined the Southampton 32, Captain George Vandeput, in 1773, serving in the Channel and then going out in September to the East Indies with the commander-in-chief, Commodore Sir Edward Hughes, aboard the Salisbury 50.

Admiral Charles Stirling

Having returned to England he was commissioned lieutenant on 12 June 1778, and he saw further service in quick succession aboard the Formidable 90, flagship of Vice-Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser, and the Defence 74, Captain James Cranston, both based in the Channel, and thereafter the Convert 32, Captain Henry Harvey, in home waters and from March 1779 the Robust 74, Captain Phillips Cosby, going out to the North American station.

On 15 May 1780, subsequent to the capture of Charleston, Vice-Admiral Marriott Arbuthnot appointed Stirling commander of the dull sailing Avenger 8. In this vessel he led a small squadron that repulsed an American force that attempted to attack a convoy under his escort off New York. He thereafter served on land, in the Vulture 14 from the end of the year, and on arduous gunboat service off Staten Island.

In the following spring he was appointed to the sloop Savage 14, carrying a crew of one hundred and twenty-five men, and much against his better judgement he was immediately sent up the Hudson River in command of a small squadron to harass the American supply lines. As anticipated this was a fool’s errand, and he only extricated himself with great difficulty after suffering many casualties. No less a personage than General George Washington bore witness to the Savage’s escape, and as compensation for Stirling’s endeavours the new commander-in-chief, Rear-Admiral Thomas Graves, sent him on a cruise.

On 6 September 1781, whilst attempting to see a British convoy into Charleston, the Savage was captured by the American privateer Congress 24 carrying two hundred and fifteen men. Stirling’s defence was of the first order and he only struck his colours after his mizzen mast had been shot down, his main mast badly damaged, and having suffered casualties of eight men killed and thirty-one wounded, the latter figure including himself, as opposed to eleven killed and thirty wounded on the enemy vessel. The Savage was promptly recaptured by the Solebay 28, Captain Charles Everitt, but although the authorities thoroughly approved of Stirling’s conduct a change of government and the departure of Graves meant that he was not immediately posted captain, as should have been his right.

In the late spring of 1782 he commissioned the Termagant 26 and was sent with despatches to Admiral Lord Howe in the Texel, departing the Downs with a weakened crew but nevertheless fulfilling his duty. He then joined the fleet for the Relief of Gibraltar in October, being detached en route into Porto with a convoy. Lord Howe requested Stirling’s immediate promotion, and the first lord of the Admiralty, Admiral Lord Keppel, accordingly posted him captain of the Dictator 64 on 15 January 1783, this vessel being based in the Thames.

Following the cessation of hostilities he recommissioned the Unicorn Prize 20 in the late summer of 1783, serving for a short while in the Leeward Islands from June 1784 until paid off in July 1786. He appears to have been unemployed thereafter.

At the start of the French Revolutionary War Stirling remained on the beach, and it was not until the end of 1794 that he joined the frigate Venus 36, cruising in the North Sea until the following February. He then removed into the year-old frigate Jason 38 serving in the Channel, and he hosted the Comte d’Artois whilst escorting a fleet of transports carrying over four thousand Royalist troops during Commodore Sir John Borlase Warren’s unsuccessful expedition of 1795 to Quiberon Bay. Upon undertaking a cruise in Irish waters during 1796 in company with the Virginie 44, Captain Anthony Hunt, the two frigates stumbled on the French invasion force headed for Ireland, and after losing contact they headed straight for Spithead to report. As a consequence the Jason was present at the Spithead mutiny which erupted on 16 April 1797.

After returning to duty the Jason took the privateers Marie 14 off Belleisle on 21 November, and the Coureur 24 on 23 February 1798, assisted the Russell 74, Captain Sir Henry Trollope, in the capture of the privateer Bonne Citoyenne 12 in the Channel on 20 March, and took the Arrogant 6 off Brest on 19 April. She later arrived at the culmination of the duel between the Mars 74 and the Hercule 74 on 21 April, where Stirling took command of the situation following the death of the Mars’ Captain Alexander Hood. The Jason was afterwards in company with the frigates Pique 36, Captain David Milne, and Mermaid 32, Captain James Newman Newman, with Stirling the senior officer when they fell in with the Seine 40 off Brittany on 29 June. In the course of a fierce engagement the Pique, Jason and Seine found themselves ashore before the Mermaid came up and forced the Frenchman’s surrender. The engagement saw Stirling injured and forced below decks, whilst unfortunately the Pique could not be refloated and had to be destroyed.

On 13 October 1798 the Jason was herself wrecked on rocks between Brest and the Cap du Raz whilst chasing a flotilla of five chasse-marées and a lugger. Upon getting ashore with his crew Stirling was taken prisoner, but within a matter of weeks he was exchanged. In the meantime six of his crew had escaped in a cutter to enter Plymouth in a gale, whilst another six men in a jolly boat reached the River Yealm in South Devon, having hitched a lift aboard a Danish brig.

The Battle of Algeciras in 1801

Stirling was next appointed to the Pompée 74 in March 1799, and following the breakout of the Brest fleet on 25 April was sent with Rear-Admiral Sir Charles Cotton’s reinforcements to the Mediterranean. He subsequently served in the Channel during 1799-1800, and in the course of Rear-Admiral Honoré Ganteaume’s cruise from January – July 1801 the Pompée sailed to the West Indies with Rear-Admiral Sir Robert Calder’s squadron.

On 6 July 1801 the Pompée was present in Rear-Admiral Sir James Saumarez’s defeat at the Battle of Algeciras, having to be towed out of the action after sustaining a raking fire and casualties of fifteen men killed and sixty-nine wounded. She was then left behind in a state of disrepair at Gibraltar during the admiral’s subsequent victory over the Franco-Spanish fleet six days later. Stirling thereafter commanded a small squadron blockading Cadiz before returning to Portsmouth with the Pompée at the beginning of November and being paid off at Plymouth in February 1802.

From 1803-4 he was the resident commissioner at Jamaica, and in 1805 was promoted rear-admiral with seniority backdated to 23 April 1804. From that summer he flew his flag aboard the Glory 98, Captain Samuel Warren, commanding the Rochefort squadron of five sail of the line for several months, and then succeeding Rear-Admiral Thomas Graves off that station once more in June 1805. He took part in the Battle of Cape Finisterre under Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Calder on 22 July, whose flag he had been ordered to join earlier in the month, and in which engagement the Glory suffered casualties of one man killed and one wounded. He subsequently returned to Rochefort with four sail of the line to continue the blockade of that port.

In 1806, following the recall of Commodore Sir Home Riggs Popham and contrary to his own wishes, Stirling was appointed the naval commander of the South American expedition with his flag in the Diadem 64, Captain Samuel Warren. He took passage out in the Sampson 64, Captain William Cuming, and superseded Popham in December, by which time Buenos Aires had been recaptured by the Spanish. With the British forces desperately requiring another base he assisted the army under the command of Brigadier-General Sir Samuel Auchmuty in the reduction of Montevideo on 3 February 1807.

Stirling fought at the Battle of Cape Finisterre in 1805

Upon being superseded in South America by Rear-Admiral George Murray during July 1807 Stirling transferred to the Cape as commander-in-chief aboard the Diadem, Captain Samuel Warren, taking his squadron from the River Plate with him. This was but a short tenure, for on 10 January 1808 he sailed for England with the East India convoy, arriving in April.

On 31 July 1810 he was promoted vice-admiral, and in October 1811 was appointed the commander-in-chief at Jamaica, sailing out in November aboard the Arethusa 38, Captain Francis Holmes Coffin, and then flying his flag on arrival aboard the Polyphemus 64, Captain Cornelius Quinton, and thereafter the Shark under various junior officers before finally joining the Argo 44 at the beginning of 1813, again with Captain Quinton, and with Thomas Carter acting as flag-lieutenant. From 1812 the Jamaican station came under the orders of Sir John Warren, the commander-in-chief in North American waters, thereby greatly reducing Stirling’s influence.

Stirling’s tenure finished prematurely when in June 1813 he left for home with the Jamaica convoy, flying his flag aboard the Bedford 74, Captain James Walker. As a result of accusations levied by the commissioner at Jamaica, Captain Isaac Woolley, he had been recalled to answer charges of engaging in corrupt practices, including the levying of fees on the merchants for the escorts of their ships. In particular he was accused of receiving two thousand guineas for ordering the sloop Sappho Commander Hayes O’Grady, to protect a schooner. At his court martial on 9 May 1814 the charges were partly proved, and although many felt that he had been badly used he was placed permanently on half-pay and denied the opportunity of future promotion. Shortly afterwards he was restored to the list on appeal but he was never re-employed.

Stirling died at his residence, Woburn Farm near Chertsey in Surrey on 7 November 1833.

On 11 August 1789 at Greenwich he married the second daughter of a banker from Blackheath, Charlotte Grote, who died in March 1825. Of their children four sons and a daughter survived infancy.

Stirling was not the most popular of officers; indeed his conduct whilst in command of the Jamaican station alienated virtually all who dealt with him. His leadership qualities also called forth question, but he was regarded as a good commander. He was a fellow of the Royal Society.